City Council Begins Transition

Near North, toy guns postponed; ballot language revised

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Sept. 8, 2009): It did not look like a lot was going to happen at Ann Arbor’s city council meeting on Tuesday.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) indicated early in the meeting that action on the Near North development would be postponed. A speaker during public commentary noted that a controversial resolution affecting the municipal airport had been yanked from the meeting’s agenda. And Mike Anglin (Ward 5) announced a delay in his intention to bring a resolution that would make publicly available numerous city council emails dating to the early 2000s. Council did not contemplate any resolutions in connection with the Argo Dam. [The Chronicle will report separately on the work session held immediately prior to the council meeting, which focused on Argo Dam.]

But as it turned out, on Tuesday night a lot happened: Ann Arbor’s city council began a transition – to what will perhaps be a different way of doing business and to a new set of leaders.

That transition was reflected overtly when the announcement came at the end of the meeting that Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Leigh Greden (Ward 3) were stepping down from the Budget and Labor Committee to be replaced by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere Ward (Ward 1).

But it was also reflected in the deliberative dynamic when a resolution on toy guns was considered, and ultimately postponed. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) found themselves playing “outsiders” to Sabra Briere’s “insider” position with the city attorney’s office – a complete role reversal.

Later, Briere relayed a key message on the toy guns ordinance to her colleagues by email. That action became an example when council discussed new rules regarding electronic communication. The rules take a “thou shalt not” approach to the kinds of emails that councilmembers are supposed to exchange during council meetings.

In other business, council revised the ballot language of a charter amendment that it had approved at its previous meeting. The impact of that revision is not clear in light of county clerk deadlines, which have already passed.

Transitioning Council Leadership

At the end of the night, Mayor John Hieftje announced that Leigh Greden would be stepping down from the Budget and Labor Committee. Hieftje said he thought that Greden was looking forward to his departure from council. [Greden lost the August Democratic primary election in Ward 3 to Stephen Kunselman]. Hieftje followed that announcement with the news that Margie Teall (Ward 4) would also be stepping down from Budget and Labor. She found herself very well occupied with her other committee work, Hieftje said. Teall currently serves on the Administration Committee, the Community Events Funds Committee, and as one of two council representatives to the Environmental Commission. She also serves on the recently formed Senior Center Task Force.

Replacing Greden and Teall on Budget and Labor will be Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Their first meeting on the Budget and Labor committee will be on Sept. 14 starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board room [confirm time and date]. On the same evening, the city council has a joint working session with the Downtown Development Authority and the planning commission, which will be held at the Community Television Network studios starting at 7 p.m. City administrator Roger Fraser explained that the AATA, which is located directly across South Industrial Avenue from CTN, had offered the location for Budget and Labor. They’d need to go into closed session at some point, and the CTN studio was not suitable for that, Fraser explained.

Toy Guns

At its Aug. 6 meeting, the council had approved on first reading a revision to the city’s ordinances that would make it possible to take enforcement action on people who are carrying realistic look-alike toy guns. At that meeting there had been scant discussion from councilmembers, except a brief indication from Sabra Briere (Ward 1) that she had several questions she wished to get clarified before the revision came before council for its second reading.


The ordinance change came at the request of the Ann Arbor Police Department. What was the rationale for the ordinance change? From the memo accompanying the ordinance change:

The current provisions of Chapter 115 of the Ann Arbor City Code covering weapons and explosives do not allow for any enforcement action on subjects carrying realistic, look-alike toy handguns unless some other crime has been committed. On several occasions, subjects have been in possession of these types of toy handguns in public, sometimes concealed. Because the subjects were not in violation of any law or ordinance, there was no crime or violation with which to charge them.

Because these look-alike weapons pose a real threat to the public, law enforcement, and those in possession on many levels, Ann Arbor Police Services believes our City Code needs to address this issue and ban the possession of such items in public places and limit the discharge of them.

The ordinance change intends to accomplish its goal in two ways. The first is to make precise the definition of “weapon.”

A suitable definition of “weapon,” coupled with the general prohibition on possession of weapons in any public place (and suitably defined exceptions) would allow AAPD to take enforcement actions on people carrying look-alike toy handguns.

Old language: (7) Weapon means any air pistol, air rifle, slingshot, crossbow, bow, firebomb, bomb, nun-chuk, or throwing star, but shall not include antique guns not in operating condition.

New language: (7) Weapon means any air pistol, air gun, air rifle, BB gun, any type of gun that is discharged by air, gas, or a spring, slingshot, crossbow, bow, firebomb, bomb, nun-chuk, or throwing star, but shall not include antique guns not in operating condition.

The revised definition of “weapon,” however, does not include a notion of a “look-alike gun.” So this part of the ordinance revision does not appear to accomplish its stated goal.

The second way the ordinance change attempts to accomplish its goal is to include look-alike toy guns – and a definition of what they are – in a section on how weapons are allowed to be discharged.

9:263. Discharge of weapons or firearms.

No person shall discharge any weapon or firearm within the city, with the following exceptions:

  • in connection with a regularly scheduled educational, recreational, or training program under adequate supervision;
  • in connection with the performance of lawful duties of law enforcement;
  • in connection with the protection of person or property when confronted with deadly force;
  • in connection with the discharge on private property of toy, look-alike, and imitation weapons and firearms, which have the appearance, shape, and/or configuration of a firearm. [emphasis added] This exception does not apply if the toy, look-alike, or imitation weapon or firearm is discharged toward an area within the public right-of-way or the projectile discharged enters into an area within the public right-of-way. This exception also does not apply to BB guns.

It’s not obvious what “configuration” adds to the definition of a look-alike firearm, nor is it clear why it merits the “and/or” conjunction. It’s possible that “appearance” and “shape” are meant to cover two-dimensions, but that “configuration” means that in order to qualify, the object needs to be more than a cardboard cutout.

Further, there’s an unfortunate syntactic consequence of embedding this definition of look-alike guns in a section about the discharge of real guns. This embedding appears to have the unintended consequence of allowing the discharge of a real firearm – if a toy firearm is discharged in connection with the discharge of that real firearm.

Public Commentary on Toy Guns

Two members of the public spoke during the hearing on toy guns.

Lou Glorie: Glorie described the ordinance as “over the top,” saying that the problems with “play weapons” did not rise to the level of criminal activity. She reminded councilmembers that it’s legal to carry a gun in Michigan.

Karen Sidney: Sidney wondered, “Who thinks this stuff up?” She expressed her concern that the ordinance could be used to target specific ethnic groups, and give rise to the firearm equivalent of “driving while black.” She suggested that the Ann Arbor police force would do better to focus on specific crime problems in Ann Arbor like drug dealing in Courthouse Square, break-ins on the west side, theft from downtown offices, and thefts from cars in parking structures.

Council Deliberations on Toy Guns

Right out the gate, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) moved to table the resolution, based on a request from the city attorney’s office. As she’d indicated at the council’s Aug. 6 meeting, she’d had concerns about the ordinance, and had followed up with questions to the city attorney’s office. She had received a reply on Thursday, Sept. 3, that included the request to table it, because the city attorney’s office was not ready to move it forward at this time.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) appeared annoyed to not have been in the communication loop, saying, “I wasn’t privy to those conversations.” She asked to what date the resolution would be postponed.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) seemed to echo Higgins’ annoyance, saying that the postponement was “news to [him].” He asked Abigail Elias, who was representing the city attorney’s office at the council table, to share the content of the communication with the rest of the city council.

Elias indicated that it was “not a change of heart” by either the city attorney’s office or the police department. Rather, it was a matter of cleaning up the language.

Rapundalo asked that in the future, such requests from the city attorney’s office [to postpone a resolution] be made of all councilmembers.

Higgins weighed in again, pointing out that this was the second reading of the proposed ordinance and that this was the second time recently when changes needed to be made at a second reading – she was prepared to vote and didn’t favor postponing.

Asked by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) what the concerns were in the language, and what had triggered a review, Elias replied that there had been questions about references to “toy guns” and specific kinds of toy guns – it was a matter of cleaning up the language.

Hohnke pressed Elias: “What prompted the review?” Elias: “Some questions were raised.”

For her part, Briere apologized for the fact that the communication had not been sent earlier. She said she’d had several communications with the city attorney’s office after the first reading and had not received a reply until the previous Thursday.

Higgins attempted to speak again, but Mayor John Hieftje did not allow her to take a third speaking turn, which would have required a suspension of council rules.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) weighed in for postponement, saying that it was not a pressing issue to resolve.

Higgins’ Ward 4 colleague, Margie Teall, then moved to suspend the council rules on speaking turns to allow Higgins another turn. That motion passed unanimously.

Higgins said that instead of postponing the resolution, they should vote it down. Then, when it came back, it would be a fresh start, and there would not be a need to track what had changed and what had not.

Hieftje expressed his support for postponement.

Outcome: The motion to postpone consideration of the toy guns ordinance until the first meeting in October passed with dissent from Rapundalo and Higgins.


Council considered two resolution about mail – one related to the potential closing of the post office in the South University area, the other related to new council rules regarding email during council meetings.

South University Post Office

The council considered a resolution co-sponsored by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) calling on the United States Postal Service to take the South University location off its list of locations targeted for closure. Taylor and Briere both expressed the view that closing the post office would place a heavy burden on those with no motorized transport to get to a different location.

Briere said that they should be encouraging people to get on their feet and walk to the post office with small packages, not drive to the post office. The measure, she said, had support from Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, and as well as from Congressman John Dingell.

Outcome: The resolution opposing the closure of the South University post office was unanimously approved.

Council Rules on Electronic Mail

The council began its discussion of revisions to its own rules by suspending its rule on speaking turns. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) read aloud Rule 8, which now addresses, among other things, electronic communications during meetings:

Electronic communication during Council meetings shall pertain only to City matters. During Council meetings, members shall not send electronic communication to persons other than City Staff; provided however, that members may send draft motions, resolutions, and amendments to all members. Members shall not respond to member-distributed draft language via electronic communication. All draft language sent by electronic communication during Council meetings shall be read into the record prior to discussion by Council.

Briere noted that even with the best of intentions, it’s difficult to adhere to the rules – citing her own email she’d sent to fellow councilmembers earlier, which relayed the communication she’d received from the city attorney’s office. [Under the new rules, such communication would presumably be prohibited, because it was not a motion, resolution, or amendment.] Briere said that there needed to be a middle ground between the need to share information in general versus during a council meeting.

Higgins suggested that the struggle with electronic communication was generation-based (after prompting a round of laughs when she first mis-spoke, saying “gender-based”). She said that you can’t have a rule for every instance.

Higgins went on to describe how the practice of being able to forward email automatically from an account to some other accounts should perhaps be revisited in light of the fact that council email accounts were now accessible via a web-based portal – they can be accessed anywhere.

For her part, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said that she routinely forwarded email from her account to a different one to facilitate printing – was that what Higgins meant? Higgins clarified that she was only talking about auto-forwarding. Smith said she didn’t see how that related to the conduct issue addressed by the rule.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) seemed intrigued that auto-forwarding was even an option, and asked Higgins if she was suggesting an action item. She was not. Taylor then turned the council’s attention to the rules on how the council’s agenda was pushed out to the public, as well as the construction of the agenda. The idea was to eliminate the notion of a “newspaper deadline,” he said.

3B – Review of the Draft Agenda
The City Administrator shall submit the draft agenda and supporting materials to the members of the Council Administration Committee for review and comment 10 days prior to the next Council meeting. Such review and comment shall be made no later than 7 days prior to the next Council meeting. Once reviewed by the Council Administration Committee, no matter from staff shall be placed on the agenda. Council members may add items to the agenda at any time, but will use best efforts to do so prior to the Friday before the next Council meeting.

3F – Publication of Agenda
After review of the agenda under 3B, the agenda for all meetings of Council, including Work Sessions, shall be published by prominent link on the home page of the City’s Website, distributed electronically to each branch of the Ann Arbor District Libraries, and posted in the lobby of City Hall. The Clerk shall use best efforts to promptly disseminate amended agendas by the foregoing distribution channels.

If a councilmember places an item on the agenda after the Friday before the next council meeting, Taylor explained, the idea behind the language of “best efforts” was that the councilmember would “make some species of explanation” as to why it could not be added sooner.

Briere went to considerable lengths to make clear what the proposed rules changes were not about, because of what she said were expectations on the part of the public about what would come out of the rules changes. Rules did not address ethics, for example. Also, the rules did not address how council committees were selected, she stressed. “It’s about council meetings, not about council,” she said.

Higgins pointed out another rule that would help make the agenda understandable:

RULE 10 – Resolutions and Motions To Be Made In Writing
Every resolution and ordinance shall be in writing. Resolution titles shall, unless impractical or required by law, be twenty (20) words or less and describe in plain language the subject matter thereof.

Mayor John Hieftje suggested that an additional slot for communications from council be added immediately following public hearings. Councilmembers agreed to add the slot.

Outcome: The council adopted its revised set of rules on a unanimous vote.

Charter Amendment on Publication of Ordinances

At its last meeting, the council had passed a resolution placing on the November ballot a charter amendment that would change publication requirements for the city’s ordinances. Since that meeting, the state Attorney General’s office had made suggestions for changes in the ballot language that the council had approved, and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) brought forward the revised versions for council approval.

The Chronicle published a column analyzing the charter amendment in detail, which gives the city council discretion to determine what is an appropriate form of publication for the city’s ordinances: “A Charter Change on Publishing.”

In that column we called attention to the fact that the phrasing “permitted by law” was inaccurately included in the ballot language for one of the amendments, likely due to a copy/paste error. Last week The Chronicle phoned the state Attorney General’s Office to offer our view that because of this error, the ballot language did not meet the standard for ballot language as set forth in the Home Rule City Act:

The purpose of the proposed charter amendment or question shall be designated on the ballot in not more than 100 words, exclusive of caption, that shall consist of a true and impartial statement of the purpose of the amendment or question in language that does not create prejudice for or against the amendment or question [emphasis added].

The AG likely would have make the recommendation for a change on its own. Here’s the contrast between the previously approved version and the version approved at Tuesday’s council meeting:

Old Version: Shall Sections 7.4(a) (1) and (2) of the Ann Arbor City Charter be amended to permit the current requirement of newspaper publication of City ordinances to be satisfied also by posting to the City website, any media permitted by law or determined appropriate to inform the general public by City Council? [emphasis added]

New Version: Shall Sections 7.4(a) (1) and (2) of the Ann Arbor City Charter be amended to permit the current requirement of newspaper publication of City ordinances to be satisfied also by posting to the City website, or by any media determined appropriate to inform the general public by City Council?

In council deliberations, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked why the Attorney General’s office had made a suggestion for revision, given that she’d been led to believe that it had already been approved by the Attorney General’s office. [City Attorney Stephen Postema had reported at the council's last meeting that the AG's office had vetted the proposal.]

Abigail Elias, speaking for the city attorney’s office, described the prior process as an “informal review” and that the suggestion now was to prevent an outcome on the formal review that would be either negative or else an opinion with comments.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the wording changes to the ballot language.

What’s next? That’s not clear. According to deputy county clerk Matt Yankee, who handles elections for the Washtenaw County clerk’s office, the Aug. 25 deadline for submission of ballot language is set by the State of Michigan. In a phone conversation, he told The Chronicle that his office is already in the process of programming the ballots for November.

Chronicle conclusion: It’s not clear if the city of Ann Arbor can get the revised ballot language swapped out.

Near North

In her communications from council towards the beginning of the meeting, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) advised her colleagues that the Near North planned unit development had experienced a “meeting of the minds” and that action on the project was unlikely that evening. Still, she said, it would be important for councilmembers to ask any questions they had of the developer that evening. Mayor John Hieftje echoed the importance of getting questions answered that evening. The public hearing, he said, would be left open for the next meeting.

Several people spoke during the public hearing on Near North, which is an affordable housing project of around 40 units proposed for North Main Street. The nonprofit Avalon Housing and the developer Three Oaks are working on the project together.

Karen Sidney: In an apparent allusion to Lily Au’s speaking turn [see below], and a council chambers filled with residents and supporters of Camp Take Notice, Sidney noted that there’s a homeless epidemic. She expressed her hope that Avalon Housing could work out an acceptable solution to their differences with neighbors about the proposed development. However, she expressed concern about the $270,000 per unit it was going to cost to build the affordable units – that’s not cost effective, she said. She noted that the project was being financed with tax credits – that is, public money – and that public monies should not be used to cover the losses of a bad investment made by the developer [in purchasing the individual lots where the project is situated, at the height of the real estate market]. She suggested focusing on finding money to help with operating costs that Avalon needs to cover in order to finance its services. The $200,000 that the DDA allocates to bricks-and-mortar construction of affordable housing, she suggested, should be considered as possible funding for operating costs.

Tom Fitzsimmons: Fitzsimmons spoke representing the North Central Property Owners Association. He began by asking the council for a two-week postponement of the resolution before them approving the PUD rezoning and the site plan. He reported that the NCPOA had been working with the development team from Three Oaks, and that they’d made significant progress in addressing concerns about massing, height, setbacks, and the appropriate fit for retail in the space. He described the development team as having made “an honest effort,” to the point that “we no longer officially oppose this project.” But he noted that there were remaining concerns about the policy precedents that such a project might set. Tearing down eight houses to build 14 supportive housing units is poor public policy, he said. Further, the acquisition of multiple properties with the intent of building a project that was inconsistent with the master plan for the area was bad neighborhood policy.

Michael Brinkman: Brinkman said he was extremely opposed to building a giant PUD. “The end doesn’t justify the means,” he said. He accused Avalon executive director Michael Appel and the developers of using Avalon as a shield for the developer’s bad real estate investment. Alluding to a comment by Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) at a previous council meeting, Brinkman said there was not 90% agreement about the project. Instead, he said, it was about “minimizing the damage.” He characterized the description that Mayor John Hieftje had used in his communications from council to describe the importance of councilmembers getting their questions answered as a Freudian Slip – Hieftje had said that questions needed to be answered at that night’s meeting, so that council could go ahead and pass the project at its next meeting.

Jeff Jenkins: Jenkins told the council how he’d moved away from being next door to Miller Manor to where he now lives, right next to the Near North proposed project. He described how Miller Manor lacked a sense of community with the surrounding neighborhood. The extent of interactions with that housing project, he said, had been based on complaints from the project about noise caused by him. In contrast to noise issues that had been settled through interpersonal negotiation with his other neighbors, Miller Manor seemed like a “large, looming complaint that doesn’t have a face.” He liked living just outside of downtown, he said, and Near North brought downtown right to him.

Thomas Partridge: Partridge described himself as a progressive Christian Democrat who’d previously been a case worker for social services. He said he supported Near North as a “test of character” for the neighborhood and for the other residents of the city for their commitment to the principle of affordable housing.

Council Deliberations on Near North

At Stephen Rapundalo’s (Ward 2) behest, Bill Godfrey of Three Oaks gave the council a quick synopsis of what had happened since the first reading at council’s Aug. 6 meeting. Godfrey said the design team and the neighbors had worked on an alternative concept that included a work list with nine specific design changes, and that they had found common ground. Among the design changes were a reduction in massing, increased separation between the two buildings, reduction of building height to four stories or less, and a delay in the construction of the neighborhood market.

“We’re thrilled with this design,” Godfrey declared. The design changes meant that the project was left with 39 1-bedroom units with no 2-bedroom units, he said. In response to a question from Mike Anglin, Godfrey said that the $273,000 per unit in construction cost would need to be recalculated – it would be lower.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked about the level of LEED certification. Damian Farrell, the project’s architect, described the building at “comfortably in gold,” based on preliminary worksheets. The outstanding questions concerned big-ticket items like geothermal systems.

Smith said the energy savings that would result from a building that was LEED certified would contribute to the ongoing affordability of the units. Michael Appel, executive director of Avalon, clarified that the reduced utility bills associated with the units would accrue to residents’ benefit. Why? Because credits awarded to cover utilities were geared to traditional utility bills – if the actual cost were less, the difference would go to the resident.

Smith also asked Appel to speak to how competitive the rents would be for the units, which had been described as around $675 per month without utilities. Appel cited the city’s needs assessment for affordable housing indicating the need for additional units in the area of the “rest of Ann Arbor,” which was neither downtown nor in student areas. The rents near downtown, he said, were higher than in other “rest of Ann Arbor” areas – part of the goal of affordable housing was to provide access to higher rent areas as well.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked Appel to address a concern about possible aggregation of affordable housing on that side of town. Appel acknowledged that such aggregation anywhere would be a concern, but that Avalon wouldn’t be doing the Near North project if they thought they would be contributing to that kind of problem. The project was 40 units, not 100 units, he said.

Outcome: Action on Near North – both the PUD and the site plan – was postponed until Sept. 21 by unanimous vote.

A2D2 Zoning

Two people spoke during the public commentary reserved time about the A2D2 rezoning proposal, which was passed on its first reading – it had been returned to first reading after having been previously passed.

John Etter: Etter introduced himself as the attorney for the Sloan Plaza Condominium Association. He spoke against the rezoning of the East Huron Street corridor as D1 (core downtown) under the A2D2 proposal, arguing that it should be zoned D2 instead. The arguments that he ticked through included: (i) D2 would function better as a transition to the historic neighborhoods abutting Huron, (ii) a D1 designation would disregard the recommendation of the Calthorpe report, (iii) a D1 designation ignored the University of Michigan activity affecting the corridor – construction of North Quad and expansion of the hospital, and (iv) a D1 designation is opposed by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

In his communications from council, Mayor John Hieftje sought to rebut Etter’s contention that MDOT opposed the rezoning of Huron Street as D1, pointing out that Etter had communicated with MDOT’s Brighton office, whereas the city of Ann Arbor had run the zoning by MDOT’s Lansing office – a higher level within MDOT.

Hugh Sonk: Sonk spoke to the character of Ann Arbor as including charming neighborhoods, and said that the design guidelines developed in connection with the A2D2 process were a good effort to reflect the unique and eclectic collection of downtown areas. However, he was disappointed that these design guidelines did not include a means of enforcement. As a Sloan Plaza resident, he said that the Huron Street area was more aligned with D2 zoning as opposed to D1. He asked for side setbacks to be included for Huron Street and suggested that there was no need to rush into adoption of the new zoning.

After brief introductory remarks in which Marcia Higgins – who served as the council’s representative on the A2D2 oversight committee – encouraged her colleagues to pass the rezoning package on its first reading, council did just that. The package had previously been approved on first reading, but was returned because of changes that were substantial enough to warrant an additional first reading. Those changes related in large part to changes in the D1-D2 boundary in the South University area.

Outcome: A2D2 was unanimously approved on first reading.

Historic Districts

The council handled two matters related to historic districts.

Historic District Study Committee

After previously approving the establishment of a historic district study committee for a two-block area south of William Street near downtown, the council appointed the committee’s membership, which Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) read aloud: Ina Hanel-Gerdenich, Susan Wineberg, Sarah Shotwell, Patrick McCauley, Rebecca Lopez Kriss, Tom Whitaker, Kristi Gilbert.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the membership of the committee.

Historic District Review Fees

Council considered a resolution to establish fees for historic district review. They’re considerably higher than they’d been previously, and higher than peer communities. One member of the public spoke to the issue during the public hearing.

Lou Glorie: Glorie said that the historic district review fees are “out of whack.” She further characterized the fees as hostile to historic preservation, because it was cost prohibitive to apply for permits.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) expressed concern to Jayne Miller, director of community services for the city, that the fees were “really rather high.” Reacting to a description by Briere about what constituted a one-story addition and what did not, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked Miller to clarify: Is the addition of a single story upon an existing story an addition that is “taller than a single story”? It’s a difference of $250.

10. Residential Additions: Taller than single story $500.00

11. Residential Additions: Single story $250.00

Miller said she was not sure.

Miller explained to councilmembers that part of the reason fees were higher in Ann Arbor was the higher number of historic districts – whereas communities with a lower number of requests could simply absorb the additional costs, the sheer number of requests meant that Ann Arbor could not use that as a reasonable strategy.

There was enough uncertainly that councilmembers seemed unenthusiastic about approving the higher fees without getting some additional answers.

Outcome: The historic district review fees were postponed until Sept. 21.

Industrial Development District

Council considered a resolution establishing an industrial development district for Anika and Associates, Inc., located at 3885 Research Park Drive. An industrial development district has to be established before receipt of any applications for an industrial facilities exemption certificate within the industrial development district. An industrial facilities exemption falls into the category of what’s commonly known as a tax abatement. One member of the public spoke to the issue

Karen Sidney: Sidney said that she found no justification in the supporting materials for the establishment of the district. Sidney wanted to know what the public benefit was. She suggested that if the public benefit was to be realized in the increased tax revenue from improvements undertaken to the property, then the city should contemplate offering the same kind of tax break to homeowners. If the idea was to bring jobs to the city, then Sidney asked the council to consider how many jobs tax abatements had brought through Google and Pfizer. [Google had said it would be hiring 1,000 workers by 2001, but to date has hired only around 250. Pfizer has left Ann Arbor.] Ann Arbor can’t afford to give away more taxes, she concluded.

Outcome: With no discussion, the council approved the industrial development district.

Municipal Airport

Sol Castell: Castell spoke against the adoption of a resolution that supplemented an agreement between the city of Ann Arbor and Pittsfield Township concerning jurisdictional issues around the municipal airport. [Opponents of the proposed airport runway expansion see the resolution as a way to circumvent public process.] Castell began by acknowledging the item had been stricken from the night’s agenda. He focused his remarks on safety issues – speaking from his perspective as a 747 pilot. He pointed out that extending the runway would have an impact on the risk to areas surrounding the airport, because on takeoff an airplane is heavier (maximum fuel load), slower, and close to the ground.

Andrea Van Houweling: Van Houweling spoke against the resolution supplementing the agreement between the city of Ann Arbor and Pittsfield Township regarding the municipal airport. She said that Ann Arbor residents were “the last to know” about proposed construction and changes to layout. She pointed out that the Ann Arbor city council had historically supported the notion that residents needed to be informed about proposed changes at the airport. She cited a Jan. 22, 2007, council resolution which approved and updated the then-current airport layout plan and called for city staff to bring back a separate proposal about extending the runway. The resolution also stated that notification of the proposal be sent to citizens in the surrounding area. But it was only 18 months later that citizens in the surrounding area were notified, she said. Before the supplemental agreement with Pittsfield was acted on, she suggested, there should be a public hearing on the matter.

Other Public Commentary

Thomas Partridge: Partridge introduced himself as a Washtenaw County Democrat, advocating for those in most need of government services. He called for a new effort to establish countywide regional transportation. He said that the voters must be asked to do their part.

Jeff Deboer: Deboer introduced himself as president of the Pioneer Rowing Club. He commended staff for the clarity of their presentation on Argo Dam, which was presented at a working session immediately preceding the council meeting. He said that he supported the formation of an oversight committee. He weighed in for keeping the dam in place, citing the heavy use of Argo Pond. He also said that it made no ecological sense to remove the dam, and stressed that the concrete and steel dam holding back the Argo impoundment was in good shape. [The Chronicle will provide separate coverage of the working session prior to council's regular meeting, which was devoted solely to discussion of the Argo Dam.]

Lily Au: Lily Au spoke to the issue of homelessness in Ann Arbor. She pointed out that there were hundreds of homeless people, but that the Delonis Shelter had only 50 beds, which resulted in people sleeping in chairs when there was overflow. She described the homeless as an “invisible” population that lived in the woods or under bridges, or in bathrooms. She called the council’s attention to the eviction of Camp Take Notice from their location behind Arborland and the arrest of one of the residents. She called on the community to get together and honor their Christian or other religious commitments to act on behalf of the homeless population. [Many of the supporters and residents of Camp Take Notice attended council's meeting. See "Laws of Physics: Homeless Camp Moves."]

Libby Hunter: Hunter held forth in song, which has become her preferred way to address the city council over the last few months. This time it was a medley, beginning with lyrics sung to the tune of Scarborough Fair and ending with London Bridge is Falling Down. The focus was the poor condition of roads in Ann Arbor and the Stadium Bridge in particular. Her concluding lyric was “Defeat Higgins!” [Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) is opposed in the November general election by independent candidate Hatim Elhady. The Stadium Bridge is in Ward 4.]

In his communications from council, Mayor John Hieftje sought to put into context Hunter’s contention that Ann Arbor had the second-worst roads in the state, saying that it had been a 2007 survey done by the Michigan Road Builders Association. [The Michigan Road Builders Association merged with the Associated Underground Contractors in 2005 to become the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association. MITA issued a press release in October 2008 about their conclusions based on data from the 2007 Michigan Asset Management Council report.] Hieftje said that a 2008 version of the same survey showed that Ann Arbor actually had some of the better roads in the state.  The data in question can be found on the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) website. [The 2008 data seem to be problematic in an order-of-magnitude kind of way, compared to previous years.]

Communications from Council

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) reported that the Greenbelt Advisory Committee had gone on a field trip to two potential sites that could be acquired through greenbelt millage funds. Both sites, he said, were connected to local food production. He mentioned this, he continued, because it reflected the modification of the overall greenbelt strategy that councilmembers had previously been briefed on.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) gave councilmembers an update on his request that all city council emails dating back to 2000 be released to the public. He advised his colleagues that a resolution would be brought forward at the Sept. 21 council meeting addressing the issue. The delay, he said, was due to the fact that staff had needed time to compute cost estimates. The question, he said, was whether the council would do this on its own or whether the public would request the records through the Freedom of Information Act.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) followed up Anglin’s discussion of council emails by alerting her colleagues to an exhibit on 19th century events in Washtenaw County at the Museum on Main Street (500 N. Main at Beakes Street). It was an exhibit, Briere said, that would be an appropriate title for council emails: “Murder, Mayhem, and Mischief.” [The exhibit runs through Nov. 29 – the museum is open from 12-4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.]

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) reminded her colleagues that it was Local Food Month and alerted them to the HomeGrown Festival to take place on Sept. 12 at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market from 5-10 p.m.

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

Next council meeting: Tuesday Monday, Sept. 21, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. By John Floyd
    September 10, 2009 at 1:52 am | permalink

    re: toy gun crackdown: I applaud the intent of the police department, which seems to be make public places more safe. As the parent of boys who have a BB gun, it is harder to understand the banning of discharge of BB guns, on private property, when the BBs do not enter the public right-of-way. I completely understand banning BB discharges that enter public spaces from private property (i.e. my back yard). I would understand banning discharges from my yard into, say, my neighbor’s yard or at wildlife (birds, chipmonks, etc. (although these do not seem to be banned by the language I read in the Chronicle). When we shoot towards our garage at targets, I have a harder time grasping the public safety interest. This seems like over-reaching, perhaps unthinkingly, but over-reaching nontheless. It is not in the long-term interest of the city continually to make Scio Township ever-more attractive to families.

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    September 10, 2009 at 6:46 am | permalink

    “Lou Glorie: Glorie described the ordinance as “over the top,” saying that the problems with “play weapons” did not rise to the level of criminal activity. She reminded councilmembers that it’s legal to carry a gun in Michigan.”

    So a toy gun would be illegal but a real gun would be legal?

  3. September 10, 2009 at 7:01 am | permalink

    Gotta say… this toy gun issue is absolutely ridiculous. If you are carrying a fake item so be it. If you use a fake item in a manner that constitutes a threat, that is already illegal. Much like if I used a pen to stab you. The carrying of a pen is not illegal… the use of a pen in a crime is. Same here. If I carry a pretend gun for any reason, let alone a real one (that is licensed, etc), that is fine. I can use these items for whatever legal choice I wish. If I use them in a method that is illegal (like threatening someone, etc) than that is already illegal and doesn’t need the extra super scary problem of a City Ordinance violation. The last thing we need police doing is wasting time on new silly ordinances when they already say they are too busy to respond to traffic crashes, etc.

  4. By Rod Johnson
    September 10, 2009 at 11:36 am | permalink

    Just want to express the (apparently minority) opinion that Libby Sheldon’s shtick has crossed the line from clever to tiresome.

  5. September 10, 2009 at 12:14 pm | permalink

    The 2008 road ratings percentages look correct, but the miles values appear to be divided by ten (i.e., the decimal needs to be moved one place to the right.) I wonder how a road in fair (4-5) condition one year becomes good (6-7) (rather than excellent) the next. Potholes filled in?

  6. By Jack Eaton
    September 10, 2009 at 2:58 pm | permalink

    Rod, If you are referring to Libby Hunter’s singing/poetry, I disagree. Because Hieftje’s Embattled Majority Party (HEMP?) does not listen to reason there is little alternative other than mockery and performance art. If you present a reasoned argument based on hard data, the Mayor will dismiss you without considering anything you’ve said (ask Karen Sidney). If you present the overwhelming opinion of a neighborhood, you will be lectured with haughty condescension (they know what’s best for us, you know). Have you noticed that they seem to listen to Libby? Besides, now that they can’t play on Facebook during meetings, someone has to provide them with some entertainment.

    Libby has the support of and speaks for many of us in the community.

  7. By Peg Eisenstodt
    September 10, 2009 at 3:57 pm | permalink

    Many thanks to The Ann Arbor Chronicle for the comprehensive overview of A2 City Council meetings. It’s a relief to see that someone is keeping an eye on things at city hall. Great work!

  8. By Marvin Face
    September 10, 2009 at 4:45 pm | permalink

    I’m with Rod. Libby jumped the shark in episode two and now I just groan when she gets up. Its embarrassing. Its stuff like this that makes council members tune out. The same half dozen people (including Sidney) get up every meeting and say a version of the same thing and you have to admit its hard not to start looking at your watch. I feel sorry for the one or two random individuals a month that actually have something important to say because even before they get up to speak I end up assuming they are one of the nut-jobs. The only reason some of the “new” council members seem to listen is that they have only been through a year of this circus.

    A note to all who come before council: Have a well thought out point, make your point succinctly, refrain from conspiracy theories, and don’t threaten or insult. If you make your point at more than three meetings and there is nothing done, please give up.

  9. By sandy
    September 10, 2009 at 8:37 pm | permalink

    Karen Sidney is one of the few city council speakers who I make sure to listen to. Her intelligent analysis based on what must be a fair amount of research is always informative. Sidney is a local treasure.

  10. September 10, 2009 at 9:11 pm | permalink

    Karen doesn’t say the same thing each time. She always has very cogent points related to the subject on the agenda.

  11. By Rod Johnson
    September 10, 2009 at 10:18 pm | permalink

    I’m happy for you that Sheldon says things you agree with, Jack. It’s nice to have a team to be on. I have no particular bone to pick with her positions, just the singing, which was clever *once*–the nth time, not so much. “Fundamentally unserious,” I think they’re calling it these days.

  12. By David Lewis
    September 10, 2009 at 10:43 pm | permalink

    The singing is getting old and if you follow the words, she either grossly exaggerates or is just plain wrong. Of course the same often goes for Sydney.

    I suppose we should allow for some leeway in a song but calling the Mayor “Highrise” when for two years he was the only one who pushed for height limits, or singing he was behind an income tax when he has never been for it (the A2 News wrote an editorial condemning him for opposing it) is just the same old same old we hear from that camp.

    It is kind of a circus and with Tom Partridge, I guess they fit right in.

  13. September 11, 2009 at 3:42 pm | permalink

    “If you make your point at more than three meetings and there is nothing done, please give up.” I resprctfully disagree with this notion. Giving up something you truely beleive in popular or not should always be given a voice.

  14. By Dave
    September 11, 2009 at 6:53 pm | permalink

    I’m with Rod et al. The original singing bit was clever, now it’s just tiresome and self-indulgent. Time to quit.