Archive for December, 2010


9 p.m. New Year’s Eve. Limousines parked with motors running at Liberty & 2nd, Liberty & 1st. Outdoor diners at the Fleetwood. Best dressed people on Main between Liberty and William, drunks already on Washington between Ashley and Main. Happy New Year!

Ann Arbor Task Force Consults Panhandlers

Editor’s note: At its Sept. 20, 2010 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council reappointed a downtown street outreach task force – aka the “panhandling task force” – which had existed in the early 2000s. The current group’s charge is to work for no longer than six months to identify cost-effective ways to achieve better enforcement of the city’s ordinance against panhandling, and to provide help to panhandlers who are addicted to drugs.

The sum of one panhandler's afternoon collection on Dec. 31, 2010 on the sidewalk next to Border's Bookstore on East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor. (Photo by Dave Askins.)

Now that the task force is roughly halfway through that six-month period, The Chronicle attended its December meeting to check in on the group’s work.

You buy local, think global, pay it forward, recycle. You’re a good person.

So how do you respond to a panhandler? Is opening your wallet helping someone in need? Or is it enabling an addiction? Can you look the other way and still consider yourself compassionate?

At the Dec. 15 meeting of the city’s panhandling task force, three paid consultants gave their perspective on the issue – as panhandlers. Geoffrey Scott said he enjoys talking to the people almost as much as he appreciates the money they give him.

But one member of the city’s panhandling task force says people don’t realize the damage they do in the name of kindness. [Full Story]

A2: Borders

MarketWatch reports that stock for Ann Arbor-based Borders Group dropped as much as 22% Friday – to under $1 a share – following news that the bookstore chain has postponed payment to some vendors to conserve cash. [Source]

Column: My Stomach Problem … And Ours

The recent unpleasantness in my gastrointestinal tract, which sent me on a search for painkillers one Saturday night a few months back, has finally started to heal.

Happy New Year Champagne Glasses Ann Arbor

Cheers! Here's to a bran new year!

After four months, the cramps, gas, bloating and diarrhea are fading away. During those long 16 weeks, from August to December, I was treated to what seemed like every antibiotic in the modern medicine cabinet, attempting to get an inflammation in my gut under control.

None of them worked.

I finally got better after modifying my diet, as instructed by a helpful physician’s assistant to one of the GI specialists I consulted. I had to go gluten-free for a couple of weeks, and also cut out a lot of gas-producing foods that you would normally think are rather healthy: beans, tofu, asparagus, broccoli and so on.

Now that I’m better, the sage doctors at the University of Michigan Health System are proposing – quite emphatically – to knock me unconscious, cut open my stomach, and forcibly remove a substantial piece of my large intestine. [Full Story]

Carey & Depot

Gandy Dancer is hopping tonight. Bentley outside being valet parked.

A2: Street Court

The Detroit Free Press profiles the Street Outreach Court program, created by Ann Arbor 15th District Court Judge Elizabeth Hines. From the report: “In this court, homeless people with unpaid tickets, fines and warrants out for their arrests are referred by social service agencies, such as Catholic Social Services. Working with the agency and the court, the defendants put together an action plan to find housing, to get treatment for any substance-abuse problems they have and to obtain job training and employment. Hines created the court after realizing that many destitute people appearing before her often were hampered further by fines, court costs and fees that they never would be able to pay.” [Source]

A2: Public Market

The city of Ann Arbor is seeking to fill several positions on its five-member public market advisory commission, a volunteer group that meets monthly and advises the city council, park advisory commission, and market manager. Applications are available to download on the commission’s website and should be sent to the office of the mayor, who makes the nominations that city council approves. [Source]

Drop Off Station

Ann Arbor Recycling Center Christmas Tree Drop Off Station – two lonely trees already dropped off. Bah humbug!

UM Campus

6:30 p.m. Walked the entire length of the Diag sidewalk from East U. & South U. corner to North U. & State corner without seeing one single person anywhere on campus. Spooky.

Main Street

Most restaurants and other businesses are closed, but Kai Garden is packed with a waiting line. Christmas night, and apparently at least some people are in search of dinner out.

Ann Arbor Chronicle Holiday Greeting 2010

Dear Ann Arbor Chronicle readers,

To those of you who celebrate Christmas, we hope that Santa finally brought you that sled you’ve been wishing for all these years. Merry Christmas from The Ann Arbor Chronicle. It’s getting more and more difficult to find suitable presents for readers – it seems like you have everything already. Something you don’t have after the jump.


Mary and Dave [Full Story]

Arbor Dog Daycare Returns – and Prevails

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Dec. 21, 2010): More than a year after making their initial request, the owners of Arbor Dog Daycare were granted a special exception use on Tuesday, allowing the South Main Street business to expand.

Chris Cheng, Jon Svoboda

Chris Cheng, left, of the Ann Arbor planning staff talks with Jon Svoboda, co-owner of Arbor Dog Daycare. (Photos by the writer.)

Several conditions were added, including requirements related to the number of dogs allowed outside, and action to be taken if there’s continuous barking. Noise concerns had been a reason cited by commissioners who previously voted against the request.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the commission granted a special exception use and approved the site plan for Allen Creek Preschool, which plans to tear down an existing house and build a larger one at its Franklin Street location.

Commissioners also heard several updates and communications, including a request for feedback on a draft resolution regarding a proposed development agreement between the city and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Puts CIA Into First Gear

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Dec. 20, 2010): The city council’s last meeting of the year included a somber piece of news, delivered by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4): Peter Pollack, familiar to many in the community as a landscape architect and stalwart public servant in various capacities, had entered hospice care. Pollack passed away later that night.


During a break in the meeting, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) – seated at the right of the frame – came across the table to work on the wording of the Washtenaw CIA resolution. Standing, from right to left, are city attorney Stephen Postema, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Terri Blackmore of WATS (Washtenaw Area Transportation Study.) (Photos by the writer.)

In its main business of the evening, the council approved a resolution of intent to coordinate with Pittsfield Charter Township, Ypsilanti Charter Township and the city of Ypsilanti to explore the establishment of a corridor improvement authority (CIA) along Washtenaw Avenue.

The initiative would take advantage of Michigan’s Corridor Improvement Authority Act to create a tax increment finance (TIF) district. A possible timeline for establishing the CIA would include public hearings in early 2011, formation of the CIA and appointment of its members in mid-2011, with development and approval of the corridor development plan by late 2011.

The vote on the resolution of intent came after intense scrutiny of the resolution’s wording to ensure that it conformed with the requirements of the state enabling statute, while also addressing councilmembers’ concerns that the language not inappropriately suggest that the establishment of the CIA was further along than it actually is.

Several members of the public addressed the council at the public hearing on the adoption of the Michigan Vehicle Code and the Uniform Traffic Code. The adoption of the two codes is motivated by the city’s desire to make its speed limits legally enforceable. As the extensive public commentary and council deliberations reflected, the challenge is to set speed limits in a way that is legally enforceable but has adequate consideration for non-motorized users of roadways.

The council voted to adopt the two codes, after having given initial approval at its Dec. 6, 2010 meeting. However, amendments to the language used to adopt the two codes made at Monday’s meeting were substantial enough that the proposed ordinance revision was reset to its first reading stage. All ordinances must be approved at a first and second reading before the council.

Attached as a communication to the council’s agenda was an item that will likely receive a great deal of discussion early next year – a draft of a city council resolution that would specify how the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority will go about facilitating development of downtown Ann Arbor surface parking lots. A key resolved clause of the draft resolution, apparently meant to address a historical point of friction between the city and the DDA, would require the city to reimburse the DDA for some of its expenses under certain scenarios.

Also at the meeting, in response to a report from the Environmental Working Group that the carcinogen hexavalent chromium had been detected in Ann Arbor’s drinking water – along with that of several other communities – city administrator Roger Fraser gave the city’s take on the study. [Chronicle coverage of that issue: "Context for Chemical in Ann Arbor Water"]  [Full Story]

UM: Big House

The Detroit News reports that Dave Brandon, UM’s athletic director, plans to rent Michigan Stadium for weddings, parties and corporate events. After renovation, Crisler Arena and Yost Arena might be available too. Brandon told The News: “To families, individuals, corporations who would have an interest in using them for events that would be special. This stadium is one of the assets we have. We have this beautiful structure that’s being used predominantly seven days a year. If we can come up with occasional opportunities to host other events that will draw the attention of folks and will be interesting and fun and financially viable, we’d love to do it.” [Source]

A2: Tax Evasion

The Detroit Free Press reports that Ann Arbor businessman Andrew Park has pled guilty to evading over $301,000 in federal taxes. Park was one of the owners of the Asian Village, a commercial project centered in Detroit. Park did not report $898,000 of his income from the Asian Village and two other businesses. Two of his companies also accepted $4 million in federal funds to install security cameras in Detroit, but the project was never finished. Park will most likely be sentenced to 24 to 30 months in prison, according to the report. [Source]

UM: Michigan Census

The Christian Science Monitor reports on the U.S. Census results for Michigan, which is the only state to show a population drop over the past decade. The article quotes UM business professor Gerald Meyers: “The good people are the ones who flee first because they can go, they have talent, they have enough in the way of resources, and they have possibility of finding a job someplace else. It’s the people who are least skilled and who are least educated who have to hang around. They can’t sell their house, they’re just stuck.” [Source]

UM: Entrepreneur

The Detroit Free Press reports that University of Michigan senior Allen Kim won the College Entrepreneur of 2010 award, presented by Entrepreneur magazine. Kim’s business, Bebarang, was pitched as an online baby clothing rental store, similar in concept to Netflix. While Kim has known about his win since mid-September, he was not able to reveal it until Tuesday, when the magazine announced its winners. Kim hopes to make his business a full-time job when he graduates in the spring: “I’ve always been an entrepreneur by heart. I really wanted to do something that I truly believe in.” [Source]

Ann Arbor Library Weighs In On Lawsuit

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Dec. 20, 2010): The AADL board spent much of their December meeting focused on a statewide issue with local implications: New rules issued by the Library of Michigan are being challenged in court. The board ultimately voted to file an amicus curiae – or “friend of the court” – brief in support of the Herrick District Library in Holland, which filed suit against the state library. At stake are broader issues of local control, which officials at local public libraries believe would be eroded if the new rules are allowed. The new rules change how libraries qualify for state aid.

The board also got brief updates on plans to deal with the downtown library building and with the parking deal being negotiated between the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Monday’s meeting wrapped up with a farewell to Carola Stearns, the outgoing board member whose term concludes at the end of the year. [Full Story]

Context for Chemical in Ann Arbor Water

On Monday, Dec. 20, 2010, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released results of a study it conducted, which sampled water in 35 American cities. The EWG tested the samples for hexavalent chromium, a toxic kind of chromium used in several industrial processes, but also occurring naturally in low levels.

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Rebecca Sutton – the principal investigator for the EWG study – said the goal of the sampling was not to try to characterize the water supply of any community over any period of time – only one sample was taken in each city. In Ann Arbor, that sample came from a residence.

The group found hexavalent chromium in 31 of the 36 samples collected. In 25 of those samples, the levels of hexavalent chromium were higher than a public health goal that has been proposed by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) in California: 0.06 parts per billion (ppb).

Ann Arbor is among the communities that had a sample with a hexavalent chromium level higher than 0.06 ppb. The level in Ann Arbor’s sample was 0.21 ppb – roughly three times the proposed public health goal in California. [For a complete list of cities tested and their levels of hexavalent chromium – also known as chromium-6 – see the EWG report.]

So what’s at risk here? How did Ann Arbor wind up on the EWG’s list to test? And once Ann Arbor was on the list, how did EWG get a water sample to test? [Full Story]

Allen Creek Preschool Plan Gets OK

At their Dec. 21, 2010 meeting, Ann Arbor planning commissioners recommended approval of a special exception use and site plan for the Allen Creek Preschool. The plan calls for demolishing the existing preschool building and constructing a new 1,101-square-foot preschool building in a residentially zoned district on the 0.26-acre parcel at 1515 Franklin St.

This brief was filed during the planning commission meeting at city council chambers. A more detailed account of the meeting will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Planning Commission OKs Arbor Dog Daycare

At its Dec. 21, 2010 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission voted unanimously to grant a special exception use that will allow for the expansion of Arbor Dog Daycare, a business located at 2856 S. Main St., near the corner of Eisenhower. Commissioners had initially rejected the proposal at their Sept. 21 meeting, due to concerns about noise generated by dogs using the outdoor dog run.

Then at the commission’s Oct. 5 meeting, owners Jon and Margaret Svoboda had asked that their request be reconsidered, and commissioners voted unanimously to take up the proposal again at the Oct. 19 meeting. At that meeting, it was tabled so that staff could explore possible conditions – such as an annual review or written policy requirement – that could be added to the special exception use to address the problem of continuously barking dogs. The vote on Tuesday was unanimous in favor of granting the special exception use, with a set of conditions that included a provision that no more than 15 dogs shall be allowed in the outside dog run at any one time.

This brief was filed during the planning commission meeting at city council chambers. A more detailed account of the meeting will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AAPS Pursues Tenure Charges Against Two

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Dec. 15, 2010): At Wednesday’s meeting, the AAPS board of education voted unanimously to pursue tenure charges against two teachers – high school orchestra teacher Christopher Mark and elementary classroom teacher William Harris.

Chris Mark conducts a rehearsal Monday afternoon of the Huron High symphony orchestra.

This early 2009 Chronicle file photo shows Christopher Mark as he conducts a rehearsal of the Huron High symphony orchestra. (Photo links to Jan. 12, 2009 Chronicle article about a visit from lead violinist for the Guarneri String Quartet, Arnold Steinhardt.)

In neither case did the board explain its reasoning or share any details of their investigation. However, public commentary about Mark’s case revealed the board’s concern that Mark had engaged in a possibly inappropriate relationship with a woman when she was a student at Huron High School five years ago. Mark and the woman are currently dating.

Also at the meeting, AAPS interim superintendent Robert Allen presented a draft of proposed changes to the district’s strategic plan. Three of the eight original action teams for the plan, each centered on a core strategy, have been asked to reconvene from January to March of 2011 to clarify the focus of their work in light of the proposed changes. Finalized updates to the strategic plan will be presented in April 2011 for board approval.

A number of additional actions were taken by the board at the meeting, including adoption of a set of principles to be used in drafting education reform legislation. The principles will now be shared with other local districts in the hopes of presenting a unified set of suggestions to legislative representatives early in 2011. [Full Story]

UM Regents Approve Building Projects

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Dec. 17, 2010): Only two regents were physically present at Friday’s board meeting, which had been rescheduled from Thursday so that university officials could attend the funeral of Mark Pescovitz. The husband of Ora Pescovitz, who leads the University of Michigan Health System, died earlier this month in a car accident.

Mary Sue Coleman

University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, chairing the Dec. 17 board of regents meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Despite some logistical challenges presented by a conference call format – which allowed the other regents to participate remotely – the board dispatched with its last meeting of 2010 in 20 minutes. They approved the schematic designs for two major building projects: a renovation of the Alice Lloyd Hall student dorm, and an addition to the G.G. Brown mechanical engineering building. Regents also authorized the university to guarantee a portion of the debt to be incurred by Merit Network, a nonprofit that provides Internet services for research, government and educational entities. The debt is related to a $102.9 million federal stimulus grant awarded to Merit.

As an information item, the regents received an annual report on leases that the university holds for space over 50,000 square feet. Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, reported that leased space compared to a year ago is essentially flat. While some units have moved out of leased space and into the North Campus Research Complex – the former Pfizer site – other leases have expanded. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs $5M in Sewage Bonds

At its Dec. 20, 2010 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized the notice of intent to issue $5 million worth of sewage disposal bonds. The money would be used to fund improvements in the city’s sanitary sewer system, including the city’s effort to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows by disconnecting residential and business foundation footing drains. [See previous Chronicle coverage: "Drain Disconnect Time for Homeowners"]

This brief was filed from the city council chambers. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow: [link] [Full Story]