Near North, City Place Approved

Also, future Ann Arbor city council emails to be disclosed
Two men stand together at a podium at the Ann Arbor city council

At the podium, Bill Godfrey of Three Oaks Group and Tom Fitzsimmons of the North Central Property Owners Association both express their support of the Near North housing project on North Main. In the background, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Sept. 21, 2009): Ann Arbor’s city council approved both major development projects on its agenda, one of them enthusiastically, the other only reluctantly.

Although there was a smattering of opposition expressed to the Near North affordable housing development during the public hearing on the matter, the 39-unit project on North Main Street ultimately won the support of its closest neighbors. That support was reflected symbolically when developer Bill Godfrey and neighbor Tom Fitzsimmons stood side-by-side at the podium as they each addressed the council, which gave the project its unanimous approval.

The “matter of right” City Place project proposed for the block of South Fifth Avenue just south of William was also unanimously approved by the council, but councilmembers took turns criticizing both the project and the developer, Alex de Parry. The council had previously established a historic district study committee and enacted an associated moratorium on demolition and work in the area where the proposed project is located. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) compared de Parry’s decision to bring the project forward despite the moratorium to “stamping feet, being upset you didn’t get what you wanted.”

Many members of the audience held yellow 8×11 paper signs calling on councilmembers to support a resolution that would have released council emails sent during their meetings dating back to 2002. However, council rejected that resolution except for a resolved clause that would in the future provide the public with copies of electronic communications among councilmembers during its meetings – by appending them to the official minutes of the meeting that are eventually posted on the city’s website.

The council also put looming financial issues on the radar by passing a resolution that opposes a recent Michigan budget proposal that would cut state shared revenues to the city of Ann Arbor by about $1.2 million. At the council’s budget and labor committee meeting that was held Monday – before the regular council meeting – Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, floated some possible ideas for meeting that shortfall.

Near North

Near North is an affordable housing project of 39 units proposed for North Main Street. The nonprofit Avalon Housing and the developer Three Oaks are working on the project together. The project is a planned unit development (PUD), which by definition asks for a rezoning of the property to accommodate the project. As a PUD, it is evaluated by the city council in terms of whether its public benefit is adequate to justify the rezoning that is requested. It therefore differs from the City Place project, which is a “matter of right” proposal and does not ask for a rezoning of the property.

Public Comment on Near North

Close to a dozen people spoke in favor of the Near North project, most of them citing the affordable housing benefit provided by its 14 supportive housing units as well as the remaining units that target incomes at up to 50% of the area’s median income.

Dave DeVarti stressed that the project was important as a step in the direction of replacing the 100 units of affordable housing lost at the location of the old YMCA building at the corner of Fifth and William, when the city acquired the property and subsequent mechanical failures led to its demolition. The need for affordable units would, said DeVarti, become more acute as federally funded co-op housing was converted to market-rate condos. The benefit of the affordable units offered by Near North, he said, was that the affordability of the units was built into the zoning, which meant that their lower cost would extend beyond a 20- to 30-year horizon.

Tim Colenback immediately followed DeVarti, saying that he agreed with everything DeVarti had said, describing him as a “great and wise man.” The remark drew a laugh. Colenback went on to enumerate some of the city’s parking structures, saying how pleased he was to have so many great places in the city where he could “house his car.” He asked that the city think of making the same commitment to housing people has it does to housing cars.

Ray Detter took up Colenback’s comedic gambit, by declaring, “I am not a great and wise man!” But he then actually went on to disagree with Colenback and DeVarti’s conclusion about supporting the project. He noted that many of the same arguments against City Place also applied to Near North: It’s not consistent with the Central Area Plan and it’s too dense. Further, said Detter, it did not represent a significant increase in affordable housing – especially when weighed against the removal of the existing houses on the parcels where Near North would be built. Where, Detter wondered, would the people in the 27 bedrooms in the five existing houses go?

John Floyd argued against the project in two ways. First, he said, it would be healthier if the city attempted to surround downtown with neighborhoods similar to the Old West Side. And second, the fact of a PUD proposal – which by definition means that a variance to the existing zoning is requested – seemed to undermine the idea that the city was currently engaged in a process to reevaluate the zoning of the entire city.

Several speakers emphasized the positive benefit that had come from the collaboration between the North Central Property Owners Association and the developer. Architect Damian Farrell said that the collaboration had resulted in “a better design.”

That collaboration was reflected when Three Oaks Group developer Bill Godfrey and North Central Property Owners Association planning committee member Tom Fitzsimmons made their respective remarks standing jointly at the podium.

But the collaboration was hedged with some remaining serious concerns. They were expressed clearly by John Hilton, who first made clear what crucial point had finally won the neighborhood’s support: the revision in design that allowed for the planting of larger trees, which could develop into a mature landscaping. That, he said, was the key difference between near-downtown and downtown neighborhoods. He then expressed concern for a planning process that led from a project that was, five years ago, “laughed out of city hall,” to something seen in a completely different light when the phrase “affordable housing” had been attached to it.

Hilton singled out Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who is the council’s representative to the planning commission, for particular criticism. Hilton criticized Derezinski for being “too tired” to deliberate on the project at a planning commission meeting, moving to postpone those deliberations, then “skipping” the meeting when the deliberations took place. Derezinski later contended that he would have voted yes on the project. [The planning commission vote was 5-2 in favor of the project, but did not reach the 6-vote majority needed for recommendation to the city council.] Derezinski, Hilton said, had “crossed the line to dishonesty.”

Hilton also singled out Sabra Briere (Ward 1) for special praise, saying that he had not imagined that a councilmember could be so resourceful.

Council Deliberations on Near North

In expressing his support of the project, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said that the approval of a PUD required demonstration of “a bold benefit to the community.” Near North offered that, he said, in the form of 39 units of affordable housing, and the removal of three houses from the floodway. Massing of the building was, he said, a concern for a near-downtown neighborhood. But it represented a step forward in the drive for as many as 500 units of affordable housing.

notes on a sheet of paper

Notes taken during city council deliberations on Near North by Michael Appel, executive director of Avalon Housing, which is collaborating on the project with Three Oaks Group. (Photo by the writer.)

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said that Near North set “a new standard for how developments should be collaboratively worked upon.” He stressed that the replacement of the 100 units of housing from the old YMCA site had not fallen off the radar.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that he was at first disappointed in the project, due to the amount of opposition in the neighborhood, but felt that now it was a model that could be expanded throughout the city.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) brought up the issue of LEED certification, which she has previously emphasized in connection with Near North. The project earned her support, despite the fact that she wanted a stronger commitment at this stage to LEED certification at a level as high as possible.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) sought clarification on the side agreement reached between the developer and the neighborhood association regarding Phase Two of the project, which governed how and when the retail space in the project could be filled. Kevin McDonald, with the city attorney’s office, explained that it essentially was in the same spirit as what had been built into the supplemental regulations. The idea was to not allow use of the retail portion of the project until the existing retail store on the southeast corner of Main and Summit was no longer a commercial property.

Briere, though she ultimately supported the project, expressed the kind of reservations that Ray Detter had outlined in his public commentary. She was concerned about the construction of a building with a “factory-loft look” getting built in a near-downtown neighborhood. She said she would have had fewer reservations if the project had all 39 of its units reserved for supportive [not just affordable] housing and if it did not require removal of any houses.

Mayor John Hieftje expressed his support for the project by citing the opportunity to create greenspace on that corner, and the possibility that the retail space could become the equivalent of a Jefferson Market for this area.

Outcome: The council approved unanimously the PUD proposal for Near North.

City Place

The proposal before city council on Monday was a “matter of right” project with 24 total units, each with six bedrooms. There would be two buildings, separated by a parking lot. Currently there are seven houses standing on the parcels where the project is proposed. The project’s history includes the following dates:

  • Jan. 15, 2008: Conditional rezoning – Ann Arbor Planning Commission recommended denial.
    YES: None. NO: Bonnie Bona, Craig Borum, Jean Carlberg, Ron Emaus, Joan Lowenstein, Eric Mahler, Ethel Potts, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal.
  • May 20, 2008: PUD (planned unit development) – Planning Commission recommended denial.
    YES: Emaus. NO: Bona, Borum, Carlberg, Lowenstein, Mahler, Potts, Westphal. ABSENT: Pratt.
  • Sept. 4, 2008: PUD – Ann Arbor Planning Commission recommended denial.
    YES: Borum, Lowenstein. NO: Bona, Carlberg, Potts, Pratt, Westphal, Woods.
  • Dec. 15, 2008: City Council rejects resolution to establish a Historic District Study Committee for Germantown.
  • Jan. 5, 2009: PUD – City Council denied on a unanimous 0-10 vote.
    NO: John Hieftje, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin. ABSENT: Sandi Smith.
  • April 21, 2009: MOR (matter of right) – Planning Commission recommends approval on 6-3 vote.
    YES: Bona, Carlberg, Derezinski, Mahler, Westphal, Woods. NO: Potts, Borum, Pratt.
  • June 1, 2009: MOR – City Council postponed it due to inconsistencies in drawings provided on website. [Errors attributed to city staff.]
  • June 15, 2009: MOR – City Council sent it back to Planning Commission due to technical errors with drawings provided at the Planning Commission April meeting. [Errors attributed to city staff.]
  • July 7, 2009: MOR – Planning Commission recommended denial on 5-1 vote to approve (needed 6).
  • July 20, 2009: MOR – City Council postpones until January 2010, to give the developer the opportunity to pursue a revised PUD. A condition was that the developer could bring back the matter of right project with 35-days notice.
  • Aug. 9, 2009: City Council establishes a Historic District Study Committee and moratorium on demolition for two-block area, including the proposed site of City Place.
  • Aug. 11, 2009: “Streetscape PUD” receives planning staff initial review.
  • Aug. 12, 2009: “Streetscape PUD” introduced to neighbors to comply with the neighbor participation ordinance.
  • Aug. 17, 2009: City Council revises language of moratorium to include all forms of work, including demolition.
  • Aug. 30, 2009: Application for “Streetscape PUD” was not at accepted by city planning staff.

Public Commentary on City Place

At least two dozen people spoke against the project during the public hearing.

Some argued that the council should deny the project on the basis that it did not actually meet the zoning code as contended by the city planning staff. Specifically, they said, the height of the building exceeded the allowable 30 feet, because what the staff was analyzing as a dormer was actually the roof. In addition, they contended that the building did not meet setback requirements, because the rule applied by city planning staff was intended for irregularly-shaped lots, not rectangular lots.

Others argued against approval of the project based on the contention that it jeopardized health, safety and welfare. The health claim was based on increased load to sewer and water systems, while the safety claim was based on increased vehicular traffic in the area.

Still others pointed to the value of the existing seven houses that would be torn down in order to build the project. That value was expressed both in terms of historic worth as well as the labor of the workers who had built the homes – labor should be honored.

Speaking in favor of the project was the developer, Alex de Parry, as well as the architect, Bradley Moore, and consultants David Birchler and Jamie Gorenflo. De Parry ticked through the key dates of the time line, including July 20, when he said the city was encouraging him to bring forward a “Streetscape PUD” as an alternative to the original PUD that had been rejected by the council on Jan. 5, 2009. The “Streetscape PUD” would have preserved the front part of six out of the seven houses, linking them with a structure at the rear of the property.

Believing that the city was acting in good faith, he said, they had asked the council to table the “matter of right” project in order to be able to comply with the city’s request to pursue the “Streetscape PUD” instead.

Moore cited his more than 20 years of experience working and designing buildings in Ann Arbor in every different zoning district in the city. He said that he’d always worked with the planning staff to follow their interpretation of the zoning codes and that this project should be approved based on the fact that it met the zoning codes. For Birchler’s part, he walked the council through the four relevant chapters of the city code – Chapter 55, 59, 62, 57 – concluding that for each chapter, the project conformed to the code requirements. Gorenflo attested to the adequacy of the sewer and water utilities for the project.

Council Deliberations on City Place

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) began deliberations by saying that there had been very little support for the project, pointing to the unanimous rejection by the council of the earlier PUD proposal in January. [Although the vote for the record was unanimous, the project enjoyed support from at least six, possibly seven, councilmembers. They  did not vote for the project after neighbors who were opposed to the project successfully filed a protest petition just before the January 5, 2009 vote – that petition raised the standard for approval to an eight-vote majority.]

Hohnke went on to say that while de Parry claimed there was no other choice for him but to submit the matter of right project, there was another choice that was represented by the outcome of the Near North project, that had seen a more collaborative approach. He said that de Parry had used “every tool in his tool box” and that the city council had merely used the tools it had in putting a powerful moratorium in place. He said he would support the outcome of the historic district study committee if the establishment of a district was recommended, which was a reasonable expectation, he said. Earlier during the evening in his communications to council, Mayor John Hieftje also had indicated he planned to vote for the establishment of a historic district.

Hohnke then compared the idea of bringing the matter of right project before the council in the face of the moratorium to “stamping feet, being upset you didn’t get what you wanted.”

Nevertheless, Hohnke said, he was going to “hold his nose” and vote for approval because the project met the zoning code, despite diligent attempts to find any possible violation.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he felt that there might be some basis for denying the project based on the height and setback issues.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) indicated that he had preferred the original PUD proposal. He was not as sanguine about the historic district as Hohnke and Hieftje had been, saying that the process of the establishment of a historic district would need to be evaluated at the point the committee made a recommendation. Margie Teall (Ward 4) declared that she absolutely didn’t like this project and said she was looking forward to the historic district study committee report.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) began her remarks by describing the developer as wanting to “have it all.” She contended that he had not given the city the best product he could, but rather something that they had to approve – which was, she said, a “creative way of using our own rules against us.”

However, there were some positive effects from the developer’s tactic, she said, which were that (i) it had caused the R4C zoning study committee to take a slightly different focus, and (ii) that she felt the council might be less reluctant to consider a historic district study committee in the future. [This was an allusion to the council's rejection in December 2008 of the establishment of a historic district study committee for the area. On that occasion, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) had said he'd need to see a pile of additional data to support formation of a committee, and Leigh Greden (Ward 3) explained that he would not vote for a study committee, because he predicted he would vote against a district, even if one was recommended.]

On Monday, Taylor rejected the contention that the vote on the matter of right project was a matter of “standing up to them” or “having some fortitude.” It was, he said, simply a matter of following the law.

In his communications to council earlier in the meeting, Hieftje indicated that legal jeopardy was attached to not approving the project. And the council avoided that kind of legal jeopardy by voting unanimously to approve it.

The council thereby established what would have happened at either the June 1 or the June 15 meetings of council, when the council failed to vote on the matter of right project – due to errors made by city planning staff in preparation of the materials for the council.

Outcome: The council approved unanimously the matter of right City Place proposal.

Council Electronic Communications

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) had indicated at two prior council meetings his intention of bringing forward a resolution that would (i) release city council emails sent during past meetings – dating back to 2002, when laptop computers were first used by the council, and (ii) make public as an attachment to the meeting minutes the emails sent by councilmembers during future meetings .

Two men sit, one looking at the other the other holding two yellow signs

Hatim Elhady, left, holds two yellow signs expressing support for Mike Anglin's email resolution. Elhady is an independent candidate for the city council's Ward 4 seat, challenging Marcia Higgins. To Elhady's right is Yousef Rabhi, who is the Ann Arbor Democratic Party's vice-chair of campus relations. (Photo by the writer.)

The resolution evolved from the release of emails by the city in response to FOIA requests made initially by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center for emails sent during a meeting in February in which an underground parking structure was approved. That request was followed up with others by The Ann Arbor News, The Ann Arbor Chronicle and other citizens. The emails ranged from juvenile horseplay to  violations of the Open Meetings Act, which requires that deliberations of a public body be made at an open meeting.

Public Commentary on Council Email Resolution

Three people spoke during public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting on the email resolution.

Andrew Ryder: After reading a brief poem, Dryer suggested that “people who don’t have anything to hide don’t hide it.” He asked those in the audience who supported the resolution – many of whom were already holding yellow signs with a statement of support – to stand. Something like thirty or so people stood.

Tim Colenback: Colenback thanked Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) for putting the resolution together, saying that it represented an important step to restore trust. He suggested that there was a stigma attached to the council itself and to the community as a whole as a result of the emails that had been made public. That harm could be repaired partly through Anglin’s resolution, he contended. He also argued that the release of past emails could properly inform future city councils of the basis for decision-making by past councils.

Jack Eaton: Eaton urged the council to pass Anglin’s proposed measure, saying there was no question that the councilmembers had engaged in improper email exchanges. He characterized the measures taken by councilmembers to date as half-hearted, saying that only some councilmembers had offered apologies, and that they had been only partial apologies. [To date, no councilmembers have made apologies in the council chambers during a council meeting.] With regard to a new council rule that restricts the sending of emails by councilmembers, Eaton noted that even the Open Meetings Act had not prevented councilmembers from sending emails to each other. If money was really a concern, he suggested, then councilmembers should dig into their own pockets – pointing out that the meeting in December of 2007 when council had considered its own pay raise [it's actually required to do so] was “tainted” by exchanges of emails that arranged the sequence and nature of deliberations.

Council Deliberations on Council Email Resolution

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) led off deliberations by making essentially the same case that the public speakers had made: it was an effort to increase transparency. The emails were subject to the Freedom of Information Act in any case, Anglin said, but requesting the emails under FOIA would cost the requesters money. The idea behind his resolution, which set out a timetable for release of all council emails during meetings dating back to 2002, was to relieve individual citizens of that financial burden.

With respect to the financial cost to the city, city administrator Roger Fraser said that the “worst case scenario” was around $45,000.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who’d worked with Anglin to craft the language of his resolution, said that some of the changes had been to address concerns of staff by lengthening and structuring the timetable for release of the documents. She said she’d read every word of the emails that had been requested to date under the FOIA, and that it had been a revelation – not always in a good way. She said that there would likely be a brief embarrassment to some councilmembers – present and past – when additional emails were released, but that it was a good move for all of council. She characterized it as “an ethical move.”

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) allowed that the changes that had been undertaken “make it begin to be palatable,” but she quickly dashed any hope she’d be supporting the resolution as it stood, saying “I can’t be shamed into doing this.” Her point was that the majority of her emails had already been made public, having just been elected to the city council in November 2008.

Smith said she agreed with the idea of attaching future emails during meetings to the meeting minutes. For the past emails, however, she said, “There’s a mechanism in place called FOIA. It is not a roadblock.”

Smith then attacked the proposal on grounds of its cost, saying that it reflected 6-7 years of Project Grow funding. [For FY 2010, the council did not approve the $7,000 that had been allocated to the gardening nonprofit in past years.] Or, she said, the $45,000 could fund six individuals for supportive services. Later in deliberations, Smith said she’d been turning over every stone in the budget trying to find a way to save $380,000 so that parking meters would not need to be installed in residential neighborhoods near downtown – she’d come up $90,000 short. In that context, she couldn’t support an expenditure on past emails.

She concluded her second speaking turn by addressing Anglin directly concerning his remarks about his intention to bring the proposal forward at a previous council meeting [presumably the Aug. 17 meeting]: “You emailed me not 30 minutes after you proposed this! I don’t take that lightly.”

Other councilmembers picked up on the cost issue, which Smith had introduced, with several of them characterizing the proposal as simply a shifting of the cost from individual requesters to the city – not something they were willing to contemplate in the current economic climate.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) related his recollection of his time in the state legislature in 1976 when the FOIA was being debated, saying that the debate at the time centered then, as now, on the question of full-disclosure versus reasonableness of cost.

Another theme identified by councilmembers in arguing against the original resolution was the need to look forward instead of backward. Margie Teall (Ward 4) said that everyone she’d talked to was supportive of the council looking ahead. In weighing the harm that the already-released emails had caused the council, Mayor John Hieftje said that he’d much rather see the council looking forward.

Only Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) joined Anglin and Briere in supporting the idea of the city systematically releasing past city council emails.

So an amendment proposed by Smith – to eliminate from the resolution all but the part that would attach future emails during meetings to the official minutes – passed with dissent from Anglin, Briere, and Hohnke.

The resolution as amended passed with dissent only from Anglin, who told The Chronicle after the meeting that it had been “gutted” to the point that he couldn’t support it. [In that respect, the resolution thus played out in similar fashion to a recent moratorium on development in R4C zoning districts that Anglin had proposed. After substantial amendment to that resolution, Anglin voted against it.]

Outcome: With dissent from Anglin, council approved a resolution that will see electronic communications exchanged among its members during its meetings attached to the official minutes of meetings.

Analysis of Cost-Shift Argument

The “cost-shift” analysis that led many councilmembers to conclude that it was not fiscally responsible to voluntarily release past emails could be based on an incomplete understanding of who bears the actual cost of the effort in responding to a FOIA request.

The city’s policy is that the first four hours of labor required per request to separate and redact material is not charged to requesters. As a consequence, by making separate requests for material, requesters can virtually eliminate the cost to themselves of obtaining records.

Further, the FOIA carries a three-week time period for compliance, as contrasted with the comparatively relaxed, several-month time frame proposed by Anglin’s resolution. So if the city is forced to provide the material under FOIA, the fees the city could collect would (i) likely fall well short of covering the city’s cost, and (ii) require the city’s staff to do a large volume of work in a constrained time frame.

Budget Projections

Already at its Aug. 6 meeting, the city council had heard a slightly revised forecast from Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, that included possible shortfalls for FY 2010, which is the current fiscal year. The range for projected shortfalls was $2.4 to $3.3 million.

Ideas for covering that shortfall were floated at the council’s budget and labor committee meeting that was held at 5 p.m. this past Monday before the whole council met at 7 p.m. Councilmembers Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Mayor John Hieftje constitute the council’s membership on the committee.

Also at the committee meeting were city administrator Roger Fraser, plus heads of all the city departments, including: Sue McCormick, director of public services; Jayne Miller, director of community services; Barnett Jones, director of safety services; Robyn Wilkerson, head of human resources; and  Stephen Postema, city attorney.

Among the ideas being considered in a preliminary fashion by staff to account for the FY 2010 shortfall is an extension of the mowing cycle for parks. Higgins was concerned that it was the previously longer mowing cycles that had led to complaints from the public about the upkeep in parks, and she noted that the idea of increasing from a 14-day to a 19-day cycle would mean that the city would be incrementing back up to a longer cycle. Hieftje wondered why in some cases an entire field needed to be mowed when simply carving a mowed path might suffice. Miller explained that much of the expense of mowing involved getting staff and equipment to the place to do the mowing. At the same time, McCormick said that staff always looked at the possibility of “naturalizing” areas.

Rapundalo drew out the fact that “savings from golf course losses” meant that losses for the golf fund were $130,000 less than anticipated – the measures put in place by the golf course task force and city parks staff to increase revenues were having an effect.

Briere asked about the idea that stump removal be eliminated from the general fund and assigned to the stormwater fund. “How does that save money?” she asked. Answer: It doesn’t, but it’s paid for out of a different revenue stream. The connection of stump removal to stormwater is this: To replant trees, which help reduce stormwater runoff, it’s necessary to remove stumps.

There’s been some stormwater funds freed up, explained McCormick, because stimulus funds have been used to reduce the debt service on some projects the city is doing through the office of the county’s water resources commissioner, Janis Bobrin.

Another idea to increase revenues is to look at the rates for expired parking meter fines.

The discussion was not exhaustive of all the various ideas, and it was stressed: They’re just ideas at this point.

There are enough ideas, however, that if implemented, the shortfall for FY 2010 could be mostly covered. The projected shortfall of $4 million to $5.8 million for FY 2011, said Crawford, still had a lot of “heavy lifting” to go. About $1.6 million in possible savings ideas had been identified, with another $2.1 million that might work, Crawford said.

One of the unknowns, and the factor that accounts for the range in the shortfall projections, involves the amount of statutory state shared revenue the city will receive. A budget proposed by state house speaker Andy Dillon would reduce statutory state shared revenue by 30%, which translates into a $1.2 million reduction for the city of Ann Arbor.

It’s in that context that Leigh Greden (Ward 3) brought forward a resolution at the council’s meeting that expressed opposition to that state budget proposal. The resolution urges state Sen. Liz Brater, and state Reps. Pam Byrnes and Rebekah Warren – all legislators representing the Ann Arbor area – to vote against that budget, and asks Gov. Jennifer Granholm to veto any budget that would cut statutory state revenues.

Outcome: The resolution opposing cuts to state shared revenue passed unanimously.


During public commentary on the need to adopt a sense of “diminished astonishment” when trying to follow public events, Jim Mogensen mentioned the fact that the public hearing on City Place had been published in the Detroit Free Press, but not in’s print edition.

It’s worth noting that the state statute requires that a newspaper be in publication for a year before it meets the legal requirement for publication of legal notices – so, which started publishing in July 2009, doesn’t qualify.

During a break in council’s meeting, city clerk Jackie Beaudry clarified for The Chronicle that from the point of view of cost, the Washtenaw Legal News is the city’s preferred choice, but that sometimes the timing of the once-a-week Legal News publication schedule forces the city to resort to the more expensive Detroit Free Press. Compared to the old Ann Arbor News, Beaudry said, the Free Press notices cost 10 times as much.

The issue of legal notices came up on another occasion during the council’s meeting when Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked for clarification on the status of the ballot language for the proposed charter amendments on the publication of the city’s new ordinances.

At its Aug. 17 meeting, the city council had passed a resolution to place two charter amendments on the ballot, each related to the publication of ordinances after being approved by the city council. Then, at its Sept. 8 meeting, the city council revised the ballot language – at the suggestion of the state attorney general’s office and parallel with the suggestion already made by The Chronicle on Aug. 18.

County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum sent a letter dated Sept. 10 to the city of Ann Arbor’s clerk, to the effect that the ballot language revision made by city council could not be accepted, because it came after the deadline of Aug. 25, which is set by the state.

Kestenbaum followed up with a letter dated Sept. 17, which relaxed the clerk’s position: the ballot language revision could be accepted, with the provision that the city accepted any liability and financial implications that might attach to changing the language after the deadline. [See also Kestenbaum's comment written on The Chronicle's Sept. 20 caucus report.]

At council’s Monday meeting, the explanation offered to Higgins by city attorney Stephen Postema did not address the issue of the city’s possible liability and financial implications.

Plastic Bags

Before the council was a resolution that would restrict the use of plastic bags at retail establishments. Since its first introduction more than a year ago on July 21, 2008, the resolution had been postponed at the request of the resolution’s sponsor, Stephen Rapudalo (Ward 2), on four different occasions. On Monday it was a different story: no postponement. Instead, Rapundalo asked his colleagues to table the resolution. That means it will need six out of 11 votes to be brought back off the table for consideration.

Rapundalo acknowledged right out of the gate that he might be “incurring the wrath” of his colleagues in asking for another delay. He offered a kind of status report on the work, however, saying that the work was about 3/4 done, pointing to focus groups that had been conducted, as well as a comprehensive survey.

In response to a request from Mayor John Hieftje for some kind of timetable, Rapundalo said that before the end of the year, it would be ready.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to table the resolution on plastic bags.

Applications Requested

Mayor John Hieftje announced that there were vacancies on several boards and commissions for which applications were being sought: the cable commission, the taxicab board, the board of review, and the sign board of appeals.

Descriptions of these bodies are from the city’s website.

Cable Commission

How Established: Section 2:128, Chapter 32, Title II of the Ann Arbor City Code. Purpose: To advise Council, City Administrator and Director of Cable Communications on all matters pertaining to the implementation of the provisions of the City’s Cable T.V. Ordinance and Franchise Agreement with the cable company; review and make recommendations on the general direction of Community Access Television. Special Qualifications for Appointment: Ability to interpret financial and other reports; time to be involved in committee work over and above regular monthly meetings; enthusiastic advocate of both Cable T.V. and local community television. Length of Terms: 5 years – However, with the approval of Council, the Mayor shall fix initial terms at 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 years so that no more than 2 appointments expire in 1 year. Any vacancy in office shall be filled by the Mayor for the remainder of the term. Meeting Times and Frequency: This is a permanent commission that meets the 4th Tuesday of the month at 7:00 pm, at Community Television Network, 2805 S. Industrial. The meetings are telecast live and taped for replay. Member / Committee Composition: 7 members – maximum.

Taxicab Board

How Established: Section 1:207, Chapter 8, Title I of the Ann Arbor City Code. Purpose: The purpose of the Taxicab Board is to enforce the Taxicab Ordinance, hear appeals of those who are aggrieved by any decision made by the Administrator and adopt regulations to facilitate the administration of the Taxicab Ordinance. Length of Terms: Councilmember 1 year, other members 3 years. All terms expire the 2nd Monday in April. Members continue to serve after date of term expiration until a successor is appointed. Meeting Times and Frequency: This is a permanent committee that meets the last Thursday of every month at 8:30 a.m. in the 4th floor conference room. Membership / Committee Composition: 8 members: 5 voting members including 1 Councilmember, the CFO (non-voting), and the Chief of Police (non-voting).

Sign Board of Appeals

How Established: Section 5:517, Chapter 61, Title V of the Ann Arbor City Code. Purpose: To hear and decide appeals where the appellant alleges that the Administrator has made an error in the enforcement of the Code regarding signs and outdoor advertising. The Board can authorize a variance from the strict application of the Code if it involves practical difficulties of unnecessary hardships. Special Qualifications for Appointment: None. However, professional and business persons are recommended. Length of Terms: 3 year terms which continue until a successor is appointed. Meeting Times and Frequency: This is a permanent Board that meets the 2nd Tuesday of each month at 3 p.m. This Board meets only when an appeal has been submitted. Membership / Committee Composition: 7 members.

Board of Review

How Established: Section 9:10(a) of the City Charter – Chapter 8, Section 1:188 of the City Code. Second Board of Review Committee eliminated on March 3, 2003. Purpose: Examines and reviews the assessment roll of the City. Special Qualification for Appointment: Knowledge of taxation and of property values. Length of Terms: 3 years. Appointment in January to a term beginning in February. A member whose term has expired may not continue to serve. However, there is no limit to the number of consecutive terms a member may serve. Meeeting Times and Frequency: This is a permanent Board that meets at 9 a.m. beginning the 3rd Monday in March; 6 hours each day for 4 consecutive days. In addition, the Board meets on the Tuesday (for 1 day) following the 3rd Monday of July for correction of errors only and the Tuesday (for 1 day) after the 2nd Monday of December for correction of errors only. Membership / Committee Composition: 3 members – Number established by Charter. A second Board of Review was appointed by Mayor and Council on March 5, 1990 at the request of the City Assessor. The second Board of Review has been eliminated since the passage of Proposal A establishing limits on taxable values has reduced the number of appeals received from local residents and businesses and it is anticipated that the number of appeals will continue at this reduced level.

Other Business


Public Comment

Among the topics addressed by speakers at public comment were the creation of the Ann Arbor Tree Conservancy . In a somewhat related theme, one person spoke to the importance of maintaining good sight-lines at intersections not obstructed by tree-limbs or other foliage.

Two speakers addressed the issue of homelessness in connection with Camp Take Notice.

One speaker addressed the importance of preserving the diverse and distinctive character of Ann Arbor’s neighborhoods.

Other Council Business

The city council approved a new historic district application fee schedule.

It also authorized application for funding of storm water improvements in the West Park area through the office of the county’s water resources commissioner. [See previous Chronicle coverage in "West Park Renovations Get Fast-Tracked."]

The council also approved an agreement with MDOT, that will see a start this fall to a project that will:

… replace the existing southbound US-23 ramp with a new “loop” ramp in the northwest interchange quadrant, construction of three roundabouts in place of the current traffic signals, constructing a new pedestrian bridge spanning US-23 along the south side of Geddes Rd and non-motorized multiuse asphalt path connecting Earhart Road to Dixboro Road, and reconstructing Geddes Road from the Bridge over US-23 west of Earhart Rd

The council also approved street closures necessary for the Big Heart Big House Run, on Oct. 4, 2009, which is a 5K/10K run that gives entrants a chance to finish their race by running down the tunnel of Michigan Stadium onto the football field, where the finish line is located. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) got assurances from Jayne Miller, community services director with the city, that neighbors in the areas of the street closures had been adequately notified.

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: Monday, Oct. 5, 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 Milo
    September 23, 2009 at 12:15 pm | permalink

    While there was a lot of back patting and talk of the “this is the way things should be done” regarding the agreement between the neighbors and the developers of the Near North project, in truth it was more a question of making the best of a bad situation. The building is out of scale with the neighborhood (that’s why it needs to be a PUD), it does violate the Central Area Plan, it is going to cost $10 million dollars of tax payer money, it provides only 14 units of supportive housing (the remaining work-force apartments will rent for about $775/mo, basically current market rate), the developer does want to put a liquor store (but they’ve “agreed” to stop selling porn if they move in!) in a building with an at-risk population. Oh, and to qualify for a PUD exemption, the petitioner must clearly demonstrate that the provided benefit can not be achieved with the underlying zoning, but there were already 27 bedrooms of affordable housing on this site.

    As soon as Avalon Housing was brought in on this project and the affordable housing tag attached to it, in the minds of most of the city council it was a done deal. There was no examining the financial reality of the project, the appropriateness of the building for its residents, the impact on the neighborhood, or the president it sets for near-downtown development. Facing a pretty certain 8-2 approval vote for the PUD rezoning, what do you do? Make the best of a bad situation.

  2. By John Floyd
    September 23, 2009 at 5:25 pm | permalink

    Because of the building’s non-fit with existing neighborhood architecture, the “done deal” aura of this process and approval, and the apparent zero value assigned to the loss of 27 units of affordable historic housing when concluding that the project has “Public Benefit”, my take is that the goal is simply to eliminate the look-and-feel of North Main completely; this PUD is a further step in that direction. Avalon was a handy thing to hide behind in furtherance of that goal. Like “environmentalism”, “green construction”, and “LEED Certification”, “affordable housing” seems merely to be another cynical cover to further the destruction of as much of historic Ann Arbor as is possible. If Avalon truly desires not to change the neighborhoods in which it operates, it missed the mark in this project -and missed it badly.

    My judgement in this matter may be completely wrong on all counts; however, if the present regime wanted to create the impression that my judgement is correct, they could hardly have gone about it in a more effective manner.

  3. September 23, 2009 at 7:09 pm | permalink

    Does anyone know what the fate of the existing buildings will be while the group is waiting for the sale of the tax-exempt credits? My information is that sales of these have been going badly. The whole business plan of this venture depends on them and I would hope that the present buildings are maintained at a minimum level until that is accomplished.

  4. By Milo
    September 24, 2009 at 9:11 am | permalink

    Regarding the fate of the existing houses on N. Main: that the developer had boarded up some of the houses, then claimed that the area was blighted and that one of projects benefits was fixing up this blighted area (that they created!) should give a pretty clear indication of what plans they have for the existing houses. more “blight.”

  5. By mr dairy
    September 24, 2009 at 10:23 am | permalink

    KInd of like Alex du Parry’s self inflicted blight on S 5th Ave.

  6. By Leviathan
    September 28, 2009 at 5:22 pm | permalink

    Avalon’s already overwhelmed with the management of the Washtenaw Area Housing Corp’s apartments. To add the building of Near North at this time seems foolhardy.

    I hadn’t heard about the plans to put in a store that sells alcohol at Near North. Can someone tell more about that? Aren’t there already places to buy alcohol walking distance from there?

    Also, are those 27 affordable beds already on the property rented? If so, at what rent?

    What will be the rent for the affordable units at Near North?

  7. September 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm | permalink

    The store at Near North would be to move the business from Summit Party Store. Apparently there are negotiations underway to demolish that store so that it is out of the floodway. That would enhance the greenness of NeNo.

  8. September 29, 2009 at 6:01 pm | permalink

    to answer Vivienne’s question about the existing houses, in the last couple of months Three Oaks has rented out most of them. The tenants behind Margaret Schankler are paying $1,000 a month, or $333/bedroom. My own former back-yard neighbor was amazed to hear they’d rented the house she used to have–she says she had to move out last winter because it was so drafty.