Archive for October, 2009

PAC Gets Briefed on Rentals, Preservation

A fence separates this pavilion from the Olson Dog Park.

A fence separates this pavilion from the Olson Dog Park – the dog seen to the right is inside the fenced-in dog park. One couple that uses the park has suggested moving the pavilion inside the fence, so that owners can have a place to take shelter from the elements while their dogs play. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission (Oct. 20, 2009): Last week’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission (PAC) was in many ways a buffet of updates and tutorials, accented with a soupçon of art and a dash of dog park.

City staff talked to commissioners about special events planning and facilities rental at the parks, and gave an overview of how the city’s natural areas are prioritized for restoration. PAC also got a time line for the state-mandated rewrite of the Parks, Recreation and Open Space plan, known as PROS.

But we’ll start with the saga of a man and his dog, and what he’d like the city to do to make their time together more enjoyable. [Full Story]

UM: Foreclosures

Reuters reports on foreclosures in Detroit and notes that a tax foreclosure auction last week failed to sell more than 80% of the parcels. The article quotes Margaret Dewar, a UM professor of urban planning, who studied government foreclosure sales in Flint and Detroit and found that “land bank”-style transactions were a better alternative. Says Dewar: “The results are better when there is a more deliberate process.” [Source]

A2: Food

Writing on Wordarrangment’s Blog, Chloe Miller describes a dinner in Ann Arbor in a place that you have to know about by word of mouth: “After eating in the packed rooms filled with the aromas from the five dishes and the live music by Douglas and Andrew Brown, I understand why they don’t advertise. They don’t need to.” [Source]

North Main

Beautiful view of the Huron River from the second floor of the NEW Center on North Main – joggers, rowers, brilliant fall leaves outside, and inside about 30 nonprofit folks listening to local media types…and drinking ginger lemon tea from Sweetwaters!

A2: Skatepark

On the Ann Arbor Skatepark site, Trevor Staples posts a report of the group’s Oct. 18 design workshop, which featured Wally Hollyday, a skatepark designer from California: “Mr. Hollyday started the event with a brief presentation about how his parks incorporate creative thinking about everything from environmental impact to public art. He’s particularly interested in skateparks as nuclei of communities. He thinks of his parks not just as (eminently) skateable surfaces, but as gathering places for people of all kinds: he has built parks (e.g., Nashville) that ring green spaces where families can picnic while their children skate, and others (North Las Vegas) with built-in amphitheater spaces that can be skated or used for public concerts and performances, etc.” [... [Full Story]

AATA Sets Meeting on Regional Authority

man giving plaque to woman

New AATA board chair Paul Ajegba presents a plaque of appreciation to Dawn Gabay, deputy CEO, who served for two years as interim director of the authority until Michael Ford was hired as CEO this past summer. In the background at left is board member Jesse Bernstein. To the right, opening a box containing his ceremonial gavel, is outgoing board chair, David Nacht. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Oct 21, 2009): Some news of significance announced at the AATA‘s board meeting last Wednesday received relatively brief mention and discussion: There will be a special meeting of the AATA board at Weber’s Inn, on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 at 5 p.m. in the Varsity Room.

The topic of the meeting will be the possibility of reorganizing as a regional authority under Act 196. That meeting will be a precursor for the conversation about countywide service – and a countywide millage.

As far as the board’s business as reflected on Wednesday’s agenda, the item receiving by far the most discussion was one authorizing a contract for $171,704 for facility camera upgrades. Board member Rich Robben got an animated conversation rolling when he pointedly asked, “Was the bid spec written around a product line??” The board wound up authorizing the contract, with dissent from Robben and fellow board member David Nacht.

Putting a punctuation mark on the past year’s activity was the board’s new chair, Paul Ajegba, who presented the former chair, David Nacht, with a ceremonial gavel in appreciation of his service. Ajegba also presented deputy CEO Dawn Gabay with a plaque in appreciation for her service as interim director of the agency. [Full Story]

UM: Mental Health

National Public Radio reports on how colleges deal with students’ mental health problems, and interviews Daphne C. Watkins, a researcher at UM’s School of Social Work, who’s been studying the issue: “First, there are increasing numbers of students with increasingly severe emotional problems. Second, students — and the families of these students — look primarily to colleges and universities to provide mental health and other supportive services for their students. And finally, budgetary cutbacks at these institutions make the growth and advancement of campus mental health services very difficult.” [Source]

Third & Washington

5:30 p.m. Dozens of kids dressed in Halloween costumes – and a guy dressed like a banana – running around outside the YMCA.

A2: Swift Dog Park

Swift Dog Park, jointly run by the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, will be closed temporarily from 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 27 thru 6 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 31. According to a notice on the city’s website, staff will be working on maintenance and improvements to the gated transfer area of the large and small dog playgrounds. [Source]

Ypsi: Lawsuit

The Detroit Free Press reports that some customers – including Thomas and Sally Quehl of Ypsilanti – are suing Walt Michal’s RV Superstore in Belleville, which is now out of business. The customers allege that the store failed to pay off the loans on RVs that were traded in for new ones. Says Birmingham consumer lawyer Dani Liblang, who’s representing the Quehls and another couple: “In essence, Walt Michal stole their vehicles.” [Source]

Column: On Finding the Ward 4 Candidates

Judy McGovern

Judy McGovern

This piece was supposed to be a straightforward look at a city council race.

It’s not.

Instead it’s a column that gives an account of an unusual situation involving a council veteran, who dropped from sight when an adult daughter’s long battle with leukemia took a scary turn; and a political newcomer, who declines to be interviewed except via email.

The council seat at issue is in Ann Arbor’s Ward 4, the southwestern part of the city.

Incumbent Democrat Marcia Higgins has been one of the ward’s two council representatives since 1999.

Hatim Elhady, a student at the University of Michigan, is an independent who’s running against her.

Ordinarily, that kind of introduction would be followed by additional biographical information to provide context and then the meat of a story based –  in large part – on interviews with each candidate.

But Elhady’s not talking. [Full Story]

Seniors Weigh In On Fate of Center

Christopher Taylor, a city councilmember representing Ward 3

Christopher Taylor, right, a city councilmember representing Ward 3, is serving on the senior center task force, and attended Friday's meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Shucking off raincoats and shaking rain off their umbrellas as they entered, about 50 people gathered Friday afternoon at the Ann Arbor Senior Center to get an update from city staff on the center’s fate, and to give feedback on ways to keep it open.

The meeting was the first of two scheduled by a city task force convened to address a budget crunch that had prompted city staff to recommend closing the center. The next public meeting is set for Tuesday, Oct. 27 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., also at the Burns Park facility, 1320 Baldwin Ave.

Closing the center seems a less certain scenario now, based on comments from staff and task force members. The focus is on finding ways to increase revenues, Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation services manager, told the group.

“The fact that so many people came out today shows how important the senior center is,” Smith said. [Full Story]

UM: Breast Cancer

CNN reports that some experts believe patients with breast cancer are being pushed too fast from diganosis to surgery. The article quotes Steven Katz, a UM medical professor, who says he tells his patients to take time before making a decision, and to seek second opinions: “Make no decisions in the first visit to the doctor. Let me repeat: Make no decisions in the first visit.” [Source]

UM: Crime Alert

The UM Department of Public Safety has issued a crime alert following an unarmed robbery around midnight on Friday outside of the Life Sciences Institute on Washtenaw: “Student walked out of the LSI Building onto the plaza when he was approached by an unknown man who asked for money. The man took the student’s wallet and fled on foot toward Washtenaw. No weapons were seen or implied.” DPS states that the suspect is a black male, 18-20 years old, 5’9″ about 175 pounds, wearing a dark blue coat with a hood and a dark baseball cap. Anyone with information is asked to call DPS at 734-763-1131 or dial 911. [Source]

West Liberty near Stadium

People are busy though quiet, shopping at the going-out-of-business sale at Fresh Seasons.  (They take 20% off the final tally.) Overheard from one shopper to another: “I’m sorry they are closing.  I used to shop here a lot.”

A2: Detroit

The Detroit Free Press reports on efforts to redevelop the old Kronk Gym in Detroit as an affordable housing complex. The project’s architect is Abe Kadushin of Ann Arbor-based Kadushin Associates Architects Planners. Says Kadushin: “Kronk has brand recognition around the world. We expect private and public foundations as well as entrepreneurial development to drive the cost of the project.” [Source]

A2: Windows

Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Katherine Salant discusses the issue of whether to replace the windows in your home: “The first winter we spent in our house in Ann Arbor, Mich., we learned that the marble windowsills were not an upscale detail. They were a necessity. So much condensation was continuously dribbling down the aluminum window frames, a waterproof sill material was required. Even worse, the seals between the two panes of glass in most of our 30-year-old windows were broken, resulting in the windows getting so fogged up we couldn’t see out easily.” [Source]

Fresh Seasons Market to Close

Fresh Seasons Market, which announced plans to relocate earlier this month, is closing. The owners of the West Liberty grocery told their staff on Thursday afternoon, and are preparing for a going-out-of-business sale that begins on Saturday.

Jan DeMunnik, Fresh Seasons general manager, spoke with The Chronicle in early October about the planned move. Reached on Friday at the store, she said that at the time she couldn’t disclose the pending sale of the business. Lynda and Ben Stahl, who’ve owned Fresh Seasons for 15 years, were working on a deal to sell the grocery, she said, and the new owners had planned to relocate it. That deal fell through, however. [Full Story]

Lutz & Soule

Overheard conversation between Eberwhite Elementary crossing guards: “You mean you’ve never had Hostess snack products of any kind?” “No, and I don’t plan to ever.” Hmm. Seems early to decide for a life without Twinkies.

A2: Business

Crain’s Detroit Business reports that Ann Arbor-based HandyLab is being acquired by New Jersey-based Becton, Dickinson & Co., a medical technology firm. From the Crain’s report: “BD announced the deal today and it is expected to close by the first quarter of 2010. Financial terms were not released. The acquisition comes after HandyLab signed deal with BD earlier this year to develop and distribute HandyLab’s medical diagnostic equipment that is used to quickly test DNA for infectious diseases.” [Source]

UM: Govt. Budgets

Michigan Radio’s Christina Shockley interviews Tom Ivacko of UM’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, who discusses a survey of how local governments in Michigan are responding to current budget problems. He reports that 47% of counties and 41% of cities expect to make service cuts, and many plan to increase fees. Ivacko also discusses the strategy of “place making,” an economic development approach that focuses on developing places that people want to live and work, rather than focusing on support of individual businesses or industries. [Source]

Special District Might Fund Energy Program

infrared scan of switchplate to external wall

Infrared scan of light switch plate on the interior of an outside wall. The scan was made during a homeowner energy audit. Cold-to-hot on the color scale is: black, purple, dark blue, light blue, green, yellow, red. The scan, made during a blower test that caused air to infiltrate the house at a high rate, shows that there are significant air leaks around the plate.

Most homeowners would say that they’d love to save a few dollars on heating their houses. And caulk is cheap, right? So why would a homeowner who feels a draft hesitate to invest in a caulking gun and a tube of caulk? One possible reason: To do a really good, comprehensive job sealing up a whole house could require a $3,000 investment – in labor, caulk, spray foam, weatherstripping, and other materials.

So if  homeowners are going to spend a few thousand dollars to improve the energy efficiency of their houses, maybe there’s a more cost-effective investment they could make – like throwing $2,000 worth of extra insulation in the attic.

The city of Ann Arbor has a similar challenge – if it receives more than $1 million in federal stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to invest locally. Andrew Brix, energy coordinator for the city, and other city staff need to answer the question: How do you spend that money in the most cost-effective way for the community?

Their tentative answer could include financial help for homeowners in the form of loans set up through a self-assessment energy financing district – help for homeowners like the one faced with the $2,000-for-air-sealing versus $3,000-for-attic insulation question.

The Chronicle didn’t pull those numbers out of a hat. We pulled them out of a Matt – as in Matt Naud’s energy audit report. Naud is the environmental coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor, and he agreed to let us shadow the Recycle Ann Arbor energy audit team as they conducted their analysis of his house. [Full Story]

County’s Budget Hearing Takes 10 Minutes

David Reynhout, Shannon Bater and Ashley Thomas were the only three people who spoke during Thursday evening's public hearing on the budget. They all supported funding for 4-H.

David Reynhout, Shannon Bater and Ashley Thomas were the only three people who spoke during Thursday evening's public hearing on the budget. They all supported funding for 4-H. (Photo by the writer.)

Commissioners and county staff outnumbered members of the public at Thursday evening’s  special public hearing on the budget, which started at 6:00 p.m. At first it seemed unclear whether anyone would actually speak. It was dramatically different from previous board meetings, when constituents packed the room to lobby for funding.

“Oh, come on – somebody say something,” commissioner Conan Smith cajoled.

So somebody did.

Three teens involved in the county’s 4-H program – Ashley Thomas of Ypsilanti, and Shannon Bater and David Reynhout of Chelsea – came up to the podium and thanked commissioners for supporting 4-H. Five other people attended the public hearing, but didn’t speak. [Full Story]

Michigan Stadium

Michigan Stadium lights are on. Testing for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game against Penn State. Might be dark by game’s end.

South State

A phalanx of blue-jacketed valet parkers at the ready in front of the UM Museum of Art. Inside, UMMA staff says they’re preparing for a reception of urologists.

Gubernatorial Candidates Outline Agendas

Pamphlets for gubernatorial candidates Alma Wheeler Smith and Rick Snyder, on the table a Wednesday's Morning Edition meeting hosted by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. Smith, a Democrat, and Snyder, a Republican, were both speakers at the event.

Pamphlets for gubernatorial candidates Alma Wheeler Smith and Rick Snyder, on the table at Wednesday's Morning Edition breakfast hosted by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. Smith, a Democrat, and Snyder, a Republican, were both speakers at the event.

Running was a common theme for speakers at Wednesday’s Morning Edition, a breakfast meeting hosted by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce at Weber’s Inn.

Alma Wheeler Smith and Rick Snyder are both running for governor, in the Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively. Michael Ford, the new CEO for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, keeps the buses running, while Keith Hafner runs a local karate business. And Kevin Borseth, the University of Michigan women’s basketball coach who makes his team run drills, almost ran for cover when Russ Collins, the event’s MC, brought up an infamous YouTube video that Borseth might well want to forget.

Collins, who’s also executive director of the Michigan Theater, kept the speakers running on schedule – after the jump, we’ll give a summary of their remarks, presented in the order in which they spoke. [Full Story]