Archive for March, 2011

Ann Arbor Library Frames Tech Issues

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (March 21, 2011): Monday’s meeting of the AADL board included an animated discussion about how digital books are transforming the publishing industry, and the impact those changes are having on public libraries.

Eli Neiburger avatar

The avatar for Eli Neiburger – or click the photo to see how he looks in real life. Neiburger has been named by Library Journal as one of its 2011 Movers & Shakers.

The topic stemmed from a report by AADL director Josie Parker, who described her experience at a recent working group meeting for the Digital Public Library of America. At that invitation-only event, Parker framed the discussion among industry leaders regarding the future of public access to information, from the perspective of public libraries.

It’s an issue highlighted by the decision of two major publishers – Macmillan and Simon & Schuster – not to sell eBooks to public libraries, making more than 25% of the eBook market unavailable to library patrons. More recently, HarperCollins announced restrictions on how libraries can circulate eBooks that it publishes.

Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development, gave a talk on the impact of eBooks at a national summit last fall called “ebooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point” – his presentation can be viewed online. At Monday’s meeting, Parker congratulated him for being named by Library Journal as one of its 2011 Movers & Shakers, in the category of tech leaders.

In another technology-related update, Parker told the board she’s been invited to serve on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‘s public access technology benchmarks program. That workgroup will be developing benchmarks that libraries can use to determine the kind of technology infrastructure they need to deliver services to their communities.

Parker also briefed the board on new standards imposed by the Library of Michigan, which changed how public libraries qualify for state aid. Those standards – originally proposed as rules – are the subject of a lawsuit against the state library, filed by the Herrick District Library in Holland. The AADL has filed an amicus curiae – or “friend of the court” – brief in support of the Herrick library’s position, which charges that the state library has no authority to set these rules, and is taking away local control from district libraries.

Aside from updates made by Parker, the board dispatched with the rest of its business quickly. No one spoke during the time available for public commentary. [Full Story]


Slauson play field. Crowd of people at west end. Man with cymbals (and no gloves) at east end.

Column: The Fab Five’s Real Leaders

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The past two Sundays, ESPN has been running a documentary called “The Fab Five,” about Michigan’s famed five freshman basketball players who captured the public’s imagination twenty years ago. It’s not quite journalism – four of the Fab Five produced it themselves – but it is a pretty honest account of what those two years were all about. And it is undeniably compelling. The first showing reached over two million homes, making it the highest rated documentary in ESPN’s history.

A lot of this story, you already know: In 1991, five super-talented freshmen came to Michigan, and by mid-season the Wolverines were the first team in NCAA history to start five freshmen. They got to the final game of March Madness before losing to the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils. The next year, they made it to the finals again, but this time they lost to North Carolina when Michigan’s best player, Chris Webber, called a time-out they didn’t have.

Along the way they made baggy shorts and black socks fashionable, and imported rap music and trash talk from the inner-city playgrounds to the college courts. It’s been that way ever since. [Full Story]


The Detroit News reports that the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an Ann Arbor family whose young son was put in foster care after his father, UM professor Christopher Ratté, gave him a Mike’s Hard Lemonade at a 2008 Detroit Tigers game – not knowing it was an alcoholic beverage. From the report: “According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the state’s standard for the emergency removal of children is unconstitutional because it does not require state officials to prove that the child is in immediate danger.” [Source]

Washtenaw: Mackinac

Crain’s Detroit Business reports that the 2011 Mackinac Policy Conference – hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber and which traditionally features the mayor of Detroit and the executives of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties – this year will also include the chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Conan Smith. The event, which runs from June 1-3 on Mackinac Island, will also feature a keynote address by Gov. Rick Snyder. Both Snyder and Smith are Ann Arbor residents. [Source]

Ann Arbor Gives Initial OK to Pot Licenses

Ann Arbor city council meeting (March 21, 2011): In its highest profile business of the evening, the council finally gave its initial approval to a licensing plan for medical marijuana businesses.

Susan Pollay, Sandi Smith, Margie Teall

Susan Pollay, left, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, with councilmembers Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Margie Teall (Ward 4, sitting) before the start of the March 21 council meeting. Pollay was distributing copies of the downtown street outreach task force report. (Photos by the writer.)

The council has now been formally considering the new licensing ordinance for three months. The ordinance will next come before the council at its Tuesday, April 19 meeting for final approval. Also on April 19, the council will take a final vote on a zoning ordinance that would apply to medical marijuana businesses. The moratorium on use of property in the city for medical marijuana businesses – originally enacted on Aug. 5, 2010 to last for 120 days, but subsequently extended – was extended again at Monday’s meeting through June 30, 2011. [.pdf of medical marijuana licensing ordinance as amended on March 21, 2011]

In a lower-profile but logistically significant move, the council voted to move its second meeting of April from Monday to Tuesday, April 19, because sundown on that Monday marks the start of the week-long Passover celebration in the Jewish tradition.

Other business conducted by the council included: (1) approving a recommendation for non-renewal of a liquor license for the Fifth Quarter; (2) authorizing transfer of $90,000 to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to improve a public plaza near the Forest Street parking structure; (3) setting a public hearing to establish an industrial development district that could lead to tax abatements for the firm Sakti3; (4) authorizing a letter of support for a Washtenaw County grant application to the state for acquisition of a natural area; and (5) authorizing the city’s own application to the state for grants to support park improvement projects and a new skatepark.

Council deliberations on the park improvement grant applications resulted in the prioritization of a grant to support construction of the skatepark over one to support improvements to the Gallup park canoe livery. The city hopes both grants will be approved by the state.

The council also heard a presentation on a plan for the Millers Creek area, and later in its meeting adopted the plan. It could eventually lead to establishing the creekshed formally as a “drain,” in the sense that the county water resources commissioner (formerly the drain commissioner) uses the term. That designation will increase the area’s eligibility for various funding mechanisms to pay for projects there.

The council heard a presentation from its street outreach task force, summarizing its work over the last six months. That work includes a proposed revision to the city’s panhandling ordinance, which the council will begin considering at its April 4 meeting.

The council also passed a resolution establishing a search committee for a new city administrator. The committee will bring a recommendation to the council at its April 19 meeting on an interim administrator, who will assume responsibilities when current city administrator Roger Fraser departs at the end of April.

The city’s IT director, Dan Rainey, was on hand to receive a Digital Cities award recognizing the city’s efforts to improve services through digital technology. Fraser mentioned during his communications time that the council’s meetings are now being streamed live over the Internet: CTN Channel 16 Live. [Full Story]

A2: Food

Mark Hodesh, owner of Ann Arbor’s Downtown Home & Garden, has launched a website for his newest venture, Mark’s Carts. The “food cart pod” will be located in a plaza next to DHG on Washington Street, between First and Ashley. Multiple food carts will be operting there daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., starting in April and running through November. Hodesh is looking for addition vendors, particularly selling Indian cuisine, Jamaican cuisine, or wood-fired pizza. An application form can be downloaded from the website. [Source]

Washtenaw: Census 2010

Detailed Census 2010 data was released for Michigan on Tuesday. In Washtenaw County, the population grew from 322,895 people in 2000 to 344,791 people in 2010. The population of Ann Arbor dropped 0.6% to 113,934. Census data will be the basis for redistricting the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – the committee charged with that task will meet for the first time on March 31 at 5:30 p.m. in the lower conference room of 200 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. For more details on that process, see Chronicle coverage: “County Clerk Outlines Redistricting Process.” [Source] [Excel spreadsheet with population data for Michigan municipalities, including those in Washtenaw County]

Fifth & William

Emergency vehicles gathering at the big dig site … again …

Washtenaw County Board Sets Priorities

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 16, 2011): The bulk of last week’s county board meeting focused on mostly minor revisions to a document that outlines the board’s strategic priorities for setting the county’s 2012-2013 budget. It’s the culmination of several board retreats held over the past two months.

Conan Smith, Rolland Sizemore Jr.

Washtenaw County commissioners Conan Smith and Rolland Sizemore Jr. confer before the start of the March 16, 2011 board meeting.

The discussion – along with the priorities themselves – highlighted the fact that county government will need to operate with diminished resources, making investments in a more targeted, strategic way. The budget priorities and decision-making principles developed by the board are intended to guide the county staff as they work to eliminate a projected $20.9 million deficit over the next two years.

The document gives guidance to the county administration to support programs that help residents feel safe and secure, that address the basic needs of children and families, and that increase economic opportunities for residents. The administration is also directed to integrate efforts across agencies to meet the county’s strategic priorities, and to ensure fiscal responsibility by focusing on long-term institutional stability.

Board chair Conan Smith, who led this year’s retreats and who drafted the budget priority document, told his colleagues that unless they make hard decisions to address the county’s structural deficit, they’ll be having these same discussions every two years. [The county operates on a two-year budget cycle.] Their decisions will have a human impact, he said – two-thirds of the county’s budget relates to personnel costs, and Smith didn’t think they could find enough non-personnel cuts to overcome the projected deficit.

Philosophical issues also surfaced during Wednesday’s discussion. Democrat Yousef Rabhi objected to a sentence stating that when the county emerges from this economic crisis, it should be smaller. Despite current rhetoric, smaller government isn’t necessarily better government, he argued. But he agreed with Republican commissioner Rob Turner that streamlining the county’s work was important, and that streamlining doesn’t mean the impact of county services will be reduced.

Kristin Judge raised concerns over a clause stating that mandated programs should initially be funded at their minimum serviceability level. She felt the language was too strong, and that the board shouldn’t be asking other elected officials – including the sheriff and judiciary – to start at that baseline level. Smith argued that elected officials, department heads and other staff are best suited to make decisions about which mandated programs and services deserve more funding – the minimum level is just a starting point.

The document is intended to give high-level guidance to the county administration, and at times during the discussion some commissioners expressed frustration that the board was too focused on wordsmithing. At one point, Wes Prater observed that they seemed to be arguing over “not much at all.” [Full Story]

A2: Lansing

The Detroit Free Press is among many media outlets to report on Gov. Rick Snyder’s memo sent today to the state legislature, outlining his plans for local government reforms. From the report: “Snyder has called for reducing revenue-sharing aid to local communities by about 30%. The remaining $200 million would be given out based on their willingness to take steps to cut costs and make their finances more visible to the public. The cut would not affect the $700 million that would be distributed to local governments under a constitutional requirement.” [Source] [.pdf file of Snyder's memo]

Sakti3 Development District Hearing Set

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to set a public hearing on the establishment of an industrial development district (IDD), which could lead to tax abatements for Sakti3. The company is a University of Michigan spin-off focused on advanced battery technology, headed by Ann Marie Sastry. The IDD would be established for just under an acre of land, located at 1490 Eisenhower Place. Sakti3 is reportedly considering an investment of $2.4 million in new equipment and hopes to hire five additional people.

The hearing will be held at the council’s April 4, 2011 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall at 100 N. Fifth Avenue. [Previous Chronicle coverage mentioning Sakti3: "No Secret Sakti3 Wants Its Batteries in Cars" and "Lutz Rides Current Motors Potential"]

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Supports Applications to MDNRE

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to approve three grant applications to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE). For two of the grants – for improvements to the Gallup livery and park and for the proposed skatepark at Veteran’s Memorial Park –  the city is applying to MDNRE’s Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. For the third grant, the city is applying to MDNRE’s Waterway Grant-in-Aid to upgrade the boat launches at Gallup and Argo parks. The city’s park advisory commission recommended approval of the applications at its most recent meeting. ["PAC Supports Grants for Skatepark, Gallup"]

An amendment offered by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) prioritized the skatepark project over the Gallup renovations – based on the opportunity to leverage $400,000 of matching funds from the county, which will soon expire.

At the same meeting, the city council also acted on a recommendation from Ann Arbor’s greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) to send a letter of support for an application from Washtenaw County to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. Through its natural areas preservation program, the county hopes to secure matching funds from the state to help purchase a parcel in Ann Arbor Township now owned by a subsidiary of Domino’s Farms.

At its most recent meeting, GAC had recommended that the city council consider a letter of support, after Hohnke, the council’s representative to GAC, had cautioned against GAC’s sending such a letter letter before confirming that the county’s application would not dilute the city’s own chances to win grant funding. [Chronicle coverage: "Greenbelt, County Look to Partner on Farms"]

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow:[link] [Full Story]

A2: Music

Plans are underway for a May 1 Water Hill Music Fest, described on its website as a “one-of-a-kind music festival featuring residents of the Water Hill neighborhood of Ann Arbor, Michigan, performing on their front porches for other neighbors and visitors who stroll from house to house.” The event will run from 2-6 p.m. in the neighborhood that includes Spring, Fountain and Brooks streets, northwest of downtown Ann Arbor. [Source]

“Transformer Plaza” Money OK’d by Council

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized the transfer of $90,000 from its parks memorials and contributions fund to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The money will be used by the DDA for the design and construction management of improvements to a plaza near the Forest Street parking structure. Because of the number of DTE transformers that are situated near the plaza, it’s known in some circles as Transformer Plaza.

The $90,000 figure stems from the $50,000 and $40,000 contributions made to the parks fund by the 601 S. Forest and Zaragon I developments, respectively, which are located in the vicinity of the plaza. As part of any site plan review process in the city of Ann Arbor, developers are asked to make a donation of land so that new residents have access to adequate open space. But the city also accepts cash donations in lieu of land contributions.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Council OKs Property Transfer to Avalon

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to approve the transfer of the property at 1500 Pauline from the Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp. (WAHC) to Avalon Housing. The council also approved the release of WAHC from all terms of their $700,000 federal HOME loan, $300,000 federal CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) loan and Housing Affordability Agreement. Avalon is currently managing all of WAHC’s properties as part of a consolidation, described as a “merger,” that began two years ago.

At its Feb. 22, 2011 meeting the city council approved a site plan for the 1500 Pauline property, allowing Avalon to construct 32 dwelling units and 39 surface parking spaces. The plan includes demolition of four existing apartment buildings – known as the Parkhurst Apartment complex – containing 48 units. The new construction would include six new buildings totaling 53,185 square feet. Five of the buildings would include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and three-bedroom townhomes. The sixth building would be a community center with a playground. The project won a recommendation from the city’s planning commission at that body’s Jan. 20, 2011 meeting.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Schedules Final Pot Votes

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council scheduled the second and final votes on its medical marijuana business licensing scheme and its medical marijuana zoning ordinance for its April 19, 2011 meeting. The moratorium on the use of property in the city as a medical marijuana dispensary or a medical marijuana cultivation facility was extended from March 31, 2011 to June 30, 2011.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Sets City Admin Hiring Plan

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution calling on the mayor to appoint a five-member city council committee, which is to include the mayor, to handle the search process to find a replacement for outgoing city administrator Roger Fraser. Fraser announced his resignation at the council’s Feb. 28, 2011 working session. At the end of April, Fraser will leave the city to become a deputy treasurer for the state of Michigan.

In addition to mayor John Hieftje, the following councilmembers will serve on the committee: Sabra Briere (Ward 1); Christopher Taylor (Ward 3); Marcia Higgins (Ward 4); Tony Derezinski (Ward 2). Higgins will chair the committee.

The committee is charged with providing a recommendation to the council at its second meeting in April for an interim city administrator. At that meeting, the committee is also expected to present a plan for a selection process for hiring a permanent administrator, which is to provide for internal as well as external candidates. Hieftje said he hoped to conclude the process by mid-summer.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Shifts Meeting for Passover

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to revise its regular meeting schedule for the year by changing its second meeting in April to Tuesday, April 19. The shift was prompted by observation of Passover, the week-long Jewish festival and holy day, which is celebrated on sundown on Monday, April 18.

The council is expected to have returned to its chambers on the second floor of city hall for the April 19 meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor: Pot Non-Disclosure Not Needed

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council did not consider a policy on non-disclosure of certain information, like names and birth dates for patients and caregivers, that might be collected in the course of the zoning and licensing process for medical marijuana businesses.

Because the medical marijuana licensing ordinance that received initial approval that same evening ultimately did not include the collection of any personal information, the resolution was withdrawn by its sponsor, Sabra Briere (Ward 1). The non-disclosure policy had been discussed, but postponed, at the council’s March 7, 2011 meeting.

The resolution had originally been introduced by Briere in the context of the council’s current work on zoning and licensing ordinances for medical marijuana businesses – legislation that has not yet been given final approval by the council. [.pdf of original draft resolution]

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Marijuana Licenses: Initial OK by Ann Arbor

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council finally took its first vote on a set of licensing requirements for medical marijuana businesses. All new ordinances require a second and final vote by the city council after a formal public hearing. The council had first considered the licensing scheme at its Dec. 6, 2010 meeting.

The council undertook several amendments to the licensing proposal at three of its meetings over the last three months: on Jan. 3, Feb. 7 and March 7. It also amended the ordinance on March 21, most notably to include a requirement that dispensaries maintain records for 180 days one year using unique alpha-numeric identifiers for patients and caregivers, different from the Michigan Dept. of Public Health registry numbers.

At its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting, the  council gave its initial approval to a set of zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses, but it has not yet given its final approval to those regulations. The council’s strategy is to bring licensing and zoning forward at the same time for a final vote.

The context for development of zoning regulations was set at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, when councilmembers voted to impose a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities, and directed its planning commission to develop zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses. Subsequently, the city attorney’s office also began working on a licensing system.

The moratorium on using additional facilities in the city as medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities – first enacted on Aug. 5, 2010 and subsequently extended – was extended a second time by the council at its Jan. 18 meeting to go through March 31, 2011. When this brief was filed, the council had taken a recess and had not yet voted on extending the moratorium.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow. [Full Story]

Street Task Force: “Have a Heart, Give Smart”

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council heard a presentation from its street outreach task force, which the council appointed at its Sept. 20, 2010 meeting and charged with developing cost effective recommendations for addressing the issue of downtown panhandling and the needs of those who panhandle. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Task Force Consults Panhandlers"]

Highlights of the report include recommendations that: (1) the city council revise the city’s ordinance on solicitation to prohibit panhandling in additional locations; (2) the police chief increase police attention downtown during the busiest hours of the week; (3) the city’s community standards division increase their interaction with the public; and (4) the mayor’s downtown marketing task force take an expanded role working with residents, merchants and service providers.

The task force report describes an educational campaign to advise downtown visitors and University of Michigan students about options they have besides giving money to panhandlers, a campaign with the slogan “Have a Heart, Give Smart.” [.pdf of street outreach task force report]

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AAPS Board Gets Briefed on Budget

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (March 16, 2011): The highlight of last week’s meeting was a presentation from interim superintendent Robert Allen on the many budget and funding issues the district faces in the coming years.

Allen told board members that the district faces a $15 million shortfall in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. That figure assumes the special education millage, on the ballot for May 3, will be renewed. If voters don’t approve the millage renewal, the deficit could grow to nearly $21 million.

During the meeting, board members criticized Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed state budget, which calls for cuts to K-12 education. They cautioned that his focus on business tax cuts would undermine the quality of public education in the state. “I don’t think most people want education ravaged in order to fund a huge business tax cut,” trustee Glenn Nelson said. “We need to shout this story from the rooftops.”

Allen will be giving an expanded report on the budget situation to the public from 6:30-8 p.m. on Monday, March 21 at the Pioneer High School cafeteria annex. The board also discussed setting up a time to meet with state legislators, to discuss their concerns about the state budget proposals.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, board president Deb Mexicotte reported that the district is close to wrapping up contract negotiations with Patricia Green, the board’s choice to become the district’s next superintendent. She hoped to provide additional details soon, including a potential start date. [Full Story]

A2: Zingerman’s

A one-minute video on YouTube compresses six hours of work moving the Zingerman’s Deli Annex building off its foundation earlier this month, as part of the Ann Arbor company’s expansion. The building, which was rolled to another part of the site, will be renovated as part of the project. [Source]

Packard Square, Fraternity Site Plans OK’d

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 15, 2011): Commissioners spent more than 90 minutes on Tuesday discussing a project that could transform the site of the former Georgetown Mall, which has been sitting vacant for well over a year.

Eric Mahler

Eric Mahler, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission. He cautioned developers of Packard Square not to try to undersell the size of their project. (Photos by the writer.)

Despite concerns raised by some commissioners, as well as residents who spoke during a public hearing, the planning commission ultimately voted to recommend approval of the site plan and development agreement for Packard Square, a complex off of Packard Street. The plan calls for 230 apartments and 23,790-square-feet of retail space in a single building.

The commission also recommended approval of two other site plans: (1) at 630 Oxford, between South University and Hill, where the University of Michigan chapter of Phi Kappa Psi plans to convert a rental duplex  into a fraternity house for up to 24 occupants; and (2) at 215 N. Fifth, where owners want to tear down the former Bessenberg Bindery building and construct a two-story, single-family house.

All votes were unanimous. The three site plans will now be considered by the Ann Arbor city council for final approval. [Full Story]