Meeting Watch: City Council (22 Sept 2008)

Affordable housing, sidewalk vendors, student rental development, how tipsy are you

Public Commentary

Tom Partridge. Partridge makes clear who he’s talking to: “Members of the public at large, representatives of the media, I am Tom Partridge.” Media. That’s us, The Chronicle. When people speak directly to us, we listen. Partridge stressed the importance of electing Democrats in November, saying, “We need to support candidates who stand for progress – true progress.”

John Floyd. Floyd did not coin the phrase Charm Zone – he heard it at a recent planning commission working session – but he has embraced this term for the part of Ann Arbor built before World War II. He contends it’s what makes Ann Arbor different from Royal Oak or Novi and what gives Ann Arbor a strategic advantage in the worldwide market for intellectual capital.

Tom Wall. Wall, candidate for mayor of Ann Arbor in the November 2006 general election and again in the August 2008 primary, delivers a blistering assessment of John Hieftje’s appearance before the most recent University of Michigan Regents meeting, saying that it amounted to “political cover.” Hieftje had appeared in order to ask the Regents to pause the Wall Street parking structure project. In a different mood, Tom Wall might have been expected to make a joke about the name of the street (there’s no family connection). Tonight he’s dead serious. Wall suggests that the reason we don’t see a better cooperative relationship between the city and the university can be traced to the fact that Hieftje is employed by the university (job title: Intermittent Lecturer in Public Policy). Alluding to the label “irresponsible” that Hieftje had used to describe the no votes on the 42 North project at last council meeting, Wall said, “Irresponsible is serving two masters at once.” Later Hieftje would respond to Wall’s criticism during the meeting’s communications from council by citing previous mayors who had been professors or full-time staff at the university and by declaring that he had not been influenced by his university affiliation in making public policy decisions.

Communications from Council

Chris Easthope: Free Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) on Saturday, Sept. 27 on Main Street near The Ark. The idea is to help people understand where they are with respect to blood-alcohol level after they’ve been drinking.

Stephen Rapundalo and Leigh Greden: Both reported on their visit to Calgary for the International Downtown Association meeting from Sept. 11-14. Others on council attending were Margie Teall and Sabra Briere. Others who attended (not an exhaustive list) were Sandi Smith, Jayne Miller and Susan Pollay. Rapundalo highlighted (i) benchmarking opportunities for affordable housing, (ii) design of urban plazas and public spaces and (iii) tools to attract and retain young adults. Greden described a session on a high-tech application in parking (e.g., cell phone alert of impending parking meter expiration), affordable housing (consensus among Ann Arbor attendees was that Ann Arbor is way ahead of most places), and keeping downtown clean. In connection with this last point, Greden acknowledged its implementation was surely a ways off, but floated the idea of hiring college students as downtown ambassadors.

Hieftje: The mayor defended his relationship with the University of Michigan in light of the criticism leveled against him during public commentary, citing historical precedent and a recent resolution by council calling on cooperation “at the highest level” between the city of Ann Arbor and the university.

Marcia Higgeins: Expressed the view that council had made reasonable efforts to establish a cooperative climate and that the missing element could be found on the university’s end.

Agenda Items

Sidewalk vendor ordinance. Stephen Kunselman, who first raised the issue that prompted the revision to the existing ordinances, described the rationale behind it. It levels the playing field among vendors who remove their carts on a daily basis without using a public right of way as storage space, and ensures that carts are taken back to their commissaries for cleaning, plus prevents vehicles from driving up over sidewalk curbs – degrading curbside infrastructure and posing threats to pedestrians. Kunselman invoked the image of a vehicle-drawn hot dog cart hauled onto a sidewalk, scattering iPod-wearing UM students.

Higgins asked head of planning services Mark Lloyd to step forward. At the Sept. 8 meeting when the sidewalk vendor ordinance was given its first reading, she had pointed out two clauses in the ordinance that needed to be addressed before second reading (tonight). One involved the unintended prohibition of non-motorized towing of carts onto the sidewalk, and another involved a catch-all legal cover alluding to other parts of city code that the ordinance might contradict. The first issue had been addressed through striking of the phrase, but this revision to the language had come relatively late in preparation of materials for council. So Lloyd knew why Higgins had called him to the podium, and assured her that the latest revision reflected her concern from last meeting. Nope. Even though one sentence had been stricken, the other one had not. Higgins’ point was that if our city code as a whole is so unwieldy that not even city staff can examine it and determine definitively whether there is a conflict, this reflects a fundamental problem with the complexity of our code. She deplored the use of catch-all phrases like this as exacerbating the problem. (Below, the red-lined language is what had been stricken; the italicized portion had not.)

(10) Before any street or sidewalk occupancy permit is issued to an applicant proposing to sell or solicit for sale any food or produce for human consumption, certification must be received from the County Health Officer. For purposes of this subsection only, a non-motorized vendor cart or other similar non-motorized apparatus used for the sale or solicitation for sale of any food or produce for human consumption may be located on the sidewalk notwithstanding any other provision of the Ann Arbor City Code to the contrary. Provided, however, no person shall place or remove such a vendor cart or other similar non-motorized apparatus on or
from a sidewalk by driving or otherwise moving it over a curb.

Higgins’ effort to postpone the motion was unsuccessful, with attorneys on council (Greden and Joan Lowenstein) and the city attorney (Stephen Postema) embracing the language as useful. Greden: “I would leave that in there no matter what.” Passed.

Area, Height and Placement Standards. This was postponed indefinitely after Jayne Miller (Community Services Administrator) suggested that four to six months of additional conversations with citizens might be required. Postponed.

Rezoning of Dexter & Maple (northeast corner). Currently zoned as a parking district and fringe commercial district, the request was to change to a community convenience center. What is proposed includes an Aldi grocery store and other unspecified retail. Mike Anglin pointed out that this would be the view from Knight’s parking lot. Higgins sought clarification on a signage issue. Apparently Aldi will be seeking signage closer to the intersection, even though the store will be on the Knight’s side of the lot. First reading, passed.

Community Events funds disbursed. Allocation made from Community Events Fund to Ann Arbor Summer Festival in the amount of $17,800. Why now? In order to avoid leaving a balance in the Community Events Fund, and because the Summer Festival is closing their books at the end of the month. Passed.

Hotel at Briarwood. Approved without discussion.

133 Hill Street. This is a proposal for construction of a building that will house three 6-bedroom units. Some councilmembers voted yes only grudgingly, saying the student rental market targeted by such proposals is soft and that developers should not build such projects just because they’re the only kind of project banks will lend money for. Greden said, “Based on my review, it meets code … This market doesn’t exist to the extent developers believe it does. I’m begging the development community to reconsider what they’re doing.” Easthope echoed Greden’s sentiments, but also voted yes, saying that it was a difficult challenge, because zoning shouldn’t be changed to address what they felt was a misinterpretation of the market. Lowenstein, who had seen the project in more detail in her role as council representative to planning commission, was a bit more sanguine: “This will be one of the nicer things in the area. It will be a big improvement.” Kunselman was curious to know whether all the bedrooms would have egress windows – an apparent allusion to Zaragon Place, which is being built at the site of the old Anberay apartments, and features some interior bedrooms without windows. Passed.

Moveable Feast Building addition. Minor discussion. Passed.

Liquor for Quickie Burger. This was a transfer of a Class C license from Eguchi Corp. at 327 Braun to Quickie Burger at 800 S. State. Rapundalo asked for postponement citing various problems that needed to be addressed, among them the request for a sidewalk service area. Postponed.

Money for Avalon Housing Merger. Based on caucus preview, there is overwhelming sentiment in support of the merger between Avalon Housing Inc. and Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp. Greden led off the discussion with a proposal to divide the $295,000 to be paid from the Ann Arbor Housing Trust Fund into two parts: $90,000 from the trust fund and $205,00 from the general fund, to be paid back to the general fund when the trust fund is infused with cash from future developments’ cash-in-lieu payments (e.g., Lower Town, Plymouth-Green, The Gallery). Higgins pressed Miller for an explanation of why council was only now hearing about the proposed accounting. Miller explained that the city had not expected that the Burton Commons project would be continuing and had expected to have some $400,000 more available. However, they had learned that same day that Burton Commons would move ahead. (Burton Commons is located on Burton Road near Packard and US-23, and is supposed to include 120 units of affordable housing.) Higgins proposed that the entire $295,000 amount be borrowed from the general fund instead of splitting accounts, noting that paying $90,000 out of the housing trust fund could jeopardize commitments to affordable housing. With the amendment to borrow all of the money from the general fund, to be paid back from the housing trust fund, the resolution passed.

Airport Layout Plan Update Approval. Assurances were given that this is not a proposal for a change in layout at this time. However, when that proposal does come, the 150-foot shift to the southwest of the runway will result in planes taking off earlier and thus flying higher than they do now in their initial flight path over residential areas to the northeast. Passed.

Public Commentary

Jim Mogensen stressed that when rezoning is undertaken, there is an underlying commitment by the city to build and maintain the infrastructure that is required to support that development which is allowed by the zoning. Mogeson drew on his afternoon’s research at the Bentley Historical Library to drive home the point that the questions faced in this regard are exactly the same questions confronted by city council 40 years ago.

Tom Partridge bookended the evening with a call for a true commitment to affordable housing, noting that the amounts of money discussed that evening paled in comparison to any single road project.


Noise. A variety of factors like custodial carts rolling down the hallway outside chambers, conversations in those hallways, the whirring of CTN cameras repositioning, the attendant background noise from people sitting in a room, plus microphones that don’t always pick up council people’s voices, all lead to an acoustical challenge in following what’s going on at a council meeting.

Bicycles. Heading off into the night on his bicycle after the meeting, Ron Suarez brought to a total of two the number of councilmembers The Chronicle has spotted in the wild on bicycles, the other being Mike Anglin. This could be stretched to three if Joan Lowenstein is counted, who was walking to her bike where it was locked at the Fourth and Washington parking structure

Present: John Hieftje, Ron Suarez, Sabra Briere, Joan Lowenstein, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Marcia Higgins, Chris Easthope, Mike Anglin. Absent: Margie Teall.

Next meeting: Monday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave.


  1. September 23, 2008 at 10:14 am | permalink

    Thanks for the detailed notes.

    Quickie Burger wants to serve liquor! That would change the Hill-Packard-State triangle, and that whole corner of town doesn’t have any liquor licenses.

  2. September 23, 2008 at 1:15 pm | permalink

    A very great article! Its only flaw is that you misspelled Marcia Higgins’ last name under Communications from Council.

  3. By Dave Askins
    September 23, 2008 at 1:35 pm | permalink

    “… you misspelled Marcia Higgins’ last name under Communications from Council.”

    Duly noted, with apologies to Marcia Higgins, as this is not the first time. The Chronicle’s strategy for documenting this and other errors of fact is to note them in the Missed Ticks section as well as correcting them in situ in a way that is reasonably transparent (red-lining deleted text, with blue for added text).

    There’s bound to be a plug-in or a baked-in custom dictionary function in WordPress that could supplement the vigilance of visual inspection.

  4. October 2, 2008 at 1:19 am | permalink

    I appreciate the coverage, certainly of my comments, but also of everything that actually goes on at council. This is almost a “document of record” publication.

    Two corrections to your coverage of my remarks: 1) I heard the term, “Charm Zone” at a city council work session, not a planning commission work session; 2) I cited Southfield, not Royal Oak, as a post- WWII community. Much of Royal Oak was built before WWII.