Meeting Watch: Pre-council Caucus (19 Oct 2008)

Brownfield credits for 601 S. Forest?

Topics addressed by residents at Sunday night’s caucus with council ranged from 601 S. Forest to fluoride. Comments at caucus revealed that residents opposed to the 601 S. Forest development believe that city council has a decent hand to play even if the developer holds a trump card – a matter-of-right 25-story project. Even if the developer plays that trump, residents don’t think the developer can put the roughly $10 million on the table it would take to win the pot – which would be sufficient financing to proceed with actually building the project.

601 S. Forest

By way of background, the $10 million corresponds to brownfield redevelopment credits, which city council can either approve or not at Monday evening’s meeting (Oct. 20). At an August 2008 caucus meeting, Marcia Higgins indicated that the city had communicated to the developer that only brownfield credits for pollution remediation, but not for site preparation, would be considered. At that time the developer’s proposal was to build a 25-story building on the site. In the last three weeks, the developer made what could be analyzed as a bid to receive the full range of brownfield credits allowed, by suggesting an alternate proposal involving a 14-story building. The developer met with residents Wednesday (Oct. 15) in council chambers to discuss the 14-story scenario after unveiling conceptual sketches at the council meeting the week before.

In remarks made at Sunday’s caucus, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said that if the $10 million in brownfield redevelopment credits were not approved, the developer had indicated he would not revise the originally planned 25-story building to the shorter height of 14-stories as discussed at the last city council meeting.

Stew Nelson led off residents’ comments by scrutinizing the merits of the case that 601 S. Forest was polluted enough to qualify as a brownfield. He joked that the terms “burnt amber field” or a “sepia field” could be invoked to describe better the situation on the site. Nelson questioned whether levels of contaminants that were “higher than generic drinking water” were sufficiently high to warrant the conclusion that this site was polluted – unless the plan included a proposal to sink wells for drinking water. A subsequent speaker traced the history of businesses in the area, emphasizing that sampling in the basement of the Bagel Shop – where a dry cleaner had been – revealed no contamination due to dry cleaning fluid. She said that where there was contamination found, it was only between 6 inches and 4 feet deep. A different resident expressed general skepticism of the classification of sites as “facilities,” saying that “if you spill some kerosene on the ground, it’s a facility.”

Nelson cited examples of successful brownfield redevelopments: (i) The Toyota Technical Center and (ii) the Globe Building in Detroit. He gave examples of the extensive pollution at both of the sites and the specific economic benefit (900 jobs in the case of the TTC) that redevelopment provided and contrasted these with the 601 S. Forest proposal. Councilmembers also heard from resident Steve Bean, who said that even if brownfield credits for cleaning up the pollution might be justified, that those involved with site preparation should not be awarded.

Hieftje cautioned that if the brownfield credits were not awarded, the developer would simply revert to the originally proposed 25-story building. Hieftje said that he was concerned residents would insist that council vote against the 25-story building, which would almost certainly lead to a lawsuit against the city. One resident suggested that $10 million would be better spent on a lawsuit than on subsidizing development counter to the city’s interests. However, Nelson and others felt the developer was bluffing: approve the 25-story building, they said – the developer can’t get financing for the project without the brownfield credits and will simply walk away without building anything.

412 E. Huron

A resolution currently on the agenda for council’s Monday evening meeting calls for an appointment of a study committee to examine the possibility of removing 416 412 E. Huron from the Old Fourth Ward Historic District. John Hieftje described how Kurt Berggren, who owns a unit at the property, approached him and Joan Lowenstein with an inquiry. Lowenstein had forwarded the matter to Kristine Kidorf, historic preservation consultant for the city, and that the language of the resulting resolution had come from Kidorf.

Residents Ray Detter and Chris Crockett weighed in giving the history of the formation of the Old Fourth Ward and of the particular property in question. Detter emphasized that Huron Street from the Firestone station eastward to State was a character district in the sense of the A2D2 guidelines and that it was distinctive – even if one of Ann Arbor’s own city planners was blind to the nuances of that distinction. At the mention of the Firestone station, Hieftje took occasion to express his view that it was “an eyesore.” Crockett talked about the psychological damage done to the community by disconnecting it from its history. When she concluded, her remarks drew applause.

During Detter and Crockett’s comments, Lowenstein looked up the recently revised ordinance making the standards across Ann Arbor’s various historic districts uniform, and concluded that she didn’t think a provision to excise boundary properties from districts had survived the ordinances’ revision. She said that she would ask Kidorf to review the matter and possibly strike the item from the agenda.

Human Rights Commission request

Councilmembers heard from Leslie Stambaugh and Victor Turner, chair and co-chair respectively of the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission. After summarizing some of the HRC’s work (education on race, monitoring of hiring procedures, AATA restroom policies), Stambaugh urged council to pass a resolution supporting House Bill 6341 and Senate Bill 1455, which clarifies and strengthens a law on hate crimes. Stambaugh noted that Michigan is ranked third out of 50 states in the number of hate crimes committed, and that in 2005, 14 hate crimes were tallied in Ann Arbor.

Turner asked councilmembers to consider the language in the human rights ordinance 112, which references a “director” – which seems ambiguous in light of the reorganization of the department. Lowenstein said that the online version of the ordinance might not reflect the revision undertaken to change the language to “Human Resources Director.”

Ann Street one-way configuration

A resolution on the agenda for council’s Monday meeting calls for the conversion of Ann Street between 5th Avenue and Division Street to one-way east bound.

Councilmembers at caucus heard from resident Eppie Potts, who asked them to reflect on whether police cars would need access to Ann Street from Division and how much the circling of the block that would result from residents who typically now use Ann Street westbound along that block. Further, she expressed skepticism that the number of parking spaces gained from the angled street parking to be installed along Ann Street would adequately address the overall loss of public parking at the Larcom building when the police-courts renovation is completed.

The angled parking spaces along the one-way configuration are not incorrectly angled.  Cars are meant to back into the spaces.

The angled parking spaces along the one-way configuration are not incorrectly angled. Cars are meant to back into the spaces.

Councilmember Sabra Briere said that there would be 10 fewer spaces, joking that the reduction was just enough to keep the 10 council members from being able to park.

Detailed discussion of the one-way Ann Street proposal, which includes a higher resolution of the image above, can be found in the documents: Back-in Angle Parking and Bike Lanes [.pdf file] and Ann Street One-way Conceptual Plan [.pdf file].


Steve Bean noted that council’s agenda contained an item approving $70,000 for the purchase of hydrofluorosilicic acid for water treatment and asked why the cost had risen so dramatically from $12,000 when the last purchase had been made. Bean also asked that council use the opportunity to consider the moratorium on adding fluoride to drinking water that is recommended by the EPA’s unions of scientists in light of possible links to increased bone cancer rates and uncertainly about overall health effects.

Present: Mike Anglin, Sabra Briere, John Hieftje, Joan Lowenstein, Margie Teall.

Next caucus: Sunday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave


  1. By Vivienne Armentrout
    October 20, 2008 at 10:10 am | permalink

    Re 601 S. Forest: this is the second time recently where a developer has threatened to put in an uglier development if their requests are not met. (The City Place on S. 5th was the other one.) Council should reject all such attempts of development by threat. It is a bad policy to encourage such behavior. Given the current economic climate, it seems unlikely that threats will be carried out, especially if the proposed development is depending on a large infusion of tax dollars to be realized.

  2. By susan wineberg
    October 21, 2008 at 3:50 pm | permalink

    small comment- the address in question for the appointment of a study committee is 412 E. Huron. It was turned down on Monday night. I’m sorry people think Firestone is an eyesore–we use their services all the time and perhaps I’ve lived here too long to notice that it needs a paint job. The building is an unaltered example of a car-oriented building from the 1920s, which marked the second wave of development along Huron, which was one of the first named roads in the Michigan Highway system (I wrote about this in my book Lost Ann Arbor. I think it’s a cool building!

  3. By Dave Askins
    October 21, 2008 at 4:00 pm | permalink

    “small comment- the address in question for the appointment of a study committee is 412 E. Huron.”


    That’s a big comment. Thanks for providing the correct address. Chris Crockett certainly did her part in providing me with a nice photocopy (page 70 … from your book?) with a title at the top in bold face, “412 East Huron Street.” I had it in front of me as I typed up the report and still got it wrong. Apologies.

  4. By susan wineberg
    October 21, 2008 at 4:07 pm | permalink

    Yes, that page is from my other book Historic Buildings co-authored with Marjorie Reade. We recently learned that the information about Professor Sears is not correct. I had forgotten how really old that house is–way before the Civil War. It is one of three surviving houses from the previous era, when fabulous mansions lined Huron and when having an address there was a sign of high status.