The Ann Arbor Chronicle » planning commission it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Hutton, Westphal Reappointed to EC Tue, 06 May 2014 03:14:28 +0000 Chronicle Staff Susan Hutton and Kirk Westphal have been reappointed to serve on the city’s environmental commission as a result of Ann Arbor city council action on May 5, 2014. In addition, Katherine Hollins has been nominated to the EC, with her confirmation vote to come at the council’s next meeting. Hollins is a staffer with the Great Lakes Commission.

The reappointments of Hutton and Westphal were both included in a single resolution voted early in the meeting. On that resolution, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jack Eaton (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) dissented, without deliberation. Later, towards the end of the meeting, Kailasapathy explained that her dissent on the EC appointments was based on opposition to Westphal, not Hutton. Jane Lumm (Ward 2), as a member of the prevailing side, then moved to reconsider the resolution so that the question could be divided.

When separated out, Hutton’s appointment was confirmed unanimously. The vote on Westphal’s appointment was again 7-4, with the same four dissenters – but not without 20 minutes of debate.

Westphal was put forward as the planning commission’s representative to the environmental commission. He currently serves as chair of the planning commission, which voted at its Jan. 23, 2014 meeting to recommend Westphal’s reappointment. Westphal did not participate in the vote on that recommendation.

Westphal, a Democrat, is contesting the Ward 2 seat to which Sally Petersen is not seeking re-election – because she is running for mayor. Nancy Kaplan, who’s currently a member of the Ann Arbor District Library board, is running for that same Ward 2 seat. Petersen and Kaplan are also Democrats.

The controversy on the appointment stemmed from a decision by mayor John Hieftje last year not to nominate Jeff Hayner to the public art commission – because Hayner was running for Ward 1 city council against Sabra Briere. Those who dissented on Westphal’s appointment argued in part that the same principle should be applied to Westphal. Those who voted for Westphal noted that it was the planning commission’s choice of Westphal to represent them. Hieftje also noted that his policy that led him not to appoint Hayner was not based on concern for political advantage, but rather about the ability of someone to serve on a city board or commission if they were successful in their council race.

The appointing resolution on the council’s April 21 agenda – which was postponed until May 5 – originally included David Stead as a reappointment along with Hutton and Westphal. Postponement after initial appearance on the agenda is not unusual for appointments to the EC, because it allows the appointment to mimic the two-step nominate-confirm process for mayoral appointments.

Stead’s name was not included in a substitute resolution put forward at the May 5 meeting. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated in an email on May 2 that she’d be offering the substitute resolution, saying, “David Stead has decided that his life is busy enough he cannot do justice to serving on the commission.”

Stead’s four previous terms on the commission would likely have been a point of friction for some councilmembers.

David Stead, right, reads a resolution he proposed at Thursday nights Environmental Commission. The resolution, which was approved, recommends removing Argo Dam.

David Stead, right, reads a resolution he proposed at an environmental commission meeting in 2009. The resolution, which was approved, recommended removing Argo Dam. At left is Margie Teall, a city councilmember who also sat on the environmental commission at the time.

Stead was among the first members to be appointed, on Sept. 18, 2000 – after the council established the commission in a resolution approved on April 3, 2000. And he has served continuously since that initial appointment. Stead also served on the city council representing Ward 5 from April 1993 through November 1994.

There are no term limits for Ann Arbor city boards and commissions, except those highlighted in the city charter as having a six-year maximum. The park advisory commission is an example of a city commission with such term limits. But several councilmembers have expressed concerns about the length of service by some members of some boards and commissions preventing a broader range of participation in local governance. Most recently, the issue arose in connection with the reappointment of Wayne Appleyard to the energy commission on Oct. 23, 2013. Also a factor in the 8-3 confirmation vote for Appleyard was his non-city residency.

During deliberations on May 5, Margie Teall (Ward 4) pointed out that earlier in the meeting, the issue of vacancies on the EC had been raised. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” she said. Teall was referring to a comment by Briere, who had noted the EC vacancies and had encouraged people with a background in environmental sciences, chemistry, biology and the like to apply.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

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Peters Confirmed to Planning Commission Tue, 02 Jul 2013 03:16:59 +0000 Chronicle Staff The appointment of Jeremy Peters to the city planning commission has been confirmed by the city council in action taken at its July 1, 2013 meeting. Peters works in creative licensing and business affairs with Ghostly Songs. Peters had been nominated at the council’s June 17 meeting. Tony Derezinski had originally been slated at the June 3 meeting to be nominated for re-appointment, but his name was never put forward by mayor John Hieftje.

Also confirmed by the council were the appointments of Eric Jacobson to the local development finance authority (LDFA) board and Jan Davies McDermott to the economic development corporation board.

Also at the council’s July 1 meeting, Hieftje nominated Russ Collins for re-appointment to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. In response to an emailed query from The Chronicle, Hieftje indicated that he would not yet be nominating replacements for Newcombe Clark or Leah Gunn, as he felt there was “no rush.” The terms of Clark and Gunn expire on July 31, 2013.

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

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Possible Moratorium To Delay 413 E. Huron? Fri, 15 Feb 2013 01:00:17 +0000 Chronicle Staff According to city council sources, a resolution calling for a moratorium on development in downtown Ann Arbor will be placed on the Feb. 19, 2013 meeting agenda. As of Feb. 14, the item had not yet been added.

Ann Arbor zoning. Darker red areas are zoned D1. Lighter brownish areas are zoned D2.

Ann Arbor zoning. Darker red areas are zoned D1. Lighter brownish areas are zoned D2.

If the moratorium were enacted – a pause that might last up to a year – it would delay a controversial proposed residential project at 413 E. Huron. During the proposed moratorium, the planning commission would be directed to review the zoning designations for the D1 (downtown core) and D2 (interface), and make recommendations to the city council for possible zoning changes. During the moratorium, projects for D1 and D2 areas that do not already have a planning commission recommendation of approval could not be considered by the city council. The D1 and D2 zoning is relatively young, having been enacted on Nov. 16, 2009 – as the result of the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2) process.

Results of the planning commission’s review of D1 and D2 zoning, according to the Feb. 19 draft resolution, would be due to the city council by the end of August 2013. The maximum length of the moratorium would be a year from the date of enactment. If the council were to change the zoning designation, and if that decision survived any legal challenge, that could ultimately stop the 413 E. Huron project from ever being built.

That project calls for a 14-story, 271,855-square-foot apartment building with 533 bedrooms, marketed primarily to university students. The parcel is zoned D1 – the highest allowable density in the city. The northern edge of the site is adjacent to the Old Fourth Ward Historic District, including historic single-family homes along North Division.

During extended commentary at the project’s public hearing before the planning commission – on Feb. 5, 2013 and Jan. 15, 2013 – several speakers called for changing the zoning of the parcel from D1 to D2. And more than one speaker addressed the idea that changing the zoning of the parcel now – when the developer is in the process of submitting the project to the city for approval – might give the developer a basis for a legal claim against the city.

In support of their contention that the city would, even at this stage in the process, be on solid legal ground in changing the zoning, speakers cited section 10.7 of the book “Michigan Zoning, Planning and Land Use”: “A Michigan landowner does not acquire a vested right to a particular land use until it has made substantial physical improvements to the land, pursuant to a validly issued building permit. This does not include demolition of existing structures on the site. Money spent preparing to construct will not suffice to create a vested right in the current zoning classification. The substantial improvements also must be made under authority of a building permit in order for the owner to acquire a vested interest in the current zoning.”

The resolution evidently is an attempt to ensure that possible future action by the council to rezone property in the downtown would not target just the 413 E. Huron project. Instead, the idea would be that any changes would stem from a more general evaluation of the city’s downtown zoning.

The 413 E. Huron project failed to get a recommendation of approval from the planning commission – because the 5-3 vote tally on Feb. 5 left it one vote short of the required six-vote majority. [One commissioner, Eric Mahler, was absent.] That 5-3 vote factors crucially in the moratorium that the council will reportedly be asked to consider on Feb. 19. The moratorium would stipulate that the city council won’t consider any future site plans for approval, except those already recommended for approval by the planning commission. So 413 E. Huron would not be eligible for consideration by the city council if the moratorium were enacted.

Another downtown project still needing action by the city council in order to proceed is a residential development at 624 Church St. The moratorium would not apply to the 624 Church St. project – because it received a recommendation of approval from the planning commission on Jan. 15, 2013. That 83,807-square-foot, $17 million project is located next to Pizza House, on the west side of Church between South University and Willard. The building would include 75 apartments with a total of about 175 bedrooms, ranging in size from 490 to 1,100 square feet.

The Ann Arbor city council considered a similar kind of moratorium, a bit more than three years ago, in connection with the City Place apartment project on South Fifth Avenue, which has since been completed. On that occasion, a moratorium was proposed on new development in districts zoned with the classification of R4C (multi-family residential) or R2A (two-family residential).

The intent of that moratorium was to block the construction of the City Place project. But on Aug. 6, 2009, the council voted down the proposed moratorium. The proposal had come from Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who ultimately did not support the final resolution – because it was amended so heavily in the course of council deliberations. It was amended specifically to allow the City Place project to proceed. The only councilmembers who supported the amended moratorium resolution were Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden and Christopher Taylor.

Glossing over several details of the City Place timeline, the council instead opted to appoint a historic district study committee for a two-block area that included the City Place site, and attached a moratorium on the demolition of structures in the study area. The council eventually received a recommendation from the study committee to establish a historic district, but chose not to establish one. Subsequently, the two-building, 144-bedroom City Place project was built.

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South State Street Plan To Be Distributed Tue, 05 Feb 2013 02:24:36 +0000 Chronicle Staff A draft of Ann Arbor’s South State Street corridor plan has been authorized by the city council for distribution to neighboring jurisdictions and other stakeholders, such as the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The vote took place at the city council’s Feb. 4, 2013 meeting. The planning commission had voted to recommend the corridor plan’s distribution at its Jan. 3, 2013 meeting [.pdf of draft South State corridor plan]

The plan includes more than 40 overall recommendations for the corridor, which stretches about 2 miles between Stimson Street at the north end down to Ellsworth in the south. Recommendations are organized into categories of the city’s sustainability framework: Land use and access, community, climate and energy, and resource management.

Among the recommendations are: (1) Evaluate use of vacant parcels for alternative energy generation; (2) Evaluate integration of public art along the corridor; (3) Evaluate use of open land for community gardens; (4) Assess and improve high crash areas along the corridor; (5) create boulevard on State Street between Eisenhower and I‐94 to enable safer automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian movement; (6) consider utilizing vacant parcels for athletic fields and recreation facilities; (7) develop a pedestrian and bicycle path along the Ann Arbor railroad that will connect the planned Allen Creek bikeway to Pittsfield Township through the corridor; and (8) resurface roads in the corridor.

Each recommendation includes several related action items. The plan also provides a section that organizes the recommendations into each of three distinct sections of the corridor: (1) from Stimson on the north to Eisenhower Parkway; (2) from Eisenhower south to the I-94 interchange; and (3) from I-94 to Ellsworth. In addition, there are nine site-specific recommendations for areas including Briarwood Mall, the complex of hotels near Victors Way and Broadway, and the research park development near the corridor’s south end.

The city planning commission and staff have been discussing this project for several years, but have accelerated work on it within the past 12-18 months. See Chronicle coverage: “South State Corridor Gets Closer Look,” “Sustainability Goals Shape Corridor Study,” and “Ideas Floated for South State Corridor.

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

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Transit Withdrawal Before Council Transition Sat, 17 Nov 2012 00:10:08 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 8, 2012): The post-election meeting of the council – moved from its usual Monday slot to Thursday – featured one high-profile piece of business watched by many throughout the county. That was a vote on withdrawal by the city of Ann Arbor from a new transit authority – called The Washtenaw Ride – which was incorporated on Oct. 3, 2012. The vote to opt out was 10-0. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) was absent.

Margie Teall

Margie Teall (Ward 4) raises her hand asking to be recognized so she can speak at the Ann Arbor city council’s Nov. 8 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Smith had said her farewell from the council at the previous meeting, on Oct. 15. She had decided not to seek re-election to her seat. At the Nov. 8 meeting, two other councilmembers attended their final meeting – Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) who, like Smith, did not seek re-election, and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) who did not prevail in his August Democratic primary. New councilmembers – Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) – will be ceremonially sworn in at the start of the council’s next meeting on Nov. 19.

A transitional theme emerged, as discussion of some agenda items straddled the Nov. 8 and Nov. 19 meetings – including the transit authority opt-out vote. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had been planning to bring a similar item forward on Nov. 19, when he felt he’d have a six-vote majority on the question. But that move was preempted by the Nov. 8 item, which included the sponsorship of Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and mayor John Hieftje – who had previously been key figures in supporting the city’s role in the planned authority.

Discussion of a living wage waiver for the nonprofit Community Action Network (CAN) also included mention of the Nov. 19 meeting. That’s when a proposal will be brought forward that would change the living wage ordinance itself. The preference of Hieftje and Hohnke to wait and consider the ordinance revision for all nonprofits – instead of granting a waiver to CAN – was strong enough that they voted against the waiver. But the eight votes it received were enough to ensure that for the next three years, CAN does not need to abide by the living wage ordinance – which would otherwise require it to pay all its workers $13.57/hour.

A resolution that transferred $90,000 from the general fund reserve to the affordable housing trust fund was part of the transitional theme – because it had Sandi Smith’s name attached as a sponsor, even though she could not attend the meeting. The dollar amount was keyed to the price of a strip of land belonging to the former YMCA lot, which the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority recently purchased from the city. The transfer of funds was made in the spirit, if not the letter, of a policy enacted by the council at Smith’s urging at her final council meeting. That policy called for net proceeds of the sale of the Y lot to be deposited in the affordable housing trust fund.

The council’s agenda for Nov. 19 was partially previewed when both Briere and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) announced they’d be bringing forward proposals to revise the city’s Percent for Art ordinance – in the wake of a failed public art millage proposal at the polls on Nov. 6. Briere’s proposal would alter the definition of projects that qualify, while Lumm’s would eliminate the program. The Percent for Art ordinance requires that 1% of the budgets for all capital projects be set aside for public art.

And although he’ll be leaving the council, Derezinski will serve out the remainder of Evan Pratt’s term on the city planning commission. Pratt is leaving that role after being elected Washtenaw County water resources commissioner. At the Nov. 8 meeting, council confirmed Derezinski’s planning commission nomination, which had come at the council’s previous meeting. The council also decided to expand a task force on planning for the North Main corridor to make room for outgoing councilmember Sandi Smith, and appointed her to that group as a citizen member. She’s been serving as the council’s representative.

In other business, a resolution that would have moved toward converting the city’s retirement system to a defined contribution plan – instead of a defined benefit plan – was withdrawn. The council also approved increasing the staffing level of the fire department from 85 to 86 firefighters. And the city’s sign board of appeals (SBA) was dissolved by the council, with responsibilities transferred to the zoning board of appeals (ZBA). The council also voted to give city attorney Stephen Postema a 2.4% raise, his first in five years.

Countywide Transit Act 196 Opt Out

The council considered a resolution that withdrew the city of Ann Arbor from a new transit authority – called The Washtenaw Ride – that was incorporated on Oct. 3, 2012, a little over a month ago. Incorporation of the new transit authority under Act 196 of 1986 had been preceded by the development of a 30-year transit master plan and a five-year service plan by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, over a more than two-year period.

The cost of the planning effort came up in council deliberations. An outside consultant, Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), held two contracts with AATA to help develop a transit master plan and take steps toward implementing it. At its Feb. 16, 2012 meeting, the AATA board authorized an increase in the SDG contract by $95,500 – to $288,817. That contract with the London-based consultant was for “implementation assistance” of the plan. The original implementation assistance contract was approved by the board at its July 19, 2011 meeting.

The original contract with SDG for development of the transit master plan was for $399,805. It was previously extended and increased at the AATA board’s Nov. 18, 2010 meeting by an amount not to exceed $32,500.

Countywide Transit: Background

The language of the council’s Nov. 8 resolution offered some optimism that expanded transportation services might be pursued with some other mechanism than a countywide Act 196 incorporation: “… AATA is encouraged to continue to discuss regional transportation options among Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti township, Ann Arbor township, Scio township and Pittsfield township, leading to a better understanding and process for improving local transit options …”

The version placed on the Nov. 8 agenda by mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had the same effect as one that had been developed for the Nov. 19 agenda by Kunselman and Jane Lumm (Ward 2). The preambles to the two approaches, however, contrasted in the level of forward-looking optimism that was conveyed. The contrast is also evident in the titles of the two resolutions:

The Ann Arbor city council’s resolution was placed on the agenda in the context of opt-out decisions by most of the other 28 municipalities in the county. Even so, until the Nov. 8 council meeting, jurisdictions still participating in the new authority included more than half the county’s population, and counted the county’s largest population centers: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and Saline.

Ann Arbor had been expected to help lead the initiative, and had been the first of the four parties to ratify the agreement, on March 5, 2012. Since incorporation on Oct. 3, more than one glitch was encountered in the technical implementation. Those included unclarity about the start of a 30-day opt-out period, and the eligibility of current AATA board members to serve on the board of the new authority.

Countywide Transit: Public Comment

Joel Batterman told the council that although he’d been working with Washtenaw Partners for Transit, he was speaking as a resident of the city. He reminded councilmembers that he’d addressed them about two years ago on the topic of the Fuller Road Station, which he said he didn’t feel served the interests of the city or the University of Michigan. Decisions that are made or not made about transportation, he said, are among the most important and lasting choices that come before the council. He was sad that the council is looking to end current initiative. The current initiative would have meant improvement to the bus service, including extended hours and frequencies and more direct routes serving areas on the west side of town. It would also expand the service area to match better where people are living today.

Batterman allowed that people had concerns about local control. But it was also important to consider that when the AATA was formed in the early 1970s, about 56% of the county’s population lived in the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, but today only 39% do. At the same time, the out-county is increasingly dependent on Ann Arbor employers, and the working families who need transit most often live outside the city limits.

Batterman acknowledged that rural townships might not be ready to participate in a transit authority. But those more urbanized areas that did not opt out would still have included a majority of the county’s population and would have brought a majority of the county’s transit-dependent residents within reach of the transportation they need. That’s something that really matters and still needs to happen, Batterman said – for Ann Arbor’s economy and for the well-being of everyone in the area. He encouraged the council to take the initiative in the coming year to work toward a new accord on expanding transit. He noted that Ann Arbor residents overwhelmingly support better transit – noting that even those who spoke against the formation of a new transit authority at a city council meeting last winter said they wanted many of the improvements, like expanded late night service, which the initiative was intended to help support. Whatever differences of opinion might exist over the structure and governance of an expanded transit system, he felt we could all support a future with more transit, cleaner air, expanded opportunities for people and perhaps even fewer parking garages.

Carolyn Lusch told the council that she also works with Washtenaw Partners for Transit. One of the great things about her job is she gets to hear people’s stories. Over last few months, she’s spoken with families, seniors, churches, students and businesses – people who are interested in and have great need for transit improvements. They’d told her about how they have to call a taxi to get groceries or miss a doctor’s appointment, or call up family members for favors.

The need for transit still exists, Lusch said. She was encouraged by the call for continued dialogue that’s expressed in the council’s resolution. As an Ann Arbor resident, she said, she was hopeful that expanded transit in the future would give her more options. The strong support for the concept of transit is an excellent first step, she said, but: “You can’t ride a concept home from your shift and I can’t hop on a concept when I’m going home from late night meetings downtown. I need a bus.” We need buses that run quickly, efficiently and to all the places we need them to run, she said. She thanked the council for keeping the discussion open.

Countywide Transit: Council Deliberations – Who Speaks?

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said it’s become apparent that the interest in the current approach to expanded countywide service governance is not firm enough to go forward with it. So a group on both sides of the issue had decided to end this particular endeavor, she said. [By a group "on both sides," she meant some who had supported the four-party agreement governing the possible transition when the council voted on it (Briere, Hieftje, Taylor) and some who had opposed it (Kunselman, Higgins).]

Briere said it was important to end the initiative as firmly but as softly as possible.

Hieftje wanted to add Scio Township to a list of municipalities mentioned as those with which conversations would continue in the shorter term: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor Township, Pittsfield Township.

Some members of the AATA board and staff were in the audience available for comment. So Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) invited AATA strategic planner Michael Benham to the podium. Higgins objected and asked that the matter be put to a vote. Arguing against allowing Benham to take the podium, Higgins said that before asking AATA to speak, the council should vote the resolution up or down.

By way of background, Higgins appeared to be invoking a subsection of the council’s Rule 4 [emphasis added]:

Members of Audience Addressing Council
Upon the request of a member of the Council, a member of the audience shall be permitted to address the Council at a time other than during public commentary, unless three members of Council object.

Kunselman also objected, saying that the council was voting on an issue that had been put before the council by Washtenaw County – the inclusion of Ann Arbor in a countywide Act 196 authority that had been incorporated by the county – not by the AATA. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he wanted to err on the side of allowing councilmembers to ask questions of anyone they’d like to ask. Although she said she agreed with Higgins that the vote was about opting out, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) didn’t have a problem with Benham fielding questions. Responding to Kunselman’s remarks that the resolution was not about the AATA, Taylor observed that AATA is identified in a resolved clause as being asked to do something.

Outcome on allowing AATA staff to speak: The council voted 8-2, with dissent from Higgins and Kunselman, to allow Michael Benham to speak.

Countywide Transit: Council Deliberations – AATA Speaks

Benham said the AATA was heartened by the language in the resolution that says “keep going.” He was optimistic that the community could arrive at a vision of expanded transit for those who need it the most.

Hieftje then disavowed the idea that the resolution that night was an attempt to pre-empt the Lumm and Kunselman resolution, pointing out that Kunselman had been invited to co-sponsor it, which he’d done. However, Hieftje said it was “difficult” to have more than five councilmembers co-sponsor a resolution. [Six is a quorum of the council; so if six councilmembers sponsor a resolution together, it gives rise to questions about whether they convened a meeting of the council in violation of Michigan's Open Meetings Act.] He ventured that Lumm’s name could be added as co-sponsor then, and Lumm indicated that she’d like that.

Kunselman picked up on remarks by Hieftje to the effect that ridership on the AATA was going up. He read aloud a portion of a press release from the AATA:

AATA also will review existing services and costs to ensure its history of strong fiscal stewardship is not disrupted, he said. The review will determine the feasibility of continuing to provide the services implemented as part of AATA’s initial investment under its Five-Year Transit Program. These services produced successful results within months of introduction but may no longer be sustainable without additional funding …

The services that had been introduced to jumpstart the countywide initiative include: increased Route #4 frequency, the AirRide airport service, expanded NightRide service, and commuter express service between Chelsea and Canton.

Kunselman said that what he heard in that language was: The AATA needs more money. Benham told Kunselman that the services mentioned in the press release were implemented with the expectation that there would be a new funding source – provided through the Act 196 authority. The services are not currently sustainable into the future, with just the existing funding that’s available. Kunselman told Benham that he really appreciated the straightforward response from Benham.

Higgins told Benham that she’d approached AATA over the years because councilmembers had heard from residents that their transportation needs are not being met out in neighborhoods. She asked what guarantee she had that these sorts of concerns would not continue to be ignored. Benham indicated that he was not aware of any view on the part of the AATA that travel to and from neighborhoods is not a priority. Higgins related an anecdote about a visitor to the city of Ann Arbor who needed 1.5 hours to get from the north to the south side of the city – saying a three-hour commute inside the city of Ann Arbor isn’t acceptable. She didn’t think all the community’s transportation needs are being met, and noted that Ann Arbor had an aging population that needs transportation. Now is an opportunity to make her a believer, Higgins said.

As the deliberations continued, local resident Thomas Partridge – sitting in the audience – expressed his displeasure with the way the conversation was going by pounding his crutch on the floor and slamming a bound copy of the council’s agenda on the counter. Hieftje raised the possibility that Partridge would be removed, saying that tantrums weren’t usually tolerated.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

From left: Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3 – leaning back) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Kunselman weighed in heavily in favor of maintaining the current governance of the AATA under local Ann Arbor control using Act 55, with purchase-of-service agreements (POSAs) made with those communities who want transportation service. The articles of incorporation could be modified to include additional seats on the board for those communities, he said. Later in the deliberations, Briere ventured that residency in Ann Arbor for AATA board members was a possible issue of concern for some councilmembers, so that needs to be addressed directly.

Lumm expressed the view that those on the council who’d predicted that the proposal would not be well received by the townships had been right. She characterized the effort to implement the countywide authority as a colossal waste of time and money.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) responded to Lumm, saying that she didn’t think effort had been wasted – because it’s raised awareness that Ann Arbor is part of a region.

Derezinski expressed his disappointment that the effort was not going forward, but indicated he’d support the resolution.

Hohnke said he was a little bit disappointed in the decisions of some of the townships to opt out. Lumm responded that she was not disappointed in the townships, saying she trusted them to protect the interests of their residents.

Hieftje felt it was a little too easy to say that the AATA wasted resources developing a plan and exploring this approach to countywide governance. He noted that in Grand Rapids, a similar proposal had to be put to voters twice before they approved it. He drew a comparison to the failure of the Ann Arbor District Library bond proposal at the polls on Nov. 6 – noting that one of the greatest criticisms of the library bond proposal was that the library didn’t have a specific plan for the new downtown building.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to opt out of The Washtenaw Ride.

Living Wage Exemption for Nonprofit CAN

The city council was asked to consider a waiver for Community Action Network (CAN), so that the nonprofit would be exempt from compliance with the city’s living wage ordinance for the next three years.

Living Wage: Background

CAN is a nonprofit dedicated to improving communities in underprivileged Washtenaw County neighborhoods, and receives allocations from the city through the city’s coordinated funding process to support human services. For fiscal year 2013, CAN was allocated $105,809 by the city for its Y.E.S. You CAN! program. Because those annual allocations exceed $10,000, CAN is subject to the city’s living wage ordinance, which currently requires that a minimum of $12.17/hour be paid to employees by employers who provide health insurance and $13.57/hour by those employers not providing health insurance.

However, Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance has a mechanism by which the minimum requirements can be waived – if conformance would cause economic harm to a nonprofit. It’s that waiver provision that the Ann Arbor city council was asked to approve at its Nov. 8 meeting.

One condition of the waiver is that a plan for eventual compliance within three years must be submitted to the city. CAN’s plan highlights the programs that it would need to cut, in order to conform with the ordinance. [.pdf of CAN's compliance plan]

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) also announced at the Nov. 8 meeting that in the near future she would be bringing forward an ordinance revision to exempt nonprofits from the living wage ordinance permanently. That echoes a previous attempt two months ago by the council to exempt some nonprofits from the living wage ordinance. On the council’s agenda for Sept. 17, 2012 had been a resolution that would have exempted from the living wage ordinance those nonprofits receiving city human services funding.

The Sept. 17 resolution appeared to be an attempt to invoke the ordinance’s waiver provision, but it did not name a specific nonprofit, and no plans for eventual conformance had been submitted by any nonprofits at that time. So the agenda item was withdrawn as it was deemed to be tantamount to changing an ordinance through a simple council resolution – which is not a legal way to procede. At that time it was indicated that an ordinance revision would be forthcoming.

Living Wage: CAN’s Previous Waiver Attempts

Based on correspondence provided to The Chronicle by the city of Ann Arbor in the context of a broader request made under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, the Sept. 17 agenda item stemmed from requests made by CAN, although that organization was not specifically mentioned in the council’s resolution or in discussion at the table. Together with the material obtained through the FOIA, CAN’s compliance plan indicates that Doughty submitted a letter on July 10, 2012 asking for a waiver. [.pdf of July 10, 2012 letter from CAN]. Just before the Sept. 17 meeting, CAN was asked to revise the request to mention a plan eventually to comply. [.pdf of Sept. 17, 2012 letter from CAN] The revision consisted of the following addition:

Community Action Network will use this exemption time to devise and implement a strategic fund raising plan to fill our budget gaps caused in part by the increased burden the living wage ordinance continues to place on our finances.

However, the ordinance specifies that the plan to bring an organization into compliance must be submitted as part of the waiver. And the lack of an actual compliance plan led to the withdrawal of the Sept. 17 resolution.

The concern raised by CAN dates back at least to February 2012. In email correspondence sent on Feb. 7, 2012 by CAN director Joan Doughty to the city/county office of community development Mary Jo Callan and councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), she made a plea for some kind of accommodation with respect to the living wage ordinance:

From: Joan Doughty
Sent: Tue 2/7/2012 5:05 PM
To: Taylor, Christopher (Council); Callan, Mary Jo
Subject: Living Wage?

Hi Mary J and Chris:

Hope this finds you well. I would really like to reignite the living wage ordinance waiver for nonprofits. We’re going to be hurting, and paying summer camp counselors living wage is sort of ridiculous. The city doesn’t do it either. …. so …. Please? I’m begging you — do something!



Joan M. Doughty
PhD Executive Director Community Action Network

Doughty’s correspondence to the city indicates that many other nonprofits receiving funding from the city don’t meet the conditions of the living wage ordinance, but there is no enforcement.

Doughty’s correspondence in the summer of 2012 also mentions the fact that the city’s ordinance is likely on dubious legal grounds. As The Chronicle has previously reported, a Michigan Supreme Court order from April 7, 2010 left in place an unpublished court of appeals opinion that found a Detroit living wage law to be unenforceable.

Doughty appears to indicate in her correspondence that city attorney Stephen Postema had related in conversation with Doughty’s husband, Washtenaw County prosecutor Brian Mackie, that Postema felt if the city’s living wage ordinance were to be challenged in court, it would be struck down. Writing on July 12, 2012 to Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Doughty indicated that a “family member” of hers had discussed the legal issues with Ann Arbor city attorney Stephen Postema:

I understand that Steve Postuma [sic] circulated a confidential memo to city council members about the issue. Publicly he holds that because the Supreme Court’s decision was “unpublished” (it’s not – you can find it on the Internet) it isn’t applicable wider than in the Detroit case. That might be true, but a family member of mine with considerable legal knowledge contends that if a company or agency challenged the Ann Arbor living wage in court, it too would most likely fall. And Steve has conceded this to the same family member…

In a phone interview, Mackie told The Chronicle that he does recall discussing the living wage issue with Postema, characterizing the conversations as not being substantive. However, Mackie recalled telling Postema he thought it was wrong that the city was exempting itself from its own ordinance. He also recalled Postema saying there was an argument to be made in defense of the ordinance – but Mackie said he didn’t recollect anything more detailed than that.

In other correspondence on April 26, 2012 to city of Ann Arbor community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl, Doughty refers to her husband:

I asked my husband (who is an attorney) to read the court of appeals decision, and he is of the opinion that it shouldn’t take filing a lawsuit against the city to “make” it take the right and legal action.

In her July 12 email, Doughty pitches the idea to Smith of altering or rescinding the city ordinance. And it’s Smith to whom Doughty proposes the idea, in part because Smith would be leaving the council, because she did not seek re-election:

… she [Mary Jo Callan] told me that the city council members she talked to would like to change the living wage, but, in our liberal climate, none of them want to be “the one” who proposes it. So … since you’re not running for re-election, I’m hoping you are willing to “do the deed”. There are many approaches and options: abolish it completely since there is nobody monitoring it and it’s probably illegal – revoke it pending a potential overhaul, exempt nonprofits, define more specifically who should receive living wage (so: not summer staff, not true part time staff and entry staff levels) etc. etc. etc.

Living Wage: Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know how many exemptions from the city’s living wage ordinance had ever been granted. City attorney Stephen Postema indicated that he was not personally aware of one.

Joan Doughty, director of Community Action Network

Joan Doughty, executive director of the Community Action Network (CAN).

Mayor John Hieftje ventured that the Ann Arbor Summer Festival had been exempted. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that the ordinance had been revised to exempt nonprofits that are supported through the city’s community events fund, as is the case with the Summer Festival. [For some additional history of the living wage in Ann Arbor, see "Living Wage: Insourcing City Temps"]

Higgins indicated she was not against granting a waiver to CAN – and she was asking about previous waivers merely because she was curious.

Hieftje had a couple of concerns about granting a waiver to CAN. For human services nonprofits, he said, some of their employees are trying to avoid becoming clients themselves. CAN’s situation, he allowed, might be somewhat different in that the positions in question were held by part-time, student employees, rather than full-time. Hieftje said he would need some time to think about it, but would prefer to consider the issue more as a package of all nonprofits at one time. His second concern was that there’s been a lot of time since the ordinance was enacted – and at the beginning the provision for a waiver was put in to give nonprofits time to adjust. He characterized himself as “still puzzling this one out.”

Margie Teall (Ward 4) asked Joan Doughty to come to the podium to answer questions. Doughty confirmed that the waiver was being requested not in order to pay full-time staff less than the living wage, but rather for students. Doughty also stressed that she and CAN are not against the living wage, but rather against it as it’s written and applied currently. She added that a lot of nonprofits are not paying the living wage, but said that “We all know that it’s not being checked.” But “flying under the radar” was not how CAN does its business, she said, so CAN wanted to use the waiver option as provided in the ordinance to do it the right way.

Lumm indicated that additional background on the living wage would be provided at the Nov. 19 meeting when the ordinance revision would be proposed. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked for clarification about why CAN hadn’t been able to receive the funds it was due under the contract with the city. Doughty explained that the city attorney had indicated the funds couldn’t be disbursed to CAN until she signed, indicating that CAN was complying with the city’s living wage ordinance. Doughty indicated that instead of signing something that attested that CAN was complying with the living wage ordinance, CAN had applied for a waiver. Unless that waiver is approved, she said, CAN could not get paid.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) told Doughty that he appreciated that CAN was following the city’s ordinance – and that was enough to make him support it. Teall concurred with Kunselman. Unlike Hieftje, Teall said she’d prefer to decide the waiver for CAN separately from the ordinance revisions. She felt that CAN has waited long enough.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) took issue with the view expressed by Teall and Kunselman, saying that the fact that there’s a mechanism for requesting a waiver shouldn’t be sufficient grounds for granting it. Part of the compliance plan is supposed to include an explanation for how the organization would come into compliance, he noted. Doughty told Hohnke: “That’s what we submitted.” Hohnke told her he was having trouble following the plan. Doughty ticked through the basic four options: (1) CAN would cut programs; (2) CAN would reduce eligibility for participation; (3) the city would increase human services funding; or (4) the city would change the ordinance exempting nonprofits.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5)

From left: Ann Arbor councilmembers Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5).

Hohnke asked what other sources of funding CAN had. Doughty listed off several organizations: Ann Arbor Housing Commission, the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, United Way, HUD, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, various church congregations, Kiwanis, and Rotary. She allowed that it’s a complicated funding structure for a small nonprofit. Hohnke appreciated that Doughty had brought forward the issue, because it allowed a structural issue to be identified. It might be that some people don’t need to earn a living with the wage they’re being paid, Hohnke said. Like Hieftje, he wanted to consider it as a whole rather than as a one-off exception. He indicated support for possible postponement.

Responding to Hohnke’s suggestion to postpone, Doughty indicated that CAN can’t get paid until a waiver is granted. Hieftje admonished Doughty that she needed to restrict herself to responding to questions.

Lumm addressed the timing issue by saying that the ordinance revision would have been brought for initial consideration that night. But it was seen as undesirable to have one edition of the council approve it on first reading and another at the second reading. [The new council will be seated at the Nov. 19 meeting.]

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that for her, there were two important considerations: (1) CAN hasn’t signed a living wage statement; and (2) the application for a waiver requires a plan to come into compliance. She said she’d read the plan submitted by CAN several times, but she didn’t see how it brought CAN into compliance. Doughty pointed Briere to the part in the plan that explains how CAN would use the time of the waiver to renegotiate contracts with other funders so that CAN could pay those contracts. Briere indicated she didn’t see that statement in the plan, but even if she did, she wasn’t sure how that would bring CAN into compliance. Briere recognized that Lumm was going to propose an ordinance revision, but there’s no guarantee it would pass.

Lumm asked city attorney Stephen Postema if he’d reviewed CAN’s compliance plan. Postema indicated that he’d looked at the plan, but said it’s for the council to determine if the plan is sufficient. He allowed that the plan covers the words of the ordinance. Lumm got confirmation from Postema that the city does exempt itself from the living wage.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) told Doughty she was in an unenviable position, saying that CAN does a tremendous service to the community. He didn’t want to get lost in the semantics. He appreciated that Doughty had stepped forward and said CAN was having a hard time, calling it noble of Doughty to have come forward. Anglin feared that this is the tip of a terrible iceberg.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) echoed Anglin’s sentiments. He got confirmation from Doughty that the needs increase during the winter months. That immediacy, he said, warrants consideration immediately. The larger issue of the ordinance revision can be addressed later, he said.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated that he knew what good work CAN does, and he felt it makes perfect sense that an amendment to the ordinance should be sought. That’s logically separate, however, from seeking a waiver within the ordinance, he said. In contrast to Teall and Kunselman, however, he didn’t see CAN’s request for a waiver as trailblazing or as enhancing the moral stature of CAN. For the city to enforce the ordinance also does not diminish its moral standing, he said. Taylor allowed that it’s a good thing that CAN chose not to dissemble, but it’s not a black mark on the city that it enforced its ordinance and withheld the funds. Taylor said he’s delighted there’s a mechanism to break through that knot, so he’d support it.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she didn’t have a problem supporting the waiver request. Hohnke reiterated that he felt the issue should be addressed holistically across nonprofits. Addressing the merits of the plan submitted by CAN, Hohnke felt the spirit of the plan specified in the ordinance was to think about increasing revenue streams and consolidating. He reiterated a preference to consider the ordinance change and to delay the waiver request.

Joan Doughty, director of Community Action Network, and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

Joan Doughty, executive director of the Community Action Network, and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Teall noted that if the request for the waiver had been presented last summer, the issue of considering the waiver and the ordinance change would not have come close to the same time. She wanted to know why it had taken so long. Postema observed that the city staff itself cannot provide a waiver, but rather it’s for the council to consider. There was no compliance request in place in July, he said – and CAN’s plan had only just been received.

Doughty reviewed how CAN had sent a letter, revised it and was then told that it was insufficient in September. Postema said he couldn’t comment on what happened between CAN and the office of community development. For whatever reason, he said, the waiver request is in front of the council now.

Teall indicated she agreed with Taylor’s remarks. Kunselman weighed in again, saying, “We’re way over-thinking this.” He disagreed with Taylor, saying that CAN was, in fact, blazing a trail, because they’re the first nonprofit to seek a waiver. He ventured that no nonprofit wants to seek a waiver, because they know they’d face a city council discussion that goes nowhere.

Hieftje reiterated that he wanted to take a more holistic look, which would begin at the next council meeting – in 11 days. He wanted to see the waiver postponed until the next meeting.

Briere floated the possibility that if CAN received a waiver, it might work against CAN because CAN would then be constrained by the ordinance, even if the council amended the ordinance. Taylor established that CAN would be done no harm with a waiver under the old ordinance, if the ordinance were eventually amended.

Outcome: The council voted to grant CAN a waiver from the city’s living wage ordinance, with dissent from mayor John Hieftje and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). Though she voted yes, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated as she voted that she didn’t like granting the waiver.

Affordable Housing Trust Fund

The city council was asked to increase Ann Arbor’s affordable housing trust fund by $90,000, through a transfer from the general fund reserve.

The amount of the transfer was keyed to the cost of a piece of city-owned property that the city sold recently to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. And the justification for the transfer was based on the council’s recent enactment of a formal policy on the use of the proceeds of city-owned land sales.

The $90,000 piece of land is a six-foot-wide strip on the former YMCA lot at Fifth and William, immediately to the south of the location for the AATA’s planned new Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor. The $90,000 price was based on an independent appraisal. The AATA board approved its side of that deal this spring at its April 26, 2012 meeting. The city council approved the land sale over a year ago, at its Sept. 19, 2011 meeting. The total parcel area was 792 square feet.

The land sale policy approved by the council on Oct. 15, 2012 had begun as a proposal from Sandi Smith (Ward 1) to allocate 85% of the net proceeds of city-owned land to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. The council originally considered the item at its Sept. 17, 2012 meeting but delayed action. The council eventually opted to adopt a policy that treated land sales on a case-by-case basis – except for the former Y lot at Fifth and William, of which the six-foot-wide strip was a part. The enacted policy called for net proceeds from that parcel to be placed in the affordable housing trust fund. [For additional background, see: “City Council to Focus on Land Sale Policy.”]

Because the $90,000 piece of property had been a portion of the former Y lot, the resolution in effect would retroactively apply the policy on use of land sale proceeds – by transferring $90,000 to the affordable housing trust fund. The portion of the policy that requires the city to recover its costs associated with the property was not applied – as the city purchased the land for $3.5 million.

The resolution was sponsored by Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and mayor John Hieftje – although Smith was not able to attend the Nov. 8 meeting.

The six-foot-wide strip of land, and its $90,000 price, has been highlighted in recent council deliberations for a different reason – as a funding source for a transportation connector study. The city of Ann Arbor had been asked to contribute $60,000 to an alternatives analysis study of the Plymouth/State corridor, from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, extending south to I-94. The local match was needed for a $1.2 million federal grant that had been awarded to the AATA for the study.

During deliberations on the $60,000 connector study allocation at the Sept. 4, 2012 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had objected to one of the “whereas” clauses in the resolution. The clause mentioned the availability of $90,000 in the general fund from the land sale, which was more than enough to cover the requested $60,000 local match. So the allocation was essentially pitched as a “return” to the AATA of a portion of the land sale price. Kunselman objected that once the $90,000 was in the general fund reserve, it was no longer earmarked as funds to be used for any particular purpose.

When the council eventually reconsidered the decision on Oct. 15, 2012 and wound up approving $30,000 for the study – because the Ann Arbor DDA had in the meantime agreed to contribute $30,000 – it was Higgins who raised the objection about the “whereas” clause. And the clause was amended out before the council’s approval.

The groundbreaking for the AATA’s new Blake Transit Center – which had occasioned the sale of the six-foot strip of land on the southwestern edge of the AATA’s property – is scheduled for Nov. 19. The AATA board gave final approval of a roughly $8 million budget for the transit center at its Oct. 18, 2012 meeting.

Affordable Housing Trust Fund: Council Deliberations

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) was concerned about the appearance that the council was randomly spending money out of the fund balance. In a back-and-forth with the city’s chief financial officer Tom Crawford, Lumm established that the resolution was a transfer from the general fund balance reserve and not directly connected to the sale of land. Crawford characterized the resolution as tying into the concept of the land sale policy, and linking the land sale in concept to the depositing of money into the affordable housing trust fund – he noted that the resolution was transferring $90,000 from the general fund balance.

City administrator Steve Powers and chief financial officer Tom Crawford

From left: City administrator Steve Powers and chief financial officer Tom Crawford.

Lumm seemed to indicate some dissatisfaction with the fact that a requirement of the land sale policy – that the related transactional costs be deducted before transfer to the affordable housing trust fund – didn’t seem to apply to the resolution.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) suggested a “friendly” amendment to change the “resolved” clause to read: “… after any costs associated with the sale have been deducted.” Crawford thought that the $90,000 was already the net amount, because the city had negotiated to have the AATA bear the closing costs. In any case, he said, the amount was not a large number. So Briere withdrew the proposed amendment.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed concern about the idea of applying a policy retroactively – to a piece of land that had previously been sold. Lumm echoed Kunselman’s sentiment.

Briere allowed that Kunselman and Lumm were right in that the land sale policy was enacted after the land in question had been sold. However, Briere said, “This resolution … has nothing to do with the policy – except as realization that we’d already sold a piece of the old Y lot.” It seemed appropriate to Briere to treat that previous sale as part of the Y lot, which the council wanted to go to the affordable housing trust fund.

Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he supported the resolution based on the fact that the city had not been able to make regular contributions to the affordable housing trust fund.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to transfer $90,000 to the affordable housing trust fund.

Defined Contribution Retirement Plan

On the council’s agenda was a resolution, sponsored by Jane Lumm (Ward 2), that directed the city administrator to develop a defined contribution retirement plan to offer non-union employees hired after July 1, 2013. The city currently has a defined benefit plan.

Although the resolution indicated specific action for non-union employees, it also included a goal to implement a similar change for union employees – which would have to be collectively bargained. The second resolved clause indicated that the city would “… strive to implement the same pension changes for all new employees.”

The directive to the city administrator in the resolution stated that the non-union retirement plan – along with the appropriate ordinance amendments, related plan documents, and implementation steps – were to be developed within three months, by Jan. 31, 2013, for review first by the city council’s labor committee then by the full council.

Lumm’s resolution had been added to the Nov. 8 agenda on Nov. 2. She had told her colleagues at the council’s Oct. 1, 2012 meeting that she’d be bringing the resolution forward. She’d drafted a similar resolution in May this year, in connection with possible amendments to the FY 2013 budget. She didn’t bring forward the resolution at that time, partly because it was not technically an amendment to the budget and partly because the deliberations on the budget had already lasted several hours.

Lumm campaigned for her seat on the council in 2011 based partly on a call for a transition to a defined contribution plan. Among the reasons Lumm cited in her resolution was state legislation that was enacted recently – which will facilitate the transition to defined contribution plans. [.pdf of analysis by Senate Fiscal Agency of Public Act 329 of 2012]

In defined benefit plans, retirees receive a set amount per month during their retirement. In defined contribution plans, employers pay a set amount into the retirement plan while a person is employed. The most common of these defined contribution plans is the 401(k).

Defined Contribution Plan: Council Deliberations

Apparently related to the resolution on converting to a defined contribution retirement was a closed session held at the beginning of the council’s Nov. 8 meeting, to discuss labor negotiation strategy. Discussion of labor strategy is one of the exceptions that can be used under Michigan’s Open Meeting Act to hold a closed session. Conversion to a defined contribution plan for union members would need to be collectively bargained. The closed session was added to the council’s agenda at the meeting and took place before the council handled the rest of the agenda.

When the council reached the resolution on moving toward a defined contribution plan, Lumm said she believed the city must address issue of legacy costs. She felt that the issue should be addressed now, instead of kicking the can down the road. The city had taken one step toward addressing the problem by adopting an “access only” health care plan. The next step now, in her view, was to change to a defined contribution type plan similar to a 401(k) type of plan. She noted that other public and private organizations had adopted this approach in order to reduce employee costs.

In 2004, a city of Ann Arbor blue ribbon committee had made a recommendation to transition to such a plan, and it’s now seven years later, Lumm said. However, she noted that the city administrator and the city attorney had raised some questions about her resolution. Out of respect for their concerns she was withdrawing the item, but she looked forward to future discussion.

Outcome: The item on moving toward a defined contribution retirement plan was withdrawn.


At its Nov. 8 meeting, the council handled a couple of items related to appointments to boards, commissions and task forces.

Appointments: North Main Task Force

The council considered expanding a task force that’s looking at future planning for the North Main Street and Huron River corridor – so that it could include outgoing councilmember Sandi Smith (Ward 1). She was appointed to represent the council on the group, but did not seek re-election to her council seat.

Mayor John Hieftje had indicated at the council’s Oct. 15, 2012 meeting that he would be moving to expand the task force in this way. The resolution was sponsored by Smith’s Ward 1 cohort, Sabra Briere.

Smith’s last meeting was Oct. 15, because she was unable to attend the final meeting of her term, which was Nov. 8. New councilmembers – including Sumi Kailasapathy, who’ll take the seat held by Smith – will be ceremonially sworn in at the council’s Nov. 19 meeting.

The task force is due to make a recommendation on a use for the city-owned 721 N. Main Street parcel by the end of the year. That comes in the context of a planned application by the city to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund next year for a grant in connection with 721 N. Main. The group’s broader recommendation for the entire corridor is not due until mid-year 2013.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to expand the North Main task force, to confirm Sandi Smith as an additional citizen member and to confirm Sabra Briere as the council representative to the task force.

Appointment: Planning Commission

On the agenda was the confirmation of Tony Derezinski to fill a partial term on the city planning commission – through June of 2013. Derezinski’s last meeting as a city councilmember was Nov. 8, and up to that point he had served by annual appointment as the council’s representative to the planning commission. But because he did not prevail in his August Democratic primary race in Ward 2, he could not continue to serve on the planning commission in that capacity. Instead, it’s expected that Sabra Briere (Ward 1) will serve in that role.

The vacancy on the planning commission for which Derezinski was nominated is opening up due to the resignation of Evan Pratt, who won a new position for himself as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner in the Nov. 6 election. Derezinski was nominated by the council to fill a citizen position on the commission.

Derezinski, along with Susan Baskett, also had been nominated at the council’s Oct. 15 meeting to serve as a board member for the recently incorporated Act 196 transit authority. But in light of the council’s action to opt out of the transit authority at its Nov. 8 meeting, the council won’t be acting on those nominations.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2)

Ward 2 city councilmembers Tony Derezinski and Jane Lumm.

Mayor John Hieftje introduced the item on the agenda by thanking Pratt for his service on the planning commission. Hieftje indicated that his interest in appointing Derezinski was based on a desire to have some continuity on the commission.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) began her remarks objecting to Derezinski’s appointment by turning to Derezinski, seated immediately to her right, and saying, “You know I love you, Tony … This is really not fun for me.” She stressed that her objection had nothing to do with Derezinski. She was not comfortable making the appointment for reasons similar to those she gave in voting against the appointment of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) to the board of the DDA. [That vote came at the council's Aug. 20, 2012 meeting.] She drew a distinction between the appointment of Smith to the North Main task force, and the appointments to the DDA board and planning commission.

Lumm told Derezinski that she felt he’d done a phenomenal job on the planning commission. She allowed that it had been a practice to appoint former councilmembers to such positions, but she did not agree with it. She concluded her remarks by telling Derezinski, “I hope you understand.” His response: “Noted.”

Lumm’s remarks prompted several councilmembers to express their support of Derezinski’s appointment. Hieftje drew a comparison between Derezinski’s appointment to the planning commission and that of former councilmember Jean Carlberg. He said it would be a shame to waste the expertise and depth of knowledge that Derezinski offered.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that Derezinski’s appointment would be finishing out a term.

Outcome: The council voted to appoint Tony Derezinski to the planning commission, over dissent from Jane Lumm.

Appointments: Upcoming

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated during council communications time that she’d be bringing forward to the Nov. 19 meeting the nomination of Patti Smith to serve on the city’s environmental commission. [The environmental commission is one of the few boards and commissions that have nominations come from the council as a body instead of the mayor.]

Appointments: Council Committees

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) told her council colleagues during communications time that with new councilmembers coming on board at the next meeting, it’s the time of year when the organization of the council is considered. She asked councilmembers to forward to her their preferences for committee appointments. She hoped to have the committee appointments ready for the council’s first meeting in December.

Upcoming Council Business

The Ann Arbor city council’s post-election Nov. 8 session was its last meeting before new councilmembers are ceremonially sworn in on Nov. 19. And current city councilmembers used the occasion to announce some issues that the new edition of the council will be asked to consider.

Upcoming Business: Towing

During council communications, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that she, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had been working on a towing ordinance revision that would come before the council for a first reading at the Nov. 19 meeting.

Upcoming Business: Public Art

At the Nov. 19 meeting, two proposals will be brought forward on the city’s public art ordinance. The changes stem from the fact that a proposed public art millage failed at the polls on Nov. 6 by a 10-point margin (55.8% opposed and 44.14% in favor).

So at the Nov. 8 meeting, two different proposals were floated on the city’s existing public art ordinance – based on possibly differing interpretations of the expressed voter sentiment. It’s possible to construe the result as either (1) about the way public art is funded or (2) about whether public money should be used to support public art at all. One proposal was announced by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and the other by Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Briere’s proposal is to narrow the definition of projects to which the existing ordinance would apply. Currently, the Percent for Art ordinance applies to essentially any capital improvement project undertaken by the city, and requires that 1% of the budget for such projects be set aside for public art. Briere’s proposal would narrow the definition by restricting eligible capital improvement projects to those that are “intended to be open or visible to the public.” Projects to construct roads, highways, paths, and sidewalks would be eliminated from eligibility. Bridges would still qualify.

Briere’s proposal includes a financial threshold for qualifying projects: $100,000. Briere’s proposed ordinance amendments would also require a public process associated with proposed art projects. Part of that process would require notification of the councilmembers in whose ward a project is proposed.

Lumm’s proposal is not to amend the existing public art ordinance, but rather to repeal it. Lumm described her intent at the Nov. 8 meeting to bring forward a proposal similar to one she’d made at the council’s Aug. 20, 2012 meeting – a resolution that directed the city attorney’s office to prepare an ordinance revision that would repeal the Percent for Art program. In an email sent to other councilmembers, Lumm stated that ”… the version I will bring forward on 11/19 will be the proposed ordinance changes themselves for consideration at first reading.”

The Aug. 20 meeting was the occasion on which the council voted to place a public art millage on the Nov. 6 ballot. It was meant to provide a more flexible funding mechanism for public art in Ann Arbor. The 0.1 mill tax was expected to generate around $450,000 annually.

The proposal won a majority of votes in just 13 out of 59 Ann Arbor precincts, with the most support coming from Ward 5, Precinct 4 where 60.5% of voters supported the public art millage. Ward 5 had six of the 13 precincts where the proposal achieved a majority. And the proposal finished in a dead heat in Ward 5, Precinct 5 with 471 voting for and against it. Opposition among in-person voters was strongest in Ward 1, Precinct 9, where only 34.5% of voters supported it.

The proposal did not win a majority of votes in any precinct of Ward 2, which is represented by Lumm and Tony Derezinski, who also serves on the Ann Arbor public art commission. Nov. 8 was Derezinski’s last council meeting – he was defeated by Sally Petersen in the August Democratic primary.

Upcoming Business: Living Wage

In connection to the discussion on the living wage ordinance exemption granted to Community Action Network, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) announced she’d also be bringing forward a proposed ordinance revision for the Nov. 19 meeting that would provide a uniform exception for nonprofit entities that receive human services funding allocations from the city.

Dissolution of Sign Board of Appeals

The council was asked to give final approval to the transfer of responsibilities previously performed by Ann Arbor’s sign board of appeals (SBA) to the zoning board of appeals (ZBA). The change to the city’s ordinance had been given initial approval on Oct. 15, 2012.

The ordinance change was accompanied on the agenda by a separate council action eliminating the seven-member sign board of appeals, which most recently has had only three members, according to the city’s online Legistar system. According to a staff memo accompanying the agenda item, during the fiscal year 2012 the SBA heard six appeals and none the previous year. Appeals previously heard by the SBA will now be heard by the ZBA.

One of the advantages cited is that staff support time for the sign board would be eliminated. The dissolution of the SBA has been under discussion since 2008. The city’s planning commission discussed the issue on March 30, 2010, and more recently at its Sept. 6, 2012 meeting, when it recommended the change.

During the brief deliberations, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) described the move as an effort to streamline the process. He noted that the SBA handled just six appeals last year. The ZBA could easily handle that as a part of its regular process, he said. Eliminating the SBA would eliminate some of the paperwork that goes along with having a separate body, he said. Mayor John Hieftje said that the streamlining would be beneficial. He ventured that maybe some people who might have otherwise had interest in serving on the sign board would instead want to serve on the ZBA.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give final approval to the ordinance change transferring responsibility from the SBA to the ZBA and to dissolve the SBA.

Pedestrian Improvements

The council considered to two separate projects featuring pedestrian and non-motorized improvements. One is a Safe Routes to School project on Green Road. And the other involves a Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) project to install a pedestrian island on Huron Street between Thayer and Ingalls.

Thurston Elementary Safe Routes to School project

Thurston Elementary Safe Routes to School project.

What the council was asked to authorize for the Safe Routes to School project – in connection with Thurston Elementary School – was an agreement between the city and MDOT for the installation of bike and pedestrian safety improvements on Green Road. The agreement is required as a condition of the federal funds used for the project – a total of $111,800. The city will be using $18,000 from its alternative transportation fund to cover construction inspection and contingency costs.

The project itself includes installation of two new pedestrian crossing islands and bike lanes on Green Road. It also includes converting a portion of Green Road to three lanes and installing two rectangular rapid flashing beacons.

The authorization to apply for the federal funding was given by the council over two years ago at its Sept. 7, 2010 meeting.

The second project is a pedestrian island being installed by MDOT on Huron between Thayer and Ingalls. The city will be performing construction engineering services in its role as construction manager. The city’s cost of $6,400 will be reimbursed from federal funds.

Construction on both projects is expected to begin in the spring of 2013.

The item on the Huron Street pedestrian island was on the consent agenda, a collection of items that are voted on as a group. Any councilmember can pull individual items out of the consent agenda for separate consideration. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) pulled out the item about the pedestrian island in order to make some remarks about it.

Not many years ago, Briere said, it would be difficult to imagine a crosswalk or light on this part of Huron Street. Now there’s even a pedestrian island. She said that these infrastructure improvements reflect a greater use of the area by pedestrians and also an acknowledgment of the importance of transportation in the community. She was pleased with the accommodations that MDOT had been able to make to implement the pedestrian island. She called it a really good move. Students and faculty walk across Huron Street at that point all the time, she said. Anything to make the crossing safer is better, she concluded.

On the Safe Routes to School items, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked the staff for providing a map of the improvements and for their work in making the grant applications. And Briere pointed out that this grant is the second one received by the city for this purpose. It’s important for children to be able to walk to school instead of catching a bus, she said. This project for Thurston Elementary coordinates with one for Clague Middle School.

Briere noted that it had taken two years to bring the grant process to fruition. So the city can’t rely only on this kind of mechanism to address gaps in the pedestrian infrastructure.

Briere’s concluding remark served to foreshadow an item on the council’s Nov. 19 agenda, which would establish a $15,000 budget to analyze alternatives for filling a sidewalk gap on Scio Church Road.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve both pedestrian improvement-related agenda items.

Firefighter Staffing Levels

The council was asked to nudge upward by one the number of firefighters authorized in the current year’s budget for the city of Ann Arbor – to 86. The position will be funded for the rest of the current fiscal year by tapping the general fund balance reserve for $50,000. For the full year next year, the additional position would cost about $82,000.

According to a memo sent by city administrator Steve Powers to city councilmembers, as the budget planning cycle begins for FY 2014-015, he anticipates being able to maintain the 86 firefighter positions. Part of the rationale for adding the additional position is based on the fact that a recent hiring cycle to fill six positions had resulted in seven highly qualified candidates. The additional position would, according to Powers’ memo, help manage overtime and allow assignment of personnel to fire prevention work.

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers peruses the printed copy of the council's agenda.

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers peruses the printed copy of the council’s agenda.

The staffing level at 85 already reflects the addition of three firefighters since the FY 2013 budget was approved on May 21, 2012. That staffing level increase, from 82 to 85, was funded from a $642,294 federal grant through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), which was announced on May 30, 2012. The vote to accept the SAFER grant and add three firefighter positions was taken at the council’s Aug. 9, 2012 meeting. At that time, fire chief Chuck Hubbard reported that the city had three vacancies, or 79 firefighters on staff.

The $321,000 from the SAFER grant for each of the next two years was allocated for three firefighter positions, which the city estimates will cost $255,000 (at $85,000 per position). The remaining $66,000 per year was determined to be spent on other unspecified fire services needs, according to the staff memo accompanying the council’s August resolution – including overtime and fleet expenses. Hiring a fourth firefighter was analyzed at the time as requiring $19,000 of fund balance.

Deliberations by the council featured a question from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3): How does this affect a possible decision to close two fire stations? [By way of background, the city is currently still weighing whether to re-open Station 2, and close Station 3, 4 and 6, leaving three stations open – a net reduction of two stations. For more detail, see previous Chronicle coverage: "A Closer Look at Ann Arbor's Fire Station Plan"]

City administrator Steve Powers indicated that the addition of one firefighter would not have an impact either way on the station plan – because a staffing level of 86 still provides enough firefighters to operate an additional station. Adding the position would allow for better performance in the current operational configuration, he said.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) confirmed with Powers that the addition would result in an actual addition of a firefighter, and would not just be an addition on paper.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) expressed her support for the increased firefighter staffing levels.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to increase the staffing level for firefighters from 85 to 86.

Plymouth Green Crossing Revision

The council was asked to give final approval to several changes to the PUD (planned unit development) supplemental regulations for Plymouth Green Crossings – a mixed-use complex off of Plymouth Road, west of Green Road. At the meeting, the council was also asked to give approval to corresponding changes to the site plan for the complex.

The city planning commission had given its recommendation to approve the change at its Aug. 21, 2012 meeting. Six major changes were proposed: (1) adding parking or flexible space for special events as permitted uses in the ground floor of a proposed three-story mixed-use building, on the site’s northeast corner; (2) increasing the use of potential restaurant space within the site from 7,000 square feet to 14,224 square feet; (3) eliminating requirements for a free-standing restaurant that had previously been planned; (4) increasing the maximum number of parking spaces from 275 to 290; (5) reducing the minimum number of bicycle storage spaces from 70 to 64; and (6) adding the following language to the facade section: “ground level facades of Building A if used as interior parking shall include architectural columns, a minimum 3-foot height masonry screen wall, and louvers or grills to screen views to parking while permitting natural ventilation.”

In addition, the city recently discovered that the bank building was built one foot from the west property line, although the approved site plan and supplemental regulations required a two-foot setback. To resolve this, the owner proposed an amendment of the PUD supplemental regulations, according to a staff memo. The memo also indicates that the owner has been making contributions to the city’s affordable housing fund, rather than providing affordable housing within the complex. The final payment is due at the end of this year. [For background on a current policy discussion on the affordable housing trust fund, see "City Council to Focus on Land Sale Policy."]

This isn’t the first time that changes have been requested for the site. In 2009, developers also asked to amend the original PUD agreement. Rather than build a restaurant, they asked for permission to turn that part of the site into a temporary parking lot, adding 26 additional parking spaces and 11 spots for motorcycles. The planning commission didn’t act on that request until its Feb. 18, 2010 meeting. Although all five commissioners at that meeting voted to approve the request, the action required six votes to pass, so it failed for lack of votes. However, the request was forwarded to the city council, which ultimately granted approval at its April 19, 2010 meeting.

Plymouth Green: Public Hearing

Thomas Partridge spoke at both public hearings on the Plymouth Green Crossing. He called for connecting these types of rezoning approvals to a commitment to provide access for affordable public transportation to the sites. As a Democrat, he stands for progress, he said. He alluded to the presidential election and the campaign, which resulted in an admonishment from mayor John Hieftje to confine his comments to the topic of the hearing. Partridge told him that he disagreed with Hieftje’s attempt to limit freedom of speech. Hieftje responded that he didn’t see how a presidential candidate related to the site plan. Partridge parted from the podium with a suggestion: “Maybe you should go to law school.”

Plymouth Green: Council Deliberations

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) described the revisions as an attempt to use the space in a better way. A lot of other potentials could be realized if the site had more parking, he said. On the site plan, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) recited the key changes and indicated that she felt they had a beneficial effect for the city and were consistent with the master plan.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the PUD and the site plan changes for Plymouth Green Crossing.

City Attorney Performance Review

The council held a closed session toward the end of the meeting, to discuss the personnel review of city attorney Stephen Postema. Deliberations on a personnel review are not required to be held in a closed session under Michigan’s Open Meetings, and may not be held in closed session unless “the named person requests a closed hearing.” Postema’s employment contract requires his personnel evaluation be conducted in a closed session.

When the council emerged from the closed session, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) read aloud the resolution adjusting Postema’s salary upward for the first time since 2007, by 2.4%. According to the city’s human resources office, Postema’s salary before the increase was $141,538. The 2.4% increase on that base brings his annual salary to $144,934, just under that of city administrator Steve Powers, who is paid $145,000. The city attorney and the city administrator are the two positions that report directly to the city council. [.pdf of form used by councilmembers to evaluate Postema's performance]

The salary increase for Postema was balanced against the elimination of his vehicle allowance of $330/month – for a net loss in total annual compensation of $563 [141538*.024 - 330*12].

An overview of Postema’s salary history:

  • Nov. 8, 2012: 2.4% raise on base salary ($141,538) bringing it to $144,934; can cash in 300 hours before June 30, 2013; car allowance of $330/month eliminated.
  • Dec. 19, 2011: can cash in 250 hours before June 30, 2012.
  • Oct. 24, 2011: can cash in 250 hours before Dec. 31, 2011.
  • Nov. 5, 2009: can cash in 120 hours before June 30, 2010.
  • Oct. 20, 2008: paid lump sum of 2.75% annual salary; could cash in 150 hours before June 30, 2009; allowed to engage in outside legal work.
  • Nov. 5, 2007: base salary increased by 2.75% for “merit increase” and 1.25% “market increase”; vacation days increased to 25 days per year.
  • March 20, 2006: could cash in 80 hours of unused vacation time before June 30, 2006.
  • Oct. 5, 2005: base salary increased at Postema’s discretion up to 3%; awarded 80 hours of vacation time.
  • Sept. 13, 2004: base salary increased by 3% to $130,810; annual vacation days increased to 22 days.
  • April 3, 2003: started work at base salary of $127,000 (20 vacation days in addition to legal holidays).

After the council voted to approve Postema’s salary increase, Postema asked to deliver some remarks. He said that when he was hired, he’d been asked to come in and help the city. He described his work as a sometimes thankless task. He appreciated the faith that the council had shown in him, saying that the words of councilmembers meant a great deal to him. He said he’d continue to do what aids the city.

Outcome: The council’s vote on Postema’s salary adjustment was unanimous.

Communications and Comment

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

Comm/Comm: Elections

During his communications time, city administrator Steve Powers thanked the city clerk’s staff for their work in connection with the Nov. 6 elections.

LIne to vote at the Ann Arbor Community Center on North Main Street on Election Day Nov. 6, 2012.

The line to vote at the Ann Arbor Community Center on North Main Street on Election Day – Nov. 6, 2012. It wrapped around on itself inside the building and spilled out onto the sidewalk and out to the street. Some people reportedly stood in line up to two hours.

He acknowledged the long lines that some precincts experienced, and took a positive perspective on that, saying that it reflected heavy turnout. Following up on Powers’ remarks, mayor John Hieftje indicated an interest in reviewing the possibility of adding more than one electronic poll book per precinct – noting that the limit of one per precinct was a state requirement.

Hieftje ventured that it might be worth discussing the creation of more precincts – even if it were only for national elections. The length of the lines could deter some people from voting, he said.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) inquired with city clerk Jackie Beaudry whether the turnout for state elections might warrant additional poll books or precincts. Beaudry indicated that turnout for state elections did not generate the kind of turnout that national elections did.

Comm/Comm: AAPD Volunteer

Samantha Brandfon was recognized with a mayoral proclamation for her volunteer work with the Ann Arbor police department.

Ann Arbor chief of police John Seto and Samantha Brandfon

Ann Arbor chief of police John Seto and Samantha Brandfon, who was recognized by the city council for her volunteer work.

In her brief remarks to the council, she said that she’d come to Ann Arbor to attend graduate school, had stayed and was pleased to give back to the community in whatever way that she could.

Comm/Comm: Progressive Politics

During the initial public commentary session, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a resident of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, a Democrat and longtime advocate for most disadvantaged members of society. He had been calling publicly and vociferously for measures to advance the cause of America’s most vulnerable for more than for 10 years. He was honored to do so once again on the occasion of the re-election of first African American U.S. president. He called on councilmembers and the mayor to remember the commitments they made when they ran for office, to work for accessible affordable services for middle class residents – and in so doing to build a better society with a greater and higher commitment to street level politics, not selfish, divisive issues. He was critical of the fact that the resolution to opt out of the countywide transit authority and the allocation of money to the affordable housing trust fund would take the city in opposite directions.

At the end of the meeting, Partridge also addressed the council and expressed his disappointment at the council’s decision to opt out of the countywide transit authority. He called on members of the public not to take that decision sitting down and encouraged them to take heart. He described mayor John Hieftje as having given up – not like Barack Obama.

Comm/Comm: Role of Local Government in Sustainability

Kermit Schlansker allowed that the presidential debates were important for the future of the country, but he lamented the fact that there’d been no mention of running out of energy. He described the national government as concerned mostly with politics. Local governments need to take up the slack, he said. He described how he’d not be able to address the council during general public commentary on some previous occasions because he’d been “kicked off the agenda” in favor of speakers who wanted to talk about medical marijuana and public art. [The council's rules for public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting give preference to speakers who want to speak about items on the council's agenda.]

Schlansker described the Ann Arbor District Library’s bond proposal as a desire to build “a new Taj Mahal.” He wondered why there was not a bond proposal on the ballot “to feed the city.” Jobs are needed now, he said, and local government has just as much responsibility to address that need as state and federal governments. He called for the establishment of energy farms as one step that could be taken.

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

Absent: Sandi Smith.

Next council meeting: Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle events listing to confirm date]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor city council. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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Derezinski Stays on Planning Commission Fri, 09 Nov 2012 04:46:42 +0000 Chronicle Staff Tony Derezinski will stay on the Ann Arbor planning commission at least through June of 2013 as a result of his confirmation by the city council at its Nov. 8, 2012 meeting. Derezinski’s last meeting as a city councilmember was Nov. 8, and up to that point he had served by annual appointment as the council’s representative to the planning commission. But because he did not prevail in his August Democratic primary race in Ward 2, he could not continue to serve on the planning commission in that capacity. Instead, it’s expected that Sabra Briere (Ward 1) will serve in that role. The confirmation by the council came over the dissent of Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who did not feel that it’s appropriate for former councilmembers to serve on the planning commission.

Because a vacancy of the commission is opening up on the planning commission – due to the resignation of Evan Pratt, who won a new position for himself as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner in the Nov. 6 election – Derezinski was appointed by the council to fill a citizen position on the commission.

Derezinski, along with Susan Baskett, had been nominated at the council’s Oct. 15 meeting to serve as a board member for the recently incorporated Act 196 transit authority. But in light of the council’s action to opt out of the transit authority at its Nov. 8 meeting, the council won’t be acting on those nominations.

Sally Petersen, who won the August primary against Derezinski, was unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election. Petersen will join Lumm as a Ward 2 representative on the council when she is ceremonially sworn in on Nov. 19.

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

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Adenekan Nominated for Planning Commission Tue, 21 Jun 2011 02:09:49 +0000 Chronicle Staff Eleanore Adenekan‘s name was placed before the Ann Arbor city council at its June 20, 2011 meeting as the replacement for outgoing planning commissioner Jean Carlberg. The nomination will need to be confirmed at the council’s next meeting.

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

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

a ball of yarn on somebody's lap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design Guidelines

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

woman looking at printed material

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

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

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

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

Public Comment on Design Guidelines

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

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

Some key points identified by the volunteer citizen committee included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council Deliberations on Zoning that Related to Design Guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A2D2 Zoning

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

Public Comment on Zoning: East Huron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Comment on Zoning: General

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

Council Deliberations: South University Height

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

people sitting at city council table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

people standing around looking at a map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

man sitting a table with microphones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council Deliberations: Postponement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council Deliberations: The Final Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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Downtown Design Guides: Must vs. Should Wed, 16 Sep 2009 13:50:04 +0000 Dave Askins man sits at table with palms in up-turned gesture

Eric Mahler, city of Ann Arbor planning commissioner, questioned whether the downtown design guidelines, as currently drafted, would pass legal muster, if they were implemented in a mandatory-compliance system. (Photo by the writer.)

Almost every child learns in school that a haiku is a short poem with three lines – lines that adhere to a 5-7-5 syllable count pattern.

But only some children learn that not all poems conforming to that 5-7-5 rule are good haikus. For example:

I saw a tower/Looming, stretching really tall/
Is it ever high!

Many readers will recognize those lines as a generally failed poem. But what specifically makes it a bad haiku, even though it follows the rule? The first-person narrative, the lack of seasonal referent, the lack of any kind of “aha!” moment – there are any number of ways in which that poetic effort fails to meet basic haiku design guidelines.

Similarly, a proposed new downtown Ann Arbor building that follows a basic height rule of “180 feet maximum” – specified in the zoning regulations – might still be generally recognizable as a poorly-designed building. 

Knowing it’s poorly designed is one thing. But it’s another thing for someone to say what exactly makes a building poorly-designed, or in a happier case, well-designed. That requires some knowledge of building design principles – just as critiquing a haiku requires some knowledge of haiku design principles. Perhaps the building’s entrance can’t be easily spotted, or its walls rise in a sheer, windowless face from the sidewalk to its full height.

When the members of Ann Arbor’s city council, planning commission and Downtown Development Authority board met in a joint work session on Monday night, they did not attempt poetry. Rather, they convened in the studios of Community Television Network to contemplate design guidelines for future downtown Ann Arbor buildings. In their questions for the consultant and city staff, they wound up focusing not on what the guidelines themselves said, but rather on this question: What role should the A2D2 design guidelines play in the city’s project approval process?

Brief Background on A2D2

In September 2006, the Ann Arbor city council approved A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) as the next step in the Downtown Development Strategies Project. That project already had a three-year history dating from October 2003. Two of the five priority actions for A2D2 were (i) to overhaul the downtown zoning, and (ii) to establish design guidelines.

man in jacket and tie sits at table speaking with upturned palms gesture

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked, "How do you legislate design?" Seated to Rapundalo's left is Mike Anglin (Ward 5). (Photo by the writer.)

In the spring of 2009, the city council appeared ready to approve the zoning package. However, a back-and-forth between the planning commission and the city council, which was driven largely by questions about the appropriate zoning designation of the South University area – caused a delay.

That delay meant that the original plan – to wrap up the zoning package in late spring, leaving the summer to focus on design guidelines – had to be altered. The revised approach was to allow the design guidelines to “catch up” to the zoning package, with final approval of each to come roughly around the same time: fall 2009.

The re-alignment of the scheduled approvals for those two priority actions – zoning overhaul and development of design guidelines – had to have been welcome to those in the community who had advocated persistently against their chronological separation. The council gave its first reading approval to the zoning package at its Sept. 8 meeting.

And with the leaves now beginning to turn, the city council, the city’s planning commission, and the Downtown Development Authority board convened its triple-joint session on Monday night, to focus on the design guidelines.

Design Guideline Content

Monday’s meeting of the three public bodies mirrored the mood of the public open house on design guidelines held two weeks earlier (Sept. 2) at the Kerrytown Concert House – people were more interested in issues of implementation than in content.

woman, left, and man, right, seated at table; the man is talking

Alexis DiLeo, city planner, and Abe Barge of Winter & Company, a consulting firm. (Photo by the writer.)

But what is it that people are so concerned about implementing? Abe Barge of Winter & Company, which is consulting on the project, gave essentially the same presentation at both events. He walked both audiences through the main features of the Aug. 28 draft of the design guidelines document.

Chapter One covers general urban design principles – massing (how big is a building), frontage (how a building is experienced at the sidewalk), and other miscellaneous principles. The section on massing discusses, for example, how the perception of the overall height of a building is affected by its front. Consider a building with a front that rises from the sidewalk to a height of two stories then steps back slightly, before rising to a greater overall building height of six stories. That building will feel different to a pedestrian than one that rises to six stories straight up from the sidewalk.

Chapter Two becomes somewhat more focused on the idiosyncratic properties of Ann Arbor’s downtown. The principles themselves are not peculiar to downtown Ann Arbor, but the particular set of principles reflects a priority selection out of general design principles. They’re grouped into three categories: how buildings fit into the context of other buildings, the overall shape of buildings themselves, and the specific parts of buildings. In the vocabulary of design, these translate into: site planning, building massing, and building elements.

Number one on the list for site planning in downtown Ann Arbor are pedestrian connections, followed by open space. For building massing, it’s height and articulation that are top priority. It’s not just a matter of how tall a building is. It’s important to break up the mass of a building visually – both horizontally and vertically, according to the guidelines. And finally for building elements, it’s those parts of the building at the street edge that are most important, including where entrances are located and how they’re highlighted.

woman and man standing facing each other, both have upturned palms

DDA board members Leah Gunn and Roger Hewitt before the work session. Despite appearances, they were not checking for rain inside the CTN studios. (Photo by the writer.)

In Chapter Three, the specific recommendations are laid out that are specific to each of eight different character districts within downtown Ann Arbor: South University, State Street, Liberty/Division, East Huron, Midtown, Main Street, Kerrytown, and First Street.

By way of example, for the South University area, it’s a top priority to provide a variety of building heights.


Barge sketched out the range of possible implementation systems for the design guidelines – from completely voluntary compliance, to a system that could result in denial of a project that did not achieve the intent of the guidelines. There are a variety of systems within that range.

The Chronicle discussed that range by phone with Alexis DiLeo, who’s been the city planner in charge of A2D2 since mid-summer, after Wendy Rampson began serving as interim director of planning development in the wake of Mark Lloyd’s departure. We also followed up by phone with Barge.

The document containing the guidelines – which would be adopted by city council resolution – would essentially be separate from the specification of how they would be implemented. Here’s our understanding of some of the options in the range of possible implementations:

  • Completely voluntary: Design guidelines exist as a resource for developers. Developers are free to look at the guidelines or not. They’re free to incorporate the guidelines into their downtown projects or not.
  • Obligatory process, voluntary compliance – a checklist: As a part of the site plan approval process, developers must submit a statement evaluating their project against a checklist of design guidelines. The statement would explain how a project does and does not meet the intent of the design guidelines. Regardless of how the project stacks up based on the developer’s self-evaluation or planning staff’s evaluation and feedback, the developer would not be legally compelled to change the project based on the design guidelines alone.
  • Obligatory process, voluntary compliance – a design review board/panel: As part of the site plan approval process, a design review panel/board reviews the proposal independently of city planning staff with respect to meeting the intent of relevant design guidelines. The panel/board would issue a written opinion of their evaluation, but the developer would not be legally compelled to change the project based on that opinion.
  • Obligatory process, obligatory compliance: As part of the site plan approval process, a design review panel/board reviews the proposal independently of city planning staff with respect to meeting the intent of relevant design guidelines. The panel/board would issue a written opinion of their evaluation and that opinion would be legally binding. Otherwise put, a project could be denied based on a design review board’s assessment.

The most recent direction given to Winter & Company was by the A2D2 oversight committee in a conference call over the summer. The oversight committee consists of Marcia Higgins (city council), Roger Hewitt (DDA board) and Evan Pratt (planning commission). Their direction is reflected in the introduction to the design guidelines:

[Aug. 28, 2009 Draft] Compliance with the design guidelines is voluntary but applications for site plan approval in the D1 and D2 zoning districts must include a Design Guidelines Statement describing how the proposed project relates to the priority guidelines in Chapter 2: General Design Guidelines and any priority guidelines for the relevant character district in Chapter 3: Design Guidelines for Character Districts. Refer to the Land Development regulations within Chapter 57 of the City Code for specific requirements.

This most recent draft does not introduce the concept of a design review panel.

That contrasts somewhat with the approach of an earlier draft, which explicitly mentions such a panel and its role in the process:

[April 30, 2008 Draft] Design Advisory Panel. A special design advisory panel will be established as a resource for the decision-making process. Their role will be advisory only. Staff may draw upon the expertise of this panel for interpreting the design guidelines. Applicants may also request the assistance of the panel as part of the review.

At Monday’s joint work session, planning commissioner Kirk Westphal referenced a report from even earlier – in October 2007 – which articulated an expectation that there would be some kind of independent review body:

Design Advisory Resource Panel. A special panel will be established to provide advice to staff in making design review decisions. The majority of this group shall be design professionals, but it should also include some downtown property owners and community advocates. The panel will meet on an as-needed basis. Since their actions will only be advisory, no formal hearing will be required. All meetings will be open to the public and advance notice will be given in order to give the public an opportunity to attend their meetings. The panel will provide their advice to staff on the interpretation of the design guidelines as needed/requested.

At the Kerrytown Concert House meeting on Sept. 2, Ray Detter, who’s president of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, had expressed his long-standing expectation “that the design guidelines would be enforced with a mandatory design review process that included some form of peer group or planning staff review board.”

Following up by phone with Detter, he clarified for The Chronicle that he was not advocating for mandatory compliance with the finding of such a board. While the community was still learning what these guidelines actually are, he said, it would be premature to take that step.

Deliberations at the Work Session

Attendees at the work session in CTN studios had various clarificational questions for staff and the consultant. For example, city councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wanted to know what the advantages of a staff versus an external board review would be. Answer: Ease – staff are already in place. They also had additional requests of the consultant. For example, city councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked if it were possible to take some potential downtown development sites and mock up the biggest, ugliest buildings possible within the zoning constraints, then look at the impact that the design guidelines would have on such buildings if they were followed.

group seated at long tables configured in an L

From left to right: (planning commissioners) Eric Mahler, Erica Briggs, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Bonnie Bona; (city councilmembers) Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Christopher Taylor; (DDA boardmembers) Joan Lowenstein, Leah Gunn, Roger Hewitt; (staff) Jayne Miller, director of community services with the city of Ann Arbor. (Photo by the writer.)

Stephen Rapundalo seemed to express some skepticism of a mandatory compliance system, asking, “How do you legislate design?” And planning commissioner Eric Mahler expressed some doubts about whether the malleable concepts in the guidelines – like “visual interest” – would pass legal muster if implemented as part of a mandatory compliance system. Queried by Mahler, Barge said that in his view, the language of the guidelines was ready to go for mandatory compliance, if that’s the direction the city of Ann Arbor decided it wanted to pursue.

But as far as back-and-forth among the members of the three public bodies – city council, planning commission, and DDA board – not much was on offer on Monday night. The seating configuration – an “L” that put 11 people on one side and another 7 people on the other leg – was perhaps an inhibitor to dialogue.

At some point there will need to be specific direction given by the city council to staff with respect to the desired implementation of the design guidelines. Unless the direction is to make the design guidelines an optional informational resource – with no formal role at all in the application process – then in addition to adoption of the guidelines by city council resolution, Chapter 57 of the city code would also need some kind of amendment.

The current game plan is for city council to vote on design guidelines in mid-October.

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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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