The Ann Arbor Chronicle » zoning and planning it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Six-Vote Majority Leaves The Moravian Short Thu, 08 Apr 2010 18:50:22 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 5, 2010) Part 1: In a six-to-four vote on Monday night, the Ann Arbor city council did not give The Moravian development the required 8-vote super-majority it needed for approval. A petition signed by greater than 20% of adjoining property owners meant that the project needed eight instead of the six votes it actually received to win the council’s endorsement.

The pen of Tom Luczak

On an architect's scale model of the neighborhood, Tom Luczak points to a house on Fourth Avenue, next to the proposed project, The Moravian. The view is roughly from the northwest. Luczak spoke in opposition to the project. (Photos by the writer.)

The five-story, 62-unit building proposed for the section of East Madison Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues near downtown Ann Arbor had come before the council with the recommendation of the city’s planning staff and a 7-1 vote recommendation from the city’s planning commission.

The public hearing on The Moravian included remarks from around 90 people on both sides of the issue. The Moravian alone – counting the public hearing, plus the deliberations by the council – took up over four hours of the meeting, which lasted well past 1 a.m.

Besides The Moravian, the council’s business included an item that would have reconsidered its recent decision to replace the entire Ann Arbor housing commission board. The motion for reconsideration was voted down, with no support, not even from its two sponsors – Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Kunselman cited the late hour as part of the reason for his lack of enthusiasm for pursuing the matter.

The council also tabled a proposed city ordinance that would ban cell phone use while driving. The council had postponed the measure to a specific date a few times previously. The tabling means that the ordinance can be brought back for consideration by the council, but by council rule it will die unless it is brought back within six months.

Also receiving brief discussion was a possible council rule on email that the council is now forced to  consider publicly at its next meeting under terms of a recent lawsuit settlement.

In Part 1 of this report, we focus exclusively on The Moravian.

The Moravian

Based on city council’s deliberations at the first reading of the project, at its March 1, 2010 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) was a sure vote against the project, with Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) also showing indications of a negative inclination. While also hinting a negative leaning, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) laid out parts of the city’s central area plan that highlight the difficulty in finding suitable locations to increase density.

On Monday, when the second reading of the proposal was before the council, the lack of support from those four councilmembers was enough to doom the project, which needed an 8-vote super-majority to win approval. [Hohnke was absent from Monday's meeting – thus he could not throw a vote in support of the project. But his Ward 5 colleague, Mike Anglin, read a statement from Hohnke against the project.] Mayor John Hieftje added a no vote, leaving the council with a simple six-vote majority, which left the project short by two votes.

The requirement of a super-majority had been triggered by submission of a protest petition under the city’s planned unit development (PUD) ordinance. [Chronicle coverage: "The Moravian Goes Before City Council"]

On the protest petition, Chapter 55 Article XI, Section 5:107 (5) of the city code specifies that:

(5) A protest against any proposed amendment to this chapter may be presented in writing to the City Clerk at or before the public hearing thereon. Such protest shall be duly signed by the owners of at least 20% of the area of land included in the proposed change, or the owners of at least 20% of the area of land included within an area extending outward 100 feet from any point on the boundary of the land included in the proposed change, excluding any other publicly owned land. Following the filing of a valid protest petition, adoption of an amendment to this chapter shall require at least 8 affirmative votes of the Council at the second reading on the ordinance.

The Moravian Public Hearing: General Climate

During the public hearing, some made allusions to “name-calling” by others. Possibly fitting that description could be the labeling of Moravian supporter Anya Dale as “Ms. Planning,” or the description of the neighborhood itself by numerous speakers  as “blighted,” or a description of opponents of the project as “sulkers.”

The Moravian city council chambers

The controversy over The Moravian filled city council chambers with over 100 people.

The word NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] was also dropped once or twice. Likely not fitting the description of “name calling” was a speaker who introduced himself saying, “I’m the mushroom!” The general atmosphere could fairly be described as imbued with a little awkward tension, with the council chambers filled with over a hundred people, many on both sides of the issue.

Still, the interactions between supporters and opponents seemed more good-natured and lighthearted than vicious. Before the meeting started, Beverly Strassmann was distributing pink 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper printed with “No Moravian PUD” throughout council chambers, but paused when she came to Joe Ferrario, saying she didn’t know who he was. Ferrario, who spoke in favor of the project – eased through the moment by quipping, “Is that a Butler or a Duke sign?” [The NCAA basketball finals were played that evening. Duke won.] Ferrario told The Chronicle that his son-in-law had attended Butler, and that there was a connection to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski through his wife – so he was okay either way.

Of course, most speakers at the public hearing were not that ambivalent about the outcome of The Moravian vote. The sampling below is not exhaustive of the speakers or of the sentiments they expressed. They’re not presented in chronological order – they’re grouped somewhat thematically.

The Moravian Public Hearing: Where to Put Development

The opening tip went to the Moravian supporters opponents, with Tom Luczak working from a 1/25 scale model of the block – bounded on the north and south by Packard and Madison streets, and Fourth and Fifth avenues on the east and west – concluding that the model showed the proposed building was vastly out of scale. He characterized The Moravian as a good project in the wrong spot. An example of a good project in the right spot, said Luczak, was Zaragon Place 2. Luczak speculated that the house immediately adjacent to The Moravian would be so persistently in shadows that it would turn into a mushroom farm.

Walt Spiller

Walt Spiller, property owner and resident of the Fifth Avenue neighborhood, spoke against The Moravian.

Later, the owner of the house, Walt Spiller, began his speaking turn by announcing, “I’m the mushroom.” Spiller emphasized in his remarks that the city’s zoning represents a contract between the citizens and the city. [Spiller is a retired postal worker who used to deliver mail in the neighborhood, where he still lives.]

Jim Mogensen noted that developers were always “pushing the envelope” of what was possible, which was somewhat understandable given that there are limited areas left to develop. However, he wondered if the council would approve a similar project in the middle of Ann Arbor Hills – a relatively wealthy subdivision on the east side of Ann Arbor.

The theme of limited land on which to develop urban density was one picked up by Scott Munzel – in service of an argument for The Moravian. Munzel, who stressed he was speaking as a private citizen – he’s appeared before the city council in the past representing other developments – pointed to the reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), reduction in sprawl, and the strengthening of the city core as specific benefits of the project. Once you take away the historic districts, the floodplain, the university’s property, parkland, and other properties unlikely to ever be developed, said Munzel, there was little land left. The idea that urban density should be limited to the area inside the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority boundary, said Munzel, allowed people to say they were for density, knowing it won’t happen.

Lou Glorie, a declared candidate for city council in Ward 5, echoed the sentiment that the project was inappropriate for its location. She said that anything could be pointed to as “blight” and that neighborhoods are the heart of a city. She suggested that the council should review how it was that staff and the planning commission had approved it.

Also objecting to the project as being in the wrong place was Deanne Relyea.

Deirdra Stockmann said she supported the project because it offered density in and near the downtown area where Ann Arbor needed a diversity of housing options. She said that on that evening there were voices and perspectives not heard enough in the forum of the city council chambers.

Responding to the idea from another speaker that there is “no magic line” that says things start and stop at a particular place, Claudius Vincenz stated that “it’s called ‘zoning.’” The Moravian did not, he said, add to the neighborhood, but rather took over the neighborhood.

Vivienne Armentrout suggested that the discussion surrounding The Moravian had shown that “the mask has slipped” and that the real objective is to expand downtown.

Emphasizing that the area where The Moravian is proposed is not in downtown, Richard Jacobson said that the city’s future land use plan calls for residential use in the area. [This is an allusion to the live/work units that are offered as part of the project.]

Describing herself as a resident of the “gritty urban edge” of the Old West Side neighborhood, Margaret Wong said that a project needed to be appropriate to a particular location. She wondered why in this instance the city was thinking about coloring outside the lines. The claimed benefits, she said, were not site specific.

Anya Dayle

Anya Dale spoke in favor of the project, objecting to the use of an architect's model that showed just the block where The Moravian was proposed, without surrounding blocks.

The architect’s model used by Luczak, which had been commissioned by opponents of the project, came under criticism from Anya Dale, who suggested that it illustrated something taught in Planning 101 courses: How to lie with maps. “You crop out what would make it relevant,” she said. She allowed that it was a very good job of cropping, but that it was cropping nonetheless. She emphasized that the city’s professional planning staff understands that density is not just about numbers but also about design.

Jean Pierre Nogues, responding to Anya Dale’s criticism that the buildings surrounding The Moravian had been cropped out of the model, noted that there was, in fact, a university building in the model, but it was hidden behind the “behemoth” of The Moravian. He observed that The Moravian did not offer many of the 1-2 bedroom units that young professionals would likely rent, but rather consisted predominantly of 3-4 bedroom units.

Nogues suggested that people would not move to New York City because they can’t find housing in Ann Arbor. Also picking up on the idea that The Moravian offered 3-4 bedroom units, Shirley Zempel contended that the project was being misrepresented as suitable for young professionals.

The Moravian Public Hearing: Who Wants to Live Where?

A number of people spoke, citing the perspective of young professionals who were looking for suitable, reasonably priced housing near the downtown area. Among them were Michele Heisler, an associate professor at the University of Michigan medical school, who introduced herself as a physician and a researcher who had secured three National Institute of Health grants and employed around 20 people at $40,000 to $70,000 a year. She expressed concern that housing options for her employees were limited near downtown – they don’t want to live in poorly-maintained rentals with other students and can’t afford the more expensive downtown lofts. She said the neighborhood where The Moravian is proposed struck her as blighted, saying, “I’m going to be honest about how it’s perceived.”

Tony Lupo who moved to Ann Arbor from New York and works for Salon Vox as the marketing director, reported that the Liberty Street salon employs 21 people, yet there is no viable housing for them to live in near downtown. Roger Hewitt, a member of the Downtown Development Authority board as well as a downtown business owner (Red Hawk, Revive and Replenish), reported that one of his employees lives close to the proposed Moravian project and is enthusiastic about it.

Chad Wiebesick said he would be one of the first people to move in. Part owner of the Necto Night Club, Scot Greig, lamented the lack of adequate housing for his employees – they all drive in, he said. None live in Ann Arbor.

Laurie Blakeney characterized herself as an “old townie” who moved here in 1971. She’d seen the downtown lose movie theaters and mid-sized department stores – now it consisted of restaurants, galleries and coffee shops, she said. She wanted to bring back the kind of downtown that used to exist that could support urban life, not just be a weekend destination. She said the downtown should be the kind of place that Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods could locate.

Linda Foit

Linda Foit, a Ph.D student at the University of Michigan, spoke in favor of the project.

Megan Jenkins said she’d moved to Ann Arbor seven years ago, had fallen in love with it, and supported the project. Linda Foit, who’s a Ph.D student in biology at UM, described how she was only able to live near downtown because she was willing to live with three roommates in a “shitty place” – one that is old, not well-maintained, not well-insulated, with single-pane windows. She supported The Moravian, she said, because if it had been built three years ago when she came to Ann Arbor, she wouldn’t have to live in a place like that.

Downtown resident Nick Hoffman recounted how difficult it had been to find the place he lives in now – he’d put his name on wait lists and was renting elsewhere month-to-month to be as flexible as possible. He got the place because he was the first person to look at it – within 24 hours seven others came to look at the place. It had not even been advertised, he said, so strong was the word-of-mouth demand.

Norm Cox allowed that there was no such thing as a perfect development, but that the pros outweighed the cons. As a downtown business owner who employs young professionals, he said, he felt it was a nice balance of context and scale.

Saying it was the first time he’d spoken at a forum like this, Matt Turner supported the project. He allowed that it is difficult when things change, but said there was a lot of pent-up demand for housing for young professionals. More than a NIMBY issue, he said, was the sound of people leaving this town.

A software developer for entrepreneurial companies, Nick Stanley spoke in favor of the project. He said he currently lives in an historic house subdivided into apartments and that he and his wife will likely move after his wife finishes her masters degree. He allowed that the existing housing is cheap, but is not the same as affordable housing in a PUD – he’d happily occupy one of those units with his wife and cat, he said.

Ashley Terrace resident and 1998 UM grad Jennifer Raft said she enjoyed living there. She started by renting and has now purchased her unit, because someone else wanted to buy it. She suggested that 50-80 years from now, Ashley Terrace might seem small.

Kim Kachadoorian told the council that they had now close to 200 signatures on petitions against the project. She contended that there would be a net loss of affordable housing. What would keep people in Ann Arbor, she said, was not housing, but jobs.

After hearing several speakers support the project on the grounds that it offered housing suitable for young professionals, Piotr Michalowski said he wanted to “bring us back to reality.” He described The Moravian as a “student apartment complex.”

Citing his lack of success listing a two-bedroom apartment on Craigslist, Sean Ferris questioned whether The Moravian was really set up for young professionals.

Recent UM graduate Idy Usoro reported that she lived off Plymouth Road on the east side because she wanted a more professional housing option, but she would really like to live downtown. She said that some of her peers had chosen to live in Plymouth because housing is more affordable there, and there’s “kind of a downtown” there, too.

Valerie Brugeman described herself as “blessed” to find a job in Ann Arbor upon graduation and had lived for a time in a house converted to rental. She’d have appreciated a nicer option, she said. She said the council should listen to young professionals.

Christina Sherry said she lives on the far western edge of Ann Arbor, near the “Welcome to Ann Arbor” sign, because she could not find a place to live downtown, though she had looked. One problem, she said, was that housing in downtown Ann Arbor was about the same price as housing in downtown Chicago.

Michael Papadopoulos introduced himself as a resident of Ashley Mews – “Yes, that’s a PUD!” he said. Out of 70 students in his masters program at the UM Ross School of Business, he said, he was the only student who plans to stay in Ann Arbor. He suggested that one reason Ann Arbor “fell flat on its face” with respect to retention was the fact that there was a lack of housing accessible to young professionals.

On the question of affordable housing units offered by The Moravian, Michael Zeidler observed that if less than 20% of the units were affordable, that meant that the other 80% were unaffordable – so it’d be wealthy young professionals who took those units. He concluded, “It seems kind of murky to me.”

Al McWilliams spoke about the difficulty of finding a place to live in downtown Ann Arbor if you make $35,000 to $50,000 a year. If they had not tried to find a place accessible to someone in that salary range, then he told the council they should ask someone who’s tried to do that.

Seventy-year-old Victor Munoz reported that when his mother- and father-in-law visited Ann Arbor 25 years ago, the thing they remarked on was that Ann Arbor was filled with young people and that we needed to keep young people in Ann Arbor. “You have to approve it,” he said about The Moravian. “We need it. We need three or four more like it.” What’s young? he asked. His answer of someone under 70 drew a laugh.

The Moravian Public Hearing: Historic Area or Blighted Neighborhood?

Currently under study by the city is the possibility of establishing an historic district close to the neighborhood where The Moravian is proposed. The area of study mandated by city council as part of the study committee’s charge includes the area roughly bounded by William Street on the north, Packard Street on the south, Fifth Avenue on the east, and Fourth Avenue on the west.

Bob Snyder and Betsy Price

Bob Snyder and Betsy Price were seated just behind an architect's model of the block where The Moravian is proposed. Snyder spoke in opposition to the project.

The committee’s preliminary report recommends establishing an historic district that is essentially the same as the study area, but also includes the south side of Packard between Fourth and Fifth avenues. Parcel by parcel, the committee also inventoried and assessed the relative merits of the buildings south of Packard along Fourth and Fifth avenues, which includes the parcel where The Moravian was proposed.

In weighing the relative merits of buildings within an historic district, a structure is designated as “contributing” or “non-contributing” to the district depending on whether the structure is part of what justifies the designation of the area as a historic district.

The committee’s decision to expand the area of study was a conscious and deliberate one, and weighed the possibility of expanding the area recommended as an historic district – so that it would include the parcels where The Moravian was proposed to be built. [Some Chronicle coverage of the historic district study committee's work through 2009: "Fifth Ave. Project to Meet Historic Standards"]

Ultimately, however, the committee chose not to risk the rejection of a district on the grounds that they’d recommended a district substantially larger than area they’d been asked to study. From earlier Chronicle coverage:

Committee member Rebecca Lopez Kriss indicated that she’d talked to a number of councilmembers about the possibility of expanding the district. What she’d heard, she said, was for the most part “wishy-washy political speak.” But councilmember Sandi Smith and mayor John Hieftje had said, according to Lopez Kriss, that they would not support an expanded district.

So the committee’s preliminary report – which is currently under review – recommends an area for an historic district that does not include The Moravian.

It’s in that context that some speakers at the public hearing mentioned the idea of an historic district.

Also alluding to the more than 200 signatures on petitions against the project was Beverly Strassmann, who is president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association. She suggested that the developer had deluded young professionals into thinking that the project offered them viable housing alternatives, when the actual mix was mostly 3-4 bedroom units. Strassmann objected to the characterization of the neighborhood as blighted, and cited the fact that the historic district study committee had found that seven of the eight houses slated for demolition would have been contributing to an historic district for that area. [The committee's preliminary report – available for download from the city's website – does not recommend an historic district for that area.]

Beverly Strassman

Beverly Strassmann, president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association, spoke against the project.

With the phrase “young professional” deployed by others with great frequency, Bob Snyder – who is president of the South University Neighborhood Association, and who can fairly be described as a senior member of the community – drew a laugh from the audience when he began with the quip, “I was once a young professional.” Snyder said the area should be part of the historic district proposed farther north, just south of William Street.

Owner of a property adjacent to the proposed project, Mustafa Ali described it as too big for that location. He said that property owners were interested in having their properties included in the proposed historic district. Responding to the implication of some speakers that the rental properties in the area were not safe and were blighted, he noted that the properties were regularly inspected and met safety codes.

In his remarks, Jeff Meyers suggested that we “stop pretending” that the neighborhood was worth preserving, characterizing it as a “blighted block that could become a vibrant hub.”

Reacting in part to the description of the neighborhood as blighted, Graham Miles said that property owners had put a lot of money into them, and tried to keep them up.

Mariah Cherem reported that she used to live in the neighborhood near The Moravian, which she characterized as surrounded by student rentals in which the tenants and landlords took little pride. She cited an improvement in public safety as a benefit to the project. Esha Krishnaswamy introduced herself as a UM law student, who had survived a house fire in which 50% of her body was burned. She pointed to the fact The Moravian would be safe – equipped with sprinklers.

Twelve-year Ann Arbor resident Joshua Brugeman said the project would add value to the block and would create a nice “bookend.” Citing Jane Jacobs’ work on urban planning, he suggested that more eyes on the street would mean greater safety.

Patrick Macoska spoke about how there can be a coexistence between houses in older neighborhoods and newer construction. He said that “blight” was a strong word – “shabby” might be better, he said, like a corduroy jacket worn around the edges.

Ted Kennedy said he supported the process that allowed change to happen. But he said he did like punk, rundown houses, and that the only way he was able to live near downtown was to share.

Citing the many reasons to approve the project and the few reasons not to approve the project, Bruce Worden said he supported it. A student slum, he said, is not a neighborhood. If you vote based on popular support, he said, he hoped they were keeping score.

Wiltrud Simbuerger compared riding her bike through the neighborhood of The Moravian to get to the Washtenaw Dairy to riding through a wasteland. The Moravian would mean more options for people who don’t want to purchase their own homes and who don’t want to live in a run-down rental.

Jason Costello supported the project on the grounds that it would redevelop a blighted neighborhood and increase the economic value of the community.

Bob Giles, owner of a rental property in the neighborhood, said that until that night he had not realized it was a “blighted” neighborhood. He reported that he had a current tenant who had no interest in continuing to live there if The Moravian were built. He wondered why anyone would want to build a beautiful building in a “blighted” neighborhood.

Graduating UM senior Jacob Smith told the council that he had started his own business in the field of new energy and that he planned to stay in Ann Arbor. He said that living in a place like The Moravian, which is proposed to use alternative energy, would be a great addition to his personal narrative.

Doug Galante spoke briefly, offering his support of the project.

Saying that the project was green and affordable and seemed to make sense, Jeremy Daly, a UM student, said he supported the project.

Introducing herself as a member of the board of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Fourth/Fifth Avenue historic district study committee, Rebecca Lopez Kriss urged the council to vote yes. As a young professional and graduate student, she said, she did not want to live in a dilapidated old house or in a “white box” out by Briarwood Mall. She questioned the criticism that The Moravian would be out of character with the neighborhood, pointing to the Perry School, the university building and the light industrial uses across the street. She described The Moravian as functioning as a buffer between those uses and the neighborhood to the north. She encouraged people to read Jonathan Levine’s book, “Zoned Out,” which discusses zoning as a tool of exclusion.

Business Community

Co-founder of Motawi Tileworks, Karim Motawi told the council that he lived in Ann Arbor for 10 years and would have liked to have had an option to live somewhere like The Moravian. He asked for a show of hands from those who supported the project – several hands were raised in response.

Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations, announced he was there to support The Moravian. He told the council that he’d supported every park and greenbelt millage that had been put before him, and that the other side of that was a need to support housing options like The Moravian. Not just people on his team need those options, he said, but the teams of his customers did as well.

Peter Schork

Peter Schork, CEO of Ann Arbor State Bank, weighed in for The Moravian, citing its financial viability.

The president and CEO of Ann Arbor State Bank, Peter Schork, said he supported the project because of its financial viability. He drew a distinction between affordable housing like The Moravian offered and reasonably priced housing like the houses it would replace. He noted that he did not agree that they were “blighted,” saying he had been in the houses and that he’d in fact financed them. He wouldn’t have financed them if they were blighted, he said, then quipped, “maybe, I would have.”

Kyle Mazurek is vice president of government affairs for the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. He spoke in favor of the project on behalf of the chamber, citing as benefits the higher density, the provision of workforce housing, the removal of blight, improvement of floodwater storage, and increased tax revenue. Mazurek said he also supported the project on a personal level.

The owner of the Renaissance clothing store, Roger Pothus, lamented the fact that there seemed to be no vision for Ann Arbor, but rather each project was approved or disapproved on a per-parcel basis. He described the neighborhood as a few old rooming houses that were inefficient as to space utilization. He described how Nordstrom had looked at Ann Arbor’s downtown a few years ago as a possible location but had eventually abandoned Ann Arbor as too conflicted about development and eventually settled for Novi. Pothus also suggested that the fire that killed a student on South State Street a few days prior would not have happened in a building like The Moravian, which was to be built with a sprinkler system.

Stewart Beal said he runs a company with 130 construction professionals. What about the blue collar workers? he asked. He saw construction of The Moravian as an opportunity to put some of them to work.

Appealing to statistical projections from SEMCOG, Joe Ferrario noted that the population of Ann Arbor was not projected to grow very much in the next few decades – perhaps by about as many people as had filtered in and out of the room that night. He contrasted that with the projection that employment was going to grow by 18,000 jobs. That meant, he said, that the council would be debating the Madison Street Parking Structure – unless they approved projects like The Moravian. Nothing detracts from a neighborhood more, he said, than potholes and other neglected infrastructure due to a lack of adequate tax revenue.

Ken Fischer, president of the University Musical Society and board member of Ann Arbor SPARK, said he was speaking as a private citizen, but with the perspective of those two organizations. He said he supported the project and that it was consistent with various kinds of attraction projects to make Ann Arbor friendly to the demographic of young professionals.

Introducing himself as a member of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, Tim Galea said that the city should encourage density for the benefit of culture and business environment.

The Moravian Public Hearing: Various Technical Standards

Susan Morrison, an attorney who spoke on behalf of Beverly Strassmann and Claudius Vincenz at the public hearing, also submitted a letter that included multiple points about whether the PUD ordinance standards were met by the project. Among them was the fact that the historic district study committee had designated buildings as contributing to a potential historic district – buildings that would be demolished in order to build The Moravian. [Note that the area currently proposed as an historic district in the committee's preliminary report does not include The Moravian's parcels.]

An attorney with Dickinson Wright, Peter Webster, stated that The Moravian did meet the PUD ordinance requirement and that affordable housing is not being taken away. The neighborhood, he said, included more than just the one block of single-family houses.

Marianne Zorza took issue with the way that other PUDs – The Gallery, Kingsley Lane and Glen Ann Place – had been compared to The Moravian as a way to argue for the project based on consistency of applying the ordinance.

An architect on the project, Scott Bonney, noted that they had “buried as much parking as possible.” The minimal setback of the building to Madison Street, which some speakers criticized, was something the city’s planning commission had requested, he said.

Among several points made by Brad Mikus was a note in the planning commission minutes of Jan. 6, 2010 that in a major storm event there would be 1-2 feet of water standing in the parking structure under the building. “That sounds like a problem,” he suggested. Vince Caruso expressed concern about the project’s proximity to the Allen Creek floodway. Describing a vote for the project as a “big mistake,” Barbara Copi said it would be premature, given that the FEMA maps showing the floodplain were not yet finalized.

The site engineer for the project, Midwestern Consulting’s, Scott Betzoldt, addressed two different studies: a traffic study and a stormwater study. On the stormwater study, he said that the FEMA maps were not yet published, but they knew what they would be based on the data underlying the maps. The project would increase the stormwater detention beyond the required levels from 17,500 cubic feet to 38,000 cubic feet of storage, he said. He noted the traffic study he performed was not required of the project, but that it had been undertaken voluntarily. It had been reviewed and approved by the city’s traffic engineer, he said.

A sound engineer, Kenric Van Wyk, who’d been retained by neighbors of the project, noted that there was no acoustical screening specified for various elements of the project, and that the project would need to meet the standards of the city’s noise ordinance. A transportation engineer with Professional Engineering Associates, Michael Labadie critiqued the traffic study undertaken by the developer, noting that it had not been undertaken during the school year.

John Jackson criticized the 5-story streetwall of the building, saying that even in the core downtown areas, the streetwall is supposed to step back after four stories. Rita Mitchell addressed various technical problems with conformity with the PUD ordinance, including open space.

Resident and former planning commissioner Ethel Potts weighed in against The Moravian, saying that the council could not legally approve it – an adequate public benefit had not been achieved, she said. The demolition of affordable housing to build the project, she said, had to be considered against the benefit of affordable housing units offered by the project. Kathy Boris questioned how the demolition of eight two-story homes was consistent with the PUD ordinance requirement that the project provide a community benefit.

Anne Eisen said that some of the people opposed to The Moravian, and who’d opposed it for two years, had been inaccurately described as supporting the project.

The Moravian Public Hearing: City Sulkers

Appealing to the notion of “sustainability,” Joan Lowenstein noted that we often talk about sustainable cars, buses, and buildings, but asked, What about a sustainable population? She rejected the idea that neighborhoods are the building blocks of sustainability and suggested instead that the building blocks are people. The city allocates money to Ann Arbor SPARK to try to bring business to the area, she said, but there’s no place for people to live.

Joan Lowenstein

Former councilmember and current DDA board member Joan Lowenstein called people, not neighborhoods, the building blocks of the community. She spoke in favor of the project.

Lowenstein then suggested that people in Ann Arbor like to sulk. For example, they like to sulk about the fact that there’s no local newspaper anymore. They like to sulk about the fact that the whole city might flood. She concluded by encouraging the council to say no to the sulkers and yes to The Moravian.

Following Lowenstein to the podium, Charles Loucks allowed that he opposed the project but that he was not a sulker. He was against it, he said, because he said it set a bad precedent for process. Peter Nagourney also rejected the idea that it was a matter of whether people sulked or not. Instead, he said, it was the fact that the project violated the city’s central area plan, the standards of the PUD ordinance, as well as the floodplain regulations.

Former planning commissioner James D’Amour encouraged the council not to think of the staff recommendation for approval as a “holy writ.” He said he disagreed with the idea that Joan Lowenstein had expressed that neighborhoods weren’t the building blocks of the community. He also said he wanted an apology from the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce because they were not representing him on this issue.

The Moravian Public Hearing: How Do We Decide What We Want?

The principle that Ray Detter cited, which he encouraged the council to follow, was essentially this one: “A proposal that is opposed by a clear majority of the residents in a neighborhood should not be forced upon those people, unless there is no other way to accomplish something that would be good for the community as a whole.” That came in a email from mayor John Hieftje sent the previous Sunday morning to multiple recipients in response to the suggestion that he would be wise in an election year to vote against the project. Detter emphasized that density should be kept in downtown, not near downtown.

John Floyd

John Floyd opposed the project, suggesting that the discussion was a proxy for a larger conversation about what we should do with Ann Arbor's historic neighborhoods.

A declared candidate for the city council in Ward 5, John Floyd offered the perspective of a homeowner, saying it was difficult to judge how people felt about their own homes for someone who has never owned a home they loved. He allowed that youth has not just energy, but also inexperience.

Floyd suggested that the real discussion the community needed to have was about what we wanted to do with the historic neighborhoods. He described the discussion about The Moravian as a proxy for that larger discussion, and that it was the wrong time to have it.

The Moravian Public Hearing: The Developers

Speaking for The Moravian’s development team, Newcombe Clark noted that many of the project’s features that had been criticized – rooftop patios, for example – had been added because they had been asked to add them. He traced the process back two years of getting input about what people wanted to see. He emphasized that the project was financially viable. He asked the council for “the courage of leadership” and not to act in fear of a “minority of voters who show up in August [for the Democratic primary].”

Newcombe Clark

Newcombe Clark signs in after delivering his remarks for the public hearing. The task of riding herd on speakers to sign in fell to Margie Teall (Ward 4), whose seat at the table is next to the sign in sheet.

The project’s developer, Jeff Helminski, observed that there was an unprecedented level of support for a private development in the room, which he found both inspiring and humbling. Helminski said they had looked at every PUD proposal approved by the city to gauge the city’s past administration of its PUD ordinance. He said his team believed it was clear that The Moravian met the standard. As far as the contract with the community that zoning reflected, Helminski asked the council to consider the contract with everyone for a consistent application of the law and the standards.

The Moravian: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off council deliberations by asking if the noise engineer was still in the room to answer some questions. He was not.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) then read aloud from a statement that Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) had asked be read in his absence. The statement contended that when a project tears the social compact reflected in the zoning, then the public benefits offered by the project needed to be “bold enough to mend that tear.” The statement also compared the idea of allowing density at the location of The Moravian to pricking holes in the membrane to allow “density leakage” outside of the downtown. Hohnke was against the project.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) – the council’s representative to the planning commission, which had recommended the project on a 7-1 vote – cited the planning commission’s vote, plus the city planning staff’s recommendation. On planning commission, he had voted for the project. [See Chronicle coverage: "Moravian Moves Forward, Despite Protests"]

Derezinski also asked for commentary from city planning staff – Wendy Rampson and Alexis DiLeo – on the letter from Peter Webster that outlined a comparison of The Moravian to some past PUD developments the city council had approved – Glen Ann Place, The Gallery, and Kingsley Lane. Rampson explained that each PUD proposal is evaluated on its own merit.

The benefits of the project that Rampson ticked through included the live/work units as innovative land use, the variety in design, the efficiency of land use and alternative energy, additional stormwater holding capacity, below-grade parking, and the expansion of affordable housing.

Responding to a comment made during the public hearing, DiLeo noted that the supplemental regulations did address the maximum number of bedrooms and the unit mix.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know if it was true that there’d be 1-2 feet of standing water in the parking structure in the event of a 100-year storm. Rampson confirmed this was true – the idea was to design the building so that the water goes into the parking structure, not the living units. In response to questions from Higgins, Rampson also confirmed that the stormwater detention tanks would include swirl concentrators to help filter it, so that the quality and quantity of the stormwater was addressed. The water from the detention tanks would be outlet to the storm sewer system at a restricted rate, Rampson explained.

Jeff Helminski

Jeff Helminski, developer of The Moravian, responded to questions from councilmembers.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) asked developer Jeff Helminski about the issue of noise and acoustical screening. Helmisnki confirmed that the project would need to meet the standards of the city’s noise ordinance, whether there was screening or not. Teall asked about the contention that neighbors had been misled by Helminski originally telling them that it would be a two-story building. Helminski said he had never presented the project as a two-story building.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked about the underlying zoning of The Moravian – existing zoning that would need to be changed. He wanted to know why a previous project – Avery House, which had been proposed by the Black Elks on the north side of town – had not come up in comparing previous PUD projects. [Avery House was rejected by the city council.] Rampson clarified that Avery House had not been a PUD, but rather a planned project.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) confirmed with Rampson that the The Moravian did not fall inside of the historic district study committee’s recommended area, based on their preliminary report.

Smith noted that the geothermal system was “optional” – she wanted to know what would make the geothermal system actually be implemented? Helminski explained that the ability to implement geothermal couldn’t be confirmed until a full depth well – around 300 feet – was drilled and the thermal conductivity of the soils was confirmed for a full well. They’d drilled test bores to this point. In the event it was not possible to implement a geothermal system, Helminski said, they would possibly use photovoltaic, wind, or purchase green energy from an alternate source.

Asked what level of LEED the project intended to achieve, Helminski said that they would achieve basic certification, and possibly achieve the Silver LEED designation.

Smith asked about some of the accommodations that had been made to the project design in response to feedback from neighbors. Helminski cited the shape of the building, the minimization of the frontage on Fifth Avenue, the change of the basic design from its initial modern theme, and pulling the building as far south as possible.

Anglin asked what would happen if there were a mishap with the geothermal system – would that be even more serious, given its location in a floodplain? Helminski said that of the two options for media used in geothermal systems – glycol and water – the planned option was for water. So any leakage from the system would mean that it was simply water.

Asked by Anglin about the status of the project’s brownfield application, Helminski said that there’d been a couple of meetings scheduled but canceled due to budget work that the city was doing. He’d talked to Matt Naud, Helmiski said. [Naud is the city's environmental coordinator.]

Briere then suggested that “we should be talking about how we’re going to vote.” She then recounted how she’d met with the developers about their project four or five times over the course of two-and-a-half years. She said that Hohnke was right, in his written statement, to remind everyone of the social compact implicit in the city’s zoning, and said she’d be voting no.

Postema and Briere

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asks someone to join her and city attorney Stephen Postema in a conversation before the council meeting started.

She noted that the The Moravian was larger than Perry School or the UM building in the neighborhood and that the mix of units was predominantly 3-4 bedroom units, not 1-2 bedrooms.

Briere noted that while the developer had studied and reviewed previous proposals that had been approved, he should have also studied those that had been rejected – Avery House, 42 North, and City Place.

Derezinski  said he’d vote yes, because he would defer to the city’s planning staff recommendation and their expertise. He cited the 7-1 vote by the planning commission in favor of the project. He allowed that the city council’s vote was the final one. Until the R4C zoning district is revised, he said, the city had the PUD as an available option. The Moravian, he concluded, did meet the criteria for a PUD.

Teall said she’d support the project and echoed Derezinski’s sentiments. Responding to Jim Mogensen’s comments during the public hearing, about the possibility of such a project in Ann Arbor Hills, Teall said that the council would not approve that kind of project – because it was not near downtown or walkable. Teall also cited the improved safety that The Moravian represented, calling it “a leap ahead.” She stated that Ann Arbor is a city, not a small town, and The Moravian would not turn it into a big city.

Smith also echoed Derezinski’s comments. She highlighted the underground parking as a bonus. She contended that much of the “open space” pointed to on the rest of the block was actually used as backyard parking. She recalled how a place at Madison and Fifth had been her first apartment and characterized it as a “transitional neighborhood.” She also cited the additional affordable housing units as a benefit, saying that even with their addition, the city had a ways to go to get to 100 units. [This is a reference to the 100 units of affordable housing lost when the old YMCA at Fifth and William was demolished. Chronicle coverage: "The  100 Units of Affordable Housing."]

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said that this was “not a perfect project.” He also allowed that it was a project about which reasonable people could differ in their conclusions. Taylor saw the decision as centering around how you see the neighborhood. In this, Taylor echoed the same framing he’d used to talk about his vote over a year ago during deliberations on another project in roughly the same neighborhood, City Place. [From the council's Jan. 5, 2009 meeting]:

How one views it, [Taylor] said, depends on whether you’re looking north or looking south. He suggested that residents are looking exclusively to the south, which discounts factually what the neighborhood is. To the north there’s an 8-story parking structure, a surface lot, a library, which are part and parcel of the neighborhood. He described the area as some species of interface that needed to be considered as such. He concluded by saying that the dedicated apartment buildings in the neighborhood itself and those structures to the north are all a part of the “gestalt of the space.”

On Monday, talking about The Moravian – located down the street from where City Place had been proposed, a bit farther from downtown Ann Arbor – Taylor said that whether the project was out of scale or appropriate depended on what area you considered. If you see the relevant area as that bounded by Madison Street and Fourth and Fifth avenues, he said, you could conclude that The Moravian was out of scale. If you see the relevant area as the corridor of Madison from the Fingerle lumberyard and Main Street, then one could conclude that it was appropriate in scale. Although he supported the project, Taylor cautioned that it should not have any implications for tear-downs in R4C neighborhoods – this was a unique case that also involved M-1 zoning.

Anglin allowed that the city did need additional 1-2 bedroom apartments, but that this project did not offer that. However, he acknowledged that the passion of the people who spoke in favor of the project that evening was “a clear message for us.”

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) echoed the sentiments of Taylor and Smith, saying he’d support the project. He rejected the term “buffer” for The Moravian, saying that to him, it was an excellent “interface.” He said that what The Moravian offered was more diversity of housing. In his day job [as executive director of MichBio], Rapundalo said, he sees the challenges of bringing highly-skilled 25- to 35-year-olds to the area. What they want, he said, is not just 1-2 bedroom units, but rather a diversity of options.

Mayor John Hieftje said he did not believe that the project met the PUD standards. In his review of the material, he said, he did not agree with the findings in the staff report. The 12 affordable units offered by the project, he said, were too little to offer in return for the rezoning. He did not think that the area would remain the way it was and would eventually change. He rejected the idea that if the council did not approve this project that it meant they didn’t believe in density.

Outcome: The council vote was 6-4 in favor of the Moravian, which left it two votes short of the 8-vote super-majority the project needed for approval. Voting for the project were: Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Voting against the project were: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), mayor John Hieftje. Carsten Hohnke was absent.

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

Absent: Carsten Hohnke

Next council meeting: April 19, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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Ann Arbor Planning Priorities Take Shape Mon, 05 Apr 2010 19:50:48 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor Planning Commission retreat (March 30, 2010): In a 3.5-hour retreat that covered topics from accessory dwellings to zoning, Ann Arbor’s planning commissioners started mapping out priorities for the coming year and beyond. The city’s planning staff also attended the informal session, giving background, updates and feedback for the discussion.

Kirk Westphal

Kirk Westphal, an Ann Arbor planning commissioner, adds a topic to the whiteboard filled with possible projects. Read this article to find out what word he's writing. (Photos by the writer.)

After reviewing ongoing efforts like the A2D2 design guidelines and sign ordinance revisions, commissioners brainstormed ideas that filled a whiteboard with potential projects, and spent much of their session trying to prioritize those ideas.

There was much overlap among the ideas and projects discussed, which included issues of sustainability, affordable housing, transportation, commercial corridor areas and the need for better citizen participation – or, as one commissioner suggested, citizen education.

The retreat, held at the Michigan Information Technology Center on South State, included a bit of a history lesson, too. Commissioners heard about previous efforts to allow more accessory dwellings in residential neighborhoods. In the late 1990s, a prior planning commission had seen accessory dwellings as a relatively non-controversial change. But backlash by some residents was harsh, with the mayor ultimately refusing to bring the recommended changes to council. Jean Carlberg, who was on city council at the time, recalled that period: “It was ugly.”

Updates on Current Projects

For the first part of the retreat, commissioners got updates from staff on several ongoing projects: A2D2 design guidelines; the R4C/R2A zoning district study; the Area, Height and Placement (AHP) project; sign ordinance revisions; historic district work; and the fiscal 2011 budget.

A2D2 Design Guidelines

Jean Carlberg asked for an update on the status of design guidelines for the A2D2 project. Alexis DiLeo, who’s managing that project, reported that a task force appointed by city council in February would be focusing on the review process – including what types of projects would be subject to design review, and who actually reviews them. The task force met on March 24 for the first time.

Wendy Rampson reported that two of the task force members – Norm Tyler and Peter Pollack – thought there would be more of a public input component to the group’s work. City councilmember Marcia Higgins made it pretty clear that the public input had already happened, Rampson said. [Other task force members are Tamara Burns, Bill Kinley and Dick Mitchell. Kirk Westfall is the planning commission representative.]

Rampson also said she sensed some relief on the part of Tyler and Pollack that the work done by a self-appointed citizens review committee, of which they’d been a part, was being respected. [The task force is charged with merging a draft of the A2D2 design guidelines, which were prepared by the consultant Winter & Co., with guidelines prepared by the citizens committee.]

Carlberg asked how much the two documents differed. DiLeo said there were wording changes – things like “provide social gathering areas” rather than “create a sense of community.” She described it as a lot of refinements. The citizens committee also didn’t like the photos in the report, so Tyler has volunteered to take new ones.

The meat of the citizens committee’s comments, DiLeo said, relate to process. They proposed that projects be reviewed by a design review board, which would provide a non-binding recommendation. Westphal clarified that they proposed a mandatory review, with voluntary compliance. He recalled that at a public forum held last year at the Kerrytown Concert House, it seemed that most people wanted a mandatory review, but there were split views about whether compliance should be mandatory or voluntary.

DiLeo said that the task force seems to be leaning toward mandatory review and voluntary compliance, but that “the lean might move as we get into it.”

[Previous Chronicle coverage: "Mandatory Process Likely for Design Guides" and "Downtown Design Guides: Must vs. Should"]

R4C/R2A Zoning District Study

Tony Derezinski, who also represents Ward 2 on the city council, wondered what the timeline was for the R4C/R2A Zoning District Study. Matt Kowalski is the project manager for that effort – he reported that they were planning to hold another community workshop in April. In addition, a survey was going out in April to students who live in the R4C/R2A areas, asking about their residential preferences and whether there are any issues related to where they currently live.

Wendy Rampson asked Derezinski – who’s a member of the study committee – whether the work was progressing as he’d envisioned. He told her that he was glad they’d had so much public input, and noted that Jean Carlberg – another committee member – had brought landlords into the discussion.

No additional timetable for completion of the project was mentioned. The Chronicle followed up in an email to Rampson, who responded that the project was originally intended to wrap up in September 2010, but it’s running several months behind schedule. The delay has been caused by taking time to meet with additional stakeholders, according to Rampson.

Area, Height & Placement

Commissioner Evan Pratt asked whether there were any substantive changes in amendments to the Area, Height & Placement (AHP) project. [For a primer on AHP, see Chronicle coverage: "Zoning 101: Area, Height, Placement"] The amendments would adjust the density, height, and setback requirements of existing zoning districts.

Jeff Kahan, AHP project manager, reported that there will be at least three more public meetings on the proposal: A community forum, a public hearing at planning commission, and a public hearing at city council.

For the community forum, Jean Carlberg asked how they’d ensure that commercial interests are represented. Public meetings on AHP tend to be dominated by neighbors, she said. “This is an imbalance.” Should they be doing a different kind of outreach?

Bonnie Bona, who chairs the planning commission, pointed out that the AHP technical advisory committee had several landlords and developers involved from the beginning of the process. Wendy Rampson asked whether they should reconvene that committee, or perhaps tap the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce’s public policy group to get feedback. Diane Giannola wondered whether it would be useful to have a meeting just for business owners.

Kahan noted that he gets a “fair share” of calls from property owners and developers who are waiting to see the revised amendments. Those amendments are likely to be ready for the planning commission to review in May.

Sign Ordinance

Commissioner Jean Carlberg questioned plans to dissolve the current Sign Board of Appeals and move their work to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Chris Cheng, project manager for efforts to amend Chapter 61 of the city code on sign and outdoor advertising, said one goal was to reduce the number of committees and boards. Alexis DiLeo pointed out that the Sign Board of Appeals had difficulty finding members to serve, and difficulty getting enough people to a meeting for a quorum. There will be additional training for the Zoning Board of Appeals about their new responsibilities.

Wendy Rampson reported that the former chair of the board, Steve Schweer, had quit because he was unhappy over a lack of enforcement of the sign ordinances. That’s about to change, she added – Cheng would be starting to ramp up enforcement in April. Looking somewhat glum about that prospect, Cheng said, “There are a lot of illegal signs out there.”

[The Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce has notified its members of the increased enforcement. From an email newsletter sent out on March 31, 2010:]

Beginning on April 1, 2010, the City Community Standards Unit and Planning Division will contact offending businesses. Businesses will be provided with written notice to remove illegal signage within 24 hours. If prohibited signage is not removed, City staff will pursue enforcement pursuant to Section 5:518 of the City Code. Prohibited signage will be removed, and misdemeanor citations with fines ranging from $100 to $500 will issue. Illegal signage in the public right-of-way may be removed and destroyed without notice.

According to a memo from Rampson to planning commissioners, amendments are being developed to Chapter 61 aimed at removing inconsistencies in language and making the ordinance more understandable. City council will receive recommendations for changes in the next few months.

Historic Districts

Wendy Rampson reported that Jill Thacher is doing a survey of the Old West Side historic district, identifying contributing and non-contributing structures. Jean Carlberg said it’s hard to get support on city council for historic districts, because most property owners within a proposed district don’t want it. She noted that Kristine Kidorf, who’s a project consultant on the South Fourth and South Fifth Avenue Historic District Study Committee, seems to have identified every building within the proposed district as historic. “It’s a big change,” Carlberg said.

Thacher clarified that for the proposed South Fourth/Fifth Avenue district, the boundaries were actually drawn with the intent of capturing as many contributing structures as possible, and avoiding non-contributing structures. The committee felt like all but one building – a garage – could be classified as contributing structures, she said. But because of concerns raised by Diane Giannola and others, the committee would be revisiting their recommendations. It seemed likely that by the time the proposal went to city council, a few more structures would be designated as non-contributing.

Responding to a query from one of the commissioners, Thacher explained that it was easier to do renovations – like replacing windows or adding a porch – if a structure in an historic district was designated as non-contributing.

The South Fourth/Fifth Avenue study committee plans to hold a public hearing on their recommendations in May, and submit their report to council in June. The planning commission will be discussing the committee’s draft report at their April 6 meeting.

Zoning Ordinance Reorganization (ZORO)

This project is underway to overhaul 11 chapters of the city code that are related to development. The goal is to present the material in a more concise, user-friendly way. The project is being handled by the consulting firm Clarion Associates – a draft is being reviewed by staff, and will likely be available for public review by early May. Commissioners did not discuss ZORO at the retreat, though it was noted in a list of ongoing projects.

Evaluations: A2D2 and Citizen Participation

Also on the planning commission’s To Do list is the evaluation of the city’s citizen participation ordinance, which took effect Jan. 1, 2009. [.pdf file of citizen participation ordinance] The commission will also be evaluating the new A2D2 zoning changes in the coming year. Wendy Rampson noted that a project being proposed by Zingerman’s Deli on Detroit Street is the first one that’s affected by the A2D2 zoning. [See Chronicle coverage: "Zingerman's: Making It Right for the HDC"] The second one coming along is Zaragon Place 2 at William and Thompson – developers are holding a citizen participation forum on April 12.

Fiscal 2011 Planning Budget

Responding to a query by Evan Pratt, Wendy Rampson reported that for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, the planning department’s budget includes $95,000 for a master plan update, $90,000 for a Washtenaw Avenue corridor study and $65,000 for a zoning code rewrite. The money is coming from general fund reserves for one-time projects, but they’ll use some of it for staff salaries as well, she said.

Pratt said the $95,000 for the master plan wouldn’t be sufficient to do the land use update, and Rampson agreed. It could take three times that amount for a consultant to do that work, she said.

As a final budget note, Rampson reported that the upcoming budget kept all five city planners – Chris Cheng, Alexis DiLeo, Jeff Kahan, Matt Kowalski and Jill Thacher – but they are losing some administrative support staff. She praised the staff, who all attended Tuesday night’s retreat. “You have an amazing resource with this planning staff,” she told commissioners.

Brainstorming: What’s the Big Idea?

The second part of the retreat focused on brainstorming projects that planning commissioners are interested in tackling in the coming year or more. Later there was an attempt to prioritize these ideas, which resulted in more of a conceptual exercise that revealed how some commissioners linked the different ideas being considered.

Section of a whiteboard with brainstorming ideas

Section of a whiteboard with brainstorming ideas generated during an Ann Arbor Planning Commission retreat. (Links to larger image of entire whiteboard)

First, we’ll present the brainstorming ideas as they were proposed:

  • Diane Giannola: A community-wide discussion about historic districts, and their impact on the city and on development. There can be community guidance about how strict or how loose the Historic District Commission should be. For example, she pointed out that the HDC basically ignores enforcement of paint colors.
  • Bonnie Bona: A community discussion about all aspects of sustainability, and how that should inform the city’s master plan.
  • Erica Briggs: Research on best practices as it relates to citizen participation. There’s frustration among some in the community that their voices aren’t being heard, she said, and frustration from staff that the same people are always in the room. City planner Jeff Kahan added a component of civil discourse – how to encourage it – and Diane Giannola said it was important to encourage people to come out in support of projects, not just in opposition.
  • Eric Mahler and Evan Pratt: Pushing forward with the Washtenaw Avenue corridor study, but also to expand that effort to other corridors, including the South State Street and Plymouth Road areas.
  • Jean Carlberg: Rezoning of non-conforming properties as it relates to lot size. Some older areas have very small lot sizes, she said, and that hampers what kind of work can be done in those areas.
  • Tony Derezinski: Graphic modeling of potential future downtown development. There’s been a focus on development for the city-owned Library Lot, he said, but there needs to be a broader look at that entire area, including the former YMCA site and the AATA Blake Transit Center. He pointed out that the modeling should include public and private land, noting that Bill Martin owns some “nice hunks of property there.”
  • Kirk Westphal: The role of land use and economic vitality, as a leg in the “sustainability stool.” The planning commission is charged with looking at land use, and in a way, he said, land is the city’s wallet – since the city gets revenue from property taxes. He wanted to see more information about budget impacts resulting from decisions on land use.
  • Wendy Rampson: The Allen Creek Greenway – it’s a topic that keeps coming up, she said, and she wondered if there was a role for the planning commission in discussing it. Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, is looking at the greenway as a stormwater issue, Rampson said. In that context, she added, Jerry Hancock – Ann Arbor’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator – could work to acquire land, tear down houses and string together properties for a greenway. Or is that a role for planning?
  • Jean Carlberg: Social sustainability, as it relates to a range of housing options. Rampson said this was known as full-spectrum housing – places to live in a wide range of affordability. Erica Briggs noted that part of the issue relates to how people spend their money – places might be affordable, but people instead choose a lifestyle that requires two cars, for example. Different transportation choices could make housing more affordable.
  • Tony Derezinski: A comprehensive look at all types of transportation, including non-motorized, and how that affects development. Assuming that mass transit plays a larger role in the future, how will that affect entrances to the city? It’s broader than just the Fuller Road Station project, he said.
  • Kirk Westphal: The role of TIF districts (tax increment financing) in the city’s commercial corridors, and how that relates to economic development. There are a lot of misconceptions about how the Downtown Development Authority is funded by TIF, he said. It’s worth exploring whether TIF districts would be an effective way to fund development of the city’s corridors, like Washtenaw Avenue and South State Street. The topic prompted Evan Pratt to observe: “All the entrances to town are ugly.” There need to be goals for those areas, he said, to improve them.
  • Wendy Rampson: The floodplain ordinance and brownfields as a planning tool were two additional topics that the commission might consider tackling, Rampson said.

Making Connections and Prioritizing

After taking a break for dinner, the planning commissioners and planning staff discussed in more detail many of the topics they’d raised earlier in the evening.

Corridors and the Master Plan

Eric Mahler took the first crack at trying to prioritize ideas from the brainstorming session, which Wendy Rampson had written down on sticky notes and posted on a whiteboard. He noted that concepts like sustainability, transportation, fiscal impacts and such were fairly malleable, but that they all related to things that were concrete – like zoning.

With that in mind, he pulled out the corridors project, and made that the hub from which other ideas – sustainability, transportation, full-spectrum housing, etc. – tied in as spokes on a wheel. [link to image of his "world view"] Approaching a project in this way would generate a lot of public discussion, he said.

Evan Pratt said that the corridors project was at the top of his list.

Bonnie Bona observed that when viewed in the way that Mahler had organized it, the corridors project was linked closely with the master plan. The master plan really focuses on commercial districts, and that’s what the corridors are. Pratt described it as a matter of scope or scale.

Rampson said that the master plan included a section on the West Stadium Boulevard corridor, but the others corridors weren’t well-articulated. Jeff Kahan suggested that a section on the city’s corridors could be added to the master plan – it’s a document that can continue to be supplemented, he said.

Kirk Westphal said it might be useful to think of areas as “nodes” rather than corridors. That way, areas like Lowertown and Westgate could be included in the discussion. To avoid getting people bogged down in labels, Pratt had yet another suggestion – refer to them as “opportunity areas.”

Sustainability: What’s It Mean?

Jean Carlberg asked Bonnie Bona what she meant by sustainability, which Bona had brought up in the brainstorming session. Bona replied that it was something the community needed to decide: “That’s the first question – what is it?”

She added that sustainability is an all-or-nothing concept – something is either sustainable, or it isn’t. Bona also identified three elements of sustainability: environmental quality, social equity, and economic vitality. “I don’t think we look at any one of them as a planning commission,” she said. [link to image of Bona's arrangement of topics, with sustainability at the hub]

Kirk Westphal said that tangentially, the commission does deal with those elements of sustainability. He also stressed the importance of looking at a “sustainability watershed” – that is, a broader geographic area within which a community is sustainable. For example, adding another resident to the city increases its carbon footprint, he said, but “do we take one for the team?” Westphal also noted that even the worst non-LEED building in the city is better than the greenest structure five miles outside of town, if you have to drive there.

The concept of sustainability also touched on fiscal impacts of development. Westphal noted that when he talked about “the city’s money” earlier in the discussion, Pratt had remarked that it’s everyone’s money. Pratt is right, Westphal said – it’s taxpayers’ money. But the positive aspects of adding to the tax base through development are rarely mentioned. People talk about “greedy developers,” but they don’t look at how the taxes generated from a development go toward plowing the streets, for example.

Pratt noted that as the tax base shrinks, the current levels of service are no longer sustainable – unless people are willing to pay more for the same services.

Jeff Kahan asked if they should care whether a project has financial benefits. Mahler said it’s a gray area. Westphal added that it’s also a question of who decides what “financial benefit” means.

Some communities talk about having the infrastructure and processes in place to be “development ready,” Rampson said. But in Ann Arbor, there tends to be a fairly antagonistic attitude toward development, with some members of the community saying they want high-quality development. In that case, Pratt quipped, “sustainability” means “don’t change anything.”

Tony Derezinski pointed out that there are generally two sides to the issue of financial benefits. Those that oppose development typically argue that the city can’t absorb more housing units, for example. Meanwhile, the developer argues that if they’re successful, they’ll generate tax revenue for the city.

Mahler noted that there’s also a distinction between residential projects and commercial projects. It doesn’t make him mad if a new residential development causes slumlords go out of business – they need to step up their game. But the same isn’t true for commercial developments, he said. At any rate, he wasn’t sure it was within the commission’s purview to make those considerations.

Diane Giannola said it seemed like they’d be overstepping their bounds to determine what types of businesses could be located in certain areas. Mahler pointed out that in a certain sense they already do this, with zoning.

Mahler then brought the discussion back to sustainability – how is it determined on a project-level basis?

Bona recounted a lecture she’d attended at the University of Michigan Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning. The speaker was developing computer-aided design (CAD) technology to model “interactive neighborhoods.” As an alternative to zoning districts, he’d written a program that would determine how much “happier” or “sadder” a specific site would become, depending on changes made to surrounding sites. Bona said that on a couple of recent planned unit developments (PUDs) that had been presented to planning commission, those zoning boundaries were difficult. Zoning is a hard line on the map, she said, but what difference does it make going a little bit beyond those lines? The CAD modeling approach made it possible to throw out those boundaries.

“It sounds expensive,” Mahler joked.

Rampson pointed out another issue – how would the city codify something like that? You can articulate goals, she said, but you also have to find a way to implement those goals using codes that can be applied generally.

Pratt suggested that coming up with incentives – a “bonus 2.0″ system – would be an easier way to achieve their goals, rather than changing the city’s zoning code. He noted that these ideas were all long-term visions, and he wondered where they should start. Also, he said, they didn’t seem to be winnowing down their list of projects: “We haven’t made our volume of work any less – we’ve expanded it,” he said.

Rampson told commissioners that if they wanted staff to focus on sustainability, they needed to say so – otherwise, it would be easy for staff to get diverted to other projects.

Pratt said although he’d enjoyed the conversation about sustainability, until they had even more discussion, he didn’t want to issue a staff directive to pursue it. He wanted to have a conversation about sustainability at the same time as they discussed the South State Street corridor, which he felt was a more pressing issue.

[Related to the issue of exploring sustainability, Bona has scheduled a joint meeting of the city's planning, environmental and energy commissions on Tuesday, April 13, 2010 in the lower level conference room of the county administration building, 200 N. Main St. The meeting is open to the public and begins at 7 p.m.]

Citizen Participation – or Education – and Civil Discourse

Tony Derezinski picked up the topic of citizen participation that Erica Briggs had introduced during the brainstorming session. Taking that as the hub, he arranged the other topics around it, noting that public input was central to everything they did. [link to image of Derezinski's organization of topics]

Erica Briggs, Tony Derezinski

Planning commissioners Erica Briggs and Tony Derezinski, who also represents Ward 2 on city council.

Right now, the community is at a threshold, as it tries to re-envision what it wants to become, he said. Regardless of the subject – whether it’s historic districts, or affordable housing, or alternative transportation – how does the planning commission overcome misconceptions to get out the truth?

Diane Giannola agreed, but added that instead of citizen participation, she’d call it citizen education. Derezinski suggested changing “citizen” to “community.”

Often, the public just doesn’t understand things like historic districts or accessory dwellings, Giannola said. She suggested incorporating a lecture or educational component into each of the commission’s meetings.

Alexis DiLeo recalled a project in the past – one that “withered on the vine” – related to “road dieting” and street standards. She said she spent a lot of time “educating” the engineering staff about the benefits of narrower roads, while they spent time “educating” her about the advantages of wider roads. She cautioned that while planning commissioners might think they needed to educate people about the benefits of higher density, some residents might think the reverse is true – that the planning commission should be educated on the value of low density.

Giannola said she thought of it more as trying to inform, rather than convince.

Pratt said he thought citizen participation was something they could work on constantly. The frustration he had was that after decisions are made, people who don’t like the decision continue to chip away at it. That’s the part of the process that could be more civil, he said.

Briggs contended that there were simple thing that could be done, like answering emails. Conspiracy theories develop when people send an email and no one responds, she said. Rampson said that responding was sometimes difficult when emails came at 6 p.m. on the evening of a planning commission meeting. She noted that they’d discussed setting up an automated response, something that would email a reply to the sender acknowledging that their message had been received.

Westphal expressed some skepticism that it was possible to reach everyone. He reported that he’d encountered someone he knew who was a graduate student in urban planning, and who lived close by to the proposed Moravian project. Even though she was a highly engaged person interested in urban planning issues, she didn’t know about it, he said. “I don’t want to rain on the education parade, but …”

Accessory Dwellings

City planner Alexis DiLeo floated what she described as a possible one-year project: The rezoning of non-conforming neighborhoods, and possibly revisiting the accessory dwellings issue. Though there had been “community discontent” over accessory dwellings the last time changes had been proposed, maybe in light of the economic downturn, she said, it was worth another look.

Kirk Westphal asked for a description of what happened the last time it was proposed, and Wendy Rampson provided a bit of background. People were using accessory dwellings illegally, she said – it was something the market was pushing. The proposal to change city code to allow for accessory dwellings came out of a 1999 blue ribbon committee on affordable housing, which proposed various strategies to increase affordable housing stock. It was seen as a way to achieve that goal without new buildings, she said.

Staff and planning commissioners at the time – including Margaret Leary and Sandy Arlinghaus – thought of it as “low-hanging fruit,” Rampson recalled.

As an aside, Leary had used that exact phrase at a meeting of the Ann Arbor District Library board in December 2009, when board members heard University of Michigan student proposals for development on the city-owned Library Lot. From The Chronicle report of that meeting:

Leary described her experience as a former Ann Arbor planning commissioner, noting that the commission couldn’t even get approval to allow accessory dwelling units in the city – a zoning change that was originally seen as low-hanging fruit, she said, but that was “flattened” after two years of public debate.

How is it possible to focus on the greater community good, she asked, when some people will pick apart each project based on their own pet goals, from affordable housing to green space? Even when those goals are desirable for the community overall, if every project is forced to address them, then creative development is stymied.

At Tuesday’s retreat, Rampson said that people on the Old West Side generally didn’t have a problem with it, since the area had a history of carriage houses and outbuildings. But some residents of North Burns Park and the Orchard Hills-Maplewood neighborhoods opposed the plan. They’d had problems with unscrupulous landlords packing houses full of renters, she said, and felt that accessory dwellings would be used to exploit their neighborhoods for student housing.

After intense debate – which Jean Carlberg described as “ugly” – the planning staff was directed to stop work on the project. “I’ve never had a situation where the mayor refused to take something before council, but that’s what happened,” Rampson said.

Because it was seen as low-hanging fruit, it’s possible that there wasn’t sufficient education and communication about the proposal, Rampson added. Jeff Kahan noted that student neighborhoods had been excluded from allowing accessory dwellings, but even so, people were concerned that duplexes would be allowed.

Accessory dwellings can be used to increase density incrementally, Rampson said, and it especially makes sense in times of economic distress. It would be useful for older adults who want to stay in their homes but who need some help, or for people who need some extra income to cover their mortgage. She reported that in California, the state legislature mandated that accessory dwellings be incorporated into local zoning laws – that measure was necessary because there was such resistance to change on the local level.

There is a way to achieve an accessory dwelling unit now, by applying for a special exception use. Only one such application has been made in more than a decade. Rampson said the process required to get the special exception – which includes a public hearing – likely has a chilling effect. The special exception use also differs from an accessory dwelling in that only someone who’s related to the property owner can live there, and no rent can be charged.

Who Takes the Lead?

Jeff Kahan wondered whether the city council had directives for planning that hadn’t been discussed so far. He noted that of the list of projects underway, half of them had been requests from council. What role do councilmembers want to play in this process – how much do they want to be involved?

Evan Pratt said he was leery of asking staff to pursue a major initiative, without having some kind of discussion with the city council. Tony Derezinski, who presents Ward 2 on city council and is a planning commissioner, said it was his role to keep his council colleagues apprised about what the planning commission was doing. But the council should show some deference to the planning commission, he said, just as planning commissioners should show deference to staff. “There’s a sequence of deference there,” he said.

Communication will also happen in other ways, Derezinski said – there’s a lot of informal discussion among councilmembers, so “council will know what’s going on,” he said, describing it as an “informal network of information.”

Rampson weighed in on the issue too. Planning commissioners have been appointed to be “the voice of planning in the city,” she said. City code supports that view, she added: “You’ve been appointed to provide that leadership in the community.”

Yet as the retreat came to a close, Rampson said her sense was that the group hadn’t reached a consensus about priorities, and others agreed they needed more discussion. Bonnie Bona noted that organizing the ideas by creating “wheels” had been helpful in showing the interconnectedness of topics, but that also made it difficult to pull out individual topics and prioritize them.

The commission plans follow-up discussions in the coming months.

Present: Commissioners Bonnie Bona, Erica Briggs, Jean Carlberg, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal. Staff: Wendy Rampson, Chris Cheng, Alexis DiLeo, Jeff Kahan, Matthew Kowalski, Jill Thacher.

Absent: Comissioner Wendy Woods.

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City Place Delayed, Downtown Plan OKed Thu, 18 Jun 2009 17:14:59 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (June 15, 2009): The council covered a lot of ground at its Monday night meeting, much of it related to streets and transportation. Besides dealing with a raft of garden-variety street closings that generated some unexpected “controversy,” the council put in place a plan to delay the installation of some parking meters in near downtown neighborhoods, launched a safety campaign, and funded a bike path, pedestrian amenities and the city’s portion of a north-south connector feasibility study.

But it wasn’t the bike path that drew more than 20 people to speak at a public hearing. That turnout was for the adoption of the Downtown Plan. It was ultimately adopted as amended by the city’s planning commission so that the D2 buffer in the South University area is a small area in the southeast corner.

The expected vote on the City Place project along Fifth Avenue was delayed again after additional technical errors by planning staff were discovered related to the planning commission’s April meeting. That project will now start over with the planning commission public hearing.

Audience members who waited until the end of the long meeting heard Mayor John Hieftje appoint a subcommittee of councilmembers to meet with the DDA’s “mutually beneficial” committee to discuss the parking agreement between the city and the DDA.  In the discussion after the jump, we provide a record produced in the preliminary response to a Chronicle FOIA, which dates the renegotiation of the parking agreement to as early as September 2008 and connects it to discussions between the mayor and a candidate for the DDA board, Keith Orr, who was eventually appointed to the board.  The record shows that his appointment was not contingent on a commitment to a particular vote on the parking agreement.

Development – Downtown Plan

More than 20 people spoke at the public hearing on the adoption of the Downtown Plan. Readers interested in details of their comments can view the video of Monday’s meeting here.

Downtown Plan Background

In broad strokes, what’s at issue are two kinds of policy: zoning ordinances and planning documents. Ideally they should support each other and not be in conflict. The Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2) process was an effort to revise both the zoning ordinances and planning documents to bring them up to date to reflect the goals for future development, and to make them compatible.

The city’s planning commission recommended a set of new zoning ordinances and sent those to the city council for final approval this spring. The council made its own revisions to the zoning ordinances that had been recommended by planning commission. The city council has the legal authority to adopt those ordinances as amended with no further input from the planning commission. While council has completed the preliminary step (the “first reading”) for approval of the zoning ordinances, the final step (“second reading”) is not scheduled until July.

Earlier in the spring, planning commission also sent to the city council its recommendation for a new Downtown Plan, which was considered by the city council after it had undertaken changes to the zoning ordinances recommended by the planning commission. The Downtown Plan that had then come from planning commission – while consistent with the planning commission’s recommended zoning ordinances – was inconsistent with the changes that city council had made. But council does not have the legal authority to amend the Downtown Plan  and adopt the plan as amended. Instead, council must vote the plan up or down – the two bodies (planning commission and city council) must adopt the same plan. Council and commission have equal status in this case.

So when the Downtown Plan first came before the city council several weeks ago, it was rejected and sent back to the planning commission.

Planning commission then reconsidered its Downtown Plan in light of city council’s zoning changes and revised the plan – but a major inconsistency remained between the version of the Downtown Plan presented to the city council this past Monday (June 15, 2009) and the zoning ordinance package that, procedurally speaking, is between its preliminary and final approval by the city council.

At its June 15 meeting, then, the city council faced essentially two alternatives: (i) insist upon a Downtown Plan that was exactly consistent with the zoning ordinances it wanted to pass and send it back to planning commission, or (ii) accept the Downtown Plan, together with the implication that council would need to revise the zoning ordinances to be consistent with that Downtown Plan.

Previous Chronicle coverage of the interplay between planning commission and city council can be found here. One key issue is the setting of the D1/D2 boundary in the South University area: planning commission recommended a very small D2 buffer area in the southeast corner, whereas council had seen fit to assign the D2 zoning designation to the southern half of South University.

Downtown Plan: Deliberations

Councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) opened deliberations by suggesting the addition of a resolved clause, which would direct staff to revise the zoning map in accordance with the revised Downtown Plan that planning commission had forwarded to the council. Otherwise put, the resolved clause would take the council down path (ii) above.

The resolved clause also stipulated that on July 6 the zoning ordinance revisions would be brought back before the council for an additional first reading. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), an attorney himself, asked if that point had been reviewed by the city attorney, and Higgins clarified that the decision had come directly from the city attorney’s office.

At issue legally would have been whether these new changes to the zoning ordinances – which were procedurally between their preliminary and final passage – were substantial enough to require starting the process over with a first reading. In the view of the city attorney, they were substantial enough to restart the process.

Councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said that he was against accepting the Downtown Plan as is. He acknowledged that with respect to the Downtown Plan, planning commission and the city council were on an equal level. Specifically, it was not up to city council to amend and then adopt a plan, but rather they needed to accept or reject the plan as a whole.

Taylor noted that city council had undertaken a specific action to designate South University areas outside of the Downtown Development Authority district as D2 zoning and that within a short time following that decision the planning commission had contravened it. He allowed that the planning commission had a right to vote its conscience on the matter. He contended that though the two bodies on this question were co-equals, that elected officials had some incremental measure of preference. The fact that planning commission had not respected council’s decision reflected a “failure of process,” he said, and he continued by stating that planning commission should have respected the decision of the “electeds.”

Speaking by phone the following day with The Chronicle, Taylor clarified that the distinction he was drawing between the two bodies did not have to do with the status of planning commission as volunteer public servants versus the paid public servants on council but rather was rooted specifically in the more direct connection – via election – of the council with the community. Asked by The Chronicle if he’d reflected on the fact that the three-year appointments of planning commissioners gave that body a greater buffer against “political fads” than council enjoyed [councilmembers are elected to two-year terms], Taylor said that in this case he gave priority to direct democracy as opposed to checks-and-balances.

[Editorial aside: In considering the priority assigned to the two different bodies, it's worth factoring into the mix the presumably greater expertise in subject matter that planning commissioners have for a planning exercise as compared to councilmembers – which is not to suggest that all planning commissioners are architects or urban planners by trade. They're not.]

Higgins, for her part, said that she supported the Downtown Plan. For her, the critical point was that changing the lower half of the South University area to D2 zoning would amount to “down zoning.”

Leigh Greden (Ward 3) noted that the city council did not have the legal authority to amend and adopt the plan. To send the Downtown Plan back to planning commission would delay a plan that had several significant improvements over the current plan, including a height limit, said Greden. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) echoed the same sentiments as Greden, adding that it was important to retain the D1 zoning designation along East Huron Street for the technical reason that to make it D2 would result in existing properties’ nonconformance.

Margie Teal (Ward 4) said she shared Taylor’s perspective and was disappointed about the redesignation of most of South University as a D1 area but thought that she would probably vote for it for the good of getting it in place. She was not convinced, she said, about having D1 zoning outside the Downtown Development Authority district.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she had gone to the planning commission meeting and watched that body decide as it went through its revisions to the Downtown Plan. She said it was not any easier for that body than it was for the city council. She commended Taylor for saying that what council had marked as D2 should stay as D2. She said that the question to ask was whether that area should be a buffer or whether it should be built to a maximum 150-foot height limit. She was not comfortable with the idea that the document could become a ping-pong ball, she said. However, she did not support the Downtown Plan’s adoption.

Outcome: The city council adopted the revised Downtown Plan as put forward by the planning commission, with Taylor and Briere dissenting.

Development – City Place

City Place had been postponed already from the last council meeting due to errors in the online documentation.

City Place Public Hearing

Jim Mogensen: This is a “by right” project, he began, which he characterized as meaning that everybody basically has to say this is the way it has to be. He said that the project reflected a “community failure.” The way the project had evolved came from the playbook of the developer, he added, and it was the same narrative that had been told in connection with the 828 Greene Street development. Mogensen said he didn’t understand why the proposal for the Germantown study committee did not happen at the same time that 828 Greene Street had been proposed. He acknowledged that there was a plan to look at the R4C (multi-family dwelling) zoning, but noted it would be an effort complicated by the fact that there was a need to have multi-family zoning so that students would be able to live there. An additional constraint is that it wasn’t desirable to undertake zoning that amounted to a “property taking.”

Tom Luczak: Luczak said he appreciated the fact that city council had seen fit to reexamine R4C zoning in detail. But suggested the following analogy for not deciding to put a moratorium on development in R4C zoning districts: It would be like conducting a study to see if you should close the horse barn and having Secretariat [Triple Crown winner] run out of the barn during the study period. He contended there were many gray areas in the zoning code, among them the definition of roof height.

Alex de Parry: De Parry introduced himself as the project owner and noted that he had the entire development team with him if council had any questions. He told the city council that they had before them a project that meets the zoning and code requirements of the city of Ann Arbor and cited its conformance with the following chapters: 55, 57, 59, 62, 63, 105. He described the project as using the latest in energy technology. He said that the 24 six-bedroom units each would be equipped with a kitchen, living room, dining room and that, contrary to rumor, bedrooms would not be equipped with a kitchen. De Parry pointed to three other projects that had used the same interpretations of terms like “dormer,” “ridge height,” and “window wells”: 133 Hill Street, 922 Church Street and 818 Forest.

John Floyd: Floyd said that the decision not to do a study on the question of whether a historic district should be established in the area was a failure of process, “a grand mistake.” He suggested that it was an opportunity to run the government in a more straightforward way, and not just use process when it meets a predetermined end.

Scott Munzel: Munzel is legal counsel on the project. He noted that the homes slated for demolition are older, and are divided into rentals, and represented quite an investment to maintain. He said that it was not a realistic option for owner-occupiers to purchase them and rehabilitate them. He continued by saying that the law is very clear for site plan approval, noting that city council’s role is very limited. He said that the Central Area Plan is not legally relevant – though he noted that the project in many ways does, in fact, meet the goals of the Central Area Plan. He allowed that the buildings are old and attractive, but concluded that the decision is straightforward.

Fred Beal: Beal introduced himself as a member of the Downtown Residential Task Force. He described the project as beneficial because it increases density in an edge area. He said it should be approved because it meets zoning and that he’d like to see more of this kind of project.

Brad Moore: Moore is the architect on the City Place project. He stressed that the interpretation of the code of the city of Ann Arbor had been the same for this project as for every other project examined by the planning staff and the planning commission. That included setbacks, reach height, unit size, sized bedrooms, etc.

Yousef Rabhi: Rabhi said that as a student at the University of Michigan and a future lifelong resident of the city of Ann Arbor, he wanted to live in a city of cultural significance.

Ray Detter: Detter noted that city council was considering the Downtown Plan that evening and that he did not see how tearing down the seven historic houses was consistent with the Downtown Plan or the Central Area Plan. About the proposed building, Detter said, “It’s a dog,” from a design point of view. The problem in this case, Detter said, had resulted from planning documents that were inconsistent with zoning documents.

Lou Glorie: Glorie sketched out an analogy with a medical procedure – a needle biopsy, in which “needle” is a euphemism for a much larger implement. The point of comparison was “public process,” [echoing a sentiment from John Floyd, an earlier speaker]. Glorie characterized the public process as consisting of a conversation that began with the chamber of commerce, developers, councilmembers and ultimately was controlled by those parties. 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.

City Place Deliberations

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) began deliberations on the City Place site plan approval by indicating to his colleagues that he had brought information to the city attorney’s office concerning a possible conflict of interest on his part with respect to the City Place project. He stated that councilmembers had the analysis provided by the city attorney’s office and indicated he was prepared to accept their recommendation, if any, on the topic. [Council rules require members to vote on any resolution before them, unless their colleagues request by a majority vote that a councilmember recuse himself/herself.] No one moved that Hohnke should recuse himself.

Instead of deliberating on the resolution before them, a completely different resolution was substituted – and that resolution called for the site plan to be returned to the planning commission to be reconsidered. Kevin McDonald, senior assistant city attorney, clarified for councilmembers that the parliamentary mechanism by which the substitution would be achieved was the same as that used for an amendment. In this case, however, the “amendment” to the resolution replaced the existing language in its entirety with new language.

The reason cited for the return of the site plan to planning commission was errors in the documentation provided by planning staff in connection with the commission’s April meeting on the plan. This marked the second council meeting in a row at which a vote was expected on the site plan by council, but did not happen. Two weeks ago, council delayed the decision for two weeks due to errors in the documentation provided online for council’s meeting that week.

The expected time frame for reconsideration of the site plan by the planning commission is for a new public hearing and recommendation to be made at the planning commission’s July 7, 2009 meeting. Assuming the planning commission makes the same recommendation as before, it would come before the city council on July 20, 2009.

Taylor asked what the affects of the substitution resolution would be on the public hearing that had just been held. Hieftje clarified that there would be another public hearing, assuming that planning commission again recommended that the site plan come to city council. Rapundalo asked whether this procedural development had been discussed with the petitioner. Hieftje indicated he was not sure, but assumed that the petitioner was learning of the situation in the same way that he himself was. Higgins had indicated she was sending to all of her colleagues an email with the replacement language.

Derezinski, who is the city council’s representative to planning commission, said this was simply a technical glitch, and that there had been a thorough discussion and deliberation on the site plan at the planning commission’s meeting in April. He described the return of the matter to the planning commission as simply exercising caution and making sure that every aspect of due process was respected.

Higgins took care to point out that the decision to return the product to the planning commission was in no way a negative reflection on the developer and that there had been no error on his part.

Outcome: The decision to return the site plan to planning commission passed unanimously.

Development – What Goes On Top?

The city council entertained a resolution that established a site development committee to initiate a search for a private development partner for the South Fifth Avenue underground parking structure site.

It was a resolution brought by councilmember Sandi Smith (Ward 1). At the previous council meeting, she had alerted her colleagues of her intention to bring the resolution. At that meeting she described her intention to call for a request for qualifications (RFQ). However, on Monday she indicated that she had rethought that intention, saying it was to be the purview of the committee to determine the best way to engage the community in a process. The idea was that representatives from planning commission, the Downtown Development Authority, downtown residents, and city council could use the short-lived committee to determine whether it would be best to issue an RFP (request for proposal) or an RFQ.

Higgins moved to postpone the decision until the council’s July 1, 2009 meeting, saying that she wanted to have more dialogue about what other things they’d like to see. She said she’d like to have the resolutions reflect a “council view” instead of a “councilmember’s view.” Smith asked Higgins for a better idea of the process that they could expect over the next two weeks. Higgins offered only that she just wanted to have some more dialogue.

Hieftje said to Smith that to him it sounded like Higgins wanted to have coffee with Smith. Councilmember Margie Teall (Ward 4) alluded to her work on the Downtown Development Authority partnerships committee, which had made an offer help with community dialogue on the parcel’s development.

Outcome: The resolution was postponed, with dissent from Smith.

Development – Design Guidelines

Council considered a professional services agreement with Winter & Company for the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown design guidelines revision project in the amount of $34,230. Higgins reported that the A2D2 steering committee had had a phone call with Bruce Race, the consultant who is helping with work on the design guidelines. She indicated that there would likely be a joint September working session with city council and planning commission to address the design guidelines project. That project is part of the zoning and planning effort, and is seen by many in the community as crucial to its success.

Outcome: The resolution was passed unanimously.

Parking Meters

Parking Meters: Public Commentary

Several people spoke during public commentary reserved time (at the start of the council meeting) on the topic of the installation of parking meters in residential neighborhoods near downtown Ann Arbor. The meters were proposed as a part of the FY 2010 budget that the city council recently adopted. City officials hope the meters will generate an additional $380,000 per year in revenue. The meters in question should not be confused with the E-Park stations currently being rolled out by the DDA inside the downtown area.

Gwen Nystuen: Speaking for the North Burns Park Association Advisory Board, she said that they supported the resolution to place only a limited number of parking meters in specific areas. She said that the board objected to the fact that there had been no public hearing on the proposal to introduce parking meters into residential neighborhoods near downtown. She noted that the Burns Park Association had had residential parking permits for over three years now, and it had improved the ambiance of the neighborhood. The introduction of such permits, she said, made the neighborhood more pleasant to be in – it was nice not to be a part of the parking lot. She said they didn’t support any kind of parking meters – not 21st-century, not streamlined, not blue, not gold, not digital parking meters.

John Hilton: Hilton spoke representing the North Central Property Owners Association. He reflected on the fact that 25 years ago city council had come up with the idea of a residential parking permit system in response to a situation in his neighborhood. He expressed his thanks to Sandi Smith, who had worked hard on the resolutions.

Bob Snyder: Snyder spoke representing the South University Neighborhood Association. Snyder said that he was speaking against the introduction of parking meters in residential neighborhoods and hoped to derail further attempts to install such meters. He asked to see a map of the precise locations of the proposed meters. Snyder criticized the proposed introduction of parking meters into residential neighborhoods as having the sole purpose of generating an extra $380,000 of revenue. He noted that eight different neighborhood associations are against “planting” parking meters in residential neighborhoods. The next step, he said, is to fast-track residential parking permits in those areas that do not currently have them.

Ann Schriber: Ann Schriber spoke representing the Oxbridge Neighborhood Association, consisting of 150 households. She summarized the meetings that the neighborhood association had had, and reported that the Oxbridge Neighborhood Association strongly opposes the addition of such parking meters. They want to be informed in advance of such proposals, she said. She concluded that residential parking permit programs work and they don’t want to see them changed.

Parking Meters: Deliberations on 415 W. Washington

How are parking rates at 415 W. Washington related to the installation of parking meters elsewhere?

If parking meters were not to be installed in all the areas planned by city staff as a part of the FY 2010 budget plan, then the revenue shortfall needs to be addressed. And part of the strategy for addressing that shortfall is – in cooperation with the Downtown Development Authority – to raise the parking rates on the surface lot.

Smith introduced a resolution to approve the extension of the temporary use of the 415 W. Washington parking lot as a parking lot. She noted that when the fees were set up in that parking lot, they were not set at a market rate. Her resolution raised the monthly fee from $40 to $80 a month. Smith noted that this was still quite competitive with the surface lot at First & William, which charges $105 a month. Part of the rationale for extending the use of the parcel as a surface parking lot is that redevelopment of the parcel at 415 W. Washington is not going as fast as previously hoped. At the July 1 meeting of the Downtown Development Authority, the board will be asked to approve their side agreement, Smith said. In broad summary, the increase in revenue from the higher rates would go to the city instead of the DDA. [Smith also serves on the DDA board].

Briere noted that on May 18 the idea of installing parking meters in neighborhoods near downtown was not something that council had really been prepared to deal with. She commended Smith for trying to solve the problem very creatively and in a very rapid way. Briere noted that the work is not finished and that it was really a stopgap that didn’t solve the problem permanently. Briere noted that it had been Smith plus herself and the two council representatives from the Fifth Ward, Carsten Hohnke and Mike Anglin, who had worked together on the resolution.

Hohnke said that although he had concerns that introducing parking meters were inherently a sign of commercial activity, he felt it was a necessary revenue solution in an extremely tight budget year. The resolutions, he said, are limited in timeframe. We’re not leaving a potential gap, he said, because the default plan remains for parking meters to be installed if no alternative revenues can be found. [See moratorium below.] He pointed out that it would be important to monitor what happens on Washington Street as the prices on the 415 W. Washington lot were brought into alignment with other parking in the DDA system. He said it might be possible that as prices are raised, motorists would seek more economical free parking out on the street, which could add to the traffic challenges around the new YMCA, located at 400 W. Washington.

Anglin noted that Ward 5 and Ward 1 representatives had worked together on the problem and had had some community meetings on the issue. He noted that it dismayed him a bit that downtown neighborhoods might have such meters installed. Councilmember Leigh Greden (Ward 3) thanked Smith for her hard work. He said that a key point about the plan was that this particular parking lot was never included in the parking agreement with the DDA, and they had never gotten around to closing a loophole. It was not a final solution, he allowed, but it was a step forward to finding a solution.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.

Parking Meters: Deliberations on Installation

Council also contemplated a resolution to begin the installation of some of the parking meters. Smith explained that the spaces along Depot Street were selected in part due to the possible east-west commuter rail that might be developed.

  • East Madison (18 spaces)
  • Depot Street west of Broadway (16 spaces)
  • Depot Street in front of Gandy Dancer (5 spaces)
  • Depot Street Lot (20 spaces)
  • Wall Street (115 spaces)
  • Broadway (4 spaces)

The plan applies a moratorium to all the proposed meter installations except those listed above, but the moratorium ends on Oct. 5, 2009. The upshot of the plan is that by Oct. 5, which is a council meeting date, there would need to be an alternative plan in place to replace any shortfall against the $380,000 in the budget.

Rapundalo suggested that Upland – in the commercial district on the east side of the street – is an area with free parking that would be a good place to think about introducing parking meters.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.

DDA and City of Ann Arbor Parking Agreement

In his communications to council, Hieftje appointed councilmembers Teall, Greden, and Hohnke to work with the “mutually beneficial committee” of the Downtown Development Authority to talk about the parking agreement between the DDA and the city. The appointment of the council subcommittee came subsequent to the challenge from DDA board chair, Jennifer S. Hall, at the DDA board’s last meeting, for council to finally seat its own committee, in light of the fact that she had removed herself from the DDA’s committee – her presence on the DDA’s subcommittee had been cited by the mayor as an obstacle to the city council’s appointment of its own committee.

Related to that upcoming discussion of the parking agreement is an email sent on Sept. 22, 2008, from Keith Orr, who was subsequently appointed by Hieftje to the DDA board to replace Dave Devarti. The email was included in a preliminary batch of records provided to The Chronicle under a FOIA request.

In basic summary, the email is apparently a reply to a verbally conveyed question from Hieftje to Orr about whether he’d be willing to commit to a revision to the parking agreement between the city and the DDA in the context of a possible appointment to the DDA board. Orr wrote:

As far as funding issues we talked about, I certainly believe that city solvency is a critical issue … And I have a general understanding (as much as can be understood from A2 News, and other secondary sources), of the funding issue as it relates to parking issues. I am uncomfortable making a firm commitment to a vote on an issue of several million dollars/year without knowing the full context of the budget issues. I guess that is as close as I can come to making an absolute statement of how I feel on the issue. If those are acceptable parameters, I’ll be happy to fill out the application. If you need a more absolute commitment, I understand, and hope you understand my reluctance to commit beyond that statement.

Contacted via email by The Chronicle, Orr confirmed the basic summary of the message’s context, and added:

… my response remains the same. I am sympathetic to the city’s fiscal needs, and could not promise a particular vote. That was apparently acceptable since I did get appointed.

I remain committed to helping the city. Indeed, the budget passed by the DDA Board contains a line item of “Contingency – $2M”. Thus, the entire board is committed to some type of transfer of funds to the city. The vehicle for that transfer is up in the air. Fortunately the city has finally appointed folks to the “mutually beneficial” committee so talks can finally begin. … I am convinced that reasonable policy determined by intelligent folks will prevail.

The Chronicle has also learned that Newcombe Clark is expected to be appointed to the DDA board as a replacement for Rene Greff when her term expires next month.


Local Development Finance Authority Budget Amendment

City council considered a resolution to amend the SmartZone of the LDFA budget to increase the total by $25,000. Stephen Rapundalo, who is the city council representative to the LDFA board, explained that there had been a question about a line item in the previous budget providing funds to a private investor network to support the connection of investors with companies in need of venture capital.

Rapundalo reported that the city attorney’s office had done due diligence on the proposal and that it was clear from the state enabling legislation, together with the tax increment financing plan, that money from the LDFA cannot be used for third-party staffing. However, said Rapundalo, the necessity to connect investors with companies who need capital is a legitimate need. That’s why the dollars were reinstated to the budget – in order to realize the same goals but with a different means. How? Instead of allocating money to a private angel investment group, Ann Arbor SPARK should develop a program to connect angel investors with companies.

LDFA Budget Reaffirmation

An additional resolution was added at the council table to reaffirm the 2010 LDFA budget. Rapundalo explained that there had been a leftover question about where and how marketing dollars could be spent. He said that it was clear that marketing dollars could not be used outside of the jurisdiction and the TIF (tax increment financing) plan makes it clear that marketing dollars are to be spent within the jurisdiction.

Ann Arbor SPARK

Council considered a resolution to approve a contract with Ann Arbor SPARK for business support services in the amount of $75,000. As the “whereas” clauses in the resolution indicate, Ann Arbor SPARK is the entity that resulted from the merger of Washtenaw Development Council and SPARK. Historically the city of Ann Arbor had contributed $50,000 to the Washtenaw Development Council. Ann Arbor SPARK is funded partly through tax capture in a SmartZone, which geographically consists of the union of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority districts. In the next year, Ann Arbor SPARK will receive around $1 million in Ann Arbor property taxes, administered through the LDFA.

Deliberations by the Ann Arbor city council began with Higgins’ expression of support for the contract approval, saying that SPARK would leverage it well for the city of Ann Arbor. Hieftje added that when he was outside of Ann Arbor talking to people who have heard about Ann Arbor SPARK, they say they would like to have one too. He said he was sure it would make good use of these funds. Hohnke, who was recently appointed to the SPARK executive committee, did not offer any commentary at the table. Councilmembers had no questions for Michael Finney, CEO of SPARK, who had remained in attendance at the meeting up through the recess just before SPARK’s contract was considered.



Transportation: Non-motorized Safety Outreach

Council considered a resolution to support a nonmotorized safety education outreach campaign. It had been introduced at the previous council meeting by Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager.

The resolution did not allocate new funds, but provided guidance to staff on how to spend those funds – up to $10,000 for development and implementation of a non-motorized safety education outreach program. The money comes from the alternative transportation fund created from Act 51 funds directed to development of a safe system of on-road bicycle lanes.

The campaign itself, which has already been developed, will include brochures, radio spots, and video spots. Higgins noted that there had been an ongoing discussion about how to accomplish the educational component. She noted that deputy chief of police Greg O’Dell had previously worked with bicycling groups on the topic. She wanted to know if the city had ever heard back about how that worked. Hieftje noted that the previous effort had never actually been funded. He cited the statistic that at any given time, the majority of people on the road in Ann Arbor don’t actually live here. So the outreach campaign had a certain challenge in reaching the population. Signage would be key, he said. Higgins stressed that she felt it was important that education be provided for cyclists about their responsibility for using the road.

Hohnke asked Cooper to explain how the various constituencies would be engaged through the campaign. Cooper cited the slogans themselves as reflective of targeting all users of the roadway, not just motorists: “Share the road” and “Same road same rules.” He described the brochure that had been developed as a tri-fold that when opened displayed a motorist on the left and a cyclist on the right.

Transportation: North-South Connector Feasibility

City council approved its $80,000 contribution to a north-south connector feasibility study. As transportation program manager Eli Cooper explained, the feasibility study would determine whether the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors could be enhanced as a “signature corridor” in terms of the transportation master plan update, using either existing buses, bus rapid transit, or streetcar systems.

Funding from the city of Ann Arbor apparently completed the funding authorization among the four partners in the feasibility study. Already authorized were the contributions from the DDA, AATA, and the University of Michigan. [However, at the AATA's Wednesday, June 17, 2009 board meeting, the board balked at the $320,000 portion it was asked to pay, postponing that final decision until August – the AATA board does not meet in the month of July.]

Outcome: The resolution authorizing $80,000 for the north-south connector study was passed unanimously.

Transportation: Pedestrian Safety Improvement Project

Briere indicated that she would be glad to see the countdown pedestrian walk signals installed in a few areas outside the downtown and suggested that people would come to appreciated them.

She was referring to countdown pedestrian signals at 12 locations and various crosswalk signing and pavement marking improvements encompassed by the project. The project will also include three pedestrian refuge islands to be constructed on South Main at Oakbrook, Packard at Woodmanor and Ellsworth.

The estimated cost of the project is $244,100, with $195,300 coming from a federal grant and $48,800 from the city. Construction is scheduled to begin in June 2009 and continue until September 2009.

Higgins expressed reservations about one of the pedestrian refuge islands.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.

Transportation: Bike Path

Council entertained a resolution to approve an amendment to the professional services agreement with Midwestern Consulting in the amount of $111,870 for a nonmotorized path along Washington Washtenaw Avenue, from Tuomy Road to Glenwood Road. The money would cover design. The city has been approved for a MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) Transportation Enhancement Grant of up to $538,527, plus an MDOT Surface Transportation Program grant of up to $460,000 for the construction of this project.

Outcome: The resolution passed with no discussion by the council.

Street Closings

Street closings on the agenda generated a bit of unexpected “controversy.” The Main Street Area Association had requested an East Washington Street closing for Oktoberfest on September 18-22, 2009. For the same days, a resolution to approve a West Washington Street closing was on the agenda, requested by Grizzly Peak Brewing Company and Blue Tractor. Rapundalo voted against both street closings, saying that it was a University of Michigan home football weekend and that safety services had not yet signed off on the idea.

For the street closing requested by Grizzly Peak and Blue Tractor, Taylor asked his colleagues to consider voting to require his recusal in light of the fact that his law firm does work for the parties involved. Apparently realizing that the same potential conflict of interest applied to himself with respect to a previous agenda item, Greden asked for a previously approved item to be reconsidered. That item involved a resolution to approve the temporary outdoor sales, service and consumption of alcoholic beverages during the 2009 Ann Arbor Art Fairs. Greden said that his law firm did work for the Red Hawk Bar and Grill, which was one of the parties that could potentially benefit from the outdoor sales.

In both cases, councilmembers asked for their recusal, and both measures passed. At issue was the potential for enhanced profits on the part of the parties benefiting from the resolutions passed.

Fire Dispatch

Council considered a resolution to approve a contract with Huron Valley Ambulance for two years for a fire dispatching service [ $99,420 FY 2010 and  $109,620 in FY 2011].

A representative from the fire department explained that the contract would provide that HVA handle dispatching for the city’s fire department. HVA already handles the dispatch for several other fire departments in the area, which would make it easier for the city of Ann Arbor to undertake mutual aid agreements with those departments. The new system would also reduce the use of fire trucks on medical emergency calls not involving fires, which would reduce the wear and tear on those trucks.

Outcome: The contract was approved unanimously.

Department of Justice Allocation

Jim Mogensen: During the public hearing on a Department of Justice grant, Mogensen noted that every year the Department of Justice appropriates grants. He encouraged councilmembers to ask the question, “So what strings are attached?” He observed that last year’s grants were used to purchase bicycles and shotguns. This year he said, it’s digital video recorders to be installed in patrol cars with the provision of up to 30-50 terabytes of storage. The grant also provided for mobile license plate readers, he said, at a cost of $20,000 apiece. He suggested reflection on the probability that all of this information would be collected, including face recognition software together with the driver license photos, so that one could imagine a protest taking place at the Federal Building and being able to identify people participating in the protest.

The Department of Justice grant was for  law enforcement policing equipment and technology for Ann Arbor police department’s Patrol Division. The $168,158 grant award requires no matching funds.

Senior Center Task Force

A resolution to establish a Senior Center Task Force was postponed, with councilmember Teall explaining that not all of the proposed task force members had been contacted. Higgins elicited the clarification from Teall that the appointment would be made by council as opposed to by the mayor.


Councilmember Taylor will be appointed to the Council Rules Committee, which was consistent with councilmember Briere’s report from the previous night’s caucus that some councilmembers are interested in exploring revisions to council rules to address, among other things, protocols for sending electronic mail.

Public Comment

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen spoke to councilmembers on the issue of electronic communications. He recalled an occasion on which the planning commission was conducting a work session and he was the only person in the audience. The planning commission had on that occasion received a presentation from an attorney in the city attorney’s office, and he said that they seemed to forget that he was still there in the room. He said that he learned all kinds of interesting things about ways people could use to get around the Freedom of Information Act. He suggested that some standards be put in place to address how electronic communications are used. He noted that physically there are rules about how documents can be submitted and when they can be submitted, and that  standards needed to be developed for electronic documents as well. One of the ways that was discussed for getting around FOIA with the idea of using the email address of an employer if that employer was a law firm. The law firm’s email address, he said, was thought to convey the idea that its communication was protected from FOIA due to attorney-client privilege.

Phelps Connell: Phelps introduced himself as a resident who lived adjacent to the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport. He said that when they had bought their house he had been assured that the airport would not be expanded. He allowed that he enjoyed living next to the airport and that it was fun to watch. As an example, he cited the Goodyear blimp, which had been moored at the airport this past weekend, as well as the occasional B-17 bomber. He said that safety is the stated reason for needing the runway extension, but noted that the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport is one of the safest airports. An expansion of the runway, he said, would mean that larger, faster and heavier airplanes would be using it and would put those aircraft 950 feet closer to homes in the area.

Henry Herskovitz: Herskovitz brought with him a photograph of himself taken with Bassem Abu Rahmah four years ago in the city of Bi’lin in Palestine. He said that every Friday they would go in protest near the Israeli wall that goes through Bi’lin. He reported that rubber bullets, tear gas, and sound grenades had been shot at them. Herskovitz said he was saddened to report that two months ago his friend had been hit in the chest with a tear gas canister and killed. He noted that the teargas canister had been paid for by “me and you,” which is to say U.S. taxpayers. Herskovitz stated that he did not care about the emails that councilmembers sent back and forth while speakers were addressing the city council. What he cared about, he said, was the abdication of a previous city council’s responsibility to uphold the U.S. Constitution five and a half years ago, when it had condemned the demonstrations held weekly outside of Temple Beth Israel in Ann Arbor. He called on the current city council to rescind the resolution passed in 2004 that had condemned the demonstrations.

Ed Fontanive: During public commentary reserve time, Fontanive spoke in favor of zoning East Huron Street as a D2 area instead of a D1 area. He noted that across the street are two old churches and a behind the area lay the Old Fourth Ward. He said that a 60-foot-tall building could be built under D2 zoning, which would help it blend better with the rest of downtown.

John Floyd: Floyd noted that last summer, the day after the primary election, Hieftje had been quoted in the Ann Arbor News as being pleased that the candidates had the same “shared high-level vision” for the future of Ann Arbor. Floyd asked what that vision was. He noted that the occasion of consideration of a Downtown Plan as council was undertaking that evening meant that it was an appropriate time to find out what the shared high-level vision was. [Rummaging through the Ann Arbor News archives of the Ann Arbor District Library turned up the quote from Hieftje that Floyd likely meant, in an Aug. 6, 2008 article by Tom Gantert: "We have elected five council members with a big-picture vision of the future of Ann Arbor. They have the ability to work together to see it through."]

Thomas Partridge: Partridge noted the continued need to address the serious issue of discrimination in Ann Arbor, in Washtenaw County, in southeast Michigan, the entire state, and in fact the whole nation. He called on all elected bodies to address this problem with respect to housing, public transportation, healthcare, and education.

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

Absent: none.

Next Council Meeting: Monday, July 6, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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