Stories indexed with the term ‘porch couch ban’

UM Regents Updated: Research, Renovations

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (Sept. 16, 2010): This month’s public meeting of the regents lasted just over an hour and included some unusual elements, along with the usual fare.

Royster Harper, Kelly Cunningham, Chris Armstrong

Chris Armstrong, right, president of the Michigan Student Assembly, talks with Royster Harper and Kelly Cunningham before the Sept. 16 UM Board of Regents meeting. Harper is vice president for student affairs. Cunningham is director of UM's Office of Public Affairs. (Photos by the writer)

Board chair Julia Darlow read a brief statement near the start of the meeting, stating support for anyone in the university community who comes under attack for their identity – an oblique reference to what’s been characterized as the cyber-bullying of Chris Armstrong, the Michigan Student Assembly president. Armstrong, who is gay, is the target of  the “Chris Armstrong Watch” blog, maintained by Andrew Shirvell, a state assistant attorney general.

Later in the meeting during his regular report on MSA activities, Armstrong criticized the Ann Arbor city council for its recent proposal to ban porch couches, noting that although he planned to meet with some councilmembers later that day, they had not consulted students before taking action on the issue. At their Sept. 20 meeting, council is expected to vote on an ordinance amendment to ban upholstered furniture on porches.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, regents approved renovations and upgrades for several facilities on campus. The vote for a high-profile project to add permanent night lighting at Michigan Stadium passed without comment, while a seemingly innocuous elevator replacement at South Quad yielded an uncharacteristic, albeit relatively brief, discussion about long-term planning for the renovation of that dorm.

Regents heard a presentation about the research work being done at UM’s Institute for Social Research, given by ISR’s director, James Jackson. They also heard from Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, that the university had for a second year passed the $1 billion mark in research expenditures for fiscal 2009-10, increasing 12% over the previous year.

Not faring as well are donations to the university. Jerry May, vice president for development, reported that contributions dropped 4% to $254 million during 2009-10, which ended June. 30. However, there was an uptick in the last half of that fiscal year and the first two months of this year, which May described as “very healthy.”

The meeting concluded with one speaker during public commentary. Douglas Smith criticized regents Andrew Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman for, among other things, failing to deliver on a campaign promise to hold tuition increases to the rate of inflation. Noting that the two Republicans were running for re-election, he urged the public to vote against them in November. After his remarks, three of the Democrats on the board came to the two Republicans’ defense. [Full Story]

Couch Ban Smolders; NanoBio Taxes Abated

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Sept 7, 2010): The council handled its relatively light agenda without taking a recess, taking a little over two hours to finish its Tuesday-after-Labor-Day business.


Before the meeting, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who's seated in his usual spot at the council table, chats with city attorney Stephen Postema. During Tuesday's meeting, Rapundalo and Postema insisted that there had been no directive given to the city attorney regarding a medical marijuana moratorium – despite the fact that previously both men used forms of the word "directive" to explain the attorney's actions. (Photo by the writer.)

An item that could have prompted extended deliberations – the so-called “porch couch ban” – was instead postponed until the council’s next regular meeting on Sept. 20. At the start of the meeting, the council heard a staff presentation on the fire hazards posed by porch couches and their negative visual impact.

Mayor John Hieftje and the sponsor of the measure, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), indicated early in the evening that a postponement of the couch ban was likely, but several people still addressed the council during a public hearing on the issue. The public hearing will be continued until Sept. 20, when the council is likely to take a final vote on the matter.

Among the business the council did vote on at Tuesday’s meeting was a tax abatement for NanoBio worth around $30,000 over the next five years. The biotech company is a University of Michigan spin-out, which has developed nano-technology platforms in the area of topical antibiotics and nasal sprays. The abatement is on NanoBio’s investment of roughly $200,000 in building improvements and $483,000 in equipment purchases for its Green Road facility.

Also affecting the Green Road neighborhood was an application to the Michigan Dept. of Transportation for Thurston Elementary School’s Safe Routes to School program, which the council authorized. The grant from MDOT, worth $157,555, would pay for infrastructure improvements – like pedestrian islands on Green Road. The grant would cover all of the construction costs, with the design and contingency costs of $30,000 to be drawn from the city’s alternative transportation fund, which ultimately comes from the state through Act 51 [gas tax] monies.

The city’s alternative transportation fund was lurking in the background on Tuesday night in an additional way. A public hearing took place on the special tax to be assessed on property owners whose land abuts a proposed non-motorized path along Washtenaw Avenue between Tuomy and Glenwood roads. The project is to be funded from $826,727 out of the alternative transportation fund, $694,039 from an MDOT grant, with a special assessment on property owners paying for the remaining $59,234. Several of the property owners addressed the city council Tuesday night to object to the assessment, which will cost them around $3,500 each.

In addition to the meeting’s usual range of communications and announcements, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) attempted to clarify some comments he’d made at the council’s Aug. 5 meeting about a closed session that council had conducted on July 19 regarding a medical marijuana moratorium. The Chronicle will report on those comments – and the council’s possible Open Meetings Act violation – in a separate opinion piece. [Full Story]

Modified Moratorium on Marijuana Passed

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Aug. 5, 2010): Around 75 people packed into city council chambers on Thursday night to hear council deliberations on a marijuana-related moratorium. The item had been added to the council’s agenda late the previous day – and the issue had received no discussion or mention by city officials at any previous open meeting.


Renee Wolf, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, spoke against the proposed medical marijuana moratorium: "Please don't take away my medicine – that's all I ask." (Photos by the writer.)

The measure as initially drafted by city attorney Stephen Postema would have halted all dispensing and growing of medical marijuana in the city. The moratorium came in response to the operation of some dispensaries and cultivation of marijuana in the city after the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act of 2008 was approved by Michigan voters.

In 2004, Postema had argued that the city’s charter amendment, which allows medical uses of marijuana and was approved by voters that year, was not enforceable, and said that people would continue to be prosecuted as before.

Several of the attendees addressed the council during public commentary, all opposing the moratorium. During deliberations, councilmembers made significant amendments to Postema’s proposal that took off some of its harsher edges. Amendments to Postema’s moratorium included a specific exemption for patients and caregivers, a grandfathering-in of existing facilities in the city and a reduction in the length of moratorium from 180 to 120 days. The milder version of the measure, when unanimously approved, was met with applause from the audience.

In other significant business, the council: approved the site plan for a new downtown residential development, Zaragon Place 2; authorized an extension on Village Green’s purchase option agreement for the First and Washington parcel where the City Apartments PUD is planned; gave initial first-reading approval to a ban on placement of couches on porches and other outdoor environments; and approved a change to the site plan approval process that replaces definite deadlines with a standard of “reasonable time.”

Mayor John Hieftje also placed recently-retired county administrator Bob Guenzel’s name before the council as a nomination to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board. He clarified that Guenzel would be replacing Jennifer S. Hall, whose term expired on July 31.

Council typically meets on Mondays, but moved its meeting to Thursday to accommodate the Aug. 3 primary election. All council incumbents who were running for reelection won their races. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Caucus: Fires, Fines, Fuller

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday night caucus (April 18, 2010): Access to city hall for the caucus on Sunday evening required a manual unlocking of doors with assistance from the Ann Arbor police department. But after gaining lawful entry, about a half-dozen residents discussed a range of topics with the three councilmembers who attended – mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Bob Snyder couch fire

Bob Snyder reads aloud from the preliminary report of the Ann Arbor fire department, which summarizes the events of a recent nighttime house fire that killed one resident.

A recent fire on South State Street, which killed a resident of the house that burned, prompted a call to revisit a 2004 proposal to ban from porches the use of indoor furniture, like couches. That measure was ultimately tabled by the council six years ago, left to demise without any action.

A couple of residents expressed some disappointment that the councilmembers would not be discussing the budget that evening, but budgetary topics did make their way into the conversation. Chief among them were the relationship of the new parking fine schedule – which is expected to generate an extra $635,000 for the FY 2011 budget – to the parking plan that’s scheduled to be presented on Monday night to the council by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Questions about the planned Fuller Road Station were also raised, including the plan for financing the project. That project is not on Monday night’s agenda. But a different major capital project does have an associated Monday agenda item: the East Stadium bridge replacement. The item involves authorization for the city to apply for funds from the state’s local bridge fund – the city’s most recent application was denied. Caucus attendees heard Hieftje explain that the city would delay the start of replacement construction from fall 2010 to spring 2011, to allow for another round of funding applications.

The council also got an update on one resident’s ongoing efforts to move a mid-block crosswalk in front of King Elementary School to an intersection where cars already stop. [Full Story]