Archive for June, 2011

Liberty & Fifth

DDA board chair Joan Lowenstein ticks through a list of items to photograph for DDA annual report during the course of her usual travels through the downtown. [photo]

UM: Digital Collection

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the University of Michigan’s decision to make books in its library’s digital collection – ones that have been identified as “orphans,” with no discernible copyright owner – available for reading online to campus users. The article quotes Paul Courant, UM’s dean of libraries, who responded to criticism that the decision violates copyright: “My attorney says this is legitimate under fair use. When people find ways of making things better for people without harming anybody else, I think they ought to do that. I really do.” But the article is really worth reading just for this Courant quote: “I plead not guilty of elfin whimsy.” [Source]

West Park

Ann Arbor Civic Band Concert attracts about 150 people.  About two-thirds sit on the new retaining wall benches, the rest in chairs they brought.  As handy as the retaining walls are, the lack of back support makes chairs look attractive after a while. The juxtaposition of new Public Art stylized “trees,” only feet from newly-planted actual trees, was an amusing irony – or would have been amusing, had I not paid for it via my water bill.  Interestingly, the swamp surrounding the bandshell did not produce noticeable mosquitos.  ”The Stars and Stripes Forever” seems to be both an eternal crowd pleaser, and the reason the piccolo exists.

Ann Arbor Cannabis Laws Done, For Now

Ann Arbor city council meeting (June 20, 2011): Two ordinances regulating medical marijuana businesses were finally approved by the council on Monday night, following more than a year of discussion in some form.

Sabra Briere, Carsten Hohnke, Christopher Taylor

Before the June 20 meeting started, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) handed out amendments she'd be proposing to the medical marijuana licensing ordinance. From left: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). (Photos by the writer.)

The first local law stipulates where medical marijuana businesses can be located in the city – it’s an addition to Ann Arbor’s zoning code. The second law establishes a licensing board for medical marijuana dispensaries and sets up an application process for the award of a maximum of 20 licenses to dispensaries in the first year of the program.

On Monday evening, the council undertook amendments to the licensing ordinance that were few compared to massive changes that have taken place at several council meetings dating back to January 2011. On Monday, the labeling requirements for marijuana packaging were changed so that dollar amounts are no longer required.

The council teetered on the edge of postponing the legislation, when city attorney Stephen Postema encouraged councilmembers to delay voting until the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an opinion on a case (Michigan v. McQueen) for which oral arguments were heard on June 7. Despite the support for postponement from mayor John Hieftje, an initial vote to postpone achieved only two other votes. A second vote achieved a total of five votes, leaving the postponement one vote short of the six-vote majority it required.

As some councilmembers observed that the council had invested a disproportionate amount of time on the medical marijuana legislation, Hieftje contended that it had not prevented the council from handling its other work.

On Monday, that other work included a collective bargaining agreement with its police service specialists union, which was an item added just that evening to the agenda. The council also heard public commentary critical of the recent budget approved on May 31 by the council, which includes the layoff of some firefighters and police officers. The meeting was preceded by a demonstration by the city’s public safety employees, at Fifth and Huron streets just outside city hall

The council  also approved two contracts in connection with the East Stadium Bridges replacement project and three purchase orders related to tree care. And the council gave final approval to sewer and water rate increases and a revision to its landscaping ordinance.

The council revised its debt/fund balance policy, and revised its budget to reflect the blending of its economic development fund back into the general fund. Also related to economic development, councilmembers approved the annual $75,000 funding for Ann Arbor SPARK and set a public hearing for a tax abatement for Picometrix.

The council established an affordable housing lien policy and gave initial approval to technical revisions to the city’s pension ordinance. They confirmed appointments to the new design review board, but postponed a vote on setting the design review fee. The council added a work session for July 11, which is likely to include an update on the planned Fuller Road Station.

The council also heard a presentation on a skatepark planned for Veterans Memorial Park. [Full Story]

Main & William

About a dozen young men in blue shirts are standing around in the parking lot next to Palio, looking bored – valets waiting for something to do at The Event on Main. Main Street between William and Liberty is closed for this fundraising event – a long enclosed tent stretches down the middle of the street for a seated dinner.

Ashley & William

Downtown Main Street is closed for The Event on Main – a fundraiser for the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital & Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital – and fairly heavy traffic is being diverted down William to Ashley. This might account for the two-car crash at Ashley & William, which nearly clipped some pedestrians. Doesn’t appear that anyone was hurt – drivers and passengers were hanging out waiting for police to arrive.

A2: Luminarium

On her blog Relish, photographer Myra Klarman posts several images of the Amococo installation on Palmer Field – a walk-through luminarium by the Architects of Air. Part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Top of the Park, it’s open to the public from Thursday, June 23 through Sunday, June 26. [Source]

A2: Groupon

The Chicago Tribune reports on survey results by Ann Arbor-based ForeSee Results, which asked online shoppers about their use of Groupon and other “deal” sites. According to the report, the ForeSee ”found that while usage among deal sites like Chicago-based Groupon and Living Social is strong, it is less clear how much new business their deep-discount coupons are driving to their clients.” [Source]

Fifth & Huron

Clusters of people clutching sheets of paper at the corner of Fifth & Huron, by the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum. One guy does a handstand next to the building, while another person photographs him – then their group moves on. Turns out to be some sort of scavenger hunt by ProQuest employees. Hope they find what they’re looking for!

Miller & Wagner

Google Street View car making the rounds of scanning. North of Miller on Wagner 1:49 p.m. today. Driver doesn’t wave.  Probably not a “people person” type of gig, anyway. Could be on search for Dexter bear. Certainly would liven up Street View.

South Maple

Counted five shopping carts at the bus stop on the east side of South Maple, across from Kroger. Another two overturned on the opposite side.

Ann Arbor Library Gets Its Game On

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (June 20, 2011): On Monday, AADL board members learned that they each earned 200 points toward the library’s online summer game – just by attending the meeting.

Screen shot of the Ann Arbor District Library website

Screen shot of the Ann Arbor District Library summer game website. (Image links to

Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development, gave a brief presentation on the library’s new online component of its standard summer reading program. In addition to earning points for traditional activities like reading a book, the game includes tasks that are done online, like tagging an item in AADL’s catalog or commenting on a blog post. After July 5, points can be traded in for merchandise that will be available at AADL’s soon-to-be-launched online store.

The online aspect is another way to engage more people with the library, Neiburger said, while not demanding an intensive amount of staff time.

Also during the 30-minute meeting, AADL director Josie Parker updated the board on several issues. She’s been invited by the Ann Arbor city council to address that group at its July 5 meeting, to talk about the library’s needs in the context of plans to develop city-owned parcels. That development might include the top of the underground parking structure – known as the Library Lot – that’s under construction adjacent to AADL’s downtown building.

Parker also noted that AADL’s attorney is reviewing a recent decision by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board to repay the AADL $74,666 in excess tax increment finance (TIF) funds. There’s a question about whether additional funds are owed to the library and other taxing entities.

At the end of her report, Parker briefed the board about her trip to the UNESCO World Forum on Culture and Cultural Industries, held in Monza, Italy earlier this month – the three-day event focused on the future of the written word. She’d been invited to participate in a panel discussion on the topic of the library as a public service. There was acknowledgement among the attendees – librarians, publishing executives, academics, authors and others – that the digital production of material will prevail during the next decade or so, Parker said, but there was no real consensus about what that will actually mean.

In addition to hearing staff reports, the board also approved minor adjustments to wrap up AADL’s FY 2010-2011 budget, which ends June 30. Board members had approved next year’s budget at their May 16 meeting. [Full Story]

Morris Family Gives $50K for Ann Arbor Park

Leslie and Michael Morris are donating $50,000 to the city of Ann Arbor in support of South University Park, located at South University Avenue and Walnut. They were recognized for their contribution at the June 21, 2011 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. Leslie Morris is a former park commissioner and served on city council for six years in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Leslie Morris described how their family had moved to the neighborhood in 1969, when they’d been among many families with young children there – it was less expensive than the Burns Park neighborhood, and located near Angell Elementary School. They enlisted the help of their councilmember at the time, Bob Faber, who convinced … [Full Story]

Contract for Vets Park Locker Room OK’d

At its June 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission recommended approval of a $131,670 contract with Construction Solutions Inc. to renovate locker rooms at Veterans Memorial Park Pool and Ice Arena. The contract includes $119,700 for the work, plus a 10% ($11,970) contingency. It was the lowest of four bids submitted for the work.

According to a staff memo, the locker rooms get heavy use and were last renovated 20 years ago. Renovations would include installation of barrier-free shower stalls, benches and toilet partitions, energy efficient light fixtures, new windows and an upgraded ventilation system. The project would be paid for from the approved FY 2011 proceeds of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage. The recommendation will be forwarded to city council … [Full Story]

West Park Tennis Court Upgrade Approved

Tennis courts at West Park, built in the early 1970s, will be renovated this summer. At is June 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission recommended approval of a $182,964.60 contract with ABC Paving Co. for the work, which includes a 10% ($16,633.15) contingency. It was the only bid received for the project, but park staff said it’s in line with other tennis court renovations the city has completed.

The project will include replacing the asphalt, fencing, retaining wall, shuffle board court, and entry walk, as well as repairing a second existing retaining wall. The configuration of the courts will remain unchanged. The project would be paid for from the approved FY 2011 proceeds of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage. The … [Full Story]

Washtenaw Co. Board Gets Budget Update

Washtenaw County board of commissioners budget working session (June 16,2011): At its June 1, 2011 meeting, county commissioners added five new working sessions to their schedule, all focused on the 2012-2013 budget. The first one was held on Thursday.

Verna McDaniel

Verna McDaniel, Washtenaw County administrator, at the June 1, 2011 board of commissioners meeting. At a June 16 working session, McDaniel updated commissioners on the county's progress in developing a budget for 2012-2013. (Photo by the writer.)

County administrator Verna McDaniel updated commissioners on the budget process, including expedited labor negotiations that began formally on June 9. The county has targeted $8 million in concessions from employee compensation and benefits to help address a projected $17.5 million two-year deficit in 2012-2013.

Also in the works are business plans being developed by the managers of each county department – the goal is to get another $8 million in cuts from organizational changes and departmental reductions. Outside agencies – including human services nonprofits – are targeted for $1 million in cuts.

After her presentation, McDaniel fielded questions that covered a range of issues and concerns. She was asked to provide an update on efforts by former county administrator Bob Guenzel and local health care providers to develop a broad-based health care plan for Washtenaw County. She conveyed few details, but noted that the board would be briefed on the plan – called the Washtenaw Health Initiative – at their Sept. 8 working session.

Related to labor issues, commissioner Dan Smith urged the administration to identify potential layoffs as early in the year as possible. Saying that the board was resigned to the fact that there would likely be layoffs – though they hoped to keep them at a minimal level – Smith said it would be better for affected employees to know sooner rather than later, so that they can plan their next moves. [Full Story]

Pension Ordinance Changes Not Substantive

In a brief filed from the June 20, 2011 Ann Arbor city council meeting, The Chronicle mis-characterized the nature of the initial approval given to changes to the city’s pension ordinance. While the city is contemplating the changes described in the brief, those that were actually given initial approval at the council’s meeting involved technical revisions. For example, the phrase “three years” was revised to read “36 consecutive months.”

The Chronicle acknowledges the mistake and has corrected the original brief.

A2: Radio

A post on Radio Ink reports that Mark Copeland, who’s worked at the Ann Arbor station WQKL for over six year, has been laid off because the Cumulus-owned station is downsizing. ”I have been there since a few months after the station changed to Triple A and I have had 3 really good PDs that did things the right way and built a solid foundation. I am proud that I was able to actually do real Music Director duties and have the PD’s ear and it worked so well. Some folks think that Triple A is just a niche format, but it really depends on the market you’re in. Playing Dave Matthews Band, R.E.M, U2, Sheryl Crow, Bob Marley … [Full Story]

A2: Business

Ann Arbor-based Borders Group is planning to sell the business by the end of July, according to a Detroit News report. From the article: ”Borders indicated in previous filings it planned to either restructure or sell only parts of itself, but Friday’s filing suggests the company is preparing for a wholesale deal. The company has continued to lose money since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in mid-February, reporting a loss of $34.5 million between May 1 and May 28, according to a filing late Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Two private equity firms, Gores Group LLC in Los Angeles and Phoenix-based Najafi Cos., are reported to be interested in buying the company.” [Source]

Ann Arbor Finally OKs Medical Marijuana

At its June 20, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to two city ordinances that ensconce medical marijuana businesses with local regulations.

One ordinance concerns zoning – legislation that stipulates where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities can set up business. And the second ordinance concerns licensing – a law that describes how a maximum of 20 licenses in the first year will be awarded, and how a licensing board will be set up to evaluate applications.

An effort led by Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), mayor John Hieftje and city attorney Stephen Postema to postpone the votes – in light of a future expected court ruling – failed on two separate votes. The first vote on postponement was 3-7. Joining Hieftje and Rapundalo in voting for postponement was Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). On the second vote to postpone, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) joined the side for postponement, but that left the measure with only five votes. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) was absent from the meeting. Based on previous deliberations, he would likely have voted for the postponement.

The votes on both ordinances themselves were 8-2, with Higgins and Rapundalo dissenting.

Key features of the zoning ordinance include the requirement that medical marijuana dispensaries must be located in districts zoned as D (downtown), C (commercial), or M (manufacturing), or in PUD (planned unit development) districts where retail is permitted in the supplemental regulations. Medical marijuana cultivation facilities are only allowed in areas zoned as C (commercial), M (manufacturing), RE (research), or ORL (office/research/limited industrial). Medical marijuana businesses are prohibited in a 1000-foot buffer zone around schools.

Key features of the licensing ordinance include a limit of 20 total licenses for dispensaries in the first year – cultivation facilities are not licensed under the ordinance. The license applications will be processed by a five-member medical marijuana licensing board consisting of one member of the city council, one physician, and three other Ann Arbor residents. The license application requires proof of legal possession of the premises for which the license is sought. Licensed dispensaries are required to maintain records on patients for 30 days after marijuana is dispensed, and on cultivation sources for 60 days.

In an amendment to the licensing ordinance made by the council on June 20, a stipulation was eliminated that would have required dollar amounts to be included in medical marijuana package labeling. That amendment was not substantial enough to require the ordinance to undergo an additional reading and approval by the council.

The council’s work on the medical marijuana legislation dates at least as far back as June 7, 2011 2010, when it convened a closed session on the topic to discuss a city attorney’s memo dated May 28, 2010. The council convened another closed session on July 19, 2010, purportedly to discuss the same May 28, 2010 memo. The council did not publicly discuss the topic until Aug. 5, 2010, when it enacted a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana businesses.

Dispensaries that were operating before the moratorium was enacted – and that were allowed under the moratorium to continue to operate – will  have a 60-day window within which they can apply for a license after the ordinance takes effect, which is 60 days from publication. Other dispensaries cannot apply until 75 days after the ordinance becomes effective.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Adenekan Nominated for Planning Commission

Eleanore Adenekan‘s name was placed before the Ann Arbor city council at its June 20, 2011 meeting as the replacement for outgoing planning commissioner Jean Carlberg. The nomination will need to be confirmed at the council’s next meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

Ann Arbor Delays Design Fee, Appoints Board

At its June 20, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council delayed a vote on a fee for its new design review process, which is now a part of the city’s code. The application fee was to have been set at $1,000 – to cover estimated mailing costs of $500 and about five hours of city staff time. The vote on the fee was postponed until July 5. Projects in Ann Arbor’s downtown area, zoned D-1 and D-2, are now subject to a mandatory process of design review, but compliance with the board’s recommendations is voluntary.

At its June 20 meeting, the council also confirmed the nominations for the initial membership of the design review board: Tamara Burns, Paul Fontaine, Chester B. Hill, Mary Jukari, Bill Kinley, Richard Mitchell, and Geoffrey M. Perkins.

That board will meet to review its first project on June 22, 2011, at 3 p.m. in the sixth floor conference room of city hall. The project to be reviewed is The Varsity at Ann Arbor, a residential project planned for 425 E. Washington St., next to the 411 Lofts building. The site is currently the site of an office building which formerly housed the Prescription Shop. The Varsity is planned to be a 13-story apartment building with 173 units that would house 418 people. It would include 77 parking spaces. [.pdf of The Varsity at Ann Arbor project presentation]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Public Hearing Set for Picometrix Tax Abatement

At its June 20, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council set the date for a public hearing on July 18, 2011 for a tax abatement for Picometrix LLC, located at 2925 Boardwalk in Ann Arbor. Picometrix is a supplier of high-speed optical receivers.

The 5-year abatement would apply to $2,434,882 of personal property that Picometrix is acquiring. From the application for abatement: “Due to the projected increase in production volume, the company will need to purchase assets to maximize production and support added staffing.”

The list of personal property included in the application ranges from garden-variety desks and cubicles to digital oscilloscopes and laser beam profilers. If the abatement were approved, it would reduce the company’s annual tax bill for the new equipment by about $16,500 annually. The new personal property would generate approximately $20,700 in property taxes for each year during the abatement period, according to the city staff memo accompanying the resolution.

The industrial development district in which the Picometrix tax abatement is sought was established in 2006.

At its June 6 meeting, the council held a public hearing on a proposed tax abatement for another company – Sakti3. No one spoke at that hearing, and the council did not take a vote on the abatement that evening. No council vote is currently scheduled for the Sakti3 abatement.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Economic Development Goes to General Fund

At its June 20, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized the blending of its economic development fund – with its fund balance as of June 30, 2010 standing at $967,161 – into its general fund. The move had been planned as a part of the fiscal year 2012 budget that the council adopted at its May 31, 2011 session.

The economic development fund was established on June 18, 2007 by a unanimous vote of the city council by transferring $2.18 million from the general fund to the new economic development fund. It was set up to meet the city’s commitment made to Google to pay for up to 400 parking spaces for its employees, for up to four years for an estimated total cost of approximately $2,029,017. Google’s hiring was not as rapid as it had initially projected, and that left a bit under half of the money untapped.

The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) No. 54 has also changed the definition of what funds qualify as special revenue funds – the city’s economic development fund was established as such a fund, but no longer qualifies under the new GASB 54 definition, and thus needs to be blended back into the general fund.

The council’s resolution also amended the current fiscal year 2011 budget in some other ways as well, so that expenditures from funds that exceeded budgeted amounts are appropriately covered. Among those expenditures covered were: the International City/County Management Association fire protection study ($54,000); higher maintenance costs for Superior Dam ($35,000); higher snow removal costs and cleanup from the recent Plymouth Road mudslide and pavement markings ($500,000).

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Council OKs Affordable Housing Lien Policy

At its June 20, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council established a policy under which liens can be subordinated and city loans forgiven, in the interest of perserving affordable housing.

Key elements of the policy: at least one city or county lien will be maintained on the property; liens with federal affordability restrictions will be in the highest lien position possible; liens that do not have federal affordability restrictions will be discharged if needed to facilitate reinvestment of outside funding; the city administrator is authorized to approve lien subordinations and lien discharges.

The city council had discussed a specific case related to the forgiveness of loans and subordination of liens at its May 16, 2011 meeting. The context there was the appropriation of funds for the demolition of houses to prepare for construction of the Near North affordable housing project, located on the east side of North Main Street between Kingsley and Summit.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

North Main Street

Tomato plants growing in old Recycle Ann Arbor totes (both the green and the beige). Look healthy – good drainage.