Ann Arbor City Council meeting (July 6, 2010) Part 2: The two main events of the council’s Tuesday meeting were consideration of a historic district on Fourth and Fifth avenues and a resolution opposing Arizona’s recently passed law requiring local law enforcement officers to follow up on possibly undocumented immigrants.
Public commentary and deliberations on those two issues sent the council’s meeting well past midnight. [Chronicle coverage of those issues is included in Part 1 of this meeting report: "Unscripted: Historic District, Immigration"]
The council transacted a lot of other business as well. Councilmembers approved a change to the zoning code that modifies the list of allowable uses for public land so that the planned Fuller Road Station can be accommodated. Also passed was a change to the site plan approval process, which relaxes the requirement that up-to-date site plans be accessible to the public on a 24/7 basis.
Parks were front and center, and not just because of the public hearing and council action on allowable uses of public land. At the start of the meeting, a proclamation was made for Huron River Day, which takes place at Gallup Park on Sunday, July 11. And the council continued its pattern at the first meeting of the month of recognizing volunteers who help maintain the city’s parks through the Adopt-a-Park program.
In other action, the council approved the $2.5 million purchase of development rights for the 286-acre Braun farm in Ann Arbor Township, as recommended by the city’s greenbelt advisory commission, and established a residential parking permit program for the South University area.
Public Land Uses
Before the council was the second reading of a proposed revision to the city’s zoning ordinances, which calls for a change to the list of allowable land uses for land that is zoned as public land (PL). Some public land, but not all, is used for parks. The change was proposed to include “transportation facilities” so that the planned Fuller Road Station would unambiguously be included in the allowable uses.
[During his communications time, city administrator Roger Fraser indicated the the fourth public meeting on the Fuller Road Station would be held July 8 from 7-9 p.m. at the lower level meeting room at the county building at 200 N. Main St.]
The council had given the item some discussion at its June 21, 2010 meeting:
The planning commission had considered and unanimously recommended the change at its May 4, 2010 meeting. It’s been the subject of conversation in the community over the last couple of months in connection with the proposed Fuller Road Station – the project that prompted the desire to change the possible uses in the PL designation. The proposed change would replace “municipal airport” with “transportation facilities.”
5:10.13. PL public land district.
(1) Intent. This district is designed to classify publicly-owned uses and land and permit the normal principal and incidental uses required to carry out governmental functions and services.
(2) Permitted principal uses.
(a) Outdoor public recreational uses, such as: playgrounds, playfields, golf courses, boating areas, fishing sites, camping sites, parkways and parks. No structure shall be erected or maintained upon dedicated park land which is not customarily incidental to the principal use of the land.
(b) Natural open space, such as: conservation lands, wildlife sanctuaries, forest preserves.
(c) Developed open space, such as: arboreta, botanical and zoological gardens.
(d) Educational services, such as: public primary and secondary schools, and institutions of higher education.
(e) Cultural services, such as: museums and art galleries.
(f) Public-service institutions, such as: hospitals, sanatoria, homes for the elderly, children’s homes and correctional institutions.
(g) Essential services, buildings containing essential services and electrical substations.
(h) Municipal airports Transportation facilities.
(i) Civic center.
(j) Government offices and courts.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know why the change was a replacement of one term with another – why not add a term instead? Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, indicated that adding a list of possible facilities would possibly be seen as exhaustive. Higgins got confirmation that the impetus for the change was one project – Fuller Road Station.
Public Land Uses: Public Comment and Hearing
During the council’s general commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, Julie Grand – the current chair of the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) – addressed the council on the topic of Fuller Road Station. She reminded the council that in their communications packet there was a resolution passed unanimously by PAC concerning the Fuller Road Station. She asked the council to read the resolution. Highlights from the resolution are process and revenue, she said. It’s important that the process be public and that a clear schedule be presented. It’s also important that the parks not lose money on the proposal. [Chronicle coverage: "PAC Softens Stance on Fuller Road Station"]
Introducing himself as former PAC chair was John Satarino, who called the change of permissible uses of public land in the city’s zoning code “a peculiar form of municipal corruption.” He called the Fuller Road Station agreement with the University of Michigan probably the “greatest ripoff sweetheart deal” in the city’s history.
He called it a “parkland grab” for the construction of a huge parking structure. Any transit use beyond the parking uses, he said, was years off. Secrecy and distortions, he said, had been used to limit public participation in the project. He said this was orchestrated by the city administrator, who seemed to have a disdain for the city’s parks.
Satarino then ticked through a number of items. He said that the “city bosses” had gotten an appraisal for the entire south end of Fuller Park for over $4 million, for the purpose of selling it to the University of Michigan to be used as housing. He contended there had been no public hearing yet on the Fuller Road Station. There’d been no public participation – by PAC or the Sierra Club – at the major organizational meetings where key planning was updated.
Gwen Nystuen, a current member of PAC, told the council that she’d attended the city planning commission meeting when the proposal had been reviewed by planning commissioners and had watched the city council’s treatment of the topic at the first reading. She said that the possible uses for public land could cover almost anything, and wondered if there was any use that was not possible for public land? She couldn’t think of any, she said. But isn’t the use of public land as open space and parks granted special legal status? she asked.
The real question is the standard by which the use is treated. If there’s a piece of land zoned PL, what is the process required in order to build an intermodal transit center on that land? What impediments currently exist, that have prompted the change in PL uses? The only place that she had found transportation facilities elsewhere in the zoning code is under M2 Heavy Industrial District, she said. There were many buffers required for adjacent land uses, she said, and she wondered if those standards would be used or not.
She concluded by reading aloud the first principal use for PL: “Outdoor public recreational uses, such as: playgrounds, playfields, golf courses, boating areas, fishing sites, camping sites, parkways and parks. No structure shall be erected or maintained upon dedicated park land which is not customarily incidental to the principal use of the land.”
Rita Mitchell suggested that the change meant a change from the way that people actually viewed parkland. Residents have different expectations of public land that’s used as a park than they do for other public land. The city hall building, for example, is also public land, she stated, but parkland is different – it’s something meant for recreation, for open space, available for people to come and go freely. The language change reflects an erosion of that expectation, she said.
Mitchell said that in some of the early meetings, it had been acknowledged that there was a need to change the zoning code to allow the Fuller Road Station project to “fit” better into the code. She said that she considered the current path for the project to be a “taking” of parkland from citizens that was intended to be used as open space. She cited the 2008 charter referendum, when voters expressed by an 80% majority that if parkland was to be sold, they wanted to vote on it. She challenged the council to make the case to the voters.
Brad Mikus noted the “such as” pattern to most of the items on the list – “… such as: conservation lands, wildlife sanctuaries, forest preserves.” That contrasts with the item that would swap in a single item “transportation facilities.” What is that, he asked? If the amendment is just for Fuller Road Station, he suggested that they should just change it to “parking deck” – so that the item would read “transportation facilities, such as a municipal airport or a parking deck.”
Introducing himself as a candidate for city council in Ward 5, “the only Republican in Ann Arbor,” was John Floyd. He suggested that if the city council thought that constructing a parking structure in the middle of Fuller Park was a great deal, why didn’t they just sell the land to the university? What’s the point of the city owning the land? he asked. The tortured legal reasoning involved by changing the language wasn’t fooling anyone, he said – the city was effectively selling the land to the university without having a sale. Why would the city want to own the university’s commuter parking lot? The idea that we would change the zoning code’s definition of public land use to avoid the process of selling the land just seems silly, he said.
Beverly Strassmann echoed the remarks made by Rita Mitchell and said that she had a new perspective on Fuller Park. In the fall of 2007, she said, she’d been a patient for two months at the University of Michigan hospital after returning from Africa with an undiagnosed illness. What had helped her get through that difficult time was that she’d looked out her hospital window at the parkland – she’d had a room with a view of the park.
Introducing himself as a candidate for the 18th District state senate seat in the Democratic primary was Thomas Partridge. He suggested that the city and the university could find a better location for the parking deck than the already very congested area of Fuller Road. He is not against a transit station, he said, but was against one at that location.
Public Land Uses: Council Deliberations
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) offered an amendment very much along similar lines as the suggestion from Brad Mikus during public commentary. The replacement language offered an elaboration of examples of what “transportation facilities” might include: ” … such as: municipal airports, train stations, bus stations, bicycle centers, auto and bicycle parking facilities.”
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) clarified with Kevin McDonald of the city attorney’s office that “such as” was not limiting language. Otherwise put, it was not construed as exhaustive of permissible facility types, and there was no limitation.
Mayor John Hieftje then clarified something that had also been discussed at the council’s previous meeting when the ordinance change had been given its first reading – the change in language was not substantial enough that it needed to go back to first reading.
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said he felt that simple use of a generic term was preferable, but had no objections to the “such as” language. However, Derezinski said he wanted to make sure that the minutes of the meeting reflected the belief of the council that the examples were not being given in a limiting way. [Note: The city council's minutes conform to the minimum requirements of the Open Meetings Act, but do not typically include the kind of detail that Derezinski wanted.]
Outcome: The amendment to the resolution as well as the ordinance change itself was unanimously approved.
Required Display of Plans
Before the council for its second reading was an ordinance revision affecting the availability of site plans for public inspection.
Currently, the city code on the approval process requires that up-to-date drawings for site plans be available in the lobby of the city hall 24/7 for a week before public hearings. The proposal recommended by the planning commission would relax the code by deleting the 24/7 requirement and by making clear that there’s not an obligation to continually update the material with any changes that might be made. Material recommended to be deleted is struck through, with proposed added language in italics.
5:135. Public information and hearings.
(2) Area plans, site plans, site plans for Planning Commission approval, PUD site plans, and preliminary plats and land divisions under review shall be displayed in a publicly accessible location in City Hall open to the public 24 hours per day, 7 days each week, for at least 1 week prior to the City Council and Planning Commission public hearings. Plans shall be current at the time of placement and subsequent revisions, if any, shall be available in the planning offices.
The issue had received brief discussion at the council’s previous meeting on June 21, 2010, with Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asking if technologies had been explored to expand accessibility to drawings. [For additional background, which includes how the accessibility requirement factored into a delay for the approval process for the City Place project last year, see Chronicle coverage: "Planning Commission: A Matter of Timing" The timing change referenced in that headline – from strict deadlines for planning commission and city council action, to a "reasonable time" standard – was approved on first reading at the July 6 council meeting, but will need approval on a second reading to be enacted.]
Required Display of Plans: Public Hearing
Thomas Partridge decried the fact that the ordinance revision did not include a provision to ensure that fundamental requirements of affordable housing are included in the city’s ordinances. Mayor John Hieftje admonished Partridge to speak to the topic of the hearing, which was accessibility to site plan drawings. Partridge responded by saying that the issue related to a lack of transparency for site plans that lacked access to affordable housing. Because of the lack of transparency, he said, the city had been able to subvert the needs of residents for accessibility to affordable housing.
Required Display of Plans: Council Deliberations
The council did not deliberate on the resolution.
Outcome: The ordinance change that no longer requires updated site plans to be accessible to the public 24/7 a week before public hearings was unanimously approved.
Residential Parking District
The rationale for establishing Residential Parking Districts is to give residents of an area an advantage over non-residents in competition for street parking. From the city code:
Residential parking districts. If a residential area has excessive parking of vehicles not owned by residents of the area, the Administrator may, after notice to City Council, issue a traffic control order designating a residential parking district. The city shall install signs in a residential parking district indicating that parking time limits do not apply to vehicles with permits.
Before the council was a resolution establishing a residential parking permit program (RPP) in the South University area. The South University Neighborhood Association (SUNA) has not been able to file a petition with 60% signed support, which is required. The staff memo accompanying the resolution attributed the failure to achieve 60% to the low number of long-term residents in the area, and recommended the district be established by waiving the requirement that the association submit a petition request with 60% signed support. [.pdf map of SUNA RPP]
At its June 21 meeting, the council had considered and approved an RPP in the Old Fourth Ward, with a similar rationale for waiving the 60% requirement. [.pdf map of OFW RPP]
The installation of signs for the OFW and SUNA districts will cost $20,985 ($415.55 x 50.5) and $4,156 ($415.55 x 10), respectively. The money will be taken from the city’s unobligated fund balance.
Permits for RPP districts are sold for $50, but only to residents, as defined in the application for a permit:
Residential Parking Permits will only be issued TO APPLICANTS LIVING IN THE AFFECTED AREA. You must show proof that residency has been established by providing a copy of:
1. Motor vehicle registration showing the vehicle is registered in your name (applicant, spouse, or licensed dependent living at address – if last names differ, also provide a copy of birth certificate, marriage license, or other official document supporting request), and
2. One of the Following: a. Current utility bill containing the appropriate name and address. b. Rent or lease agreement containing the appropriate name and address. c. Notarized declaration of residency by the owner or manager of a rental property. d. Driver’s license with the appropriate name and address.
The two residential parking permit programs are being established in connection with the University of Michigan dormitory at Huron and State, slated to open this fall.
During the brief council deliberations, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) described the SUNA parking district as the next area down the ring from the OFW parking district that the council had just put into place. The area has already been heavily impacted with commuter and long-term car storage, she said.
Outcome: The residential parking permit program for SUNA was unanimously approved.
Before the council was an item to authorize $2,548,667 using money from the city’s greenbelt and open space millage to purchase development rights on the Charles F. and Catherine A. Braun property. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Also, New Appraisals Hike City's Cost for Two Properties"]
Mayor John Hieftje asked Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) – who serves on the city’s greenbelt advisory commission – to explain some of the background for the item. Hohnke described the property as one of those that inspired the desire to create the greenbelt program. The property was appraised, he said, and Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) funds were awarded. Delays at the federal level in reviewing the application moved the process past a 12-month window, during which appraisals are required to be current, so a new appraisal was requested. In the interim, property values went down, and the appraisal was reduced. Consequently matching FRPP funds were also reduced, explained Hohnke.
The net impact to the city is $121,000, Hohnke said, or roughly 5% of the budget for the project. The city’s greenbelt advisory commission continues to recommend purchase of the property, he said.
Outcome: The purchase of development rights for the Braun property was unanimously approved.
Before the council was a resolution approving the terms of a collective bargaining agreement for Police Deputy Chiefs Unit, Teamsters Local 214. The contract runs from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011 and was subject to a wage and health care reopener for the final year of the contract.
Highlights from the human resources staff memorandum on the terms:
1. Updated Healthcare Plan to include a High and Low Plan Options, with an increase in deductibles and premiums, an increase to Preventative Care from the current level of $750 to $1000, and an increase in Co-Pays for Mandatory Mail Order Prescriptions to two co-pays for every three months of mail order prescriptions, effective August 1, 2010.
2. Increase in pension contribution to 6% (pre-tax) effective August 1, 2010.
3. Elimination of ICMA 457 match by the City effective July 1, 2010.
4. A $500 HRA contribution for each member effective July 1, 2010.
5. No across the board increase in wages.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said that as chair of the council’s labor committee, he was pleased to see the agreement and the resolution come forward. The terms provide savings to the city, he said, specifically in the area of increasing their own contributions to health care benefits. The health care plan they were voting on, Rapundalo said, is the same one enjoyed by the city’s non-union workers, with the same contribution level. Rapundalo also highlighted the fact that there’ll be an increase in the pension contribution made by employees and no across-the-board increase in wages.
Rapundalo thanked members of the union for stepping up and making sacrifices to help the city work within its budgetary constraints.
Ann Arbor is not unique in the need to achieve savings, Rapundalo reminded his council colleagues. He ticked through several other Michigan cities where safety services personnel had accepted significant percentage decreases in total benefits.
Outcome: The resolution was unanimously approved.
Communications: Parks and Procs
The council continued its pattern of recognizing volunteers who help maintain the city’s parks through the Adopt-a-Park program. On Tuesday, Carrie Hatcher Kay was honored for her work in Waterworks and Maryfield Wildwood parks.
Huron River Day – which will take place at Gallup Park on the Huron River from 12-4 p.m Sunday, July 11, 2010 – was highlighted with a proclamation received by Huron River Day co-founders Shirley Axon and Eunice Burns.
Later, during his communications to the council, city administrator Roger Fraser highlighted the sponsors of the event: DTE Energy Foundation, Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, Whole Foods, University of Michigan Credit Union, Stantec Consulting Services Inc, Bank of Ann Arbor, City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County Drain Commission, Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation, National Wildlife Federation, Huron River Watershed Council, and Huron Clinton Metroparks Authority.
Fraser also highlighted a variety of other activities that day – the Gallup Gallop, a 5K run and walk sponsored by the Ann Arbor Track Club, plus $5 canoe and kayak rentals.
Communications: Single-Stream Recycling
Single-stream recycling had started the previous day, Fraser reported. There’s no longer any need to keep paper separate from containers, he said. Except for #3 plastic, all clean plastic items can go into the curbside pickup program, including plastic yogurt cups. Even lawn furniture and 5-gallon buckets are also now acceptable.
Batteries and motor oil, Fraser said, are no longer accepted as part of the curbside program – however, residents could continue to bring those items to the drop-off station at Ellsworth and Platt.
Later in the evening, mayor John Hieftje made a point in connection with a tangentially-related item that the new $3 entrance fee to the drop-off station would be included in the range of rewards that residents could earn through the new RecycleBank awards program. [RecycleBank will begin Sept. 1, 2010.] Solid waste manager for the city, Tom McMurtie, explained that the fee had been instituted by Recycle Ann Arbor when the county withdrew its funding. Recycle Ann Arbor then chose to not accept city funding, rather than try to distinguish between city residents and non-city residents in assessing an entrance fee.
The new recycling carts will be distributed, starting Friday, July 9 – it’ll take 6-8 weeks for that process to take place. In the meantime, Fraser said, residents can continue to use their dual-stream totes. The totes can continue to be used by residents as they like, or placed in the new recycling carts.
The city has been selected to compete for two $500,000 two-year grants from the Home Depot Foundation as part of the Sustainable Cities Institute program. The city is partnering with the University of Michigan’s Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute on a proposal to make the city’s rental housing stock more energy efficient. There are only four cities competing for the two $500,000 grants, Fraser said.
Speaking to the topic of the impact of the heavy rains from June 6 on the community, Fraser said that the city would be purchasing radar data to understand better how the storm hit the city and what the impact was. It would help to evaluate the sanitary sewer system’s response to the storm and to make decisions about future capital improvement investments, including the footing drain disconnect program and the maintenance of the sanitary sewer system.
Road damages sustained during the storm are being reviewed, Fraser said.
Regarding funding for the replacement of the East Stadium bridges, Fraser reported that the federal TIGER 2 preliminary grant phase is open – those applications are due by July 16. On July 30, the city will find out if they’ll be invited to submit the application for the second phase. A crucial criterion for advancement to the second phase, said Fraser, is the existence of local matching funds. The deadline for the second phase application is Aug. 23, with news expected on approval anticipated by the end of the year. The project is expected to start after the spring thaw in 2011, Fraser said.
Fraser also ticked through a number of road construction projects that are in progress.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo,Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke
Absent: Mike Anglin,
Next council meeting: July 19, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave.