The Ann Arbor Chronicle » public engagement it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Column: The Chronicle’s Last Chapter Wed, 03 Sep 2014 04:55:20 +0000 Mary Morgan I always start a novel by reading its last chapter – I like to know how things turn out.

A small slice of a large shelf of books about the history of Ann Arbor at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The AADL will be archiving the more than 10 million words that were published over the course of six years of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

A small slice of a large shelf of books about the history of Ann Arbor at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. The AADL will be archiving the more than 10 million words that were published over the course of six years of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

For those of you like me, who also flip to the end: This is the final word from The Chronicle.

We launched this publication six years ago with no clear ending in sight. It was a jumping-off-the-cliff moment, with the hope – but certainly no guarantee – that we’d be creating something special, even transformative. There were many times along the way when I doubted our choice to take that leap. Recall that 2008 and 2009 formed the nadir of the economic recession, and in hindsight I marvel that we were able to thrash out a livelihood.

I marvel because at that time, no one was clamoring for in-depth reports on meetings of the library board, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the park advisory commission or any of the other public entities we began covering. We wrote detailed 15,000-word articles on city council meetings, in an era when traditional news media considered 500-word stories too long for the attention spans of its target demographic.

Over 10 million words later, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, and proud too that we’re bringing it to a close on our terms. Dave Askins wrote about that decision in his Aug. 7 column. I’d encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already.

Since that announcement, we’ve received a flow of well wishes, understanding and support – the generosity of spirit that has fueled us these past six years. Many readers also shared personal anecdotes about what The Chronicle has meant to them. That’s been meaningful for us, too, because this publication has been a very personal endeavor since its inception.

My two favorites are these: We learned that The Chronicle’s coverage of the Ann Arbor planning commission was used as flirting material with an urban planning grad student – and that couple is now married with a child. And the family of Peter Pollack – a landscape architect who died in 2010 – is including The Chronicle’s description of his legacy in a collection of materials they’ve gathered for his grandchildren, so that the next generation will learn about this remarkable man when they grow up. (We had tucked an obit for Peter into one of our regular city council reports.)

I cherish these kinds of connections that are now intertwined with The Chronicle’s own legacy. We set out to create an archive of community history, and The Chronicle itself is now a part of that history.

The Chronicle’s mission centered around giving readers the tools they needed for a deeper understanding of our local government, providing context and guidance as they navigated often baffling bureaucracies. Our hope was to make the inner workings of our city and county more accessible. Many people embraced this approach. Maybe they hadn’t been clamoring for The Chronicle’s public meeting coverage, because they hadn’t known what they could be missing.

So one question we’ve heard often since announcing our decision to close is this: What will fill the void?

We don’t know – but we have some ideas.

Although The Chronicle has been a useful resource, it was an attraction primarily for people who already have an interest in local governance. What about all the rest – the more than 80% of voters who didn’t bother to participate in the most recent primary election, for example?

Is it possible to shift our community’s culture? To educate, inform, cajole the majority of residents – of all ages – into caring about what happens at city hall and in the county boardroom? To make Ann Arbor a model of civic awareness and engagement to which other cities across America aspire?

Is it feasible to create a community where of course you would flirt over planning commission reports? Where the passing of a man like Peter Pollack would cause the whole city to pause and give thanks for his life of civic service?

Again, we don’t know. But I’d like to spend some time thinking about ways to catalyze that kind of cultural transformation.

There’s a literary technique called in medias res – starting in the middle. Perhaps The Chronicle was just such a thing, the middle of a community narrative that’s leading to an entirely unexpected conclusion.

So even while The Chronicle’s chapter of the community’s book is coming to a close, we’ll also be thinking about a possible sequel.

I do like to know how things end. But beginnings are even better.

Mary Morgan is publisher of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. She and Chronicle editor Dave Askins co-founded the online publication on Sept. 2, 2008. The Chronicle will not be publishing regular reports after Sept. 2, 2014.

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A2: Ward 2 Website Thu, 07 Feb 2013 19:26:00 +0000 Chronicle Staff Ann Arbor city councilmembers Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm – who both represent Ward 2 – have launched a website for their constituents: The site includes a link to a “resident satisfaction survey” powered by the Ann Arbor firm ForeSee Results. The 40-item survey covers a wide range of topics, asking for feedback on parks, garbage collection, recycling, infrastructure, taxes, the bus system, police, and several other issues. Three open-ended questions include this one: “If you could make one suggestion for your elected official to focus on during the next six months what would it be?” [Source] Not sure if you live in Ward 2? Here’s a link to the city’s ward boundary map.

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New Public Art Projects In the Works Sun, 03 Feb 2013 20:17:14 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Jan. 23, 2013): Despite uncertainty about the future of the city’s public art program, commissioners discussed several projects at their most recent AAPAC meeting – including some new efforts that likely won’t use city funding.

Malverne Winborne, Marsha Chamberlin, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor public art commissioners Malverne Winborne and Marsha Chamberlin at AAPAC’s Jan. 23, 2013 meeting. Winborne is explaining how he had interpreted the image on a proposed sign for the Dreiseitl water sculpture – in looked like a notebook binder’s spine. (Photos by the writer.)

AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin described a collaboration with the city’s parks system to use old canoes for a community art project. The effort also involves the Main Street Area Association and Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau. She indicated the project would seek private donations and grants, but probably not funds from the city’s Percent for Art program, which is currently under review by the city council.

The commission also heard from Linda Tenza, a resident who came to the Jan. 23 meeting to make an informal proposal for creating murals on the ceilings of the farmers market shelter. Likening it to a Sistine Chapel effect, Tenza suggested painting food-themed murals on the ceilings of the structures that cover the market aisles. Possible themes include food as medicine, the local farm community, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the history of farming.

Although Tenza’s project is still tentative, one public art project that’s definitely coming to Ann Arbor is the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Inside|Out program, which involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks. Two private Ann Arbor businesses – Zingerman’s Deli and the downtown Borders store – were part of the program in 2010. Since then the DIA has been talking periodically with AAPAC and city staff about expanded participation.

The works will be hung from late March through June at several downtown locations, including on the facade of city hall and on the wall of the fire station that faces the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum. An official announcement about the project, including a listing of all locations, will be made at a Feb. 8 DIA press conference.

In other action at AAPAC’s Jan. 23 meeting, commissioners expressed frustration with the proposed design of a sign for the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall, calling it too “busy” with text and images that are unclear. Nor were they pleased with the proposed description of the piece that’s included on the sign: “Sculpture with Water Feature.” Chamberlin agreed to discuss their concerns with Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects, which handled the design.

Commissioners were also updated on several ongoing projects, including the selection of public art for the East Stadium bridges. A public engagement proposal for that $400,000 project – which might serve as a template for other projects – elicited some debate. John Kotarski objected to a recommendation that part of each artist’s interview with a selection panel should be held in private. He felt strongly that the process should be open and transparent. Wiltrud Simbuerger, who presented the recommendation, felt that the selection panel needs a “safe place” for their deliberations.

The Jan. 23 meeting included a discussion of officer elections, which AAPAC’s bylaws call for in January. The elections were ultimately postponed because only four commissioners were present at that point in the 2.5-hour meeting. Chamberlin has been serving as chair since April of 2011. Malverne Winborne is vice chair.

Also factoring into the issue of officer elections was the uncertainty of AAPAC’s future. The city council has suspended expenditures for future projects pending review of the public art program by a council committee appointed last December. Chamberlin, who has attended all meetings of that committee, gave an update to commissioners, but noted that no decisions have yet been made. The committee is expected to give its recommendations to the full council in mid-February – its next meeting is on Feb. 7. This report includes a summary of the committee’s most recent deliberations.

Sign for Dreiseitl Water Sculpture

The issue of developing a sign for the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture has been discussed at various AAPAC meetings for about a year. At the Jan. 23 meeting, commissioners reviewed the proposed sign that had been developed by Quinn Evans Architects and city communications staff. [.pdf of text and images for the proposed sign]

Drawing that shows proposed location for signs near the Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall, facing Huron Street.

Drawing that shows proposed location for a sign near the Dreiseitl sculpture in front of city hall, facing Huron Street.

Commissioners raised several concerns about the sign, which would be 11 inches by 17 inches and located on top of a mesh fence that will be installed at the end of the walkway overlooking the sculpture. The sign is intended to highlight the sculpture’s meaning and how it fits into the context of the plaza’s rain garden and stormwater management system.

The wording for the sign is now different than what had previously been presented to AAPAC. [.pdf of original text for the sign] In addition to a description of the stormwater system – with several images depicting various elements of the system – the proposal also includes an artist’s statement by Dreiseitl:

The promise of water is all about the future. Like rain, it is comforting, providing renewal and refreshment for a dry and thirsty landscape in a cityscape coming out of drought conditions. It is not only a symbol, water gives hope for the potential for life.

The sculpture consists of two layers of melted metal. Slightly leaning and finding its balance, the sculpture is subtly dynamic in every way. Resembling the surface of a standing wave, the top is concave and the bottom is convex. The concave surface is associated with reception, openness, taking in what is from above, and the convex surface is associated with giving away what it has received to the earth below, thus showing the transition from the sky to the earth — what rainwater always does.

The glass spheres bring floating light into the darkness of a physical form while water flows from above to quench the thirst of the earth. Emulating the motion of water drops, light moves down the sculpture at different speeds intensely illuminating the blue glass spheres in the day and softly illuminating them at night. The glass drops, which stick out at the top, slowly recede into the sculpture then reappear on the lower region of the other side, as if they are raindrops flowing down, penetrating into the sculpture and come out again.

In general, commissioners felt the sign was too “busy” – with too much text as well as imagery that’s unclear. Malverne Winborne called the sign’s image of the sculpture a “Rorschach test,” saying he’d thought at first that it looked like the spine of a notebook binder. Several others also said they hadn’t initially realized that the image was intended to be the sculpture. One difficulty is that the sign shows the sculpture as viewed from the side, though the sign will be placed facing the back of the sculpture. Another issue is that the sign was originally conceived of as two separate signs, but at some point they were combined into one.

Winborne suggested eliminating much of the text and including a QR code that would direct people to a website with more information.

In addition to paring down the text and images, Wiltrud Simbuerger wanted to find a different name for the piece. Currently, the title on the sign is “Sculpture with Water Feature.” Bob Miller suggested naming the sculpture “The Promise of Water.” John Kotarski said it was his understanding that Dreiseitl didn’t want to give the work a title.

Marsha Chamberlin offered to sit down with Ken Clein, a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, the Ann Arbor firm that handled the design of the new Justice Center and city hall renovation, and oversaw its construction – a project that included the Dreiseitl sculpture.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Update on City Council Public Art Committee

Marsha Chamberlin gave commissioners an update on the work of a city council committee that’s reviewing the city’s public art program. [See Chronicle coverage: "City to Seek Feedback on Public Art Program" and "Council's Public Art Committee Begins Work."]

Christopher Taylor, Marsha Chamberlin, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

In the foreground is Christopher Taylor, a Ward 3 city councilmember who’s serving on a council committee to review the city’s public art program. Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the public art commission, also attended this Jan. 22 committee meeting. In the background to the left is Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator.

Committee members are Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Margie Teall (Ward 4). They were appointed by the full council on Dec. 3, 2012 and have met five times since then, most recently on Jan. 31, working toward the goal of making recommendation about the public art program’s future by mid-February. Also on Dec. 3, the council voted to halt the spending of funds accumulated through Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art program – except for projects that are already underway. The moratorium on spending lasts until April 1, 2013.

Chamberlin reported that the committee has considered the possibility of having a full-time public art administrator. [The current administrator's position, held by Aaron Seagraves, is part-time.]

The group is also looking at possible revisions to the public art ordinance, she said, as well as ways to encourage the involvement of public art in the initial design of large capital projects. She noted that everyone on the committee seems to support public art, but they have varying ideas about the kind of art that should be funded and the type of funding source.

“I think it’s still a broad, open discussion,” Chamberlin said.

Update on City Council Public Art Committee: Additional Background

The Chronicle has attended all of these council committee meetings. At its early meetings, the committee had discussed getting feedback from the public using the city’s online A2 Open City Hall. Lisa Wondrash, the city’s communications manager, attended the Jan. 14 meeting to brief committee members on that platorm’s features.

But subsequent meetings – on Jan. 22 and Jan. 31 – have focused primarily on revisions to the public art ordinance. [.pdf of current ordinance] Possible changes discussed by the committee include limiting the tenure of commissioners to two three-year terms; revising the types of capital projects from which public art funding can be taken; and incorporating requirements for public engagement.

There seems to be some consensus among committee members – and supported by city staff – that funding for public art should be “baked in” to capital projects. That is, instead of transferring out 1% of a project’s budget into a separate public art fund, the money would be earmarked within the capital project’s budget, and project designers would be given directive to incorporate artistic elements into the design. This would make administering the public art program less administratively burdensome, and ensure that public art wouldn’t be an “add on” after the capital project is finished.

The possibility of having a full-time public art administrator has also been raised. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wondered whether the current unallocated funds remaining in the public art fund (#0056) could be used to pay for a full-time staff person. [According to a budget distributed at AAPAC's Jan. 23 meeting, the public art fund has an available balance of $1.453 million. Of that, about $607,800 is allocated for projects already underway, including artwork for East Stadium bridges ($400,000), Argo Cascades ($150,000) and in a rain garden at First and Kingsley ($27,000). The remaining funds total about $845,000. (.pdf of budget summary)]

Responding to Briere, Tom Crawford – the city’s chief financial officer – described her suggestion as “staff seed money” for the public art program, but he wasn’t sure whether existing public art funds could be used for that purpose. He told the committee that he’d check on that.

Sabra Briere, Ann Arbor city council, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor city councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) at the Jan. 22 council committee meeting on public art.

Another idea discussed is to have certain public art projects paid for out of the city’s general fund. This approach would eliminate the need to tie an artwork’s “theme” to the source of the capital funding. It would also eliminate the need for the art to be permanent and “monumental” in nature.

While paying for public art from the general fund would give the program more flexibility – allowing for temporary installations or performance art, for example – some councilmembers expressed concern about that approach. Briere pointed out that the city’s general fund is limited, and that anything spent on public art means there’s less to spend on other priorities, including staffing for other services. If the council starts weighing public art against people, “then the art’s gone,” she said.

The issue of pursuing another vote on a public art millage was another topic of discussion. A public art millage of 0.10 mills was rejected by 56% of Ann Arbor voters on Nov. 6, 2012. But there was some sense among committee members that if the public art program is restructured and can show some clear success, voters might be more receptive to a millage.

At the end of the Jan. 31 meeting, Briere indicated that she would incorporate the committee’s discussion into a draft of a revised ordinance for review at the next meeting. She also said she’d begin drafting a report of recommendations for the full council, to be reviewed at the next committee meeting. The committee is working to bring back its recommendations to the council by mid-February.

The committee’s next meeting is set for Thursday, Feb. 7 from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the sixth floor conference room in city hall.

Public Engagement

At AAPAC’s Jan. 23 meeting – in the context of the East Stadium bridges project – Wiltrud Simbuerger presented a proposal for how to engage the public better in the selection process for the city’s public art. She noted that the process had been developed for East Stadium bridges artwork, but could easily be adapted for any project. It had been put together by her, public art administrator Aaron Seagraves and Connie Pulcipher, who works in the city’s systems planning unit. [.pdf of selection process proposal]

Simbuerger reviewed several aspects of this approach, but the item that generated the most discussion among commissioners centered on a recommendation that part of each artist’s interview with a selection panel should be held in private. From the relevant passage of the selection process proposal [emphasis added – item e]:

4. The presentation process would follow this procedure:
a. At the time of issuing the RFP, the day, location and time of the presentation will be named. A schedule will also be included that lists any receptions or activities the artist is expected to attend. Artists will know well in advance of the presentation date when their work is due and what travel plans they must make.
b. The day, location, time and events will be widely publicized.
c. On the day of the presentation, the artist will present at the appointed time and place and be given 45 minutes to present their design proposal.
d. The presentation will be held in a city location that allows for live streaming (such as the council chambers). Interested public would be able to attend the live stream in a place such as the library or a room in city hall, etc. The public would be issued feedback forms with specific questions as well as room for additional feedback. It is also possible that the presentation can be conducted as a webinar, and participation also garnered by that means.
e. At the end of each presentation, the camera will be turned off for 15 min. During the 15 minutes, the Selection Panel will have discussion and the public can submit feedback. There is an option of facilitated discussion with the public.
f. The feedback forms would be collected from the public, the camera turned on again and the next presentation will commence.
g. Repeat as necessary.

John Kotarski objected to turning off the camera, calling it problematic and wrong. Simbuerger countered that it was not an open meeting, so they had the option of recording the proceedings or not. [By way of background, there is no requirement under the Michigan Open Meetings Act that a selection panel of this sort – which is not an public body subject to the statute – must be accessible to the public. But by city policy established by the city council, meetings of boards, task forces, commissions, committees and their subcommittees are supposed to hold their meetings open to the public, to the best of their abilities in the spirit of the OMA.]

Wiltrud Simbuerger, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor public art commissioner Wiltrud Simbuerger.

Kotarski argued that all of the deliberations regarding the selection of public art should be open and transparent. Marsha Chamberlin noted that there is precedence in the proceedings of other entities. For example, meetings of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs are open to the public, but some portions of those meetings are held in closed sessions.

Kotarski pressed for reasons why the selection panel’s deliberations should be private. Simbuerger said there needs to be a “safe place” for discussion. Members of the selection panel aren’t elected and aren’t accustomed to public deliberations, she said. [From the proposed guidelines, it's not clear whether the public would be allowed to stay in the room during the 15 minutes when the cameras are turned off.]

Kotarski didn’t see any benefit other than protecting selection panel members from scrutiny. Because they would be conducting the public’s business and making recommendations on how to spend taxpayer dollars, the panel should hold its deliberations in public, he argued. The sessions should not be private just to save panelists from embarrassment, he said. AAPAC has received intense criticism in the past for making decisions in private, he added, and to do it again would “inflame” the commission’s critics.

Chamberlin said she hadn’t heard this kind of criticism against AAPAC, but Kotarski replied that he’d heard it from dozens of people and had read it in online comments.

Malverne Winborne suggested looking at city processes. He described his experiences working with charter schools, and the ability of the governing boards to enter into closed sessions based on certain criteria that that are specified in the OMA. [Winborne is director of Eastern Michigan University’s Charter Schools Office.] Aaron Seagraves indicated that city staff will look into this issue.

Kotarski said he wasn’t against having closed sessions, but those sessions need to be consistent with city of Ann Arbor policies and best practices in other communities.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Art for Farmers Market

Linda Tenza attended AAPAC’s Jan. 23 meeting to make an informal proposal for creating murals on the ceilings of the farmers market shelter.

She began by noting that she’s an Ann Arbor resident and mother of Jeff Tenza, who’s a board member of the People’s Food Coop and involved with the Washtenaw Food Hub. “He knows all the cool people in Ann Arbor,” she joked. “I’m just the mom.”

Linda Tenza, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Linda Tenza at AAPAC’s Jan. 23 meeting.

Likening it to a Sistine Chapel effect, Tenza’s suggestion is to paint food-themed murals on the ceilings of the structures that cover the market aisles. Possible themes include food as medicine, the local farm community, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the history of farming. The project could involve schools and students, she said, and possibly be sponsored by local farms and businesses. There could even be prizes, she said, akin to the Art Prize competition in Grand Rapids. The effort could be educational, and could result in artwork that would be a tourist attraction, Tenza said.

There are many unknowns about the cost and other factors, she continued, but this idea could be a starting point to explore those issues and work toward implementing the idea.

Marsha Chamberlin asked Tenza if she’d discussed this idea with the public market advisory commission. Tenza reported that she’d met with the group the previous week, and had talked with the market manager, Sarah DeWitt. The commission is considering it, she said. Meanwhile, DeWitt had suggested that Tenza approach AAPAC, because the market is city-owned property and public space. Tenza said she hoped to get direction from commissioners. [.pdf of AAPAC project intake form for Tenza's proposal]

Commissioners talked about the process and AAPAC’s possible involvement, in the context of uncertainty related to the city’s public art program. Chamberlin clarified that because it would be an art project on city-owned property, the project would need to go through AAPAC’s project approval process – even if Tenza raised funding from private sources.

Chamberlin indicated that the commission would likely invite Tenza to a future meeting for additional discussion, possibly at AAPAC’s next session on Feb. 27. Commissioners would need to decide whether it’s a project they think the city should pursue. If so, they’d form a task force that would likely include Tenza and other stakeholders. They’d also need to figure out whether Percent for Art funds are available – and that will depend in large part on whether the city council decides to make changes to the program.

Commissioners who attended the Jan. 23 meeting generally seemed supportive of the idea, and thanked Tenza for bringing it forward.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Project Updates

Several projects were discussed briefly during the Jan. 23 meeting, by way of updates.

Project Updates: Justice Center Lobby

Oregon artist Ed Carpenter is still looking for local firms to handle the installation of his hanging glass sculpture, called “Radius,” in the lobby of the Justice Center at 301 E. Huron, next to city hall. The project was approved by the city council in May of 2012 based on AAPAC’s recommendation, with a budget of $150,000. Members of the projects task force are: Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Bob Grese, Laura Rubin, Margie Teall, Ray Detter, Maureen Devine and Karl Daubmann. The fabrication of the artwork is being done in Portland and is expected to be done by April.

There was continued uncertainty about the funding source for this project. The issue had been discussed at AAPAC’s Dec. 19, 2012 meeting, after it emerged that funding for Radius is not provided under the city’s Percent for Art program, as commissioners and city councilmembers had originally thought. Rather, the budget for the Justice Center set aside $250,00 of its own funds for public art, out of which the Carpenter sculpture is being funded.

The budget summary provided to AAPAC on Jan. 23 for the first time lists the Justice Center public art funds as a separate line item – not included as part of the city’s public art fund (Fund #0056). [.pdf of budget summary]

The line item shows that $102,531 of the Justice Center’s $250,000 public art funding has already been spent, leaving a balance of $147,468. Malverne Winborne asked what the $102,531 has been spent on – because not all of it was paid to Carpenter.

Aaron Seagraves replied that some of it has gone to Carpenter. [According to the city's contract with Carpenter, which was approved by the city council on May 7, 2012, the artist will be paid in three installments: (1) $50,000 upon signing of the contract, (2) $75,000 upon completion of the artwork up to the point of shipping, and (3) $25,000 upon completion of the installation. (.pdf of contract with Carpenter) Based on the payment schedule, only $50,000 has been paid to Carpenter so far.]

Responding to a follow-up query from The Chronicle, Seagraves provided details of the $102,531 in expenditures: (1) $50,000 for the initial payment to Carpenter; (2) $3,000 for honorariums paid to Carpenter and two other finalists ($1,000 each) for art proposals in the Justice Center lobby; (3) $2,000 to Herbert Dreiseitl for consultation services in 2008; and (4) the remainder of $47,531 to Quinn Evans Architects for architect services.

Herbert Dreiseitl had originally been commissioned to complete three works, including one in the Justice Center lobby, and another inside the Larcom building atrium. But his proposals came in at higher cost than the city had budgeted, and so the only project to move forward was the water sculpture in front of city hall. The city council authorized a $750,000 budget for that work out of “pooled” funds from other capital improvement projects: drinking water ($210,000), sanitary sewer ($510,000) and stormwater ($30,000) funds.

Project Updates: East Stadium Bridges

Last year, the city had received 36 responses to an SOQ for artwork along the new East Stadium bridges. A selection panel has narrowed their choices to 5-7 of those artists. Wiltrud Simbuerger, who serves on the selection panel, said the next step is for members to set up Skype interviews with these artists and narrow down the group to as many as five finalists. The $400,000 budget for that project was recommended by AAPAC on March 28, 2012. Members of the task force/selection panel are Simbuerger, Bob Miller, Nancy Leff, David Huntoon and Joss Kiely. The project is still on track to be finished by the end of 2013, according to Seagraves.

During the Jan. 23 meeting, Simbuerger also presented a proposal for public engagement in the artist selection process. [.pdf of selection process proposal] Discussion of that proposal is reported earlier in this article.

Project Updates: Argo Cascades

A statement of qualifications (SOQ) was issued in early December for this project to place artwork in the city park along Argo Cascades, with a deadline of March 6. [SOQs for the city are posted online.] AAPAC approved a $150,000 budget for that project on April 25, 2012. Task force members are John Kotarski, Malverne Winborne, Cheryl Saam, Margaret Parker, Cathy Fleisher, Bonnie Greenspoon, Julie Grand, and Colin Smith. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

Project Updates: Kingsley & First Rain Garden

Responses are being evaluated from a request for proposals (RFP) that was issued last year for artwork to be included in a rain garden at the city-owned lot at Kingsley & First. The artwork is being handled in conjunction with the rain garden design by city staff and Conservation Design Forum. Task force members are Connie Brown, Jerry Hancock, Claudette Stern and John Walters. Aaron Seagraves reported that he expects the artist to be elected in February. The project has a budget of $27,000 with an expected completion in August of 2013.

Project Updates: Forest Avenue Plaza

A task force had been working on a public art project for the Forest Avenue Plaza, located next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University. It’s linked to a renovation of the plaza that’s being undertaken by the city’s parks staff. Bob Miller reported that the task force work has been sidelined, pending the city council’s decision about the future of the public art program.

Bob Miller, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor public art commissioner Bob Miller.

Aaron Seagraves noted that parks planner Amy Kuras is moving ahead with certain aspects of the plaza renovation, including repaving the area. This news was met with some frustration by Miller. He noted that at the most recent meeting of the task force – on which Kuras also serves – there had been a great discussion about how to incorporate public art into structural elements of the plaza, such as stamping designs into the concrete paving and working an artistic element into the landscaping. Now, it seemed Kuras was moving away from that approach, he said.

Seagraves replied that it might be because the parks staff needed to move forward on the project. Because no Percent for Art funding can be involved – given the city council’s directive to suspend funding – Kuras might think that AAPAC is no longer involved, either.

Marsha Chamberlin suggested that Miller contact Kuras and express AAPAC’s continued enthusiasm for being involved, even if they can’t contribute public art funding. Miller agreed to do that.

Project Updates: Senior Center

Aaron Seagraves reported that he’s talked with the facilities supervisor at the Ann Arbor Senior Center, who’s interested in putting up a rotating art exhibit in the building. The center is located in Burns Park, at 1320 Baldwin. He discussed how AAPAC might collaborate to promote the idea, such as by soliciting artists via the commission’s website and newsletter.

Marsha Chamberlin suggested also contacting the Ann Arbor Women Artists and the Arts Alliance, to help get the word out about this opportunity.

Project Updates: DIA

Another public art project coming to Ann Arbor is the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Inside|Out project, which involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks. Two private Ann Arbor businesses – Zingerman’s Deli and the downtown Borders store – were part of the program in 2010, and since then the DIA has been talking periodically with AAPAC and city staff about expanded participation.

The works will be hung from late March through June at several downtown locations, including on the facade of city hall and on the wall of the downtown fire station that faces the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum. An official announcement about the project will be made at a Feb. 8 press conference at the DIA.

This project wasn’t discussed at AAPAC’s Jan. 23 meeting, but had been brought up the previous day at the city council committee on public art. At that meeting, Craig Hupy – the city’s public services area administrator – reported that the DIA had selected Ann Arbor to participate. He did not have additional information about the location of other privately-owned buildings that would be part of the project.

Report from AAPAC Chair: Canoes, CTN

In addition to communications that are reported elsewhere in this article, AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin informed commissioners about two other projects she’s pursuing.

Chair’s Report: Community Canoe Project

The idea of using old canoes for an art project had been mentioned nearly a year ago by John Kotarski, at an AAPAC retreat on Feb. 26, 2012. More recently, at the commission’s meeting on Oct. 24, 2012, Marsha Chamberlin had reported that Cheryl Saam, facilities supervisor for the city’s canoe liveries, was interested in using old canoes – boats that the city was getting rid of – for some kind of community art project. It involves several concepts, Chamberlin said, including the idea of recycling, the Huron River, and public art.

On Jan. 23, Chamberlin reported that she, Saam, public art administrator Aaron Seagraves, and representatives of the Main Street Area Association (MSAA) and Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau had met to discuss the project, and decided to move ahead with it. At this point it wasn’t clear if AAPAC would be involved, she said, so it wouldn’t be going through the commission’s project approval process.

About 50 canoes are available, and could be cut in half. They could be painted, embellished, or transformed in any way – but the common theme would be the canoe. The project could involve individual artists, community groups, public schools, and/or businesses. Chamberlin said that the MSAA has committed to 13 locations for temporary installations, and possibly more in the South State and South University districts.

Wiltrud Simbuerger thought the project would be a great fit in the Argo Cascades area. AAPAC has allocated $150,000 for public art in that area along the Huron River. But John Kotarski, who serves on a task force for the Argo Cascades project, reported that task force members had been relatively cool to the idea. He said that the task force chair, Margaret Parker, had “a different idea in mind.” [An SOQ has already been issued for that project, with a response deadline of March 6.]

Chamberlin described the next step as determining a fiduciary for the project, to handle the receipt of donations or grants.

Chair’s Report: Community Television Network

Chamberlin also said she’s following up on a suggestion previously floated by former AAPAC member Margaret Parker, about promoting the city’s public art on community access television – the Community Television Network. CTN is producing a retrospective on public art in Ann Arbor, Chamberlin said, which will include an interview with Parker as well as footage of the tree sculptures at West Park, the Dreiseitl sculpture at city hall, and the new mural at Allmendinger Park.

In addition, CTN is interested in doing a longer piece about the process for selecting artwork on East Stadium bridges, she said.

Public Artist Registry

At AAPAC’s July 25, 2012 meeting, commissioners voted to establish an SOQ (statement of qualifications) process that creates an artist registry/database. The intent is to streamline the selection of artists for future projects.

On Jan. 23, commissioners reviewed a draft SOQ that had been drawn up by city staff. [.pdf of draft SOQ] The main discussion on this agenda item related to the SOQ’s stated objective: “to find professional artists whose work meets a set of standards in which they will be pre-qualified for the City of Ann Arbor public art projects for two (2) years from 2013 to 2015.”

Bob Miller felt that two years was too brief a time, given the work involved in submitting an SOQ. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, indicated that the two-year period was a recommendation of the city’s purchasing staff.

Miller and John Kotarski asked Seagraves to investigate how other communities handle this kind of registry, particularly as it relates to the timeframe question. Seagraves felt that there was time to do some research, especially in light of possible changes to the Percent for Art program by city council, which could impact the registry project.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to postpone action on the registry SOQ.

Public Art Annual Plan

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reminded commissioners that the mandated public art annual plan was due to city council on April 1. The plan would cover activities that AAPAC intended to pursue in fiscal year 2014, which runs from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014.

Aaron Seagraves, Ann Arbor public art commission, Percent for Art, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator. To the left is commissioner John Kotarski.

Seagraves noted that because the council has suspended expenditures for the city’s Percent for Art program, “we’re not really sure what we’re planning for, or how much we’ll have available.” He recommended moving forward with a plan that’s based on current funds in the Percent for Art budget. According to a budget distributed at the meeting, the public art fund (#0056) has an available balance of $1.453 million. Of that, about $607,800 is allocated for projects already underway, including artwork for East Stadium bridges ($400,000), Argo Cascades ($150,000) and in a rain garden at First and Kingsley ($27,000). The remaining funds total about $845,000.

Seagraves suggested forming an ad hoc committee to help draft the plan, with ideas contributed by other commissioners via email. At AAPAC’s Feb. 27 meeting, commissioners will be briefed on the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP), which could guide future public art projects.

The CIP is important to AAPAC because funding for the Percent for Art program comes from the city’s capital projects – with 1% of each capital project, up to a cap of $250,000 per project, being set aside for public art. The CIP also indicates which major projects are on the horizon that might incorporate public art. By identifying such projects, AAPAC can start planning the public art component as early as possible, as part of the project’s design, rather than as an add-on.

However, the city council is now evaluating the Percent for Art program in light of a public art millage that was rejected by 56% of voters on Nov. 6, 2012. A council committee was appointed on Dec. 3, 2012 and has been meeting since then, with plans to bring recommendations to the full council in mid-February. The group is exploring several options, including possible public/private partnerships and hiring a full-time administrator. There seems to be general agreement that if a Percent for Art approach is kept in place, it should be modified and only provide a portion of funding for public art. [Additional updates on this committee's work are reported earlier in this article.]

The annual public art plan for FY 2013 lists five objectives [.pdf of FY 2013 annual plan]:

  • Objective 1: In an effort to create community engagement and expedite work of the Commission, a Master Plan for 2013-2016 will be developed.
  • Objective 2: Advance the following projects that are underway, meeting all deadlines as stated. All the projects have task force oversight, approved budgets, and are in various stages of completion.
  • Objective 3: By June 2012, identify and prioritize new projects for FY 2013, allocating existing funds using agreed-upon criteria of type, location, and community involvement.
  • Objective 4: By August 1, the commission will develop and begin to implement an effective communications plan about the uses and value of public art and the operation of the commission.
  • Objective 5: Collaborate with, at least three, commissions, organizations, and agencies to accomplish public art projects.

Commissioners informally agreed to the approach recommended by Seagraves. He and AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin will work on the draft, with the goal of final approval by the commission’s March 27 meeting.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Officer Elections, Vacancies

AAPAC’s bylaws call for the commission to hold officer elections for chair and vice chair in January. By the time the group reached this agenda item, there were only four commissioners left at the meeting: Marsha Chamberlin, chair; Malverne Winborne, vice chair; Bob Miller; and John Kotarski.

There are two vacancies on the nine-member commission, following the resignation of Theresa Reid in November of 2012, and the end of Tony Derezinski’s term. Derezinski – along with Cathy Gendron and Connie Brown – had been nominated at the council’s Dec. 17 meeting for reappointment to serve terms ending Jan. 20, 2016. Both Gendron and Brown were subsequently reappointed at the council’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting, but Derezinski’s name had been crossed out and the position he held remains vacant.

Marsha Chamberlin, John Kotarski, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor public art commissioners Marsha Chamberlin and John Kotarski.

On Jan. 23, Kotarski expressed reluctance to vote for officers, given the number of commissioners present and the uncertainty surrounding AAPAC’s future. He contended that there had not been an acting chair when he joined the commission in December of 2011, so he thought AAPAC could continue on for a few months without an election.

By way of background, AAPAC has not regularly held officer elections in January. Chamberlin has served as chair since April of 2011. The previous chair, Margaret Parker, had stepped down in late 2010, but initially no one wanted to take her place. Commissioners rotated leading the monthly meetings until Chamberlin was eventually elected permanent chair. Winborne was elected vice chair in May of 2011 – but that the position had previously been vacant since the end of 2009. No officer elections were held in 2012.

At the Jan. 23 meeting, Aaron Seagraves – the city’s public art administrator – suggested holding off on the elections until February, when more commissioners would be present. He pointed out that the bylaws aren’t legally binding, and that elections could be held at a later date.

Kotarski joked that AAPAC probably violated its bylaws at least 12 times each meeting, and he saw no harm in waiting. He wanted to wait until city council has decided what to do about the city’s public art program.

Winborne advocated for AAPAC to conduct itself as though they would continue to operate as a commission, but supported waiting until February for the officer elections.

Outcome: The four commissioners present voted to postpone officer elections until AAPAC’s Feb. 27 meeting.

Commissioners present: Marsha Chamberlin, John Kotarski, Bob Miller, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Malverne Winborne. Also Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator.

Absent: Connie Brown, Cathy Gendron.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. in the fourth floor conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. [Check Chronicle events listing to confirm date]

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our artful coverage of publicly-funded programs like the Percent for Art, which is overseen by the Ann Arbor public art commission. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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AAPS Budget Forum Feedback Tue, 15 Nov 2011 16:54:53 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools budget forum (November 14, 2011): It was standing-room only in the Pioneer cafeteria annex as over 140 people gathered to hear an overview of how the school district is funded, and to add their ideas to the mix as the district faces an anticipated $14 million shortfall in 2012-13.

Robert Allen (standing at right) with the large gathering at the budget forum held Nov. 14 at Pioneer High School. (Photos by the writer.)

The district’s approved budget for 2011-12 is $183.62 million.

As staff scrambled to bring in more folding chairs and photocopy additional handouts, AAPS superintendent Patricia Green and AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen opened with a presentation on funding and budget challenges.

The presentation had been tweaked since a similar forum held last week. [For the details from that forum, see previous Chronicle coverage: "AAPS Seeks Public Input on Budget"]

This report highlights some of the changes made to the budget presentation, but focuses on the questions and suggestions offered by the community members who attended Monday’s forum.

Monday’s Budget Presentation

Most of the presentation remained intact from last Thursday to Monday, with some slight shifts in emphasis on three main issues: the school aid fund, use of fund equity, and the history of budget reductions.

Budget Presentation – School Aid Fund

In addition to the information outlined in the report on Thursday’s forum, Monday’s presentation included greater emphasis on the state of Michigan’s decision to reduce corporate taxes while using money from the School Aid Fund (SAF) to make up the lost revenue.

Allen said the SAF, which was created by Proposal A expressly to fund K-12 education, was recently used by the state government to: (1) make up nearly $600 million in revenue lost to tax reductions, including the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax; (2) fund nearly $700 million of higher education budgets; and (3) supplement funding for community colleges by nearly $200 million.

Allen questioned the legality of the state’s action, and contended that at least the spirit – if not the letter – of the law as stipulated in Proposal A was not to use the School Aid Fund for anything other than K-12 education.

Budget Presentation – Fund Equity

On a slide showing the district’s three-year budget projections, Allen highlighted the fund equity line. This year, 2011-12, Allen said, AAPS opened with a fund equity balance of just over $20 million. He observed that if the entire amount of the upcoming year’s budget shortfall were taken from that balance, fund equity at the end of 2012-13 will be roughly $6 million.

Projecting another year into the future, Allen said, if the district continues to use fund equity to address the structural deficit, the district would end the 2013-14 year $12 million in the red. And he explained that if the district runs a deficit, it would be at risk of being taken over by a state-appointed emergency financial manager, which he described as being “second to God” in terms of what such a manager can do. Under such management, Allen said, the board would be rendered helpless and all contracts – internal and external – could be voided.

He encouraged the community to realize that while no one relished making the tough decisions necessary to balance the budget, such decisions need to be made to keep the district under local control.

Budget Presentation – History of Budget Reductions

Allen reviewed the total budget reductions the district has made in the past five years: $5.7 million in FY 2007-08, $920,000 in FY 2008-09, $2.7 million in FY 2009-10, $18.6 million in FY 2010-11, and $12.6 million in FY 2011-12.

He also pointed out the areas in which cuts have been made, which include staff reductions, employee concessions, health care expenditures, operations and maintenance costs, legal services, and athletics. The district has also offered an early retirement incentive, consolidated substitute services, outsourced transportation, and reduced departmental budgets across the board.

Allen pointed out that from FY 2007-08 through FY 2010-11 class sizes remained steady, but this year the district had to increase class size targets.

Questions on the Budget Presentation

Before starting smaller group discussions at individual tables, Allen entertained questions from participants.

AAPS trustee Andy Thomas (maroon shirt) took notes at one of the smaller group discussions.

AAPS trustee Andy Thomas (maroon shirt) took notes at one of the smaller group discussions.

There was some confusion expressed by forum attendees about the money paid by the district to fund the state retirement system – the state retirement rate. Allen clarified that “for every dollar in salary that we pay out, we pay approximately $0.24 to the state.” He compared this scenario to private industry, where perhaps 8 cents on every dollar would go into a retirement pool. Allen also explained that the increases in the rate are due in part to the fact that the retirement system is a defined benefit plan (not a defined contribution plan) that includes health care benefits. The cost of health care benefits continues to rise.

Allen also explained that retirement costs are mandated, and cannot be addressed in collective bargaining with the teachers’ union. In closing, Allen noted, “this is not a problem that snuck up on anyone,” and encouraged the community to urge their legislators to take action.

A forum attendee asked whether the district would be in the same position now if voters hadn’t approved the construction of Skyline High School. Allen said that Skyline costs about $4 million a year to operate, and that it was built to relieve overcrowding. Before Skyline was built, he pointed out, Pioneer High School was the largest high school in the state, and Huron High School was the fourth largest.

Most of the questions posed to Allen were also reflected in the suggestions reported out from the tables at the conclusion of the forum. Many of the questions posed to Allen are folded into the table reports below.

Budget Suggestions

People gathered at tables in small groups for just over half an hour, and produced several suggestions. Here, those suggestions are broken into four main categories – additional information requested, inclusion of parents in the budgeting process, budget suggestions and priorities, and revenue enhancement.

Within each category, some attempt has been made to clump items together into thematically-related clusters.

Suggestions: Additional Information Requested

  • Break down all costs by student, building, educational level, subject area, and square footage and put it all on the AAPS website.
  • Give a more detailed budget breakdown at every table, and on the website.  (“You can’t use a scalpel on the budget if the information you have is at the meat-ax level.”)
  • Give the cost of professional development days.
  • Show how teacher salaries compare to other districts, adjusted for cost of living.
  • Provide salaries and job descriptions of all administrators.
  • List the history of administrative cuts – both central administration and building administration.
  • Give the history of budget cuts broken down by full-time equivalent positions.
  • Give the district’s history of enrollment numbers, and projected enrollment.
  • Project the cost of cutting teachers in the long run.  (Does cutting preschool teachers mean you need more aides later on?)
  • Provide list of mandated services – special education, transportation, school lunch, etc.
  • Show cost versus income for preschool programs.
  • Explain the budgetary effect of moving to all-day kindergarten.
  • Separate items into those requiring legislative action versus options under local control.
  • As soon as possible, make clear which budget cuts you are considering.
  • Provide real numbers on how much it takes to keep each activity going (for example, theater, crew, etc.) – otherwise parents just fight for their own kids’ activities.
  • State whether required programs are required by federal or state mandates, and what funding is restricted to those required programs.
  • Explain the burden of unfunded mandates on the district.
  • Provide information on  any real estate owned by the district that could be sold.
  • Give more information on how the state has borrowed from the pension fund.
  • List all contracted services.
  • Explain what the Washtenaw Intermediate School District provides to AAPS. (Does AAPS have the ability to opt out of any of those services?)
  • Estimate what it really takes to provide a quality education.  (What would it cost if we “did it right”?)

Suggestions: Inclusion of Parents in Budgeting Process

  • Connect with parent groups who already have a history of lobbying the state legislature.
  • Put together talking points for parents to address the legislature.
  • Be a more unified lobbying force to reach systemic solutions.
  • Use PTOs as channel for lobbying.
  • Focus less on state-level legislative problems, since we cannot affect them this budget cycle.
  • Be more transparent and proactive.
  • Have a series of small focus groups with parents who know nothing, to help shape these budget presentations before they come to a large group.
  • Hold more meetings throughout year with specific topics to inform the public.
  • Hold more frequent, smaller meetings.
  • Explain why some of these suggestions are not viable.
  • Explain why you are not enacting some of the ideas presented.
  • Address perception that in the past decisions had already been made before the budget forums were held.
  • Give feedback from this forum at future forums.
  • Leave longer time for feedback.
  • Make a video recording of the presentation.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  • Make spreadsheets available.
  • Do an online survey.
  • Try to regain trust. (Administrators need to show good faith and willingness to make cuts.)
  • Don’t use meetings like this to pit groups against each other.

Suggestions: Budget Reductions and Priorities

  • Look at best practices in other school districts.
  • Use fund balance to offset budget shortfall until the economy bounces back.
  • Focus on large budget items.
  • Compare the AAPS budget to budgets of other “hold harmless” school districts.
  • Do an across-the-board cut.
  • Do research on districts that are running efficiently, even out-of-state districts.
  • Negotiate prices for mandated services.
  • Consolidate human resources, legal, finance with the other districts in the WISD.
  • Join forces with other districts and make a cohesive plan.
  • Don’t assume that one class size fits all.  (Class size should depend on age and subject.)
  • Provide incentives for better teachers to teach larger classes.
  • Use staff efficiently. (Be sure teachers have full schedules.)
  • Reduce instructional staff, because the retirement costs are so problematic.
  • Re-open union negotiations.
  • Bargain lower benefits costs for teachers.
  • Freeze all step increases for teachers.
  • Ask teachers to pay up to 50% of fringe benefits.
  • Ask teachers to help with the budget.
  • Give teachers pay that would otherwise go to compensate substitutes, if they don’t use sick days.
  • Figure out how to retire poor-performing teachers faster.
  • Devise a way to make it easier to get rid of poor teachers.
  • Look at privatizing non-instructional employees.
  • Reduce administrators, especially principals in schools with multiple administrators.
  • Spend administrative dollars on those who have interaction with students.  (Do not do principal-sharing.)
  • Hold forum with AAPS employees so everyone understands where the money is going, and ask employees to make suggestions.
  • Reduce consultants.
  • Reduce teacher aides.
  • Audit custodial and security staff and reduce if possible.
  • Outsource custodial, maintenance, secretaries, payroll.
  • Reduce administration.
  • Sharing principals is preferable to increasing class size, but neither is a good option.
  • Ask parents what not to cut. (Find consensus.)
  • Reduce the breadth of programs, and focus on what we do well.
  • Cut athletics instead of arts.
  • Maintain athletics and arts.
  • Don’t cut athletics. (It’s only 1.2% of the budget.)
  • Don’t increase pay-to-participate. (It may disadvantage low-income families disproportionately.)
  • Not in favor of pay-to-participate.
  • Have pay-to-participate for all extracurricular activities.
  • Keep athletics intact.
  • Share sacrifice.  (Do not pit arts against athletics.)
  • Don’t alter athletics, music, art. (If these activities are taken off-budget, certain populations will not have equitable access, and student transfers out of AAPS will likely increase.)
  • Shift athletics and extracurricular activities to Rec & Ed.
  • Separate athletics from general fund, perhaps by moving it to WISD.
  • Pursue consolidation wherever possible.
  • Audit open space in schools – not all rooms are used.
  • Engage staff in energy reduction planning.
  • Require mandatory closing of buildings for a month in the summer.
  • Repurpose buildings.
  • Close “boutique” schools.
  • Consolidate elementary schools.
  • Move alternative education programs into comprehensive high school buildings.
  • Move all high school students back to Pioneer and Huron, and rent Skyline to a community college.
  • Consolidate Ann Arbor Technological High School and Roberto Clemente Student Development Center.
  • Don’t eliminate Clemente. (It is successful and worth preserving.)
  • Don’t merge Clemente into another school.  (Merging will not preserve core community of program.)
  • Consolidate Community High School with Skyline High School.
  • Increase collaboration with the University of Michigan.
  • Consolidate with University of Michigan for maintenance, lawn care, snow removal
  • Collaborate with local universities – they have an obligation to support us.
  • Ask local universities to provide guidance counseling, and reduce guidance counselor positions.
  • Cut transportation costs.
  • Collaborate with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority on busing.
  • Consider K-12 neighborhood busing.
  • Reduce buses between Community High School and other high schools.
  • Lengthen school year, and consider alternative scheduling.
  • Reduce the length of the school day.
  • Hire students to mow lawns and clean buildings.
  • Ask students to bring more of their own supplies.
  • Consider using iPads instead of textbooks.
  • Eliminate programs that are not working.

Suggestions: Revenue Enhancement

  • Have booster clubs run parking for University of Michigan football games.
  • Increase parking revenue for University of Michigan football games.
  • Increase pay-to-participate for athletics.
  • Consider corporate sponsors for certain programs or sports teams.
  • Partner with Google Adwords.
  • Have advertising on uniforms.
  • Allow advertising signage in schools.
  • Advertise museums, farmer’s markets, higher education institutions on inside of buses.
  • Revisit countywide enhancement millage.
  • The enhancement millage was supported by Ann Arbor voters though it didn’t pass countywide.  Take advantage of that goodwill.
  • Maybe Rec & Ed does not have to be cost-neutral – it could be a revenue enhancer.
  • Provide other services to WISD member districts, such as finance, human resources, legal services.
  • Increase enrollment in all ways possible.
  • Improve customer service to retain students.
  • Increase online course offerings.
  • Recruit more students.
  • Market AAPS by MEAP scores.
  • Market top programs, such as music education.
  • Do more exit interviews when students leave the district – find out at what age the district loses students to charter schools and why.
  • Start magnet programs at the middle school level (such as talented and gifted, math, or information technology magnets) to attract private school students.
  • Lobby state legislature to give School Aid Fund surplus back to K-12 schools.
  • Lobby to repeal the Headlee amendment.
  • Political campaigning.
  • Be more aggressive about enacting legislative changes.
  • Have a whole program on how the community can take a stand in Lansing. The district should function as a community organizer.
  • Lease AAPS-owned land.
  • Lease facilities to other organizations after school hours.
  • Increase parking fees for students and staff.
  • Raise funds directly from the alumni base.
  • Allow parents to donate money directly to AAPS.
  • Allow earmarking AAPS educational foundation donations for specific programs.
  • Ask parents to contribute to their schools, with portion to be given to other schools to ensure equity.
  • Seek corporate sponsorships.
  • Get aggressive at grant writing. Grant money might be temporary, but it’s still real.
  • Figure out how to ask University of Michigan for money.
  • Can we put together an Ann Arbor Promise like the Kalamazoo Promise – a billion dollar endowment? We have a lot of people here who are good at raising money.
  • Fund a bond to move to geothermal heat, get good at it, and sell power to University of Michigan.

Allen closed the forum by thanking each table for their suggestions, and said he would try to put together answers to Frequently Asked Questions on the AAPS website. He also thanked administrators and the three board members who attended – Andy Thomas, Irene Patalan, and Glenn Nelson. Green added that listening to all the community’s suggestions was very powerful: “It’s a big step when we can come together in open conversation.”

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Downtown Planning Poised to … Pause Fri, 15 Jul 2011 03:31:13 +0000 Dave Askins The July 13 partnerships committee meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority drew an audience of around 35 people, many of them prominent community members.

Kit McCullough, Peter Allen, Mary Hathaway, Vivienne Armentrout

Before the start of the July 13 DDA partnerships committee meeting. Back row: Kit McCullough, Peter Allen. Front row: Vivienne Armentrout (partially obscured), Mary Hathaway. (Photo by the writer)

Based on the committee’s May and June meetings, many in the audience expected the committee to come up with some kind of recommendation for a public engagement process that would ultimately lead to alternate uses of some downtown city-owned parcels. The parcels currently serve as part of the public parking system. The context of the DDA’s planning for the public engagement effort is a city council resolution, approved on April 4, 2011, that outlined a detailed plan for the DDA to lead the process.

The so-called parcel-by-parcel plan emerged in late 2010 as part of “mutually beneficial” committee meetings that handled negotiations lasting over a year between the city of Ann Arbor and the DDA on a new parking contract. Under the new contract, which the two bodies finally ratified in May 2011, the DDA will continue to operate the city’s public parking system for the next 11 years.

The city council’s approval of the parcel-by-parcel plan in April and DDA partnerships committee meetings in May and June – the three months prior to Wednesday’s meeting – had provided some momentum towards translating the city council resolution into an actual timeline with action steps.

In fact, two attendees of Wednesday’s meeting had pitched their professional services to the DDA to lead that public engagement process, with events tied to tentative calendar dates. Doug Kelbaugh, former dean of the University of Michigan’s college of architecture and urban planning, and Kit McCullough, a lecturer at the college, had provided a detailed timeline of meetings they could host during the fall, with delivery of a concept plan in January 2012, which could then be used to craft requests for proposals from developers.

If the process would not be led by Kelbaugh and McCullough, the committee was expected by many in attendance at its Wednesday meeting to chart some other path forward. But that’s not where the conversation led. DDA board member John Mouat described it as a “far-reaching, vague conversation,” which he had expected it would be. At one point, committee members even expressed uncertainty about whether the DDA or the city council would lead the process.

Typically, DDA executive director Susan Pollay gleans specific direction from the vaguest of conversations by her board’s committees. But when asked by Mouat at the conclusion of the meeting if she had clear direction, Pollay allowed only that she felt like she had more direction than before the meeting.

Based on the conversation at the meeting, part of that direction is that some kind of timeline for the process – which committee members thought would take at least a year – should, if possible, be included in an October 2011 city council working session.

In a follow-up phone interview, Pollay told The Chronicle that having the October 2011 working session as a target for a proposed plan would allow the committee and the full board to use their meetings over the next two months to work on the content of that presentation to the council. Checking in with the council on the public process before settling on it, she said, was important to the board.

The Audience

The sense of expectation of a concrete result from the committee meeting could be measured in part by the audience. Size alone would not be a fair measure, because several students from a University of Michigan class (taught by Kit McCullough) swelled the number of people in the room to around 35. But several prominent members of the community also attended.

The list of recognizable names in attendance included:

  • Jesse Bernstein, chair of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board. The AATA’s Blake Transit Center, slated for a rebuild, sits on the block bounded to the west and east by Fourth and Fifth avenues, and to the north and south by Liberty and William streets. The transit center sits immediately adjacent to key parcels the DDA is supposed to consider for future alternate use: the Library Lot and the former YMCA Lot.
  • Josie Parker, executive director of the Ann Arbor District Library, and Nancy Kaplan, a member of the AADL board. The downtown branch of the district library sits just to the south of the Library Lot – so-called only because of the geographic proximity and the number of library patrons who formerly used that surface parking lot for their library visits. The city of Ann Arbor owns the property – the DDA is building an underground parking structure there. At the city council’s July 5 meeting, Parker gave councilmembers an update on the library, and highlighted the impact of the library on Ann Arbor’s downtown.
  • Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city of Ann Arbor. At a January 2011 DDA board partnerships committee meeting, Rampson had led board members in a conversation about the midtown character district – part of the A2D2 zoning regulations – as a way to make more concrete for board members what the parcel-by-parcel process might be like.
  • Doug Kelbaugh and Kit McCullough. Kelbaugh is former dean of the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and McCullough is a lecturer at the college. The two had pitched their services to lead the parcel-by-parcel process at the May 2011 partnerships committee meeting and had been asked to bring back something more concrete for the June 2011 committee meeting, which they did.
  • Peter Allen, a local developer who attended the partnerships committee meetings in May and June. Allen is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Michigan, and has asked students in his classes in the past to pursue class projects on the redevelopment of the area around the Library Lot.
  • Ethel Potts, former planning commissioner for the city of Ann Arbor.
  • Alan Haber, Odile Hugenot Haber and Stephan Trendov. The Habers have worked to promote the idea of a community commons use for the Library Lot, making it one of six proposals in response to a request for proposals that the city of Ann Arbor put out for developing the top of the underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue, which is currently under construction. The commons was not selected as one of the two finalist proposals, and the entire RFP process was terminated earlier this year with no selection of a proposal. Trendov is an architect and urban designer who developed some sketches for the community commons idea, which were presented to the DDA board at its November 2010 meeting.
  • Vivienne Armentrout, former Washtenaw County commissioner and former candidate for city council and library board. Armentrout’s account of the partnerships meeting is posted on her blog, Local in Ann Arbor.
  • Mary Hathaway, often identified as a local activist for peace and social justice.

Committee members in attendance included Bob Guenzel, former Washtenaw County administrator and the newest appointment to the DDA board. Guenzel was elected as board vice chair at the board’s annual meeting earlier in the month. Also there for part of the meeting was Tony Derezinski, a city councilmember representative to the DDA’s partnerships committee. He was not able to attend the whole meeting on Wednesday, because he was participating in interviews of the final two candidates for Ann Arbor’s city administrator job.

Also attending the meeting were outgoing DDA board chair Joan Lowenstein, operations committee chair John Splitt, and chair of the now-defunct transportation committee of the DDA board, John Mouat.

It fell to Mouat to run the meeting, because the two co-chairs of the DDA partnerships committee could not attend: Russ Collins and Sandi Smith. Mouat is an architect with the firm Mitchell and Mouat Architects.

Ancient History: November 2010 – April 2011

Where did the idea come from that the DDA should lead the exploration of alternative uses for city-owned downtown properties?

Two “mutual beneficial” committees (one from the city council, and one from the DDA board) began meeting in June 2010 to negotiate a new contract under which the DDA would continue to manage the city’s public parking system. They did so based on a term sheet that had been put forth in April 2010. One of the four items on the term sheet included the following [emphasis added]:

Development of City-owned Property Within the DDA District

The working group envisions that the DDA would serve as a visioning, initiation and implementation engine for development of City-owned property within the DDA district. The nature and extent of this role will be discussed, considered and, if approved, implemented in parallel to any omnibus [parking] agreement, but would not be part of that agreement.

The DDA board met in a retreat later that spring, when board members embraced that idea as a priority for the DDA. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor DDA: Let's Do Development"] That dimension of the mutually beneficial committee negotiations eventually led to the formulation of a “parcel-by-parcel” plan, which was ratified by the DDA board at its January 2011 meeting. The possibility of formulating the resolution as a contractual relationship was briefly floated but quickly abandoned.

Area of focus for DDA-led development process

Light pink areas are all city-owned land. The red outline area is the DDA tax district. The green rectangle is the smaller area of focus proposed by Sandi Smith – bounded by Ashley, Division, Liberty and William streets. (Image links to higher resolution image. Map data is available on the city's website at

The city council, for its part, had an opportunity to see a draft of the parcel-by-parcel plan as early as the city council’s Dec. 20, 2010 meeting – Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) had attached a copy of the draft resolution to the council’s meeting agenda, and alerted his council colleagues to it at that meeting. Taylor served on the city council’s mutually beneficial committee.

But the council required more time to achieve consensus on the plan – some councilmembers were not enthusiastic about assigning responsibility to the DDA for the task. Of particular concern was a clause in the plan that required reimbursement of DDA costs under certain conditions. Also a concern was the inclusion of the entire DDA district as the scope of the assignment. After twice postponing a vote on the plan, the council approved the plan at its April 4, 2010 meeting.

In its city council-approved form, the plan was reduced in scope to a rectangle bounded by Ashley, Division, Liberty and William streets. The city council version also included enhanced reference to a “robust” public process.

At Wednesday’s partnerships committee meeting, John Mouat reviewed some of the background of the city council-approved plan. He also summarized the four phases of the plan, which the DDA had been authorized to implement under the city council’s resolution:

  • Phase I – DDA assembles information and brings in development expertise: Assess potential downtown development sites.
  • Phase II – Visioning Downtown Development: Build upon the final A2D2 guidelines and strategies to develop a parcel-by-parcel plan. Each individual parcel is not expected to reflect every community goal, but in the aggregate the parcel-by-parcel plan will project a downtown consistent with the community’s downtown vision.
  • Phase III – Taking these ideas and shaping a strategic plan for city council approval: Finalize a parcel-by-parcel plan to articulate parcel-specific desired land uses and design components.
  • Phase IV – Implement the parcel-by-parcel plan. Pursue Parcel 1.

In Phases II and III, the detailed plan makes explicit reference to the “robust” public input that the DDA is to seek.

Recent History: Kelbaugh-McCullough Public Engagement Proposal

Doug Kelbaugh is former dean of the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Kit McCullough is a lecturer at the school. At the May 2011 partnerships committee meeting, the two had pitched their services to the DDA to lead a public engagement process as part of the parcel-by-parcel plan. Committee members had asked them bring back something more concrete for the June 2011 committee meeting, which they did.

The Kelbaugh-McCullough proposal was sketched out to the committee as follows:

  1. July-September 2011: Preliminary analysis, data gathering. This would prepare Kelbaugh and McCullough for the first public meeting.
  2. October-November 2011: Public meetings. The public meeting in October might be conducted in two separate but identical sessions to allow for a broader range of people to attend. They’d start with a presentation on the opportunities, constraints and possibilities, using examples from other communities. The conversation would be both broad, touching on the community’s aspirations for the downtown and a longer-term visions, as well as getting input that’s specific to the parcels. Kelbaugh and McCullough proposed focusing on the Library Lot (the top of the South Fifth Avenue underground parking structure), the old YMCA Lot (at William and Fifth), and the Palio Lot (at William and Main). They’d leave the Kline’s Lot (along Ashley, north of William) aside initially. For the November meeting, Kelbaugh and McCullough would return with two or three concepts to get response from the public.
  3. January 2012: Final concept plan. Feedback from the public would be consolidated into a final concept plan that describes massing, ground floor uses, public/civic uses, public space and pre-schematic site design. This concept plan could be used to craft future requests for proposals (RFPs) for the sites. The plan would then be presented to the DDA and the city council.

Recent History: Peter Allen’s Role

Local developer Peter Allen also attended the May and June partnerships committee meetings. He gave a presentation at the June meeting. In his remarks, some recurrent themes emerged. Those themes included: the significance of the role the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown location, at the northeast corner of Fifth and William; the importance of rationing newly constructed space to the needs of the marketplace; and the importance of transportation connections.

Allen had begun canvassing property owners in the area the DDA will focus on, in part to test out some of the concepts he’s envisioned for the sites. Some of his own ideas have been shot down, he’d reported to the committee – like the idea of picking up and moving historic houses to different locations. At the May 2011 committee meeting, board member Bob Guenzel asked in what capacity Allen was conducting his conversations with downtown property owners. Allen told him he was doing that independently. From Chronicle coverage of that meeting:

Guenzel wanted to know in what capacity Allen was currently talking with business owners: “Are you doing that independently?” Allen told him he was doing it as a real estate broker, trying to help property owners analyze the situation – he’s doing it “on my own nickel.” The property owners would be potential clients, he said.

Guenzel wanted to know if Allen would share information. Yes, answered Allen, just as he had a decade earlier, when Washtenaw County had been looking for a site to place a consolidated homeless shelter. He said he’d helped point the county towards the property on East Huron Street, which was owned at the time by National City Bank. [.pdf of Jan. 19, 2000 Washtenaw County board of commissioners resolution]

Allen attended Wednesday’s partnerships committee meeting with presentation boards ready, but ultimately committee members did not invite him to share the information.

Outcome: Pausing, Re-setting with October Goal

The committee did not push their work forward, and instead engaged in more of a retreat-style discussion of the issue. That was consistent with DDA executive director Susan Pollay’s remarks at the June committee meeting, when she suggested that committee members be prepared to engage in an extended conversation in that spirit.

When John Mouat began his remarks by talking about the need to “take a step back,” it served to signal that the day’s discussion was not intended to take the clear step forward that many in the audience were expecting. Another early indication to that effect came from Pollay. In reviewing the history of the parcel-by-parcel plan and how it had been ratified on the DDA’s side, Pollay noted that it had come out of the mutually beneficial committee’s work, and had come before the full board. However, she described how the “partnerships committee looked at it – kind of.” So the ensuing conversation was more about committee members thoughts regarding some of the meaning of the plan’s basics, more so than trying to come to conclusions about basic questions like: What people will do this work?

For example, the committee did not make any explicit decision to recommend that the full board accept the pitch by Kelbaugh and McCullough for their services. That essentially means that the DDA has, from a practical point of view, rejected it. Due to teaching schedules, the two had told the DDA that fall 2011 would be a feasible time frame, but after that it would be difficult. To prepare, the two would need to start in July or August.

And the cancellation of the August regular monthly meeting of the full DDA board means that no authorization of the funding for the services of Kelbaugh and McCullough would could be put in place before September. With no committee recommendation, it’s unlikely that the board would convene a special meeting in August for that purpose. Although committee members expressed a desire to convene a committee meeting in August, it was not clear if an amenable time can be found.

The prospect of Peter Allen’s explicit participation was also downplayed at Wednesday’s meeting. Mouat said he was apprehensive of the developer community being identified as leading the process. If he had his “druthers,” said Mouat, he’d love to see community leaders be an active part of the process. As examples, he cited Mark Hodesh, owner of Downtown Home & Garden, as well as ZingTrain, which is part of the Zingerman’s family of business. But as for who facilitates the process – DDA board members, staff, or a hired consultant – that would be a challenge to identify, he concluded.

One evident outcome of the committee meeting was that DDA staff would strive to frame out a timeline for the execution of the city council’s resolution. That timeline frame would be ready for inclusion on a city council work session agenda for October. The work session is already called for as part of the recently ratified contract between the city of Ann Arbor and the DDA, under which the DDA manages the public parking system.

Committee members were also in agreement that the process outlined in the council’s resolution would take at least a year. They also agreed that it should include a strong educational component, along the lines of the AATA’s public engagement process that began last year to develop a transit master plan for Washtenaw County.

On a lighter-hearted note, the committee agreed that the process needed some kind of name. The “parcel-by-parcel” nomenclature is somewhat misleading, because the planning is meant to focus on multiple parcels, but the actual issuance of RFPs is expected to take place one parcel at a time.

In a follow-up phone interview, Pollay told The Chronicle that the desire to check in with the city council – and get councilmember buy-in, before deciding on a public engagement process – was part of the reason the committee was not inclined to make a recommendation on Wednesday. But she felt that much of the work associated with Phase I in the plan can continue – assembling information and data about the parcels. And over the next two months, the timeframe proposal that’s pitched to the city council in October would be worked out by the committee and the full board – at their meetings between now and that time.

The spirit of caution about getting it right was evident in Pollay’s concluding remarks at Wednesday’s committee meeting. She called the opportunity for the DDA to execute the parcel-by-parcel plan a great opportunity, and said it was “important not to screw it up.”

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Transit Planning Forum: Saline Edition Mon, 21 Feb 2011 22:39:17 +0000 Hayley Byrnes Editor’s note: Since July 2010, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has been developing a transit master plan (TMP) for transit service throughout Washtenaw County. Countywide service would represent an expansion of the service it currently offers in Ann Arbor, which is supported by a transit millage. The AATA also offers limited service in the rest of the county through purchase of service agreements (POS) with three of the county’s townships and the city of Ypsilanti. In November 2010, Ypsilanti voters passed a millage to fund its POS agreement with the AATA.

Saline City Hall, Harris Street

The view southward on Harris Street in Saline. Saline city hall, where the Feb. 8, 2011 transit master planning forum was held, sits to the left of the frame. (Photo by the writer.)

A second public engagement phase of the countywide planning exercise is now wrapping up, with 20 community forums held through the month of February at locations across the county. The final four of those forums will take place next week. Coverage of the forum hosted in the Saline area is provided by Chronicle intern and Saline resident Hayley Byrnes.

On Feb. 8, at Saline city hall, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority sponsored the ninth of 20 community forums being held from the end of January through February. Every forum is open to all Washtenaw County residents, but they’re being held at locations across the county – like Saline – to make it easier for people to attend.

The goal of a previous round of 20 public forums, held last year, was to get participants to brainstorm about countywide transit. But the current set of forums is all about presenting participants with three specific scenarios that have been developed so far, based in part on those first 20 meetings. The AATA is calling these three scenarios: Lifeline Plus, Accessible County and Smart Growth. From those three scenarios, a preferred scenario will be developed. An AATA board consensus on that scenario is expected in March, with board action on adoption of a countywide transit plan expected in April.

Michael Benham, who’s coordinating the project for the AATA, and Juliet Edmonson, a consultant with Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), hosted the Saline forum. Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, made an appearance in video form. For county residents who cannot attend any of the forums, the AATA is also seeking feedback on the three scenarios using an online survey.

A Digital Welcome: Overview of the AATA

The forum began with a video featuring Michael Ford, AATA’s CEO, describing the advantages of public transportation. Taking public transportation, he said, is “more than getting on a bus.” Alternative and public ways of transit shape our community, he continued. The video also featured various figures in Washtenaw County, including Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje and Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber.

Objectives: Developing a Preferred Scenario

After the brief introduction and video, Michael Benham outlined the objectives for the evening. The primary objective, he said, was to update attendees on the transit master plan (TMP), a project that the AATA has been working on since the summer of 2010. The AATA began the process with more than a hundred meetings last summer, including 20 public forums, asking for input from communities throughout Washtenaw County.

In broad strokes, here’s where the project stands: Based on prior public input, the review of existing plans and data, and an assessment of the county’s transportation needs, three possible scenarios have now been developed, out of which one preferred scenario will be constructed.

More specifically,, AATA’s website devoted to the development of the countywide master plan, outlines six steps to the process of implementing the plan: (1) visions and objectives; (2) existing conditions and needs; (3) transportation options and scenario development; (4) developing the preferred scenario; (5) transit master plan, (6) and funding and implementation plan.

The current round of public meetings is part of step (4). At the January AATA board meeting, board members indicated that they hoped to achieve a consensus on a preferred scenario in March and adoption of a transit master plan in April.

Along with familiarizing everyone with the distinctions between the three scenarios, Benham said at the Saline forum that he hoped to outline the benefits of each scenario. The ultimate goal, he said, is to “enable [citizens] to make an informed choice.”

Forum Goal: Feedback

Benham paraphrased the website’s timeline, stating that the AATA’s focus now is on honing and revising the newly-created scenarios that emerged from public meetings held last June and July. “We’re not just here to provide buses,” he said, “but buses for your education, for your community involvement.” Again he stressed that the role of the AATA is not simply transportation: it should serve to enhance the entire community.

At that point Benham stopped looking at a PowerPoint slide that listed the six stages of the TMP, turned to the audience and told them that feedback was the AATA’s primary concern. He didn’t want to just read off a PowerPoint slide for an hour and a half, he continued. Audience interaction and an informal atmosphere are paramount for the AATA to accurately gather feedback, he concluded, which was the primary purpose of the forum itself.

The Three TMP Scenarios: An Overview

Benham outlined four steps that the AATA took while creating the three scenarios for the TMP: public involvement, he said, was the primary step; the second came with research, particularly of other cities and transit systems; then came studies of other transit options; finally, the AATA took into account input from existing community plans.

Out of all that work, three distinct plans emerged, which the AATA is calling: Lifeline Plus, Accessible County, and Smart Growth. The plans are cumulative, meaning that everything included in Lifeline Plus is also included in Accessible County, with the addition of other features. The same can be said for Smart Growth, which builds upon Accessible County. Thus, the most comprehensive and expensive of the plans is Smart Growth, while Lifeline Plus implements the fewest number of changes.

The goal of Lifeline Plus is slightly different than the other two plans. Lifeline Plus primarily improves existing services and strengthens countywide connections for seniors. Rather than create new options or methods of transit, it enhances options already available to residents.

Accessible County also strengthens existing services, but would build more transit options for areas outside of urban areas. While Lifeline Plus would focus on densely populated areas such as Ann Arbor, Accessible County would have a more countywide perspective and integrate transit more thoroughly in areas such as Dexter and Chelsea.

The third plan, Smart Growth, would accomplish the same tasks as Accessible County, though it would possibly integrate rail elements (an element not found in either of the other two plans). Transit would become a permanent feature – it would serve to develop urban infrastructure and connect citizens to all parts of Washtenaw County.

Lifeline Plus: The Strengthening Scenario

Benham deferred to Juliet Edmonson to walk the audience through the scenarios in detail. Edmonson is a consultant with Steer Davies Gleave, which was contracted by the AATA to assist with the development of the countywide planning effort. She’s been living in Ann Arbor since last summer.

Lifeline Plus – Concept and Key Features

The first scenario, Lifeline Plus, is the one least different from existing transportation services. While Accessible County expands throughout all of Washtenaw County and Smart Growth aims to reinvent county’s transportation network, Lifeline Plus focuses on strengthening the current transportation options. It would start by enhancing the urban bus network. One key feature of the Lifeline Plus, explained Edmonds, is the expected increase in frequency of buses. More evening and weekend services would be available under the plan.

Along with increasing the frequency of services, Edmonson stressed that physical refurbishment and redevelopment of bus infrastructure would occur as well. Under the Lifeline Plus scenario, two existing transit stations would be developed further: the Blake Transit Center hub in Ann Arbor, and a similar one in Ypsilanti. The plan would also include a downtown circulator in Ann Arbor. In connection to circulators, Edmonson mentioned the LINK – an Ann Arbor downtown circulator that used to operate with purple-painted buses, but that was discontinued by the AATA board in August 2009. Under Lifeline Plus, she said, a service similar to the LINK would be restored.

AATA Lifeline Plus Map

AATA Lifeline Plus scenario (Image links to higher resolution .pdf of all three scenarios. )

Edmonson then relied on a colored map with various symbols to aid her next few points. The map gave a schematic representation of Washtenaw County, highlighting the cities of Chelsea, Dexter, Whitmore Lake, Barton Hills, Ann Arbor, Saline, Ypsilanti, Manchester, and Milan. Each town or city then had certain symbols next to its label – for example, all nine municipalities were tagged with a blue bus symbol, meaning that there would be vehicle improvements to buses across the county under the Lifeline Plus scenario.

Transit, Edmonson said, would also not be narrowly understood to include only buses: the Lifeline Plus scenario also includes enhancements for pedestrians and cyclists. Edmonson also indicated that in Ann Arbor there would be special focus on allowing for bus priority over other kinds of traffic. She said a chief goal of public transit is to allow for a reliable and consistent ride. If you are expecting your ride to take 20 minutes, she said, it should take 20 minutes.

Further emphasis would be placed on bus stops, including better shelters for the winter and easier sidewalk access. Integrated ticketing, she continued, would also be a priority under this scenario. Rather than penalizing people for using more than one kind of service, she said, the AATA would hope to centralize their ticketing, making it easier for customers to use multiple services.

Under the Lifeline Plus scenario, the kind of service offered currently by WAVE (Western Washtenaw Area Value Express), which is operated by a nonprofit, would be enhanced further, with longer operating hours; it would also be expected to integrate Chelsea and Dexter, as part the AATA’s vision for countywide transportation. The People’s Express, a transportation service for seniors, currently providing service in the townships, would also be enhanced to include Canton and Chelsea.

While the Lifeline Plus scenario improves existing options in Ann Arbor, the scenario also strengthens local transportation in Chelsea by including a local circulator. A shuttle currently operates in Chelsea, through a partnership with WAVE and the United Methodist Retirement Communities (UMRC). Under the Lifeline Plus scenario, that kind of shuttle would have longer operating hours.

On a more Ann Arbor-centric note, Edmonson explained that on the Lifeline Plus scenario, six new intercept park-and-ride lots would be available to commuters into downtown Ann Arbor. Park-and-ride commuters could park in a lot on the outskirts of Ann Arbor and catch a bus into the downtown area. The AATA already has four such park-and-ride lots, including the lot near Plymouth Road and US-23, which was constructed last year specifically as a park-and-ride lot.

An airport express shuttle would also be implemented on the Lifeline Plus scenario, making it easier to get to and from the Detroit Metro Airport. On a final countywide note, Edmonson said that two measures would be enhanced and promoted throughout the county: car/vanpools and door-to-door services. While both these services are available currently, Edmonson stressed that they would be even more accessible for everyone within the county under the Lifeline Plus scenario.

Accessible County: The Expansion Scenario

Edmonson assured the audience that her explanation of Accessible County would not be quite as comprehensive as Lifeline Plus, simply because every single feature included in Lifeline Plus would also be included in Accessible County. The Accessible County scenario would simply build even further on that base.

Accessible County – Concept and Key Features

Edmonson dived in to the Accessible County scenario by stressing a countywide express network and local transit hubs. Under this scenario, she said, Manchester, Saline, Milan, and Whitmore Lake would be included in this countywide network.

AATA Accessible County Map

AATA Accessible County scenario (Image links to higher resolution .pdf of all three scenarios. )

For example, there would be an express service from Milan to Saline, and then to Ann Arbor. There may be another express service that runs through Manchester, then Saline, then finally to Ann Arbor. Faster trips would be an aspect of transportation addressed in Accessible County.

In the Lifeline Plus scenario, only Chelsea and Ann Arbor had a local circulator incorporated in the countywide transit plan. But under Accessible County, Chelsea, Dexter, and Saline would all have local circulators.

The final aspect of Accessible County not included in Lifeline Plus was a “Flex” ride service available for all residents of Washtenaw County. The Flex Ride would aim to fill in any gaps of other services and would have a personalized approach. The idea, Edmonson said, would be that a resident could call up the AATA and say, “I need to make this trip at this time,” and the AATA would make it work. That may be a door-to-door service, or that may mean sharing a car with more than one person, but the service would be for everyone, she said.

Smart Growth: The Re-Invention Scenario

The final scenario, Smart Growth, has the goal to “invest in transit across the county to stimulate economic growth and focus on land development in areas that best accommodate growth,” according to an AATA information booklet detailing the three scenarios. As with the second scenario, Smart Growth is cumulative and encompasses all the services offered in Lifeline Plus and Accessible County.

Smart Growth – Concept and Key Features

A defining feature of the Smart Growth scenario is the investment in regional rail systems, a feature not included in either of the other two scenarios. One rail line, the east-west connection, would run from Ann Arbor to Dearborn and Detroit.

AATA Smart Growth Map

AATA Smart Growth scenario (Image links to higher resolution .pdf of all three scenarios. )

A second rail line – the WALLY (Washtenaw Livingston Rail Line) – would be a commuter connection running north-south between Howell and Ann Arbor. Edmonson added that cities like Toledo were not included in the plan, but there is still the potential for those places to be incorporated in the Smart Growth model.

Two somewhat more local “high capacity” transit options would be included in Smart Growth: (1) Ann Arbor Connector – a connector running along the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors in Ann Arbor, bridging the University of Michigan campuses; and (2) Washtenaw Corridor Connector – a connector along Washtenaw Avenue between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. The term “high capacity” was left deliberately vague, with Edmonson saying this could mean light rail or perhaps bus rapid transit, where high-quality buses would be used. In both cases, the trip time for passengers would significantly decrease. [For more detailed Chronicle coverage of the Plymouth-State connector option, see: "AATA: Transit Study, Planning Updates"]

A Conversation Among Citizens

When Edmonson described the Plymouth-State connector, one forum attendee asked what would happen to University of Michigan buses running through that area. Benham responded that they would be replaced, at least partially, by something like the Ann Arbor Connector. Benham said this would reduce the currently cramped nature of these buses. “I know,” the attendee responded, “they’re standing room only.” Benham continued that if you want to get to downtown Ann Arbor, congestion clogs many of the roads before you arrive at Main Street. The idea of park-and-ride, he said, is to park on the outskirts – say around Briarwood Mall – and take a straight shot downtown using public transportation.

A second person asked, on a related note, whether the AATA was thinking to penalize people who drive to downtown Ann Arbor by increasing parking rates, thus indirectly encouraging the use of public transportation. [Setting parking rates is not within the purview of the AATA. Parking rates are currently set by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, with the city council holding a veto power.] Benham generalized, “I’ve heard talk of that; we welcome opportunities to get new riders.” The first attendee piped up again, saying, “For 75 cents, it’s worth it.” [Full fare on regular AATA buses is $1.50, but there's a $0.75 fare for students, as well as seniors age 60-64 (above 64, rides are free), income-eligible and disabled people.]

A third attendee brought some local perspective to the discussion. He mentioned the “good efforts” made in Saline in the past to bring about public transportation, but said that such offerings died for a lack of ridership. Do you think, he asked, enough people will support the comprehensive offerings of Smart Growth? Benham again responded in a general way, saying that’s a challenge faced by the AATA whenever they implement new programs.

Benham continued by stressing that the AATA is a creature of Ann Arbor – residents pay a transportation millage. Outside of that, however, the AATA has no guaranteed funding. The majority of funding for construction of these scenarios – Lifeline Plus, Accessible County, and Smart Growth – would come from federal grants. But in the past, these services have barely been able to get started before funding runs out. The whole rationale of this master plan, he continued, would be eventually achieve a more stable funding source.

The first attendee made a comment that followed up on the idea of transportation local to Saline, emphasizing that these buses can’t just run over by Briarwood or Ypsilanti – they have to come into Saline. Benham continued by acknowledging that the population of Washtenaw County has spread out, but the transportation system has not followed. We must, he said, start providing services for everyone within the county.

The Three Plans: Local Community Benefits

As a part of the scenario development, the AATA has attempted to quantify the benefits of different scenarios. [.pdf of benefit estimates]

Benham first highlighted the number of cars estimated to be taken off the road annually: the Lifeline Plus scenario would eliminate 2.9 million car trips, the Accessible County would eliminate 3.3 million, and Smart Growth would eliminate 5.4 million car trips annually.

Benham also highlighted the number of new jobs each scenario would create: from 418 for Lifeline Plus to 1,830 for Smart Growth. He then moved to the number of serious road accidents annually – under Smart Growth, a projected 111 serious car accidents are estimated to be prevented per year.

Along with that, he continued, there would be an increase in the senior population who are within walking distance to transit. Environmentally, each plan would include a significant reduction in emissions.

Benham emphasized that the numbers were conservative, and that perhaps even more businesses would relocate to Ann Arbor just because of Lifeline Plus. The effect, he explained, is indirect. With a stronger public transportation plan, he continued, employees would easily be able to get to and from work.

Additionally, the congestion in Ann Arbor would be eased because of the decrease in cars on the road. Even the smoggy atmosphere of Ann Arbor, one forum participant chimed in, would be relieved. As a result of all these positive impacts, Benham concluded, businesses would be more likely to locate near Ann Arbor, thus bringing more success and prosperity to the area.

Capital and Operational Costs

Benham then moved to the question of cost – both to build the infrastructure and to operate the system once it’s built. [.pdf of cost estimates]

Capital costs for the different scenarios break down like this for a 30-year period:

  • Lifeline Plus: $48 million
  • Accessible County: $51 million
  • Smart Growth: $465 million

Annual total operating expenses break down like this:

  • Lifeline Plus: ~$73 million
  • Accessible County: ~$78 million
  • Smart Growth: ~$100 million

While the Lifeline Plus and Accessible County are similar in capital cost, the Smart Growth scenario is considerably higher, because offers a new dimension of high-capacity transit and regional rail services. But, Benham pointed out, not all of those costs would be paid by Washtenaw County taxpayers alone. In the case of the rail options included in Smart Growth, roughly two-thirds of the track would be located in Wayne County. We want to emphasize cost, Benham said, not funding.

Benham then introduced a pie chart indicating various sources of funding. Historically, the federal government has paid for 45% of the funding; the state has paid another 13%; local sources contribute 16%; and the final 26% is generated directly through fares.

Benham cited the Millennium Park project in Chicago as a model for how funds could be broken down to minimize the expense on the taxpayer – in that example, the project cost half a billion dollars. Yet one-third of that came from private sources. Edmonson added that individuals, institutions, and corporations all have an incentive to contribute. Benham then returned to the local scenarios, saying that one-third of the operating costs would be shouldered by local residents.

The total operating cost divided into a scenario’s total community benefits makes up that scenario’s cost-benefit ratio. The Smart Growth scenario has the highest cost-benefit ratio, of 3.12 – that is, for every $1 of additional operating cost, the community receives an additional $3.12 of benefit. Lifeline Plus has a 2.6 cost-benefit ratio, while Accessible County’s is a near-identical 2.62.

Conclusion: Addressing Transit Needs

After discussing the funding side of the transit equation, Benham and Edmonson quickly switched to general benefits of transit, on any of the three scenarios. Transit, they said, relieves congestion, boosts our regional economy, increases choice riders, and allows senior populations to age in place. Benham continued, saying that people don’t realize they actually get time back on the bus. “Get some work done – sleep,” he said, adding jokingly, “text.”

But the AATA, he said, cannot do this alone. In every one of the scenarios – as well as for its current operations – the AATA has “strategic alliances” with WAVE, People’s Express, and Manchester Senior Services, Benham said.

He underlined that the term “transportation” need not be limited to buses and railways. The AATA also seeks to expand bikeways and sidewalks, along with roadways. One forum attendee, who had not spoken until that point, added that they’d seen how a person in a wheelchair had not been accommodated on a bus on South University Avenue.

Another forum attendee pointed out the need for additional bike racks or some similar device to allow cyclists to use buses. Benham responded by saying that currently buses do allow for bikes to be attached to front-mounted racks, but sometimes space is limited. “We are victims of our own success.” Safety is the top priority, and the possibility of hooking bikes to the back of buses – as the citizen was suggesting – allowed for a potential danger of theft. We can’t, he stressed, create situations that are potentially unsafe.

Switching gears, Benham pointed out that if the current trends continue, development will be everywhere. But if planning tools are used, space can remain open. Benham then showed a slide illustrating the projected impact on land use in the county, with and without investments in transit and other development tools. Without transit investments, the slide showed a continued loss of open space and agricultural land and a decrease in sense of place.

AATA Impact on Land Use Map

Contrasting maps showing future development in Washtenaw County. (Image links to higher resolution. pdf file)

Benham then used a transit center in Tempe, Ariz. to illustrate the potential of transit hubs. The Arizona center is a multi-use green facility that serves as a center for the entire community. It includes a bike station and even showers – it became more than a transit stop.

As his PowerPoint presentation came to an end, Benham said again that community input is vital. What do you, as residents, want the future to be like? With that, two forum attendees shared their own experiences with transit.

The first was a woman from Chelsea who helped establish the local circulator that runs through town. While the circulator began strictly for those in Chelsea’s United Methodist Retirement Communities (UMRC), she emphasized that it is hard for nonprofits to get funding. Eventually, they collaborated with the WAVE. She emphasized that even a simple circulator helps seniors maintain their independence. Saline, she added, also needs something like that.

The second resident has a son with a developmental disability, and emphasized that public transportation is crucial. Especially from Saline to Ann Arbor, she said, we need countywide transportation.

And with those last two comments, Benham thanked attendees for coming and expressed his appreciation for the community’s interest and involvement. [For county residents who cannot attend any of the forums, the AATA is also seeking feedback on the three scenarios using an online survey.]

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Zoning 101: Area, Height, Placement Mon, 27 Jul 2009 00:48:51 +0000 Dave Askins contrast between pedestrian-oriented development and sprawl Ann Arbor public meeting

City planner Jeff Kahan shows a slide demonstrating the contrast between sprawl and pedestrian-oriented development – the top and bottom images are of the same corridor. (Photo by the writer.)

At Cobblestone Farm on Thursday evening, planning staff from the city of Ann Arbor presented proposed changes in the area, height, and placement specifications for various zoning districts throughout Ann Arbor.

The proposal is not a “rezoning” of all the area outside of Ann Arbor’s downtown – it’s a proposal to adjust the density, height, and setback requirements of existing zoning districts. There are no parcels designated for rezoning as a part of the AHP project. The project is thus different in character from the A2D2 project, which will result in a rezoning of the downtown.

The AHP proposal was actually intended to come before city council for approval in the fall of 2008, but on direction from the council, city planning staff were asked to get more community input.

About two dozen people attended Thursday’s meeting, the fifth in a series of at least seven public meetings to be held over the summer months – one meeting for each of five wards, bookended by community-wide meetings. Though divided by ward, anyone from any ward can attend any of the meetings, including the Ward 5 meeting to be held from 6:30-8 p.m. on July 30 at Forsythe Middle School Media Center.

So what is the AHP proposal? It’s not simply meant to clean up ordinance language in a way that has no material impact on future development. The proposal is meant to have an impact on how land gets used throughout Ann Arbor. What specifically is being proposed? What’s the zoning for where you live and work? What is zoning, anyhow? More after the break.

Zoning Basics: No Printing in My Backyard

All other things being equal, it is expected in the U.S. tradition that property owners have the right to use land in whatever way they see fit. Zoning is one way in which not all other things are equal. The basic idea of zoning is that property owners cede certain rights to use of their property, in exchange for a certain orderliness in the evolution and use of the land – that’s considered to be for the public good.

For example, The Chronicle owns a parcel measuring 40 x 90 feet in the Old West Side of Ann Arbor. We might contemplate the possibility of operating a small iron smelting operation in the backyard. Or perhaps more plausibly, we could contemplate operating a printing press somewhere on the lot for the not-yet-real printed edition of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

In any case, it’s reasonable to think that large-scale printing is not in the public interest in our current location – in the middle of a neighborhood where the primary activity here is just people living: eating, sleeping, walking around, falling in love, and the like. Through their clatter and vibrations, not to mention the semi-trailer deliveries of ink and paper, large-scale printing on big presses would impose an unreasonable  burden on adjoining property owners, who’ve chosen to do no more than just live on their property.

So what’s to stop us? Zoning. How specifically does zoning stop us from printing The Chronicle in our backyard on gigantic printing presses?

The city code of Ann Arbor specifies that:

Ann Arbor shall be, and hereby is, divided into zoning districts as enumerated in the schedule of use regulations and schedule of area, height and placement regulations.

What’s our zoning district? The city of Ann Arbor’s property tax portal allows access to a wealth of information about properties in the city – no need to be the owner of a parcel to check its taxable value, owner information, purchase price of the property, acreage, photograph from the street, or zoning district.

According to that online source, The Chronicle’s parcel is zoned as an R2A district.

What uses are allowed for a parcel that’s been zoned R2A? One place to check what an R2A district allows is the city code, accessible through the Ann Arbor city code gateway.

Chapter 55 Article 2 Use Regulations

5:10.3. R2A two-family dwelling district.
(1) Intent. This district is intended to provide residential areas in the City which are suitable for 2 single-family attached dwellings occupying 1 lot. The district is intended to create areas of essentially single family residential character utilizing 2 single-family dwelling units which are attached either side to side or vertically. The district is intended to be similar to the R1D district, except for the different type and slightly higher density of dwelling units. Locational criteria for the application of this district should include the availability or provision of adequate services to serve such higher densities. It may be used as a transition zone between single-family areas and other areas.
(2) Permitted principal uses.
(a) Any permitted principal use or special exception use allowed in the R1 districts, subject to all the regulations that apply in that district.
(b) Two-family dwelling.
(3) Permitted accessory uses.
(a) Those allowed in the R1 districts.

The permitted principal use for The Chronicle’s R2A parcel thus includes living in (up to) a two-family kind of way, which is what we currently use it for. What the city code doesn’t say, however, is that we can’t use the land to operate presses for printing The Chronicle by including, for example, language like: “No use shall be made of an R2A area for commercial or industrial purposes.” There is no statement expressly prohibiting that commercial or industrial use. However, the “it doesn’t say I can’t” argument founders on this line from the city’s zoning code:

Uses not expressly permitted are prohibited.

Otherwise put, the permitted uses for zoning districts that are specified in the code should be understood as meaning: “Here’s the only things for which the land in this kind of zoning district can be used.”

Jeff Kahan showing the Armory in downtown Ann Arbor

Jeff Kahan illustrating the idea of redevelopment of existing structures, with the example of the Armory condo building on Ann Street in downtown Ann Arbor. (Photo by the writer.)

What’s AHP?

In addition to the “use regulations” for each zoning district, the zoning code specifies “area, height, and placement” standards for each zoning district. That’s what the AHP project is intended to address for the area outside of downtown – the part of the city not covered by the A2D2 project for the city’s downtown. Around a year ago, it was common to hear the AHP project described as addressing the city’s “donut” corresponding to the A2D2 “hole,” but that description seems to have fallen out of favor.


For AHP, “area” is a measure of density, specifically floor area ratio (FAR). FAR is the ratio of the square footage of a building divided by the size of the lot. A one-story structure built lot-line-to-lot-line with no setbacks corresponds to an FAR of 100%. A similar structure built two-stories tall would result in an FAR of 200%. It’s worth resisting the inclination to think of FAR percentages as corresponding to stories – as in 100% is one story, 200% is two stories, 300% is three stories, etc. For example, imagine a building constructed on a footprint covering just one-quarter of the lot. If it were built four stories tall, such a building would have an FAR of only 100%.


If the “area” in AHP is an indirect measure of a building’s height, then the “height” in AHP is a direct measurement. Instead of the percentages specified in the “area” regulations, the height regulations are expressed in terms of feet. The interpretation of those height limits has come under close scrutiny over the last several months in connection with the “matter of right” version of the City Place project proposed for South Fifth Avenue.

The height definition for a perfectly rectangular building with a flat roof is straightforward: measure from the ground to the top of the roof. For a structure with a pitched roof, the “top of the roof” is by code definition not the peak of the roof, but rather the midpoint between the eave of the roof and its peak. Critics of the City Place project – located in an R4C zoning (multi-family dwelling) district – have argued that the correct interpretation of that proposed building’s eave corresponds to a “dormer’s” eave, which is higher than the building element identified by staff as the building’s eave.


For a given piece of land and a given permitted use, it’s reasonable to think that adjoining property owners might care about where a structure is built on that land right next to them. It’s one thing to have a printing plant located in the middle of the piece of land next door, with nice buffer areas all around, but it’s quite another to have a printing plant right on the lot line next door.

It is the “placement” regulations of the zoning code that govern where a building can be constructed within a particular lot. Placement regulations are expressed in terms of “setbacks.” For example, a 25-foot minimum front setback would mean that a building needs to have a 25-foot buffer between it and the front lot line.

Goal of the AHP project, Jeff Kahan standing in front of a slide

City planner Jeff Kahan presents the goals of the AHP project. (Photo by the writer.)

What’s the Goal of the AHP Project?

The idea behind the update of area, height, and placement standards is not just to “freshen” them up with new planning vocabulary, but rather to create development standards that accurately reflect current values for land use, instead of the prevailing values at the time the area, height, and placement standards were established – some 50 years ago.

What were the development values of the 1950s and ’60s? They’re summarized by the city of Ann Arbor as: “… segregated land uses, wide streets, large parking lots, large setbacks, single-story buildings, auto-oriented retail centers, and low-intensity employment centers.”

So one stated goal of the AHP project is to establish area, height, and placement standards more consistent with transit-oriented development – which encourages new development, including residential uses, along major transportation routes. After Thursday’s meeting, Jeff Kahan, a city of Ann Arbor planner and manager of the AHP project, told The Chronicle that he’d coordinated the AHP project with Ann Arbor’s recent Transportation Plan Update. In public presentations of the TPU, Eli Cooper, the city’s transporation program manager, consistently emphasized that  transit-oriented development was crucial to the TPU’s success.

Another stated goal of the AHP project is to improve access to facilities by non-motorized transportation and to encourage more efficient land use – providing an environmental benefit.

How Are Current Values Reflected in Proposed Changes?

In broad strokes, the changes to area, height, and placement regulations across various districts can be summarized as follows:

  • Area: Allow increased floor area ratios (FAR) – i.e., increased density – for office, research, local business, fringe commercial, and limited industrial districts. Summarizing the proposed changes across all those zoning districts, they would increase FAR from 40-60% currently, to 75-200% as proposed. To the extent that these districts are located along major transportation routes, it’s straightforward to see how proposed changes fit the notion of transit-oriented development.
  • Height: Allow increased height in order that a given density can be “captured vertically” – resulting in more open space – or allowing for parking of cars under a structure, which results in less impervious surface, compared to an ordinary surface parking lot. The proposed height increases range from a 5-foot increase (from 30 to 35 feet ) in some residential districts, to an 80-foot increase (from 40 feet to 120 feet) in hotel districts. There is no height increase proposed for R4C – worth noting for the controversy over the height of the City Place project, which is located in an R4C district.
  • Placement: Allow decreased minimum setbacks and/or introduce maximum setbacks across a wide range of residential and other districts. For example, under the AHP proposal, the R2A district would keep its minimum front setback of 25 feet, but add a maximum front setback of 40 feet. For local business districts and community convenience center districts, their 25-foot minimum front setbacks would be eliminated. Moving buildings closer to sidewalks would mean that pedestrians would have easier access to them.

We refer readers to a comprehensive summary all proposed AHP changes for details of each zoning district. Note: At Thursday’s Cobblestone Farm meeting, Kahan indicated that the proposed uncapped heights for office and research districts had already been revised, based on public input from the first four AHP meetings – the uncapped height would likely be scrapped in favor of some specific height limit. More revisions to the proposal could be undertaken, said Kahan, depending on public feedback.

notes taken by planning staff at the Cobblestone Farm meeting

Notes taken by planning staff at the Cobblestone Farm meeting. (Photo by the writer. Photo links to higher resolution image.)

Meeting Feedback

Meeting format

Several of the comments from the public focused on the meeting format. One resident suggested that questions be allowed during the staff presentation so that residents did not have to refer back to previous slides. At the conclusion of the meeting, some residents expressed frustration that time had run out for questions – as it had at previous meetings.

One resident requested contact information for the citizen representatives from each ward to the AHP committee.

Marcia Higgins, one of Ward 4′s city councilmembers, noted that the entire process of the AHP project could always be extended – it wasn’t just a matter of possibly extending individual meetings.

One critique of the meeting was that although there’d been a presentation and time for question and statements, there had been no time allotted for a discussion among the community members.

City planner Connie Pulcipher, who along with Kahan facilitated the AHP presentation, noted that the final community-wide meeting had not yet been scheduled, so perhaps changes to the format could be considered for that meeting.

Some residents questioned whether there had been adequate efforts to really engage the community – given the time of year when many people are away.

Some attendees were unclear about the origins of the project. Kahan explained that the initial draft of the proposal had been developed by planning staff working with the planning commission. The draft had been reviewed by a technical advisory committee with representatives from various stakeholder communities – environmental, design and development. The planning commission’s ordinance review committee had then reviewed the draft and made changes. The revised draft was then reviewed at two meetings of a wider group of stakeholders.

That  proposal had been presented to the city council at a work session in September of 2008. The council directed the planning staff to take it back to the public at large for a greater amount of citizen involvement.

This inclusion of stakeholder groups, but without the engagement of the public at large, was a point critiqued at Thursday’s Cobblestone Farm meeting.

R4D and Implications for Other Districts

The proposed changes for area, height, and placement in the R4D district – which is a multi-family residential district – includes an increase in the existing maximum height from 60 feet to 120 feet. Staff were asked to explain where these districts are located throughout the city. There are three sites citywide that are zoned are R4D, Kahan said. One of them, along Traver, is vacant. Kahan explained that there was no proposed increase in density for those districts, but the idea was to capture the current level of density in a possibly greater height, which would increase the amount of open space.

Noting that R4D is proposed to have its maximum height limit increased from 60 feet to 120 feet, one resident asked what would prevent a different district – say for example, R4B – from being rezoned to R4D, so that the parcel could benefit from the increased height limit. Kahan noted that in any actual rezoning decision, the first question to ask was: Is there any justification for the rezoning? He also pointed out that any rezoning required a planning commission process and permission from the city council, stressing that a rezoning decision was “not a backdoor decision.”

Comparisons to Other Communities

One resident wanted to know if there was an optimal ratio of residential/office/commercial zoning districts that seemed to present itself after city of Ann Arbor staff had studied comparable communities. Kahan rejected the idea that there was some kind of “magic formula,” saying that each city pursues its own path. What was important, Kahan said, was to move away from an automobile-centric model to a pedestrian/transit-based model. Key to that move, he continued, was increasing the floor area ratios along transit corridors.


Connie Pulcipher, a planner with the city of Ann Arbor, sketches a mid-block cut-through in response to a question. (Photo by the writer.)

Mid-block Cut-throughs

One attendee wanted to know if there were any incentives for creating mid-block cut-throughs – ways to get through what would otherwise be a solid frontage of buildings across an entire block. The context of the question related to the idea of moving retail buildings very close to the street and locating parking for those retail establishments behind the buildings.

A mid-block cut-through, suggested the attendee, might facilitate easier access from the parking to the retail establishments. Kahan replied that there was no specific incentive for that within the AHP project. He characterized the issue of establishing incentives for mid-block cut-throughs as relating to a second phase of master planning that would eventually be undertaken by the city.

Dicken Woods

One resident expressed concern about the impact of the proposal on Dicken Woods. Present at Thursday’s Cobblestone Farm meeting was Jack Eaton, president of the Friends of Dicken Woods, who clarified that Dicken Woods was currently still a township island. Marcia Higgins, a Ward 4 city councilmember, added that the area still needs to be annexed to the city. Connie Pulcipher, senior planner with the city, confirmed that the only thing that would change with respect to Dicken Woods is that it would be annexed – it would not be rezoned by the AHP project.

What Will Ensure Mixed Use?

One resident had concerns about situations where a residential zoning district abutted a commercial zoning district – which was slated under the AHP proposal to be allowed a greater floor area ratio. His question: What keeps a developer from simply building a bigger gas station with bigger lights instead of a nice mixed-use building with residential units? Kahan noted that it was impossible to dictate to developers exactly what they built, but that the zoning code helped enforce reasonableness through its list of principal permitted uses.

Given where the questioner lived, the conversation focused on the intersection of Packard and Stadium and the four corners of that intersection. What would happen if the owners of those parcels simply started “packing stuff in”? Kahan noted that there were various practical considerations that mitigated against the “packing of stuff into the parcel.” Among those practical considerations was the requirement of stormwater detention on site for new development. In addition, “conflicting land use buffers” would help ensure a certain protection for adjoining residential parcels. [See Chapter 62 of the city code for discussion of conflicting land use buffers.]

On hearing “conflicting use buffer,” the resident allowed that this made him feel a little bit better that the new proposal would not lead to the creation of an “Über-gas-station.” Pulcipher, for her part, sought to elicit from the resident his views of a facility next door that would not be an “Über-gas-station,” but that would include parking underneath the building, some retail, and residential. That was something that the resident seemed not prepared to express a view on, given the hypothetical nature of the question.

Truth in Advertising?

One resident said she liked the images included in the presentation of the kind of development that these regulations were meant to promote, but asked how the city could ensure that the final built product matched up to what was approved as a part of a developer’s site plan. Kahan said that many of the elements that had caused frustration in the past were now made explicit in the development agreement.

The questioner was possibly alluding to the case of the Corner House Lofts building – also known commonly as the Buffalo Wild Wings building – in which the final built product did not measure up to expectations by some, based on drawings and site plans. One notable feature that is frequently cited anecdotally as missing are balconies on the building. Kahan noted that developers were now required to show elevation drawings that included proposed vegetation and drawings that excluded it for greater ease in evaluating what exactly was being indicated in the site plan.

One Size Fits All?

One resident expressed concern that two parcels with the same zoning district classification might exist in completely different contexts, so that “one size fits all zoning” might not be appropriate. For example, the M1 zoning district along North Main and the Huron River is a different context from the M1 zoning districts that exist south of town.

Parking Area In Exchange for Bus Stops?

One resident suggested that in the interest of transit-oriented development one could perhaps imagine allowing developers to retain surface parking lots if they would guarantee that the parking spots could be used as park-and-ride lots for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. This suggestion relates specifically to AATA’s recent eviction from the Arborland shopping plaza.

Timeline for Impact?

In response to Kahan’s expressed expectation that there would not be a rush of development as a result of the proposed changes to area, height, and placement, one resident expressed skepticism. “Developers are constantly sniffing around,” he said. In an allusion to the City Place project, the resident noted that the result of the “sniffing around” was that all of a sudden seven houses on one block are owned by one person. If not developers, continued the resident, then the University of Michigan is sniffing around. Responding to the quality of the kind of development shown in the slides, the resident suggested that the proposal would result in the “Southfield-ization” of Ann Arbor.

Easing the Process for Developers?

One resident expressed shock and dismay that these proposals would be undertaken, contending it would make things easier for developers. After hearing the frequently-repeated principle that if a project met the code, that made it a “matter of right project,” for which the city council could not deny approval, she concluded the AHP proposal would make it more difficult for the council to say no to a new development.

How Many Unrelated People Can Live Together?

Regulations on residential occupancy in the city code specify that:

(2) A dwelling unit may not be occupied by more persons than 1 of the following family living arrangements:
(a) One or more persons related by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship living as a single housekeeping unit, in all districts.
(b) Four persons plus their offspring living as a single housekeeping unit, in all districts.
(c) Six persons living as a single housekeeping unit in R4 districts. [Emphasis added]
(d) A functional family living as a single housekeeping unit which has received a special exception use permit pursuant to section 5:104.

This part of the code has often led to controversy in the case of projects proposed that essentially target the student rental market. Crtitics contend that the six people occupying the dwelling units of such a private dorm do not in fact constitute a housekeeping unit.

On Thursday, one attendee wanted to know when and how the six-person rule came about. Kahan said he wasn’t sure. The attendee suggested that this part of the code should simply be revised downward to four people, which would have the effect of preventing the creation of “mini-dorms.”


Heading home along Packard, Hatim Elhady – an independent candidate for Ward 4 city council representative who’d attended the AHP meeting – gave The Chronicle a friendly beep on the horn as he drove past. Chalk one up in the positive car-bicycle interaction column.

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