Ann Arbor Public Art Tweak Gets Postponed

At its Sept. 19, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council postponed a vote on changes in the city’s public art ordinance – a law that currently requires setting aside 1% of all capital improvement projects for the acquisition of public art.

The  proposal that was postponed Monday would change the Percent for Art program by explicitly excluding sidewalk and street repair from projects that could be tapped to fund public art.

The timing of the ordinance change is related to two ballot proposals on which Ann Arbor residents will vote on Nov. 8: (1) renewal of  a 2.0 mill tax to fund street repair; and (2) imposing a 0.125 mill tax to fund the repair of sidewalks – which is currently the responsibility of adjacent property owners. The vote on the public art ordinance was postponed until the council’s second meeting in November, after a planned work session on the topic.

Some councilmembers had previously understood the public art ordinance already to exclude replacement of sidewalk slabs from its definition of capital improvement projects.

But based on additional information from the city attorney’s office, the proposed ordinance revision was proposed to spell that out explicitly [added language in italics]: “Capital improvement project means any construction or renovation of any public space or facility including buildings, parks, recreation areas, parking facilities, roads, highways, bridges, paths, sidewalks in locations where sidewalks do not already exist or as part of a larger capital improvement project, streetscape improvements and utilities. This definition includes only those projects designed to create a permanent improvement or betterment, and does not include projects that are primarily for the purpose of ordinary maintenance or repair. It does not include sidewalk crack repair, sidewalk cold-patching, sidewalk slab replacement, sidewalk leveling or sidewalk slab grinding.

The ordinance revision also would explicitly exclude the Percent for Art program from applying to any projects funded with money from the street repair millage. Another feature of the ordinance revision would exclude general fund money from being allocated to public art under the Percent for Art program.

The ordinance revision would also require that any money allocated for public art under the program be spent within three years, or be returned to its fund of origin.

On two previous occasions in the last two years (Dec. 21, 2009 and May 31, 2011), the council has considered but rejected a change to the public art ordinance that would have lowered the public art earmark from 1% to 0.5%. The city’s Percent for Art program was authorized by the council in 2007.

An exchange between Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) resulted in a challenge from Kunselman: Councilmembers who are supporters of the public art ordinance should bring forward a resolution directing the city attorney to write a legal opinion on the public art ordinance and to file it with the city clerk as stipulated in the city charter.

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]