Council Takes Step to Alter Pedestrian Law

Also: Green light to build two downtown residential projects

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 10, 2011): A further revision to the city’s pedestrian safety ordinance took up most of the council’s time at Thursday’s meeting.

Rapundalo signing student attendance sheets

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) was first to arrive at the council’s meeting and was rewarded by a dozen or so requests from high school students who needed a signature to attest to their attendance for a class assignment. It was Rapundalo’s last meeting, having lost the Ward 2 election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, to Jane Lumm. (Photos by the writer.)

The council had made several revisions to the law in 2010, including a requirement that motorists accommodate not only pedestrians who are “within” a crosswalk, but also those who are “approaching” a crosswalk. Thursday’s initial revision amended out the “approaching” language in favor of the following wording: “… the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian stopped at the curb or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk.”

The second and final vote on the pedestrian ordinance change is expected to come after a council working session in December, and after a public hearing at the council meeting when the final vote is taken. Based on deliberations on the change at Thursday’s meeting, the outcome of that vote is not a foregone conclusion, and further revisions might be possible.

The council also took action at the Nov. 10 meeting that will allow two downtown residential projects to start construction. The council approved the site plan for The Varsity Ann Arbor, a “planned project” consisting of a 13-story apartment building with 181 units at 425 E. Washington, between 411 Lofts and the First Baptist Church.

And the final deal was approved with Village Green to purchase the city-owned parcel at First and Washington. On that site Village Green will build a 244-space parking deck as the first two stories of a 9-story building with 156 dwelling units – City Apartments.

The council gave final approval to a change in its taxicab ordinance, spelling out conditions under which licenses can be revoked or suspended.

The council also gave final approval to two ordinances that make retiree health care and pension benefits for two of the city’s larger unions parallel to benefits for non-union employees. The approvals gave Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) an opportunity to comment on the labor issues that had been a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, which concluded unsuccessfully on Tuesday.

It was due to the election held on Tuesday that the council’s meeting was shifted from its regular Monday meeting slot to Thursday. The shift is stipulated in the city charter. All council incumbents won their races except for Rapundalo, a Democrat defeated by Jane Lumm, who was running as an independent. Rapundalo began his final meeting by signing multiple attendance sheets for high school students who were attending the meeting on a class assignment, and ended it by hearing praise from his colleagues around the table.

Pedestrian Safety Ordinance

Before the council for consideration was initial approval to a tweak to its pedestrian safety ordinance. The language given initial approval by the council now reads in relevant part: ” … the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian stopped at the curb or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk, …”

Some amendments to the law made by the council over a year ago – on July 19, 2010 – included an expansion of the conditions under which motorists must take action to accommodate pedestrians. Specifically, the 2010 amendments required accommodation of pedestrians not just “within a crosswalk” but also “approaching or within a crosswalk.”

A draft of the current revision that was circulated prior to Thursday’s meeting would have simply struck the phrase about “approaching” a crosswalk – which resulted in a mischaracterization in other media reports of a possible council action to “repeal” the ordinance.

Besides the “approaching” phrase, the 2010 amendments also contained two other key elements. The 2010 amendments included a requirement that motorists “stop” and not merely “slow as to yield.” And the 2010 amendments also eliminated reference to which half of the roadway is relevant to the responsibility placed on motorists for accommodating pedestrians. With regard to that amendment, the intent of the council was to place responsibility on motorists when pedestrians approach crosswalks on either side of the roadway.

Revisions contemplated by the council this time around do not change the intent of the ordinance on either the “stopping” or the “roadway side” elements. However, language has been inserted to make explicit that motorists have a responsibility “without regard to which portion of the roadway the pedestrian is using.”

Pedestrian Ordinance: Public Commentary

Matthew Grocoff led off public commentary from the contingent of advocates for pedestrians who attended the meeting. He said it’s been an interesting week for pedestrians. The issue is not really about pedestrians, bikes, and cars, but rather about the value of people, he said. He appreciated the shifting of the burden from the pedestrian. He said he is looking forward to strengthening the language that’s in the ordinance now.

Joel Batterman introduced himself as a 2006 graduate of Huron High School, vice chair of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition (WBWC), and an urban planning student at the University of Michigan. Changing the ordinance [from the 2010 amended version] would make the community less safe, he said. The ordinance is working, he contended. A few months of education and enforcement has increased the number of people stopping.

Joel Batterman

Joel Batterman.

Batterman said that media reports have attributed collisions on Plymouth Road to the 2010 amendments to the ordinance. But he said that Plymouth Road has always been a problem, and he reminded the council that in 2003 two students died trying to cross Plymouth Road. [From a Nov. 15, 2003 Ann Arbor News report: "Teh Nannie Roshema Rolsan, 21, and Norhananim Zainol, 20, both engineering students at the University of Michigan, were killed Sunday night after they left the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor, 2301 Plymouth Road, and tried to cross the five-lane road."]

Batterman noted that many students trying to cross Plymouth are international students who find it difficult to make their voices heard. He called on the council not to backpedal on their commitment.

Responding to the criticism that Ann Arbor’s pedestrian safety ordinance is at odds with prevailing traffic culture, Batterman said that’s exactly the point. Metro Detroit has the highest pedestrian fatality rate in the country and is three times that of New York City. He called for change at the state level as well.

Thomas Collet told councilmembers that they could likely tell from his accent that he grew up in Europe. He reported that he commutes on Plymouth Road, and it’s atrocious how fast people drive – motorists are looking to get on US-23 and turn on their cell phones. He said Ann Arbor is a community that is accommodating to pedestrians and bicyclists. Regarding possible traffic accidents, he said the actual problem is people driving too fast and following too close.

Isaac Gilman introduced himself as an urban planning student at UM and a resident of Courtyard Apartments, near Plymouth and Broadway, for over a year. It’s difficult to cross Plymouth at non-signalized crosswalks, he said. Two specific locations he noted are at the Islamic Center and at Traver Village, where Kroger is located.

Cars travel 40-45 mph when the posted limit is 35, Gilman said. It takes three to five minutes to make it across. The pedestrian island helps, but he said he doesn’t feel safe there. The pedestrian ordinance is a great plan – human life should be the most important focus. He encouraged the city to adopt crosswalk design guidelines, to identify improvements, and to implement them. He said it was important to educate pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists. He encouraged the council to keep the ordinance. People shouldn’t fear crossing the street, he said.

Erica Briggs introduced herself as a board member of the WBWC. She supported the revisions, she said. She agreed that the “approaching” phrase is vague. The WBWC had received a grant from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the Washtenaw County public health department to do outreach and education, and she wanted to give a status update. She’d done observations in the spring and fall of this year of actual driver behavior at different intersections, which she then shared with the council.

[The study did not use pedestrians observed in the wild. Briggs acted as a pedestrian, and an observer monitored motorist behavior. For the study, at each location observations were recorded over a period of about an hour and a half, with roughly 50-80 attempted crossings. Stop rates were calculated based on the number of cars that should have stopped, by ordinance, compared with the total number of vehicles traveling through the location.] Stop rates were measured in the spring of 2011 and again in the fall. Fall figures are given in parens.

Plymouth Road
Stop Rate: 1.5% (9.5%)

Liberty Street
Stop rate: 8% (24%)

Main Street
Stop rate: 5.3% (14%)

Stadium Blvd
Stop rate: 1.2% (12%)


Briggs noted that there had been improvement in the stop rates as measured by the WBWC, but it’s nowhere where it needs to be.

Kathy Griswold told council she’s been speaking about pedestrian safety long before it was popular. Transportation engineering is life and death, not trial and error, she said. She didn’t support the pedestrian ordinance revision, saying that it’s not the optimal approach, because it introduces unnecessary conflict and risk. She said the discussion needed to be framed more broadly. She noted that people want to model the pedestrian safety ordinance on the city of Boulder’s law, but she noted that Boulder has other laws supporting that one, like a law on sight distance. She compared Ann Arbor’s approach to someone taking a laxative to get in shape.

Griswold asked why Ann Arbor needs a local ordinance that is inconsistent with the Uniform Traffic Code (UTC). She wondered why local politicians are editing traffic engineering laws, wordsmithing language at the council table. The city of Ann Arbor is reluctant to maintain sight distances, she contended, and it doesn’t keep rights-of-way free of overgrowth. There’s not adequate lighting at crosswalks, she continued, and utility boxes are placed in the line of sight. From a historical perspective, she said, there’s been a trend of politicizing traffic engineering. You can’t just pick and choose high visibility projects, she cautioned.

Larry Deck introduced himself as a board member of the WBWC. He said it looks like the council has made good progress. He cautioned that a cultural change takes time. The focus should first be on education instead of the punitive part. He said that the group is working on crosswalk design guidelines. As an example of items to be addressed are consistent signage across the city, advance yield signs, High-intensity Activated crossWalK beacons (HAWK), and Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFB). He said the community shares a common interest in making crosswalks safer.

Pedestrian Ordinance: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), a co-sponsor of the amendment, noted there had been a grammatical error in the updated online version on Legistar. So she asked her colleagues to consider the updated version she’d passed around printed on sheets of paper. [Compared to the version approved by the council in July 2011 2010 additional language is in italics and deleted language is struck through.]

[Proposed Amendment Nov. 10, 2011] 10:148. Pedestrians crossing streets.
(a) When traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian approaching or stopped at the curb or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk, without regard to which portion of the roadway the pedestrian is using. 
(b) A pedestrian shall not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into a path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible unsafe for the driver to yield.
(c) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

Briere said she’d heard a lot of concern about the ordinance in the last 13-14 months since the it was revised. There’d been a flurry of publicity when it was approved in 2010. Many people had written about their concern, but had also expressed their gratefulness. For occasional pedestrians, crossing at anywhere but a signal is difficult, she said. The council had approved the language with “approaching” as a way to evaluate the intent of pedestrians. Since then, the council had heard a lot of discussion about understanding what that means.

At the Oct. 24 council meeting, those concerns had been discussed by the council, Briere said. She’d volunteered to work on this issue, but said the current amendment didn’t reflect her work alone – it’s the work of other councilmembers and community members, and she thanked them for their input.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who also co-sponsored the amendment, said he’d heard a great deal from his constituents about the ordinance. Two main points of that communication were that: (1) there is great value in a pedestrian-friendly culture, and (2) the “approaching” standard is problematic due to perceived and real ambiguity.

The current revision advances public safety, he said, and provides clarity without forcing pedestrians into the crosswalk before they get the right-of-way. He said he continues to learn about the issue through communication with advocacy groups and he thanked them collectively for it.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she is very appreciative of work that Briere and Taylor had put into the ordinance.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), who had sponsored the original 2010 amendment to the ordinance, said he was glad that the sponsors had stepped back from the previous draft that would have simply struck the phrase with “approaching.”

Hohnke said it’s important to keep in mind what’s important: the safety of pedestrians. It’s important that the city is not asking people to risk life and limb to claim the right-of-way. He said he wasn’t sure the newly revised language is a huge improvement. He was inclined to support the revision in paragraph (a), but wanted to note that the original language was the result of a multi-stakeholder process, that included physical audits, videos, data, and a publicly-held forum with traffic engineers and experts from Lansing.

Through that process, Hohnke contended, people had wrestled with the issues that people are now identifying. He cautioned against taking a reactionary step backwards. He agreed with the concern that Griswold had raised during public commentary about councilmembers trying to wordsmith traffic safety laws. To a lay person, the revised language might seem to accomplish the goal. But Hohnke said the “so-called ambiguity” is something the city needs to educate people about. That kind of ambiguity already exists in the traffic code in other places, he said, giving tailgating as an example. He was willing to support the paragraph (a) revisions if it would make people feel more comfortable, saying at least it’s not the step backward.

But as for the revisions in paragraph (b), Hohnke said the language strays from UTC guidelines and is inconsistent. He contended that the addition of the word “unsafe” adds ambiguity that sponsors were trying to avoid.

Later during deliberations, Taylor offered, in response to Hohnke’s concern about paragraph (b), that he would be willing to consider a reversion to the original language in that paragraph as friendly. And that amendment was accepted without requiring a vote.

Mayor John Hieftje said he appreciated the work done by Briere and Taylor. Noting he was a sponsor of the 2010 amendment, the “approaching” standard was a term that worked well in other places and that traffic professionals had worked with him and Hohnke to develop the language. Hieftje said there’d be a working session on the topic in December and that a second and final vote on the ordinance change would be taken at a meeting following the working session. Hieftje said progress is being made in recognizing pedestrians who are within and approaching crosswalks.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said he was appreciative of the councilmembers who had made the effort to bring the revision forward. He was glad the council was not considering simply striking the “approaching” language, because he would not have supported that. Pedestrians need strong language to support them, to support a level of walkability in the city. Saying it’s a step in the right direction, he cautioned that there are still inconsistencies with the UTC. Rapundalo said he thinks other things to contemplate are: technological options; definitions of everything a “crosswalk” includes; and signage.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said he also wants the effect of the ordinance on liability studied, in particular with respect to the “last clear chance” doctrine. Does this change that liability? [The "last clear chance" doctrine is that, independent of the negligence on the part of one of the parties, if the other party had the last opportunity to avoid an accident, the negligent party could still avoid liability for that accident.]

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said it’s great the council is talking about this, because it’s consistent with the council’s practice of revisiting ordinances a year after the ordinance is amended, which is now. Kunselman asked chief of police Barnett Jones to come to the podium.

A back-and-forth between Jones and Kunselman drew out the fact that under state law, Ann Arbor police officers can ticket motorists for failing to accommodate pedestrians who are in a crosswalk and that it results in two points on the motorist’s license.

To illustrate the kind of friction that exists between motorists and pedestrians on the ordinance, Jones related receiving a call about a situation at Huron and State streets. The motorist was eastbound on Huron Street approaching State Street. A pedestrian pointed at the crosswalk and stepped in. The motorist pointed to the green light and drove around the pedestrian.

Jones said he believed some relief is needed for mid-block major road crossings, and the city is starting to get better compliance. Jones then implicitly disputed a report in that attributed the cause of some rear-end accidents to the pedestrian ordinance. Jones said that when the third, fourth or fifth cars behind a stopped car have a rear-end accident, it’s not the fault of the pedestrian ordinance. Instead, Jones said, that kind of accident is caused by a driver who failed to keep their vehicle under control.

Briere told Jones that when she’d looked at the reports that were supposed to be the basis of the claims published in that the pedestrian ordinance had caused accidents, she’d found that a lot of the reports didn’t deal with areas that would be affected by this ordinance. The accidents had happened at signalized intersections (which are not included in the scope of the pedestrian safety ordinance) or else involved bicyclists on sidewalks, she said. She said that looking at the actual reports was surprising to her, because having read the coverage in she’d expected to find an uptick in rear-end accidents at those crosswalks without a signal.

Jones said that on Plymouth Road, the accidents he’d looked at had involved a distracted driver who did not stop behind a car that was already stopped. Briere requested a comparison of rear-end collisions today versus 2009, so that there can be an effective comparison.

A question from Hohnke to the chief about what it means exactly for a pedestrian to be “stopped at the curb” resulted in a couple of suggestions from Jones. First, he said there were some bus stops that might need to be moved from their locations immediately proximate to crosswalks. Second, he suggested the possibility of extending the crosswalk striping from the road onto the sidewalk pad to clearly delineate an area.

Hohnke reacted to the extended striping by saying that was new information to him. Hohnke said that’s a pretty significant change and wondered if the ordinance language actually entailed such a delineation and a requirement that engineering of the crosswalks be undertaken.

Marcia Higgins

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) took over the duties of chairing the Nov. 10 council meeting midway through it, when mayor John Hieftje could no longer continue, due to hoarseness. The duty fell to Higgins as mayor pro tem. Hieftje remained at the meeting. 

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was chairing the meeting (as mayor pro tem) by that point due to illness-induced hoarseness on Hieftje’s part. She said the council had heard that the city needs engineered crosswalks and it’s important to look at different needs for Seventh and Liberty streets as compared to Huron Street and Plymouth Road. She ventured that the city’s traffic engineers would be able to weigh in on the issue at the December work session and the council would have that information before taking a final vote.

Briere wanted to remind people that ordinances don’t control everything. She referred to the three Es: education, enforcement and engineering. Putting up signs has alerted motorists that crosswalks are there. Getting a standard warning sign across the city will be valuable to residents, as well as to people who are driving through the city. It’s the lack of clarity that has compounded the problems, she said. The city also needs to look at the engineering of crosswalks.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) noted that the city needs to think about how to fund engineering improvements to crosswalks. He noted the reduction in bus service provided by the Ann Arbor Public Schools system meant that more people were walking.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the revision to the pedestrian safety ordinance. A working session and a final vote are anticipated for December 2011.

Pedestrian Ordinance: Remembering Kris Talley

When the council revised the city’s pedestrian safety ordinance on July 19, 2010, the public hearing included remarks from Kris Talley on behalf of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, a group she chaired for a time. From The Chronicle’s July 19, 2010 meeting report:

Speaking during the public hearing on behalf of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, board member Kris Talley indicated the group had been working on the issue for more than a year. She pointed the council to a video that they’d created to illustrate what motorist behavior is like towards pedestrians who are trying to enter crosswalks.

What had been particularly striking, Talley said, was a forum attended by city transportation staff, a city attorney, a police officer and advocates for non-motorized transportation where there’d been a lack of consensus about what was required by the city’s current pedestrian ordinance – for pedestrians and motorists alike. The proposed revision, she said, is language that makes crosswalks meaningful.

Advocacy for pedestrians in the current round of legislative review will be missing Talley’s voice. Last week, on Nov. 4, she died of ovarian cancer. In a message to the WBWC newsgroup, her husband Phil Farber described Talley as “a tireless advocate for pedestrians and non-motorized transportation, especially bicycling.”

Kris Talley, July 2010

In this Chronicle file photo from July 19, 2010, Kris Talley addressed the city council that night in support of the amendment to the city’s pedestrian safety ordinance. Tally died of ovarian cancer on Nov. 4, 2011.

Farber continued, “I want to ask everyone reading these words to consider what they can do in large or small ways to improve conditions for those of us who walk and bicycle for our transportation needs.”

In a May 2007 interview, Talley related a vignette that illustrates the large and small deeds she contributed to the walking and bicycling community. After being run off the road by a gravel truck while riding her bicycle on Scio Church Road, she followed the truck to the gravel pit and tracked down the driver, who was called “Catfish.”

Said Talley: “I went into the dispatch office and that’s how I found out his name. She called down and said, Catfish, there’s someone up here who wants to talk to you or something. Yeah, he wasn’t too receptive to my message of sharing the road.”

Talley continued to deliver that message as recently as early October of this year. She sent an email to several parties, including The Chronicle, asking for help in an attempt to convince Zipcar (a car-share company) to stop using a particular advertisement: “Aaaargh, I can’t take it that Zipcar still has this ad in its rotation, almost a month after Bike Portland first pointed it out: [link] … I was hoping if the AA entities that deal directly with Zipcar and at least one AA customer (I think you are, HD?) could protest it would have more impact than the average cyclist.”

When Talley asked people to do something, it was hard for them to find a way to say no. [.pdf of email written to Zipcar at Talley's request]

The Varsity Ann Arbor

On the council’s agenda was a resolution for approval of a residential project on East Washington Street: The Varsity Ann Arbor. The Varsity is a “planned project” consisting of a 13-story apartment building with 181 units at 425 E. Washington, between 411 Lofts and the First Baptist Church.

The city planning commission recommended approval of The Varsity at its Oct. 4, 2011 meeting.

Intended for students, it’s the first project to go through the city’s new design review process. The Varsity was first considered at the planning commission’s Sept. 20 meeting, but postponed before eventually winning recommendation.

A “planned project” allows modifications of the area, height, and placement requirements related to permanent open space preservation, if the project would result in “the preservation of natural features, additional open space, greater building or parking setback, energy conserving design, preservation of historic or architectural features, expansion of the supply of affordable housing for lower income households or a beneficial arrangement of buildings.” However, all other zoning code requirements must still be met – including the permitted uses, maximum density, and maximum floor area.

The Varsity was submitted as a planned project in order to make the plaza area off Washington Street larger than what would have been required by the zoning code.

The Varsity: Public Hearing

Thomas Partridge stated that he felt the requirements for the property should include access on a non-discriminatory basis to transportation.

Chris Crockett noted that the proposed building is bounded on two sides by structures in the Old Fourth Ward historic district. She had met with developers and architects for a number of months, she said, and allowed that The Varsity is an appropriate development for the site – it is tall and could be taller. However, she still had real concerns about some issues to which she’d not received a good response from the architects and the developer. One concern is the Huron Street facade, she said. It’s a major thoroughfare and buildings on the street should be architecturally significant. But The Varsity’s facade on Huron Street is anything but that, she contended. It offers a flat face with an entrance for pedestrians and a garage door.

Alluding to the design changes that had been made since the initial review by the city’s design review board, Crockett called it a “glorified garage door.” The developer had been asked to change it, but it hasn’t been changed, she said. The door is also dangerous, because traffic on Huron Street could get backed up. She expressed skepticism that it would be effective, for the developer simply to tell residents they can’t turn left out of the garage. She maintained it would be a hazard for drivers on Huron Street. She noted that The Varsity was the first building to go through the city’s new design review process and the garage door entrance had been brought to the attention of the development team as unacceptable, she said.

Ethel Potts called The Varsity the first test of the city’s new planning process. Next spring there’ll be a review of how well it’s working, she said. She criticized the fact that height and mass was not considered by the design review board, and that resulted in a project that is not compatible with its context – next door to a small, elegant historic church.

Potts said the reason the design review board didn’t consider height and mass was because those elements were made a part of the zoning code, which was a mistake, she said. A flaw of the project is a lack of green space – it has open space, but that’s not green space. “So much for downtown livability,” she said. She concluded that she doesn’t think the ordinances are working.

Steve Kaplan introduced himself as the owner of the apartment building at 418 Washington. He said he was excited to see the project get built on the street. He told the council he’d attended the design review board and had been impressed with the energy the development team had put into the changes they’ve made.

Kaplan said he appreciated that a developer must balance concerns that are financial with those that are aesthetic. But he suggested that some improvements could be made that do not impact affordability of the construction. On the east wall, the current plan calls for just one color of brick. But with such a large face, he suggested it might make sense to alternate colors to break it up.

Kaplan also said the parking offered inside the building at grade level squanders an important opportunity to contribute to the community. That block of Washington Street has been historically a “sleepy block,” he allowed, but it seems to be changing towards something more exciting. The space allocated to parking could be commercial or retail, so allocating it permanently to parking seems wasteful, he said.

Brad Moore introduced himself as working on the project as an associate architect. He noted that other members of the team were also there. The approval was being sought under the city’s “planned project” provision, he said, a designation that has a controversial history. For this project, Moore explained, the “planned project” designation allows the developer to provide a larger public plaza on Washington Street – at the request of the First Baptist Church. The “planned project” designation is not being used to gain increased mass, density or height, he said. The project team has worked very hard with the neighbors, the design review board and the city planning commission.

The project has evolved, Moore said, and they had done the best job possible. One challenge noted by Moore is that the width of the lot on the Huron side of the site is quite limited. The garage door mimics a “curtain wall,” he said. There is room for the staging of cars, he said. A car can be completely outside the garage, before it gets to the Huron Street edge.

Bob Keane, a principal with WDG Architects in Washington D.C., told the council that the project team had been working together with a local group [Brad Moore]. He described how they’d had a nice process with the design review board, the neighborhood and the church. The team took the commentary seriously, which they’d received as feedback. He called the evolution of the Huron Street facade a great improvement. The way the building steps back responds to the two houses appropriately, he said.

Although Keane had heard people describe the Huron Street facade as “flat,” he said he felt it had a rich texture. He allowed that the long facade facing east really was a bit plain originally, and vertical elements had been added, as well as a metal element at the top to define the building top. He also noted that the team had looked at ways to enhance the mid-block pedestrian connector – the mews, which runs between Huron and Washington.

John Floyd introduced himself as treasurer of the First Baptist Church, located next to the proposed project. He allowed it “could be a lot worse” but told the council that the reason it’s going to be built is: “You guys passed the zoning!” He allowed that the developers are probably nice people, who are nice to kids, and nice to have a pint with.

John Floyd Tom Heywood

Tom Heywood (left) and John Floyd (right) chatted during a recess in the meeting. 

At that point Floyd paused and said he wanted to wait until all the councilmembers were ready to listen, saying that Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) seemed to have other things to do besides pay attention to him. [Hohnke has also in the past made a point of not looking at Floyd when Floyd has spoken during public commentary.]

Floyd ventured that Hohnke was writing an email, at which point Hohnke was piqued into responding verbally to Floyd during Floyd’s commentary. [Councilmembers have rarely if ever responded to speakers during public commentary over the more than three years of Chronicle coverage. They will on occasion offer a response later in the meeting.] Hohnke told Floyd he was taking notes on what Floyd was saying.

When Floyd continued, he called the construction of The Varsity in that spot civic vandalism and church desecration. He said Huron Street used to be the most elegant street in town, and The Varsity starts its diminishment, he said. To take a building that scale and put it through the whole block [from Washington to Huron] is wrong, he contended. It was an “act of irresponsibility” by the council to approve the zoning, he said. It was wrong, Floyd said, and will be wrong for the next 100 years, and is the responsibility of this city council.

At the time allowed for public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Floyd also addressed the council, again on the topic of The Varsity. He told them he had a passion about The Varsity and Huron Street. He responded to remarks made by mayor John Hieftje during the council deliberations on The Varsity – Hieftje had called the process of rezoning inclusive and open.

Floyd recalled that part of the public process had involved the Calthorpe study, which had introduced the idea of “transition zoning.” Out of that public process, he said, Huron Street originally had been designated as D2, the transition zoning. The eventual change later in the process from D2 to D1 – zoning that allows for denser development – did not have the appearance of an open process, Floyd said. Instead, it had the appearance of a middle-of-the-night process. That part seemed like it threw out a large part of the public process and ignored it, he said.

Tom Heywood introduced himself as executive director of the State Street Area Association. When the owners of the project had approached him eight months ago, he asked them to work with neighbors. He turned to Floyd and asked if he’d met with the developer – no, answered Floyd. Heywood went on to say that the co-pastor of Floyd’s church, Stacey Simpson Duke, couldn’t be at the meeting that night – her twin boys had a “family thing” – but Duke supported the project. [However, during the rezoning process to which Floyd had referred during his commentary, Duke had weighed in against the D1 zoning that the council ultimately approved for that area.]

Heywood noted that the developer could have proceeded with a “by right” project, but chose not to. The plaza proposed on the Washington Street side was added so that the building would flow with the rest of the street. The State Street Area Association board had unanimously approved a resolution supporting the project. He said he understood that there are people who don’t like the massing of the building, but he believes it reflects the future of downtown.

Ray Detter spoke on behalf of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council. He said the group has urged the developer to improve the project, and that many changes have been made that have improved the project. For example, a small green roof was recently added. The group supported the increased setback on Washington Street and the resulting plaza. The group would have liked the developer to eliminate the Washington Street parking entrance.

The mews on the east side is of special interest, said Detter, because it’s a public benefit. He contended that expansion of the surface to the church property would require only administrative review of the city’s historic district commission. He hoped the mews will result in a crosswalk and a connection to the alley between Washington and Liberty, which he said is now a “stinking, dirty, nasty alley.” Detter wants to see that alley turn into a well-designed pedestrian walkway.

The Varsity: Council Deliberations

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) led off deliberations, saying the project was unanimously recommended for approval by the city planning commission. [Derezinski serves as the council's representative to the planning commission.] He noted that the new design review board process is new. Some people who were most enthusiastic about the project were neighbors, he said. The sticking point was the Huron Street entrance. The only way to solve it completely would have been to eliminate it, he said, which the developer didn’t do. He alluded to the idea that the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good, and said that there’d been a lot of public input.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3 ) said he was glad the issue of the two entrances had been raised – he had a problem with the Washington Street entrance, because it’s pedestrian unfriendly. He said the city’s experience with garage doors between Division and Fifth along Liberty was not good – it’s unsightly along that corridor, he said, and makes it difficult for pedestrians. Why does the building need two entrances? Kunselman asked.

Brad Moore clarified that the project is not changing anything that doesn’t already exist – both entrances already exist. The Washington entrance is back far enough for a motorist to pull out of the garage and still be cognizant of pedestrians. The lot has a panhandle shape, with the narrow end on the north (Huron Street). In trying to find a way to use one entrance and build a ramp inside the building, they discovered that it just didn’t work, Moore explained. As a result, from the Huron Street side, you descend to one level of parking.

In response to questions from Kunselman about required parking and the ability to convert space to retail use, Moore explained that there’s a congregational space, a lounge, on the ground floor, so that if retail demand exists, it could be converted to retail. That would still leave a lounge on the top floor.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked for the plans to be shown that illustrated the contrast between the original plans and the changes that had been made in response to suggestions from the design review board and others. The contrasts were then discussed by councilmembers and the design team.

Mayor John Hieftje said he was normally not a fan of “planned projects,” so he appreciated the work the developer was willing to do with the neighboring First Baptist Church. He said he grew up attending that church. Hieftje then referred to Floyd’s comments about the zoning, but refrained from mentioning Floyd’s name. Hieftje said that thousands of hours had been put into it and it was one of the most participatory things he’d seen in government. He said not everybody would be happy with everything about it, but it’s something they could live with.

Village Green, First and Washington

The council was asked to consider final authorization of a land deal to sell the city-owned First and Washington lot to Village Green. Village Green will build a 244-space parking deck as the first two stories of a 9-story building with 156 dwelling units – City Apartments.

Village Green: Background

The purchase price of the land is $3,200,000, the bulk of which ($2,500,000 plus $500,000 previously borrowed from the risk fund to cover construction costs) is earmarked for the city’s new municipal building fund. This has been a part of the city’s financing plan for that building. Construction of the municipal building is now essentially completed.

The city has previously received $103,000 in earnest money from Village Green. The city is covering $5,000 in closing costs – that puts net proceeds of the transaction at $3,092,000. The remaining $92,000 (after appropriating the $3 million total for the municipal center) and the earnest money will be appropriated to the general fund, designated as “non-departmental” (as non-recurring revenue), where it will add to the general fund reserve.

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has pledged around $9 million of support for bonds to pay for the parking deck component of City Apartments – the city will own that part of the project. Payment is not owed to Village Green for the parking deck construction until a certificate of occupancy is issued for the parking deck, which is expected to open for business in about a year (late 2012), before the residential portion of the project is complete.

The deal had a five-year trajectory after the city council first approved the recommendation of the First and Washington RFP Review Committee, and the city started negotiations with Village Green for the sale and redevelopment of the site. The goals of the deal were: to increase downtown residential density; replace public parking spaces; maximize the sale price; and maximize future tax revenue, captured by the Ann Arbor DDA Authority TIF (tax increment finance) district.

The vote by the council required an 8-vote majority on the 11-member body, because the city charter stipulates that “The City shall not purchase, sell, or lease any real estate or any interest therein except by resolution concurred in by at least eight members of the Council.”

Also before the council on Thursday night was the affordable housing component of the project. Under those terms, 16 of the units must be permanently affordable to households earning no more than 80% of the area median income (AMI).

The Ann Arbor DDA has also agreed to support the project with $400,000 from its housing fund, if four of the 80% AMI rental units are made affordable at the 60% AMI level. The affordable units will be of the same appearance and finish as other units and would be distributed throughout the project. Village Green does not have the option of making a payment in lieu of providing the affordable units as part of the project.

Village Green: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked city of Ann Arbor chief financial officer Tom Crawford about how the proceeds of the sale would be appropriated. She contended one step has been missed – it should first go into the general fund before being appropriated to the municipal building fund.

By way of background, Briere was making the point that in 2008, the council had included a condition on a further extension of Village Green’s purchase option that proceeds of the sale be deposited into the general fund, not the municipal building fund. From The Chronicle’s meeting report ["Council Revisits the Mid-2000s"]:

As a historical point related to the planned use of the sale proceeds for the new municipal center construction, the council defeated a resolution on March 17, 2008 to extend the Village Green purchase option agreement for First and Washington. At the council’s following meeting, on April 7, 2008, the measure was brought back for reconsideration, and the council voted unanimously to extend the agreement. The key difference was the addition of a “resolved clause,” which stated: “Resolved, that the proceeds from this sale shall be designated to the general fund, Fund 010.”

Responding to Briere’s question, Crawford said that all along the financing plan for the municipal center has included proceeds of the First and Washington sale. As a reason for not first running the money through the general fund, he said, when citizens sees spikes in the fund balance level, it causes confusion. Briere noted that one of the reasons the project moved forward was the 2008 agreement that proceeds of the sale would go into the general fund.

Crawford told Briere that he wasn’t following her reasoning. From the beginning, he said, the proceeds of the sale were planned to pay for the municipal center. Briere allowed that Crawford was right, but noted that the first time the council had a chance to vote on the project, it was rejected on the theory that one project shouldn’t depend on another. The result was that the council approved it later, on the condition that the proceeds go to the general fund.

Crawford told Briere he didn’t recall that. If it were the council’s desire, he said, he didn’t have a problem doing it that way, but he said it was a matter of expediency to put funds where they’re eventually headed.

Sabra Briere

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) retrieved her laptop from the podium after showing the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, a 2008 resolution the council had passed, requiring the proceeds of the Village Green land deal to be deposited into the general fund.

Briere gave the matter a rest, but continued later after she’d looked up the council resolution on her laptop computer and walked to the podium to show Crawford the resolution. Returning to her seat at the table, she asked Crawford if he saw what she meant. He confirmed he did, and offered his apology – he had not recalled the 2008 decision when he drafted the resolution for that night’s agenda. He said he wouldn’t recommend running the money through the general fund, but said he had no issue with first putting the money into the general fund and then moving it to the building fund.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) ventured that the 2008 vote had meant the council had decided not to put the proceeds towards the municipal center. Crawford stated that he did not believe the 2008 resolution said the city shouldn’t use the money for the municipal center.

The council as a whole did not seem to be in a mood to insist on conformance with its own 2008 resolution, or to undertake a revision to that night’s resolution to explicitly rescind that part of the 2008 vote.

Responding to a question from Anglin, Crawford said construction would start very soon. The actual closing would need to happen before Dec. 3, because that’s how long the purchase option is good for.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he wanted to hear very clearly that there’s no risk to the general fund if the project were to fall thorough. After several turns back and forth between Kunselman and assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald, a couple of points were established. First, no money was owed by the city to Village Green until the parking deck is completed and the certificate of occupancy has been issued. Second, the closing on the land deal with the city and the financing of the project would happen simultaneously.

The question of making payments in lieu of providing affordable housing units as part of a proposed project has been discussed recently by the council at its Oct. 24, 2011 meeting, in the context of a revised proposal for the Heritage Row project. At that meeting, Jennifer L. Hall – housing manager for the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development – had told the council that the city’s current thinking was that payments in lieu might be a more effective policy than requiring affordable units to be provided on site. [The fact that this transition in policy direction has taken place over the lifetime of the Village Green deal speaks to the length of time that the First and Washington project has been in the works.]

Kunselman got confirmation from McDonald that Village Green can’t make a payment in lieu of providing the affordable units as part of the project.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve all the elements of the Village Green deal.

Taxicab Law

The council considered final approval to a set of changes to its taxicab ordinance. The changes make explicit how long a taxicab company license is valid (10 years) and spell out some additional conditions on revocation or suspension of the company license.

The revisions also add reasons that can be used for suspending an individual taxicab driver’s license, which include a city administrator’s view that a driver “has acted in an unprofessional, harassing or threatening manner to passengers, or others.”

At the council’s Oct. 17, 2011 meeting, when the revision had received its initial approval, Tom Crawford – the city’s chief financial officer – had briefed the council on the changes. Crawford serves as a non-voting member of the city’s taxicab board, which had recommended those changes. Crawford characterized the changes as falling in three areas. In the first area, related to licensing, Crawford said that in the past the city had seasonal operators who would want to come in and work the football season and then disappear. The ordinance is being changed so that if a company ceases operation for 45 days, the city can revoke the license. Crawford explained that a healthy taxicab industry needs stability and this is a mechanism to help guard against companies frequently coming in and out of the market.

Another area of change has to do with solicitations and how the companies represent themselves. Several companies advertise themselves as taxis, but they’re in fact limousines. Crawford characterized it as a safety issue for someone who believes a vehicle is a taxi, but it’s in fact a limo. [A taxi is per code "... accepting passengers for hire within the boundaries of the city as directed by the passenger." A limousine is pre-booked.] If a company holds itself out as a taxicab company, it has to be licensed as a taxicab company, Crawford said. [The city's taxicab code already prohibits advertising in the reverse direction – it prohibits taxicabs from holding themselves out as limousines.]

During the public hearing on Thursday, only one person spoke. Thomas Partridge began by saying he was opposed to the mayor using admonitions at the start of public hearings to speak only to the topic of a public hearing, saying it suppressed public comment. The ordinance, Partridge said, was misnamed. The name should refer to business subjects related to taxicab drivers and vehicles, he said. He told the council it should go back for discussion and further work.

Partridge called for a progressively-based fee, based on the assets of the applicant. The proceeds of the fees should be used to provide better accessible taxicab transportation for seniors and disabled people. He called for a committee to encourage courteous behavior and non-discrimination by taxicab drivers and to prevent unethical and illegal setting of fares. He raised the specter of illegal setting of fares possibly involving computer hacking.

During the scant council deliberations, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) urged his colleagues to go ahead and approve it. As the council’s representative to the taxicab board, he vouched that the ordinance revision has been vetted by drivers and companies and members of the community.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the taxicab ordinance revision.

Labor Retirement Benefits

Before the council for consideration was final approval to revisions of ordinances that govern the retirement and health care plans for two of the city’s unions: the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association (AAPOA) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

The revisions to the ordinances resulted from a collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME and a binding arbitration under Act 312 with AAPOA. The changes are similar to ordinance changes already enacted for non-union city workers.

The pension contribution for AAPOA and AFSCME workers will rise from 5% on a post-tax basis to 6% on a pre-tax basis. The vesting period for new hires will increase from 5 years to 10 years. Also for new hires, the final average compensation (FAC) calculation will be increased to a five-year period. The previous FAC was based on a three-year period.

On the health care side, the AFSCME and AAPOA employees will have the same access-only retiree health plan as non-union employees have.

Initial approval of the ordinance change came at the council’s Oct. 17, 2011 meeting.

Thomas Partridge spoke during the public hearings on both ordinance changes. He said his state senate campaign had included a platform that increased services to the public and avoided discrimination towards public employee unions. He viewed the ordinance change, albeit after negotiations, as bullying tactics. He said the city of Ann Arbor should turn its back on former city administrator Roger Fraser and his recruitment by Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration. [Fraser took a job earlier this year as deputy treasurer for the state of Michigan.]

The council should, Partridge said, reject the anti-democratic attitudes of bills put through the Republican administration, and not follow along. On their face, the bills are discriminatory towards the unions. He asked the council to table the ordinances and give them further consideration.

Speaking to the health care ordinance, Partridge contended that it impedes the ability of employees to access full and affordable health care.

Comment from the council on the two ordinances came only from Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who noted the council had already seen the changes when the bargaining agreements were ratified. The greater contributions by employees, the longer vesting periods and the increase in the period for final average compensation is the kind of approach that the city needs in the future, he said. He said he was glad to see both groups agree to that. Rapundalo noted that the changes put new union member hires on the same basis as non-union employees. It is a long-term strategy of having parity and equity, he said.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the changes to the ordinances on pension and the retiree health care benefits for the AFSCME and AAPOA unions.

Recycling Contract

The council was asked to ratify a revision to the city’s contract with RecycleRewards (parent company of RecycleBank), starting Dec. 1, 2011. Under terms of the new contract, Ann Arbor’s base payment to RecycleRewards will be reduced from $0.52 to $0.35 per household per month. Annually, that translates to a reduction from $149,244 to $100,455.

Under the contract revision, RecycleRewards will receive a $50 per ton incentive for any increase above 11,332 tons – that’s the amount collected in the first year of the RecycleRewards program (Sept. 1, 2010 to Aug. 31, 2011). However, even with possible incentives, the city’s payment is limited to a maximum of $150,000 in any fiscal year.

At its Sept. 19 meeting, the council had made the decision to direct city staff to renegotiate the new contract, after weighing the possibility of terminating it.

During the brief council deliberations, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reminded everyone that the contract revision came in response to the council re-examining the contract. She noted that the city is not committing to continuing the contract next year, if the council decides not to appropriate funds for RecycleBank.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to amend the contract with RecycleRewards.

Greenbelt Addition

On the agenda was a resolution to approve use of the city’s open space and parkland preservation (greenbelt) millage funds to preserve two parcels outside the city through the purchase of conservation easements.

The city of Ann Arbor is partnering with Ann Arbor Township and Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation by contributing $49,500 towards the $99,000 cost of a conservation easement on a 23-acre property owned by Joe Bloch in Ann Arbor Township. Part of the land is currently used for farming.

For a second parcel, the council was asked to authorize $15,000 to partner with the Legacy Land Conservancy to preserve a 30-acre property owned by Charles Botero in Northfield Township. Botero is donating the conservation easement to the Legacy Land Conservancy – the $15,000 will cover the closing, due diligence, and stewardship costs for the property.

The greenbelt advisory commission recommended both fund expenditures at its Sept. 14, 2011 meeting.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the expenditures of greenbelt funds.

The council postponed a vote on the appointment of Shannon Brines to the greenbelt advisory commission until Nov. 21. The resolution on the agenda would have made the effective date Nov. 21, and the council wanted to time their vote to the effective date. The next meeting of the greenbelt advisory commission is Dec. 14.

Leaf Truck Lease

As part of its consent agenda, the council was asked to approve a $93,720 emergency purchase order for the lease of trucks to help with the fall leaf pickup. The contract is for six trucks for two months from Premier Truck Sales & Rental Inc.

leaf truck in action

A leaf truck rented from Premier Truck Sales & Rental in action on the Old West Side in Ann Arbor.

The emergency nature of the purchase order resulted from the fact that a different company, Big Truck Rental LLC, was unable to provide the eight trucks the city had originally agreed to lease. The council had approved a $138,000 purchase order for Big Truck Rental at its Sept. 19 meeting.

The city no longer picks up leaves by asking people to rake them into the street, and instead requires residents to use containers – carts or bags. The rented trucks supplement the city’s regular trucks, and reduce the number of times that trucks would need to be emptied as they cover their routes.

When the city budgeted for 2011, it expected to save $104,000 by moving to containerized leaf collection. In fact, it realized a $200,000 savings (based on unaudited figures). For the 2012 fiscal year, the city is estimating $150,000 in savings.

Outcome: As part of its consent agenda, the city council approved the emergency purchase order for the lease of trucks .

Rapundalo’s Last Meeting

Nov. 10, 2011 marked Stephen Rapundalo’s (Ward 2) final council meeting of his council term.

Rapundalo: Background

Rapundalo lost Tuesday’s general election to Jane Lumm. She will take office on Monday, Nov. 14, based on the Ann Arbor city charter provision on terms of city council office:

Terms of Office
SECTION 12.4. (a)
The term of office of each member of the Council, including the Mayor, except as by this section provided, shall be two years. Such term shall commence on the Monday next following the regular City election at which such officers are elected. …

Lumm will be ceremonially sworn in at the council’s Nov. 21 meeting.

During his last communications to the council, Rapundalo reminded them that there is a vacancy on the local development finance authority (LDFA) board that they would need to fill.

Rapundalo serves as the city council representative to the LDFA. However, at its Sept. 19, 2011 meeting, the council approved a change to the agreement between Ann Arbor and the city of Ypsilanti, so that the city councilmember representative to the LDFA board would cease to be a member of the board immediately when membership on the council ceased.

One scenario would be for the council to appoint Rapundalo to the open seat, because he’s now available to serve as a non-council member of the LDFA board. The council will also need to appoint one of its own members to serve as council representative. Appointments of councilmembers to other boards and commissions, as well as to subcommittees of the council, are typically decided at the second meeting in November or the first meeting in December.

Rapundalo: Council Words of Farewell

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) led off the words of farewell to Rapundalo, saying that on Rapundalo’s last evening he wanted to tell him how much he’d appreciated working with him. Hohnke appreciated Rapundalo’s thoughtful and fact-based approach to issues in front of the council. Rapundalo would be missed. Hohnke thanked Rapundalo for his hard work over the years. He’d taken on duties that someone needed to take on – duties that would not generate additional friends, but that need to be done.

Hohnke Briere

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) before the meeting, discussing changes to the pedestrian safety ordinance. Hohnke is signing Rapundalo’s farewell card. 

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) noted that he and Rapundalo were wardmates. They both represented Ward 2 together for three years. One of the things that is under-appreciated about service on the council is the amount of time it takes, Derezinski said. Tough decisions are made, the effects of which will not be noticed until a long time from now. Derezinski said he and Rapundalo were not always in agreement, but most of the time they were.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she would miss Rapundalo and thanked him for his service. She told him he had never veered away from saying what needs to be said and told him he had a lot of courage and great insight. She said he was very thoughtful and is the kind of amazing thinker who is needed on council.

Mayor John Hieftje said he very much appreciated having Rapundalo on the council, and that Rapundalo’s scientific way of thinking was beneficial to the council.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) echoed his colleagues’ sentiments, saying it’s been a pleasure to serve with Rapundalo. Taylor said he still recollected being fresh on the council and had enjoyed learning from Rapundalo. Taylor then attempted a joke based on the fact that Rapundalo and Hohnke, who sit on opposite sides of the table, hold PhDs. Taylor ventured that Rapundalo’s side of the table now had a deficit in doctorates, but that perhaps his and Derezinski’s JD degrees might balance that out.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that often he and Rapundalo had been on different sides of issues. But he and Rapundalo had served on the liquor committee together, and Rapundalo had done an outstanding job. Rapundalo had done the rudimentary things necessary to get the liquor committee board in shape to be able to deal with the issues that arise with bars, Anglin said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he’d enjoyed his time working with Rapundalo – noting playfully that they shared the same name. He noted that he and Rapundalo had at times been on the same side of issues and also on opposite sides. He told Rapundalo he appreciated Rapundalo’s support on the Argo Dam issue [both men supported keeping it in place], but not so much on the issue of the airport runway extension [unlike Rapundalo, Kunselman was adamant about not extending the runway].

Stephen Kunselman Christopher Taylor Stephen Rapundalo

Right to left: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). Kunselman is telling Rapundalo that he figures Rapundalo will find it difficult to stay away from involvement in city issues.

Kunselman said he greatly admired Rapundalo’s service to the city. He then told Rapundalo that “I have been where you’re going” – an allusion to the fact that three years ago, in 2008, Kunselman had lost his seat on the council, but returned the following year to defeat Leigh Greden, winning back a seat. Kunselman said Rapundalo would have a hard time leaving, and he suspected Rapundalo would be back in some form or another. Kunselman then alluded to the fact that Rapundalo enjoys dual Canadian-U.S. citizenship, and told him to “go have some fun, eh.”

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) told Rapundalo he’d always been gracious, kind and thoughtful. She told him she’d miss sitting “not quite next” to him. [Derezinski sits between Briere and Rapundalo at the council table.]

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) told Rapundalo she would miss looking at him across the table. She said that the first she’d met him, he was an involved citizen, and the issue they were looking at was sewer backups. She noted his service on the park advisory commission before being elected to the council. Noting he’d been involved in many aspects of public service before sitting at the table, she hoped he would consider some of those things again.

During the meeting, two speakers during public commentary mentioned Rapundalo’s service. John Floyd, former candidate for Ward 5 city council, thanked Rapundalo for doing what Rapundalo thought was right, even though mostly Floyd disagreed with him. And Tom Heywood, executive director of the State Street Area Association, told Rapundalo he appreciated working with Rapundalo, and also looked forward to working with Lumm.

Rapundalo: Response

Rapundalo responded to the remarks of his colleagues by saying he appreciated their kind and generous words. It was a privilege and honor to be a public servant. He said he’d had “a lot of darn fun” serving with all of them. He’d tried to serve with dignity and with thoughtfulness and integrity – that’s the only way he knew to approach it. He said he called things as he sees it.

He hoped he’d been able to make some contributions, and he’d worked on some issues he’d enjoyed – from labor issues to human services. He ventured that in serving, one hopes to make a difference in people’s daily lives. To that end, his focus had been on finding solutions. He contended he’d never been motivated to serve on the council because of ego or a power trip. He was just doing what was right, he said. He appreciated the help, advice and criticism he’d received from his colleagues on the council.

Rapundalo singled out former city administrator Roger Fraser for special thanks, saying he’d enjoyed Fraser’s leadership. One of Rapundalo’s disappointments was not being able to work with new administrator Steve Powers. Rapundalo said he also wanted to thank the city staff, because they often get forgotten. The staff works hard in every corner of the organization and they don’t get enough respect, he said. Responding to Kunselman’s suggestion that he’d be back, Rapundalo said he didn’t know about running again, but he would find a way to contribute to the community.

Communications and Comment

Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.

Comm/Comm: Pancreatic Cancer Awareness

Mayor John Hieftje issued a proclamation making November Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. On hand to accept the proclamation was Mary Wenners, who told the council about her friend Jim Hetzel, who died of the disease last year at the age of 62. His death didn’t make headline news, she said. She called the council’s attention to the purple ribbons and bracelets associated with pancreatic awareness as well as the slogan: Know it, fight it, end it.

Comm/Comm: R4C Review

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2)) reported that the R4C zoning review committee had held its 11th and final meeting. A report will be forthcoming to the planning commission, he said. It had taken two years and there’d been a lot of public input, he said.

Comm/Comm: Unwanted Newspapers

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said that many constituents had communicated their displeasure about undesired delivery of newspapers and other commercial handbills to their residences. He said he was working with Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) on an ordinance change that would address that issue.

Comm/Comm: 618 S. Main

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) alerted the public to a meeting the following day at the location of the former Fox Tent and Awning building for a citizen participation meeting regarding a proposed residential development. The site is zoned D2, he said, and is on the edge of the Old West Side historic district.

Comm/Comm: Medical Marijuana

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported that the medical marijuana license board, on which she serves, has now met three times, and she expected it would meet again on Nov. 30. The board is supposed to deliver a report to the council in January 2012, she said, and is working towards that deadline. At this point, she said, no applications for medical marijuana licenses have been evaluated.

Comm/Comm: Partridge

Thomas Partridge spoke at both times slots on the agenda available for public commentary. He said he had been “working unceasingly” on ending discrimination and called for access to affordable housing, transportation, education and health care. He called the city’s greenbelt program a carry-over from the Eisenhower administration that used the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to take land out of useful agricultural production. He complained of discrimination he’d encountered at the polling place at Dicken Elementary School.

Comm/Comm: Energy Farms

Kermit Schlansker described the use of biomass in energy production. Energy production will always accompany food production, he said: with corn there will always be the cob. He called on people to plant trees from seeds. Specifically he called for the planting of nut-bearing trees in parks. Even school children can do it, he said. At age 86 he allowed he has difficulty walking. But he still scattered 100 walnuts this year, so that they can grow into trees.

Comm/Comm: Israel

Henry Herskovitz reminded the council he’d spoken during public commentary the previous month and had showed them a world map. He then pointed the council to work done by Alison Weir, who’d founded an organizations called If Americans Knew, which he called an informative and unbiased source of information on Israel’s founding. He then went through some of Weir’s arguments that some of the votes for Israel at the United Nations came as the result of political pressure applied by the U.S.

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke

Absent: Sandi Smith

Next council meeting: Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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  1. November 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the remembrance of Kris. Tracking down a gravel truck that ran her off the road…what a testament to her character. She will be missed.

    Also, a correction: the pedestrian fatality rate in Detroit is not the highest in the country, but “only” the highest in the Midwest. [link]

  2. By Karen Moorhead
    November 13, 2011 at 4:54 pm | permalink

    I am going to spend sometime with the interview Dave and Kris did a few years ago. Thanks for the opportunity to do so.

  3. November 13, 2011 at 6:55 pm | permalink

    I’m struck by how valuable granularity has been in discussion of the pedestrian crossing ordinance.

    Kathy Griswold’s comments are particularly valuable in this. It is often true that both proponents and Council supporters of various issues focus on getting an ordinance or resolution passed, and then suppose that the job is done. But it is also true that often a more comprehensive and analytical approach is needed to solve a problem. There should be a comprehensive (detailed) approach to pedestrian safety, not limited to this ordinance.

    Kris Talley’s history also shows that an individual’s attention to particular detail can be important. Thank you for including those vignettes.

    The work done by Council members to refine this ordinance is commendable. I’m cheered to know that Council can act in this thoughtful way to collaborate with each other and the community to craft an approach that recognizes each participant in the complex of traffic interactions. As a pedestrian, a member of WBWC, and a citizen, I’m grateful.

    And as always, I’m grateful for the Chronicle’s minute coverage. So often now it seems that most news coverage reaches for the sound bites and the sensational. We are so fortunate to have this easily accessible, complete discussion of an issue that seems very small on a global scale but matters to many of us on a basic level.

  4. By John Floyd
    November 13, 2011 at 9:49 pm | permalink

    Coverage here is great. I don’t remember having my arm in that position, but there it is.

    Re: pedestrian ordinance: intrigued to know that the possibility of listening to and responding to citizen comments is not “progressive”. Also relieved to know that when council initiates new actions/enforcement without any request or even buy-in from the public, and the result is many new rear-enders, the fault is NOT council’s. Sort of like when the cookie jar ends up on the floor in a hundred jagged pieces, surrounded by the shards of chocolate chip cookies. The only thing we know for sure in such a circumstance is that it is NOT the kid’s fault.

    Re: The Varsity. My point about Huron Street is that if you start on Huron at the Power Center, and proceed westbound, you will note that every parcel between the Power Center and Division Street has setback, lawn, and trees. The exceptions are the new North Quad building (10 stories rising straight up from the street, on a narrow sidewalk. 1) it incorporates the entrance to the former Carnegie Library, which was build on the sidewalk. This is a plus; 2) the University is a law unto itself, so absent state action, nothing can be done about its setbacks anyway). The current Huron Street entrance to the parcel that will hold The Varsity has no green space; this was a missed opportunity to correct that.

    The opposite side of Huron (the North, and odd-numbered, side of Huron street’s 500 E. block) is an eyesore at present. The Campus Inn and Sloan Plaza Apartments may or may not add to the block’s ambiance, but the rest of that side of the block is unhelpful. Could these parcels use green set backs and elevations that mirror the South side of Huron’s 500 E. block, we could have a gorgeous gateway to downtown (while respecting the homes of the Old 4th Ward Historic district that are behind the North side of Huron). “Instead, [we] got a one-way ticket to palookaville”.

    The notion of the sacred space – what makes a space “sacred”, how such spaces effect people, and what role they mighty play in Ann Arbor – is a topic around which I am trying to craft an essay. For now, I will echo my public remarks to the effect that the campus of the First Baptist Church constitutes such a space (whether or not one is a Protestant Christian), that this space is degraded by the hight and massing of the soon-to-exist The Varsity, and that our community will be the less for it.

    BTW, although I was not thinking of it at the council meeting, I did meet the developer at the public meeting held at the Michigan League. Asked him several pointed questions, such as “How does this project fit in with the three historic districts that are within a stone’s throw of The Varsity, including the one that abuts it on two sides?” The answer to all my questions amounted to “Badges? We don got any badges. I don gotta show you no stinkin’ badges”. Fortunately, no gunfire ensued.

    Re: recycling: Can someone remind me why we pay Recycle Bank anything at all?

    Re: Fox Tent and Awning. This is in the only D2 (transition) district to survive city council’s changes to our public downtown re-zoning process. This is, I believe, the very first project proposed for the D2 area. It begins with a request to exceed the D2 hight limits.

    I cannot imagine that a developer put forth the design, financing and public process effort for this if he did not receive prior (informal) approval from a majority of council. That is, council considers this a done-deal, unless the peasants appear at the gates with pitchforks, sythes and torches. If none of the results of our public re-zoning process have any meaning, why did we spend all that money and time on it?

  5. November 14, 2011 at 12:52 am | permalink

    Amazing coverage. Thanks again!

    “Kunselman then alluded to the fact that Rapundalo enjoys dual Canadian-U.S. citizenship, and told him to “go have some fun, eh.”

    i may have disagreed on issues… but i think it was cool to see a canadian at city hall.

  6. By Alan Goldsmith
    November 14, 2011 at 6:27 am | permalink

    “Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said that many constituents had communicated their displeasure about undesired delivery of newspapers and other commercial handbills to their residences. He said he was working with Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) on an ordinance change that would address that issue.”

    If Taylor can make go away…oh never mind. Lol

  7. November 14, 2011 at 7:56 am | permalink

    Isn’t littering already illegal?

  8. November 14, 2011 at 9:12 am | permalink

    Re: [7] “isn’t littering already illegal?”

    There’s actually a provision in the city code that doesn’t require analysis of a publication as inherently “litter” in order to make it illegal to toss it just any-old-where. You can’t deliver a newspaper by throwing it onto a sidewalk, for example.

    From Chapter 82 of the code of the city of Ann Arbor:

    7:97. – Distributing handbills or newspapers.
    No person shall throw or deposit any handbill or newspaper upon any sidewalk, street, park or other public place except for drop-off distribution points for newspapers to be delivered the same day as distributed. However, it shall not be unlawful for a person to hand out or distribute a handbill or newspaper to any person willing to accept it.
    (Ord. No. 14-64, 3-30-64; Ord. No. 63-78, 11-6-78; Ord. No. 15-02, § 4, 4-15-02)

  9. November 14, 2011 at 9:20 am | permalink

    I sent a community standards violation email to the police department a couple years back, with time stamped photos of A2.COM papers littering the driveway, cc’d same to publisher of the paper. They stopped leaving me that junk right away, put me on a list, said call them if it happens again — which I have.

    Oddly, the police said I should file a criminal littering complaint, but whatever, it stopped. Did the same with the A2 JOURNAL, they stopped too.

    Just bitch a lot, collect evidence, and bug the police over and over again. The litter will stop.

  10. November 14, 2011 at 10:05 am | permalink

    Dave posted note 8 with the ordinance while I was writing. I should point out that the police declined to prosecute because the papers had been left on my driveway, not a “public place.”

  11. By Andy
    November 14, 2011 at 10:44 am | permalink

    RE: #4 — I will offer a contrary perspective, which is that setbacks tend to further hinder walkability by decreasing density/increasing walking distances. Not something I would find desirable downtown. Just my 2 cents.

  12. By Rod Johnson
    November 14, 2011 at 8:33 pm | permalink

    Setbacks can definitely be too big or too small. Buildings that come right up to the sidewalk can be good, but often no attention is paid to how they relate to the street. The Michigan Bell (or whatever it’s called now) building a block farther down is the best (that is, worst) negative example I’ve ever seen. It pretty much ruins that whole block of Huron, not that Huron’s streetscape is much to write home about in general. I really hope we’re not going to repeat that mistake with the 400 block.

  13. By John Floyd
    November 17, 2011 at 7:27 pm | permalink

    @11 Andy,

    On Main St, Liberty, Washington, State, zero setback makes perfect sense. On Huron east of Division (the subject of my remarks), I see it as a detriment (see @12 Rod J., directly above). I did not make a statement about setbacks in general, but rather about E. Huron, the 500 block in particular.

    My point on Huron is that there is a several-blocks long stretch of monument-style buildings (from the Power Center to Division), with setbacks, grass/shrubs/plantings and trees on the south side. The one exception to this is the U’s new North Quad, which has no setback at all on Huron, and presents a 10-story vertical wall with little street-level presence. Most of that property is controlled by the U; the 500 block contains two churches, two historic houses, and the site of soon-to-be The Varsity. No doubt tastes differ, but I’m not seeing much contribution from North Quad to the pedestrian experience (much like the Michigan Bell building, although, to its credit, North Quad is in other ways a more-elegant monument-type building).

    The current Professional Building (The Varsity site) is butt-ugly at present, as is most of the other side of Huron on that block. .We had a chance to zone the 500 block of E. Huron (both sides!) to encourage reflection of the elegant, green, monument style of the rest of Huron. This would have made this stretch a true gateway to downtown – but instead, council put us on a one-way ticket to palookaville.

    The Varsity is built with Huron St. as its “Servants Entrance”, with no consideration of its surroundings and how it interacts with them. Even as a “Modernist” structure, unconscious of its own context, it’s not an attractive building. With its sea-to-shining-sea massing, 4 stories taller than North Quad, and back-door presence, I don’t see how it will enhance the pedestrian experience much.

    It was obvious that the current building there was obsolete, and that something bigger/taller was likely to be/needed to be built there. It’s just that we had the chance to encourage something that did not block the sun, dwarf and ignore its surroundings, and did not detract from, rather than add to, the “Gateway” look of the street. Mindless, robotic application of one idea (“density”) over all other considerations will not serve us well over time. This is what I meant by “civic vandalism”.

    I am still working to articulate the idea of Church Desecration in a manner that speaks to a largely unchurched readership.

  14. November 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm | permalink

    Huron strikes me as a lost cause, but I’m glad there are still people fighting for it. It’s going to take more than just putting in nice buildings. Consider the stretch from Third west to Revena. Some of the nicest houses in town are on that stretch, but they might as well be prisons because the traffic has completely ruined walkability there. The loss of nice buildings on Huron is simply an acknowledgement that we’ve already lost the street.