The Ann Arbor Chronicle » town gown it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 City Delays Parking Lease with University Tue, 19 Aug 2014 03:48:12 +0000 Chronicle Staff A two-year extension on a University of Michigan lease of three city of Ann Arbor parking lots at Fuller Park has been delayed by the city council.

The council’s unanimous vote to postpone consideration of the lease agreement came at its Aug. 18, 2014 meeting, after a brief discussion. The council will take up the item again at its first meeting in October – on Oct. 6. The lease came to the council with a recommendation of approval from the park advisory commission, given at its July 15, 2014 meeting. The council now wants PAC to take another look at the agreement.

Fuller Park, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map of parking lots at Fuller Park that are leased to the University of Michigan.

The existing lease expires on Aug. 31, 2014. Given that the lease is expiring, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked about the implications of postponing until October. Mayor John Hieftje indicated that the lease renewal came to the council later than it should have.

The three lots are: (1) the parking lot south of Fuller Road, next to the railroad tracks (Lot A); (2) the paved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot B); and (3) the unpaved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot C). The lots are used by UM during restricted hours.

The city has leased Lot A to UM since 1993. Lots B and C have been leased since 2009.

Annual revenue of this lease would be $78,665, and will be included as part of the parks and recreation general fund budget. [.pdf of proposed lease agreement] [.pdf of staff report]

The hours that UM can use these lots are stipulated in the agreement:

  • Lot A: 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • Lot B (paved lot): 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, beginning the day after Labor Day through the Friday before Memorial Day, excluding holidays.
  • Lot C (unpaved lot): 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.

At PAC’s July 15 meeting when the lease was recommended, parks and recreation manager Colin Smith noted that the revenue from these three lots is significant for the parks and recreation operating budget. The current agreement – which was approved by the council in 2009 and extended by two administrative renewals – is essentially the same as the agreement that will expire, Smith told PAC.

The main purpose of the lots is for the parks, Smith explained. That’s reflected in the hours when UM can use the lots – on weekdays, prior to 4-5 p.m. The outdoor pool and soccer fields don’t need the quantity of parking during the winter or off-season. “It’s an asset within the parks department that we can either have sit there, or we can lease it for a significant amount of revenue that obviously helps us provide other programs,” he said. If the city doesn’t lease those parking lots, “I am absolutely certain that people will park in it anyway,” Smith added.

Two residents who had raised concerns about the lease at PAC’s July 15 meeting – Rita Mitchell and George Gaston – also addressed the city council on the same issue on Aug. 18. Their commentary is reported in The Chronicle’s live updates of that meeting.

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

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Planning Group Gives Advice to Council, UM Sat, 29 Mar 2014 16:34:15 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 18, 2014): The planning commission has weighed in with advice on the use of two publicly owned sites: the city-owned Library Lane in downtown Ann Arbor, and the former Edwards Brothers property on South State that’s being bought by the University of Michigan.

Wendy Woods, Jeremy Peters, Paras Parekh, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor planning commissioners Wendy Woods, Jeremy Peters and Paras Parekh. (Photos by the writer.)

One day after the Ann Arbor city council took action related to the Library Lane site, planning commissioners made recommendations to the council about how to develop that South Fifth Avenue property. The council’s action on March 17 included asking the city administrator to hire a brokerage service to sell development rights to the Library Lane surface, on top of an underground parking structure. The council also voted, after a long debate, to designate part of the surface for an urban public park.

On March 18, the commission’s advice focused on conditions for developing the site that would garner economic benefits to the city, such as a mixed-use development that generates foot traffic, with an entry plaza or open space and a design that “creates an iconic addition to the skyline.” The recommendations drew on material in several existing documents, including the Connecting William Street report that was completed by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority about a year ago.

After the vote, Sabra Briere – who serves on both the planning commission and the city council – noted that many members of council don’t believe that the Connecting William Street project was successful in its public outreach. She also said that many councilmembers “do not believe that maximizing density, scale and mass of a building on that site is in the public interest.” Briere said she hadn’t raised these issues during the commission’s deliberations because she didn’t want anyone to feel that she was trying to tell the planning commission what to do.

In separate action on March 18, commissioners passed a resolution with recommendations on uses for the Edwards Brothers site on South State Street, which the University of Michigan is acquiring. The intent is to encourage representatives from the city and UM to discuss their mutual interests in that area – weighing the university’s need to expand its facilities against the city’s interest in strengthening its tax base. Issues include the possible private development of the section that fronts South State, impact on the park-and-ride lot in that area, and the extension of Oakbrook Drive from South State to South Main, through UM property. The city council is expected to consider the same resolution at its April 7 meeting.

Further south on the State Street corridor, at the intersection with Eisenhower Parkway, a proposal to renovate the Shell station, tear down the car wash, and add a drive-thru restaurant was recommended for approval by the commission on March 18. The existing convenience store and gas station would remain open during construction. The specific drive-thru restaurant to be located there is still being negotiated, according to the owner.

Some of the discussion on this project related to upcoming ordinance revisions that the commission will consider on April 1 regulating drive-thru restaurants.

Also recommended for approval on March 18 were an expansion to an office on Collingwood near West Stadium Boulevard, and an easement related to a new Belle Tire on West Ellsworth.

Library Lane Site

On March 17, the Ann Arbor city council had passed a resolution directing the city administrator to hire a brokerage service to sell development rights to the Library Lane surface, where an underground parking structure is located. The council also engaged is a lengthy debate – two and a half hours of sometimes heated commentary – over a proposal reserving part of the surface for a publicly owned urban park. That resolution also passed, over dissent from mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4).

The resolved clauses from the city council resolution passed on March 17 are:

RESOLVED, That City Council approve the reservation of the site for an urban public park of between approximately 6,500 and 12,000 square feet on the surface of the Library Lane Structure bounded by the Fifth Avenue sidewalk on the west, the Library Lane Street curb to the south, the western entry to the central elevator to the east, with the northern boundary to be determined at a future date;

RESOLVED, That the City will encourage the creative use of this space to commence on an occasional basis during the transition from parking to public park even before the urban park design and installation work is complete, and hereby requests that Community Services and the Park Department work together with DDA and the AADL to encourage groups to reserve the space for public activities including, but not limited to, craft fairs, book fairs, food carts, fine arts performances, and other activities and consider modification of permit requirements in order to eliminate fees for those seeking to put on public programs on the Library Lane site;

RESOLVED, That the City will work with the developer of the remaining portion of the Library Lane site to ensure that the designs for both spaces, an urban public park and the adjacent development, complement and support each other’s successful uses;

RESOLVED, That all development on the Library Lane site, whether public or private, will proceed in close collaboration with neighboring properties and businesses including, but not limited to the Ann Arbor District Library, First Martin Corporation, the University of Michigan Credit Union, the Inter-Cooperative Council, and the businesses fronting on Fifth Avenue and Liberty Street. Possible goals of this collaboration include:

  • Reorientation of the physical design and uses of these adjacent properties so that they help to create pedestrian interaction with the public park on the Library Lane Structure,
  • Creation of pedestrian walkways that connect the Library Lane Structure and public park to Liberty Plaza, Liberty Street and William Street;
  • Discussion about incentives, such as premiums or subsidies, that the City or DDA might offer to encourage both physical reorientation and pedestrian access/easements through adjacent properties, and
  • Consideration of possible joint development on the Library Lane Structure’s remaining build-able portion.

The following night at the March 18 planning commission meeting, commissioners Diane Giannola and Bonnie Bona brought forward a resolution that gave guidance to the council about the Library Lane site. It’s similar in intent to the recommendations that the commission gave to the council last year regarding the use of the former Y lot. Those recommendations were approved at the commission’s Aug. 20, 2013 meeting.

The planning commission resolution on the Library Lane structure makes recommendations about elements to include if the city sells the Library Lane development rights. [.pdf of advice resolution at start of March 18 meeting] [.pdf of advice resolution, as amended during March 18 meeting] The two resolved clauses, as amended during the March 18 meeting, are:

RESOLVED, that the City Planning Commission recommends to City Council that if the development rights over the “Library Lot” underground parking structure are sold, an RFQ/RFP process be utilized that conditions the sale of the property in order to obtain a long-term, ongoing and growing economic benefit for the residents of the city;

RESOLVED, that the City Planning Commission recommends to City Council that if the development rights over the “Library Lot” underground parking structure are sold, an RFP contain all of the following conditions:

  • A building that generates foot traffic, provides a human scale at the ground floor and creates visual appeal and contains active uses on all first floor street frontage and open space;
  • A requirement for an entry plaza or open space appropriately scaled and located to be properly activated by adjacent building uses and to be maintained by the developer;
  • A “mixed use” development with a density at around 700% FAR that takes advantage of the investment in footings and the mid-block location with active uses that have a high level of transparency fronting the plaza and at least 60% of Fifth Avenue and Library Lane frontages, while encouraging large floor plate office or lodging as a primary use, residential as a secondary use, and incorporating a cultural venue.
  • A requirement for the entry plaza or open space to incorporate generous landscaping;
  • A requirement that discourages surface parking, limits vehicular access for service areas to be located in alleys where available and prohibits service areas from being located on Fifth Avenue
  • To seek a design for this site that is meant to be visible on all four sides and that creates an iconic addition to the skyline;
  • A requirement for high quality construction; and
  • A request for a third party environmental certification (e.g., LEED Gold or Platinum)

The March 18 planning commission meeting included a public hearing on this item, but no one appeared at the public hearing to speak.

Library Lane: Report from Council

At the start of the March 18 meeting, Sabra Briere – who serves on the planning commission as the representative from city council – gave an update to commissioners about council action. She reported that the council approved designating a section of the Library Lane site as an urban park, bordered by Fifth Avenue on the west, Library Lane on the south, and the elevator stacks on the east. The northern border isn’t defined at this point, she noted. The council resolution states that the park will be between 6,500 and 12,000 square feet.

Sabra Briere, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Paras Parekh and Sabra Briere.

The council also directed the city administrator to hire a broker to put up for sale the right to partner in a condominium arrangement on the remainder of the site, Briere said, rather than an outright sale of the land. It would allow a condominium partner to build there. It’s also possible that the successful respondent will design or construct or provide security or program the park, she noted.

What’s really important in all of this, Briere said, is that the city has opened the door to having a downtown park on the Library Lane site. The park advisory commission, the city administrator and the broker will help determine the details, she added.

Diane Giannola asked whether the council resolution stated “park” or “plaza.” The resolution states that it would be an “urban public park,” Briere replied. She noted that “those people who want to define it as trees and grass would be disappointed in this location.”

Giannola then asked what language had been deleted from the original resolution. Briere explained that the council deleted language that would have added the site to the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan and that would have required it to remain a city-owned public park. That was done because the council cannot, by fiat, add something to the PROS plan, she noted – because the PROS plan is part of the city’s master plan, which the planning commission must also approve.

The other amendment during the council’s meeting changed the definition of the site’s northern boundary, Briere said.

Kirk Westphal asked whether the council resolution designated that the park would be under city ownership. Briere replied that the city “has no choice. The city is not selling the top of the underground parking structure – that’s public land.” Rather, the city is forming a condominium arrangement and allowing someone to build, she said, in the same way that the city handled the Liberty Square (Tally Hall) parking structure and the City Apartments project at First and Washington, which includes public parking.

Bonnie Bona, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Bonnie Bona.

Bonnie Bona asked Briere to provide insight into any sense of urgency that exists regarding the Library Lane site. Bona noted that this council resolution had come up so quickly after the city had sold the former Y lot, which is located nearby. What’s the basis for moving so quickly?

Briere noted that people who have been advocating for a park on top of the Library Lane structure have been doing that for several years. Jack Eaton (Ward 4) worked with those advocates before he became a member of council, Briere said, and he worked with them to draft the resolution. But the city isn’t willing to commit to a public park today, she added, without also discussing how to pay for the design, maintenance, capital improvements and other things. There’s an expectation among many councilmembers, Briere said, as well as among people who advise those councilmembers, that the developer will design, construct and maintain the public park, thus providing the funding for it.

So to set aside the parkland without a funding stream means that the parkland would never get built upon, Briere said. That was the rationale behind going forward with the two resolutions. She noted that potential developers will have guidelines for what can be done on the site, and where, and the council will be able to determine which of the concepts work best, in consultation with the park advisory commission.

The question is “which comes first?” Briere said. Some people felt strongly that it made no sense for a park to be designated before there’s an opportunity to develop it. Others felt that deciding to sell to a developer made no sense. “It was an interesting discussion,” she said.

Ken Clein asked whether the portion of the site designated for a park would be rezoned. Briere responded that “it doesn’t need to be rezoned. It’s public land already. All parkland is public land.” Clein said he thought some portions weren’t zoned as public land. Briere then indicated that he was right – in fact, she said, the city had zoned that site as D1, the designation that allows the maximum density of development. So it would need to be rezoned, she said. Clein pointed out that a rezoning request would first need to be reviewed by the planning commission, before going to council.

Library Lane Site: Commission Discussion

When she introduced the planning commission resolution, Bonnie Bona noted that it’s meant to offer planning advice to the city council – and that’s the planning commission’s charge.

Library Lane

The Library Lane parking deck is highlighted in yellow. The name “Library Lane” is based only on the proximity of the structure to the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The library does not own the structure or the mid-block cut-through. (Base image from Washtenaw County and City of Ann Arbor GIS services.)

She said the second “whereas” clause was important, because it refers to the council’s direction to the planning commission to review downtown zoning. Citizens have raised concerns that are not yet incorporated into the downtown zoning, she noted.

Bona pointed out that since the city put its new downtown zoning in place in 2009, the Connecting William Street plan was completed, which included lots of public input, she said. [That project, conducted by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, looked at how the city might develop five city-owned downtown properties, including the Library Lane site.]

Other factors guiding this advice are the Midtown Character Area intent statement in the zoning ordinance, the downtown design guidelines, and the recommendations for downtown parks by the city’s park advisory commission. A lot of this isn’t yet reflected in the zoning, Bona said.

The city has only a few sites that it owns where it has the opportunity to provide some ongoing economic and aesthetic impact – beyond just the minimum requirements of the zoning code, Bona noted. So she and Diane Giannola took some of the information from these sources that aligned with what the planning commission has discussed in the past, and identified those elements as priorities.

The resolution is similar to the one that the planning commission passed regarding the former Y lot, Bona said. One major difference is the recommendation to seek an “iconic design” for the Library Lane site, because there are potentially four visible sides to a development and it is more centrally located.

Sabra Briere weighed in with what she called a “nitpick.” She commented on the use of the word “iconic” twice in the same bullet point: “To seek an iconic design for this site that is visible on all four sides and that creates an iconic addition to the skyline;…”

Ken Clein, Diane Giannola, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ken Clein and Diane Giannola.

It’s overkill, Briere said, and she recommended that one of the instances be removed. “I felt that in drafting it, you became overly enthusiastic,” she told Bona and Giannola.

Giannola said it didn’t matter to her, but noted that the same wording was used in the Connecting William Street plan.

Bona said she’d struggled with the wording. The intent is to seek a design that is meant to be viewed from all four sides. One of the issues with buildings like Zaragon West is that two sides of the building were meant to never be exposed, she noted, because the expectation is that tall buildings will be constructed next to them in the future. So Bona preferred to remove the first mention of iconic, and revise the text to reflect the viewed-from-all-sides intent.

The bullet point was revised to state: “To seek a design for this site that is meant to be visible on all four sides and that creates an iconic addition to the skyline;…”

Jeremy Peters objected to the phrase “and public” in the following “whereas” clause:

WHEREAS the City Planning Commission requests that the City Council and public recognize the sale of “Library” Lot without an RFP may result in a development that 1) does not fulfill the overarching or site-level recommendations of the Connecting William Street Framework Plan, 2) does not meet the Intent statement for the Midtown Character Overlay Zoning District in the zoning ordinance, 3) ignores the recommendations of the Design Guidelines, and 4) ignores the recommendations of the Parks Advisory Commission (PAC) Downtown Parks Subcommittee Report;

Giannola replied that the same wording was used in the planning commission’s resolution regarding the Y lot. To her, the resolution was speaking both to the council and the public – because the public will weigh in on this, she said.

Briere’s problem with this whereas clause was that it’s an action statement, using the verb “requests.” So it shouldn’t be a “whereas” clause, she said.

Kirk Westphal recommended rephrasing the clause to make it more of a background statement: “WHEREAS the City Planning Commission recognizes the sale of ‘Library’ Lot …” Bona and Giannola accepted his suggestion as a friendly amendment.

Ken Clein said the phrase “cultural venue” gave him pause in one of the bulleted points of the final resolved clause:

A “mixed use” development with a density at around 700% FAR that takes advantage of the investment in footings and the mid-block location with active uses that have a high level of transparency fronting the plaza and at least 60% of Fifth Avenue and Library Lane frontages, while encouraging large floor plate office or lodging as a primary use, residential as a secondary use, and incorporating a cultural venue.

Bona noted that the bullet point reflected the Connecting William Street study. The idea was that it seemed like this location would provide a good opportunity to incorporate a cultural venue, she said. It wasn’t a directive to include a cultural venue, she added. Clein suggested adding the word “possibly” to the phrase – “and possibly incorporating a cultural venue” – which Bona and Giannola accepted as a friendly amendment.

Eleanore Adenekan asked what the term “generous landscaping” meant in one of the bullet points of the final resolved clause. Bona replied that “you pick a word that helps get the point across.” Bona didn’t think anyone wanted to put a percentage on the amount of landscaping a site should have. Bona was comfortable with the term “generous” because it conveyed the intent that landscaping should be noticeable, not just a couple of trees. If the resolution became too specific, Bona cautioned, “we could create unintended consequences.” Council can decide whether they want to be vague and use the power of suggestion, or if they want to be more specific, she said.

Jeremy Peters, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jeremy Peters.

Wendy Woods wondered about the recommendation to use an RFP/RFQ process, pointing out that the council has already given direction to use a brokerage service – as the city did with the former Y lot. She noted that Briere had indicated the city was going to use a condominium arrangement on the site.

Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, noted that the issue of a condominium arrangement was brought up at the council meeting because there seemed to be some misunderstanding about how the financial arrangement would work. She indicated that the planning commission resolution might not need that level of detail.

Westphal asked Rampson to comment on the difference between an RFP/RFQ process and what occurred at the former Y lot, when the city hired a broker to find a buyer. Rampson replied that with a broker, there would still be proposals that describe what the developer would do with the site. That would be available to the public at some point, she said. An RFP/RFQ process would “bake in” additional public process, she noted. Typically a committee is formed to review the proposals, and give recommendations about the proposal that would best meet the criteria of the RFP.

Briere said that the council felt the process of hiring a broker for the former Y lot had been very successful. It was easier and more straightforward, and resulted in a variety of different proposals, she noted. They’d seen that previous RFP attempts by the city had not been successful, she added, and that experience has influenced whether the council decides to do an RFP.

Giannola thought that the resolution passed by the planning commission about the Y lot had an indirect effect, because a lot of what the commissioners had wanted was incorporated into the proposals that the city received. So even though the council isn’t likely to issue an RFP, she thought it was important for potential developers and the community to know what the planning commission would want.

Bona added that it’s not yet clear what will happen on the former Y lot. “We don’t have a building,” she said. [The agreement between the city and local hotelier Dennis Dahlmann, who has offered $5.25 million for the lot, hasn't yet closed. The current closing date is April 2.] Her caution comes from the fact that the city has a downtown zoning ordinance that “doesn’t always get us what we want, because it’s words instead of a building,” Bona said.

She thought the power of suggestion might result in something that the community wants, in spite of not being a “protracted process.” Bona noted that an additional step in the RFP process is actually writing the RFP, which can take a lot of time. “So I’m not opposed to the process that the council is taking now,” she said.

Clein agreed with Briere that hiring a broker is more expedient, and he agreed with Bona that the ultimate test is whether the outcome is what the community wants. At the former Y lot, “the jury’s out on that until we see what happens,” he said.

Woods supported the resolution. She pointed to the wording of the final resolved clause: “RESOLVED that … an RFP contain some or all of the following conditions:…” Woods said the resolution makes a wonderful case for all of the conditions, so why say “some or all”? She proposed a revision to delete “some or” – adding that obviously the decision about the Library Lane site is up to the city council.

Giannola didn’t want the resolution to come across as “all or nothing.” Woods replied: “You know they’re bright enough to know that.” Giannola thought some people might think the commission was asking for too much, saying she’d be happy if most or even some of the suggestions were taken.

When Giannola said she thought it was overreaching to say “all,” Woods pointed out that it’s overreaching to even pass the resolution. She advocated against sounding “wishy-washy.” Westphal supported Woods, and at that point Giannola and Bona agreed to delete “some or” as a friendly amendment.

Westphal then called for a vote. All other commissioners voted, but Briere hesitated. Westphal called for another vote.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the resolution, as amended, regarding the Library Lane lot.

After the vote, Briere said she hesitated because the council did not embrace the Connecting William Street report. Many councilmembers do not believe that the project was successful in public outreach, she said. Personally, Briere added, she believed that some of the advice in the planning commission’s resolution is excellent. However, she said, she’ll “take it worth a grain of salt as a member of council, because of the insistence on density as a result of having made the commitment to put footings in that could hold a dense building. Many members of council that I have spoken with do not believe that maximizing density, scale and mass of a building on that site is in the public interest.”

Wendy Rampson, Sabra Briere, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Planning manager Wendy Rampson and Sabra Briere, who serves on both the planning commission and city council.

Briere said she was making these comments after the discussion and vote because she didn’t want other commissioners to feel that she was trying to tell the planning commission what to say or think. And despite Giannola’s belief that the planning commission’s recommendations were heeded on the Y lot, Briere wasn’t sure the recommendations were “knowingly heeded.”

Giannola noted that the council had approved the Library Lane parking structure with the additional footings, and at that time the majority of councilmembers did believe that a dense building should go on that site. There might be a change in viewpoint on council now, she added, but “we’re still going on what was in the plans back then.”

As for Connecting William Street, Giannola said it involved much public input. The majority of councilmembers at that time felt the same way, she added, and it’s the newer councilmembers who haven’t supported it. “To me, just because you have a different viewpoint and you’re a new councilmember, you can’t override everything that’s happened in the past,” she said. “History to me is important.”

Briere agreed that history is important, but noted that it’s not the past councilmembers who’ll be receiving the commission’s current resolution. People change on council, she noted, and that’s “sometimes in reaction to the very things that you’re citing.”

Briere noted that some of the documents mentioned in the commission’s resolution – the downtown plan, the design guidelines, the midtown character district – give strength to the resolution. They are documents that councilmembers can and should cite when they need to, she said.

The biggest thing that people should be talking about is what it means to have a strong frontage along South Fifth Avenue, Briere said. All of the documents cited in the commission’s resolution that refer specifically to the Library Lane site have recommended putting a public plaza along the South Fifth Avenue side. But a public plaza is not a strong frontage, she said. The structure was designed to hold at least very low or moderate intensity fronting South Fifth, she noted. “I don’t know how to reconcile those things,” Briere concluded.

Edwards Brothers Site

Planning commissioners also considered a resolution regarding the former Edwards Brothers Malloy property at 2500-2550 South State Street. The resolution recommended that the University of Michigan collaborate with the city of Ann Arbor regarding the future development of the site, immediately adjacent to existing UM athletic facilities. The university is purchasing the 16.7-acre property, following the Ann Arbor city council’s decision on Feb. 24, 2014 not to exercise its right of first refusal to buy the site.

The city council voted to exercise the city of Ann Arbor's right of first refusal on the Edwards Brothers property, at a special session of the council on Feb. 24, 2014.

The city council voted down a resolution that would have authorized Ann Arbor’s right of first refusal on the Edwards Brothers Malloy property, at a special session of the council on Feb. 24, 2014. That will allow the University of Michigan to purchase the property unimpeded.

In introducing the resolution, planning manager Wendy Rampson said she drafted the resolution based on previous discussions at planning commission and city council. The intent is for this resolution to be jointly passed by both entities, to be directed to the UM regents and president. [.pdf of draft resolution at start of March 18 meeting] [.pdf of resolution as amended at March 18 meeting]

Rampson said the city has struggled with this issue for many years, in terms of understanding the university’s need to expand its facilities weighed against the city’s interest in retaining its tax base. In the case of the Edwards Brothers site, there’s the added city desire to have redevelopment there provide a catalyst for other redevelopment in the South Street corridor, she said.

The hope is that representatives from both the city and UM will get together to talk about some of these issues, Rampson said. One question is whether there’s an opportunity for economic development along that section of the corridor. If UM would agree to “carve off” part of the site into smaller parcels fronting South State, she said, that might help to activate the corridor. Another issue is the existing park-and-ride lot, which will likely be displaced by UM’s expansion. Also of concern is the Oakbrook Drive extension that’s been planned for decades, she noted. What’s missing is a way to link from South State to South Main, through UM property.

The draft resolution at the start of the meeting had one resolved clause, which stated:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Council and Ann Arbor City Planning Commission request that The University of Michigan Regents and the President Coleman authorize University staff to meet with City representatives to collaborate on issues related to future development of the South Athletic Campus area, including, but not limited to:

  • Exploring the creation of one or more parcels fronting South State Street to be sold for the purpose of developing complementary uses adjacent to the South Athletic Campus;
  • Discussing options for the relocation of park and ride facilities as the South Athletic Campus develops; and
  • Discussing the opportunities for a future pedestrian and vehicular connection between South Main Street and South State Street via the planned Oakbrook Drive extension through the South Athletic Campus site.

No one spoke during a public hearing on this item.

Edwards Brothers Site: Commission Discussion

Sabra Briere began the discussion by asking whether it makes sense for the resolution to address UM president Mary Sue Coleman, given that Coleman is retiring this summer. Briere suggested addressing it instead to the new president, Mark Schlissel. Jeremy Peters recommended taking out reference to any specific name, and simply address it to the regents and president.

Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kirk Westphal.

Ken Clein said he could imagine that the regents and president wouldn’t want the city to suggest how they should dispose of their property. Instead of stating that the parcels fronting South State should be sold, Clein suggested recommending how those parcel should be developed. Whether those parcels are sold or leased would be a matter for the university to decide, he said.

Peters thought the reference to selling the land was intentional, because it would add to the city’s tax base if the land were in private ownership. Clein thought the resolution might get a better reception from UM if the city didn’t try to stipulate how the university should deal with the property.

Bonnie Bona thought there’d be a taxable value to having development, even if the property remained in UM ownership. That’s because it would help motivate other development on private property elsewhere in the corridor, she noted.

Paras Parekh asked about the phrase “complementary uses.” Does that refer to uses that complement the South State corridor, or that complement activities on the UM campus? Westphal interpreted it as complementing land uses that the city would like to see in that corridor.

Rampson said both interpretations are appropriate. She’d intended it to refer to uses that would complement UM’s athletic campus, but it could also relate to the corridor too, she said.

Peters advocated for leaving in a reference to the front parcels possibly being sold. It’s been brought up frequently in community discussions, he noted. Briere pointed out that a reference to selling the land is in the fifth “whereas” clause:

WHEREAS, City Council, the Planning Commission, and concerned city residents have indicated a desire for community benefit to be incorporated into The University of Michigan’s plans for development of the Edwards Brothers site, including the possibility for frontage parcels to be created and sold for private development; …

Wendy Woods said her sense is that this resolution is intended to get some kind of a conversation started, based on the city’s goals for that area. In that regard, the resolution shouldn’t be a non-starter, she said.

Further wordsmithing resulted in this revised bullet point:

  • Exploring the creation of one or more parcels fronting South State Street to be developed, preferably privately, for complementary uses adjacent to the South Athletic Campus that also follow the South State Street plan recommendations;

Westphal said he expected the city council would want to make changes to the resolution. If they do, would it come back to the planning commission, given that it’s a joint resolution? Rampson indicated that bringing it back to the commission would take more time. She suggested communicating that the commission wouldn’t object to changes that the council might make.

Briere noted that the next meeting of the planning commission, on April 1, falls before the next meeting of the council, which is on April 7. So it would be possible to take another look at this resolution, she said.

There was no particular interest among commissioners in postponing the resolution. Rampson said she’s already shared a draft of resolution with UM planner Sue Gott and Jim Kosteva, the university’s director of community relations.

The resolved clause, as amended, stated:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Council and Ann Arbor City Planning Commission request that The Regents of The University of Michigan and President authorize University staff to meet with City representatives to collaborate on issues related to future development of the South Athletic Campus area, including, but not limited to:

  • Exploring the creation of one or more parcels fronting South State Street to be developed, preferably privately, for complementary uses adjacent to the South Athletic Campus that also follow the South State Street plan recommendations;
  • Discussing options for the relocation of park-and-ride facilities as the South Athletic Campus develops; and
  • Discussing the opportunities for a future pedestrian and vehicular connection between Ross Main Street and South State Street via the planned Oakbrook Drive extension through the Ross Athletic Campus site.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously passed the resolution as amended. The resolution will be forwarded to the city council, with the understanding that changes made to the resolution by the council will be supported by the planning commission without further review.

Shell Station Site Plan

The site plan for an overhaul to the Shell station and a new drive-thru restaurant at 2991 S. State was on the March 18 agenda. The site is located at the northeast corner of the East Eisenhower Parkway and South State Street.

Shell, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of the site for a Shell station and drive-thru restaurant at the northeast corner of South State and East Eisenhower.

The plan calls for demolishing the current one-story convenience store and car wash on this site, which total 2,435 square feet. In its place, the owner – Joseph Kafi of JAK Cubed LLC – would put up a single building with a 1,250-square-foot drive-thru restaurant and 3,000-square-foot convenience store. The existing gas pump island canopy will remain in place, and two pumps will be relocated to spots under the canopy.

According to a staff memo, a single lane drive-thru would be primarily accessed from the existing East Eisenhower Parkway curb cut. Vehicles would move in an east-to-north direction before exiting onto either South State or looping back south to East Eisenhower. The drive-thru lane provides stacking for up to nine vehicles and would be screened to the west by the proposed new building. A total of 22 parking spaces are proposed for the site, including eight that are located at the four gas pump islands.

A new sidewalk connection with a striped crosswalk would connect the southern building entrance to the public sidewalk along Eisenhower.

Approval was needed to modify landscaping requirements in Chapter 62 of the city code – the landscape and screening ordinance. A minimum 10-foot right-of-way buffer is required. The owner is asking that the width of the buffer be reduced to the existing 4-foot wide right-of-way landscape buffer fronting South State Street, which contains a 30-inch-high screening wall and landscaping. That would allow for continued use of the two gas pump islands on the western portion of this site. Other landscaping would be added along South State Street and East Eisenhower Parkway to screen the vehicular use area. The site is zoned C3 (fringe commercial).

The project, located in Ward 4, is estimated to cost $800,000. The business is expected to remain open during construction. The existing convenience store will then be demolished after the new building is finished. The specific restaurant to be located there is still being negotiated, according to the owner.

Planning staff recommended approval of the plan. [.pdf of staff report]

Shell Station Site Plan: Public Hearing

Brad Cousino of Terratek Design Inc., the project’s engineer, began by noting that his older brother, Ken Cousino, had spoken to commissioners earlier in the meeting about a different project – the Collingwood office building site plan (see below). Cousino said he and the owners were on hand to answer any questions.

Shell Station Site Plan: Commission Discussion – Traffic, Parking

Eleanore Adenekan wondered if traffic would be congested coming in from the Eisenhower side. City planner Chris Cheng replied that the owner had submitted a traffic study. The city’s traffic engineer had commented that the site will capture drive-by traffic – that is, traffic that is already in the area. So the project isn’t expected to increase traffic significantly, he said. Within the site, there will be space for nine vehicles to queue up in the drive-thru lane.

Joseph Kafi, Brad Cousino, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Joseph Kafi and Brad Cousino.

Sabra Briere wondered how the drive-thru would be accessible from State Street. Cheng noted that vehicles coming in from State Street would need to loop around the site. Briere observed that it seems vehicles from State would be routed across incoming traffic from Eisenhower.

Wendy Woods noted that 8 of the site’s 22 spaces are located at the gas pumps. She wondered if those gas pump spaces would be tied up when someone wanted to buy gas and eat in the restaurant and there were no other parking spaces available. Brad Cousino said that technically, the spots at the gas pumps do qualify as parking spaces. But he wouldn’t expect people to park there while getting food from the drive-thru.

Jeremy Peters asked about the pedestrian crosswalk that goes across South State Street, near the southern entrance into the Shell site. He noted that South State is a road with higher speeds. In discussions about traffic and pedestrian access, Peters said, was there any talk about that crosswalk and traffic flow? Cousino said he didn’t see that as a high-speed area, because vehicles would be slowing down at the intersection of State and Eisenhower.

Diane Giannola said she uses this gas station frequently, because it’s in her neighborhood. She suggested that the walkway should be well-marked to indicate that it’s a pedestrian crossing, so that cars entering from Eisenhower can see it. Cousino said they could put some kind of pedestrian crossing sign there.

Ken Clein noted that the parking along the proposed building gives him pause. Vehicles would be backing out into an area where other cars would be pulling into the pumps.

Bonnie Bona pointed out that there’s a six-foot space between the building and the parking spots, but that includes a two-foot overhang from vehicles – so there would only be four feet between a vehicle’s bumper and the building. She asked planning staff to verify that there’s enough space for the walkway. She assumed that the business wouldn’t be putting items like propane tanks on the walkway. The area looks really tight, she said.

Following up on Bona’s comments, Clein suggested that the project team look at the location of the entry doors to the convenience store, to make sure they are accessible from the parking area. He didn’t think it would meet ADA requirements, but noted that it’s not in the planning commission’s purview. Cousino described the plans as not yet finalized, so the issue that Clein raised would be addressed.

Bona asked how the 22-space parking minimum had been calculated. Cheng replied that it’s calculated by taking a combination of the requirements for the restaurant and for the convenience store. Bona said she supports less parking in general, so she’s not concerned about counting the eight spaces at the pumps. In the past, the planning commission has even discussed counting the stacked spaces in the drive-thru queue, she said.

Shell Station Site Plan: Commission Discussion – Canopy, Dumpsters

Sabra Briere noted that the canopy over the gas pumps, a chevron shape, is clearly designed for three sets of pumps, but there will only be two sets. Briere said she was curious about that. Chris Cheng noted that the entire canopy covers the pumps and the walkway to the convenience store.

Ken Clein clarified with Cheng that the dumpster enclosure on the site plan is proposed, but doesn’t currently exist. Jeremy Peters wondered if the enclosure would have room for a grease dumpster, in addition to trash and recycling. Brad Cousino said that the 20-foot-wide enclosure is generous, so there might be room for a grease container.

Shell Station Site Plan: Commission Discussion – Landscaping

Regarding the landscape buffer, Bonnie Bona said she’s very supportive of maintaining the existing plants, adding that she knows how difficult it is for plants to survive in those kinds of locations. She wondered if the trees there are growing. The owner, Joseph Kafi, replied that in the six years he’s had the site, the trees appear to be growing. He’s also planted a crabapple tree and shrubs, which are doing well, he said.

Shell Station Site Plan: Commission Discussion – Drive-Thru

Wendy Woods asked what kind of drive-thru restaurant would be located there. Brad Cousino said they’re negotiating with several different chains, but it hasn’t been decided.

Wendy Woods, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Wendy Woods.

Jeremy Peters wondered where signs for the restaurant would be located. Cousino replied that he wasn’t sure what the sign ordinance would require, but the signs would be visible. Peters hoped that the signs for the Shell station and the restaurant would be put on the same signpost.

Sabra Briere asked if the proposal complies with the proposed changes to the city’s zoning ordinance regarding drive-thrus. Wendy Rampson noted that the proposed changes would limit the drive-thru lane in a site’s front open space, to make sure it’s well-screened. She said this project wouldn’t be affected by the proposed amendments to the ordinance. [.pdf of proposed ordinance amendments, to be considered by the commission on April 1.]

Kirk Westphal wondered whether this kind of project would require special exception use approval, if proposed amendments to the ordinance are passed. Yes, Cheng replied, but currently drive-thru uses are permitted in C3 zoning.

Westphal asked Cheng to comment on why drive-thrus are currently allowed in this zoning district. Cheng replied that the city’s master plan does recommend commercial uses for this particular corner, with pedestrian amenities. The site plan includes a pedestrian connection from Eisenhower and six bike hoops. Rampson noted that C3 is the only zoning district that now allows drive-thrus without requiring a special exception use permit. She reported that the commission’s ordinance revisions committee is interested in putting more restrictions on this type of use because it’s not in alignment with the city’s master plan objectives.

The planning commission’s April 1 agenda includes proposed revisions to the zoning ordinance related to drive-thrus. The amendments would add a definition of a “drive-thru facility” to the ordinance. Drive-thrus would need special exception use permits, which would be allowed in the O (office), C2B (business service) and C3 (fringe commercial) zoning districts. Basic layout requirements would also be added to the ordinance.

Currently, drive-thrus are allowed in C3 districts without a special exception use permit. They are allowed as special exception uses in the C2B district.

Wendy Woods said that given the site’s location near an expressway – the I-94 exchange is located just south of this intersection – she thought the drive-thru would make sense.

Outcome: Commissioners recommended approval of the site plan and landscape modifications for the Shell station project.

Collingwood Site Plan

A proposal to expand an office building at 278-280 Collingwood was reviewed by planning commissioners on March 18.

Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view indicating location of 278-280 Collingwood Drive.

The site plan calls for removing the existing second floor on the east side of the office building and constructing a 2,451-square-foot second floor over the entire building for office use. A new staircase will be added at the southwest corner of the building. The second floor will overhang the first floor along the front of the building and along part of the north side.

An existing curbcut on the north side of the property will be removed. The current 22 parking spaces on the site will be reduced to 17.

Planning commissioners were also asked to approve modifications to the city’s landscaping requirements for this site. Some of the required interior landscaping – the right-of-way screening and interior landscaping island – would be in the critical root zone of two landmark trees, so the owner requested permission to move the landscaping to other parts of the site. That change is supported by the city’s urban forester.

Total construction cost for this project is estimated at $300,000. The office building is located in Ward 4. Collingwood Drive is a street off of West Stadium Boulevard, just south of West Stadium’s convergence with South Maple Road. [.pdf of staff memo]

Planning staff had recommended approval of the site plan.

Collingwood Site Plan: Public Hearing

Ken Cousino spoke during the public hearing, and noted that the project’s two owners were attending the meeting as well to answer questions.

Ken Cousino, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ken Cousino.

Collingwood Site Plan: Commission Discussion

Jeremy Peters asked for clarification about the curbcut off of Collingwood. City planner Chris Cheng explained that after the staff report was written, it was determined that there was no need to actually increase the width of the curbcut to meet the current code. The curbcut had been installed in 1978, so it would be considered an existing, non-conforming curbcut and wouldn’t be changed.

Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, noted that the entire area had originally been zoned for parking. It had been intended as a buffer between the commercial corridor of West Stadium Boulevard and the office district to the east. The area was rezoned from parking to office in 1965.

Peters supported removing one of the curbcuts, saying it made things easier for pedestrians. He also supported landscaping modifications so that the landmark trees would be preserved.

Bonnie Bona clarified with Cheng that the pavement currently in place for the north curbcut would be replaced with turf and landscaping.

Bona also asked if the building would require an elevator. Ken Cousino responded that it did not. Bona noted that the project is only taking about half of the allowable floor-area ratio (FAR). She said she always likes to know why a project doesn’t take full advantage of the density that’s allowed. Cousino replied that an additional floor would require that an elevator be installed.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the site plan and modifications to the city’s landscaping requirements. It will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Belle Tire Easement

The March 18 agenda included an easement related to a new Belle Tire at 590 W. Ellsworth.

The commission had recommended site plan approval at its Aug. 20, 2013 meeting, and the project subsequently received city council approval on Oct. 7, 2013. The site is located in Ward 4.

Belle Tire, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of a proposed Belle Tire site.

A 50-foot-wide right-of-way easement on the front of this site was recorded by the city as part of a previously approved land division for this parcel. That easement reduced the front setback of the Belle Tire building from 10 feet to roughly 3 feet. The minimum front setback for this site, which is zoned C3 (fringe commercial), is 10 feet.

So the property owner, who also owns the adjacent site at 3975 S. State, has proposed that the city vacate the northern 7 feet of its right-of-way easement. In exchange, the property owner has offered to convey a non-motorized use easement over the same 7 feet.

Such an easement would allow for this strip to be used by the public for future non-motorized transportation facilities, according to a staff memo. And as a non-motorized use easement, the 7-foot strip would be considered part of the required 10-foot front building setback.

The planning staff recommended approval of this proposal. No one spoke during the public hearing.

Belle Tire Easement: Commission Discussion

Ken Clein asked whether the intent is to have a future pedestrian pathway on the easement. Planner Chris Cheng, who gave the staff presentation, said there are no current plans other than the sidewalk that will be installed as part of the site plan. But if in the future there are road improvements on Ellsworth and the sidewalk must be removed, then a sidewalk or other non-motorized use could be located in the easement.

In response to another query from Clein, Cheng noted that the site plan addresses a grade change along that edge of the property by including a walkway and some steps.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of this proposal. It will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Communications & Commentary

Every meeting includes several opportunities for communications from planning staff and commissioners, as well as two opportunities for public commentary. No one spoke during public commentary on March 18.

Communications & Commentary: Planning Commission Bylaws

Planning manager Wendy Rampson noted that the city council had approved some revisions to the planning commission’s bylaws – but not all of the revisions that have been recommended by planning commissioners were brought forward. The council approved the revisions that planning commissioners had passed about six months ago – at its July 16, 2013 meeting.

The changes relate to the order of agenda items, and the length of time required for special accommodations. The bylaws, as revised, call for additional lead time so that special accommodations, including a sign language interpreter, can be made for people with disabilities, when requested at least two business days in advance of a meeting. The previous bylaws specified just a one-day advance request.

Revisions that were approved by planning commissioners more recently – at their Feb. 20, 2014 meeting – have not yet been forwarded to the council. Rampson reported that assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald wanted to have some additional discussion about those revisions related to public hearings.

Wendy Woods wondered whether the city attorney’s office would work quickly, “so that we aren’t waiting a long time.” Rampson replied that she asked McDonald to draft language that he would find acceptable, and that could be forwarded to the commissioners for consideration. She said she’d communicate with him that commissioners would like to see that as quickly as possible.

One revision clarifies the limitations on a city councilmember’s interaction with the commission. The revised section states: “A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission during the Councilmember’s term in office.” The intent is to prevent undue influence on the commission, and to avoid the possibility of legal action against the city.

Other revisions affect speaking turns at public hearings. The intent is to clarify how many turns the same person can speak at a public hearing, and how public hearings are continued if an item is postponed.

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Bonnie Bona, Sabra Briere, Ken Clein, Diane Giannola, Jeremy Peters, Paras Parekh, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods. Also: City planning manager Wendy Rampson.

Next meeting: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the second floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

The Chronicle survives in part through regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of publicly-funded entities like the city’s planning commission. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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Totter Toons: Fuller Road Station Fri, 10 Feb 2012 17:57:33 +0000 HD Fuller Road Station Train Commuter Rail Parking Deck

Fuller Road Station Train Commuter Rail Parking Deck

Fuller Road Station Train Commuter Rail Parking Deck

Fuller Road Station Train Commuter Rail Parking Deck

Fuller Road Station Train Commuter Rail Parking Deck

Fuller Road Station Train Commuter Rail Parking Deck

Fuller Road Station Train Commuter Rail Parking Deck

Fuller Road Station Train Commuter Rail Parking Deck

Fuller Road Station Train Commuter Rail Parking Deck

Fuller Road Station Train Commuter Rail Parking Deck

For actual coverage of the announcement that the Fuller Road Station project has been suspended, see: “UM, Ann Arbor Halt Fuller Road Project.”

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E. Stadium Bridges Project Gets Council OK Tue, 05 Apr 2011 03:11:20 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its April 4, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved four items related to its East Stadium bridges replacement project: a road right-of-way easement from the University of Michigan for $563,400; two utilities easements from UM totaling $426,650; and an unrecorded water utilities easement.

The city was able to get the TIGER II federal funds formally “obligated” for that first right-of-way phase of the project – city council held a special meeting on March 16, 2011 to sign the necessary agreement.

The approval of the easements at the April 4 meeting will allow the city to proceed with getting $13.1 million of TIGER II grant funds obligated that have already been awarded for the second phase of the bridge replacement project. A continuing federal budget resolution passed by the U.S. Congress – which would preserve the TIGER II funding – expires on April 8. Previous proposals by House Republicans have included cuts that would have eliminated the TIGER II funding.

The council is acting with some urgency to get the funds obligated before the program is eliminated – if, in fact, it is eliminated.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 100 N. Fifth Ave. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Stadium Bridge Contract Signed with Feds Thu, 17 Mar 2011 14:29:26 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council special meeting (March 16, 2011): At a special meeting that had been announced at a city council work session two days earlier, the Ann Arbor city council voted to authorize signing a contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation related to a $13.9 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) II grant.

Mike Nearing, East Stadium bridges project

Top: File photo from March 2009 of city engineer Mike Nearing as he gives the East Stadium bridge a hammer sounding test. Bottom: At a March 16, 2011 special meeting, Nearing and other city staff were on hand to answer questions. To Nearing's left is Sue McCormick, public services area administrator. Standing is Homayoon Pirooz, head of project management. (Photos by the writer.)

Announcement of the grant’s award to the city for the reconstruction of the East Stadium Boulevard bridges had come in October 2010. The bridge over State Street is in such poor condition that its southern two lanes were intentionally demolished in November 2009.

The council’s special session reflected an urgency to complete the contract. The council has a regular meeting scheduled next Monday, March 21 – just five calendar days after the special session – when the council could also have taken the necessary vote on the contract.

The urgency stemmed from the March 18 expiration of a continuing resolution (CR) passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 2. A CR is a mechanism for keeping the federal government operating, based on the previous fiscal year’s budget assumptions, until formal appropriations bills are passed by Congress. The federal budget procedure is essentially a two-step process in which the budget levels for each department are first set and signed into law, followed by appropriations bills that authorize spending the budgeted amounts.

Based on proposals brought forward in February by U.S. House Republicans, but ultimately not enacted, the current two-week CR would have eliminated TIGER II grants. And based on the political posturing that took place over the current CR, the Ann Arbor city council was taking the step of signing the contract as soon as it could, to allow the U.S. Federal Highway Administration to “obligate” the TIGER II grant funds for the bridges project under the current CR – as a hedge against the possibility that a subsequent CR might cut TIGER II funding.

Although the grant had previously been awarded, the funds are not secured until they are actually obligated, a process that includes various requirements – among them, signing the contract that the council authorized at its special session.

The council’s action enabled obligation of TIGER II funds only for the right-of-way phase of the project – which amounts to around $800,000. According to Congressman John Dingell’s office staff, they’d been informed by the Dept. of Transportation on March 15 that the $800,000 for the initial phase had just been obligated.

Based on the city of Ann Arbor’s timeline, obligation of the $13.1 million in TIGER II funds for the construction phase is expected in May. Construction on the project, which is estimated to cost a total of $23 million, is tentatively scheduled for October 2011.

A public information meeting on the status of the project is scheduled for Wednesday, March 23 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Pioneer High School cafeteria. Pioneer is located at 601 W. Stadium – just down the street from the bridges.

Council Deliberations

Given the single item on the agenda, the special meeting was brief, but councilmembers still had substantive questions. Three city staff members were on hand to answer them: Sue McCormick, public services area administrator; Homayoon Pirooz, the city’s head of project management; and Mike Nearing, the city engineer who’s directly responsible for managing the bridge reconstruction project. This report begins with the council questions and answers, and continues with additional background detail organized roughly based on councilmember questions.

Council Deliberations: Right-of-Way

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to know if the city was confident that the University of Michigan is a willing partner in providing to the city the rights-of-way that it needs in order to complete the project.

Pirooz told Kunselman that the city had been talking with the university staff since October of 2010, and that the university has seen all the pieces of property, and descriptions for them, that the city is requesting.

Next week the city will be making a good faith offer, Pirooz said, and then the ball will be in the university’s court. Pirooz said he hoped that the university would accept the offer.

Council Deliberations: Obligation of Funds

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know if the signing of the contract, which the council was approving that night, would actually “obligate” the funds from the TIGER II grant. Pirooz explained that the $13.9 million from the grant would be obligated in two steps, corresponding to the two phases of the project: (1) the right-of-way phase, and (2) the construction phase.

Homayoon Pirooz and Ann Arbor city councilmembers

Homayoon Pirooz shows mayor John Hieftje the documents he needs to sign. At left are Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

When the contract is signed, Pirooz said, the first $800,000 of the grant would be obligated – “locked in.” After that, the city can make an offer to the UM for the rights-of-way needed for the project. On acceptance by the university, the city can then, under the same contract, lock in the remaining $13.1 million for the construction phase of the project.

Council Deliberations: Timeline

Tony Derezisnki (Ward 2) wanted to know how things stood on the overall timeline for the project. Pirooz told him that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation will be advertising the construction jobs to solicit bids in the summer and that they will be awarded in September. Construction is expected to start in October 2011.

Right-of-Way (ROW) Acquisition

The action taken on Wednesday by the Ann Arbor city council to approve the U.S. Dept. of Transportation contract will allow the obligation – “the locking in” – of the initial right-of-way acquisition phase of the project. From the contract:

Phase 1 – Right-of-Way Acquisition

This phase of the project consists of acquiring five, small, irregularly-shaped parcels of land that are needed for permanent right-of-way; and, three, small, irregularly-shaped parcels of land that are needed for underground utility easements for the subject project. Also to be acquired for the subject project are seven, temporary grading permit areas, that are needed for the purposes of constructing the project and will be restored to their original condition upon completion of the project.

The Federal funds for phase 1 may only be used on the costs associated with the purchase of the permanent right-of-way needed and the acquisition of the seven, temporary grading permit areas. No Federal funds, including TIGER II grant funds, will be used to reimburse the cost of ROW acquisition activities that were incurred prior to the date of obligation of the Federal funds.

Based on an October 2009 project design, a total of around half an acre of UM property would need to be acquired by the city in order to complete the bridge reconstruction project. The parcels in question are part of the Crisler Arena parking lot, the UM golf course, the field hockey facility, and the Red Lot (a parking lot).

The contract calls for the city to make a “good faith offer” to the university for the parcels, which are needed either as permanent conveyance or as utility easements. The city and the university have a history of conveying right-of-way to each other, either permanently or for temporary use.

In response to a query from The Chronicle, Jim Kosteva – UM’s director of community relations of community relations – gave examples of past projects that involved the university’s permanent conveyance of right-of-way to the city without a cash transaction: (1) expansion of Main Street at the intersection of Main and Stadium Boulevard to add a turn lane; (2) reconfiguration of Fuller Road around the VA hospital area to connect at Glazier Way; and (3) reconfiguration of Huron Parkway.

On the flip side, with the city permanently donating land to the university, Kosteva also gave examples: (1) the section of East University Avenue between North University and South University; (2) Monroe Street between Tappan and East University. [The university has also expressed interest in the last few years in acquiring the right-of-way between South State and Tappan on Monroe Street, but has up to this point received an unenthusiastic response from the city.]

In the category of temporary use of right-of-way, Kosteva offered various university construction projects that have required lane closures, most notably the football stadium renovation project, the construction of the North Quad dorm at State and Huron, and the law school project currently underway at State and Monroe. The city charges 1.5 cents per square foot per day for temporary use of the right-of-way. While the amount sounds trivial, Kosteva said that it has added up to several hundred thousand dollars over the last few years.

[To illustrate how the 1.5 cents can add up, consider a 12-foot-wide lane, and the 1,570-foot distance for one block of Main Street from Stadium Boulevard to Pauline Boulevard, for a closure of, say, 100 days. That works out to 12*1,570*.015*100 = $28,260]

Why Call a Special Meeting?

By way of background, the federal budget procedure is based on a fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30. The budget for the state of Michigan is aligned to that fiscal schedule, as are those of some other local units of government – like the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, for example. In contrast, the city of Ann Arbor’s budget year begins July 1 and ends June 30.

Once the city’s budget is approved each May by the city council, that money can be spent. However, throughout the year, the city council will vote on myriad contracts, because the power to make contracts on the city’s behalf is, per the city charter, vested in the council. Some dollar figure is associated with those contracts. A typical question asked by a councilmember of the city administrator on a night when the council is asked to vote to authorize a contract is: Where is this money coming from? A typical part of the answer is: This money has been authorized as part of the budget you approved last May.

On the federal level, once Congress approves the budget – which sets the dollar figures for all the departments – an additional step is required in order to allow any money to be spent. That additional step is the passage of various appropriations bills that specify with greater precision how the money in each department is to be allocated.

To gain time to consider and debate appropriations bills, Congress can use a continuing resolution (CR) to extend the habit and practice of spending from the previous year’s budget, to keep the federal government running. In December 2010, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, a CR that extended funding through March 4, 2011. In mid-February, as the expiration of that CR loomed, House Republicans announced a plan to pass a new CR, but with $100 billion in cuts, which would have also cut the TIGER II grant program. Though approved by the House, the Senate balked, and Republicans settled for a two-week CR with $4 billion in cuts – which spared TIGER II funding.

With the two-week CR set to expire on March 18, the Ann Arbor city council scheduled a March 16 special session, so it could authorize the agreement with the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (USDOT), which would allow the USDOT to obligate the TIGER II funds for the $800,000 phase 1 part of the East Stadium bridges project. The initial phase of the project involves acquisition of right-of-way from the University of Michigan – a disjoint mix of small, irregularly shaped parcels. According to Congressman John Dingell’s office staff, they received word from USDOT on March 15 that the phase 1 funds had, in fact, already been obligated.

Also on March 15, the House passed another three-week CR, which also maintained the TIGER II grant funding, extending governmental operation funds through April 8.

In that context, the special city council meeting may not have been necessary; however, the obligation of those funds was not known when the special council meeting was announced by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) at the March 14 city council work session. In addition to clearing the logistical hurdles of identifying a venue and coordinating with councilmember schedules, the council needed to meet the Michigan Open Meetings Act requirement that special meetings are given a minimum 18-hour public notice before the meeting.

The Ann Arbor city charter provides a specific procedure for calling a special meeting:

Special meetings of the Council shall be held at the regular meeting place thereof and shall be called by the Clerk on written request of the Mayor or any three members of the Council. Written notice stating the time and purpose of a special meeting shall be delivered to each member of the Council or left at the member’s usual place of residence at least three hours prior to the time set for the meeting. The Clerk shall record a certificate of service of notice in the journal of such meeting. A special meeting may be held notwithstanding lack of notice if all members are present, or if a quorum is present and each absent member has filed with the Clerk a written waiver of notice. A vote taken by the Council at a prior meeting shall not be reconsidered at a special meeting, unless as many members are present as were present when the original vote was taken. Except by unanimous consent of all members of the Council, a matter shall not be acted upon at any special meeting unless it has been included in the notice of the meeting.

Due to ongoing renovations at city hall, since January the “regular meeting” place of the city council has been either at the Washtenaw County boardroom or the Community Television Network (CTN) studios. The Washtenaw County board of commissioners were holding their regular meeting in their boardroom on Wednesday evening, which left the CTN studios as an option.

East Stadium Bridge Construction Timeline

The timeline the city is using includes a construction start in October 2011. The contract authorized by the council on Wednesday night includes a target completion date in June 2013, with the bridges open to traffic again eight months before that, in November 2012.

Date        Task
March 2011  Complete appraisals of UM properties
March 2011  City Council approval of TIGER II Grant Agreement
March 2011  Execute TIGER II Grant Agreement by US-DOT
March 2011  FHWA Authorization of TIGER II Funds
            (for ROW Phase only)
March 2011  Prepare and submit "Good Faith Offer" to UM for ROW
April 2011  City Council approval/acceptance of ROW from UM
April 2011  Execute and record all permanent ROW instruments
May   2011  Certification of all ROW to MDOT
May   2011  MDOT/FHWA Authorization of TIGER II Funds
            (for Construction Contract)
June  2011  MDOT Advertises the Construction Contract
July  2011  City Council Approval of City/State Agreement
Sept  2011  MDOT receive bids from the contractors
Oct   2011  MDOT issues "Notice to Proceed"
            to Bridge Construction Contractor
Nov   2012  Bridge open to traffic again
June  2013  Project complete


Timeline of East Stadium Bridge History

The East Stadium Boulevard bridges – one over State Street and the other over the railroad tracks – have a long history. Here’s an overview focused on the last five years.

  • 1973: Voters approve a millage to fund a bond to repair the East Stadium bridge. The proposed bond sale on the ballot included $800,000 for creation of a citywide bicycle system using existing streets and new pathways, and $360,000 designated for repair of the East Stadium bridge. At the time, the debate centered on whether the new bridge design should accommodate a wider roadway for State Street. On the same ballot was a transit millage, which passed as well – the same millage that supports today’s Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
  • 2006: The city of Ann Arbor is awarded $766,000 from Michigan’s local bridge program (MLBP), but the city allowed the award to expire a year later, because the amount did not go far enough towards funding the project. The alternative to expiration would have been to spend the MLBP money towards bridge reconstruction.
  • 2006: The city pays $1,249,467 to Northwest Consultants Inc. (NCI) for preliminary design engineering of the comprehensive bridge project that included bridge replacement, a transmission water main, storm sewer, and a South Main non-motorized path.
  • 2007: After a biannual inspection of the bridge, weight limits were reduced on the span. The limits were set as follows: 31 tons (reduced from 38 tons) for one-unit trucks (e.g., school or AATA buses); 39 tons (reduced from 48 tons) for two-unit trucks (e.g., a single-trailer semi); 44 tons (reduced from 54 tons) for three-unit trucks (e.g., a semi with two trailers).
  • 2007: On Sept. 18, 2007 and Oct. 2, 2007 at Pioneer High School’s cafeteria, informational workshops are held on a comprehensive project to address replacement of the span over State Street as well as the one over the railroad, including non-motorized improvements (i.e., sidewalks) extending along Stadium Boulevard to Main Street and south along Main to Scio Church Road. Those workshops are well attended, especially by members of the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club, which is located near the bridges.
  • 2007: On Dec. 29, 2007 there are reports of “medium-sized pieces of concrete” falling off one of the 16 pre-stressed concrete box beams supporting the roadway.
  • 2008: Early January re-inspection by city staff and bridge engineering consultants leads to the short-term recommendation of a traffic control order further reducing weight limits: 19 tons for one-unit trucks (e.g., school or AATA buses); 24 tons for two-unit trucks (e.g., a single-trailer semi); 26 tons for three-unit trucks (e.g., a semi with two trailers).
  • 2008: In March, the vision for a comprehensive renovation of the bridges plus the corridor from Main to White streets meets with a funding setback. The Michigan Dept. of Transportation awards only $760,000 for the project, though the total cost was estimated at that time at around $35 million.
  • 2008: On Oct. 22, 2008 Northwest Consultants Inc. – the engineering consultant for the bridge – performs biennial inspection.
  • 2009: In early February, Northwest Consultants is called back to re-examine the bridge. A 7/8 inch deflection of the beam is found. [Chronicle coverage: "Discontent Emerges at Caucus" and "Building Bridges"] The bridge safety rating has dropped to 2 on a scale of 100.
  • 2009: In March, traffic is rerouted so that it’s limited to the bridge’s northern lanes, and does not pass over the beams showing deflection. [Chronicle coverage: "How the E. Stadium Bridge Gets Monitored" and "Council Gets Update on Stadium Bridges"] The project scope is reduced from the more ambitious work on the corridor to just replacement of the two bridges.
  • 2009: On Sept. 15, 2009 the bridge inspection consultant, Northwest Consultants, inspects the East Stadium bridge over South State Street, and recommends removing the five southernmost beams.
  • 2009: On Oct. 5, 2009 the city council authorizes expenditure to remove five beams.
  • 2009: On Oct. 28, 2009 and again on Dec. 1, 2009, public meetings are held to discuss design.
  • 2009: In November, five beams are removed from the bridge.
  • 2009: In November, the state’s local bridge advisory board awards no funds for the Ann Arbor bridge project, citing the lack of any other non-city funding available for the project. [Chronicle coverage: "State Board: No Funding for Stadium Bridges "]
  • 2010: In February, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation announces the final recipients of the federal TIGER grant – they do not include the city of Ann Arbor.
  • 2010: In October, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation announces recipients of TIGER II grants – Ann Arbor is included on the list with a $13.9 million grant award.
  • 2010: In November, the state of Michigan announces an award of $1.67 million from its local bridge program and $1.2 million from its transportation enhancement funds, bringing the total of grants supporting the project to around $16.8 million, or about 73% of the total $23 million estimated cost of the project.

Communications and Comment

Every city council agenda contains an opportunity for the public to address the meeting. On Wednesday, no one spoke.

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

Absent: Christopher Taylor

Next regular council meeting: March 21, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building, 220 N. Main St. [confirm date]

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Packing Pyramids: UM and Ann Arbor Mon, 15 Feb 2010 00:41:43 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, which makes it different from other similar-sized Midwestern cities lacking a world-class research institution. You can’t swing a dead Greek philosopher without hitting someone in this town who can tell you how significant the connection is between Ann Arbor and UM.

Elizabeth Chen

Elizabeth Chen assembles a tetrahedron from connectors and straws. (Photos by the writer.)

In that way, at least, Ann Arbor is densely packed.

This is a story about that town-gown connection. It’s a story that connects a recent UM mathematics PhD thesis defense to the Ann Arbor planning commission – and takes a continuous path though topics like Klingons, grocery bags, affordable housing, yard waste collection and Valentine’s Day.

We begin with Elizabeth Chen, who successfully defended her PhD dissertation last Friday in East Hall on the UM campus. Her presentation included several hands-on assignments for those in the audience of around 30 people – several of whom assured The Chronicle that hers was an “unconventional” thesis defense.

Chen exhorted the assembled mathematicians to paste together plastic pyramid shapes with gummi putty to help them get an intuitive feel for the shapes: “It’s not so scary!” she admonished them. After half an hour, one member of her thesis committee prodded her to get to the mathematics part – he really had “better things to do.” The Chronicle, however, did not.

Packing Pyramids: Background

Never mind the answers – many of the questions themselves that mathematicians work at solving are completely inaccessible to (even very clever) non-mathematicians. That’s not the case with Chen’s work. Her dissertation title sounds almost like it could belong in the children’s section of a bookstore: “A Picturebook of Tetrahedral Packings.”

Certainly even small children can grasp the basic concept of the question Chen works on: How tightly can you pack pyramids together?

Regular Tetrahedron

Example of a model of a regular tetrahedron in the form of a die. The way you tell which number is "up" on such a die is to look at the one that can be read in its usual orientation. For this one, someone rolled a "4."

The specific kind of pyramid Chen works with is a regular tetrahedron (plural: tetrahedra). Each of the four faces of a regular tetrahedron is an equilateral triangle – one with three congruent sides.

For longer than a little while, it was believed that tetrahedra could be packed together perfectly to fill all of space, leaving no gaps at all. It was Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC), writing in “On the Heavens,” who suggested that regular tetrahedra were space-filling.

But by the 1400s, German mathematician Johannes Müller had countered Aristotle’s claim. And by the end of the 1800s, another German mathematician, Hermann Minkowski, had begun looking at the general problem of packing convex shapes. [A tetrahedron is convex – if you take any two points in a tetrahedron, the straight line connecting those points stays completely inside the tetrahedron.]

In 1900, David Hilbert, also German, included the problem of tetrahedron packing as a special case of Problem 18 in a list of 23 problems he had identified as interesting.  Hilbert’s list has guided much of mathematical inquiry for the last century. From Hilbert’s paper [emphasis added]:

How can one arrange most densely in space an infinite number of equal solids of given form, e. g., spheres with given radii or regular tetrahedra with given edges (or in prescribed position), that is, how can one so fit them together that the ratio of the filled to the unfilled space may be as great as possible?

Already in the early 1600s Johannes Kepler had conjectured that the most efficient way to pack spheres was in a way that Chronicle readers would recognize as the same approach that any produce clerk would take to stacking oranges. What Hilbert was asking for, though, was an actual proof that this was the optimal configuration. That (computer-aided) proof came in 1998 from Thomas Hales, who began his work at the University of Michigan.

9 Tetrahedra gummied together

A cluster of 9 tetrahedra gummied together. Chen's approach to maximizing density involves taking copies of these locally dense clusters and fitting them into lattices.

The density of an optimal sphere-packing is approximately 0.74048. That is, given an infinite number of identically-sized spheres, about 74% of space can be filled up with them – and we know, per Hales’ proof, with 100% certainty that there’s no configuration of spheres that would be any denser than that.

The 0.74048 number is thus a kind of a benchmark against which tetrahedron packing can be measured.

In 1972 Stanislav Ulam, a Polish-American mathematician who worked on the Manhattan Project, conjectured that spheres were the worst-packing of all convex bodies. So from Ulam’s conjecture, it should follow that tetrahedra should pack denser than 0.74048.  But in the mid-2000s, investigations of tetrahedron packing that used computer simulations, as well as experiments using  physical tetrahedral dice, could not establish any configuration of tetrahedron packing that clearly surpassed the 0.74048 for spheres. Maybe tetrahedra were worse-packing than spheres?

Was Ulam wrong? No. We’ll get to that in a moment. Now’s a good chance to think about how very wrong Aristotle had been – wrong about tetrahedra and their ability to completely fill space. How did he manage to massively miss that one?

Part of the reason could have been that Aristotle had no ready source of tetrahedral dice and gummi putty to try pasting models of tetrahedra together – the way that Elizabeth Chen asked the audience of her thesis defense to do. Once you have them in your hands, it’s easy to paste together models and convince yourself that they will fill less than all of space – a pastes-great-less-filling experience.

Alex and Zach

Alex Mueller (foreground) and Zach Scherr (to Mueller's right), both graduate students in mathematics at the University of Michigan, stayed pretty well focused on the hands-on tasks provided by Chen during her thesis defense.

In 2008, Chen showed how to arrange tetrahedra to achieve a packing of around 0.7786 – clearly beating the maximal packing for spheres, and in some sense vindicating Ulam.

Since Chen’s 2008 paper, other researchers have ratcheted the number upward, to 0.855506. But in early January of 2010, in a paper published with Michael Engel and Sharon Glotzer – both faculty in the UM department of chemical engineering – Chen nudged that number a bit higher, to 0.856347. [The more recent activity in the field of tetrahedron packing is succinctly covered in a New York Times article by Kenneth Chang: "Packing Tetrahedrons, and Closing In on a Perfect Fit"]

The January paper’s result, which is not included in Chen’s PhD thesis, was all that some in the audience wanted hear about: “What about the ‘champion’? I want to know how you did it, and then I’m going to leave.”

Chen eventually produced what they were there to see, which was the culmination of her systematic investigation: how individual copies of clusters of tetrahedra can fit densely into lattices. And her committee gave her a passing grade on the thesis defense.

Ann Arbor’s Kind of Density

When the topic of dense packing shows up in the pages of The Chronicle, it’s typically not in the sense of how densely you can pack space with tetrahedra. It’s usually something less esoteric, like a caution from the city’s public services area administrator, Sue McCormick, about packing the city’s yard waste containers too densely with leaves. From a recent Chronicle report on a city council budget meeting:

McCormick cautioned against compacting too many leaves into the containers, as it sometimes made emptying them difficult. [The automated arms tilt the carts upside down – whereupon the contents are liberated from the confines of the cart through a physical attractive force, a so-called "gravity."] McCormick pointed to the benefit of bagging as (i) providing more control, and (ii) limiting the amount of disruption in the community.

Or, if not densely packing leaves, then it’s densely packing people that’s the topic of discussion. We reported resident Lou Glorie’s remarks made during public commentary at a June 2009 city council meeting this way:

She suggested that urban sprawl had been replaced by the desire to pack 1,000 more souls into the downtown of some city. “Concrete is the new green,” she concluded.

Discussion on the merits of planning for greater population density in the city of Ann Arbor has dominated the local political conversation at least over the last decade. So it’s worth noting that a former Ann Arbor planning commissioner, Eric Lipson, attended Elizabeth Chen’s dissertation defense on dense packings of tetrahedra.

Eric Lipson

Eric Lipson, former planning commissioner with the city of Ann Arbor, hold the hands-on materials provided to audience members at Elizabeth Chen's Feb. 12 thesis defense.

Lipson did not attend by random accident. He’s the general manager of the Inter-Cooperative Council, a housing cooperative started in 1932 by UM students. Chen lived in ICC housing, at the Georgia O’Keeffe House, from 2005-2008. She was the O’Keeffe work manager for most of her time there.

That’s how Lipson knew Chen, and knew that her dissertation defense was coming up.

But Chen and Lipson aren’t just linked by the ICC connection.

Lipson himself has a practical interest in geometric shapes. He holds a patent on a connector for construction panels, which can be used to create 10-sided dome-shaped buildings.

And those 10-sided buildings can be shipped flat-packed wherever they might be needed. The company formed to manufacture and sell the product is called DecaDome. Lipson has prototypes set up in his backyard. While the audience was waiting for Chen’s dissertation committee to confer on her presentation, he showed us images of those prototypes from his Blackberry.


Eric Lipson showed The Chronicle images of DecaDome protoypes while we waited for Elizabeth Chen's dissertation committee to confer.

Part of what makes the connector special, said Lipson, is that the opening doesn’t require absolutely perfect alignment in order to accept a panel, which makes the task easier. As far as tools, all that’s needed is a screwdriver – though he allowed that a cordless power screwdriver would be recommended.

Panel material for DecaDomes ranges from foam core, to fluted polycarbonate, to pressure-treated plywood, to foam core panels covered with resin cement and fiberglass mesh.


Different kinds of material is also the basis of the Klingon connection to Chen’s thesis. After Chen’s presentation, Sharon Glotzer, a UM professor of chemical engineering, helped clarify for The Chronicle why she and chemical engineering colleague Michael Engel were co-authors with Chen on the world-record tetrahedron-packing paper.

Glotzer and Engel are interested in designing new materials with interesting properties – properties that could, say, affect how we visually perceive objects made from them. That is, they’re interested in materials that have some kind of cloaking property. Glotzer told us that the various tech blogs take their speculations on this kind of scientific work in the direction of the Klingon cloaking device from the Star Trek series. [A cursory look into the Star Trek archives suggests it's the Romulans who pioneered cloaking technology, not the Klingons, who may have simply stolen it, but that's an issue that lies beyond the scope of this article – in any case, the proof is left to the reader.]

The tetrahedron connection to Glotzer’s work is this: Starting with tiny tetrahedra composed only of a few thousand atoms and suspended in a liquid medium, they can self-assemble into ribbon-like lattices. Exposure to light causes these ribbons to twist. And it’s the twist that holds the potential for cloaking. The twist – or chiral property – makes a compound optically active. That is, it will rotate the plane of polarization of light that’s passed through it. Glotzer stressed that the key to these compounds is the starting shape of the nano-particles – it only works with tetrahedra.

Glotzer told The Chronicle that she’s focused on the purely scientific aspect of this work – she’s not hoping someday to run a private company manufacturing cloaking devices.

Groceries and Valentines

Glotzer’s perspective on tetrahedra is not that the densest packing of tetrahedra is the most interesting packing. Rather, it’s that an interesting packing of tiny tetrahedra is the one that results in a larger object with desirable properties.

It’s a similar principle that applies, for example, to packing grocery bags. The goal is not to fit as much as possible into each bag. The goal is to pack each bag so that the resulting larger object – the packed bag – has desirable properties. A commonly desired property of a packed grocery bag is that it will stand up on its own – a property that’s a function more of the way its contents are packed than of the bag itself, something that’s especially true with plastic grocery bags.

And in Ann Arbor, at least, properly packing “square bags” can lead to love. From a 2006 interview with former mayor of Ann Arbor Ingrid Sheldon, in which she describes how she met her husband, Cliff:

HD: So you were a checker at the Kroger in Lower Town and he was a produce clerk?

IS: He was. He was doing his management training. He had just gotten his MBA from Michigan and as a part of his training, he was anticipating going into finance, they had him work in the stores.

HD: So did this unfold … was it the break room, where you first met, or?

IS: It was five o’clock rush. And these were the old columns of numbers, you know, we didn’t have a nine-key or a ten-key. We had columns for one’s and ten’s and hundred’s. I was noted for being very fast! And for packing square bags! I could ring up blind, and do the division 3-for-79 in my head, and you had to just do it. So anyway, I turned around one day, during the five o’clock rush, and there was this scrawny kid, packing round bags slowly. Ugh! So, of course, I had to assist him. But I realized he was youngish and I thought maybe I ought to pursue this guy, and find out more about him, before I totally blow him off! … it was love in the produce aisle! … and we started dating.

Happy Valentine’s Day from The Chronicle.

More Photos

Additional photos from the thesis defense that could not be densely packed into the layout of the above text:

Jeffrey C. Lagarias

Prof. Jeffrey Lagarias, who chaired Elizabeth Chen's dissertation committee.

Julian Rosen with 17-er tetraheadral cluster

Julian Rosen, a graduate student in mathematics, holds the 17-er tetrahedral cluster he pasted together during the dissertation defense.

Igor Kriz,  Professor of Mathematics

Igor Kriz, UM professor of mathematics and a member of Chen's thesis committee.

Elizabeth Chen

Elizabeth Chen distributes materials for the hands-on portion of her thesis defense presentation.

Tetrahedral die held by Professor David Winter

Tetrahedral die held by professor of mathematics David Winter.

Chen receives the verdict

Elizabeth Chen (far right) receives the verdict on the oral defense of her dissertation: she passed. Standing with documents (far left) is her committee chair, Jeffrey Lagarias. Standing to Chen's right around the corner from Chen is professor of chemical engineering Sharon Glotzer.

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Regents Get Update on Town-Gown Relations Mon, 21 Sep 2009 02:40:20 +0000 Mary Morgan Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters Local 693, spoke to UM regents at their Sept. 17 board meeting about how possible firefighter layoffs could affect campus safety.

Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters Local 693, spoke to UM regents at their Sept. 17 board meeting about how possible firefighter layoffs could affect campus safety. (Photo by the writer.)

University of Michigan Board of Regents (Sept. 17, 2009): UM regents heard two presentations at their Thursday board meeting that closely linked the university and the community of Ann Arbor. Jim Kosteva, UM director of community relations, gave an update on the ways that the university is involved with the city, including payments as well as partnerships. And Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters Local 693, spoke during public comment on the possibility of additional layoffs among city firefighters and the potential impact it would have on the university.

Regents also heard several other reports and updates: from the director of the Life Sciences Institute; an architect working on the new basketball practice facility at Crisler Arena; and two alumni who hope to get the university more involved in an effort called Patriot Week.

And during her report on the board’s personnel, compensation and governance committee, regent Andrea Fischer Newman said that UM president Mary Sue Coleman had requested – and the committee agreed – not to raise Coleman’s salary this year.

We’ll begin with the issues most directly related to the Ann Arbor community: Kosteva’s report, and Schroeder’s public commentary.

Community Engagement

Cynthia Wilbanks, UM’s vice president for government relations, introduced Kosteva’s presentation by saying that in any relationship there are ups and downs, and that UM works to achieve more ups.

Kosteva cataloged several ways that the university interacted with the community, starting with UM’s relationship with the city government. UM and city staff meet monthly, he said, to discuss construction projects and other issues that might require planning and coordination. The university contributes about $125,000 annual to street repaving, he said, and is currently providing rent-free space for the Ann Arbor Police Department’s detective bureau, during construction of the city’s new municipal center.

UM partners with several government-related entities, Kosteva said, including the Downtown Development Authority and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. He cited specific examples, such as the proposed Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station, the Forest Avenue parking structure (a joint DDA/UM project) and the M-Ride agreement, in which UM pays AATA to allow university students, faculty and staff to ride AATA buses without paying a fare when they board.

The university also pays the city about $8 million each year for water, sewer and stormwater fees, which Kosteva said represented about 20% of the city’s total water and sewer operating revenues. Connection fees that the university paid the city related to construction projects have increased four-fold over the past five years, and represent over 50% of the city’s total connection fees for that period. Examples include about $550,000 for the Kellogg Eye Center, $500,000 for the Biomedical Science Research Building, and $350,000 for the Cardiovascular Center.

Though the university is exempt from paying property taxes, they pay roughly $23 million annually in leases for space they occupy in privately owned off-campus buildings, Kosteva said. The university currently accounts for about 15% of the area’s occupied commercial lease market, he said.

For bus service, the university paid AATA over $1.073 million in fiscal 2009, Kosteva said. There were 2.2 million UM riders on the bus system during that year. Those ridership numbers, coupled with the university’s own bus system, leveraged $895,000 in federal funding for regional transit in fiscal 2009, he said.

In addition, other UM payments include the rental of parking lots and classrooms from the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and payments for Ann Arbor police services during home football games and other events, Kosteva said. He also listed partnerships between the university and local groups, including:

Kosteva concluded by citing several projects that are being discussed between UM and the city, including the possible closure of Monroe Street, the Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station, and the issue of easements and staging for the East Stadium Bridges replacement project.

It was the Stadium Bridges project that elicited the only question from a regent following Kosteva’s presentation. Andrew Richner asked what the time frame was for completion of that effort, an estimated $22 million project to reconstruct the current structurally impaired bridges that span South State Street and the Ann Arbor Railroad. [See previous Chronicle coverage for an update on that project.] Kosteva said he believes the city is planning to start construction next fall. “The sooner, the better,” Richner said.

Ann Arbor Firefighters

Speaking during public comment time at the end of the meeting, Matt Schroeder, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 693, said that his union was concerned about the possibility of 14 layoffs and the possible closure of two stations, due to city budget cuts. They are currently in negotiations with the city, he said, and he was coming to the regents meeting to inform them of the situation. Statements from city administrator Roger Fraser about possible layoffs “send an alarming message to us regarding citizen safety and the safety of our crews,” he said, noting that layoffs would have a direct impact on their ability to provide basic services. There are currently 92 Ann Arbor firefighters.

Schroeder passed out a document that included information on national standards for fire ground staffing, as well as comparisons between communities in the Big Ten and throughout Michigan. Those comparisons looked at general population size, student populations, number of firefighters and equipment. Ann Arbor has the lowest number of career firefighters per 1,000 population of any community in the Big Ten, he said. All but Iowa City have more than 1.1 firefighters per 1,000 people – Ann Arbor has 0.804, a figure that would drop to 0.682 if 14 firefighters were eliminated.

He reminded regents that the university has many large buildings, and relies on Ann Arbor firefighters to respond. [The university does not maintain its own fire department and does not make regular payments to the city for fire service. It does provide rent and operating costs for a north campus fire station, on Beal Avenue near Plymouth Road, which is staffed by Ann Arbor firefighters. The university occasionally makes other contributions, such as $300,000 it paid in fiscal 2004 for a city fire engine.]

Regents expressed support for the issues that Schroeder raised. Regent Larry Deitch said that he was concerned, adding that no other group of people are more selfless and brave than firefighters. Deitch asked what the regents could do to help. Schroeder said that they just wanted to convey the current situation, and that they feel they can’t absorb additional layoffs.

Regent Denise Ilitch said that her sister had been involved in a fire at a Chicago hotel, and a firefighter had saved her life. Rest assured, she told Schroeder, that university officials will do whatever they can to make sure that people in Ann Arbor and students at UM are safe.

President’s Salary: No Raise This Year

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman reported that the board’s personnel, compensation and governance committee had evaluated UM president Mary Sue Coleman and were in unanimous agreement that she was a great president. Newman said she hoped that the Sept. 17 USA Today article, an obituary for NCAA president Myles Brand which mentioned Coleman as a possible successor, was “nothing more than sheer speculation.” Newman cited several accomplishments under Coleman’s tenure during the past year, including completion of a $3.2 billion fundraising campaign and the purchase of the former Pfizer research complex in Ann Arbor.

In recognition of the state’s economic climate, Coleman requested the board not give her a raise this year, Newman said, adding that they complied with that request. [Coleman receives $783,850 in total compensation, including a base salary of $553,500. Last year she received a 4% raise.] Coleman pointed out that none of her executive officers or deans had taken pay raises this year.

Regarding the NCAA job, Coleman said she hadn’t yet seen the article, adding “I’ve got the best job in the world. I just love it.” When someone pointed out that Walt Harrison, a former UM vice president for university relations, was also mentioned as a candidate for the job, Coleman said she thought he’d be great for that position.

Crisler Arena: Practice Facility

Don Dethlefs, CEO of the Denver-based architecture firm Sink Combs Dethlefs, showed regents the schematic designs – which they subsequently approved – for a $23.2 million basketball training facility at Crisler Arena. The two-story, 57,000-square-foot structure will include offices for men’s and women’s coaching staffs, locker rooms, two practice courts, film-viewing and hydrotherapy rooms, conditioning space and other amenities.

The design includes a “Hall of Fame” entry lobby on Crisler’s south side and a “champions” room overlooking the practice courts. These areas are envisioned for use in fundraising and other events. The lobby will be designed with a lot of glass walls and dramatic lighting, creating more of a “front door” to Crisler, Dethlefs said.

A tunnel will connect the facility to seating and the playing court at Crisler. Though the current project won’t include a roof plaza, Dethlefs said that the building will be designed to support such an addition in the future, and the athletic department hopes to eventually raise money to build it. The current project is expected to be finished in the fall of 2011. When the training facility is completed, the Crisler parking area will have about 100 fewer spaces.

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman asked for a report at some future date, giving a summary of all the construction projects that the athletic department has undertaken since Bill Martin took over as athletic director in 2000. Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, noted that a $3 million renovation to the UM football locker room in 2003 was the first investment after the department’s “difficult, dark days,” referring to the years when the department ran a deficit under the previous athletic director Tom Goss.

Other Construction Projects

The regents approved several other capital projects, with no discussion. They include:

  • A $9 million electronic building access system. The university will install electronic card readers on the exterior doors of over 100 buildings on campus, which are currently locked and unlocked manually. The system will provide increased security, said Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, giving them the ability to remotely lock down buildings during emergencies, for example.
  • Authorization to issue bids and award construction contracts on a $6 million soccer stadium – regents approved schematic designs for the project in June 2009.
  • A $1.5 million infusion center at the East Ann Arbor Health and Geriatric Center.
  • A $4 million project to upgrade the University Hospital emergency power system.

Life Sciences Institute

Early in the meeting, Alan Saltiel, director of the Life Sciences Institute, gave an update on the organization that was founded six years ago. When she introduced Saltiel, UM president Mary Sue Coleman said that he’d been inundated with calls since he announced his most recent research findings: A gene found in mice appears to control obesity. “Everyone wants to join the human clinical trials,” Coleman joked. Saltiel said his main job in life had become managing expectations.

The LSI started with the goal of recruiting a diverse group of top scientists who could work across disciplines to make new discoveries in the life sciences, Saltiel said. They now have 29 faculty with labs at the LSI building, with disciplines ranging from biology and bioinformatics to genetics and chemistry. In total, some 450 researchers work at LSI, including 150 students from across 14 different departments. They’ve secured over $150 million in research funding since the institute’s inception.

Collaboration is their mantra, Saltiel said. He cited his own research into the “obesity gene” – which long-term has potential to treat diabetes – as stemming from collaboration with several other researchers at the institute.

After Saltiel’s presentation, regent Martin Taylor asked whether the institute was the right size. Saltiel said that the building is full, but that it’s difficult to say whether it should be larger. Now, everyone knows each other, which makes it easier to collaborate. Coleman said that it’s a legitimate question to ask – the LSI model might extend to the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC), the new name for the 174-acre former Pfizer site that UM acquired earlier this year.

Research Funding

In his report to regents, Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, noted that the university had crossed a major threshold by logging a record $1.016 billion in federal research funding during fiscal 2009, which ended June 30. That’s up 9.4% from the previous year, he said, and includes only a very small amount – about $130,000 – of federal stimulus funding. Stimulus dollars will show up in the report for the current fiscal year, he said. So far, university researchers have been awarded $103.2 million in stimulus grants.

He joked that it took the university 192 years to reach the $1 billion mark, but he has set the goal of reaching $2 billion in eight years. “We’re well on our way,” he said.

Public Commentary

Patriot Week: Two speakers came to encourage UM to become engaged in Patriot Week, which ran from Sept. 11 through Sept. 17, Constitution Day. UM alum Michael Warren, an Oakland County circuit court judge and former member of the state board of education, said that he and his 10-year-old daughter, Leah Warren, came up with the idea for Patriot Week as a way to celebrate the country’s history and founding principles. Each day is dedicated to a different principle – such as the rule of law or equality – as well as a specific historical figure, founding document and symbol, as represented by a flag. He encouraged the university to embrace the event. [On a related sartorial note, Warren was wearing a bow tie with a stars-and-stripes motif.]

Accompanying Warren was David Weissman, who said he holds medical and undergraduate degrees from UM. He noted that Americans – even elected officials – score embarrassingly low on tests of civic knowledge and American history, and that it’s increasingly difficult to compete for attention to teach this information. Patriot Week is a focused approach to address this problem. He said they’d like to see UM host symposiums, student debates and celebratory events to mark the week, and to get students involved in partnerships with local high schools and elementary schools.

In response to a question from regent Andrew Richner, provost Terry Sullivan said that since 2005, the university has already been involved in events related to Constitution Week, which runs from Sept. 17-23. Specifically, she cited a panel discussion being held later that day at the law school, focused on court cases that have challenged the Constitution.

Department of Public Safety: Two people spoke on the same issue related to the DPS. Douglas Smith, a UM alumnus, spoke about the treatment of Dr. Andrei Borisov, whom Smith described as a whistleblower who was beaten by campus police then arrested for assaulting police officers. Smith said Borisov had been a research assistant professor in the university’s pediatrics department when a tenured faculty member took control of – and credit for – some of his work. Smith described a chain of events that he said led to several UM administrators conspiring to fire Borisov and prevent him from getting other jobs at the university. At one point, DPS officers escorted Borisov to his office to retrieve his personal property, Smith said, and ended up arguing with him about the contents of a briefcase, ultimately pushing him against a wall and charging him with trespassing. Smith said that Borisov discussed this incident with Stephen Hipkiss, chair of the DPS Oversight Committee, but that Hipkiss discouraged Borisov from filing a complaint against the officers. This matter should be investigated, Smith said.

Hipkiss also spoke during the time for public comment, and defended both the DPS and the oversight committee that he chairs. He described the committee’s role, and said that it was an advisory group, not a tribunal – they hear grievances, then make recommendations to the university’s chief financial officer, who has responsibility for the department. Hipkiss said that DPS has complied with all of the committee’s requests for information during the 11 years he has served on the committee. He disputed Smith’s claim that there’s not adequate oversight.

A bottle of hand sanitizer was placed on the table where media sit during the UM board of regents meetings.

The media desk during the UM board of regents meetings. The bottle contains sanitizer for hands, not news reports. (Photo by the writer.)

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UM Plans Research Hub at Former Pfizer Site Fri, 19 Dec 2008 04:07:27 +0000 Mary Morgan Pfizer bought by UM: Snow Angel

Pfizer's Plymouth Road facility is largely vacated, except for the occasional snow angel.

Word about the University of Michigan’s plans to buy the former Pfizer research site had leaked out much earlier in the day, but UM regents waited until the end of their regular Thursday afternoon meeting before making it formal: The university will spend $108 million to buy the roughly 174-acre Plymouth Road complex, with plans to transform it into a major medical and scientific research hub. In the long term, university officials hope to add 2,000 jobs to the local economy over 10 years. But in the short term, the deal will take millions of dollars off the tax rolls for local governments at a time when they’re already anticipating budget shortfalls.

Comments made by regents and UM executives made it clear that they’d been considering this deal for some time. Local officials were informed either last night or this morning. Several interviewed by The Chronicle said they were concerned about the added financial strain – Pfizer paid a total of $12.5 million in taxes this year to various local entities, including about $4 million to Ann Arbor alone – but they were also optimistic that the UM purchase ultimately would help the local economy.

Details of the deal

UM will pay for the property – which includes nearly 2 million square feet of lab and office space in 30 buildings – primarily from reserves of the UM Health System, particularly funds set aside by the Medical School. A smaller portion of additional funding will come from investment income typically used for capital projects. The deal is expected to close sometime this summer. It’s the university’s largest property purchase since buying 300 acres for north campus in 1950.

The university has a general vision for the area, but hasn’t decided exactly what kinds of work will take place there, said UM President Mary Sue Coleman. The property, located on the city’s north side, is surrounded by land that’s part of UM’s north campus, which includes its College of Engineering. Its massive medical complex is just south of that area. Broadly, the university will use the Pfizer complex to provide research space, possibly for cell biology, stem cell, nanotechnology and other types of medical research. UM might move entire institutes or research centers there, but precise plans are expected to take 12-18 months to develop.

Bob Kelch, CEO of the UM Health System, speaks to reporters about the Pfizer property purchase.

Bob Kelch, CEO of the UM Health System, speaks to reporters about the Pfizer property purchase.

Bob Kelch, CEO of the UM Health System and executive vice president for medical affairs, said the university has never had sufficient research space, a shortage that has hurt research productivity as well as recruitment. The Pfizer space will allow UM to develop more collaborative efforts, he said, both between different units within the university – such as engineering and medicine – and between the university and the private sector.

Several university officials hammered on the theme of economic development, saying that they were committed to helping the local, regional and state economy. “We’re living at the center of the economic contraction,” said Steve Forrest, vice president for research. Buying the Pfizer site sends a powerful message that the university is committed to the state, he said, and that it’s growing. Forrest added that UM plans to “aggressively” increase its partnerships with industry.

Regent Larry Deitch gave a bit of historical context for the deal, reminding the group that UM had sold Pfizer 55 acres of property for about $27 million in 2002, when Lee Bollinger was president. The university initially wasn’t interested in selling the land, Deitch said, but did so when they were told that if they didn’t, Pfizer would leave. “So we sold them the land, and they left,” he joked. But in crafting that deal, UM’s legal staff had added a clause that let UM retain rights to the land if Pfizer departed, as they eventually did. Deitch praised the staff for their foresight in that decision.

County commissioner Mark Ouimet, Ann Arbor city councilmembers Leigh Greden and Margie Teall, and city administrator Roger Fraser watch as the regents discuss their decision to buy Pfizer property.

From left: Washtenaw County commissioner Mark Ouimet, Ann Arbor city councilmembers Leigh Greden and Margie Teall, and city administrator Roger Fraser watch as the regents discuss their decision to buy Pfizer property.

Local impact

Because the deal won’t likely close until mid-2009, Pfizer will still pay local taxes on the site next year. That gives local officials some breathing room as they face the loss of their largest taxpayer. (As a public institution, UM does not pay taxes.)

Of the $12.5 million in total local taxes paid by Pfizer in 2008, about $1.3 million went to county coffers. Washtenaw County prepares its budgets on a two-year cycle, and will begin looking at the 2010-11 budget early next year. The county had already projected lower revenues from a weak housing market that has dropped property taxes, “so now this is added to the mix,” said county administrator Bob Guenzel, who attended Thursday’s regents meeting. Pfizer taxes account for about 1% of the county’s $107 million annual budget.

Yet Guenzel said despite the challenge, he has confidence that UM is making economic development a priority, and that the purchase will pay off for the community in the long run. Guenzel also serves on the board of Ann Arbor Spark, the local economic development agency that’s been helping Pfizer shop the site around to potential buyers. He said he was informed of the purchase on Thursday morning, when he got a phone call from Jim Kosteva, UM’s director of community relations.

John Hieftje, Ann Arbor’s mayor, recently had coffee with Coleman but didn’t hear about the Pfizer deal until she called him Wednesday night. In 2008, taxes from Pfizer represented 4.85% of the total property taxes collected by the city. But Hieftje, too, believes the purchase will be good for the overall economy, especially if the jobs that UM hopes to add actually materialize.

UM President Mary Sue Coleman answers a reporters question about the Pfizer property deal.

UM President Mary Sue Coleman answers a reporter's question about the Pfizer property deal.

Responding to a question from a Michigan Radio reporter, Coleman said the university would have been happy if another buyer had come forward for the property. When Pfizer announced it was closing its Ann Arbor operation two years ago, she had been hesitant to pursue the property, in part because of concerns over the tax implications for the community. But the economy changed over that period, she said, making other buyers scarce. And as the university looked more closely at the property, they realized it was a better fit than they’d originally envisioned.

As the university’s research agenda and capacity increases due to the expansion into Pfizer’s site, they expect to hire more faculty, post-doctorate researchers and research staff, Coleman said. Those higher-paying jobs will benefit the economy, she said, noting that the same is true for jobs created as the result of partnerships with the private sector.

“And if we really cram people in there,” Coleman said, “maybe we can hire 4,000 people.”

Media coverage

Regents meetings normally don’t draw a lot of media attention, but UM put out a press release Thursday morning saying there’d be a “major announcement” at the meeting, and several news outlets, including The Chronicle, reported that the purchase of Pfizer’s research campus was on the table. So Thursday’s meeting was well attended by print, radio and TV reporters.

During the meeting, Regent Andi Fischer Newman apologized to Ann Arbor News reporter Dave Gershman, saying that he’d emailed her on Wednesday asking if the announcement was on Thursday’s agenda and she told him no – but what she didn’t say was “not at this time.”

Other news reports: Ann Arbor News, Ann Arbor Business Review, Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, Crain’s Detroit Business, Michigan Radio

The mini media mob at Thursdays UM regents meeting.

The media mini-mob at Thursday's UM regents meeting.

Ann Arbor News reporter Stefanie Murray interviews Mike Finney, CEO of Ann Arbor Spark, in the UM Regents room. News photographer Lon Horwedel is videotaping the interview.

Ann Arbor News reporter Stefanie Murray interviews Mike Finney, CEO of Ann Arbor Spark, in the UM Regents room on Thursday. News photographer Lon Horwedel is videotaping the interview.

Reporters xx from the Detroit News and xx from Crains Detroit Business work on stories following the UM regents meeting on Thursday.

Reporters Marisa Schultz from the Detroit News and Ryan Beene from Crain's Detroit Business work on stories following the UM regents meeting on Thursday.

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Neighbors Weigh In Again on Wall St. Project Fri, 19 Dec 2008 03:50:15 +0000 Mary Morgan Eliana Moya-Raggio, a Wall Street resident, explains her objections to UM proposed parking structure.

Eliana Moya-Raggio, a Wall Street resident and former UM faculty member, explains her objections to UM's proposed parking structure. She spoke at a Tuesday evening meeting held at the Kellogg Eye Center.

There were two distinctly different agendas on view at Tuesday’s Wall Street neighborhood meeting, hosted by University of Michigan staff. University representatives, led by Jim Kosteva, were there to deliver information about environmental and safety issues related to the proposed UM expansion in that area. The neighbors wanted answers to questions they’d been asking for many months – and their frustration was palpable.

This was the second in a series of meetings organized by UM to discuss the planned expansion of its medical complex with neighbors. The current piece of that project calls for an office building, parking structure and transit center on Wall Street, just down the street from UM’s Kellogg Eye Center.

Kosteva, UM’s director of community relations, repeatedly used the phrase “regentally authorized project,” and that was one of the first things challenged by neighbors at Tuesday’s meeting. In response to a question, Kosteva said that in fact the regents had taken the first of three steps: At their September 2008 meeting, regents gave initial authorization for the $48.6 million project and for hiring an architect. (Several neighbors were also on hand at that meeting, which The Chronicle covered, to speak against the project.)

At some point the regents will have to vote on approving a schematic design and a “refined” budget, Kosteva said, then at a later date they’ll vote on the project’s final design and budget. Sue Gott, a university planner, said the schematic design will likely be presented to regents at their March meeting.

Though Kosteva and other UM staff members repeatedly said they wanted feedback and would take the neighbors’ concerns into consideration as the project moved forward, residents on Tuesday were decidedly skeptical. As Kosteva finished his introductory remarks, one neighbor asked whether he planned to respond to questions and concerns raised at the November meeting, which focused on transportation issues, parking and the university’s planning process. She said the neighbors had hoped for a dialogue, but that based on Tuesday’s agenda, it didn’t appear that previously raised issues would be addressed, and that was disappointing.

Jim Kosteva, left, makes a point to Eugene, a board member of Riverside Park Place condominiums.

UM's Jim Kosteva, left, makes a point to Eugene Daneshvar, a board member of Riverside Park Place condominiums.

Kosteva said the university staff was thankful and appreciative of all questions and concerns, which he said had caused the staff to analyze and reflect on their plans. But he said they did not intend to respond to those issues at this meeting. Gott said that at the February neighborhood meeting they planned to bring together everything they’d heard and roll it into a discussion then.

When pressed on whether this meant that there was room for negotiation of the medical system’s master plan, Kosteva responded that they were working under regental guidelines and have made adjustments based on feedback, but he did not specify what those adjustments had been. The master plan – which calls for eventually two parking structures along Wall Street and as much as 900,000-square-feet of additional office, clinical and research space – was first introduced in 2005, though the university has been talking about expansion in that area since the mid-1980s, Kosteva said. The street is already being transformed with the $121 million, eight-story expansion of the Kellogg Eye Center.

Several neighbors said they understood and even supported the medical system’s expansion – except for the inclusion of the parking structures.

Tim Mortimer, a board member for the Riverside Park Place condominiums, asked whether alternative sites had been considered for parking, such as land along Fuller that’s being considered for a city transit station, or a surface lot at the corner of Huron Parkway and Glazier Way. When it became clear that the answer was no – Kosteva said the university was working with the city on the Fuller site, but that the projects were on “parallel tracks” and wouldn’t eliminate the need for parking on Wall Street – neighbors responded with frustration.

Eliana Moya-Raggio said that the needs of the university weren’t the only factor – UM should also consider the solid opposition of the people who live in the area. “Who are we – are we nothing?” she asked. “Do people have no importance in this project of yours?”

Mortimer said the university had time and opportunity to look at alternative sites for parking, but that they just aren’t doing it. “You’re polite and courteous,” he said, “but you’re not listening.”

A major point of conflict is the fundamentally different goals that UM and the neighbors hold for that part of Ann Arbor. The university is trying to address the needs of its staff, faculty and patients who come to the medical complex. John Ballew, who manages facility planning for the UM health system, said that access to parking is crucial for employee satisfaction, retention and recruitment. He said that the health system’s staff – which the university expects to grow – wants parking that’s close enough for them to access their cars, especially for people who work off-hour shifts, have kids or dependent adults, or who move between the medical campus to other parts of UM during the day. He said the timing is uncertain for the city’s “multi-modal” station on Fuller, which is envisioned as a hub for light rail and bus.

Residents have a much different goal for Wall Street and the larger Lowertown area. Ray Detter, chair of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, read a section from the city of Ann Arbor’s master plan, which describes the vision for Lowertown as a “pedestrian-oriented urban village.” The influx of traffic from one or two large parking structures runs counter to that vision, Detter said.

Those disparate goals were also evident in the university’s presentation of crime statistics related to parking structures. David Miller, UM’s executive director of parking and transportation services, provided data on crime at UM parking structures on Glen, Ann and Catherine streets, and noted that parking structures in residential areas have far fewer crime incidents than those near businesses. (For those three structures, with a total of about 2,000 spaces, there were nine incidents in 2007 – four traffic accidents, three property damage incidents and two larcenies from vehicles.)

Sabra Briere, a neighborhood resident and Ward 1 city councilmember, said those statistics were important for people who used the parking structures, but were less valuable for people who live near them. Residents would be concerned about crime near the structure, or about bike/car and pedestrian/car incidents.

Mortimer described the proposed Wall Street parking structure as “the worst of both worlds.” The parking is far enough away from the medical complex to require that people take a bus from the structure to their destination. Yet it creates traffic congestion as people drive their vehicles to a parking structure in an urban neighborhood.

Moya-Raggio also remarked on the oddity of discussing environmental concerns – part of the university’s presentation was about how it planned to deal with various issues like air quality for its bus fleet – while at the same time encouraging people to drive by providing more parking. “It’s a paradox,” she said. Miller replied, “It’s complicated.”

Ray Detter listens to Sabra Briere, a neighborhood resident and city councilmember for Ward 2.

Ray Detter listens to Sabra Briere, a neighborhood resident and city councilmember for Ward 1. The ward's other council representative, Sandi Smith, also attended Tuesday's meeting.

A couple of residents from Kessler Commons, another condominium complex on Wall Street, warned others of what they’ll face during construction. They said the university has ignored efforts to compensate them or deal with property damage and noise from the expansion of the Kellogg Eye Center. “You need to be aware of the scope of what’s coming,” said one resident, who asked not to be identified in this article.

When asked what the city was doing, Briere said the city’s staff was talking to the university’s staff, and that the mayor, John Hieftje, had managed to meet with UM President Mary Sue Coleman, “which was momentous to him.” She added that the council had passed a resolution to encourage that level of communication. But ultimately, she said, the city has no authority to do anything, other than to prevent the university from using the street.

Sandi Smith, who also represents Ward 1 on city council, said that UM officials need to respect the 2,000 residents in the area, and not create a plan that has no relation to the city in which the university exists. Celeste Novak asked whether it would be possible for neighbors to meet with city staff about what’s happening on Wall Street, and Briere said she could arrange a meeting, possibly at Northside Grill after the holidays.

The next neighborhood meeting with UM is on Jan. 27, when university staff plans to present a schematic design for the project.

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UM Purchases Pfizer Site Thu, 18 Dec 2008 16:21:50 +0000 Dave Askins Details are scant, but UM has scheduled a major announcement to be made at this afternoon’s regents meeting: UM will purchase the former Pfizer site.

Reaction to the news from Ward 5 councilmember Carsten Hohnke was unambiguous: “The impact of removing $1.5 million from our tax rolls can not be overstated. I’m extremely disappointed that the University could not find a way to be a more creative and equitable partner with the city in this.”

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