The Ann Arbor Chronicle » north-south connector it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 AATA Connector Study to Move Ahead Fri, 22 Jun 2012 00:10:50 +0000 Chronicle Staff Pending the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority will be moving ahead with an alternatives analysis of a connector study – for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street and farther south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of technology (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops.

That study will move forward, based on a total of $300,000 of local funding that has been identified to provide the required match for a $1.2 million federal grant awarded last year for the alternatives analysis phase. The breakdown of local support is: $60,000 from the city of Ann Arbor; $150,000 from the University of Michigan; and $90,000 from the AATA.

The information was provided in the written report to the board from the AATA’s CEO, Michael Ford, which was included in the board’s June 21, 2102 meeting information packet.

A feasibility study costing $640,000 has already been completed. That study was also funded through a partnership with the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, University of Michigan and the AATA. Chronicle coverage of that feasibility study includes: “Transit Connector Study: Initial Analysis“; “AATA: Transit Study, Planning Updates“; and “Washtenaw Transit Talks in Flux.”

A total of $1.5 million for the connector alternatives analysis study – of which $1.2 million is a federal grant – is included in the AATA’s capital and categorical grant program, on which the AATA held a public hearing at its June  21 meeting. The contributions from UM, AATA, and the city of Ann Arbor make up the $300,000 in local matching funds have now been identified for the $1.2 million federal grant that the AATA obtained last year for this next, alternatives analysis phase. In November 2011, Ford had updated the board on the possible timeline for the alternatives analysis, saying that phase – in which a preferred technology and route with stop locations would be identified – would take around 16 months.

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

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Transit Connector Study: Initial Analysis Mon, 14 Jun 2010 18:25:09 +0000 Brian Coburn Last summer, the final piece was put in place for a four-way partnership to fund a transportation feasibility study of the corridor from Plymouth Road down to South State Street. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board gave approval for its $320,000 share of the study’s $640,00 price tag.

The "boomerang map" showing the Ann Arbor corridors being studied for higher quality transit options like bus rapid transit, streetcars, and monorail. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Some early results of the “Ann Arbor Connector Feasibility Study” were presented last Tuesday evening at the Ann Arbor District Library in an open-house style format with boards and easels, complemented by a presentation from the consultant hired to perform the study, project manager Rick Nau of URS Corporation.

Nau reported that the study is currently in the needs analysis phase – traffic congestion was a phrase Nau sprinkled through his remarks during the evening. The initial needs analysis shows that the majority of the travel demand in the Plymouth-State corridors is accounted for by trips between different parts of the University of Michigan campus.

The study has not reached the point of drawing lines on maps for possible transportation routes. Instead, the representation of the area of study is a “boomerang map” stretching from US-23 near Plymouth Road to Briarwood Mall. The boomerang includes two of four “signature transit corridors” identified in the city of Ann Arbor’s Transportation Plan Update – Plymouth/Fuller roads and State Street.

Prompted by an audience question, Nau made clear that the study has not yet reached the dollars-and-cents analysis phase that will eventually come. The study is expected to be completed by December 2010 with the preliminary recommendations to be publicly presented in the fall.

Nau’s presentation focused on establishing the need for higher quality transit along the corridor and the range of technology choices available to meet that need. Those technology choices range from larger buses running along the regular roadway to elevated monorail trains.

Transit Technology Choices

The choices Nau laid out to the audience broke down into five categories, all of which are comparable to current systems in American cities, most of which are larger than Ann Arbor.


University of Michigan planner Sue Gott gave introductory remarks at the June 8 open house.

Streetcars: Modern, electrically-powered vehicles that operate on single-car trains and carry 100-120 passengers each, a streetcar system would not offer a great travel-time advantage given that its track operates in mixed flow with cars and makes frequent stops. They are, however, a popular method with patrons, offering a smooth and quiet ride.

Nau cited officials in Portland, Ore. who estimated their city’s streetcar system has generated $6 billion in adjacent growth and development. It wouldn’t be Ann Arbor’s first ever streetcar line – two railroad stations in town and the downtown area were connected by streetcars in the early 1900s.

Light Rail: This is an electrically-powered model that is larger than a streetcar but more expensive. Light rail operates with three-car trains and carries more people. Light rail typically offers an exclusive or semi-exclusive right-of-way, meaning no cars drive over the tracks, which leads to quicker travel. Although usually found in larger cities like Dallas and Denver, Nau said he thinks Ann Arbor could support it since the travel demand is more comparable to that of a bigger city.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): Cheaper than other options, a BRT system can run with contemporary, “articulated” buses, rubber tires and a duel-fuel technology similar to current AATA vehicles. Typically, an exclusive lane is dedicated to these buses in this system for at least part of the day. Nau mentioned how excited the people of Cleveland were for the opening of their BRT system, which he said remains popular there today.

Monorail: This option is an elevated track similar to Chicago’s L that offers cars with great time efficiency, using electricity that is supplied within the rail itself.

Automated Gateway Transit/Personal Rapid Transit: Driverless, automated systems similar to Detroit’s People Mover.

All these options may be far more sophisticated than what the city has now with standard AATA buses. With no projections yet on the necessary capital, URS can’t give a recommendation on what would be right for Ann Arbor and what wouldn’t be a good option. That will come during later phases of the study.


A demonstration of dual technology. One of the slides in the PowerPoint presentation turned up blank, so Eli Cooper, transportation program manager for the city of Ann Arbor, grabbed the corresponding poster from an easel and manually filled in the blank.

“What we’ll try to do is narrow this universe of alternatives down to a more manageable set of things that can be considered in future studies,” Nau said.

When a time does come to enact a plan, it will almost certainly need government funding – a lot of it. While a massive project is obviously unlikely to be paid for with city and state dollars alone, getting federal assistance requires a lengthy process that may take 10 years to complete, Nau said.

As for the study itself, AATA is paying for half of the $640,000 price tag. The city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority agreed to each pitch in $80,000. The University of Michigan makes up the rest of the funding for the study with a $160,000 contribution.

The Funding Partnership: Who Pays?

Representatives from each of the four study-funding partners were present at the meeting, saying a few words before Nau took the podium. Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, kicked off the meeting, stressing the study evolved out of a transportation plan update that was completed last year. The plan recommended action to address future needs as the community evolves.

“The issue of transportation is not one of those things that respects any boundaries,” Cooper said. Transportation impacts from downtown affect the area outside of the downtown, and the university affects the entire community. “The community is responsible not only from within, but for those who commute here from without,” Cooper said.

Roger Hewitt of the DDA followed Cooper, stating that his organization handled more than parking, and was very excited and deeply involved with this mass transit project. University planner Sue Gott from UM said she was interested in improving mobility and noted new sustainability efforts at UM where all new construction is to meet Silver LEED standards. AATA CEO Michael Ford said he wanted to move more people and be more effective for Washtenaw County and beyond.

The preliminary analysis of travel among main activity areas within the area of study in the “boomerang map” shows that the main activity areas themselves and the majority of trips between them are related to the UM campus. There are 50,000 daily trips made between central campus and north campus, for example.

The study has looked at current travel demand among nine activity areas. Four out of 36 of those connections have current travel levels that would support a more robust transportation technology than a standard bus. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

From a chart presented at the June 8 open house slide presentation – and available on the connector study website – the preliminary needs study shows four trips where current travel demand would support a transportation technology more robust than a standard bus.

The four trips that would currently support more sophisticated transportation are between: North Campus and Central Campus; Medical Center and Central Campus; Downtown and Central Campus; South Campus and Central Campus

The prominence of UM-centric trips in the study area was already a concern for some who believe the project will serve UM more than the community at large. That concern factored into discussions about who should pay for the study, and later for the construction of the project.

In June 2009, when the DDA board voted to approve its $80,000 share of the study, DDA board member Sandi Smith said she had reservations about providing support for what would essentially be a “U of M trolley.” Then-board member Rene Greff, co-owner of Arbor Brewing Co., said UM had enough money to support this study itself. That was countered by DDA board member Leah Gunn’s perspective of the UM as the area’s major economic engine, which was not separate from the Ann Arbor community. As part of that discussion, mayor John Hieftje indicated that he felt it was an advantage to have the city involved in any applications for federal grants.

In detail from The Chronicle’s report of the June 3, 2009 DDA board meeting:

Board member Sandi Smith, who is also a city councilmember … had a problem providing support for a project that was essentially going to be a “U of M trolley.” She said she understood that the route was not completely determined, but she had some hesitancy, still. She stressed that if the feasibility study indicated that 70% of the ridership would come from the University of Michigan community, then the cost of construction should reflect that. Rene Greff echoed Smith’s sentiments, saying that the university had enough money to fund the study by themselves. She said that she was willing to support funding the study but stressed that there should not be an expectation in the long-term for a corresponding level for participation in the system’s construction.

For her part, board member Leah Gunn offered the perspective that the University of Michigan was the major economic engine of the city and indeed of the state. She said that just because someone attends the university or works there, it doesn’t mean they’re not part of the community. The project benefits the university, thus benefits the community as well, she said.

Hieftje indicated that the city had “not held back in making clear that the University of Michigan would need to step up.” He suggested that there would be an advantage, though, in being the entity that applied for federal grant dollars, or at least making an application in concert with the university going forward.

The discussion of the study’s funding distribution came against a backdrop of a total cost that had initially been estimated as dramatically lower – $250,000. In February 2008, the plan was to have AATA provide $100,000 and the other three partners $50,000 apiece.

When the bids came back dramatically higher than expected for a total price tag of $640,000, the initial plan was to have each funding partner contribute $160,000 apiece. The DDA and the city resisted the idea of being counted as separate funding sources, and agreed to split one $160,000 “share,” at $80,000 apiece. The AATA picked up the extra share, for a total of $320,000.

Public Comment

The June 8 connector study open house at the downtown library included a segment for attendees to pose questions or make statements.

Two residents made comments that highlighted the possibility that a more sophisticated transportation technology could itself be an attraction to the Ann Arbor area. Ray Detter, head of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, noted that there’d been an acceptance of the idea of increased density downtown. He said there could be an additional 5,000 people living downtown. A transportation connector was not just a necessity, he said, but also an amenity that would create something of an attraction, providing vitality to the downtown.

An attendee who lives and works downtown – Rob Thomas – noted that the form of some transportation technologies might have an impact on their ability to attract new riders. He wanted to know if that would factor into the analysis. In response, Nau acknowledged that rail systems did have the ability to attract new riders and that many who give it a try become believers. Construction of such a system costing hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of 2-3 years created a great deal of anticipation, he said, and when it does open, “it’s like Christmas” and people want to ride it.

Clark Charnetski expressed his confidence that high speed regional rail would be coming to Ann Arbor and that it would be important for people to have a way to get around Ann Arbor once they get here.


Local developer Peter Allen complied with a request at the start of the meeting that people turn off their cell phones.

Another resident noted that the use of public transportation is voluntary. He asked if the idea had been explored of requiring a payment to bring a privately-owned vehicle into the city – had that been considered as a funding option? Nau answered that as far as funding options, for projects like this you don’t look at two or three different funding options, you look at 10 or 15 different possibilities. They could include everything from a tax increment finance district (TIF) to using parking meter revenues.

A city councilmember representing Ward 1, Sabra Briere, expressed concern over the potentially considerable costs of building anything with fixed guideways, whether it be rails or bus-exclusive lanes. She asked what an estimate would look like, but Nau wasn’t ready to give out even ballpark figures, saying cost-estimation was the next phase of the study.

Steve Bean, an independent mayoral candidate and chair of Ann Arbor’s environmental commission, asked Nau if there was any possibility of reducing road repair costs due to an improved transit operation, and of downsizing the size of the road network. Nau said the study had not looked at that specifically, but that has not been the experience in other cities. Although passengers enjoy these systems, the overall reduction in traffic on the roads is not significant enough to warrant a decrease in road infrastructure investments.

Later, Nau did say that if some kind of enhanced transit option were not chosen and implemented, it would be necessary to expand the road network.

Carolyn Grawi, director of advocacy and education for the Center of Independent Living, asked about the accessibility to the disabled in any of the transportation systems. Nau assured her that all systems had quick boarding processes and that if they were built with the help of federal funding, it would be “absolutely required that every system be 100 percent accessible.” In response to a question from a different audience member, Nau indicated that all of the options presented could also accommodate bicycles.

Grawi also asked about affordability, both for residents and potential riders. Nau said the cost of these projects for residents was notoriously complicated, but fare would have to be at a price “that would be appealing for the vast majority of the public.”

Additional reporting for this article was provided by Dave Askins.

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Green Light: North-South Connector Study Thu, 23 Jul 2009 11:59:37 +0000 Dave Askins Michael Ford AATA CEO sitting at table with Rich Robben

At right is Michael Ford on Day Two of his work as CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. At left is board member Rich Robben. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board (July 21): The AATA board’s monthly meeting schedule usually skips the month of July. But there was some unfinished business from June’s meeting on the approval of funding for the north-south connector feasibility study. And a looming expiration date of July 31, 2009 on the M-Ride agreement with the University of Michigan had led to the suggestion from board chair David Nacht of a one-year extension to that agreement.

Mainly in order to address those two items, the board decided to call a special meeting for Tuesday, July 21. It was properly noticed and publicized as required by the Open Meetings Act.

In addition to approving the two items on the agenda that had prompted the board’s special meeting, it was also an occasion for the board to welcome the recently hired CEO, Michael Ford, who did not take up much time with his few remarks: “Day Two,” he declared, “And I look forward to many more!”

Welcoming and Thanking

Board chair David Nacht publicly thanked interim director Dawn Gabay for her services over the last two years, describing it as a “thankless job” with a tough board that she had to work with. He also welcomed the new CEO of the AATA, Michael Ford. Nacht described a previous transit organization with which Ford had worked – TriMet in Portland, Oregon – as an organization that was visionary and serious about transit, so he was looking forward to seeing Ford apply that vision and seriousness to Ann Arbor’s transportation needs. Nacht wished Ford “spirited adventures that will change our community for the better.”

Ann Arbor Connector Feasibility Study

During public comment at the start of the meeting, Thomas Partridge addressed both main agenda items, including the north-south connector study.

Thomas Partridge: With respect to the item on the agenda authorizing a study for a north-south connector along the Plymouth and State Street corridor out of downtown, Partridge asked that the board send it back for further evaluation, saying that the study does not consider the connections necessary to turn the AATA into a countywide authority. He described the study as too limited in scope.

Board chair David Nacht introduced the item on the north-south connector study by saying that at the last meeting he had objected to the authorization of funds because it had not been put through the board’s committee process. Now that the project had enjoyed the benefit of the board’s committee process, he said, he fully supported the project.

By way of background, it’s worth noting that the official name of the study is “Ann Arbor Connector Feasibility Study.”

What’s the Point of AACFS?

The concept is to assess the feasibility of constructing a high-capacity transit system (e.g., a street car, or bus rapid transit (BRT) system) in both directions from the downtown area of Ann Arbor: (i) northward to US-23, and (ii) southward to I-94.

How Long Has Such a Study Been Discussed?

The north-south connector feasibility study has been under discussion for over a year. A memo from Chris White, manager of service development for the AATA, traces the AACFS history from February 2008.

In broad strokes, the initial estimate for the cost of the study was $250,000. The four partnering agencies had agreed to share the cost as follows: AATA, $100,000; UM $50,000; Downtown Development Authority, $50,000; City of Ann Arbor, $50,000. When bids came back it became apparent that the estimate was dramatically low. This led to an initial decision to share the $640,000 cost evenly at $160,000 each. The DDA board and the city council of Ann Arbor, however, were resistant to having their contributions counted as coming from separate entities and pushed for a $160,000 share to be split between the two agencies at $80,000 apiece, leaving a shortfall of $160,000, which was to be made up by the AATA, bringing its total contribution to $320,000.

An incomplete timeline of approvals:

  • February 2008
    Total: $250,000
    Shares: AATA $100,000; UM $50,000; DDA $50,000; City of Ann Arbor $50,000
  • Nov. 17, 2008 $160,000 approved by AATA board
    Total: $640,000
    Shares: AATA $160,000; UM $160,000; DDA $160,000; City of Ann Arbor $160,000
  • June 3, 2009 $80,000 approved by DDA board
    Total: $640,000
    Shares: AATA $320,000; UM $160,000; DDA $80,000; City of Ann Arbor $80,000
  • June 15, 2009 $80,000 approved by Ann Arbor city council
    Total: $640,000
    Shares: AATA $320,000; UM $160,000; DDA $80,000; City of Ann Arbor $80,000
  • July 21, 2009 $320,000 approved by AATA board
    Total: $640,000
    Shares: AATA $320,000; UM $160,000; DDA $80,000; City of Ann Arbor $80,000

At the AATA board’s June meeting when the board was asked to approve the $320,000 expenditure, board chair Nacht questioned whether it had been reviewed appropriately through the board’s committee process. It was thus postponed from that meeting.

Outcome: The resolution to approve funding for the north-south connector study in the amount of $320,000 was approved unanimously.

M-Ride Agreement

M-Ride is a program that allows affiliates of the University of Michigan – students, faculty and staff, who are issued an M-Card – to ride AATA buses without paying a fare when they board. Although UM affiliates’ rides are free to the affiliates, the cost of their rides is subsidized through an agreement between the AATA and UM.

Negotiations between the AATA and the UM have not yet produced an understanding on which a longer-term agreement could be based. With the current agreement set to expire at the end of the month, the board was considering a one-year extension under basically the same terms as the existing arrangement – with a somewhat greater cash contribution from UM.

During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Jim Mogensen spoke in part to the subject of the M-Ride agreement, as did Thomas Partridge and Carolyn Grawi.

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen spoke to the issue of the M-Ride contract extension. He stated that it was exciting that options were being explored like having the University of Michigan Medical Center participate in paying for M-Ride. He said that he hoped that the future negotiations will include public transit access to the UM East Medical Campus on Plymouth Road near Dixboro Road.

Thomas Partridge: With respect to the one-year extension to the contract with UM to provide services under the M-Ride program, Partridge asked that the agreement be sent back for further consideration and negotiation. Partridge pointed out that there are many UM students and staff who live outside the areas who are currently served by the purchase of service agreement areas (POSA) outside the city of Ann Arbor. He also pointed out that UM operated a countywide health system for which there was no corresponding countywide transportation service.

Carolyn Grawi: Grawi pointed out that if you take the train from Detroit to Ann Arbor, from the Ann Arbor station you cannot get to the UM East Medical Campus with public transportation. And in the context of two additional health units for diabetes and endocrinology being added to the Domino’s Farms complex, she suggested that the AATA needed to help influence the university to become a better partner in the discussions.

Deliberations on the M-Ride Extension

During deliberations, board member Sue McCormick described the negotiations with UM as “collegial and collaborative” discussions. She said that the one-year extension recognized ongoing issues about the adjustment to the university’s contribution. Compared to the previous terms, McCormick said, the university was stepping up their contribution a bit more.

Asked by board member Rich Robben what the numbers were, Chris White, who is the AATA’s service development manager, said the new agreement specified a total of $1,967,842 – of that, $1,073,043 was cash, with the remainder made up from federal Section 5307 funds through the UM. This compares to $700,000 in cash per year previously provided by the university.

Nacht noted that part of the discussion involved a possible interest on the university’s part to treat students differently from faculty and staff. [Note: The university is also contemplating options like a student fee with an opt-out provision. With the new fare boxes installed on AATA buses in early February of 2009, it's now possible to distinguish one M-Card from another in the way that the university is contemplating. M-Ride riders now swipe their M-Cards to board. The previous system simply required M-Card holders to flash their card to the driver.]

Nacht stated that he continued to believe that there was not adequate transportation coverage for the university’s medical facilities. He continued by saying he believed that AATA was an organization that provided revenue to the UM health system. He noted that patients in the health system were in many cases people who had limited means to get physically to a healthcare provider. He noted that the university’s health system had a great interest in making sure that their patients kept their appointments, and that patients appeared for their doctor appointments on time. The AATA, said Nacht, played an important role in providing excellent service, thereby minimizing the university health systems costs and at the same time generating revenue for the system.

Board member Ted Annis pointed out that the statistics on the M-Ride program showed that people connected with the University of Michigan make up 40% of the ridership for the entire AATA system. In light of that fact, Annis said that the university’s financial contribution is currently inadequate, which meant that the burden fell disproportionately on the taxpayers of Ann Arbor. This was an issue that needed to get dealt with, and not ignored, concluded Annis.

Given that the arrangements considered by the board is only for one year, McCormick indicated that it was incumbent on the AATA to maintain a good negotiation schedule. Board member Paul Ajegba asked that the board be given updates on the status of those negotiations.

Outcome: The resolution to extend the M-Ride agreement by one year was passed unanimously with abstention from Rich Robben.

Authorization of Contract Execution

The board considered an agenda item that authorized the AATA CEO to execute all contracts for less than $1 million with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

It was a mundane item except for a point made during public commentary by Jim Mogensen. He pointed out a technical problem in the language of the  resolution – which authorized the “interim director” to sign contracts with the Michigan Department of Transportation. In light of the fact that the AATA now has a full-time permanent CEO in Michael Ford, he suggested that language be changed to reflect that.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously with abstention from Ajegba.

Public Commentary

Tim Hull: Hull introduced himself as a graduate student at the University of Michigan and a regular rider of the AATA’s buses. He pointed out a couple of different problems that he’d noticed from his perspective as a bus rider since 2003. The first problem was that there seems to be some inconsistency among drivers about when they were willing to “hold” buses in order for riders to make connections. In a recent experience, a driver on the No. 2 route would not hold the No. 9 bus in order for him to make a successful connection, which lengthened the time of his trip to over half an hour. A second problem that he noted was that there seemed to be a limited ability to give input in a timely fashion on major decisions for route changes. He suggested that the public be more actively engaged on major service changes so that the agency could be responsive to the community at large.

Thomas Partridge: Partridge called Nacht’s attention to the importance of nonprofits like the Center for Independent Living. But he pointed out that if someone gets on the No. 6 bus to go to the Center for Independent Living, they would be “dumped” in an unpaved area without a bus shelter, needing to cross Ellsworth Road in order to get to the center.

Carolyn Grawi: Grawi took the opportunity to express her thanks to Dawn Gabay for her service as interim director. She said she appreciated Gabay’s commitment to service and her availability. She also welcomed the new CEO Michael Ford. She noted that it was still quite a challenge to move through the multi-county area of Washtenaw, Livingston and Monroe using public transportation. She said that there were areas in which the AATA excelled and also areas in which there needed to be improvement. She alerted board members to the I-Ride kickoff.

Grawi reported that the situation at Arborland had become a “fiasco.” She reported anecdotally a situation of someone who was grocery shopping at Hiller’s and then couldn’t get across Washtenaw Avenue where the new bus stop is located to make the return trip. She encouraged the AATA to continue to pressure the management company of Arborland on that matter.

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen highlighted the inherent tension in planning for transportation between employment transportation – exemplified by the north-south connector study, and the park-and-ride lot on Plymouth and US-23 – versus the utilization of transit within the urban area by its residents as a means to get around.

Present: Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, David Nacht, Rich Robben, Sue McCormick, Ted Annis, Paul Ajegba.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial 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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DDA: No Funding for LINK Bus…for Now Sat, 06 Jun 2009 13:30:53 +0000 Dave Askins Map of the LINK connector service in downtown Ann Arbor

Map of the previous LINK connector service in downtown Ann Arbor

Downtown Development Authority board meeting (June 3, 2009): The start to Wednesday’s DDA board meeting paralleled the beginning of its recent retreat two weeks ago – the board met in closed session with their legal counsel to discuss pending litigation over the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage. Board chair Jennifer Hall recused herself from the session, as she had at the retreat’s closed session.

Later in the meeting, she removed herself from the DDA’s “mutually beneficial” committee, appointing board member Russ Collins to take her place. More on that after the jump.

In other board business, the theme of the balance between university and city funding responsibilities was reflected in board consideration of two transportation-related issues: (i) a feasibility study for a north-south connector service along the Plymouth-State Street corridor, and (ii) the LINK circulator buses – familiar to some downtown visitors as simply “the purple buses.”  The board approved an $80,000 contribution for the north-south connector, but did not renew the grant – last year around $70,000 – that funds the LINK. The LINK is ordinarily suspended during summer months, but the lack of DDA grant renewal likely means that in the fall the purple buses will re-appear only on their eastern UM loop.

Further, a $12,000 evaluation of the getDowntown program was approved, budget amendments were made to reflect allocations already approved, and a resolution was passed approving final recommendations to city council for the A2D2 rezoning package. The board also heard updates on the DDA’s website and data policy, the Fifth & Division streetscape improvements project, the underground parking garage, and the valet parking service. The valet service has been suspended for the summer after the pilot showed less-than-successful results through the first five months of the year.

Closed Session, the Mutually Beneficial Committee, Underground Parking Structure

At the start of the meeting when the roll call vote was taken to go into closed session, board chair Jennifer Hall indicated that the DDA board’s legal counsel had advised that there was no reason that compelled her to recuse herself from the closed session. She had chosen to do so, she explained, in order to afford her colleagues the ability to discuss the issues with frankness and candor. The closed session related to a letter of notification that her husband, Noah Hall, had sent on behalf of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and other nonprofits, which raised the possibility of an environmental lawsuit over the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure.

Later in the meeting after the board had come back from its closed session, Rene Greff reported that the committee to discuss a mutually beneficial financial agreement with city council had not met since the last board meeting. The DDA had formed that committee in response to the city council’s request that the DDA begin discussions to renegotiate the city-DDA parking agreement. The outcome of those conversations expected by the city is that an additional $2 million payment will be made by the DDA to the city – an expectation reflected in the city’s budget plan for FY 2011. At the DDA’s recent retreat, Mayor John Hieftje had cited Hall’s membership on that committee as one barrier  to the city council’s willingness up to now to seat a committee of its own.

The other barrier cited by Hieftje at the retreat – the membership of Rene Greff on the DDA’s committtee – will soon be eliminated as well: Greff told The Chronicle after the board meeting that Hieftje had informed her he had now decided not to reappoint her to the board when her term expires on July 31, 2009.

At the conclusion of Greff’s brief report on the committee’s activity, board chair Jennifer Hall, who as of the start of Wednesday’s board meeting also served on that committee, delivered what could fairly be described as a lambasting of some of the other board members.

She rejected the description that there was an “cloud over [her] head” – made by Hieftje at the recent retreat – as an overstatement. She clarified that her husband, Noah Hall, is not currently filing a lawsuit against the city, but rather is a volunteer executive director for the nonprofit Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, and as such, was performing pro bono work for a variety of other nonprofit groups who had concerns about the environmental impact of the proposed underground parking garage along Fifth Avenue.

Just as it would have been inappropriate for her to try to dissuade him from providing those services, Hall said, it was improper for the city council to hold off from appointing a committee to begin the discussions between the DDA and the city. She allowed that the situation was “awkward,” but stressed that there was no conflict of interest on her part. She also characterized the assumption behind the city council’s reluctance to begin the discussions as sexist – that assumption being that she was not able to formulate opinions that were separate and distinct from her husband’s.

Hall also rejected the notion that her commitment to the DDA board was suspect, characterizing her loyalty to the DDA board as “unwavering.”

She then announced that she would replace herself on the committee in order to remove herself as an obstacle – which Hieftje had cited at the board’s retreat – to the city council’s creating its own committee to begin the negotiations. She expressed the expectation that city council would now seat its own committee without further delay.

Based on the report from the capital improvements committee, which came later in the meeting, the potential lawsuit is not causing a delay in pre-construction activities for the Fifth Avenue underground parking project. John Splitt, reporting to the whole board for that committee, said that detailed drawings were expected on the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage at their next committee meeting. The committee would be having some conversations with the Ann Arbor municipal airport about soil relocation, he said. There was concern that the sheer volume of soil could affect the airport’s storm water retention plan, Splitt allowed, but it was still very much on the table to be able to use the airport as a place to put the dirt from the underground parking garage. Splitt suggested that excavation could start possibly in September.

As a part of the same report for the capital improvements committee, Splitt said that the Fifth & Division streetscape improvements project was awaiting Michigan Department of Transportation permits. The streetscape improvements are being coordinated with the underground parking structure. When the permitting was done the bids could be opened, Splitt said. He was hoping to be able to open bids by June 30, 2009 with a start to the project planned immediately following the art fairs in mid-July.

North-South Connector

Two different transportation topics were related thematically by the relative roles that city entities play in funding them, as compared to the University of Michigan.

The DDA board considered a resolution that came out of its transportation committee to fund a feasibility study for a north-south connector running along the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors. Previously the board had approved a $50,000 contribution to the project. The resolution they considered raised that amount to $80,000. Since the fall of 2008, discussions about the appropriate amount to be contributed by each of four partners on the project have taken place in a context of a total price first estimated at $250,000, which then climbed to more than double that figure when initial bids came back.

The four partners on the study are the DDA, the city of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, and UM. In deliberations, board member Roger Hewitt alluded to the relatively long time frame of the discussion, and stated that he supported the resolution. He pointed out that there were a number of deliverables attached to the resolution that he felt should allay some of the concerns others might have. Those deliverables include a “fatal flaw analysis” as well as ridership and demand forecasting. The latter is expected to show that the primary ridership will be members of the UM community, which is also the pattern with the LINK downtown bus circulator. [board packet with deliverables specified]

Board member Sandi Smith, who is also a city councilmember, allowed that the specificity of the deliverables was good, but that she had a problem providing support for a project that was essentially going to be a “U of M trolley.” She said she understood that the route was not completely determined, but she had some hesitancy, still. She stressed that if the feasibility study indicated that 70% of the ridership would come from the University of Michigan community, then the cost of construction should reflect that.

Rene Greff echoed Smith’s sentiments, saying that the university had enough money to fund the study by themselves. She said that she was willing to support funding the study but stressed that there should not be an expectation in the long-term for a corresponding level for participation in the system’s construction.

For her part, board member Leah Gunn offered the perspective that the University of Michigan was the major economic engine of the city and indeed of the state. She said that just because someone attends the university or works there, it doesn’t mean they’re not part of the community. The project benefits the university, thus benefits the community as well, she said.

Hieftje indicated that the city had “not held back in making clear that the University of Michigan would need to step up.” He suggested that there would be an advantage, though, in being the entity that applied for federal grant dollars, or at least making an application in concert with the university going forward.

Outcome: The resolution to fund the north-south feasibility study for $80,000 passed unanimously.


A second transportation-related topic at the meeting that reflects the issue of  UM-city balance of funding was the LINK. The LINK  is a circulator (purple) bus service, provided free to passengers, with two major loops – one in the center of downtown Ann Arbor, and the other southeast of the University of Michigan central campus. It doesn’t operate during the summer months. Its funding depends on a collaboration between the AATA, UM and the DDA.

The DDA did not have a resolution before it to fund the LINK, which would normally resume in fall 2009 – and without a resolution the portion of the LINK funded by the DDA will not be restored. During board member John Mouat’s report from the transportation committee, the board deliberated on the LINK question. Those deliberations took place in the context of the public comment made by Thomas Partridge at the start of the meeting.

Thomas Partridge: Partridge introduced himself to the board as a recent Democratic candidate in the 18th Senate District of the state of Michigan as well as the 52nd District of the House of Representatives. He described his interests as concerning not just the DDA district but rather the whole city of Ann Arbor, the county of Washtenaw, and the entire state of Michigan. In reference to the north-south connector study that was on the board’s agenda, Partridge encouraged the DDA to enlist University of Michigan students to conduct studies for them at a much lower cost than consultants. He also encouraged the board to not use studies as a stumbling block to real progress. He asked the board to pass a resolution that day to provide dial-a-ride transportation service in the city of Ann Arbor plus the surrounding areas. He suggested combining revenues of the Ann Arbor DDA with other DDAs in the entire metropolitan area for a united DDA effort. He said that he had attended an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority planning and development committee meeting just prior to coming to the DDA board meeting, and that Chris White, the AATA director of service development, had indicated that the LINK – a downtown circulator bus service – “would be squashed.” Partridge urged that the LINK not be squashed but rather modified and strengthened.

Deliberations by the board on the LINK

Reporting out from the transportation committee, John Mouat summarized the committee’s six-month long exploration of the LINK connector service downtown and announced that they were, at this point, reluctant to continue DDA funding for that service. He said that a decision needed to be made by June to renew the grant that would restore service to the DDA portion of the twin-loop system in the fall. [The LINK goes on a seasonal summer hiatus.] Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, indicated that the board was right up against the deadline.

Sandi Smith said that she didn’t think the idea for a circulator was completely gone, it just didn’t seem like a good idea to keep funding it in the current form. Roger Hewitt said he’d been involved with the LINK since its inception, and that the service was not accomplishing what they had set out to do. He said he was reluctant to see it end completely, but that the conceptual plan needed be thought out for all of downtown. Leah Gunn said that she very much liked the idea of the LINK but that she never took it – she found that she could get to where she needed to go by walking. John Mouat picked up on that walkability theme, saying that the scale of downtown Ann Arbor was actually small enough that in most cases it was quite walkable. For point-to-point service, the AATA did a good job with that, he said.

Thomas Partridge, who walks with the aid of the crutch, interjected from the audience with a question about whether a senior could get service across town, but was told he was out of order and there would be time at the end for additional public commentary.

John Hieftje said he was hearing that the east-west commuter rail demonstration [Ann Arbor-Detroit] would be implemented by October 2010, which meant that a reconfiguration of the LINK routes would be necessary anyway. On rainy days, he allowed, the LINK was great but on other days it was pretty easy to walk.

The several-month long review of the LINK by the transportation committee was influenced in part by the disproportionate amount of ridership on the service by UM students.

A LINK ridership survey conducted in March 2008 on board LINK buses revealed that nearly 77% of LINK rider were UM students at the time they were surveyed. However, only 41% of riders described the purpose of the trip as for school. The breakdown for LINK usage was as follows:

work              11.1%
school            40.8%
get food          15.3%
medical             .5%
shopping           5.0%
entertainment     20.0%
personal business  8.4%
other              8.7%


That survey question was answered by 380 people. The survey also showed that there was not great satisfaction with on-time performance with LINK buses. On a scale from 1-7 with 1 being very dissatisfied, 4 “medium”and 7 “very satisfied,” of those surveyed 14.5% said they were very dissatisfied, with a total of 46% expressing a satisfaction level less than medium. Frequency of service also did not rate high: 32% rated frequency of service at a level less than medium.

A breakdown of the cost of service funding for the LINK circulator from September 2008 to April 2009 is as follows:

$145,385  University of Michigan
$131,267  State operating assistance
$ 10,000  AATA advertising revenues
$ 71,023  AATA operating subsidy
$ 71,023  Downtown Development Authority


A resolution to allocate $12,000 for the evaluation of the getDowntown program passed unanimously and with little discussion.

Bonnie Valentine: During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Valentine addressed the board as a recent participant in the getDowntown program’s commuter challenge during the month of May. Valentine indicated that she worked with the Whole Brain Group, which is located in the same building as the DDA but on a lower floor. Valentine said it was an interesting experience last year when she had participated in the commuter challenge and started taking the bus. She said that in her neighborhood as her neighbors watched her either waiting for the bus or walking to the bus stop, she had been offered rides in their cars. So she had taken the opportunity to try to be an advocate in her neighborhood for taking the bus. What the getDowntown program supported, Valentine said, was making a difference one person at a time. She told the board they should approve the $12,000 evaluation of the getDowntown program that was on their agenda for that day and that they should put even more effort towards that program.

Data and Public Relations

Reporting out from the partnerships committee, co-chair Russ Collins gave an update on progress towards a data policy and website updates that a subcommittee was making [Rene Greff, Keith Orr, Gary Boren, Jennifer Hall]. The board packet for each meeting, said Collins, was now available online. Previously only the agenda and specific resolutions had been available.

Rene Greff gave a report out from the ad hoc communications committee. She said the committee had met with Trek Glowacki and Catherine Hayes. Glowacki is an independent computer programmer, and Hayes works with Inner Circle Media, which maintains the DDA’s website. Greff said the DDA could do a much better job of telling its story.

They identified several goals. Among them were better public relations, better transparency, better community engagement, internal data management, and encouragement of downtown redevelopment. One specific project she suggested was some kind of calendar, plus use of existing social networking strategies. Greff said that Inner Circle Media would be working on a way to rotate a feature through the front page of the website – right now the featured item is parking, which feeds the notion that the only thing the DDA does its parking.

Greff also indicated that the ad hoc committee was working on a job description for a communications position. Such a position would not be conceived as a job to push press releases out, but rather to act as a communications liaison – someone to be the face and voice of the DDA.


Transportation demand management: Roger Hewitt announced that the installation of the new E-Park kiosks, which will be replacing the conventional meters, would begin around June 15. He announced that the valet parking service – a pilot program started in mid-December 2008 at the Maynard parking structure – had not been successful at this point. In light of the lack of success, Hewitt said that rather than continue to operate at a significant loss through the summer, it would be temporarily discontinued for that period. Hewitt explained that the Maynard parking structure is not heavily used in summer, anyway. With respect to the transportation demand management measures, Hewitt said that in many cases the systems were being developed from scratch because in many respects the parking industry had not yet developed the technology. “It’s not like we can just copy it, because it hasn’t been done elsewhere.”

Wayfinding: John Splitt, reporting out from the capital improvements committee, said the wayfinding project now had a contractor. Susan Pollay indicated that the first wayfinding sign might be expected sometime before the end of August.

Budget amendments: The board passed a series of budget amendments to reflect actions and appropriations that they had taken a earlier in the year. One major difference involved $700,000 extra to cover the cost of the DDA’s contribution to the city’s police-court facility and its LEED certification. Another application that needed to be accounted for in the budget amendments was a grant for Avalon Housing that had not been in the original budget.

Development: Russ Collins also said that in their committee meeting there had been a lively discussion about areas owned by private concerns. As an example, he gave the Brown Block, which is owned by First Martin Corp. and is bounded by Huron, Ashley, and First streets. Currently there is a surface parking lot there, said Collins, but at some point the developer will want to put up a building. He suggested there should be some community dialogue to encourage the sort of development that people would like to see.

Connected thematically to that discussion is the resolution passed by the DDA board at its March 4, 2009 meeting expressing the readiness of the DDA to make resources available to facilitate community-wide discussion on the question of “what goes on top” of the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure. At the city council’s June 1, 2009 meeting, Sandi Smith – who serves on the DDA board as well as city council – alerted her city council colleagues to the fact that she’d be introducing a resolution at the June 15 meeting calling for a request for qualifications for the parcel on Fifth Avenue under which the underground parking garage would be built.

415 W. Washington: In reporting on the 415 W. Washington request for proposals, John Mouat called on city planner Wendy Rampson, who was present in the audience, to give an update. Rampson indicated that the city had not moved forward yet on developing the revised RFP due largely to issues of timing with respect to the poor economy.

Parking report: Summarizing the April 2009′s parking usage for the operations committee, Roger Hewitt reported that revenues were up by 1% compared to April 2008. The number of hourly patrons was up significantly, he said. The demand for parking, Hewitt said, continues to be consistent after being somewhat flat for a few months. He concluded that it was a testament to the strength and attraction of downtown Ann Arbor.

Energy grant program: Reporting for the partnerships committee, Collins said that there had been some consideration of providing separate support to performing arts organizations, but that ultimately they had backed away from that approach except to offer such organizations a 75% match in the context of the DDA’s energy-saving grant program. Other organizations receive a 50% match.

A2D2 zoning recommendations: The DDA board considered a resolution to give its recommendation on the final A2D2 rezoning package. The resolution was a response to various changes that the Ann Arbor city council had undertaken to the initial package. Some of the recommendations made by the DDA board were made in response to the specific implementation of a height limit [180 feet for most of the downtown area, and 150 feet in other parts.] Those recommendations increased the amount of floor-area-ratio that could be built “by right.” Sandi Smith raised the question of whether the recommended changes by the DDA board, if implemented by the city council, would require that the package be sent back to planning commission.

Wendy Rampson said she had met with the A2D2 oversight committee and that they were aware of the recommended changes. Whether or not the package would need to go back to planning commission or would need to be reset to have an additional first reading was not yet clear. The city attorney’s office was looking at the issue, Rampson said. Hieftje offered that he was not worried if the package needed to go back to planning commission or was delayed at council because there were not a lot of petitions coming before the city at this time.

A2D2 design guidelines: Roger Hewitt gave an update on the A2D2 design guidelines process. He said that the next day the A2D2 committee would be having a phone conference with the consultant on the project and that it was still the plan to be able to present the design guidelines component of the A2D2 project to Ann Arbor’s city council by September 2009.

Public art: Leah Gunn gave a report on the joint meeting between the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission and some members of the DDA. The Chronicle will report separately on that meeting. Summarizing, Gunn said that one concern on the part of the DDA was that a lot of time and money was being spent on administrative issues instead of on the art itself. She said she had a personal interest in addressing the issue of some relief panels on the Fourth & Washington parking structure, which had been placed there in honor of Reuben Bergman, former head of the DDA.

Audience participation

Ray Detter: Detter made four points: (i) He encouraged people to come to his party that day, which started at 6:30 p.m. (ii) The downtown area citizens advisory council had received copies of the most recent downtown plan adopted by the planning commission, and had given its unanimous support for adoption of the downtown plan. (iii) Detter indicated that the placement of parking meters in residential neighborhoods near to the downtown was something the citizens advisory council opposed. Instead, Detter said, there should be a residential permit parking system implemented for all neighborhoods that did not currently have them. He also encouraged a comprehensive approach to the issue of parking meters, suggesting that the city and the DDA needed to cooperate on this issue. (iv) Detter reminded the DDA board of the situation at the Courthouse Square apartment building. It was not the first time that Detter had spoken on the issue with the DDA board. He said that three residents of Courthouse Square had attended the meeting of the citizens advisory council the previous evening. From those three, the council had learned that in less than two years the owners of the building intended to sell it. Detter indicated that the number of police reports filed from Courthouse Square during the period May 2008 to May 2009 was 26 compared to 14 reports filed in the previous year. The number of phone calls had increased during the same period from 190 to 270.

LuAnne Bullington: Bullington introduced herself as a transportation advocate. Alluding to Hieftje’s remarks about the demonstration east-west rail project being online by October 2010, she said the mayor was right. She said that the timeframe could be accounted for by the November elections. She suggested that if the rail system was not put in place before the November 2010 elections, there was a risk that after the elections there would be less political support for the project than now. She expressed concern that there may be a way to finance the construction of the rail system, but not to actually operate it. She pointed out that rail is the most expensive way and also the most inflexible way to provide mass transit. She also expressed concern that running a rail system into the city of Ann Arbor would be an intrusion to the neighborhoods.

Thomas Partridge: At the conclusion of the meeting, there was a brief uncertainty as to whether it was allowed under the DDA board rules for someone to speak twice during public commentary – at the start of the meeting and at the conclusion. From the audience, Steve Bean indicated that he had on past occasions spoken twice. In any event, Partridge was given an additional turn. He said he was there to challenge conventional thinking by the DDA as he had challenged the conventional thinking of the Ann Arbor city council and Washtenaw County board of commissioners, and the state-level government. He said that changing conventional thinking started with integrity, and called on the board to dissolve itself and then reconstitute itself with an ethics code that would disallow elected officials to serve on the board, because it represented a prima facie conflict of interest. He pointed to Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn (who is a county commissioner), and John Hieftje as examples. [Editor's note: The enabling legislation for DDAs calls for one seat on the board to be assigned to either the mayor or the city administrator.] The votes that these individuals had participated in on behalf of the DDA, Partridge contended, should be challenged in circuit court. He noted that there was no seat on the board for a senior citizen or a disabled person. He also suggested that there should not be a free lunch served to board members at their meetings.

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

Absent: Keith Orr

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, July 1 at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]

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Budget, Bridge: Part II Sun, 10 May 2009 17:17:37 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council Meeting, Part II (May 4, 2009): This article continues coverage begun here.

Transportation: Connector Study

Before council was a study for a proposed north-south connector along the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors. Four different entities are partnering on the feasibility study: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and the city of Ann Arbor. The study proposal has been in the works since at least the fall of 2008. Discussion over the months among the various partners has centered around total cost and the share to be paid by each partner.

The initial proposal, based on a cost estimate by city staff of $250,000, had the AATA paying $100,000 and the other three partners equal $50,000 shares.When the $250,000 estimate proved dramatically low upon sending the proposal out to bid, a revised proposal with a total cost of $640,000 called for the four partners to share equally in $160,000 shares. The DDA’s discussions of the issue reflected the view that the DDA, the city of Ann Arbor and the AATA were essentially all the same source – Ann Arbor taxpayers – so should not be considered separate partners in the financial equation. Further, the primary beneficiary was seen to be UM, for connecting its north campus area with its central campus.

The proposal before council on Monday night specified the following financial arrangement: city of Ann Arbor, $80,000; AATA, $320,000; UM, $160,000; DDA, $80,000.

At council’s Monday meeting, Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who also serves on the DDA board, suggested a postponement until the DDA had a chance to vote on the new proposal.

Outcome: Postponed.

Transportation: Plan Update

Before council was a resolution to adopt the city’s transportation plan update.

Jim Mogensen: At the public hearing on the transportation plan update, Mogensen noted that he was the only member to weigh in at the planning commission’s public hearing on the transportation plan update. He said that wasn’t too surprising, but also said that transportation is a big issue in Ann Arbor. Every controversy in Ann Arbor has something to do with the word “park,” he said: parking structure, parking meters, Parke-Davis. [Parke-Davis was acquired by Warner-Lambert in 1970, which in turn was bought by Pfizer in 2000.] Mogensen said that the transportation plan update was basically saying that the population in Ann Arbor wasn’t going to increase, but there were a number of employment generators which were going to need ways to bring workers into the city. The plan talks about connectors from Canton, and Chelsea and Ypsilanti Township. Somebody has to pay for it, he said. As an example, he asked council to look at their DS-7 agenda item, which had to do with the funding strategy for a north-south connector study. He noted that the University of Michigan is among the entities involved [UM, AATA, DDA, city of Ann Arbor], adding that UM doesn’t “contribute,” but rather “invests in an outcome.” He pointed out that when UM invested in the M-Ride program [sponsoring fares for UM affiliates so that they board buses simply by displaying their M-Cards] it became harder and harder for other people to use the bus. For the route that he uses along Plymouth, Mogensen said, he can’t use the bus unless he modifies his travel schedule around the heavier commuting times. The people who are going to pay for the enhanced transit, he said, would not be the people in the townships or the outlying areas, but rather the taxpayers in the urban areas.

Thomas Partridge: Partridge said he supported the city’s planning for integrated county regional transportation plan, providing connectors to townships within the county and throughout the region. He noted, however, that despite the fact that transportation planning has been going on for decades, there’s been a dearth of issues on the ballot. No amount of money will create a system, he said, unless there’s a coordinated region-wide plan. To do that, he said, we needed an elected transportation authority, not an appointed one. [The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board is appointed by the mayor of the city of Ann Arbor.]

LuAnne Bullington: She identified herself as a Ward 3 resident and a member of the local advisory committee of the AATA. Bullington spoke to the issue of gaps in the sidewalk system. Ann Arbor has great bike paths, she said, but where we’re falling down is in sidewalk gaps. Where Ferdon crosses into Burns Park, she said there are whole blocks without a sidewalk. Students at Pattengill Elementary School and Tappen Middle School can’t walk to school, she said, even though they’re in the heart of the city. She said she would like to see part of the plan update include a non-motorized plan. She noted that it’s not easy for a wheelchair to cross a grassy stretch where there’s no sidewalks. She suggested that when Stephen Rapundalo’s (Ward 2) basement flooded, the city installed sump pumps for people, and that we might take a similar approach to sidewalks.

Council Deliberations on the Transportation Plan Update: Council deliberations centered around the revisions suggested by planning commission and the comments on the plan by the city’s environmental commission. The planning commission’s recommendation, which included their amendments, was attached to the council agenda. The environmental commission’s report, however, was not. Councilmember Margie Teall indicated that the environmental commission’s commentary should have been included as an H-Item (in the city clerk’s report of communications) so she had emailed it to councilmembers.

[Editorial Aside: There's no internet access provided to the public in council chambers. Access to the internet in chambers can be achieved by using a wireless card (a USB device that affords access via a cell phone carrier like AT&T or Verizon). There's a single power outlet for any members of the media or public who'd like to use a laptop computer to document or follow council proceedings. The result is that access to the environmental commission's commentary, which council had before it and was discussing, was not easily accessible to members of the public and the media who attended the meeting.]

The planning commission’s commentary is here. The environmental commission’s commentary is here. At issue was whether the environmental commission’s commentary was reflected in the plan and what the implications were for sending the transportation plan update back to planning commission for incorporation of those comments.

There was a fair amount of discussion about possibly postponing the adoption of the plan, which ultimately did not lead to postponement.

Salient in transportation program manager Eli Cooper’s description of the transportation plan was the process by which SEMCOG – the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments – dis-aggregates regional estimates of growth in jobs and population. The initial estimates by SEMCOG showed little growth in jobs or population for the Ann Arbor area. Local municipalities have the opportunity to “appeal” SEMCOG’s analysis, which the city of Ann Arbor did. The successful case was made to SEMCOG that health care and higher education would be tremendous growth areas in the economy, areas that would have an impact on Ann Arbor jobs (through the University of Michigan). As a consequence, the SEMCOG projections from 2005 to 2035 show job growth of 18,000. Cooper said that a corresponding case made to SEMCOG for population growth was not successful.

Outcome: The transportation plan was adopted unanimously.

Transportation: East Stadium Bridge

Arnold Goetzke: Speaking during public commentary, Goetzke said that after he’d left the previous council meeting at which he spoke on the East Stadium bridge, he’d been provided with a study talking about why the bridge was needed and analyzing the no-bridge option. He said that the hypothetical costs for the no-bridge option were questionable. As one example, he cited $7.4 million of present net worth for adding a stoplight at Stadium Boulevard [calculated over the 75-year study period based on accidents at a signalized intersection]. He noted that there were potentially stoplights that could eliminated: Stimpson & State; Industrial & Stimpson; Stadium & Industrial. A fourth stoplight, at Granger & Packard, also had some potential to be eliminated if an at-grade crossing were established at Stadium & State, where there’s now a bridge. He concluded that the study had done a good job focusing on the negative. Another example he cited was the $14.8 million cost because of the extra fuel consumption while vehicles idled at the State & Stadium intersection. Motorists cut through the Burns Park area at Golden and Park, where there are two one-way streets, he said, which could be eliminated. There would be gas savings, he said, by not having to take a left onto Stimpson, and a left onto Industrial, and a left onto Stadium, when motorists get onto Stadium Boulevard from State Street. Goetzke mentioned a website he would be creating to lay out further details of the problems with the study and its conclusion against a no-bridge option.

Before council was a resolution to approve submission of an application under the State of Michigan Local Bridge Program. City engineer Michael Nearing was on hand Monday night to provide an update on the status of the bridge, which continues to be monitored. While the bridge has stabilized, he said, its poor condition [2 on a 100-point scale] could mean that it could require closure with very little notice.  The city is developing traffic rerouting plans for that eventuality, which will also have to be put into place when reconstruction begins.

Outcome: The resolution to ask for funding was approved.

Transportation and Planning: Airport Runway

Andrew McGill: Speaking during public commentary reserved time, McGill said he was there to ensure that council did not make a misinformed vote to extend the primary runway at the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport. He was there, he said, representing several hundred well-organized citizens who were concerned about the safety of such an extension. McGill stated that he loved the airport and, in fact, learned to fly there. He said he did not believe that council said to themselves before the meeting, “How can I make some lousy decisions tonight.” [Later during council communications, Leigh Greden (Ward 3) would clarify that there would be no vote on the airport that night or anytime soon.] In that light, McGill said that he and his colleagues would begin appearing to make clear how council had been mislead by airport authorities. Based on material they’d obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, he continued, council would become conviced that the current proposal to extend the runway is dangerous, deficient and would have “precarious budgetary implications” because of the airport’s declining use. The environmental assessment began today [May 4, 2009], he said, and after the current budgetary issues are resolved they’d be hapy to meet with council. He noted that similar proposals have been rejected on four attempts over the last 30 years. Free federal dollars today, he warned, carried with them the unspoken pricetag of committment to operate the airport for 20 years, regardless of its worth.

Planning: R4C Moratorium

Tom Whitaker: Speaking during public commentary reserved time, Whitaker introduced himself as the president of Germantown Neighborhood Association. He began by stating: “Ann Arbor’s zoning ordinance is a mess.” He identified R4C districts as a particular concern. He described his role and that of other members of the association as “citizen zoning administrators,” who had identified places in the ordinance where developers had exploited the code. There are missing definitions for “dormer,” “roof,” “kitchen” and “common facilities.” He also called attention to definitions that exist but contradict each other. As an example, he gave “required setback” versus “required open space.” He concluded by calling for a moratorium on construction in R4C zoning districts until the problems with the zoning ordinance could be addressed.

[Subsequent to Monday's council meeting, Whitaker has circulated an email identifying a missed point in the due process for the site plan review of a recent project brought "by right" under R4C zoning recommended by planning commission: City Place. The requirement identified by Whitaker that was missed involves the necessity of providing site plans in a location at city hall that is accessible to the public 24/7 for a full week in advance of a plan's review by planning commission or council. In the current configuration of the Larcom Building – changed due to construction – the table with the drawings for site plans is located just to the left of the Ann Street entrance.]

Thomas Partridge: Speaking during public commentary reserved time, Partridge introduced himself as a Democrat of Scio Township and member of the local advisory committee to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. He addressed council on the subject on the need for a master plan for Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to end discrimination in the area of housing, healthcare, transportation, and education. He contended there isn’t affordable public or private transportation, housing, healthcare, or education in the city or the region. Even though the county is blessed with two of the most prominent, prestigious universities in the state [University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University], he said that the region was behind the times in requesting funding to provide for tuition and living expenses on campus. He called on the council to carry out the Michigan Promise for an undergraduate or graduate degree or a profession degree for anyone who was willing to work for it. He called on council to move from the status quo to work on progressive reforms.

Resolution: New Liquor Code

For several months now, on most occasions when a liquor license award or transfer has come before council, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) has indicated that a complete overhaul of the city’s liquor code would be forthcoming. On Monday night it came forth.

The idea is to repeal the entire old chapter on liquor in the city code and replace it with a new one. Rapundalo described the key elements of the new code as providing for an annual review process, clarifying standards for application, and giving the liquor committee greater ability to track on- and off-premises violations.

Outcome: The new code passed unanimously on its first reading. All ordinance changes require two readings before council.

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 18, 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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UM Makes Plans for Pfizer Research Campus Wed, 01 Apr 2009 14:19:03 +0000 Mary Morgan Jim Bell, center, chief administrative officer for the UM Medical School, chats with Marvin Parnes, right, associate vice president for research and executive director of research administration, and John Ballew, executive vice president for medical affairs.

Jim Bell, center, chief administrative officer for the UM Medical School, chats with Marvin Parnes, right, associate vice president for research and executive director of research administration, and John Ballew, director of UM Health System facilities planning. They were awaiting the start of Tuesday's forum on possible uses for the Pfizer research campus.

Jim Woolliscroft was Harlan Hatcher’s personal physician, and near the end of the former University of Michigan president’s life, Woolliscroft made house calls to check in on him. That gave them time to talk. And one of the things they talked about was UM’s purchase of the property that became North Campus.

Hatcher told Woolliscroft that when UM leaders decided to buy the 800 acres of farmland north of Ann Arbor, they didn’t know exactly how they’d use it – but they knew it would transform the university.

Woolliscroft, dean of the UM Medical School, told that anecdote Tuesday afternoon to the 100 or so people gathered at a forum on the future of the Pfizer research campus, which UM is in the process of acquiring. This purchase isn’t quite as bold as the one made in the early 1950s, Woolliscroft said, but its potential to transform in unimaginable ways is great: “That opportunity is phenomenal.”

The forum was one of three held this year for faculty to talk about how the university will use the former Pfizer facility. Tuesday’s hour-long session focused on process, with administrators outlining just how they’ll go about deciding what academic research or other activities are located at the site.

There’s a lot of space to fill. The 174-acre piece of land, located off of Plymouth Road near UM’s North Campus, contains 30 buildings with just over 2 million square feet of space, including research wet labs and offices. The site also includes a pharmaceutical manufacturing building that’s fairly new, and a cafeteria that seats 800 people.

To cover the $108 million purchase price, the Medical School is paying $62 million, with UM Hospitals and Health Centers (HHC) picking up $15 million and $31 million coming from central administration. By comparison, the Medical School and HHC paid $245 million to build the Biomedical Science Research Building, known as the BSRB – a 435,00-square-foot structure that opened three years ago. Woolliscroft said the medical school had projected that its space needs by 2020 would require an amount of square footage equivalent to what was now available at the Pfizer site. Given that fact, plus the cost comparison with the BSRB, Woolliscroft said the Pfizer purchase made sense.

Woolliscroft expects the deal to be completed by June of this year – right now, the university is conducting due diligence before closing the deal, he said.

Meanwhile, Woolliscroft said that faculty and administrators need to think about how to organize their research and educational efforts, imagining new ways to do things that in the past weren’t possible because they didn’t have the space. Several committees are being pulled together to work on different aspects of this massive effort. Among them are:

  • An external advisory group composed of scientists outside the university who will “hold our collective feet to the fire,” Woolliscroft said. They’ll be asked to provide scientific advice and direction, and will likely meet for the first time in September.
  • A committee on facilities planning and logistics to coordinate due diligence efforts and prepare for things like security needs, lease consolidation and the operation of a power plant on the site.
  • A group – led by UM professor and entrepreneur Jim Baker and associate vice president for research Marvin Parnes – to look at public/private partnerships. That could include designated space for start-up companies founded by UM faculty as well as incubator space for fledgling businesses.
  • A committee to communicate the progress of these and other efforts. A key component of that will be the UM Research Growth website, Woolliscroft said, which will be updated as new information is available. He expects more activity on this front after the deal is completed – for now, they’re somewhat “muzzled” by the confidentiality agreement with Pfizer, he said.

Committees are also being formed to explore interdisciplinary collaboration in the areas of neurosciences, health sciences and drug discovery. Other areas are being identified, Woolliscroft said, and might include imaging, nanotechnology and cancer research, among others.

Before taking questions, Woolliscroft handed the presentation over to Steve Kunkel, the Medical School’s senior associate dean for research. Kunkel said they’ve been working for months to develop a research strategic plan related to this expansion, and he outlined some of the steps they’d taken. There are three tiers in their approach, he said: 1) Look for obvious strengths, 2) Find ways to leverage existing strengths into new areas, and 3) Develop “revolutionary” new areas of research – the most important goal, but also the most difficult, he said.

An assistant takes notes while Jim Woolliscroft, dean of the UM Medical School, fields a question from the audience at Tuesdays forum on north campus.

An assistant takes notes while Jim Woolliscroft, dean of the UM Medical School, fields a question from the audience at Tuesday's forum, held at the Chrysler Center on North Campus.

Following the main presentation, several people in the audience had questions for Woolliscroft. Ken Nisbet, executive director of UM’s Office of Technology Transfer, asked what the process and criteria were for deciding who moves into the Pfizer site. Woolliscroft said that some physician-scientists will locate their labs in the closest physical proximity to where they practice. In other cases, labs are dependent on samples that emanate from clinics, and again need to be close to that source.  The roles that faculty play will be a factor in deciding where to locate their work.

An administrator from the College of Engineering asked what the financial arrangements would be if engineering faculty wanted to use some of the Pfizer space. Woolliscroft said that to pay for the Medical School’s part of the acquisition, they’d be collecting about $7,000 per year from each of their faculty members over the next 10 years – the school has over 2,000 faculty. He said as other groups came in, they’d expect to work out an appropriate investment. Woolliscroft noted that each of UM’s colleges or schools is funded differently. The Medical School is self-funded, and charges its faculty for the space they use for offices and labs – roughly $43 per square foot for wet lab space, and about half that for office space, he said.

Someone from the audience asked whether the efforts at public/private partnerships would include the availability of specialized space, or a true incubator with support services. Both, Woolliscroft said. He added that there’s been a paucity of wet lab space available for startups in this area. “Now,” he said, “we’ve got it.”

One woman asked whether the slides shown at this presentation, which were quite detailed, would be posted on the Research Growth website. Not yet, Woolliscroft said. Though there’s nothing on the slides that violates their confidentiality agreement with Pfizer, they weren’t going to post that information until UM’s top administrators gave the go-ahead. [The Chronicle has put in a request for the slides, and will post them here when they are released.]

Another person said there’d been issues related to the integration of Central Campus and North Campus, and he wondered what the challenges would be to integrating yet another area – the Northeast Campus – into the rest of the university, and how they planned to address those challenges.

Transportation would be key, Woolliscroft said. One possibility would be to have a fleet of small buses that run regularly between the campuses, he said. But in his wildest dreams, he added, he envisioned a monorail or something akin to the People Mover, which would run from the south athletic campus all the way to the university’s north side. Other opportunities to draw people to the former Pfizer site would include the day care center there as well as the large cafeteria – figuring out how to do food service there is one of their tasks. “I don’t know all the answers,” he said.

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DDA Committee Gets getDowntown Update Wed, 31 Dec 2008 19:29:40 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Observer article from Ann Arbor District Library clipping file.

A 1998 Ann Arbor Observer article about the park-and-ride program, found in the Ann Arbor District Library's clipping file.

DDA Transportation Committee (Dec. 18, 2008) The Downtown Development Authority‘s transportation committee addressed the north-south connector study and had a “big picture” discussion about transportation issues before hearing from getDowntown director Nancy Shore, who gave an overview of that program. The context of her presentation was $100,000 of funding for alternative transportation authorized by the DDA in September 2008, part or all of which could be allocated to getDowntown.

The meeting ran a course that did not result in the committee hearing from two members of the public, Ed Vielmetti and Jude Yew, who had hoped to sketch out some problems and solutions related to AATA bus information. Unlike meetings of the full board, committee meetings do not include a time for public commentary.

North-South Connector Study

First up as a conversational topic was the north-south connector study. By way of background, the DDA is one of four partners on the project to study the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors as a possibility for high-capacity transit within the city of Ann Arbor. The initial funding arrangement for the study called for the DDA, the University of Michigan, and the city of Ann Arbor to contribute $50,000 each, with the AATA contributing $100,000. When cost estimates came back far in excess of the $250,000 total budget, a revised funding arrangement was proposed with each partner contributing $160,000. The full DDA board did not authorize the increased funding level, sending it instead back to its transportation committee. DDA board member Roger Hewitt had been representing the DDA on the project. Hewitt had hinted at the previous meeting of the transportation committee that he was open to someone else taking over that role.

John Mouat, chair of the transportation committee, indicated that going forward, DDA board chair Jennifer S. Hall and DDA executive director Susan Pollay will represent the DDA on the north-south connector study. He said that the mayor of the city of Ann Arbor, John Hieftje, had met with Jim Kosteva, community relations director for UM, to talk about considering the city of Ann Arbor and the DDA as a single entity for the purposes of funding the north-south connector study.

In light of the emerging issue of appropriate funding levels from each of the four partners, Hewitt expressed his concern that there be a method for figuring out who pays for what, noting that he didn’t feel it was necessarily the DDA’s job to figure it out, but that they should perhaps “figure out who should figure it out,” saying that he was concerned that “it’s just going to sit there,” and that he wanted to make sure that somebody “picked up the ball.”

Responding to Hewitt, Pollay said that she, along with Sue Gott (planner for UM), Eli Cooper (transportation program manager for the city of Ann Arbor), and Chris White (AATA manager of service development) would hash it out, and return to their respective bodies and say, “This is what we think the new deal is.”

Hewitt indicated that for funding the system itself it was fair to consider the percentage of usage of the system by each entity that had partnered on the study. He said that this relative usage should be modeled as a part of the study. If the system was projected to have two-thirds UM ridership, then their share of the funding should be commensurate with that.

Mouat echoed Hewitt’s concern, saying the DDA should bear in mind a process for the north-south connector study that would establish the right precedents and expectations from other entities with respect to other projects. Among the other projects Mouat cited were the North University Avenue bus station improvements, for which UM has asked the city of Ann Arbor and the DDA for assistance in funding.

Big Picture Discussion

Mouat led the group into a discussion of the overall purpose of the DDA’s transportation committee, beginning by considering the difference between public and personal transportation. Mouat noted that personal transportation choices had implications for the parking system and that while it’s easy to get on a public transportation bandwagon, “Americans are still Americans,” meaning that many of them will drive. Board member Sandi Smith said she thought is was really useful to look at the issue from a personal-public point of view.

Picking up on the personal-public distinction, Pollay added, “Everyone at some point is a pedestrian. At some point you get off the bus and walk to your destination. Your movement becomes personal.” With respect to pedestrians, Mouat noted that here in Michigan the weather has an impact – so shelters and sidewalks are worth talking about, along with the difficulty people have in climbing over huge piles of snow.

Hewitt said that he saw the goal of the DDA’s transportation committee as making all the options as easy as possible. Pollay encouraged the assembled board members to think in terms of how much control they had over particular issues. For example, she said, DDA controls rates for parking, but depends on AATA for transit service, and that no single entity is in charge of the north-south connector study. So, she concluded, it’s important to consider what can be done alone, and what projects require partners.

Mouat raised the topic of which downtown users they want to focus on – workers, customers, residents? They’re distinct, he suggested. Hewitt countered that there was overlap between groups, a point Mouat acknowledged, while noting it was still useful to identify possibly distinct needs among the groups. Students are huge users of downtown, said Hewitt. Mouat agreed, saying that students will increase their numbers in the immediate downtown area with the opening of North Quad (a dormitory currently under construction at the site of the old Frieze Building, at State Street between Huron and Washington).

Mouat noted that often the focus is on commuters, but he wanted to hear from retailers about what the DDA could do to help customers. Board member Rene Greff (co-owner with her husband, Matt, of the Arbor Brewing Company on East Washington) said that the worst thing is when she tries to pull into the 4th and Washington parking structure and it says “Full.” Hewitt said that the Maynard Street parking structure is so frequently full that people don’t come down for lunch, because there’s no guarantee there’ll be space.

Pollay said that the more the DDA has made alternative transportation the focus, the more usage of parking there is. “The more options you create, the stronger every part of the system gets,” she said.

Mouat asked the board members who had attended the 54th Annual International Downtown Association (IDA) Conference in early September of 2008 in Calgary if there were any lessons learned from that conference. Hewitt said he’d observed specialized mode streets that were not necessarily successful. For example, he said Calgary had a pedestrian mall that “would not hold a candle” to Ann Arbor’s State or Main streets. He noted a transit street for just light rail, with no vibrancy, just people waiting to get on and off. Sandi Smith said that in part there was amazing sprawl, even though it was transit-oriented development, with transit nodes extending out into the sprawl. She said that light rail was standing-room-only and appeared to be used a lot. Hewitt said it looked like the area had been spray-painted with houses.

Hewitt related how, at an IDA session a couple of years ago, he’d attended a presentation where a method was introduced for defining how vibrant a city is: take a 1-mile square in the center of the city and count the number of intersections. At the top end of the rankings was Florence, Italy, with 1,600, and at the bottom was Irvine, California, with 26. Boston and New York had around 800-900, Hewitt said. The lesson he drew from this was: don’t take out streets.

Picking up on the Italian connection introduced by Hewitt, Mouat noted that the Midwestern sensibility is different from the Italian: “We have to have order!” In that light, Mouat said that introducing new modes of transportation like rail will make things “messy,” saying that we’d already seen the reaction to “weird types of transportation” like scooters when people chain them to light poles, citing Greff’s experience. (This was an allusion to a situation where an employee of Greff’s had been ticketed for parking a scooter illegally on the sidewalk.) Mouat stressed that if they were going to encourage people to use scooters, then “we ought to figure out where to put those things.”

Responding to the need to blend new alternatives into the city, Pollay said that authentic cities are an evolution. She remarked that Adrian Iraola, who works for Washtenaw Engineering and manages many DDA projects, calls the downtown a “laboratory,” and said that much of the DDA’s work took the form of pilot programs.

As an example, she said, express buses could evolve into rail. She also cited the just-launched valet parking pilot program. (First four days of usage: 0, 1, 5, 11.) Later in the meeting, Pollay would cite the park-and-ride program as the first partnership with the AATA, undertaken as an “accidental pilot” back in 1998, when 1,200 parking spaces in structures were taken off-line for renovation and commuters had little choice except to use the park-and-ride lots. Pollay said that initially, the commuters took advantage of the lots only “kicking and screaming,” but by the end of the six-week period, they were clamoring for it to continue. (Rummaging through the Ann Arbor District Library’s clipping file turned up an Ann Arbor Observer article from that year describing the park-and-ride pilot, along with Pollay’s description of herself as the “goddess of concrete.”)

getDowntown Presentation

By way of background, the DDA transportation committee intends to invite various guests in the coming months to make presentations in order to increase its knowledge base. The first invitee was Nancy Shore of the getDowntown program. The specific background of her presentation includes the authorization by the DDA in September 2008 of a $56.4 million project budget for the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage. An amendment offered at that meeting by Sandi Smith authorized spending $100,000 to support alternative transportation.

RESOLVED, The DDA shall work to bolster its many current alternative transportation initiatives in the coming fiscal year by providing an additional $100,000 to pursue such goals as extending LINK hours to include evening and Saturday service, working in collaboration with AATA to improve services for commuters such as express buses and park and ride lots, and working in collaboration with the getDowntown office to more effectively market transportation options to downtown employees;

Although the DDA transportation committee agenda for Dec. 18 indicates that “DDA has also made a commitment of an additional $100,000 to getDowntown in 2008/09,” the getDowntown funding data Shore provided The Chronicle after the meeting includes her notation: “2008-2009 funding breakdown does not include $100,000 approved by the DDA for Alternative Transportation in the downtown. The exact amount allocated to getDowntown has not yet been determined.”

A specific question raised by Roger Hewitt at the previous meeting of the transportation committee was whether the go!pass program, which is administered by getDowntown, was causing people to ride the bus instead of driving, or if it subsidized bus trips of commuters who would ride the bus anyway.


getDowntown funding sources for the last four years. (Image links to higher resolution file). Not included in the chart are in-kind contributions from the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, which were estimated at $15,000 and $19,400 for the last two years.

Shore led committee members through the history of the getDowntown program, which dates back to 1999. She described how Woody Holman (then president of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce), Wendy Rampson (city of Ann Arbor planner), Dave Konkel Konkle (then city of Ann Arbor energy coordinator) and Chris White (AATA manager of service development) created the four-way partnership that continues a decade later.

This four-way partnership is reflected in the membership of the getDowntown advisory committee: Susan Pollay (DDA); Chris White and Mary Stasiak (AATA); Eli Cooper and Wendy Rampson (city of Ann Arbor); and Jesse Bernstein (Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce). Part of the impetus for the creation of getDowntown was a city survey of its employees, which identified a need for information about alternatives to cars. (Related to city employees specifically is the Lead by Example project, which Shore has targeted as a priority for getDowntown in the coming year.)

Shore summarized the current mission of getDowntown as encouraging downtown commuters in the use of sustainable transportation options. She presented getDowntown in a national context where transportation demand management – for which getDowntown is a marketing arm – is an established strategy for increasing use of the range of transportation options available to commuters.

In response to a question from Mouat about whether that national context included UM, Shore said that UM did have someone who roughly corresponded to her function for the downtown area: Grant Winston, who works under David Miller with parking and transportation services.

Shore ticked through a list of accomplishments after a little over a year on the job at getDowntown (previously, the position was held by Erica Briggs). Those achievements included 1,400 commuters who had logged at least one sustainable commute during the month of May (Curb Your Car Month) as well as 5,700 go!passes sold for 2007-08 to 422 different downtown businesses.

Data provided by getDowntown.  Any errors in creation of bar graph by The Ann Arbor Chronicle. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

In its inaugural year, go!passes were free. Data provided by getDowntown. Any errors in creation of bar graph by The Ann Arbor Chronicle. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

By way of background, a go!pass is available to employees of downtown businesses that participate in the go!pass program. Participation costs $5 per full-time employee annually, and entitles all such employees to a pass. Otherwise put, it’s not possible for an employer to purchase passes for only those employees who are likely to ride the bus. However, the minimal cost per pass to the employer (the actual cost charged by AATA is $52.92 per year) is meant to facilitate employers’ participation in the program. The difference between the actual cost of $52.92 and the employer contribution of $5 is funded by the DDA. In each of the last three years, the DDA has allocated around $250,000 to fund go!passes.

After the committee meeting, Shore indicated to The Chronicle that getDowntown does not monitor whether the $5 for the go!pass comes from the employer or the employee, saying that in some isolated (and not ideal) instances, an interested employee had collected the money from colleagues, which was then conveyed by the employer to getDowntown.

[Editorial aside: For a 5-day a week bus commuter working at a 50-employee company with 49 others who resolutely refuse to ride the bus or to contribute $5 for participation in the go!pass program, the bus-commuting employee would come out $200 ahead by self-funding the whole company's participation for $250, when compared with the cost of $450 for 12 monthly Flexpasses at a cost of $37.50 per month. The 5,700 go!passes sold in the last year represents an increase of about 1,000 compared with the previous year, but the number of rides taken held steady at around 76 rides per pass per year.]

Currently, AATA bus drivers manually tally a go!pass ride when the pass is flashed by a passenger on boarding. However, Pollay indicated that as AATA transitions to more sophisticated fare boxes, the intent is to develop a swipe-able go!pass cards that would allow more detailed data collection on their usage.

Shore gave an overview of results from three different survey projects undertaken in 2000, 2001, and 2005 that explore a variety of issues, including where commuters to downtown come from (many come from Scio Township and Ypsilanti), why people don’t ride the bus (half say it doesn’t stop by their house), and suggestions for increasing frequency of walking to work (build more affordable housing closer to downtown).

Working with Survey Sciences Group, Shore indicated that she was working on a survey currently that would be completed by April of 2009, in order that the results not be colored by the commuter challenge during Curb Your Car Month in May. Compared to the previous survey efforts, the key addition to the current survey, said Shore, would be inclusion of the employer perspective. In response to a query from Mouat about what kind of data and tools she felt she needed, Shore said that the only additional data she needed was the employer side of the equation.

In describing generally the challenges she faced with getDowntown, Shore said that the lack of a centralized communication system (that is available to her counterpart at UM, for example, in the form of a email blast) meant that she needed to cobble together the network by hand. She also indicated that to date no brochure had been developed to aid in marketing the getDowntown program, something that would take additional funding.

In response to a query from Hewitt about ideas for the go!pass, Shore said that she would like to see additional discounts enjoyed by holders of the go!pass – for example, discounts on the Chelsea bus express service, which is currently in pilot form.

Asked by Smith about where she would allocate additional money within the getDowntown program (as contrasted with additional ridership discounts), Shore said that primarily she would work on beefing up marketing for getDowntown and the Commuter Challenge. She also described the possibility of a commuter/transit station – which would provide a physical location as a resource for information about where to go and how to get there.

Smith said that she found herself somewhat surprised by the focus on commuters, even though she understood it, given the origins of the program. Smith said that in light of the big picture discussion they’d had on the variety of different downtown users, she’d like to see more dialog about other users of downtown.

Pollay suggested that she would work with Shore to shape a more specific proposal about how $100,000 might be used by getDowntown and would present the committee with something more concrete for feedback.

Present: Roger Hewitt, John Mouat, Susan Pollay, Sandi Smith, Rene Greff; Joan Lowenstein arrived during the meeting.

Next meeting: 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 28 at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]

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

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

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

Valet Parking

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


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

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

North-South Connector Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Village Green Parking Agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

The resolution with the deal-breaking clause was passed.

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Items from Committee Reports

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

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

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

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

Affordable Housing at Council Working Session

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

Audience Participation

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


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

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

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

Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council

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

Art Fairs

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

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

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

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

Absent: none

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

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