Archive for June, 2011

Photos: Scenes from Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch

If you’re in downtown Ann Arbor around noon on Thursdays, there’s a good chance you’ll at least stroll by Liberty Plaza for Sonic Lunch, a free summer concert series featuring local musicians.

Ann Arbor Sonic Lunch June 30 2011

Misty Lyn & The Big Beautiful at the June 30, 2011 Sonic Lunch in downtown Ann Arbor.

This week, Misty Lyn & The Big Beautiful – including Jim Roll on bass, Matt Jones on drums, Carol Gray on fiddle and tambourine, and Ryan Gimpert on guitar – filled the plaza with a soulful, folk-rock sound.

But part of the show for these lunchtime events is always the crowd itself. The Chronicle was there taking photos, and spotted many familiar faces – how many people do you know, too? We’ve supplied fake quotes in some of the captions to help with the challenge.

Cracked slab segue alert: Readers who attended the Sonic Lunch on Thursday will probably have arrived there by foot, more specifically by walking along a sidewalk. Sidewalks are one focus of a very short survey being conducted by the city of Ann Arbor. Take it here: Sidewalk survey. [Full Story]

Main & William

A man clutching a couple dozen multi-colored balloons, walking down the street with an elderly couple.

UM: Affordability

The U.S. Dept. of Education has released its College Affordability and Transparency lists, which track tuition costs among the top and bottom 5% of four-year and two-year schools. The University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus is on the list of four-year institutions with the highest net prices – $16,888 compared to a national average of $10,747. Net price is the cost of attendance, minus grant and scholarship aid. [Source]

No Consensus on Residential Zoning Changes

A committee that’s worked for a year and a half to develop recommendations for zoning changes in Ann Arbor’s near-downtown residential neighborhoods has been unable to reach agreement. So it’s now likely that the city’s planning commission will weigh in on the controversial issue. The outcome of changes – if approved by the city council – could affect the density of residential development in the city.

R4C City of Ann Arbor Zoning

The dark red areas are those areas zoned R4C in the city of Ann Arbor. (Image links to Google Map)

At a recent working session, planning commissioners were briefed on a draft report from the R4C/R2A advisory committee, which has been meeting since December 2009. Both kinds of zoning district were established in the 1960s: R4C allows for multiple-family residential dwellings, such as apartment buildings, while R2A zoning limits density to two-family residential structures. The committee was unable to reach consensus on its recommendations, nearly all of which relate to the R4C districts.

At the June 14 planning commission working session, two commissioners who serve on the committee – Jean Carlberg and Tony Derezinski – expressed frustration at the outcome. The draft recommendations don’t provide any guidance about where the city might encourage greater density, Carlberg said.

Derezinski, who is the city council’s representative to the planning commission, added that many committee members worked hard, but were interested in protecting what they’re used to, especially concerning density and parking in their neighborhoods. As it stands, he said, the report won’t be helpful to the city council. Derezinski supported the idea of having the planning commission study the issue and make its own recommendations.

Commissioner Evan Pratt suggested that the first question to ask is whether there should be greater density, and where – the answer to that would guide the recommendations.

In a follow-up phone interview with The Chronicle, Wendy Rampson – the city’s planning manager, who also attended the working session – said there are several possibilities that planning commissioners might pursue. They could discuss the report at one of their regular meetings and make their own recommendations or comments about it. Those recommendations and comments could be made either informally – communicated to the council via Derezinski – or through a formal resolution or memorandum.

Another option would be for the commission’s ordinance revisions committee to tackle it first, developing specific ordinance language that the full commission could then review and possibly recommend to the city council. Or commissioners could ask to hold a joint session with the council, she said, to talk through these issues directly.

Regardless of how the planning commission proceeds, Carlberg will no longer be at the table. The June 14 working session was her last meeting as a commissioner. Her term ends on June 30, and she did not seek reappointment. The former city councilmember served 16 years on the planning commission, overlapping with her 12 years (1994-2006) as a Democrat representing Ward 3 on the council. Eleanore Adenekan was nominated during the council’s June 20 meeting as a replacement for Carlberg – her nomination is expected to be confirmed at the council’s July 5 meeting. [Full Story]

A2: Health Care Lawsuit

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati became the first appellate court to rule on President Obama’s health care reform, upholding that Congress can require Americans to carry insurance coverage. The lawsuit had been filed by the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center, which argued that Congress had overstepped its constitutional authority to regulate commerce. [Source]

Ypsi: Tax Foreclosures

Open houses for 10 tax-foreclosed properties in the city of Ypsilanti – eight homes and two commercial sites – will be held from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, July 16, 2011. Prospective buyers will be able to start bidding on these and other properties in an online auction on Aug. 12 at [.pdf file listing of properties]

Main & Washington

Two tiny tots, approximately six and eight, playing guitars and singing Johnny Cash songs.

Scio Church & Wagner

2:40 p.m. Eastbound Scio Church Road just east of Wagner. Full-sized, green, wheeled armored personnel carrier, three visible on board. Vehicle is similar to tank, minus gun. No known agricultural or industrial use, doubt if street legal.

WCC: Classes at UM

A new three-year agreement between Washtenaw Community College and the University of Michigan will allow WCC to expand its evening classes on UM’s Ann Arbor campus, according to an article in the University Record, a UM publication. WCC will use up to eight classrooms four nights a week in the Mason Hall-Angell Hall complex, expanding a pilot program started during the 2010-11 academic year. WCC classes to be offered include intro to business, basic statistics, and English composition, among others. [Source]

State Street

Two people with “smoke-free” campus stencil and cans of spray paint are putting signs on sidewalks. [photo]

Couple Gives $50,000 for Ann Arbor Park

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (June 21, 2011): Park commissioners heard some unusual and welcome news at their June meeting – two long-time Ann Arbor residents, Leslie and Michael Morris, are donating $50,000 to the city in support of South University Park.

Michael Morris, Leslie Morris, Colin Smith

From left: Michael Morris and Leslie Morris, who are donating $50,000 to rehab South University Park, and Colin Smith, the city's parks and recreation manager.

In brief remarks to commissioners, Leslie Morris – a former Ward 2 city councilmember – explained how she and her husband had played a role decades ago in creating the park, which is located at South University Avenue and Walnut. They hope their donation will help develop the park based on current needs of the neighborhood, she said.

Michael Morris noted that before they became involved in forming that neighborhood park, their civic engagement primarily had been limited to voting. But getting involved in that project ultimately led to much deeper engagement, culminating in the service of Leslie Morris on council. ”It’s been a rewarding time for us,” he said, “and I’m pleased we’re able to do more to continue the life of that park.”

Later in the meeting, commissioners got updates on the Ann Arbor senior center and Mack pool. Both facilities rely on general fund support and had been at risk of closing, when city officials were looking to cut costs in 2009. Residents rallied, and the city formed two task forces to develop strategies – both for raising revenues and cutting expenses – to keep both facilities open.

The reports given at PAC’s June 21 meeting were updates for the first fiscal year that these strategies took effect. Neither facility completely hit its target budget goals, but each took steps toward closing the gap between revenues and expenses.

Commissioners also got a quarterly update on capital improvements in the park system, including plans to renovate the Island Park Greek Revival shelter and the pergola at West Park, and to replace a path at Leslie Science & Nature Center – a project that might use recycled crushed glass as a porous surface. PAC members voted to recommend approval for funding of two specific projects: renovation of locker rooms at Veterans Memorial Park, and of tennis courts at West Park.

At the end of the meeting, Steve Thorp spoke during public commentary, urging the city to give West Park a new name – Central Park West – and to possibly put a dog park there. [Full Story]

E. Liberty

A gang (6 or 7) ninjas were passing out flyers for a grill on Washtenaw. They looked hot. As in warm.

UM: Yost Scoreboards

A video on MGoBlue TV shows the new video scoreboards at Yost Ice Arena being hoisted into place. At their January 2011 meeting, University of Michigan’s board of regents had approved a $20 million project to add video scoreboards at Yost, Crisler Arena, Michigan Stadium. [Source]

Washtenaw: Zeppelin

Fox 2 Detroit posts a video of a ride in the Farmers Airship Zeppelin as it flew out of Willow Run Airport over Washtenaw County this weekend. “The big, helium-filled aircraft cruised over some familiar sights, casting a cool shadow over the Big House at U-M. Passengers could even crack a window and feel the wind in their hair as they floated along at about 35-miles-per-hour.” [Source]

Fourth & Liberty

In front of the post office on Liberty: This guy doing this awesomeness! [photo] [Chalk 3-D illusion of troll and teddy bear emerging from small door.]

AATA Finalizes Transit Plan for Washtenaw

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meetings (June 3 and June 16, 2011): The AATA board met twice in June – first at a special morning retreat held at Weber’s Inn on  June 3 June 6, and again 10 days later for its regular monthly meeting.

Michael Ford Slide Act 196 Local Participation

Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, presents a possible board configuration for a countywide transit authority at the board's June 3 meeting at Weber's Inn. (Photos by the writer.)

On both occasions, a significant focus was the AATA’s countywide transit master plan. At the June 16 meeting, the board approved the final version of the first two volumes of the plan, which had previously been released in draft form. The two volumes cover a vision and an implementation strategy. A third volume, on funding options, is not yet complete.

The plan is the culmination of over a year of work by AATA staff and a consulting firm to perform a technical analysis and gather public input. The goal was to create a document to guide transit planning in the county over the next 30 years. The timing of the next step – beginning to translate a neatly formatted document into reality – will depend in part on a third volume of the plan, which has not yet been finalized. The third volume will describe options for how to fund expanded transit service in the county. Countywide transit funding will ultimately be tied to the governance structure of some entity to administer transit throughout Washtenaw County.

And governance is a topic that’s ultimately reflected in the actual wording of the resolution that the board adopted at its June 16 meeting on the transit master plan. The resolution authorizes transmittal of the documents not just to the public, but also to an unincorporated board, described as an “ad hoc committee” that will work to incorporate a formal transit authority under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986. [AATA is currently incorporated under Act 55 of 1963.]

For the last few months, CEO Michael Ford’s regular monthly reports to the AATA board about his activities have included his efforts to meet with individuals and representatives of government units throughout the county to discuss participation in the governance of a countywide transportation authority. June continued that trend. So wrapped into this combined report of the AATA board’s last two meetings is a description of the June 2 visit that Ford and board chair Jesse Bernstein made to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.

At its June 3 retreat, the board also voted to shift some funding to the AATA staff’s work associated with the countywide transit master plan.

At its June 16 meeting, the board handled some business not specifically related to the transit master plan. The board adopted two policies that it has previously discussed: one on the rotation of auditors, and the other on a living wage for AATA vendors. They also received updates on the expansion of service to the University of Michigan’s East Ann Arbor Health Center and to the Detroit Metro airport.

Progress on those two fronts led board member David Nacht to suggest that the kind of movement and progress the AATA was demonstrating, even without additional money that could come from a countywide funding source, showed that the agency’s future plans deserved support from the community. [Full Story]

Ypsilanti Cross Street

New sidewalk curb cuts under construction on several blocks in a row, as in much of Ann Arbor.  I thought both cities were “broke.”   Why are they both replacing curb cuts now?  Is there a federal curb cut program?

Library Lot

Pour of final footings on the Fifth Avenue side of the project with end of dewatering in sight. (The project is being built from east to west.)

Art Commission Briefed on Murals, Dreiseitl

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (June 22, 2011): With only four of their nine members present, the commission didn’t have a quorum for its monthly meeting – but no major votes were on the agenda, so the meeting consisted primarily of updates.

Aaron Seagraves, Marsha Chamberlin

Aaron Seagraves, the city's public arts administrator, and Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, in the entryway atrium of city hall, which is still being renovated. Mosaics by the artist Gerry Kamrowski, formerly at the entrance to city hall, will be installed on the wall behind Chamberlin. (Photo by the writer.)

One of those updates included a report that Jeff Meyers, a commissioner who has launched a public mural program, no longer wants to take the lead in that effort. The pilot program has proposed creating murals at Allmendinger Park and on a retaining wall along Huron Parkway. Because of low turnout at two recent neighborhood forums about the murals, city staff now plan to post an online survey to solicit feedback about the locations.

The commission also got updates on several other projects, including a large water sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl that’s on track for installation in August. Large bronze plates are being cast at a firm in Warren, Michigan, and site work is continuing in front of the municipal center, where the sculpture will be located.

The commission is also seeking members for a selection committee to choose additional artwork for the lobby of the justice center – the new building at Fifth and Huron that’s adjacent to city hall. (Together, the buildings are known in some circles as the “municipal center.”) A statement of qualifications/request for proposals for the lobby art has been issued, with a deadline for responses extended until Sept. 1. The previous May 31 deadline did not yield sufficient responses for the project, which has an artist’s budget of up to $150,000. [Full Story]

UM: Crime Alert

The University of Michigan Dept. of Public Safety has issued a crime alert for an attempted armed robbery at the University Hospital cafeteria on 1500 East Medical Center Drive. At about 6:40 p.m. on Friday, June 24, ”a man approached a cafeteria manager, brandished a stun gun, assaulted the manager and fled out the south Mott Hospital entrance. Witnesses reported he departed the area on a bus. The suspect is a Black male, about 5’8″, late 20s, wearing a ski mask over his face, hair in cornrows or dreadlocks, white t-shirt, and black pants.” Anyone with information on the incident should call DPS at 734-763-1131 or dial 911. [SourceUpdate: On June 27, 2011, UM DPS officers arrested a 25-year-old Ypsilanti man … [Full Story]