Stories indexed with the term ‘zoning’

Tension Grows in Medical Marijuana Debate

Ann Arbor city council meeting (April 2, 2012) Part 1: At a meeting that lasted until midnight, the Ann Arbor city council dealt with a full agenda, including several medical marijuana issues.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) Tony Derezinski (Ward 2)

Ann Arbor city councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2). (Photo by the writer.)

Part 1 of this meeting report focuses just on the medical marijuana-related items. In a separate article, The Chronicle has analyzed some of the key issues at stake: “Ann Arbor Marijuana Licenses: Who Decides?

In front of the council for its consideration were three separate agenda items involving medical marijuana: (1) revisions to the city’s medical marijuana licensing ordinance as recommended by the licensing board; (2) direction to the city planning commission to make a recommendation on revisions to the city’s medical marijuana zoning ordinance; and (3) direction to the city attorney to delay enforcement action against dispensaries.

The council unanimously postponed consideration of the licensing ordinance revisions until June 18 – the council’s second meeting that month. During deliberations on the licensing ordinance, several councilmembers expressed concerns about the board-recommended revisions, in particular one that would allow the city council to waive requirements of the licensing ordinance for a dispensary.  In postponing, councilmembers wanted to give the planning commission enough time to act on its direction to review the medical marijuana zoning ordinance and give a recommendation to the city council. The intent is to bring forward any changes to the licensing and zoning at the same time.

The direction to the planning commission passed on a 9-1 vote, with dissent from the Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who is the city council’s representative to the planning commission. [Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was absent, leaving the 11-member council with 10 members present.]

The council tabled the resolution directing the city attorney to delay enforcement activities. The tabling was achieved on a 6-4 vote. Voting against the tabling were mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). A tabled resolution will demise if it’s not brought back for consideration in six months.

The medical marijuana licensing board made recommendations on the award of licenses to 10 dispensaries at its  Jan. 31, 2012 meeting. Given remarks made at the council’s April 2 meeting by Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), there’s some sentiment in support of having the council go ahead and vote on those recommendations – before the council considers ordinance revisions in June. But it’s not clear whether the city attorney’s office would be prepared before June to provide advice on the license awards.

This report includes coverage of public commentary and council deliberations on the medical marijuana items, presented in detail. Other agenda items from the April 2 meeting will be included in a separate forthcoming report. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Pauses on Marijuana Issues

At its April 2, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered three separate agenda items involving medical marijuana: (1) revisions to the city’s medical marijuana licensing ordinance; (2) direction to the city planning commission to make a recommendation on revisions to the city’s medical marijuana zoning ordinance; and (3) direction to the city attorney to delay enforcement action against those dispensaries for which the city’s medical marijuana licensing board has recommended licenses.

The council unanimously postponed consideration of the licensing ordinance revisions until the council’s second meeting in June – June 18.

The council approved the  resolution that gives direction to the planning commission to review the medical marijuana zoning ordinance, on a 9-1 vote.

The council tabled the resolution directing the … [Full Story]

Board Recommends 10 Marijuana Licenses

At its Jan. 31, 2012 meeting, Ann Arbor’s medical marijuana licensing board voted to recommend licenses for 10 medical marijuana dispensaries located in the city. A decision on the award of the licenses will now be considered by the Ann Arbor city council.

Businesses recommended for a license under Ann Arbor’s local ordinance are: (1) Green Planet, 700 Tappan St.; (2) Treecity Health Collective, 1712 S. State St.; (3) Ann Arbor Health Collective, 2350 E. Stadium Blvd.; (4) OM of Medicine, 112 S. Main St.; (5) People’s Choice, 2245 W. Liberty St.; (6) Greenbee Collective, 401 S. Maple St.; (7) Ann Arbor Wellness Collective, 321 E. Liberty St.; (8) MedMarx at Arborside, 1818 Packard St.; (9) Medical Grass Station, 325 W. … [Full Story]

ZBA Grants 1 of 2 Medical Marijuana Appeals

At its Jan. 25, 2012 meeting, Ann Arbor’s zoning board of appeals heard two appeals from representatives of medical marijuana dispensaries, who had been denied a zoning compliance permit by the city. The ZBA granted one appeal (from Green Planet), overturning the decision of city staff, and rejected the other (from Treecity).

Both businesses were  seeking such a permit in order to apply for a medical marijuana dispensary license. The licensing board is scheduled to meet on Jan. 31 to make recommendations on the award of dispensary licenses. The denial of the one appeal means that nine of 10 total applications will be considered by the licensing board.

The Ann Arbor city council enacted zoning and licensing requirements for medical marijuana businesses on June … [Full Story]

Arlington Square Gets Initial Council OK

At its Jan. 9, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to changes to the supplemental regulations of a planned unit development (PUD) for Arlington Square. The changes to the PUD supplemental regulations would allow for urgent care and restaurant uses at the site, with no additional parking. No exterior changes are proposed.

The two-story, 51,285-square-foot retail and office complex is located at 3250 Washtenaw Ave. – the southeast corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Huron Parkway. An 8,000-square-foot space in the complex, where Hollywood Video was formerly located, is vacant, and the owner would like to have the option of leasing the space to a restaurant or urgent care facility.

The current PUD zoning, which was approved in 1989, allows for certain C3 (fringe commercial) uses, but due to an increased need for parking that would be created, the original regulations did not allow for (1) restaurants with seating, (2) barber/beauty shops on the first floor, or (3) office uses on the second floor, with the exception of medical/dental offices.

The site includes 200 parking spaces. To accommodate potential increased parking demand, the building’s owner – Nadim Ajlouny of Orchard Lake, Mich. – is offering to provide bus passes to all employees on the site and to provide an additional 14 enclosed bicycle parking spaces. Questions arose during council deliberations about the number of spaces that are actually on the site. Those questions are supposed to be addressed by the time the council considers the changes for final approval.

The city planning commission, at its meeting of Dec. 6, 2011, recommended approval of the request.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Adds Flashers, Alters Traffic Law

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 19, 2011): At its last meeting of the year, the council ended the current round of discussion on the city’s pedestrian safety ordinance by finalizing changes that clarified conditions under which vehicles are required to stop for people who are trying to cross the street.

Jane Lumm crosswalk ordinance approaching air quotes

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) made air quotes around the word "approaching" as the council discussed the city's ordinance on crosswalks. (Photos by the writer.)

The current ordinance amendment maintains an existing requirement that motorists accommodate not just pedestrians who are “within” a crosswalk, but also those who are verging on entering a crosswalk. What’s different is the way the concept is expressed. In July 2010, the council chose to describe pedestrians who are about to enter a crosswalk as “approaching” the crosswalk. The version of the ordinance finalized on Dec. 19 requires motorists to accommodate “… a pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk …”

As part of the previous amendments made in 2010, the council also had removed language that specified a half of the roadway where drivers needed to accommodate pedestrians. This time around, the council restored similar language, which reads, “… when the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.”

In other crosswalk-related business, the council approved an expenditure of $81,000 to install five rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFB) on existing pedestrian islands in the city. Four of the locations are along Plymouth Road, at Georgetown, Traver Village, Beal and Bishop. The fifth location is at Seventh and Washington.

Also at the Dec. 19 meeting, the council ended a long process of review by the city and negotiation with neighbors by approving a change to the zoning of the Hoover Mansion property on Washtenaw Avenue, which University Bank uses as its headquarters. The change will allow University Bank to build 13 new parking spaces on the east side – behind the main building, allowing the bank in accommodate expanded employment.

Towards the end of the council’s meeting, a relatively rare debate unfolded about a mayoral nomination to a city board. At issue was the nomination of a city employee – transportation program manager Eli Cooper – to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. He’s replacing another city employee on the board, public services area administrator Sue McCormick, who left her position with the city in mid-December. In the end, Cooper’s nomination was confirmed with dissent from two councilmembers. A separate vote on a general policy opposing nominations of city employees to boards and commissions received only four votes of support.

The council considered two compensation-related issues – one for its city attorney, Stephen Postema, and another for election workers who staff the polls. After a closed session to discuss Postema’s performance review, the council voted with dissent from one councilmember to award Postema the ability to cash out 250 hours of banked time. The council delayed its vote on pay increases for election workers, on the possibility that their pay could be increased more than what’s proposed, to match the amount specified in the city’s living wage ordinance.

In other business, the council approved a bond re-funding, authorized reimbursement for a broken electromagnet at the materials recovery facility, accepted additional federal money for solar projects, and heard about a possible strategy for addressing vacant and dilapidated properties. [Full Story]

Council Takes Step to Alter Pedestrian Law

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 10, 2011): A further revision to the city’s pedestrian safety ordinance took up most of the council’s time at Thursday’s meeting.

Rapundalo signing student attendance sheets

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) was first to arrive at the council’s meeting and was rewarded by a dozen or so requests from high school students who needed a signature to attest to their attendance for a class assignment. It was Rapundalo’s last meeting, having lost the Ward 2 election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, to Jane Lumm. (Photos by the writer.)

The council had made several revisions to the law in 2010, including a requirement that motorists accommodate not only pedestrians who are “within” a crosswalk, but also those who are “approaching” a crosswalk. Thursday’s initial revision amended out the “approaching” language in favor of the following wording: “… the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian stopped at the curb or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk.”

The second and final vote on the pedestrian ordinance change is expected to come after a council working session in December, and after a public hearing at the council meeting when the final vote is taken. Based on deliberations on the change at Thursday’s meeting, the outcome of that vote is not a foregone conclusion, and further revisions might be possible.

The council also took action at the Nov. 10 meeting that will allow two downtown residential projects to start construction. The council approved the site plan for The Varsity Ann Arbor, a “planned project” consisting of a 13-story apartment building with 181 units at 425 E. Washington, between 411 Lofts and the First Baptist Church.

And the final deal was approved with Village Green to purchase the city-owned parcel at First and Washington. On that site Village Green will build a 244-space parking deck as the first two stories of a 9-story building with 156 dwelling units – City Apartments.

The council gave final approval to a change in its taxicab ordinance, spelling out conditions under which licenses can be revoked or suspended.

The council also gave final approval to two ordinances that make retiree health care and pension benefits for two of the city’s larger unions parallel to benefits for non-union employees. The approvals gave Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) an opportunity to comment on the labor issues that had been a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, which concluded unsuccessfully on Tuesday.

It was due to the election held on Tuesday that the council’s meeting was shifted from its regular Monday meeting slot to Thursday. The shift is stipulated in the city charter. All council incumbents won their races except for Rapundalo, a Democrat defeated by Jane Lumm, who was running as an independent. Rapundalo began his final meeting by signing multiple attendance sheets for high school students who were attending the meeting on a class assignment, and ended it by hearing praise from his colleagues around the table. [Full Story]

State St. Annexation OK’d, Zoning Delayed

At its Aug. 16, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission recommended that two parcels located in Ann Arbor Township “islands” – 1643 and 1645 S. State St., south of Stimson and next to the Produce Station – be annexed into the city of Ann Arbor. The annexation request will now move forward to the city council for approval. A request to zone the properties as C3 (fringe commercial district) was postponed.

The parcels cover about 0.6 acres and include four non-residential buildings. A new business – Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky – is located at 1643 S. State, along with an auto repair shop and furniture manufacturer. The building at 1645 S. State is used for storage. The only speakers … [Full Story]

No Consensus on Residential Zoning Changes

A committee that’s worked for a year and a half to develop recommendations for zoning changes in Ann Arbor’s near-downtown residential neighborhoods has been unable to reach agreement. So it’s now likely that the city’s planning commission will weigh in on the controversial issue. The outcome of changes – if approved by the city council – could affect the density of residential development in the city.

R4C City of Ann Arbor Zoning

The dark red areas are those areas zoned R4C in the city of Ann Arbor. (Image links to Google Map)

At a recent working session, planning commissioners were briefed on a draft report from the R4C/R2A advisory committee, which has been meeting since December 2009. Both kinds of zoning district were established in the 1960s: R4C allows for multiple-family residential dwellings, such as apartment buildings, while R2A zoning limits density to two-family residential structures. The committee was unable to reach consensus on its recommendations, nearly all of which relate to the R4C districts.

At the June 14 planning commission working session, two commissioners who serve on the committee – Jean Carlberg and Tony Derezinski – expressed frustration at the outcome. The draft recommendations don’t provide any guidance about where the city might encourage greater density, Carlberg said.

Derezinski, who is the city council’s representative to the planning commission, added that many committee members worked hard, but were interested in protecting what they’re used to, especially concerning density and parking in their neighborhoods. As it stands, he said, the report won’t be helpful to the city council. Derezinski supported the idea of having the planning commission study the issue and make its own recommendations.

Commissioner Evan Pratt suggested that the first question to ask is whether there should be greater density, and where – the answer to that would guide the recommendations.

In a follow-up phone interview with The Chronicle, Wendy Rampson – the city’s planning manager, who also attended the working session – said there are several possibilities that planning commissioners might pursue. They could discuss the report at one of their regular meetings and make their own recommendations or comments about it. Those recommendations and comments could be made either informally – communicated to the council via Derezinski – or through a formal resolution or memorandum.

Another option would be for the commission’s ordinance revisions committee to tackle it first, developing specific ordinance language that the full commission could then review and possibly recommend to the city council. Or commissioners could ask to hold a joint session with the council, she said, to talk through these issues directly.

Regardless of how the planning commission proceeds, Carlberg will no longer be at the table. The June 14 working session was her last meeting as a commissioner. Her term ends on June 30, and she did not seek reappointment. The former city councilmember served 16 years on the planning commission, overlapping with her 12 years (1994-2006) as a Democrat representing Ward 3 on the council. Eleanore Adenekan was nominated during the council’s June 20 meeting as a replacement for Carlberg – her nomination is expected to be confirmed at the council’s July 5 meeting. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Cannabis Laws Done, For Now

Ann Arbor city council meeting (June 20, 2011): Two ordinances regulating medical marijuana businesses were finally approved by the council on Monday night, following more than a year of discussion in some form.

Sabra Briere, Carsten Hohnke, Christopher Taylor

Before the June 20 meeting started, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) handed out amendments she'd be proposing to the medical marijuana licensing ordinance. From left: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). (Photos by the writer.)

The first local law stipulates where medical marijuana businesses can be located in the city – it’s an addition to Ann Arbor’s zoning code. The second law establishes a licensing board for medical marijuana dispensaries and sets up an application process for the award of a maximum of 20 licenses to dispensaries in the first year of the program.

On Monday evening, the council undertook amendments to the licensing ordinance that were few compared to massive changes that have taken place at several council meetings dating back to January 2011. On Monday, the labeling requirements for marijuana packaging were changed so that dollar amounts are no longer required.

The council teetered on the edge of postponing the legislation, when city attorney Stephen Postema encouraged councilmembers to delay voting until the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an opinion on a case (Michigan v. McQueen) for which oral arguments were heard on June 7. Despite the support for postponement from mayor John Hieftje, an initial vote to postpone achieved only two other votes. A second vote achieved a total of five votes, leaving the postponement one vote short of the six-vote majority it required.

As some councilmembers observed that the council had invested a disproportionate amount of time on the medical marijuana legislation, Hieftje contended that it had not prevented the council from handling its other work.

On Monday, that other work included a collective bargaining agreement with its police service specialists union, which was an item added just that evening to the agenda. The council also heard public commentary critical of the recent budget approved on May 31 by the council, which includes the layoff of some firefighters and police officers. The meeting was preceded by a demonstration by the city’s public safety employees, at Fifth and Huron streets just outside city hall

The council  also approved two contracts in connection with the East Stadium Bridges replacement project and three purchase orders related to tree care. And the council gave final approval to sewer and water rate increases and a revision to its landscaping ordinance.

The council revised its debt/fund balance policy, and revised its budget to reflect the blending of its economic development fund back into the general fund. Also related to economic development, councilmembers approved the annual $75,000 funding for Ann Arbor SPARK and set a public hearing for a tax abatement for Picometrix.

The council established an affordable housing lien policy and gave initial approval to technical revisions to the city’s pension ordinance. They confirmed appointments to the new design review board, but postponed a vote on setting the design review fee. The council added a work session for July 11, which is likely to include an update on the planned Fuller Road Station.

The council also heard a presentation on a skatepark planned for Veterans Memorial Park. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Finally OKs Medical Marijuana

At its June 20, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to two city ordinances that ensconce medical marijuana businesses with local regulations.

One ordinance concerns zoning – legislation that stipulates where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities can set up business. And the second ordinance concerns licensing – a law that describes how a maximum of 20 licenses in the first year will be awarded, and how a licensing board will be set up to evaluate applications.

An effort led by Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), mayor John Hieftje and city attorney Stephen Postema to postpone the votes – in light of a future expected court ruling – failed on two separate votes. The first vote on postponement was 3-7. Joining Hieftje and Rapundalo in voting for postponement was Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). On the second vote to postpone, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) joined the side for postponement, but that left the measure with only five votes. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) was absent from the meeting. Based on previous deliberations, he would likely have voted for the postponement.

The votes on both ordinances themselves were 8-2, with Higgins and Rapundalo dissenting.

Key features of the zoning ordinance include the requirement that medical marijuana dispensaries must be located in districts zoned as D (downtown), C (commercial), or M (manufacturing), or in PUD (planned unit development) districts where retail is permitted in the supplemental regulations. Medical marijuana cultivation facilities are only allowed in areas zoned as C (commercial), M (manufacturing), RE (research), or ORL (office/research/limited industrial). Medical marijuana businesses are prohibited in a 1000-foot buffer zone around schools.

Key features of the licensing ordinance include a limit of 20 total licenses for dispensaries in the first year – cultivation facilities are not licensed under the ordinance. The license applications will be processed by a five-member medical marijuana licensing board consisting of one member of the city council, one physician, and three other Ann Arbor residents. The license application requires proof of legal possession of the premises for which the license is sought. Licensed dispensaries are required to maintain records on patients for 30 days after marijuana is dispensed, and on cultivation sources for 60 days.

In an amendment to the licensing ordinance made by the council on June 20, a stipulation was eliminated that would have required dollar amounts to be included in medical marijuana package labeling. That amendment was not substantial enough to require the ordinance to undergo an additional reading and approval by the council.

The council’s work on the medical marijuana legislation dates at least as far back as June 7, 2011 2010, when it convened a closed session on the topic to discuss a city attorney’s memo dated May 28, 2010. The council convened another closed session on July 19, 2010, purportedly to discuss the same May 28, 2010 memo. The council did not publicly discuss the topic until Aug. 5, 2010, when it enacted a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana businesses.

Dispensaries that were operating before the moratorium was enacted – and that were allowed under the moratorium to continue to operate – will  have a 60-day window within which they can apply for a license after the ordinance takes effect, which is 60 days from publication. Other dispensaries cannot apply until 75 days after the ordinance becomes effective.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Cannabis Laws Ready for Final OK

Ann Arbor city council meeting (June 6, 2011, Part 2): At its first meeting in June, the council undertook amendments to both new medical marijuana ordinances, which it has been discussing in some form at least since June 7, 2010.

Christopher Taylor

The body language of Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), with Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) seated to his right, reflects that the council's evening on June 6 was a long one.

One ordinance concerns zoning – legislation that stipulates where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities can set up business. And the second ordinance concerns licensing – a law that describes how a maximum of 20 licenses in the first year will be awarded, and how a licensing board will be set up to evaluate applications.

Both ordinances have already received the council’s initial approval. But all ordinances require two approvals by the council and a public hearing. If an ordinance is amended in a significant way after the first approval, it needs an additional approval to count as the initial reading and approval in front of the council.

Revisions to the zoning ordinance made on June 6 involved wording changes like including “part of a building” in the definition of a dispensary. They were deemed not substantial enough to re-set the legislation to its first reading. So the council did not take a vote on anything except a set of amendments. The council postponed the vote on the ordinance as a whole, because that would have been the second and final vote, which would have enacted the zoning legislation. The licensing legislation was not able to receive its final approval that evening – and the council would like the zoning and the licensing ordinances to be enacted together.

The licensing ordinance could not receive its final approval, because it underwent substantial changes. Those included eliminating a requirement that effectively made the landlord give written permission for use of any leased property as a medical marijuana dispensary or cultivation facility. Also altered were two record-keeping requirements. A requirement on storing patient records was changed from one year to 30 days, with access to the information limited to patients themselves. And a requirement on cultivation source record-keeping was changed from an indefinite period to 60 days.

At its June 20 meeting, the council may take its final vote on both pieces of legislation.

For a description of the council’s business on June 6, 2011 that was unrelated to medical marijuana, see Part 1 of the meeting report: “Beyond Pot: Streets, Utilities, Design.” [Full Story]

Beyond Pot: Streets, Utilities, Design

Ann Arbor city council meeting (June 6, 2011, Part 1): While the largest chunk of time at the city council’s Monday meeting was devoted to consideration of ordinances regulating medical marijuana, the agenda was dense with other significant material.

Tom Crawford John Hieftje

Mayor John Hieftje (standing) and interim city administrator Tom Crawford before the start of the city council's June 6 meeting.

For road users who head to the polls on Nov. 8, possibly the most important issue on the agenda was a brief presentation from the city’s project management manager, Homayoon Pirooz, on the city’s street repair tax, which would reach the end of its current five-year life this year, if not renewed by voters. The city council will convene a working session on June 13 to look at the issue in more detail.

Also related to infrastructure was the council’s initial action on setting rates for utilities (water, sewer, stormwater), voting unanimously to send the rate increases on to a second and final vote with a public hearing. The rate increases range from 3-4% more than customers are currently paying. All new and amended city ordinances require two votes by the council at separate meetings.

The council also approved an $800,000 agreement with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation for the initial, right-of-way portion of the East Stadium bridges replacement project. Construction on that public project is due to start later this fall.

For another public project, the council voted to add a previously budgeted $1.09 million to the construction manager contract for the new municipal center at Fifth and Huron.

In an action designed eventually to reduce employee benefits costs, the council passed a resolution – brought forward by its budget committee – that directs the city administrator to craft an ordinance revision that would alter the way non-union employee benefits are structured. What’s planned is a change from three to five years for the final average compensation (FAC) calculation, and a change from five to 10 years for vesting. In addition, retirees would receive an access-only health care benefit.

The city’s newest non-union employee is Chuck Hubbard, whose appointment as the new fire chief was approved by the city council on Monday night. Hubbard was previously assistant chief, which, unlike the chief’s job, is a union position. Hubbard has 25 years of fire protection experience, all of it in Ann Arbor.

Expected to begin construction this year – in late summer – is a private development on the First and Washington lot currently owned by the city. On that lot, Village Green is planning to build a 9-story, 99-foot-tall building featuring 156 dwelling units and a 244-space parking deck on the first two stories. After much discussion, the council approved a $100,000 reduction in the purchase price – from $3.3 million to $3.2 million – that Village Green will pay for the First and Washington parcel. The price break came in the context of water management and a decision to use a full “bathtub”-type design for the foundation. The unanimous vote came after two councilmembers had already left the meeting (which pushed nearly to midnight), but it seemed at one point to hang in the balance, with two of the remaining nine councilmembers expressing reservations. Because the resolution involved land purchase, it needed eight votes to pass.

Village Green’s project, a planned unit development (PUD) approved over two years ago, was not required to undergo the mandatory process of design review that is now part of the city’s code. The council gave final approval to that design review process on Monday night. The new ordinance sets up a seven-member design review board (DRB) to provide developers with feedback on their projects’ conformance to the design guidelines. While the DRB process is required, conformance with the recommendations of that body is voluntary.

Also receiving approval at first reading was a revision to the landscaping ordinance. Fuller Road Station also drew comment from the public and the council.

Final action on medical marijuana zoning and licensing is not expected until the council’s June 20 meeting. Council deliberations on medical marijuana will be covered in Part 2 of The Chronicle’s meeting report. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Pauses Medical Pot Again

At its June 6, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved amendments to a proposed medical marijuana licensing program that were substantial enough that the program will require a second reading and approval before the council, together with a public hearing. The zoning ordinance, to which the council had previously given its initial approval, was also considered on June 6, but was postponed. That would allow the second and final approvals of both licensing and zoning ordinances to be enacted at the same meeting, on June 20.

Among the amendments to the licensing program was one that reduced a records retention requirement from one year to 30 days.

The medical marijuana zoning ordinance received its initial approval by the council at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting. The delay since the initial Oct. 18, 2010 zoning vote stems from the city of Ann Arbor’s strategy in legislating zoning and licensing of medical marijuana businesses – that strategy has been to bring both licensing and zoning before the city council at the same time for a final vote.

The context for developing zoning regulations was set at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, when councilmembers voted to impose a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities. The council also directed the city’s planning commission to develop zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses.

Subsequently, the city attorney’s office began working on a licensing system. The council undertook several amendments to the licensing proposal at four of its meetings over the last three months: on Jan. 3Feb. 7,  March 7 and March 21. The council finally gave its first initial approval to the licensing proposal at its March 21 meeting.

At its May 2 meeting, the most significant amendment to the licensing proposal was to eliminate cultivation facilities from licensing requirements. [.pdf of Michigan Medical Marijuana Act]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Design Guidelines: Final OK

At its June 6, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to an amendment of its land use control ordinance that will establish design guidelines for new projects in downtown Ann Arbor, and set up a seven-member design review board (DRB) to provide developers with feedback on their projects’ conformance to the design guidelines. It’s the final piece of the A2D2 rezoning initiative.

Review by the DRB will come before a developer’s meeting with nearby residents for each project – which is already required as part of the citizen participation ordinance. While the DRB process is required, conformance with the recommendations of that body is voluntary.

The city council had previously approved the design guideline review program at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting. The city planning commission unanimously recommended the change to the city’s ordinance at its April 5, 2011 meeting. [Previous Chronicle coverage, which includes a detailed timeline of the design guidelines work, dating back to a work group formed in 2006: "Ann Arbor Hotel First to Get Design Review?"]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Design Guideline Law Gets Initial OK

At its May 16, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to an amendment of its land use control ordinance that will establish design guidelines for new projects in downtown Ann Arbor, as well as a seven-member design review board (DRB) to provide developers with feedback on their projects’ conformance to the design guidelines.

All city of Ann Arbor ordinances require approval at an initial first reading before the council, a public hearing, and final approval at a meeting following the initial approval.

The timing of project review by the DRB will come before a meeting with nearby residents – which is already required as part of the citizen participation ordinance. While the DRB process is required, conformance with the recommendations of that body is voluntary.

The city council had previously approved the design guideline review program at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting. The city planning commission unanimously recommended the change to the city’s ordinance at its April 5, 2011 meeting. [Previous Chronicle coverage, which includes a detailed timeline of the design guidelines work, dating back to a work group formed in 2006: "Ann Arbor Hotel First to Get Design Review?"]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Schedules Final Pot Votes

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council scheduled the second and final votes on its medical marijuana business licensing scheme and its medical marijuana zoning ordinance for its April 19, 2011 meeting. The moratorium on the use of property in the city as a medical marijuana dispensary or a medical marijuana cultivation facility was extended from March 31, 2011 to June 30, 2011.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Parcel Annexed for Mill Creek Townhouses

A request to annex three parcels totaling about one acre on the east side of Stone School Road at Birch Hollow Drive was approved by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its March 15, 2011 meeting. The vacant land is located in Pittsfield Township, on the west end of the Mill Creek Townhouses, which was annexed into the city in 1976. The commission also approved zoning the land as R3 (townhouse dwelling use). City planning staff indicated that the request was made because the owner was tired of receiving tax bills from multiple jurisdictions.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the planning commission is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow. [Full Story]

Medical Marijuana Postponed Again

At its March 7, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council again delayed consideration of a set of licensing requirements for medical marijuana businesses. The council has now delayed its initial vote on the licensing requirements at five meetings, dating back to Dec. 6, 2010. The postponement was until March 21, 2011, the council’s next meeting.

At the March 7 meeting, the council undertook several additional amendments to the licensing proposal. But ultimately they elected to postpone in the face of several unresolved issues. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) was the sole vote against the postponement to March 21.

The vote that was again postponed is the first of two votes the council must take on any new ordinance it enacts. At its meetings over the last few months, the council has heard extensive public commentary on medical marijuana, but that commentary does not constitute a formal public hearing, which will be held at the same meeting when the council votes on final approval of the licensing, provided it eventually gives initial approval to the licensing system.

At its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting, the  council gave its initial approval to a set of zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses, but it has not yet given its final approval to those regulations. The council’s strategy is to bring licensing and zoning forward at the same time for a final vote.

The context for development of zoning regulations was set at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, when councilmembers voted to impose a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities, and directed its planning commission to develop zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses. Subsequently, the city attorney’s office also began working on a licensing system.

At its Jan. 3 meeting, the council heavily amended the licensing proposal, removing home occupation businesses from licensing requirements. At its Jan. 18 meeting, the council was poised to undertake further amendments to the licensing proposal, including many that concerned limiting the amount of information that is required to be divulged by those associated with license applications. However, the council did not amend the proposal further at that meeting. The council undertook additional amendments to the licensing proposal at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting.

The moratorium on additional facilities in the city to be used as medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities was extended by the council at its Jan. 18 meeting to go through March 31, 2011. Extension of the moratorium will be addressed at the next council meeting on March 21.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Medical Marijuana Licensing Delayed Again

At its Feb. 22, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council again delayed its consideration of a set of licensing requirements for medical marijuana businesses. The council has now delayed its initial vote on the licensing requirements at five meetings, dating back to Dec. 6, 2010. The postponement was until March 7, 2011, the council’s next meeting.

The vote that was again postponed is the first of two votes the council must take on any new ordinance it enacts. At its meetings over the last few months, the council has heard extensive public commentary on medical marijuana, but that commentary does not constitute a formal public hearing, which will be held at the same meeting when the council votes on final approval of the licensing, provided it eventually gives initial approval to the licensing system.

At its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting, the  council gave its initial approval to a set of zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses, but it has not yet given its final approval to those regulations. The council’s strategy is to bring licensing and zoning forward at the same time for a final vote.

The context for development of zoning regulations was set at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, when councilmembers voted to impose a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities and directed its planning commission to develop zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses. Subsequently, the city attorney’s office also began working on a licensing system.

At its Jan. 3 meeting, the council heavily amended the licensing proposal. At its Jan. 18 meeting, the council was poised to undertake further amendments to the licensing proposal, including many that concerned limiting the amount of information that is required to be divulged by those associated with license applications. However, the council did not amend the proposal further at that meeting. The council undertook additional amendments to the licensing proposal at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting.

The moratorium on additional facilities in the city to be used as medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities was extended by the council at its Jan. 18 meeting to go through March 31, 2011.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Active Use of Work Space: Film Premiere

On Wednesday night at the Workantile Exchange – a membership-funded coworking space on Main Street, between Washington and Huron – local video producer and urban researcher Kirk Westphal premiered his two newest films.

Workantile Exchange Urban Planning Council Manager Form of Government

Pre-premiere socializing at the Workantile Exchange for films on urban planning and forms of local government. (Photos by the writer.)

The first film, “The Great Street Toolkit,” focuses on urban planning. The second, “The Council-Manager Form of Local Government,” is an introduction to how the council-manager system is different from a strong mayor system. The city of Ann Arbor uses a modified version of the council-manager form.

As Westphal himself noted lightheartedly, it was the “true wonks” in the audience who stayed for the second film – on council-manager government.

And it turns out that most of the 30 people in the audience were true wonks.

But linked indirectly to the evening in multiple ways was one person who was not in the audience at all –  local developer and downtown property owner, Ed Shaffran. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Focuses on Land Issues

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Dec. 6, 2010): Five different presentations, plus a full roster of public commentary, meant that two and a half hours into their meeting the Ann Arbor city council had not transacted any business – except for adopting its rules for the next year.

smith-afscme-rapundalo-rosencrans

Before the meeting started, Scott Rosencrans, right, knocks on wood in conversation with Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). Behind them are Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Nicholas Nightwine, president of the city's AFSCME union Local 369. Nightwine was there to oppose the outsourcing of city composting operations. Rosencrans, former chair of the park advisory commission, attended as part of a presentation made by the Ann Arbor Skatepark. (Photos by the writer.)

Council rules factored prominently later in the meeting, when a motion to suspend them failed. Had the rules been suspended, it would have cleared the way for the council to reconsider their previous decision to reject a residential planned unit development (PUD) on Fifth Avenue – Heritage Row. The project, which began as a conditional rezoning proposal three years ago, went through iterations since 2007 that included a brownstone-style PUD and a matter-of-right proposal called City Place, which eventually did win approval from the council.

After their previous council meeting, which featured water as a prominent theme, the council focused much of its attention on land-related issues like Heritage Row. In another land-use related item, the council approved revisions to the city’s area, height and placement (AHP) zoning provisions in the city code. But amendments to the AHP resolution were substantive enough that the approval process was reset to the initial, first-reading step. The AHP changes – which, as amended, provide that height limits do not apply in so-called “employment districts,” unless they abut residential areas – will need approval at a second reading in order to be enacted.

A land-use item that was intended mostly as administrative housekeeping – several park areas previously designated as residential, office, and business districts were rezoned with the public land (PL) designation – generated substantial public commentary and council deliberations. Several public commenters expressed concern about whether the PL designations, which the council approved, afforded adequate protection for the continued use of the land as parks.

Although not strictly a land-use issue in a zoning sense, a proposed contract with WeCare Organics to operate the city’s compost facility was linked to terra firma by acreage owned by the city where the facility is located, plus the fact that it processes yard waste generated from residents’ property. The council approved the WeCare contract after extended questioning of city staff and a representative from WeCare.

Also tangentially related to land use was an item that introduced a licensing scheme for medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities in the city. After questioning the city attorney about several provisions of his proposed licensing requirements, councilmembers decided to postpone the issue until their Jan. 3, 2011 meeting. The new zoning regulations regarding where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities can be located, which were scheduled to be heard at second reading on Dec. 20, were rescheduled for Jan. 18.

A land travel-related agenda item the adoption of the Michigan Vehicle Code (MVC) as part of the city’s traffic ordinances. Two years ago, the city had adopted the MVC but excluded portions of that state law relating to the setting of speed limits. The adoption of the full MVC came in response to a possible class-action lawsuit against the city.

As heavily land-centric as the agenda was, Ann Arbor city council also dealt with $9 million worth of water issues. It approved petitions of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner (WCWRC) office for five different projects in drainage districts that lie at least partly inside the city of Ann Arbor. The total cost of all the projects, including the non-city share, is a bit over $9 million. They qualify for low-interest state-revolving fund loans, up to 50% of which may be forgiven by the state. The payments on the loans will come from the city’s stormwater fund. [Full Story]

City Council Mulls Zoning: Marijuana, Height

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Oct. 18, 2010): On Monday night, the council gave an initial approval to a set of zoning laws that are intended to regulate medical marijuana use in the city. It also gave the city attorney direction to pursue the development of a license for medical marijuana facilities. All ordinances require an initial approval – a first reading – followed by a second and final reading at a later meeting.

higgins-mccormick

Before the meeting, Marcia (spelling corrected) Higgins (Ward 4) chats with Sue McCormick (seated), the city's public services area administrator. McCormick is filling in for city administrator Roger Fraser, who is ill. (Photos by the writer.)

Also related to zoning was the council’s second-reading consideration of changes in the city’s zoning code for areas outside the downtown, across most of the city’s zoning classifications. The changes affect area, height and placement (AHP). The final approval of the AHP zoning overhaul had been postponed from council’s first meeting of the month, on Oct. 5, at the request of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

At Monday’s meeting, Higgins brought forth amendments that confined a height cap on buildings to areas adjacent to residential areas. The amendments would allow taller buildings in some non-residential areas, like Briarwood Mall. After some deliberation on the merits of the amendments, Higgins withdrew them, and the council elected to postpone the measure. With Higgins’ amendments, the proposal would be substantively different from the proposal that had already received council approval at first reading, and would thus require an additional reading before final adoption.

In other matters before the council, it was also Higgins who provided much of the impetus for conversation. Two items involved modification to the city’s budget by drawing upon the general fund reserve. One involved a $153,116 expenditure for the city’s planning department to fund corridor planning, and the other was a $160,000 item to purchase furniture for the 15th District Court, which will soon take up residence in the new municipal center at Fifth and Huron. The planning department money was approved over Higgins’ dissent, while the court’s expenditure was postponed, pending the production of an itemized list of what’s being purchased. The two items prompted discussion of the projected budget deficit for FY 2012, which the city’s CFO had estimated in May to be $5 million.

In other business, the council took the final step to enact a special assessment of property owners along Washtenaw Avenue to fund a portion of a new non-motorized path. The council also approved its part of a two-year extension to the consent agreement with Glen Ann Place, which gave site-plan approval for a project at the corner of Glen and Ann streets. Council also gave initial approval to stricter stormwater management rules for impervious surfaces in residential zoning districts.

Council chambers were filled at the start of the meeting with many members of the community who came to hear a proclamation and watch councilmembers vote on a resolution giving council’s support to a similar Michigan Civil Rights Commission resolution. The MCRC condemned the conduct of assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell, who has written blog posts targeting Chris Armstrong, an openly gay University of Michigan student leader. The Ann Arbor city council’s resolution also calls upon the state legislature to pass a proposed comprehensive hate crime bill and a school anti-bullying law currently before the state Senate. [Full Story]

Medical Marijuana Zoning Heads to Council

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (Oct. 5, 2010): Zoning for medical marijuana businesses was the main agenda item for the commission’s Oct. 5 meeting. The issue drew more than a dozen people to council chambers, and six people spoke at a public hearing on the topic.

Jill Thacher, Bonnie Bona

Jill Thacher, left, of the city of Ann Arbor's planning staff, has been the point person in drafting a zoning ordinance to address medical marijuana businesses. She outlined changes to the draft ordinance at the Oct. 5 planning commission meeting. Next to Thacher is planning commissioner Bonnie Bona. (Photos by the writer.)

The draft ordinance that was ultimately approved unanimously, and forwarded to the city council, contained several changes from the version that the commission considered at its Sept. 21 meeting. During the Oct. 5 deliberations, commissioners also approved three out of four proposed amendments, some of them in response to input from the public.

In a separate vote, the commission approved a motion to recommend that the city council institute a medical marijuana business license. Eric Mahler cast the lone vote of dissent. There was little discussion and no details about what the license would entail, aside from a general intent “to address issues that fall outside the scope of the zoning ordinance, such as building security and code compliance for electrical use, fire suppression, and ingress/egress.”

Commissioner Jean Carlberg questioned Kristen Larcom of the city attorney’s office about whether the license would only apply to dispensaries, or if it would be required of cultivation facilities and “home occupation” businesses as well. In reply, Larcom said she didn’t know – they hadn’t yet drafted it. Commissioner Kirk Westphal asked if the license might include a cap on the number of dispensaries in the city – Larcom said that it might.

In their final item of business, planning commissioners unanimously agreed to reconsider a petition they had rejected at their Sept. 21 meeting – to a special exception use that would allow for the expansion of Arbor Dog Daycare, a business located at 2856 S. Main St., near the corner of Eisenhower. They then immediately tabled action on the item until their Oct. 19 meeting. The owners spoke during public commentary urging commissioners to reconsider, but later in the meeting commissioner Jean Carlberg said she’d spent more than an hour in the neighborhood near the business, and was disturbed by the level of noise coming from barking dogs there. [Full Story]

Development Déjà Vu Dominates Council

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (June 21, 2010): Heritage Row is a proposed residential project that would have renovated seven older houses along South Fifth Avenue south of William Street, and constructed three new buildings behind the houses.

Alex de Parry

Developer Alex de Parry addresses the Ann Arbor city council in support of the Heritage Row project at council's June 21 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The number of houses to be renovated – called the “Seven Sisters” by some in the community who support their preservation – matched the number of votes the project received Monday night from the 11-member city council.

While that is a majority, the seven votes in favor of Heritage Row did not meet the eight-vote minimum that was required. The super-majority requirement came as a result of a protest petition that was successfully filed on the same day as the council’s last meeting, June 7. On that occasion, the council first considered this newest iteration of the project, but postponed it until their June 21 meeting.

The project rejected by the council on Monday in its 7-4 vote was a planned unit development (PUD), which would have required the city to amend its zoning. That leaves in play an already-approved earlier project at the same location, called City Place. City Place was authorized by the council last year as a “matter of right” (MOR) project – because it was judged to meet all applicable codes and zoning regulations.

The City Place (MOR) would demolish the seven houses and replace them with two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot. It’s a project that would be almost certainly denied by the city’s historic district commission – if a historic district were established in the area, as a study committee has recently recommended. The council is expected to make its final vote on the historic district at its July 6 meeting.

But the council gave its initial consideration to establishment of that historic district on Monday night. It’s more customary for councilmembers to vote for proposals on their first reading – to advance a proposal to a public hearing – even if they ultimately plan to vote against it. But Monday’s meeting saw three councilmembers already voting against establishing the district.

The council’s meeting also started off with the theme of historic preservation, as the city’s historic district commission presented its annual preservation awards.

In other business, the council gave a short extension to developer Village Green, which has an option-to-purchase agreement with the city for the city-owned parcel at First and Washington streets. The time for the extension is to be used to work with the city planning staff to put together milestones that need to be met. [Full Story]

Moving Ahead on Zaragon Place 2

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (June 15, 2010): With only minor suggestions from planning commissioners, the 14-story Zaragon Place 2 apartment complex was unanimously approved by the commission, and will next be considered by the city council, likely at one of their August meetings.

Bonnie Bona

Bonnie Bona, chair of Ann Arbor's city planning commission, listens to a presentation about Zaragon Place 2. A rendering of the proposed project is on the screen in the background, viewed from the William Street perspective. (Photos by the writer.)

The project – to be located at the southeast corner of William and Thompson, next to Cottage Inn restaurant – drew support from two representatives of neighboring businesses, who said they were eager for new residents to arrive as potential customers. The site has been vacant and considered blighted for more than a decade.

Unlike recent proposals for two other residential developments – Heritage Row and The Moravian – Zaragon Place 2 does not require special zoning and has not faced opposition from neighborhood groups.

Some of the discussion by commissioners centered on the 40 parking spaces to be provided within the structure, as well as 40 spaces for bikes in a secured storage room. The ground level will include retail space fronting William. Also as part of the project, the city’s parks unit is asking the developer for $48,000 to help pay for new parks in the area, or to enhance existing parks.

In other business, the commission approved a special exemption use for Big Shot Fireworks to set up a tent in front of the Quarter Bistro, in the Westgate Shopping Center. Commissioners were schooled in fireworks-related legislation – anything that spins, explodes or leaves the ground can’t be sold in Michigan to the general public.

And a rezoning of a previously unzoned parcel on Jackson Avenue – site of the former Barnard Plating factory, next to Hillside Terrace Retirement Center – passed without discussion.

Finally, the commission discussed and passed a resolution that more formally outlines their plan to work with the city’s environmental and energy commissions toward the goal of building a sustainable Ann Arbor. It’s the outgrowth of a joint meeting the three commissions held in April, and was characterized by planning commission chair Bonnie Bona as the beginning of a community conversation about sustainability. [Full Story]

Better Deal Desired for Fuller Road Station

Two city commissions on Tuesday addressed two very different actions related to Fuller Road Station, a joint city of Ann Arbor/University of Michigan project that initially will entail a large parking structure and bus station, with possibly a train station for commuter rail years down the road.

Gwen Nystuen, David Barrett, Doug Chapman

Park advisory commissioners Gwen Nystuen, David Barrett and Doug Chapman at Tuesday's meeting of PAC's land acquisition committee, held at Cobblestone Farm. Nystuen has been pushing for more input into the Fuller Road Station project. (Photos by the writer.)

Spurred by concerns that Ann Arbor parks are being shortchanged, members of the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) discussed a resolution on Tuesday that would urge city council not to proceed with plans for Fuller Road Station at its proposed site on city-owned land that’s designated as parkland.

The draft resolution also states that if the city council does continue with the project, the city should renegotiate the deal to get additional revenues from the University of Michigan, with those funds being allocated to city parks. The resolution calls for an annual payment of $127,500 from the university – under the current agreement, UM would pay $19,379 per year, starting in 2012.

Park commissioners didn’t take any action, and plan to discuss the draft resolution further at their May 18 meeting.

But Tuesday evening, the city’s planning commission did take action related to Fuller Road Station. They voted unanimously to amend the list of permitted principal uses of public land – specifically, changing a “municipal airports” use to “transportation facilities.” During a public hearing on the issue, several speakers – including park commissioner Gwen Nystuen – objected to the change.

It’s expected that the project – located on the south side of Fuller Road, just east of East Medical Center Drive – will be submitted by the design team on May 17 for review by planning staff. It will likely come before the planning commission at its first meeting in July. A public meeting on the project is set for Thursday, May 6 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor city council chambers, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [Full Story]

Heritage Row Moves to City Council

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (March 16, 2010): A proposed residential project that’s been in the works for more than two years got approval on Tuesday night from a majority of planning commissioners, by a 6-2 vote.

Alex de Parry

Alex de Parry checks messages on his cell phone before the start of the Ann Arbor planning commission meeting on Tuesday. (Photos by the writer.)

Alex de Parry, the developer of Heritage Row – a project on the east side of Fifth Avenue, south of William – will now seek approval from city council, though he still faces opposition from neighbors and others in the community.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the commission continued a broad effort to rezone parcels of city-owned parkland as “public land” – including one known as the “squarest “park in Ann Arbor. Commissioners also addressed concerns raised by residents living near two of the properties being rezoned: Arbor Hills Nature Area and Kilburn Park. Action on those two parcels was postponed.

Also postponed was a proposed site plan for expansion at Glacier Hills retirement community, which plans to construct a new skilled nursing care building within its complex on the city’s east side. Planning staff had some unresolved issue with the proposal, including the need to increase the amount of required bicycle parking. It was noted that residents there might not have a high demand for bike spaces. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA Barely Passes Budget

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (March 3, 2010): The DDA board approved its $25 million budget for 2010-11 on Wednesday, but just barely. Four dissenting voices, plus mayor John Hieftje’s absence from the meeting, meant that the budget received the bare minimum seven votes required for approval by the 12-member body.

Keith Orr Map Man

The DDA board talked about more than just the budget. Who was that map man? As the nameplate says, it's DDA board member Keith Orr, who was introducing a draft of a bicycle map that the DDA is working on. (Photos by the writer).

Deliberations covered a range of issues. First, the budget needs to accommodate two major DDA capital projects: the underground parking garage currently under construction; and the Fifth Avenue and Division Street improvements, which are also underway.

Second, there’s a contingency written into the budget for $2 million. The contingency is there in case renegotiation of the parking agreement between the city and the DDA results in a continuation of the $2 million payments made by the DDA to the city for each of the last five years. Continuation of the payments is not legally required under terms of the current agreement, which assigns responsibility for administration of the city’s parking system to the DDA through 2015.

Third, the fund balances of the DDA – which reflect the DDA’s reserves – face a dramatic reduction. That’s an issue that city of Ann Arbor CFO Tom Crawford flagged back in the spring of 2009 during discussions about the construction of the underground parking garage. The concern caused the city council to scale back the size of the garage by 100 parking spaces.

And finally, decisions made by the DDA board over the last year have resulted in re-direction of revenues from two surface parking lots – 415 W. Washington and the old YMCA lot at Fifth and William – to the city of Ann Arbor. That has resulted in the elimination of line items for DDA programs for next year that were in this year’s budget.

Besides the budget, the board also discussed a number of other topics, including development of the Library Lot and results from two parking surveys. [Full Story]

Heritage Row Gets Postponed

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (Feb. 18, 2010): After a public hearing on the latest iteration of a controversial South Fifth Avenue housing project, planning commissioners voted to postpone action on a project now called Heritage Row.

A public hearing notice duct-taped to a tree

A public hearing notice duct-taped to a tree on Fifth Avenue, announcing the Feb. 18 public hearing of the proposed Heritage Row development. (Photos by the writer.)

Developer Alex de Parry is asking to rezone the seven-parcel site, with plans to restore the historic houses there and build three 3.5-story buildings behind them. Commissioners generally were favorable toward the project, citing benefits of restoring the older homes, among other things. A fair amount of  their discussion involved what color of brick to use on those new buildings.

The public hearing drew several neighbors who raised concerns they’d voiced over de Parry’s previous project in the same location, called City Place. Several mentioned the new buildings as being too large for the neighborhood. Another concern: An historic district study committee hasn’t finished its report, which could affect the project.

But before they considered Heritage Row, commissioners discussed proposed changes to Plymouth Green Crossings, a mixed use complex off of Plymouth, west of Green Road. The developers, represented by David Kwan, are asking to alter their original agreement with the city.

Economic conditions, including the departure of Pfizer, have slowed plans to complete the project, which was to include a total of three buildings and a standalone restaurant. Two buildings have been constructed – tenants include Sweetwaters and Olga’s – but a perceived lack of parking has stymied attempts to fill the retail space, Kwan said. He and his partners hope to put in a temporary parking lot on the land that originally was slated for the restaurant.

One commissioner wasn’t too excited by Kwan’s idea. Concerns were also raised about payments to the city’s affordable housing fund, which are being spread out over several years. [Full Story]