The Ann Arbor Chronicle » porch couch ban it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 UM Regents Updated: Research, Renovations Mon, 20 Sep 2010 03:04:41 +0000 Mary Morgan 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.

President’s Opening Remarks

UM president Mary Sue Coleman began the meeting, as she typically does, by highlighting events and achievements at the university. The start of classes brings a burst of energy to campus, she said, and this year’s incoming class is particularly remarkable – the average high school GPA for UM freshman is 3.8, and 13% had achieved a 4.0 GPA. Her annual open house, held earlier in the week, brought hundreds of students through the president’s home on South University. “As always, I came away impressed with their ideas and plans,” she said.

Lion Kim

Lion Kim, a UM student golfer, was recognized at the Sept. 16 regents meeting for winning the 85th annual U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in July.

Coleman mentioned the “house warming” event held on Sept. 15 to mark the opening of North Quad, the university’s new student dorm at the corner of Huron and State. Also newly opened is the Central Campus Transit Center on North University, she said, though additional work on the center will continue through the fall.

Coleman made note of several accomplishments related to UM’s athletic department, starting with the unveiling of the newly expanded and renovated Michigan Stadium, which she said has met with an enthusiastic response.

Coleman noted that the men’s gymnastics team, which won the 2010 national championship earlier this year, had been honored by President Barack Obama at a White House reception on Sept. 13. The team had attended the regents’ May 20, 2010 meeting in Dearborn, where they were recognized for their achievement.

Coleman also praised Lion Kim, a UM student golfer who won the 85th annual U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in July. That victory gives him an invitation to play in the 2011 Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Both Kim and UM men’s head golf coach Andrew Sapp attended Thursday’s meeting, and regent Larry Deitch asked whether they had any extra tickets for the Masters, a remark which yielded laughs around the room. Regent Andrea Fischer Newman added, “When you get your new golf facility, you’ll have more of these moments.” Earlier this year, regents approved the construction of a $2.5 million men’s and women’s indoor golf practice facility, and approved the schematic design at their July 15 meeting.

Coleman mentioned the recent death of Ron Kramer, a former Michigan player who had kept strong ties with the university over the years. She said that Kramer loved Michigan, both the university and the state. On the Wednesday before every home football game, he would bring apples to her office, she said. “We miss him greatly.”

Looking ahead to next month’s meeting, Coleman said that the October regents meeting is usually held in Flint. But this year, because the university will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s speech at the Michigan Union, where he first described an idea that eventually became the Peace Corps, the regents will meet in Ann Arbor, she said. An array of events are planned in connection with that anniversary, she said, adding that UM’s connection to the Peace Corps is one of the university’s “signature points of pride.”

Finally, Coleman congratulated regent Julia Darlow on being named by Michigan Lawyers Weekly as one of the state’s most influential female attorneys. Darlow received a round of applause. [Three other Ann Arbor attorneys are on this year's list: Kelly Burris, Jean Ledwith King and Susan Kornfield.]

Julia Darlow

Julia Darlow, chair of the UM board of regents.

Statement by the Board Chair

Julia Darlow, the board’s chair, made a brief statement after Coleman’s remarks, saying that whenever a member of the university is targeted because of their identity, “we are all attacked.” She said they will continue to stand together and hold the university’s values with dignity and respect. When Darlow finished, Coleman added that those sentiments are shared by the entire university community.

The statement was likely a reference to recent news that state assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell has been using his blog – the “Chris Armstrong Watch” – to attack Armstrong, president of the Michigan Student Assembly, criticizing him for his openly gay lifestyle and “radical homosexual agenda.” The blog has been characterized as cyber bullying, and attorney general Mike Cox has stated that Shirvell’s “immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.”

Institute for Social Research

James Jackson, director of the UM Institute for Social Research, gave regents a presentation about the institute’s activities. At their April 2010 meeting, the board had authorized a $23 million expansion project for ISR’s building at 426 Thompson St., and approved a schematic design for the project at their meeting in July.

ISR is celebrating its 61st year, Jackson said. For the 2009-10 fiscal year, the institute received over $130 million in funding, including roughly $41 million in federal stimulus dollars. ISR employs about 1,230 people in its five research centers, including 254 research scientists which Jackson says he thinks of as entrepreneurs. They are committed to hiring an additional 40-50 scientists over the next decade, and Jackson said that when ISR’s expansion is completed in 2013, they will already be out of space.

James Jackson

James Jackson, director of UM's Institute for Social Research.

During his presentation, Jackson highlighted several research studies that are ongoing at IRS, many of which have spanned decades.

The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, led by Richard Curtin, is the only social science project on the federal government’s index of leading economic indicators, Jackson said. Curtin is projecting that unemployment will rise through the first half of next year, and the gains in the second half of the year will hardly dent the staggering job losses suffered so far.

Jackson cited several long-term studies managed by ISR. Every year since 1975, ISR’s Monitoring the Future Study has surveyed 50,000 American youth regarding their use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs, Jackson said.

The American National Election Studies, conducted since 1948, is one of two ISR studies recently named to the National Science Foundation’s “Sensational 60” list of the most influential projects the federal agency has funded in its 60-year history. The other study receiving that honor is the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which started in 1968 and is the longest such study in the world. It’s a longitudinal look at the changing socioeconomic dynamics of families, currently collecting data on 22,000 people.

Several ISR studies look at the impact of our society’s aging population, Jackson said. The ISR Health & Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, began in 1990 and is the largest federally funded project at UM. Over 150,000 interviews have been conducted with more than 30,000 people aged 50 or older.

Jackson also mentioned the Society 2030 Consortium, a three-year effort to assist corporations in developing products and services for the aging population. Jackson likened it to developing spinoffs – via a university/corporate partnership – in the field of social sciences.

The final ISR project that Jackson highlighted is the U.S. Army’s Study to Assess Risks and Resilience in Servicemembers (STARRS), with the goal of preventing suicide and improving the mental health of army personnel during and after active duty. The five-year study, now in its second year, will survey 90,000 active duty soldiers, as well as families and peers of those who’ve committed suicide, and people who attempted to take their lives. A longitudinal follow-up will track 15,000 soldiers.

Regental Committee Reports

The regents have three committees: 1) finance, audit and investment; 2) personnel, compensation and governance; and 3) health affairs. The health affairs committee, chaired by regent Larry Deitch, was created earlier this year to provide oversight to the UM Hospitals and Health Centers. None of the committee meetings are open to the public.

The chairs of each committee give cursory reports at each monthly regents meeting. On Thursday, Deitch reported that the health affairs committee had held its first-ever meeting and was setting a schedule for a “deep dive” into the operations of the health system. He said he expected their work to cover everything from the development of the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) to how long it takes to get an appointment at a UM clinic.

Michigan Student Assembly Report

Chris Armstrong, president of the Michigan Student Assembly (MSA), gave his monthly report to regents, highlighting events on campus and MSA-sponsored activities. He reported on the Ann Arbor city council’s proposed resolution to ban porch couches, saying that while the fire at a South State Street house that killed a student earlier this year was tragic, the council’s response has been “skewed.” He noted that there are other ways to address fire safety, and that the council didn’t involve students at all before proposing this resolution. Armstrong said that representatives from MSA would be meeting with some councilmembers that night to talk about how students might be more involved with these kinds of decisions in the future.

By way of background, the resolution – sponsored by councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) – was initially on the council’s July 19, 2010 agenda, but was taken off the agenda before that meeting. It passed on first reading at council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting. Taylor wrote an opinion piece published on Sept. 5 by the Michigan Daily, the university’s student newspaper, focusing on the issue of fire safety – though the proposed resolution would amend the city code chapter on public nuisances, not fire prevention.

The council heard a staff presentation on the issue at their Sept. 5 meeting, and MSA member John Oltean spoke during a public hearing on the issue that night, urging council to postpone action. He also encouraged them to deal with the issue fully by considering how rental housing may not be up to code in other ways, describing a lot of the city’s student rental housing stock as “ancient.” Action was subsequently postponed until the council’s next meeting on Sept. 20.

Donations to the University Decline in 2009-10

Jerry May, UM’s vice president for development, reported that contributions to the university were down for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010. Contributions during the year totaled $254 million, compared to $265 million the previous year.

Overall, since the university wrapped up its “Michigan Difference” capital campaign, the severe economic downturn has had an impact on philanthropy at UM, May said. However, he added that they saw a significant uptick during the second half of the fiscal year, and the first two months of this year – July and August – have been “very healthy.” He noted that of the $254 million, $56 million was given specifically for scholarships and fellowships.

May highlighted three large gifts in particular: 1) a $15 million gift from the Ted and Jane Von Voigtlander Foundation for the new women’s hospital, which regents named the Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, 2) the $10 million gift from Bob and Ann Aikens for a UM Law School addition, the largest gift received from living individuals, and 3) the $2 million gift from Ed Elliott to endow a professorship at the UM-Dearborn campus.

Research Activities

Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, reported that research expenditures at the university had grown 12% during fiscal 2009-10, to $1.14 billion. It was the second year that UM had exceeded the $1 billion milestone, he said. Of that, 5.1% was attributable to stimulus dollars. This year, the university is on a similar track, Forrest said.

Stephen Forrest

Stephen Forrest, UM vice president for research.

For federal research funding, the National Institutes of Health contributed more funds than any other federal agency, accounting for $507 million, or 44.5% of UM’s total research funding. Corporate sponsorship dropped 9% for the year, to $39 million, while overall non-federal research funding fell 4.7%, to $106.7 million.

Forrest also highlighted the recent $12.5 million in federal funding for the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, a collaboration with Chinese researchers to develop clean vehicle technology. Dennis Assanis, a UM professor and director of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, will take the lead in this effort, Forrest said.

Later in the meeting, president Mary Sue Coleman noted that she was recommending a renewal of Forrest’s contract, which regents ultimately approved. His appointment will run from Jan. 1, 2011 through Dec. 31, 2016. Coleman cited his leadership in efforts to support economic development and several large projects during his five years as head of university research. He received a round of applause.

Building Projects, Renovations

Regents approved several construction projects during Thursday’s meeting, all but one passing without discussion:

  • A $4.9 million renovation to the Auxiliary Services Building on North Campus, for the School of Art & Design. The renovation of 33,000 square feet will allow the school to consolidate graduate student and faculty studios into one location – the school, which is also located on North Campus, currently leases two off-campus sites for those studios. The project is expected to save $114,000 in annual leasing costs and add 13 faculty studios. The architectural firm of SHW Group will design the project, which is expected to be completed in the summer of 2011.
  • Schematic design for a $11 million renovation and expansion of the Memorial Phoenix Laboratory – a project that regents initially approved at their Dec. 17, 2009 meeting. The building houses the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute. The architectural firm of Lord, Aeck & Sargent Inc. is designing the project, which includes renovating 10,000 square feet of research space and building another 10,000 square feet for administrative use. Terry Sargent presented the schematic design at Thursday’s meeting.
  • The addition of permanent night field lighting at Michigan Stadium, at a cost of $1.8 million. The lights are being added in advance of the Dec. 11 “Big Chill at The Big House” hockey game between Michigan and Michigan State, which begins at 3 p.m. but is expected to last into the evening. A night football game at the stadium is also on the 2011 schedule.

Though the issue of night lighting at Michigan Stadium has received some media attention, it drew no comments from regents during Thursday’s meeting. The building-related issue that did provoke discussion related to the seemingly innocuous request to approve an elevator replacement at the South Quad dormitory.

The request was for a $1.15 million replacement of a freight elevator that serves three floors, installing instead a service and passenger elevator that would serve nine floors. The project also requires modification of the building’s kitchen exhaust system, separating it from the elevator exhaust to meet current building codes. South Quad, which houses about 1,250 students, was built in 1951. The elevator is about 60 years old.

Andy Richner

Regent Andrew Richner.

Regent Andrew Richner noted that the kitchen is now located a long way from where food is served in the dorm, and he wondered whether the elevator replacement – which includes altering the kitchen exhaust system – takes into account long-term plans to renovate the building and possibly relocate the kitchen.

Tim Slottow, the university’s chief financial officer who’s responsible for facilities projects, said that he’d be bringing a strategic plan to the regents later this year about renovation plans for several residence halls, including South Quad. UM is nearly complete with major renovations of the older “heritage” residence halls on the Ann Arbor campus, he said, but several more residence hall renovations need to be renovated. Among those, East Quad is a priority, he said.

Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations, added that the South Quad elevator replacement can’t be done without modifying the exhaust systems. Richner said he simply wanted them to consider the longer-term plans involving the kitchen, so that they could possibly avoid spending money on something now that would need to be altered again in the future. Slottow offered to pull the proposal and bring it back to the regents next month. Regent Andrea Fischer Newman suggested that regents go ahead and vote on the item, with the understanding that next month Slottow would report back regarding longer-term renovations.

Richner then joked that he might have to recuse himself from the vote, because his son lives in South Quad. He noted that his son, a freshman, lives on the ground floor and doesn’t take the elevator.

The regents voted and approved the elevator item, along with the rest of the construction items.

Conflict of Interest Items

Regents approved 14 items that required disclosure under the state’s Conflict of Interest statute. The law requires that regents vote on potential conflict-of-interest disclosures related to university staff, faculty or students. Often, the items involve technology licensing agreements or leases.

This month, the disclosures involved deals with the following companies: Logical Images Inc., Accuri Cytometers Inc., Jazz Pie Music, Sherm’s Musical Instrument Repair, Sakti3 Inc., Productivity Improvement LLC, Structured Microsystems, Sakai Foundation, Nico Technologies Inc., Lycera Inc., Rehabilitation Team Assessments LLC, Hearing Health Science Inc., and 3D Biomatrix LLC.

There was no discussion on any of these items.

Public Commentary

Douglas Smith, a UM alumnus, was the only speaker during the public commentary portion of Thursday’s meeting. He noted that two incumbents – regents Andrew Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman – have been nominated for re-election, and that it was a good time to reflect on their service. [Candidates for the board are nominated by their respective political parties and run for eight-year terms. Richner and Newman are Republicans.]

Doug Smith

Douglas Smith, speaking to the UM board of regents during public commentary at their Sept. 16 meeting.

He said that both Richner and Newman ran in the last election on promises to limit tuition increases to the rate of inflation, but that since 2002, tuition has risen at nearly three times the rate of inflation. Regents Denise Ilitch and Julia Darlow both voted against a 6% tuition increase last year, he noted, but the other regents did not.

Smith raised concerns about several other issues. The university is transferring some of its health care costs to employees, he said, by increasing employee contributions to health insurance by 50%. He criticized UM’s relationship with China, saying “the real exporter of American jobs to China is not Rick Snyder, it is the University of Michigan.” [Snyder, an Ann Arbor businessman, is the GOP candidate for Michigan governor and has been accused of outsourcing jobs to China while leading the computer company Gateway.] Smith accused the university of allowing its technology to be transferred to Chinese researchers and businesses – particularly technology that can be used for military purposes.

Smith also rebuked the regents for not ensuring adequate oversight of the UM Dept. of Public Safety, and argued that they have allowed the administration to stifle dissent regarding cases involving Andrei Borisov, Catherine Wilkerson and Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality (SOLE) protesters.

“In summary,” Smith said, “the performance of this board includes rapidly rising tuition, out of control budgets, new taxes on employees, massive technology transfers to China, lost opportunities for Michigan students, censorship and abuse of police power. I will not be voting to re-elect the incumbents and I would urge the rest of Michigan voters to do the same.”

When Smith finished his remarks, regent Larry Deitch – a Democrat – defended his Republican colleagues, saying he’d served with Newman for 16 years and Richner for eight. Though they didn’t agree on everything, Deitch said they had done a superb job. Regent Libby Maynard said she agreed with Deitch. Regent Martin Taylor said he agreed with Maynard, which prompted a laugh from most of the officials sitting at the table.

Present: Mary Sue Coleman (ex officio), Julia Darlow, Larry Deitch, Denise Ilitch, Olivia (Libby) Maynard, Andrea Fischer Newman, Andrew Richner, Martin Taylor, Kathy White.

Next board meeting: Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010 at 3 p.m. at the Fleming Administration Building, 503 Thompson St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

]]> 4
Couch Ban Smolders; NanoBio Taxes Abated Sun, 12 Sep 2010 22:45:14 +0000 Dave Askins 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.

Porch Couches

Before the council was a resolution regulating the placement of upholstered furniture in outdoor locations not intended for such use.

Porch Couches: Background

The council considered an ordinance back in 2004 addressing the issue of porch couches. The 2004 proposal was to amend the city’s code for fire prevention, Chapter 111. As described in the city code, the purpose of that chapter is to prevent fires:

Chapter 111 Fire Prevention
9:102. Purpose. The purpose of this chapter and Code is to provide for the prevention of fires and the protection of persons and property from exposure to the dangers of fire and explosion; …

Currently, however, the proposal before the council is to amend the code chapter on public nuisances, which can address threats to safety, but is intended to address public safety specifically [emphasis added]:

Chapter 106 Nuisances
9:1. Nuisance defined and prohibited. Whatever annoys, injures or endangers the safety, health, comfort or repose of the public; offends public decency; interferes with, obstructs or renders dangerous any street, highway, navigable lake or stream; or in any way renders the public insecure in life or property is hereby declared to be a public nuisance. Public nuisances shall include, but not be limited to, whatever is forbidden by any provision of this chapter. No person shall commit, create, or maintain any nuisance.

The chapter contains a kind of circular “escape hatch” allowing anything forbidden in the chapter to be defined as a public nuisance.

From the point of view of enforcement, the city has more personnel who are authorized to issue citations for Chapter 106 nuisance violations than can issue citations for Chapter 111 fire code violations. For example, along with community standards officers, even staff like the stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator – Jerry Hancock – are authorized to write nuisance citations. However, fire safety officials are not currently authorized to enforce nuisance violations. So as part of the ordinance change, fire safety officials would be given the right to enforce Chapter 106 nuisance violations.

In 2005, when the council again contemplated a possible couch ordinance, the issue was seen as a topic appropriate to be addressed by the then newly-formed council-student relations committee. From a Nov. 12, 2005 Ann Arbor News article, “Fire Official Pushes for Couch Ban,” by Tom Gantert:

“The new student relations committee needs to talk about this,” said [councilmember Leigh] Greden, who will serve on that committee. “I want them to look at the issue and talk about ways to solve the problem. We are going to have a dialogue about it.”

The current council’s student relations committee has not met for over a year. Michael Benson, who served on the council-student relations committee in 2008 and 2009 – while he was Michigan Student Assembly’s general counsel – wrote in an email to The Chronicle that the council-student relations committee has not met since Greden’s loss in the Democratic primary election of August 2009. Benson puts responsibility for meeting on both the MSA and the city council:

This lack of meeting is a shared responsibility between the the Michigan Student Assembly and the Council… MSA did not appoint any representatives to the committee in the 2009-2010 academic year and the two Council members did not attempt to hold a meeting nor to ask that the MSA appoint its members. To my knowledge, the current MSA administration has not appointed either a City Council Liaison or the student membership of the student relations committee. As a comparison, when I was serving as MSA’s student general counsel, we appointed the student members of the committee in the spring, directly after taking office at the end of the Winter 2008 term.

The city council’s current representatives on the student relations committee are Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). It was Kunselman who defeated Greden in the August 2009 primary.

Porch Couches: Staff Presentation

The council’s meeting began with a staff presentation made by the city’s housing inspector, Rita Fulton. She led off by tracing the city’s recent history with a possible couch ban. She recounted how an ordinance had been proposed in the summer of 2004 that was similar to the one that is currently before the council for its consideration. The council tabled that 2004 proposed ordinance.

In somewhat more detail than Fulton provided, the ordinance proposed in 2004 approached the issue from a fire-prevention perspective, with a modification to Chapter 111 of the city code, which handles fire prevention.

[Proposed but tabled Aug. 16, 2004] Chapter 111 of Title IX of the Ann Arbor City Code


Upholstered or other furniture designed or manufactured primarily for indoor use shall not be used or left:

  1. On residential unenclosed, exterior porches or balconies
  2. In an exposed open area of private property


  1. Wood, metal or plastic furniture.
  2. Outdoor patio furniture with weather resistant cushions
  3. Upholstered furniture designated for pre-paid special pick-up by public or private haulers complying with sections 2:7 and 2:12 of Chapter 26 of this Code.

Before the council now is not a modification to the fire prevention chapter, but rather an amendment to Chapter 106, which deals with public nuisances.

[Proposed Aug. 5, 2010] Chapter 106 9:7. Outdoor Storage. No responsible person [a property owner, tenant, occupant, lessee] shall place, or permit to remain, furniture which is not intended or designed for outdoor use on exterior balconies, porches, decks, landings, or other areas exposed to the weather.

Fulton’s presentation advanced a case for the new ordinance based on porch couches as a public nuisance as well as on fire safety considerations. She presented several slides showing couches on porches, many of them covered with snow, in support of the contention that they are an “eyesore” and that they “don’t look good.”

From a fire-safety perspective, she cited the Michigan Daily’s coverage in 2005 of fire officials’ warning that a student would die in a fire if the city did not ban couches on porches. [An Eastern Michigan University student, Renden LeMasters, died in an Ann Arbor house fire on South State street in April of 2010 – a fire that apparently originated in a waste container on the porch and spread to an adjacent couch, which accelerated the spread of the fire to the structure of the house.]

Fulton then walked the council through some technical details on the specific fire hazard posed by porch couches. She illustrated the sheer amount of heat energy released by a burning couch by comparing it to other burning objects:

  • 4‐18 kilowatts: small waste basket
  • 400 kilowatts: small pool of gasoline
  • 3,120 kilowatts cloth-covered (polyester) sofa

Fulton also explained that balloon frame construction of houses – prevalent in the older homes in Ann Arbor’s student rental neighborhoods – allows for the rapid spread of fires between stories, because there is no fire blocking in the walls between levels in the balloon frames.

Fulton then addressed a common critique of the argument that couches on porches pose a fire risk, which goes like this: If couches are a fire hazard, why not ban them inside houses as well as outside on porches? She stressed that the fire risk outside is greater, due to a variety of factors, including the greater availability of oxygen and the lack of early warning devices like smoke detectors on porches – detection is dependent on a passerby seeing the blaze.

Statistically, there have been only three indoor house fires since 2000 which had origins directly attributable to upholstered furniture, Fulton said. Turning then to exterior fires, she focused on the off-campus residential area of the city, which her maps showed to be roughly the area bounded by Jefferson Street on the north, Stadium Boulevard on the south, Main Street on the west, and Olivia Avenue on the east.

Fulton presented aggregated statistics from 2000-2003: 55 out of 63 exterior fires with origins in upholstered furniture took place in the off-campus residential area of the city. After 2003 Fulton presented statistics for individual years. [The Chronicle has assigned an average to each year in the initial four-year span for comparison.]



2000*     13.75           15.75
2001*     13.75           15.75
2002*     13.75           15.75
2003*     13.75           15.75
2004      13              19
2005       8              19
2006       6               9
2007       2               2
2008       5               5
2009       2               6
2010       2               4

* annual average over four-year span


Of those, Fulton then highlighted the five major residential house fires since 2004 that have been attributed to outdoor upholstered furniture: 924 Oakland (2004); 730 Arbor (2005) 423 Benjamin (2007); 808 E. Kingsley (2009); 928 S. State (2010).

Fulton’s presentation also included a listing of other Michigan university cities with some kind of ordinance addressing upholstered furniture outdoors: East Lansing, Michigan State University; Kalamazoo, Western Michigan University; Ypsilanti, Eastern Michigan University; Mt. Pleasant, Central Michigan University; Marquette, Northern Michigan University; Houghton, Michigan Technological University; Detroit, Wayne State University; Allendale, Grand Valley State University.

Fulton concluded by asking whether properties with porch furniture designed for outdoors looked better – she felt it did – but contended that the more important question was whether those properties are safer, and concluded that they are.

Porch Couches: Council Questions

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) got clarification about the difference between the five outdoor fires since 2004 that were highlighted in the staff presentation compared to all the other fires. The five were the major conflagrations that had resulted in major house fires, whereas the others had not.


Standing are Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Michael Benson, University of Michigan student. Seated is Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated that he thought the city already had regulations on the books that address fire prevention measures for barbecue grills. He asked that someone from the fire department talk about the routine enforcement of codes that the city already has.

Kathleen Chamberlain, the city’s fire marshal, told Kunsleman that the fire code regulations did specify what kind and what size grills are permitted and that she could make that information available. She indicated that if there is a complaint that is brought to the fire department’s attention, they investigate it and notify the occupants of what the rules are. If the occupants don’t comply, she said there’s a procedure for citing violations.

Kunselman picked up on Chamberlain’s mention of “occupants” as opposed to the property owners, noting that some of the opposition to the proposed ordinance was coming from property owners who don’t want to be held responsible for actions of their tenants. He noted that the fire department already had a practice of working with occupants to bring fire codes to their attention, so he wanted to understand if that was effective.

Chamberlain said that with respect to barbecue grills, the fire department would typically talk to occupants as well as management companies. She said she did not know for certain that the fire department had ever issued a violation for a barbecue grill. There seems to be compliance, she said. Management companies she’s spoken with, she said, seem to incorporate it into their lease agreements. In response to another query from Kunselman, Chamberlain said there was movement towards regulating “fire pits,” but that they are currently unregulated.

Porch Couches: Public Hearing

The public hearing on the ordinance change was begun on Tuesday, and will be continued at council’s Sept. 20 meeting.

Bob LeMasters – the father of Renden, who perished in the South State Street fire in April of this year – told the council that people say that losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. It’s worse than that, he said. He asked the council to pass the new ordinance.

Kim Kachadoorian told the council that she typically came to address them in opposition to things, but that she supported the proposed ordinance. She asked them to consider some of the specifics: how screened-in porches would be handled; how compliance can be demonstrated; how property owners will be notified when tenants themselves might not want to give their landlords a problem notice; how an inclination might be handled to just burn couches on the front lawn, if they can’t be placed on porches. She encouraged the council to pass the ordinance this time.

mark supanich

Mark Supanich, Ward 5 resident, spoke against the proposed couch ban ordinance.

Mark Supanich, a Ward 5 resident, spoke against the proposed ordinance, saying that the powers given to the city council were to address matters of municipal concern. He focused on the fact that the ordinance is proposed as part of the nuisance code and questioned whether couches on porches were actually a public nuisance. He contended that the statistics on numbers of fires in the staff presentation had been taken out of context, but noted that the number of outdoor couch fires was decreasing with time. He said that the appropriate place to regulate couches on porches is a lease – if landlords wished to prevent couches on porches, they should put it in their leases, he said. He allowed that it is an emotional issue, but concluded by saying that it had not been demonstrated that couches on porches are a public nuisance.

Chris Crockett spoke in support of the proposed ordinance, saying she’d always lived in a student neighborhood. She contended it is a safety issue, not one of aesthetics. Alluding to the proposal that had been made six years ago, she noted that the council had gone through the same discussion before. She asked when the council would have the courage to pass it.

John Oltean, a member of the Michigan Student Assembly, supported the idea of postponing the vote until Sept. 20. He encouraged the council to address the issue fully by considering how rental housing may not be up to code in other ways, describing a lot of the city’s student rental housing stock as “ancient.”

Bob Snyder spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying that he’d been a student at the University of Michigan three times. The language of the ordinance specifies “responsible persons” and Snynder asked who these responsible people are. Is it the student tenants? Is it the management companies? Is it the property owners? Snyder’s conclusion [and the language of the ordinance] is that all of them are responsible. As for the cost of removing existing upholstered furniture from porches, Snyder suggested that furniture could be hauled away for $75.

Porch Couches: Council Deliberations

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), during his communications early in the meeting immediately following public commentary reserved time, thanked the staff for their preparation of the presentation on the couch ordinance amendment, for which he is the sole sponsor. He said that when the issue came up on that night’s agenda, he’d be in favor of a postponement, because he said there was, broadly speaking, a misunderstanding of the proposed ordinance in the student community. He said he hoped that the postponement would allow for greater compliance and understanding.

When the item came up on the agenda, Taylor said he’d be moving for a postponement, but wanted to alert the council to a couple of minor changes to the ordinance that had been made since the first reading. In one place, the word “upholstered” had been inserted. Some possible defenses to a citation had also been added, he said, including a “moving day” provision as well as one for sale preparation.

Outcome: The council unanimously voted to postpone the couch ban ordinance.

NanoBio Tax Abatement

The council had voted to establish an industrial development district at its Aug. 16, 2010 meeting, which allowed for NanoBio to apply for a tax abatement.

NanoBio: Public Hearing

David Peralta, who is NanoBio’s vice president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer, appeared before the council during the public hearing. He described the biotech company as a University of Michigan spin-off that started 10 years ago with two major nanotechnology platforms – one for topical anti-infectants and the other for nasal-spray-based vaccines.

david peralta

David Peralta of NanoBio was available to the council to answer questions about the firm's request for a tax abatement.

He noted that there was not a lot of local “vaccine talent” in that specific area of expertise and that they had needed to hire from out of state. He indicated that the MEGA program [Michigan Economic  Growth Authority] was incentivizing NanoBio to hire those employees, around 32 of them over the next five years, and bring them to Michigan. He estimated that $10 million in wages would be paid to those employees over the course of five years. He indicated that NanoBio would be expanding its facility to the tune of about $1.5 million.

Jim Mogensen raised the issue of the policy that the council had enacted for such tax abatements that included some kind of “sunset provision.” He stressed that it’s important to analyze and understand how these tax abatements work.

NanoBio: Council Deliberations

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) spoke in support of the tax abatement, saying that by any measure NanoBio is a huge success story. Responding to Jim Mogensen’s mention of a “sunset provision” during public commentary, Rapundalo said there was a “clawback” clause still in place, which was milestone-based and performance driven. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the tax break to be granted is relatively small – $30,000 over five years.

Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO, had provided some information to the council at the request of Briere, on the amount of total taxable property and how that fit into the legal requirement that abated property not exceed 5% of the city’s taxable value. Mayor John Hieftje conveyed that information at the meeting: The total state equalized value of all property in the city is $5,286,396,700; the total of abated property is $7,021,729, or 0.133% of the total. The city is thus comfortably under the 5% total abatement allowed by law.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the NanoBio tax abatement.

Safe Routes for Thurston

At Tuesday’s meeting, council authorized a grant application to the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT), worth $157,555. The money would pay for construction of  infrastructure improvements – like pedestrian islands on Green Road. The grant from MDOT 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.

Thurston Safe Routes: Public Commentary

Jane Klingston spoke on behalf of the Arbor Hills Condominium Association in favor of the Thurston Elementary Safe Routes to School grant application. She noted that the program included several measures to encourage children to walk to school and also to encourage pedestrian safety for the community at large.

She noted specifically the Green Road corridor as one of the longer stretches of road in Ann Arbor that is completely missing any traffic lights or stop signs. She said that the traffic volume in the corridor is currently measured at around 10,000 cars per day. Besides one pedestrian island at Burbank near Bluett Road, there are no special measures to facilitate pedestrian crossing. The grant application would install pedestrian-activated flasher beacons at both ends of the corridor, along with two pedestrian refuge islands.

Thurston Safe Routes: Council Deliberations

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said that his own neighborhood association supports the Thurston safe routes program, saying that Green Road is notoriously bad for pedestrians.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the Thurston Elementary Safe Routes to School application to MDOT.

Washtenaw Avenue Non-Motorized Path: Public Hearing

At the council’s previous meeting on Aug. 16, the council had set the public hearing date as part of a four-step process for levying a special assessment on property owners along Washtenaw Avenue between Tuomy and Glenwood. Here’s how the special assessment fits into the funding plan for the project:


$ 205,000 Design Engineering 

$ 1,050,000 Construction
    135,000 Construction Engineering
     85,000 Miscellaneous Costs
    105,000 Contingency

  1,580,000 Total Estimated Project Costs



$   538,527 Transportation Enhancement
    155,512 Surface Transportation Program - Urban Funds

Local Ann Arbor Share

$    59,234 Estimated Property Share Assessable
    826,727 City Alternative Transportation Fund

$ 1,580,000 Total Estimate Project Revenue


$   694,039 Total MDOT Grant
    885,961 Total City Share


Kathryn Gallagher addressed the council as legal counsel for Bill Bollinger, whose property is part of the special assessment. Bollinger owns three parcels to be assessed, two of which have houses on them, one of which is vacant. She put the cost of the special assessment to Bollinger for the three properties at $9,250. She said she was there to protest the assessment. She noted that the non-motorized path abutted six lanes of traffic on Washtenaw Avenue with 40-50 mph traffic. There should be a needs assessment, she said, before any action.

Jim Mogensen indicated to the council that he was not opposing the special assessment, but said there’s a need to think through how to build new sidewalks. The non-motorized path, he said, is one of those situations where it’s a public kind of benefit.

Edwina Koto, also a property owner to be assessed as part of the project, objected to the assessment. She noted that the people whose property fronts on the path are to be assessed, but that those whose property abuts the path but does not front it are not being assessed – that’s different from the way that sidewalks are assessed, she said. The path is different from a sidewalk, she said, because it’s a 10-foot wide asphalt facility, with another two feet of hard surface next to the road, which is as wide as a whole traffic lane.

Shannon Bellers spoke on behalf of the board of deacons of the Ann Arbor Assembly of God, which property is being assessed. She indicated that the the church had conveyed an easement to the city in March and that they were disappointed to see the church’s address still on the assessment roll.

Asif Zafar, whose property is being assessed, indicated that he agreed with the sentiments of others who’d spoken against the assessment. He said he’d lost his job in the auto industry and that he didn’t have that kind of money to spare. He pointed out that there is already a path on the opposite side of Washtenaw Avenue – construction of an additional path made it a luxury project. He concluded by saying that as a 10-year Ann Arbor resident, he wanted to go on record protesting the assessment.

Outcome: The council did not vote on the special assessment. Action will likely take place at the council’s next meeting on Sept. 20.

Farmers Market Electricity

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) pulled a consent agenda item out for separate consideration, which involved a $59,180 contract with Huron Valley Electric Inc. to upgrade electrical service at the Farmers Market. She called the city’s energy coordinator, Andrew Brix, to the podium to explain how the metering worked at the market. He said that the solar panels at the market generate roughly one-third of the electricity used by the facility, which is used on-site as long as there’s demand. When the demand is less than what’s produced, the electricity flows back through the meter and is credited to the city.

Outcome: The city council unanimously approved the HVE contract.

Other Comment and Communications

The meeting included, as is typical, a number of remarks from city councilmembers and the public that were not necessarily related to an agenda item that night.

Comm/Comm: DDA-City Mutually Beneficial Discussions

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) gave his colleagues an update on the activities of the council’s “mutually beneficial” committee, which is in discussions with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority about renegotiating the parking agreement under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system. [Most recent Chronicle coverage of those talks: "DDA Parking Enforcement Prospects Dim"]

Comm/Comm: Council To Take Stand Against Quran Burning

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) indicated that the city’s human rights commission had asked that the council address the anti-Muslim rhetoric that had received national attention recently, partly in the form of threatened burning of the Quran. He indicated that he would be bringing forward a resolution to the next meeting to condemn that kind of rhetoric. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) also expressed his support for that kind of resolution. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) commended Hohnke for bringing forward the resolution.

Comm/Comm: Panhandling

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported to her council colleagues her attendance at the previous week’s Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, during which the issue of panhandling had been discussed. [A description of that meeting is included in The Chronicle's report on the DDA's Sept. 1 meeting.] Briere told her colleagues that budget constraints dictated they would not be able simply to re-allocate police resources. She alerted her colleagues to the fact that she would be proposing a reconstitution of a task force – one had existed in the early 2000s – to look at the issue again.

Comm/Comm:  Skatepark and DDA

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) conveyed a statement to his colleagues from Trevor Staples, who is chair of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. Kunselman also indicated that he is a good friend of Staples. The statement was consistent with a posting written by Staples on the FAAS website, that distances the FAAS from a recent resolution considered by the DDA board. That resolution was initiated by board member Newcombe Clark, and would have allocated $50,000 for the skatepark. The statement from Staples sought to establish that FAAS did not request that the DDA resolution be brought forward – they’d neither initiated it nor requested it – and that they had little advance notice that it would be coming forward.

The Chronicle’s report on the DDA’s Sept. 1 meeting includes discussion of the skatepark resolution.

The morning after the council’s Sept. 7 meeting, the DDA’s partnerships committee met and discussed the skatepark resolution – it had been remanded to the partnerships committee at the full board’s Sept. 1 meeting. The three councilmembers present – Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), and Margie Teall (Ward 4) – apprised Clark of Kunselman’s remarks the night before, which he’d conveyed on behalf of Staples.

At the DDA meeting, Clark eventually suggested that the whole issue be “put on ice,” saying he felt that if he said another word, he was doing more harm than good, and the other committee members agreed. Before the matter was put to rest, however, Clark gave his perspective on the issue of whether the FAAS had asked for the DDA’s help, saying, “They asked me for money, they asked you for money.” He also pointed out that Staples had been quoted in the local media as initially saying he was “stoked” about the idea of the DDA supporting the skatepark. For his part, Clark disavowed any political motive in bringing the resolution forward.

To understand what the politics are, it’s useful to know that Clark is a candidate for the Ward 5 city council seat currently held by Carsten Hohnke. Staples is a supporter of Hohnke. For critics of Clark, the resolution could be analyzed as an attempt to upstage Hohnke, who has positioned himself as a supporter of the skatepark, by drafting a letter signed by city councilmembers and addressed to the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission encouraging support for their $400,000 matching grant, which was made in March of this year.

While the city of Ann Arbor has provided in-kind support for the skatepark – with staff resources and a location for the skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park – it’s unlikely, as Clark pointed out at the partnerships committee meeting, that the city will have anything in the budget this coming year to support skatepark construction. City councilmembers at the partnerships committee didn’t object to Clark’s assessment. [The most likely source of any city dollars would be from the parks capital improvements and maintenance millage; however, in recent years, the city's policy on allocating those capital improvement dollars has been to invest in existing infrastructure, not new facilities.]

On the other side, the now cool reception from FAAS to the possible DDA money could be analyzed as a desire to keep Clark from scoring a political “win” by demonstrating that he’s able to help FAAS obtain money for the project.

Peeling away some of the politics surrounding the resolution, the proposed $50,000 from the DDA could not be used for skatepark construction at Veterans Memorial Park, because it lies more than a mile outside the DDA tax district. FAAS is committed to the Veterans Memorial Park location and has pitched that location to potential larger donors. However, as the partnerships committee discussed, the $50,000 could be invested in the downtown area in ways that indirectly support the skatepark – with signage pointing people to the park, for example. But that approach would not allow FAAS to leverage the Washtenaw Parks and Recreation Commission’s matching grant, Staples says, because the matching arrangement involves payment of half of skatepark construction invoices, not a match of any donations to FAAS.

According to fundraising chair for FAAS Jim Reische, FAAS has $50,000 in its design/build fund maintained by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and just over $6,700 in the endowment for maintenance.

The right place for the DDA resolution, Reische wrote in an email to The Chronicle, is in fact “on ice.” And that’s where the resolution currently is.

Comm/Comm: Dangerous Buildings

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) brought two buildings in his ward to the attention of his colleagues: 3254 Springbrook, which has a collapsed garage; and 2 Faust Court, which is boarded up and burned out. The two properties are significant, he said, because they are in tax foreclosure. They’re up for a second tax sale, because neither property sold at the first sale. Kunselman lamented the fact that there was no court order yet, to have the properties demolished, and so he asked for his colleagues’ support to get those properties cleaned up. He suggested that federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) money might be coming through at the end of the year, and said that this might be a potential source of funds.

Comm/Comm: Allen Creek

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) called for more rapid movement on a hydrological study of the Allen Creek watershed.

Comm/Comm: Lessons from Old Y Lot

Jim Mogensen addressed the council on the topic of lessons that could be learned from the old YMCA site at Fifth and William. Mogensen described how some people said those lessons were that the city tried to do too many things on that site, that the developer was incompetent, and “thank goodness for the Y,” which was the only party that could make things happen. He suggested that he had a different perspective on that, without wanting to argue about old history. In the late ’80s, he said there was an affordable housing proposal, a proposal to construct minimum wage housing near the Old West Side, which was not well-received. The YMCA, Mogensen said, had said they could solve that problem by putting single-resident occupancy housing on their site, and that they would accomplish that without going through affordable housing programs with all their red tape. Rather, they’d simply take out a commercial bank loan. At the time, affordable housing advocates said they didn’t think the numbers worked, and the banks also said they didn’t think the numbers worked – but the banks said they’d lend the money if the city co-signed the loan.

And it turned out that the numbers didn’t work, Mogensen said. Then when the YMCA was going to default on the loan, the city said it recognized the YMCA building was falling apart, and came up with a schedule to repay the cost of the loan, contingent on the idea that if the YMCA moved off the property, they would have to repay the loan at that time. Then the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority tried to purchase the property. When AATA did their assessment, they determined that they’d need to deduct the cost for environmental clean-up. But in light of the lien the city had on the property, the YMCA said they couldn’t afford to make that price concession. And so the city bought the property, said Mogensen. And the city did not require the YMCA to pay back the loan until their first meeting in March 2009. There’s a lot to learn from all that, he said, and suggested that there needs to be some really deep thinking about this.

Comm/Comm: AATA Board Accountability

Tim Hull addressed the council on the topic of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, introducing himself as a Ward 2 resident. He reminded the council that he’d previously addressed the board on the subject of the importance of holding AATA board appointees accountable for their actions. He said that despite many additional emails he’d sent, he’d received virtually no response, including none from his Ward 2 representatives [Tony Derezinski and Stephen Rapundalo]. He suggested that city councilmembers were treating it as a non-issue.

But Hull pointed to a recent board meeting of the AATA that had not happened because only three members showed up, which meant that the board failed to achieve a quorum. [See Chronicle coverage: "AATA Board Fails to Achieve Quorum"] He reminded the council that the AATA board is supposed to do serious business – it’s not something they do just for the heck of it. Hull called it inexcusable for a body that controls a multimillion-dollar budget to have more than half its members miss a pre-scheduled meeting. He also noted that even when the numbers are sufficient for a quorum, many times several members are absent. He pointed to a lack of accountability in some recent service changes, when the AATA eliminated all service on Briarwood Circle south of the mall, with only four days notice. He also criticized the fact that the board did not vote on the service change, allowing staff to make the decision. He called on the city council to do a better job of holding the AATA board more accountable, by maintaining better communication with the board beyond the appointment process.

Comm/Comm: Permit Fees

Tom Wall addressed the council on the topic of fees for permits – he’d filled the application at city hall recently for a permit for his All Star hot dog stand, which he operates on football Saturdays near his driver education school located on Main Street, north of the stadium. He said he was ready to fill it out and pay the same fee he’d paid last year: $30. Unfortunately, he said, the fee had risen to $50 this year. He asked the council to consider the impact of fee increases like that on nonprofits like his TWall Foundation.

Comm/Comm: Zoning for Affordable Housing

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Washtenaw Democrat who advocated for all of Washtenaw County, southeast Michigan, the whole state of Michigan, and the nation for those who need government services the most, along with economic stimulus and job provisions services. He called for zoning ordinances that promote housing for lower-middle class people and for seniors. He criticized the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority for turning inward on itself and allowing itself to be susceptible to the rivalries within itself. He said the state needs the leadership of someone like Virg Bernero. [Bernero is the Democratic candidate for governor.]

Partridge also spoke at a public hearing on the rezoning of 1943 Jackson Road, which was annexed to the city, but not zoned until now. Council approved its zoning as R4C later in the meeting. Partridge called for affordable housing provisions to be attached to all rezoning proposals.

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

Absent: Marcia Higgins.

Next council meeting: Sept. 20, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

]]> 6
Modified Moratorium on Marijuana Passed Sun, 08 Aug 2010 17:28:19 +0000 Dave Askins 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.

Historical Reflection on Couches and Medical Marijuana

As a prelude to this meeting report, we pause to reflect on what kind of business the Ann Arbor city council handled six years ago. The look back into recent history is prompted in part by the remarks of Bob Snyder during public commentary at Thursday’s council meeting. Snyder spoke in favor of the “couch ban” ordinance considered by the council.

As Snyder pointed out, the council had considered a similar ordinance back in August 2004. But they’d tabled it, which meant that after six months, with no councilmember willing to take it up off the table for action, the measure died. Snyder had also spoken in favor of the ordinance at the city council’s Aug. 16, 2004 meeting. At that meeting, he was joined in his support by Lou Glorie, who lost the Ward 5 Democratic primary last Tuesday to incumbent Carsten Hohnke.

The Aug. 16, 2004 tabling had come after a postponement of the measure from the July 19, 2004 meeting. At the earlier July meeting, when the council postponed the “couch ban” ordinance, the council had also considered and approved some language for the Nov. 2, 2004 ballot. That ballot language was for the city charter amendment on medical marijuana:

Shall Section 16.2 of the Charter be amended to require waiver of fines and costs upon proof that the defendant has a recommendation of a physician, practitioner or other qualified health professional to use or provide marijuana or cannabis for medical treatment; to prohibit Ann Arbor police officers from complaining, and the city attorney from referring any complaint, of the possession, use, giving away, sale or cultivation of marijuana upon proof of such recommendation; to prohibit other punitive or rehabilitative measures; to establish an affirmative defense; and to set the fine for third and subsequent such offenses at $100.00?

That ballot proposal amending the city charter to include the medical marijuana provision passed three months later with 74% of the vote.

On Thursday, the topics of porch couches and medical marijuana were juxtaposed in the same meeting just as they’d been six years earlier.

Medical Marijuana Moratorium

Added on Aug. 4, 2010 to the council’s Thursday, Aug. 5 agenda was a resolution drafted by city attorney Stephen Postema, which called for a citywide moratorium on the use of facilities in the city for growing or dispensing medical marijuana.

The council usually meets on Mondays, but due to the Tuesday primary, the meeting had been shifted to Thursday. The measure was sponsored by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

Marijuana: Brief Ann Arbor Overview

In September 1972, the Ann Arbor city council enacted an ordinance that reduced the penalty for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana to a $5 fine. The ensuing controversy ultimately resulted in the repeal of the ordinance by the city council in  June 1973.

But voters then passed a charter amendment in April 1974 that restored the $5 fine. In addition, the new section 16.2 of the city charter stipulated that no city police officer “shall complain of the possession, control, use, giving away, or sale of marijuana or cannabis to any other authority except the Ann Arbor city attorney; and the city attorney shall not refer any said complaint to any other authority for prosecution.”

In 1983, voters rejected an attempted repeal of the charter section. However, in 1990 voters approved an increase in the fine amount from $5 to $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense, and $100 for more offenses.

Then in 2004, a city charter amendment – added to section 16.2 – was approved by a 74% margin that allowed growing and use of marijuana for medical purposes.

In August 2010, the city’s charter section 16.2 reads as follows:

Restrictions of Marijuana
(a) No person shall possess, control, use, give away, or sell marijuana or cannabis, which is defined as all parts of the plant cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; its seeds or resin; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the above, unless such possession, control, use, or sale is pursuant to a license or prescription as provided in Public Act 196 of 1971, as amended. This definition does not include the mature stalks of the plant, fiber produced from the stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of the plant, any other compounds, manufacture, sale, derivative, mixture or preparation of the mature stalks, except the resin extracted therefrom, fiber, oil or cake, or the sterilized seed of the plant which is incapable of germination.

(b) Violations of this section shall be civil infractions. Persons convicted of violating this section shall be fined $25.00 for the first offense, $50.00 for the second offense, $100.00 for the third or subsequent offense and no incarceration, probation, nor any other punitive or rehabilitative measure shall be imposed. Fines and all other costs shall be waived upon proof that the defendant is recommended by a physician, practitioner or other qualified health professional to use or provide the marijuana or cannabis for medical treatment. The court may waive all or part of the fine upon proof that the defendant attended a substance abuse program. It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under this section that the use or intended use of the marijuana or cannabis relieves, or has the potential to relieve, the pain, disability, discomfort or other adverse symptoms of illness or medical treatment, or restores, maintains or improves, or has the potential to restore, maintain or improve, the health or medical quality of life of the user or intended user or users of the marijuana or cannabis. Requirements of this subjection shall not be construed to exclude the assertion of other defenses. (Amended by election of April 2, 1990 and November 2, 2004)

(c) In all arrests and prosecutions for violations of this section, appearance tickets and the relevant procedures set forth in Public Act 147 of 1968, as amended, shall be used.

(d) No Ann Arbor police officer, or his or her agent, shall complain of the possession, control, use, giving away, or sale of marijuana or cannabis to any other authority except the Ann Arbor city attorney; and the city attorney shall not refer any said complaint to any other authority for prosecution.

(e) No Ann Arbor police officer, or his or her agent, shall complain and the city attorney shall not refer for prosecution any complaint, of the possession, control, use, giving away, sale or cultivation of marijuana or cannabis upon proof that the defendant is recommended by a physician, practitioner or other qualified health professional to use or provide the marijuana or cannabis for medical treatment. (Amended by election of November 2, 2004)

(f) Should the State of Michigan enact lesser penalties than that set forth in subsection (b) above, or entirely repeal penalties for the possession, control, use, giving away, or sale of marijuana or cannabis, then this section, or the relevant portions thereof, shall be null and void. (Amended by election of November 2, 2004)

(g) The people of the City of Ann Arbor specifically determine that the provisions herein contained concerning marijuana or cannabis are necessary to serve the local purposes of providing just and equitable legal treatment of the citizens of this community, and in particular of the youth of this community present as university students or otherwise; and to provide for the public peace and safety by preserving the respect of such citizens for the law and law enforcement agencies of the City. (Amended by election of November 2, 2004)
(Section 16.2 added by election of April 2, 1974)

Marijuana: City Attorney Postema’s Anti-Pot Stance (2004)

In 2004, when the city’s voters approved the medical marijuana charter provision, Ann Arbor city attorney Stephen Postema was vocal about his view that the provision approved by the voters was not valid. In a Nov. 4 2004 Ann Arbor News article, Tracy Davis reported:

Although the initiative was legally and appropriately placed on the ballot after a petition drive, [Stephen] Postema said 27-year-old case law dictates that city officials can refer complaints for prosecution under state law even though it would be contrary to the city’s new charter language.

In a 1977 decision involving a case in Ypsilanti, the state appeals court ruled that city officials weren’t prohibited from referring marijuana cases for prosecution under state law, despite a city ordinance that said they couldn’t refer such cases to the Washtenaw County prosecutor.

Based on that case, Postema said, his office and police can’t be bound by charter amendment prohibitions that conflict with state and federal law. Those laws, he said, will continue to govern marijuana arrests in Ann Arbor.

Postema’s stance resulted in a dispute with one of the initiators of the ballot measure, Chuck Ream, who was then also Scio Township trustee. The dispute was resolved when Postema acknowledged in writing that the attorney’s office understood the compassionate concerns underlying the voter-approved charter amendment. Wrote Davis in a April 1, 2005 News article:

Chuck Ream, a Scio Township trustee, was angered by Postema ‘s comments after the amendment to decriminalize marijuana use when recommended by a physician passed with 74 percent of the vote, but said he was happy with the outcome of a January meeting with Postema and other city officials.

“My quarrel with him is over,” said Ream this week.

After the election, Postema said 27-year-old case law dictates that city officials can refer complaints for prosecution under state law even though it would be contrary to the city’s new charter language. Police Chief Dan Oates also said in a written statement he had directed his officers to continue enforcement of all marijuana sale and possession offenses as they did before the vote.

Ream praised what he called compromise language written by Postema after the January meeting about the city’s stance on medical marijuana.

The language, which was in a letter to a reporter for a local publication, said that city police and the city attorney’s office retain some discretion in prosecuting marijuana cases.

“The very nature of this discretion is that each case is decided on its own facts,” wrote Postema. “However, the compassionate concerns underlying the charter amendment are concerns that are certainly understood by the police and the city attorney’s office as this discretion is exercised.”

Marijuana: Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (2008)

In 2008, Michigan voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Initiative with 63% of the vote. In Ann Arbor, support was significantly higher, at 71%. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) provides for a registry system for patients and caregivers for the cultivation and possession of medical marijuana.

In February 2010, Chuck Ream – who’d disputed city attorney Stephen Postema’s view of the 2004 city charter amendment – appeared before the city council to suggest that they take a proactive approach to regulating marijuana dispensaries in the city, which would emerge, he cautioned, as a consequence of the MMMA. From The Chronicle’s report of the city council’s Feb. 1, 2010 meeting:

Chuck Ream: Ream spoke to the council about therapeutic cannabis. He reminded them that in 2004, more than 74% of Ann Arbor voters had voted for medical marijuana. He described it not as a victory or a mandate but as “clear marching orders.” He suggested that six centers be established as dispensaries and noted that the city charter already enabled it. He said that he had a formal legal opinion written by a lawyer that stated it was legal. He had a draft law that they could adopt, he said. Ream suggested that establishing six large centers that would be well run was a better alternative to dispensaries showing up on every street corner.

Marijuana: Public Commentary

The public commentary session at Thursday’s meeting was one of the more animated in The Chronicle’s memory. Speakers’ remarks were met with long and enthusiastic applause – tolerated by the council during public commentary, but not during public hearings.


Just before The Chronicle clicked the shutter, Chuck Ream folded up his sign indicating in red the number 74, which is the percentage of Ann Arbor voters who supported the medical marijuana city charter amendment.

Chuck Ream was also on hand Thursday night to address the city council on Postema’s proposed moratorium, which came after several facilities for growing and dispensing marijuana had appeared in the city. Ream alluded to his previous appearance before the council several months earlier, when he’d made a specific suggestion that would have regulated dispensaries. He characterized the proposed moratorium as a “direct assault on democracy.”

Gershom Avery asked who the city attorney was, then said, “Do you get elected?” When the indication was no, city attorney Postema is not elected to his post, Avery told the council, “He’s not your friend.” Avery explained that Postema was setting the councilmembers up to be the “fall guys” – they would be the ones who would suffer the consequences of voter discontent with their actions. He called the decision to consider the moratorium a violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act and said that the measure violated the Right to Farm Act. The only way a moratorium could exist, he said, was in a context of fraud. He alluded to a possible lawsuit against the federal government by Americans for Safe Access.

Kirk Reid declared that he wished he could say it was an honor to address the council, but it was not. He ticked through a number of different statistics on deaths attributable to alcohol, cigarettes and other pharmaceuticals. Marijuana, he contended, has not killed anyone. He noted that there are 102 bars in Ann Arbor and 24 pharmacies – CVS, RiteAid, Kroger and the like. There are 24 places in Ann Arbor to buy OxyContin, he said, and he wants 24 places where he can buy medical marijuana. He stressed that they were patients: “We’re not dirty hippies – we’re the community that voted you in; we’ll vote you out.”

Reid also pointed out the positive economic impact of marijuana dispensaries, addressing his remarks to Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), and giving the Ward 2 councilmember’s name a novel pronunciation – with apology: /rap-a-dun-del/.

Anthony Fried began by alluding to the boisterous applause that had met the previous speaker’s remarks, saying “Wow. I bet you guys feel like you opened a can of worms.” He said he’d helped many people open dispensaries, and warned that lawsuits would come as a result of the moratorium. He told the council that they would all get sick sometime, too, and that he hoped they never had to see a sick child suffer. He concluded by saying, “Shame on every single one of you. This is not the way this country works, and it’s not the way the city works.”

Renee Wolf, who told the council she’d had multiple sclerosis for 32 years, was helped to the microphone by several others. But she stood unassisted at the podium. She said she’d been told she’d need to rely on a wheelchair, but she was not in a wheelchair – because she used medical marijuana. She said she’d had to fight for her life and said that life was too short to sweat the small stuff. “Please don’t take away my medicine – that’s all I ask. And god bless all of you.”


At the podium is Brandy Zink, who spoke in opposition to the moratorium on medical marijuana growing and dispensing. Around 75 people filled the council chambers on Thursday.

Brandy Zink identified herself as a legal medical marijuana patient – she’s an epilepsy patient and an ovarian cancer survivor. Her doctor recommends medical marijuana, she said, and that’s the therapy that works for her. She suggested that instead of enacting a moratorium, the council should establish legislation to permit and license medical cannabis dispensing collectives. She also identified herself as an ambassador of Americans for Safe Access.

She noted Ann Arbor’s long history of tolerance towards marijuana use and suggested that there was surely not some new threat to health, safety and welfare. It places undue burden on the sick, she said. She argued against enacting stricter legislation on medical marijuana than regulations on gun vendors, adult entertainment vendors, or pharmacies. She pointed to the economic benefit of marijuana dispensaries, and asked why the council would enact a moratorium in the midst of a recession.

Although Matthew Abel was signed up to speak, a colleague of his attempted to address the council in his place, but that is not permitted under the council’s rules. The mayor then invited the first alternate on the list, who was Michael Mcleod, a medical marijuana patient holding a master’s degree from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. He said he is one of the founders of the Ann Arbor Medical Marijuana Patients Collective – they hold public meetings once a month. He said they had approached the city on numerous occasions, but the city had not responded or worked with them. He said he was embarrassed to be a resident of a city that would pass a moratorium that would deny patients their right to obtain or grow their medicine. On behalf of the collective, he asked that the council reject the moratorium as an attack against patients.

Marijuana: Theme of Council Deliberations – Lack of Notice, Open Meetings

Some of the speakers alluded explicitly or implicitly to the lack of prior public notification that the council would be considering the moratorium. For example, Chuck Ream stated that there were city councilmembers who didn’t know it was going to be on the agenda until a few days ago. Gershom Avery went as far as to contend that there had been an Open Meetings Act violation.

During deliberations, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) confirmed Ream’s contention, by saying that he’d not been aware the measure would be coming forward. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) responded to Hohnke’s statement by saying that at a council meeting, the city attorney had been given a clear directive to develop the moratorium language and that everyone had been in the room and heard it. Margie Teall (Ward 4) indicated some awareness that something would be coming forward, but said that she’d not been aware it would be that soon.

The late addition to the agenda was the basis of an attempt by Sabra Briere (Ward 2) to get the measure postponed, citing a council rule that stipulates that councilmembers may add agenda items at any time, but “will use best efforts to do so prior to the Friday before the next Council meeting.” The item appeared on Wednesday – four business days, or six calendar days, later than the council rules contemplate as reflecting best efforts.

With no recollection of any discussion by councilmembers at any of their regular meetings, work sessions, or caucus gatherings, The Chronicle asked Rapundalo after the moratorium vote, during a break in the meeting, which meeting he had meant when he indicated the city attorney had been given direction on the matter. He indicated that the direction had come during the council’s closed session during the July 19, 2010 meeting.

The Chronicle has learned that the justification for that closed session was not based on discussion of a legislative strategy for handling marijuana dispensaries, but rather on settlement strategies for pending litigation on an entirely separate matter. [Note: While The Chronicle reported the basis for the closed session in good faith based on a credible source inside city hall, that source subsequently has indicated uncertainty about the veracity of the claim.]

Closed sessions under the Michigan Open Meeting Act are allowed only in very narrow circumstances. Based on preliminary Chronicle analysis of relevant case law on closed sessions, it appears that the council’s deliberations on a course of action for legislative action on the medical marijuana question should have taken place in an open session of the council, lending credence to Avery’s claim of an OMA violation. Had that discussion taken place during the open session of the meeting, the public at large would have had more than one day’s notice that the council was contemplating action on the subject.

In his remarks on the lack of public notice and timing, Postema contended that the resolution served the purpose of kicking off the discussion. He contended that he had spent a lot of time sitting down and talking with people, in particular the legal representatives of some of the people in the room. Therefore, Postema claimed, there had been no “end around” the public.

He contended that the attorneys he’d spoken with, naming John Shea specifically, recognized the legal issues that were the basis of the moratorium.

Marijuana: Theme of Council Deliberations – Zoning/Safety as Legal Basis

The resolution outlining the moratorium cites the city’s zoning code as a basis for contemplating the regulation of marijuana dispensing and cultivation facilities. The city’s zoning code generally prohibits uses of land that are not listed out explicitly in a particular zoning classification [emphasis added]:

Chapter 55 Article 2
5:6.  Establishment of use regulations.
(1)   No structure or land shall be used or occupied and no structure shall be erected, constructed, moved or altered, except in conformity with the regulations specified for the zoning district in which it is located. Uses not expressly permitted are prohibited.

Postema’s position, as reflected in the “Whereas” clauses of the resolution he authored, is first that marijuana cultivation and dispensing is a specific land use, and second that this land use was not contemplated when the zoning classifications were developed. If these activities are, in fact, a separate land use, then by dint of not being expressly permitted anywhere in the zoning code, they are not permitted anywhere in the city. But if these otherwise legal activities are not permitted anywhere in the city due to zoning restrictions, then the city would violate the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act 110 of 2006 [emphasis added].

125.3207 Zoning ordinance or decision; effect as prohibiting establishment of land use.
Sec. 207. A zoning ordinance or zoning decision shall not have the effect of totally prohibiting the establishment of a land use within a local unit of government in the presence of a demonstrated need for that land use within either that local unit of government or the surrounding area within the state, unless a location within the local unit of government does not exist where the use may be appropriately located or the use is unlawful.

The moratorium proposed by Postema includes a direction to city planning staff to address the activity of dispensing and cultivating marijuana with appropriate zoning regulations, including how far apart dispensing facilities can be located [emphasis added]:

RESOLVED, That City Council directs City staff and the Planning Commission to study and make specific recommendations for ordinance amendments that restrict facilities for dispensing marihuana to appropriate zoning districts along with spacing requirements, and to also regulate such use in residential districts;

Spacing requirements on land use in urban settings are typically associated with adult entertainment facilities – strip clubs and the like. For example, the city of Ann Arbor’s regulation prohibits the clustering of adult entertainment businesses as follows:

(2) Locations of adult entertainment businesses.  An adult entertainment business may be located in the City only in accordance with the following restrictions:


(c) No such business shall be established within 700 feet of another adult entertainment business.

This clustering of medical marijuana was mentioned by Postema in the context of threats to health, safety and welfare. When asked point blank by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) what the specific concern was with health, safety and welfare that motivated the moratorium, Postema offered only the issue of dispensaries – as opposed to patients and caregivers – with their potential to cluster in a single location. Postema identified the issue as involving a determination about where such businesses should be located.

In light of Postema’s response, which did not identify a specific threat to the public’s health, safety and welfare, Hohnke asked one of the resolution’s sponsors to respond to his question. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said that the question was this: Do we want these facilities in single-family neighborhoods? Margie Teall (Ward 4) also confirmed that this was her concern as well, saying that the impetus for getting the discussion going was activity in the Packard/Iroquois area, near a residential neighborhood.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Hohnke drew out the fact that dispensaries are commercial activities and are therefore subject to commercial zoning. As far as their operation in residential neighborhoods, they would be regulated by the same zoning regulations that govern home businesses. For example, Ann Arbor’s residential zoning provides for restrictions on home businesses:

[...] 5.   The nature of the home occupation shall not generate more than 10 business-related vehicle trips in any 1 day in the vicinity of the home occupation, and any need for parking generated by the conduct of such home occupation shall be provided offstreet in accordance with the offstreet parking requirements.

6.   No equipment or process shall be used in such home occupation which creates noise, dust, vibration, glare, fumes, odors or electrical interference detectable to the normal senses beyond the property boundary.

7.   The following are typical examples of uses which often can be conducted within the limits of these restrictions and thereby qualify as home occupations. Uses which may qualify as “home occupations” are not limited to those named in this paragraph (nor does the listing of a use in this paragraph automatically qualify it as a home occupation); accountant, architect, artist, author, consultant, dressmaking, individual stringed instrument instruction, individual tutoring, millinery, preserving and home cooking.

8.   The following uses are not permitted as home occupations if conducted as a person’s principal occupation and the person’s dwelling is used as the principal place of business: vehicle repair or painting, dental office and medical office.

At one point, chief of police Barnett Jones was called to the podium to comment on safety concerns. He indicated that there had been no complaints reported to his department.

Marijuana: Council Deliberations – 120-day Amendment

The initial moratorium had a duration of 180 days. During deliberations, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that the MMA had been passed in 2008, and that the city had had the opportunity to consider how how to proceed. She indicated that she was troubled that the city was using a moratorium, when Traverse City had been able to go further and faster. She suggested moving to a 90-day time frame.

City attorney Stephen Postema objected to that short a period, contending that a full discussion takes more than 90 days. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) focused on the practical consideration of who would be doing the work and wondered if the city’s planning staff could do the job in 90 days. Smith responded by saying that there were a number of different models the city could use, so it was not as if the staff would be starting with a blank slate. She said she felt that 90 days was doable.

Asked by mayor John Hieftje to comment as the city council’s representative to the planning commission, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said that currently the commission is working on the R4C study as well as the Washtenaw Avenue corridor study.

When Rapundalo asked his question about planning staff work load, city administrator Roger Fraser left the table to confer with planning staff seated in the audience – Jill Thacher and Alexis DiLeo, as well as community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl. Their assessment, based on the fact that a specific procedure is used to handle projects like this – which includes the ordinance review committee – was that 90 days was not doable, but that 120 days would be. The 120-day change was accepted as a friendly amendment.

Jill Thacher will head up the effort on a staff level.

Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment Excluding Patients/Caregivers

An amendment offered by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) made clear that the moratorium would allow individual patients and caregivers to continue to use and provide medical marijuana:

RESOLVED, That this moratorium does not apply to the following:

A dwelling unit (as defined by the Zoning Ordinance) where a qualifying patient under the Act resides and is cultivating up to the maximum number of marihuana plants permitted by the Act for personal use or possesses up to the maximum amount of marihuana permitted by the Act for personal use.

A building or structure (as defined by the Zoning Ordinance) other than a dwelling unit where no more than one qualifying patient under the Act is cultivating up to the maximum number of marihuana plants permitted by the Act for personal use or possesses up to the maximum amount of marihuana permitted by the Act for personal use.

A dwelling unit or other building or structure where no more than one primary caregiver under the Act is cultivating up to the maximum number of marihuana plants permitted by the Act for assisting a qualifying patient or possesses up to the maximum amount of marihuana permitted by the Act for assisting a qualifying patient.

The amendment was accepted as friendly to the original resolution.

Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment Grandfathering-In

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) focused throughout the deliberations on who would be affected by the moratorium. She noted that moratoria did not typically look backward at businesses already established. She was concerned, she said, that patients that had come to rely on dispensaries would be able to continue. Her remarks were met with applause from the audience.

City attorney Stephen Postema objected to the idea that existing businesses should be excluded from the moratorium, saying that they could be argued to be non-conforming with existing zoning – the city council needs to provide direction, he said.

Briere stated that it’s “not about druggies or stoners” but rather about medical care. Putting people in limbo is not acceptable, she said.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated that he felt the larger conversation about zoning that would take place during the moratorium might put facilities that are currently in place in peril, because they would no longer be authorized to continue at their present location.

The amendment that the council eventually approved inserted language that for the purposes of the moratorium allows existing facilities to continue [added language in italics]:

RESOLVED, That City Council hereby imposes a temporary moratorium prohibiting the initiation or expansion of the use of any property in the City as a facility for dispensing marihuana for medical and any other purpose and for cultivating marihuana plants, …

Taylor cautioned against the expectation that there is going to be a grandfathering-in of existing operations once the moratorium is over and the city has settled on an approach to the issue.

Outcome: The amendment was approved, with dissent from Rapundalo

Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment Striking Council Hearings

One of the clauses in the resolution established a process by which the city council would hear grievances from parties who felt that they were economically harmed by the moratorium. The council could grant such parties relief from the moratorium.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) feared that the process held a danger of getting bogged down. After the existing facilities were amended out of the resolution, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) suggested that it made sense to remove the clause, as it no longer served any purpose. Stephen Postema, the city attorney, argued against its removal, saying that one could not anticipate the range of various grievances that people might have.

Mayor John Hieftje agreed that there were no standards included by which the council was supposed to judge those cases. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) agreed that it could place an undue burden on the council. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said he liked the clause as a “catch-all contingency.”

The stricken clause was as follows:

RESOLVED, That any aggrieved person shall be entitled to receive a hearing by the City Council to show that the temporary moratorium pronounced in this resolution will result in the preclusion of any viable economic use of their property, or will otherwise violate applicable provisions of State or Federal law, and if the City Council finds that an aggrieved petitioner or applicant makes such a showing, the City Council may grant relief from the moratorium to the degree necessary to cure the violation; and

Outcome: The amendment was approved, with dissent from Derezinski.

Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Postponement

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) indicated he wanted to postpone the resolution because of the late agenda addition. He rejected the idea that the process had been nefarious, but that there had been little awareness that the item would be coming before the council. He said that while he was aware of the discussion among staff, he didn’t think the item would appear on the agenda one day before.

By way of explaining why the item had appeared late on the agenda, city attorney Stephen Postema shifted responsibility to the sponsoring councilmembers, saying that after it was drafted, they had wanted it to appear on the agenda as soon as possible.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) agreed with Hohnke’s sentiments, saying that she’d thought about moving for a postponement herself. She said she did not think it would be appearing on the agenda that late. Now that it had been discussed, she said, she didn’t feel like she wanted to push it beyond 120 days – she wanted to get through the 120 days as soon as possible. She said, however, that she was on the fence about a postponement.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) agreed with the sentiments of one of the speakers, saying that the council had opened up a can of worms and she’d prefer to finish the matter that night. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) argued against a postponement, saying that it might have utility if the moratorium affected individuals. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) characterized a postponement as “kicking the can down the road.” Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) indicated that it had been discussed at the last council meeting and that everyone should have known it was coming. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said that by rights, according to council’s rules on agenda additions, it should be postponed.

Outcome: The council voted against postponement. Those in favor of postponement were Hohnke, Anglin, Hieftje, Briere. Voting against postponement were Teall, Smith, Derezinski, Rapundalo and Taylor.

Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Merits of Main Motion

The council’s discussion ranged over a variety of concerns, some reflected in the deliberations on specific amendments. Other concerns were of a more general nature.

In trying to explain concerns he had about the way that medical marijuana facilities might evolve in the city, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) suggested a scenario where a collective purchased a property with a lot next door and established that as their growing field. [Note: The state law requires growing facilities to be closed and locked.] Though he seemed to recognize that the scenario he’d sketched was unlikely, Taylor contended that the city regulates a great number of things as a community and they need an appropriate structure to regulate medical marijuana.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) cautioned that a moratorium was a significant action to take. He said that his sense was that it was simply a matter of people not wanting to see this activity in their neighborhood, an activity that is permitted by state law.

At that, Taylor claimed that it’s not clear that the activity is permitted by state law. Larger commercial enterprises are not contemplated by the state law, Taylor said, and that is our problem, he concluded. “Where is that our problem?” Hohnke shot back.

Taylor tried to respond by saying that the question is whether the city provides some structure to the activity, as it does with pharmacies and bars, which are regulated. We organize our community, he said, with a great mix of values and we have to somehow live together.

City attorney Stephen Postema indicated that he’d been advised of a 20,000-square-foot facility that might begin operations in the city.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that there were a whole host of unknowns. She said she could understand someone setting up grow lights in a bedroom. But she said she doesn’t know what a facility is. She doesn’t know what business model they follow.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) indicated that she understood the concerns that people had and that the community would get answers to those concerns through the process that the resolution mandated. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said he agreed with Teall. The point of the moratorium, he said, is that they don’t have answers, and they should take the time to do due diligence.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) wondered if going through the planning commission and the planning staff was the right process to follow. Postema indicated that the zoning aspect of the problem would go through planning commission, but said that zoning might not be enough.

Mayor John Hieftje raised the specter of reverting to previous federal policies two years from now. Postema indicated that that could well happen and that might make people unhappy. But he said that he was not there to enforce federal law. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) indicated that at a recent meeting of the State Bar Association, the medical marijuana issue was among four or five subjects that were pressing matters in the state.


One member of the local press produced this doodle late in the discussion of the medical marijuana moratorium. Quiz: Does this depict (a) a cloud of equine flatulence, (b) a lit marijuana cigarette easing a pony's pain, (c) disapproval of The Chronicle's overuse of a draft horse metaphor, (d) the idea that city council deliberations were like beating a dead horse?

Sabra Briere tried calling the question, a procedural move to end the discussion, which had already enjoyed a suspension of council rules on a limit of two speaking turns. Her bid to wrap things up failed, however, when only Teall, Smith, Derezinski, and Rapundalo supported it.

Hieftje wrapped up things up shortly after that, however, with some remarks about the history of marijuana laws in Ann Arbor, saying he thought that 120 days was a reasonable amount of time to work things out. [.pdf of moratorium language as approved]

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the modified moratorium on marijuana dispensing and cultivation of medical marijuana.

Couch Ban

Before the council for its first reading on Thursday was a revision to Chapter 106 of the city code, which handles nuisances. The ordinance had initially appeared on the council’s July 19 agenda, but was stricken from the agenda before the meeting. The proposed new ordinance reads in relevant part:

[Proposed Aug. 5, 2010] Chapter 106 9:7. Outdoor Storage. No responsible person [a property owner, tenant, occupant, lessee] shall place, or permit to remain, furniture which is not intended or designed for outdoor use on exterior balconies, porches, decks, landings, or other areas exposed to the weather.

The council considered an ordinance revision in 2004 intended to have a similar effect, but approached the topic from a fire-prevention perspective. The modification to the code had been proposed as an amendment to Chapter 111, which handles fire prevention.

[Proposed but tabled Aug. 16, 2004] Chapter 111 of Title IX of the Ann Arbor City Code


Upholstered or other furniture designed or manufactured primarily for indoor use shall not be used or left:

  1. On residential unenclosed, exterior porches or balconies
  2. In an exposed open area of private property


  1. Wood, metal or plastic furniture.
  2. Outdoor patio furniture with weather resistant cushions
  3. Upholstered furniture designated for pre-paid special pick-up by public or private haulers complying with sections 2:7 and 2:12 of Chapter 26 of this Code.

Couch Ban: Public Commentary

Appearing before the council during public commentary reserved time to speak in support of the proposed ban on the outdoor use of indoor furniture was Bob Snyder. Snyder spoke on behalf of the South University Neighborhood Association, lending his “whole-hearted” support of the proposed ordinance revision.

Snyder lamented the fact that the council had not taken action back in 2004, which he said could have prevented the death earlier this year of Renden LeMasters, who died in a fire on South State Street. [Based on the fire marshal's preliminary report, the fire apparently began in a waste container on a porch in the early morning hours of April 3, spread to a couch and then to the house. Though some occupants were able to flee the house, LeMasters was difficult to awaken and suffered burns which caused his death.] Snyder was reiterating comments he made at the April 5, 2010 city council meeting, and the April 18, 2010 city council caucus.

Kim LeMasters, mother of Renden, also appeared on Thursday before the council to ask for their support of the proposed ordinance. She had also addressed the council at its June 7, 2010 meeting asking for consideration of a ban on porch couches. She said she realized that the student population would likely not be in favor of the ordinance, but said that does not absolve the council of its responsibility to make the city as safe as possible.

[Editor's note: The assumption that the student population would universally oppose a porch couch ordinance might not be warranted. At the April 5, 2010 council meeting, Michael Benson, a representative to the Michigan Student Assembly and as well as a member of the council-student relations committee, had addressed the council saying he thought it was perhaps time to revisit the issue of a couch ordinance.]

Couch Ban: Council Deliberations

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who sponsored the resolution, led off deliberations by saying that it was a change whose time is largely overdue. He said there would be a presentation made at the second reading of the ordinance on the safety merits of the proposal. He asked that the second reading of the ordinance, with its public hearing, not be scheduled until the council’s first meeting in September, which falls on Sept. 6.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked that in the presentation on the safety merits, statistics be included on the number of fires caused by upholstered furniture indoors versus outdoors. She also wanted to know what the language “other areas exposed to the weather” contributed to the issue. Fire chief Dominick Lanza deferred to the fire marshal, Kathleen Chamberlain. She indicated that the specific statistics requested by Smith would need to be assembled.

In addressing Smith’s question about “weather,” Chamberlain first contrasted typical indoor furniture with outdoor furniture in terms of the volume of the upholstered material. Smith indicated that she meant to be asking what the significance of the term “weather” was in the ordinance.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked Chamberlain simply to share her thoughts on the issue. She said that in her opinion, based on her personal experience, large pieces of furniture represented a lot of fuel with a lot of oxygen available. That meant that a fire in a large piece of furniture would quickly build up a lot of heat and escalate rapidly in outdoor areas where there are no early warning devices. That meant there were perfect conditions for a fire to spread to a structure, she said.

Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he did not want to regulate people’s choice in porch furniture, but wanted to know at the second reading presentation on Sept. 6 how the ordinance would be enforced, whose job it would be, and how long it would take.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the couch ban ordinance at its first reading. To be enacted, the ordinance would need to be approved at its second reading.

Zaragon Place 2

Zaragon Place 2 is a proposed 14-story, 96,685-square-foot residential building located on the southwest corner of Thompson and William – now an empty lot next to Cottage Inn restaurant. The building meets the site’s D1 zoning, and is therefore a “by-right” project – no rezoning is required. It is the first project to move forward under the city’s new A2D2 zoning regulations, and would include 99 units, 40 parking spaces on levels two and three, 40 spots for bike storage, and ground floor retail space facing William Street. Chronicle coverage: “Zaragon, Heritage Row and The Moravian” and “Moving Ahead on Zaragon Place 2.”

Zaragon: Public Commentary

During the public hearing on Zaragon Place 2, Thomas Partridge addressed the council, noting that he was a former university student himself. He called for the property owner to provide a significant number of affordable leases for units in the project.

Jim Mogensen asked the council to reflect on two issues that hadn’t been discussed: (i) What happens when someone buys Cottage Inn and decides to redevelop the property? Issues like the blocking of windows and access to the property need to be thought through, he said; and (ii) What about parking for tenants? He noted that at the sister project on East University, Zaragon Place, there was a waiting list for onsite parking spots.


Scott Bonney, the designer of the Zaragon Place 2 project, handed around some drawings to councilmembers.

Scott Bonney introduced himself as the “project designer of this caper.” He gave a description of the project, highlighting the fact that the building would use almost all the same materials as the sister project, Zaragon Place, on East University. Some differences include the use of clear as opposed to opaque glass on the ground floor retail. He also noted that all the bedrooms for the project would have operable windows in the bedrooms. [The sister project, Zaragon Place, was criticized during its approval process for including bedrooms that did not have windows to the outside.]

Tom Heywood of the State Street Area Association said that three previously blighted properties had been identified that were now being redeveloped – Olga’s, McDonald’s and now the site where Zaragon Place 2 was proposed. He said he supported the project.

Roger Hewitt introduced himself as a local business owner. [He is also a board member of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.] He stated that it was obvious 10 years ago that if the downtown area was going to be viable, it needs more people living downtown. The Zaragon Place 2 project increases residential density, he said. It was needed 10 years ago – during the last decade, the area as lost a lot of independent retail operations, he said.

Brad Mikus said he supported the project, but wanted to point out that the incremental increase in property taxes would not go to the city’s general fund, but rather to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which had an agenda that is not necessarily identical with the city’s.

Zaragon: Council Deliberations

Leading off council deliberations on Zaragon Place 2 was Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). He said he was really excited by the project. He pointed out that the council had approved 100 stories of development in the last five years. He said that the project demonstrated what can be done in the D1 zoning district.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the council had experienced a lot of drama with other projects, but there’d been no drama with this one, because it “exactly fits” the zoning.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked for some clarity about a blank space on the drawing. Bonney clarified that it had resulted from a cut-away view of some kind.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked the fire marshal, Kathleen Chamberlain, to comment on the similarity of the names of the original Zaragon Place and Zaragon Place 2. Chamberlain indicated that the fire marshal’s responsibility was to review the name and the addresses of new developments to ensure that there was no duplication. It’s important that first responders not go the wrong location, she said. There should not be a significant delay in response given the similarity of the two names, she said, but that even a few seconds could make a large difference, given the number of people who would be living in the building.

Mayor John Hieftje asked what the difference was between having multiple McDonald’s or Stucchi’s and two buildings with the Zaragon name. Chamberlain said the key difference was in the fact that those establishments are not residential. Those are different types of occupancies, she said. People don’t sleep at McDonald’s or Stucchi’s.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked if the project team was absolutely wedded to the name. Scott Betzoldt of Midwestern Consulting approached the podium and declared, “Yeah, we are! We’re quite fond of the name.” He went on to explain that the first project had been successful and that they had now developed a certain brand awareness around the name. He concluded by saying that they were respectfully requesting to use the name.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who is the council’s representative to the city planning commission, said that there’d been discussion about the naming issue at the planning commission’s meeting, but that they’d concluded it was not a big enough deal to require a change.

Hieftje said he felt there was a community consensus in support of the project, noting that no one had come to speak against it.

Outcome: The city council unanimously approved the site plan for Zaragon Place 2.

Site Plan Timing Changes

At its June 1, 2010 meeting, the city planning commission had considered and recommended a change to time parameters in the site plan approval process as well as other projects. By way of example, for site plans, language that’s deleted is indicated with a strike-through. Language proposed to be added is in italics.

Chapter 57 – 5:122. Site plans.
(3) Site plans for City Council approval. Except as otherwise provided in this section, City Council shall review and approve or reject a site plan after receiving a report and recommendation from the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission shall submit its report and recommendation to the City Council within 60 days of receiving a report and recommendation from the planning and development services manager or designee. The City Council shall approve or reject the site plan within 30 days of the recommendation by the Planning Commission. Within a reasonable time following the close of the public hearing, the Planning Commission shall make a recommendation to the City Council to approve or deny the planned project. Upon receipt of the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the City Council shall approve or reject the planned project within a reasonable time following the close of the public hearing. If approval is conditioned on changes to the site plan, the petitioner shall submit revised drawings with the necessary changes to the planning and development services manager or designee within 30 days of approval by the City Council or the site plan approval shall lapse. Any changes to a condition placed on the site plan by City Council shall require City Council approval.

The planning commission’s June meeting featured ample public commentary and thorough discussion by planning commissioners. A lone dissent on the planning commission for the change had come from Evan Pratt.

Outcome: Without discussion, the city council unanimously approved the timing change.

Village Green Purchase Option Agreement

Before the council was another extension of a $3 million purchase option agreement with Village Green for the city-owned property at First and Washington. The parcel is currently used as a surface parking lot, following demolition of an aging parking structure. Village Green has an approved PUD (planned unit development) site plan on the parcel for a project called City Apartments – a combined residential building that includes 156 dwelling units and 244 public parking spaces. The council-approved extension includes a requirement that the closing on the deal take place by June 1, 2011.

The initial extension was granted through Dec. 31, 2009, with the city administrator having discretion to extend two times for three-month periods, which he did, bringing the option forward to June 30, 2010. The council granted another short extension at its June 21, 2010 meeting to provide some additional time to develop specific project milestones.

Outcome: Without discussion, the  council unanimously approved the Village Green purchase option extension.

DDA Board Nomination

Mayor John Hieftje nominated Bob Guenzel to serve on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board. Guenzel retired as Washtenaw County administrator in May 2010. Hieftje inidicated that Guenzel would replace Jennifer S. Hall on the board, whose term expired July 31, and he thanked Hall for her services. Hieftje did not indicate at the council meeting if he would be re-appointing John Splitt, whose term on the DDA board also expired.  Guenzel’s nomination will need to be confirmed by the city council at its Aug. 16 meeting.

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

Absent: Marcia Higgins, Stephen Kunselman.

Next council meeting: Aug. 16, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

]]> 23
Ann Arbor Caucus: Fires, Fines, Fuller Mon, 19 Apr 2010 14:23:51 +0000 Dave Askins 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.

Porch Couch Ban Redux

Bob Snyder led off caucus discussion by echoing similar sentiments he’d expressed at the council’s April 5, 2010 meeting. Citing the house fire at 928 S. State St. – which occurred in the early morning hours of April 3, 2010, killing one of the residents – Snyder called on the council to revisit the possibility of a ban on the use of indoor furniture on porches. The preliminary report on the fire indicates that it started in a trash can on the porch, spread to a couch, then ignited the rest of the structure.

Snyder read aloud from the preliminary report released from the fire department [.txt file of preliminary report on the fire from AAFD]:

The fire was first noticed in the corner of the porch. It was a trash fire in a waste container. Fire built and spread to the adjacent sofa (positioned across the front of the residence windows on the porch). From there the fire continued to build from the ready fuel load of the sofa, building up heat and spreading to the structure itself.

Snyder allowed that he was “riding high on [his] high horse” on the issue. He noted that some landlords had already removed couches from their rental properties. He allowed that it was too early to say whether it was arson that had caused the fire or whether an upholstered couch was to blame. However, Snyder stressed that the consequence of the fire had been tragic. From the report:

The third occupant was difficult to awaken and eventually exited through the front doorway, through the fire, as Fire apparatus was arriving on the scene. He was on fire and ran across the street in front of arriving apparatus. He was attended to by Fire personnel, extinguished and cared for until HVA arrival. He was transported to the hospital where he passed away approximately 12 hours later.

In that context, Snyder asked the three councilmembers present to revisit the Aug. 16, 2004 resolution considered by the council, but ultimately tabled, that would ban the use of indoor furniture on outdoor porches. Snyder allowed that the proposal had been met with “derision” at the time, with the representatives from the Michigan Student Assembly saying that couches created a “home-like atmosphere.”

Later during caucus deliberations, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said that some of his fondest memories of college life were of taking a nap on the porch. He also mentioned that he’d recently bought a new couch, and had stored the old one on his porch for a time, before it eventually found a new home with his uncle. During that time, he said, he would have been out of compliance with an ordinance banning couches on porches.

Snyder noted that back in 2004, the city council had concluded that it could not legislate aesthetics. He sought to counter that idea by noting that we already legislate other kinds of aesthetics – like trash or cars parking on lawns.

Snyder then cited his 15 years of experience in the furniture industry with Herman Miller, saying that no furniture could be made permanently flame retardant. He concluded by saying, “I’m worried. I don’t know whose hands to put this in.”

Briere noted that the area of the city that Snyder had discussed – where he owns rental property – is a confluence of Ward 1, Ward 2, Ward 3 and Ward 4. She allowed that fires were undoubtedly a problem – whether it was a problem caused by couches on porches was difficult for her to say. She noted that the city council were not the parents of students, and observed that any ordinance would apply equally to student neighborhoods and other parts of the city, like the Old West Side and Pontiac Trail.

Kunselman introduced the idea that couches on porches could be addressed by landlords, by building prohibitions of porch couches into leases. He noted that the city council had received a letter from property management companies lobbying for a couch ban. Kunselman’s response: “You ban it!” Until he sees property management companies take a stronger position, he said, he was not favorably inclined to an ordinance on porch furniture.

Hieftje indicated that he thought Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) was taking a look at the ordinance language that had previously been proposed and that if he had to guess, he thought that the council would be considering something. In relevant part, the 2004 proposed ordinance reads [.txt file of 2004 proposed couch ban resolution]:

Upholstered or other furniture designed or manufactured primarily for indoor use shall not be used or left:
1. On residential unenclosed, exterior porches or balconies
2. In an exposed open area of private property
1. Wood, metal or plastic furniture.
2. Outdoor patio furniture with weather resistant cushions
3. Upholstered furniture designated for pre-paid special pick-up by public or private haulers complying with sections 2:7 and 2:12 of Chapter 26 of this Code.

Fuller Road Station

Gwen Nystuen, who’s a member of the city’s park advisory commission (PAC), asked at the caucus about answers to questions that had been compiled from a Feb. 10, 2010 public meeting on Fuller Road Station. She said that the questions collected at the meeting had been posted on the city’s website, but that the answers had not. The questions that PAC had posed about the project had also not been given answers.

Mayor John Hieftje and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that they’d look into getting the answers to those questions posted – Briere composed an email on the spot to someone at the city.

Fuller Road Station – a proposed parking structure and bus station, and possibly an eventual train station – has been controversial from the point of view of PAC, due to the land’s status as parkland. But it’s also been controversial from the point of view of its financing. The city has not yet put forward a plan to finance its share of the city-University of Michigan joint project.

Fuller Road Station can be connected to a question asked by resident Brad Mikus at caucus, about $750,000 in the city’s economic development fund. At the council’s most recent meeting, April 12, to focus on the city’s budget, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) drew out the fact from city administrator Roger Fraser that the proposed budget would provide authorization for spending the $750,000, but he said that there was no spending plan for the money.

Both Hieftje and Fraser have stated publicly that no general fund money will be used to pay for Fuller Road Station. The city’s capital improvements plan shows the money coming from the city’s economic development fund. At caucus, Briere and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) traced the history of the money currently in the economic development fund – it had been appropriated from the general fund to pay for free parking incentives for Google. The $750,000 is the amount that is now left over. Briere indicated at the caucus that the expectation by some had been that if the money were not used for that original purpose, it would revert to the city’s general fund.

Asked if he would consider the $750,000 currently in the economic development fund to be general fund money – thus not eligible for use on Fuller Road Station, Hieftje said he hadn’t thought about that question. Kunselman, in contrast, said flatly: “It’s general fund money.” Attaching a different label to it did not change the status of the money as general fund money, he said. Kunselman compared it to “Steve” versus “Stephen” – “I’m Steve, but I’m also Stephen, still the same person.”

Parking Plan and Fine Schedule

On the agenda for Monday’s council meeting is a presentation of a parking plan from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. [Chronicle coverage: "Parking Report Portends City-DDA Tension"] Parking is generally a fertile ground for Ann Arbor discussion and Sunday’s caucus was no different.

Questioned by residents about features of the plan to be presented by the DDA, mayor John Hieftje, who also sits on the DDA board, stressed that the council would not be taking action on the plan – they’d simply be receiving the report.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that a parking issue on the agenda that would possibly result in council action was a proposed increase in fines for parking violations. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Parking Fines to Increase in Ann Arbor?"] The increase for one of the the most common violations – expired meters – would be bumped from $15 to $20. The discounted amount for those who pay the ticket immediately would remain $10.

The new fine schedule is estimated to generate an additional $635,000 in revenue over the current levels, and that additional revenue has been baked into the budget that will be presented formally by city administrator Roger Fraser on Monday night.

Residents at the caucus questioned the wisdom of making the assumption of the extra revenue. Briere allowed that the budgeting process was not an exact forecast. It involved trying to overestimate expenses and underestimate revenues, she said. These estimates are based on expenses and revenues in past years, but ultimately no one could know the future.

Currently, the parking system for the city is administered by the DDA under an agreement that was struck in 2005 and included payments of up to $10 million over the life of the 10-year deal. Mid-way through the term of the contract, the DDA has paid the full amount of the contract.

The city council and the DDA each have a committee charged with the task of renegotiating the parking agreement between the two entities, with the city hoping that the DDA will agree to continue paying the city $2 million a year. At caucus, Hieftje indicated he would be “very surprised” if the DDA did not agree to make that payment for FY 2011.

Asked by resident Nancy Kaplan whether the DDA was interested in making the right to enforce parking rules a part of the current negotiations over a possible $2 million payment, Hieftje confirmed that several members of the DDA board were interested in that possibility. He cautioned, however, that it’s not clear how such a plan would be implemented. Among the challenges is the geographic question of enforcement of those meters outside the DDA district. Another major challenge is a labor union issue – enforcement is currently performed by unionized labor in the form of the city’s community standards officers.

Caucus discussion of parking issues also included a review of the new ePark stations that have been installed in downtown areas. Jim Fuester, an interior designer with Mir’s Oriental Rugs on Main Street, reported that in working the “front lines” of downtown he’s encountered numerous complaints about the new stations from customers. He said that he’s resorted to going out to the meters with clients to help them learn how to use the machines – just so that they are able to spend time in his store without risking a fine.

A suggestion for the machines made by Fuester was to provide an audio version of the instructions – when the glare from the sun hits the screen, it’s impossible to read, he said.

Fuester’s experience with the machines contrasted with Kathy Griswold’s – she said she loves the machines.

But Griswold feared that the city was not going to collect the amount of revenue it expected from ticketing, because based on her own experience, she was not getting the number of tickets she previously received. She wondered if the city was still putting the same resources into ticketing.

Briere allowed that revenues from ticketing were  down this year, but that based on a Chronicle item she’d seen, she knew that the city continued to ticket.

East Stadium Bridges

On the council’s Monday night agenda is an item that authorizes the city’s application for another round of funding from the state’s local bridge fund. [See Chronicle coverage: "State Board: No Funding for Stadium Bridges"] Mayor John Hieftje indicated that the city hoped to receive some money from the state and was also pursuing funding at the federal level. As part of the city’s effort to secure some federal funding, Hieftje reported, Congressman John Dingell was setting up a meeting with the assistant secretary to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.

The upshot of the effort to secure funding was that the construction scheduled to start this fall based on a funding plan using just the city’s street reconstruction millage will be delayed until the spring.

Asked whether the option of an at-grade crossing had been explored – as opposed to retaining a bridge at that location – Hieftje and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that yes, it had. In addition to the engineering and logistical challenges, they said, the thing that made it impossible was the Ann Arbor Railroad’s refusal to give permission for an at-grade crossing of the rail track.

King School Crosswalk

Resident Kathy Griswold addressed the caucus on the issue of a mid-block crosswalk in front of King Elementary School, which she’s been seeking to have moved to an intersection since fall of last year. She said that the new crosswalk had been designed, funded and had been supported by the neighborhood. She contended that city administrator Roger Fraser had stopped the project. When Todd Roberts, superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools, had asked Fraser about it, she contended, Fraser’s reply had been: “It’s not going to happen.”

Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he thought a meeting was being set up. Griswold confirmed that attempts were being made –  by the mayor’s assistant – to set up a meeting, but that people were not available and there was difficulty scheduling, that had persisted over considerable time. “This stalling technique has gone on for months,” she said.

Griswold noted that she had followed the process: the crosswalk had been reviewed by the transportation safety committee, had the support of the King Elementary principal and the transportation director of AAPS. She concluded “I’m a bit frustrated.”

]]> 19