Council Caucus: Near North PUD

Other topics: farmers market, bicycle safety, budget & labor

Ann Arbor City Council caucus (Aug. 5, 2009): The city council caucus, which typically falls on the Sunday before council’s regular Monday meeting, was rescheduled for Wednesday this week to match the rescheduling of the council’s regular meeting to Thursday. That schedule change had been prompted by the Democratic primary elections held on Tuesday.

Four council members attended caucus – John Hieftje (mayor), Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). They heard from residents on a variety of issues, from a complaint about thaw-and-bake products at the farmers market, to the Near North PUD proposal that is on council’s agenda for Thursday night, to questions about the constitution of the council’s budget and labor committee.

Also on council’s agenda is a moratorium on new development in districts zoned R4C (multi-family dwelling), and councilmembers heard from one resident at caucus in support of that moratorium, which was postponed from council’s last meeting.

Rounding out caucus topics were two plant-related issues. There’s an oak tree in Wurster Park that councilmembers were advised could have its life prolonged considerably. Finally, a resident framed problems with foliage obscuring sight lines for vehicles as a bicyclist safety issue.

Farmers Market Baked Goods and the DDA?

Luis Vasquez Vazquez served for five years on the Ann Arbor Farmers Market commission and chaired it for two of those years. Vazquez began by asking the councilmembers present if they had had a chance to review materials he had sent them outlining his concerns about the farmers market. He summarized those concerns at caucus by saying, “My contention is that there are rules being violated.”

He also expressed a general dissatisfaction with the way the farmers market was being administered by the city’s parks program. Vazquez’s dissatisfaction with the administration of the farmers market stems in part from what he contends is a violation of rules that require products sold at the farmers market to be produced by the vendors themselves. With respect to baked goods sold by Kapnick Orchards, it is Vazquez’s contention that Kapnick offers baked goods at the farmers market that are prepared using a thaw-and-bake product from Lipari. Vazquez allowed that his relationship with Scott Robertello of Kapnick Orchards had been long and contentious, and acknowledged that his current complaint could be seen by some as a “continuation of a feud.”

Mayor John Hieftje told Vazquez that he appreciated the fact that Vazquez had acknowledged how some might construe Vazquez’s complaint. Hieftje noted that city staff had inspected Kapnick Orchards last year and had found no violations, and asked Vazquez what specifically he wanted to be done. Vazquez’s answer: Re-inspect based on his complaint and enforce the rules. He asked that city staff require Kapnick Orchards to demonstrate how they made their baked goods.

Further, Vazquez asked that a formal policy on baked goods be adopted. He went on to say that instead of bringing a complaint about a vendor, “I would much rather be a promoter of the market.”

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said that she frequented the market herself and that she had not been aware that thaw-and-bake products were on offer, but said that she had seen some offerings that, to her, appeared to be “mass-produced.”

In concluding his speaking turn at caucus, Vazquez offered an additional suggestion: Turn over the administration of the market to the Downtown Development Authority. The market is located within the boundaries of the DDA district.

The Chronicle followed up Vazquez’s speaking turn with a question to councilmembers about Vazquez’s suggestion to charge the DDA with the responsibility of administering the market: Was this an idea that had any history of being kicked around before? None of the four councilmembers present at caucus had any recollection of such a proposal. When, prior to caucus, The Chronicle had asked around informally in a non-exhaustive way with DDA board, DDA staff, and the current market commission, there had been a similar response – the idea of the DDA administering the farmers market seems to be a new one.

If the DDA were to administer the market and absorb the current city staff assigned to the market as DDA employees, the effect would be to move a cost from the city’s budget to the DDA’s budget. That’s a similar effect that negotiations between the city and the DDA are meant to achieve in the course of the next year as the parking agreement between the two entities is restructured. To date, the issue has been framed not a cost transfer from the city to the DDA, but as a cash transfer from the DDA to the city.

Asked if they might consider a budget-based argument for a possible transfer from the city to the DDA of farmers market administrative responsibility, Hieftje and Smith – both of whom also serve on the DDA board – seemed at least willing to entertain the possibility of looking into it. Smith indicated that she’d be willing to have a DDA committee look at the idea, but said that there was a fundamental question: To what end would that move be undertaken? Hieftje pointed out that it’d be a fairly complex idea to implement, noting specifically that the issue of where the revenue from the market would go (to the city or to the DDA) would need to be sorted out.

Briere, for her part, said she was “not enthusiastic” to add the farmers market to the set of responsibilities of the DDA, saying that administering the parking system was enough for the DDA to handle.

Near North

On council’s agenda for Thursday is the first reading for the Near North PUD (planned unit development). Representatives of the development team at caucus included Bill Godfrey of Three Oaks Group, along with Michael Appel from Avalon Housing – a nonprofit that’s is partnering with Three Oaks on the project – and the project architect, Damian Farrell. They were at caucus to provide a laptop-and-projector presentation on the project.

Hieftje and Briere said they’d seen the presentation that had been made to the planning commission, and seemed somewhat unenthusiastic about seeing an unabridged version again. [See previous Chronicle coverage of the planning commission's June meeting when they voted 5-2 for the project, which constituted a recommendation for denial, because they did not achieve the required 6-vote majority.]

However, Briere invited the developer’s team to present what they wanted to present, saying, “I hate to stomp on anybody’s fun!” Asked by the development team what the councilmembers would like them to focus on in their presentation – statistics or the rendering – Hieftje replied, “Show us the building.”

The building, proposed for the east side of North Main Street just south of Summit Street, comprises 40 residential units (44 bedrooms total) to be built in a five-story apartment building with 2,950 square feet of commercial space and 1,645 square feet of office space attached to the building. Forty parking spaces would be provided below the building, with an additional 10 spaces not under the building.

All of the units are proposed to be affordable under Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) standards, which target rents for income levels at or below 50% of area median income (AMI). In addition, 14 of the units are designated as “supportive housing” for individuals having no more than 30% of AMI.

Representatives of the North Central Property Owners Association also attended caucus to express their continued opposition to the project, which has a history they trace back five years to when it was originally proposed to neighbors as a condominium project without an affordable housing component.

They countered some figures provided by Appel at the caucus about the city’s needs assessment for affordable units. The figures for “the rest of Ann Arbor” where the Near North project is located indicate a need for 20 newly-constructed rental units targeting the 0-30% area median income (AMI) range and 100 newly-constructed rental units in the 30-50% AMI range. Appel had given numbers that included units that should be preserved as opposed to newly constructed. In response to the figures provided by NCPOA at caucus, Appel said he deferred to their numbers, saying he’d been working from an executive summary.

For councilmembers, one key concern was the developer’s intention to make the building LEED certified. Sandi Smith wanted to know what level of LEED certification their target was. Farrell said it was difficult to make a commitment to a particular level, given the number of unknowns. One example: Would the geological analysis of the possibilities for a geo-thermal heating system come back positive?

Appel stressed that while there was not a threshold that MSHDA used to limit the construction cost per unit, when Avalon brought projects to MSHDA, they typically began by “howling at the costs,” which are generally much higher for Ann Arbor – both for land and for construction – than other Michigan cities. Appel said he felt at some point MSHDA would simply say, “No way!” That meant, Appel cautioned, that they could not simply agree to whatever LEED standard the council wanted, just for political reasons. At the same time, Appel said, he wanted to hear from council what they wanted to see in terms of LEED certification.

The discussion of LEED certification relates to the fundamental issue that the council will confront: Does the project offer adequate public benefit to compensate for the exceptions in zoning that the developer is asking for? Energy efficiency, here reflected in the form of LEED certification, is considered to be a possible public benefit for evaluating the merits of a PUD.

NCPOA representatives at caucus indicated that they had developed an alternative proposal that would have roughly 30 units at around the same size (750 sq ft) as the developer’s version. Though the alternate version would still require a PUD rezoning of the site, a key difference would be that it would have a maximum of three stories, as contrasted with Near North, which includes a section of the structure that is five stories tall. The alternative would thus be a “stick-built” structure, as opposed to the steel frame structure that’s currently proposed. A meeting is scheduled between NCPOA and the developer to discuss the alternate plan.

Foliage Issue vs. Bicyclist Safety Issue

Kathy Griswold had attended caucus previously to express her concern about foliage along Glazier Way that was obscuring sight distances for motorists. On Wednesday evening she told councilmembers that she had thought it was a vegetation issue, but had now concluded that it’s a bicycle safety issue. She noted that Ann Arbor had achieved distinction as a bicycle-friendly community. [On May 1, 2009, Ann Arbor earned a Silver ranking from the League of American Bicyclists. In 2008, Ann Arbor received a Gold Level award in the Promoting Active Communities Assessment.] What did those communities do that were ranked even higher, she asked? She pointed to Davis, California, and Boulder, Colorado, as cities where there are good sight distance requirements.

She criticized the relevant Ann Arbor ordinance as one where a property owner could not self-determine compliance, because when there’s a complaint about foliage obscuring sight distance, a traffic engineer comes out and inspects to make a determination of adequate sight distance.

She pointed out that the city’s online citizen request system did not have in the drop-down menu an item about overgrown vegetation that obscures sight lines. For concerns not in the drop-down menu, the instructions specify a telephone number to be called. When she had called the number, Griswold reported, she’d been referred to forestry, which was not the right department within the city to handle the issue, she said.

Asked by Hieftje if there was a specific suggestion she would like to make, Griswold said that vegetation obscuring sight lines should be added to the drop down menu.

Wurster Park’s Chinquapin Oak

A resident presented to caucus his concerns that a Chinquapin oak tree in Wurster Park on the city’s west side was being allowed to die through forest succession. After consulting with arborists at Nichols Arboretum and botanists at the University of Michigan, he said that implementation of various specific suggestions could allow the tree to live hundreds of years longer. Among those suggestions are to prune the tree correctly, to use mulch out beyond the tree’s drip line, to cut down a neighboring ash tree, to cut down competing maple trees, and to recognize the tree as a resource and stop the abuse that’s reflected in the ropes dangling from the branches and the steps that have been nailed into the trunk.

In response, Hieftje said he had some recollection of climbing on the tree as a youth. He said the materials that had been provided by the resident on the oak tree had been forwarded to city staff – he suggested that one possible response was that the maple trees should be retained so that there would be something there when the oak died.

One west side resident chimed in from the caucus audience, describing the tree as “so big that when you’re under it you don’t know it’s there.” She described the abuse of the tree as a case where people “like it a little too much – they treat it like a toy.”

The Budget and Labor Committee

At Wednesday’s caucus Harvey Kaplan picked up on a topic he’d raised at the Democratic Party’s forum with city council candidates in the primary election: the council’s budget and labor committee. [See Ward 5 candidate responses and Ward 3 candidate responses to his question posed there.] He stated that his understanding of the committee was that not all the five wards are represented in the committee’s membership. [The current committee's membership is Hieftje (mayor), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), and Leigh Greden (Ward 3). In terms of councilmembers representing specific wards, the budget and labor committee lacks representation from Wards 5 and 1.]

Hieftje responded by saying that the budget and labor committee had five members, and that the committee did not make decisions, but rather only made recommendations. He characterized much of the work as dealing with the labor section of things. Asked by Kaplan whether the committee’s meetings were open to the public, Hieftje said they were. The mayor characterized the typical meeting time for the committee as 5:30 p.m. on the same day as council has its regular meeting. When Kaplan suggested that the meeting time be published, Hieftje replied that the meetings were posted on the second floor. Kaplan suggested that publishing the information on the city’s website would be appropriate.

Moratorium in R4C Districts

One item on the city council’s agenda for Thursday, postponed from its last meeting, proposes a moratorium on any new development in a district zoned R4C (multi-family dwelling) that requires site plan approval. One resident appeared at caucus to encourage the council to approve the resolution and to include the City Place project in the scope of the moratorium.


  1. By amy t.
    August 9, 2009 at 3:17 am | permalink

    thank you Mr. Vazquez for coming to the market with your petition. one can only wonder why Mr. Robertello of Kapnick Orchards and the market management would not speak to reporters from the new media. I hope you received several signatures as many do not believe manufactured products should not be allowed and new rules regarding baked goods be adopted soon

  2. By Karen Sidney
    August 10, 2009 at 12:28 pm | permalink

    I don’t see any benefit from transferring market oversight to the DDA. The current manager is doing an excellent job of running the market. The market was without an inspector for a while, but now has one to make regular site visits.

    Because the market is an enterprise fund, it has to pay fees to other city funds for IT and municipal service charges. In theory, these fees might be reduced if the DDA took over management. In practice, the cash strapped city would find a way to continue to get that money, probably by charging the DDA rent for the market space like they charge the DDA rent for the parking spaces.

  3. By Luis Vazquez
    August 11, 2009 at 11:28 am | permalink

    Thank you, Amy for your support to root out what I see as corruption at the market. When I first arrived at the market on Saturday for my protest and petition, there were two Ann Arbor Police vehicles present. After 45 minutes, one of the officers came over to me and asked “Is this all you’re likely to be doing here today?” I found it interesting that taxpayer money was spent to have Police at a celebratory event, monitoring a peaceful protest – who called them and asked them to be there?

    So far I have collected over 50 signatures on my petition for better baked goods rules at the market. When I have collected over 100, I will bring my petition to City Council, and request that they act on the proposed baked goods rules.

    To Karen Sidney: although the market manager Molly Notarianni may be doing a good job (in your opinion), her supervisors Jeffrey Straw and Jayne Miller definitely are not (in my opinion). Any time the former market commission got close to making reforms of Market Operating Rules, and obtaining management’s enforcement of rules, Jayne Miller would shuffle the deck by switching personnel responsible for managing the market, grabbing power from the citizen commission, and insulating herself from citizen participation with the likes of Jeff Straw and others, who dismiss certain complaints of rules violations, but act on others. And now they expect the vendors to pay for Mr Straw’s salary with increased stall fees! This is outrageous in my opinion! It really depends on WHO files complaints now, and I am considering filing suit against the City for dismissing my complaint that Kapnick’s does not make the baked goods they sell at our market.

    Frankly, I am surprised at you and your significant other Glenn Thompson. Usually I see you muckraking in the City’s finances, trying to identify and point out where you think monies are being misspent. Well, in this case I believe you and Glenn are turning a blind eye to the existing and continuing corruption in the form of certain vendors not operating within the Market Operating Rules, but given the go-ahead by Molly, Jeff, and Jayne. Why shouldn’t the City consider transferring oversight of the Public Market to another entity, since Parks and Recreation have screwed it up?

  4. By Rici
    August 12, 2009 at 1:57 pm | permalink

    I also don’t see the point in transferring Farmer’s Market control to the DDA. The DDA comes across to me as looking out for their own (business owner) interests, not the interests of the city or the public. For example, their current hope to shut down the Link – it has increased ridership since it added a UM loop, but it’s not “the right kind” of ridership so they want to axe it. If the Market is seen to be competing with DDA members, will they further restrict it?

  5. By Luis Vazquez
    August 13, 2009 at 12:45 pm | permalink

    OK, I’m willing to concede that the DDA may not be the best entity to transfer jurisdiction of the Farmer’s Market to, but something obviously needs to be done to change the benign neglect of Community Services Administrator Jayne Miller and others in the city. My point is that the City’s Parks and Recreation Department has done a dismal job in running the market by going through 3 managers in five years, by delaying basic needs like painting and lighting for years, by encouraging the Mayor and Council to dissolve a Market Commission that was simply trying to get Market Operating Rules updated – and more importantly, enforced. Over $120,000 of Market funds went into design of a new facility with updates for stormwater detention, with the end result being no renovation at all – and no way to recoup the money that was spent. The process wasted the time of a group of volunteers, who spent countless hours poring over designs and plans and attending public meetings. Parks and Recreation couldn’t manage to get the community support necessary to make a successful renovation project. The Market Master Plan has been tabled indefinitely by City Council, mainly because the costs for renovation – after all of the delays – zoomed up to over $2 million. There is some citizen opposition to the use of Parks and Rec millage funds being used to renovate the market, so another entity should be sought to manage the market. The market site IS a parking lot, after all, and I would logically assume there would be less opposition to the use of parking meter money being used to renovate the market, rather than taxpayer dollars. Two benches at the market do not make it a park, in my opinion.

    The City deserves a Public space which is accessible to all, which is aesthetically pleasing, and which serves the needs of more of the citizens of Ann Arbor. The market space could be much more than a drab-looking parking lot. Look at all the interest in local foods, and the possibilities of having additional markets – such as at Liberty Lofts. Foodies in Ann Arbor are already looking for alternatives.

  6. By consumers
    August 16, 2009 at 11:10 pm | permalink

    here’s info received last week fro the MI Dept. of Agriculture regarding 2 vendors of the market to further indicate buying and selling at the market

    Gracia J&T is not licensed as a grower. They have licensed as a Nursery Plant Market. (NPM010247 and NPM010249) Both licenses expiring 10/31/2009. Thank you for your inquiry.

    Island Gardens is not licensed as a grower. They are licensed as a Nursery Plant Market (NPM001057) expiring 10/31/2009. Thank you for your inquiry.

    as you can see consumers can’t count on the city to tell them who’s a producer or not..

  7. By peter
    August 18, 2009 at 3:16 am | permalink

    just a reminder when speaking of “Kapnick Orchards”

    the farm which is not affiliated with the original Kapnick Orchards Inc. is called R&S farm inc. dba kapnick orchards. it rents land and trees in and around lenawee county as it does not own any of the kapnick land.. janice kapnick only relinquished her business name to this corporation. that took place in april of this year. janice did not sell her business to this corporation nor was her business transfered to this corp. janice kapnick has been renting her assest of the retail store to another corp called Kapnick farm market inc. for 1000. per month.
    The corp. division of the DLEG maintains a data base of all corps. on their website dheck it out