Stories indexed with the term ‘sidewalk millage’

Council Delays “Sidewalk” Definition Change

In the city of Ann Arbor, a “sidewalk” is still a sidewalk. The council delayed a decision on a change in definition until its first meeting in October, on Oct. 7.

The new definition of “sidewalk” would expand the existing definition to include non-motorized paths that are [emphasis added] “designed particularly for pedestrian, bicycle, or other nonmotorized travel and that is constructed (1) in the public right of way or (2) within or upon an easement or strip of land taken or accepted by the city or dedicated to and accepted by the city for public use by pedestrians, bicycles, or other nonmotorized travel, …”

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General Election 2011: Results Roundup

Voters in Ann Arbor elections held on Nov. 8 confirmed the city’s general preference for incumbent candidates, both on the city council and on the school board. Out of a field of six, voters gave the two incumbents on the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees – Andy Thomas and Simone Lightfoot – each a four-year term.


Map A: Breakdown by precinct of the vote in Ward 2, with white shading to indicate Jane Lumm's weakest precinct (2-2 with 33%) and black her strongest precinct (2-5 with 71%). Shades of gray show relative strength of Lumm's support. Incumbent Stephen Rapundalo managed a majority in 2-9 and 2-2, but in 2-2 only three people voted. (Image links to dynamic Google Map.)

And the preference for Democrats, which the city of Ann Arbor has shown in recent years, was generally also confirmed in Tuesday’s city council results. Four of five Democratic incumbents were given another two-year term on the 11-member body. Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) all easily kept their seats.

The lone Democratic incumbent who lost was Stephen Rapundalo. He was defeated on Tuesday by Jane Lumm, who served previously on the city council as a Republican, but who ran against Rapundalo as an independent. Rapundalo himself is a former Republican, but served three terms on the council as a Democrat.

Ann Arbor voters also said yes to all three proposals on Tuesday’s ballot. They approved a renewal of the 2.0 mill street repair tax, the addition of a .0125 mill sidewalk repair tax, and a change to the composition of the city’s retirement board of trustees.

Sylvan Township voters were in a less agreeable mood, voting to reject a 4.75 mill tax that would have been used to reimburse Washtenaw County for some bond payments on which Sylvan will likely default in 2012. The county will likely file a lawsuit to recover the money through a property assessment.

In The Chronicle’s travels to polling stations throughout election day, turnout was described by precinct workers as light to moderate. It ranged from a low of less than 1% in three predominantly university student precincts, to a high of 26.6% in Precinct 5 of Ward 2 – the ward with the most hotly contested race. Countywide, turnout was 11.24%, according to the county clerk’s office. However, several election workers noted that percentages are hard to gauge, given that many voters are still registered even if they’ve left the area – as is the case with many voters who register as college students.

Complete results are available on the Washtenaw County clerk’s election results website. [Full Story]

Election Day: November 2011

It’s Election Day. Voters in the Ann Arbor Public Schools district have a choice of six candidates to fill two open seats on the AAPS board of trustees. And Ann Arbor city residents in four of five wards will have a choice about their representation on the 11-member city council.

Sign at Angell Elementary School

A sign directing voters at Angell Elementary School, where two precincts for Ann Arbor's Ward 2 are located. As of 7:05 a.m., five voters had arrived. It's unlikely the one-voter-per-minute pace will continue, but poll workers expect a higher turnout than the 68 people who voted here in the August primary.

If you’re still researching the candidates for the school board or for the city council, check out Chronicle coverage of the candidate forums.

City of Ann Arbor voters will also be presented with three ballot proposals, two of them involving approval of taxes for street and sidewalk repair. Proposal 1 would renew an existing street repair property tax at a rate of 2 mills. [A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value.] Assuming Proposal 1 is approved, Proposal 2 would levy an additional 0.125 mills – for sidewalk repair. If Proposal 2 is approved by voters, the city would not start a new 5-year inspection cycle. Under that inspection program, property owners are formally notified that sidewalks adjacent to their property need repair and then must undertake those repairs themselves.

Attitudes of city council challengers towards the sidewalk millage are negative. Some current city councilmembers have offered only reluctant support for the sidewalk millage or else have a complete lack of a position on the question. Mayor John Hieftje, who is not up for re-election this year, has clearly stated his lack of a position on the sidewalk millage.

Proposal 3 is less controversial, enjoying solid support among councilmembers and challengers. It would change the makeup of the retirement system’s board of trustees so that fewer beneficiaries of the system are included on the board.

Polls are open today from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. A good place to get partial unofficial results (that are as close to official as you can get) is the Washtenaw County clerk’s office election results website.

To find your polling place, type in an address on the My Property page of the city of Ann Arbor’s website, and click on the Voter tab.

The Chronicle has established somewhat of an Election Day tradition: We tour as many precinct locations as we can through the day and file mini-reports from the polls. So we’re off – check back throughout the day for updates, appended after the jump. Add your own observations from the polls in the comments. [Full Story]

Council Moves on Future of Fifth Avenue

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Oct. 17, 2011): At its meeting last Monday, the Ann Arbor city council acted on two different residential development projects for the block of Fifth Avenue just south of William Street. Both projects are owned by the same developer.

Margie Teall Jeff Helminski

Margie Teall (Ward 4) with Heritage Row and City Place developer Jeff Helminski. (Photos by the writer.)

At the time of their votes – on the matter-of-right City Place and the planned unit development Heritage Row – councilmembers knew that one set of actions would become moot. Only one of the projects, located on the same site, would be built. A few days after the meeting, news emerged that Heritage Row is now off the table and that City Place will move forward, with construction planned to start sometime this fall.

That meant that the council’s action last Monday, to give initial approval to the Heritage Row project, will ultimately have no effect. Developer Jeff Helminski requested that the item be pulled from the council’s Oct. 24 meeting – a meeting that had been added to the council’s calendar specifically to take a second and final vote on the Heritage Row project.

At their Oct. 17 meeting, the council took two actions on the already-approved City Place project – one to allow flexible application of the city’s new landscape ordinance, and a second to approve additional windows on the upper stories and to change the siding. That added to an Oct. 3 decision by the council to allow greater flexibility in the sequencing of City Place construction.

Also on Monday, the council confirmed two appointments to the city’s zoning board of appeals. The ZBA is a body that has purview to hear any challenges to city decisions about the correct application of city ordinances and the appropriateness of administrative decisions, including those associated with matter-of-right projects like City Place.

In other real estate development news out of Monday’s meeting, the council approved changes to the elevations for City Apartments, a residential project at First and Washington scheduled to start construction yet this season. The council is expected to authorize the sale of the city-owned parcel at its Nov. 10 meeting.

The council approved the annexation into the city of a township parcel where Biercamp Artisan Sausage & Jerky has set up shop. A tax abatement for Arbor Networks, a computer network security firm, was also approved by the council.

Another significant item on the council’s agenda was the appropriation of $25,000 from the city’s general fund reserve to keep the warming center open this year, which is operated by the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County in the Delonis Center on Huron Street.

The council also approved a resolution of intent on the use of sidewalk and street millage funds, which voters will be asked to approve at the polls on Nov. 8. The resolution was amended to clarify how funding will work for sidewalk repair adjacent to commercial properties inside the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority district. [Full Story]

Heritage Row, Sidewalk Tax Intent in Limbo

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Oct. 3, 2011): In spite of the eight public hearings scheduled for Monday night, the council’s agenda was actually relatively light. Six of the public hearings were very similar requests for annexations of property from Scio Township into the city of Ann Arbor. The annexations were all approved with scant comment from the public or the council.

Carsten Hohnke Stephen Kunselman

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) talk before the start of the Oct. 3 council meeting. (Photos by the writer)

But two agenda items – both related to the future of the block of South Fifth Avenue just south of William – resulted in over an hour of deliberations by the council.

An item added late Monday afternoon gave a glimmer of hope to the Heritage Row planned unit development (PUD), which the council last had on its agenda on Dec. 6, 2010 – nearly a year ago. On Monday, the council voted to suspend its rules, then voted to reconsider the project, and finally voted to postpone it until its Oct. 17 meeting.

By Oct. 17, a set of changes proposed by the development team are to be incorporated into the site plan and zoning regulations for Heritage Row. The developer says the changes to Heritage Row would be necessary, in order for him to diverge from his current intention to build City Place, an already approved “matter of right” project at the same location. Those changes include eliminating any on-site parking requirement, increasing the number of residents, relaxing the energy standards, and not making a commitment to the historical preservation of the existing seven houses on the site. [.pdf of letter from developer]

If the council were to give the new version of Heritage Row initial approval at its Oct. 17 meeting, it would then take a second and final vote on it at a meeting now scheduled for Oct. 24.

In a related action, the council approved a revision to the development agreement for City Place that eliminated the need for the developer to complete off-site utility work before being issued a building permit for that project. Now, that utility work would need to be completed later in the process, before the certificate of occupancy is issued. The relaxation of the timeline was undertaken to allow the developer additional flexibility to discuss a modified Heritage Row, as an alternative to City Place.

In other business, the council again delayed action on a resolution of intent for the use of revenue generated by a proposed street and sidewalk repair millage that voters will be asked to approve at the Nov. 8 election. Questions concerned the need for such a resolution at all, as well as the plan for use of the millage inside the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority district.

A request for rezoning a medical marijuana business on South State Street was denied by the council, but did achieve three votes on the 11-member body.

The council also approved an easement for DTE to replace a gas main along the north side of Fuller Road. [Full Story]

Committee Briefed on Downtown Sidewalks

As the Nov. 8, 2011 general election approaches, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is considering the implications that a ballot question might have on the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) district. The ballot question asks voters to approve a sidewalk repair millage that would levy a new tax of 0.125 mills. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.


Part of the discussion at the DDA transportation, operations and construction committee meeting included the “two-inch” rule on vertical sidewalk displacement. A law working its way through the state legislature would establish that a city is presumed to have maintained a sidewalk properly, but that can be rebutted by evidence showing that the proximate cause of an injury was a “vertical discontinuity” defect of 2 inches or more in the sidewalk. (Photo by the writer.)

Members of the DDA’s transportation, operations and construction committee were briefed on that and a number of other issues at its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 28. (The committee has a combined function for what were at different times in the past three separate committees.)

The committee was also briefed on: (1) the status of the getDowntown program; (2) a parking communications plan aimed at evening employees; (3) the financial picture for the city’s public parking system; and (4) the results of a parking customer satisfaction survey.

Committee members were somewhat surprised and disappointed to learn that the city council’s policy on the use of proceeds from the proposed sidewalk millage would place restrictions on using millage money inside the boundaries of the DDA’s TIF district.

The city council’s Aug. 4 resolution authorizing ballot language for the proposed 0.125 mill tax places a limitation on the use of funds inside the TIF district, though the wording on the ballot does not include the limitation. The resolution states that inside the DDA district, only those sidewalks adjacent to single- and two-family houses (but not other commercial properties) would be included in a millage-supported sidewalk repair program.

A resolution of intent on the use of the sidewalk millage, which includes the restriction inside the DDA TIF district, was postponed from the council’s Sept. 19 meeting, and will be taken up by the council again on Oct. 3.

At their Wednesday meeting, DDA committee members were also apprised that the getDowntown program, which draws the majority of its funding from the DDA, will not be folded into the DDA as had previously been planned. Instead, the program’s two staff members will remain employees of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The getDowntown program’s status has been a question since the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce (now the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber) two years ago pulled out of the four-way partnership that supported getDowntown. The remaining three partners are the city of Ann Arbor, the DDA and the AATA.

The committee was also briefed on elements of the DDA’s communications plan that’s aimed at downtown evening employees, in connection with possibly extending parking meter enforcement hours past 6 p.m. Other parking-related issues on the committee’s agenda included a structure-by-structure breakdown of the financial performance of the city’s parking garages, as well as an overview of the results of a regular parking system survey used to evaluate Republic Parking, the DDA’s parking contractor.

This report focuses on sidewalks and getDowntown. [Full Story]