Action on Countywide Transit Still Paused

Also: Council OKs Arlington Square, wastewater plant contractor

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 6, 2012): As expected, the council postponed consideration of a four-party agreement that would establish a framework for transitioning the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a countywide system. The agreement would be between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) sign agendas for students who attended the Feb. 6 meeting to complete a class assignment. (Photos by the writer.)

The AATA had requested the postponement until March 5. The council ultimately agreed to do that, but not before thoroughly debating the merits of March 5 versus March 19, or even some unspecified date in the future. In the end, the resolution to postpone included a stipulation that the mayor or city administrator could take the item off the March 5 agenda, if a funding recommendation and 5-year service plan are not provided to the council by the AATA in a timely way for the March 5 meeting. A meeting of a financial advisory group, co-chaired by McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and retired Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel, is scheduled to take place on Feb. 29.

In other business, the council approved the tentative award of a $92,929,000 contract with Walsh Construction Company II to undertake a major renovation project at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. During public commentary, the council heard from Glenn Granger, whose company was one of two that had submitted lower bids than Walsh. City staff evaluating the bids did not agree with Granger’s contention that his company had comparable previous experience with a project of similar complexity.

The council gave final approval to a revision to the Arlington Square planned unit development, which grants the developer additional types of uses, without imposing additional parking requirements. The council also appointed a hearing officer for the coming year’s liquor license review process – councilmember Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who also served last year in that capacity.

Highlights of public participation included commentary from a group that has been advocating for a warming center for the homeless.

Four-Party Transit Agreement

In front of the council for a third time was a resolution that would have established an agreement between Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, establishing a new framework for governance of local public transportation. The council previously postponed the issue at its Jan. 9 and Jan. 23 meetings. Thirty-nine people spoke at a public hearing held on Jan. 23.

The four-party agreement would expand the area and level of transportation service provided by the AATA by expanding the geographic area of its governance structure. Specifically, under the four-party agreement, the AATA would be incorporated as a transportation authority under Act 196 of 1986.

In advance of the meeting, the AATA had requested that the council delay the vote until March 5.

The previous delays by the council were due in part to a desire to hear a recommendation from a financial advisory group that was scheduled to meet on Jan. 27 – but that meeting was postponed. The group is now expected to meet on Feb. 29. The group is a collection of more than 20 representatives of the public and private sectors, led by McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and retired Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel. They have met since the fall of 2011.

The day before the group’s scheduled meeting, a 17-bill package was introduced on Jan. 26 in the Michigan house of representatives that provides for the establishment and funding of a regional transit authority that would include Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. However, the AATA has not explicitly cited that new legislation as the reason for the postponement of its meeting.

Four-Party Transit Agreement: Public Commentary

Jim Mogensen reminded councilmembers that he’d addressed them at their last meeting, during the public hearing on the four-party agreement. He wanted to extend his remarks. So far, he said, most of the discussion has involved technical details about service options. Now we’re coming to the part where, he said, “most of us like to look away, because it starts to get ugly.” This next part, he said, is about money and power.

AATA FY 2102 Revenue

AATA FY 2102 revenue pie chart.

Ticking through the four parties to the agreement and evaluating their power and money, he noted that Washtenaw County has power – the county would be the party to file the articles of incorporation, but is not being asked to contribute any money. AATA has money it brings to the table, he said – through its federal and state grants. He noted that of the AATA operating budget, only 30% comes from Ann Arbor’s local transit tax. He pointed out that even the University of Michigan needs to go through the AATA in applying for federal funding for transportation. The city of Ann Arbor has both power and brings money to the table.

Mogensen described Ypsilanti as “kind of” bringing money to the table [through its purchase-of-service agreement (POSA)]. But for the most part, he said, Ypsilanti doesn’t have money or power.

Mogensen stressed that the AATA is a public entity – it’s not Indian Trails or Greyhound. It’s similar, he said, to the fact that the Ann Arbor District Library is not a bookstore. He pointed out that for the commuter express service into Ann Arbor from Chelsea and Canton, AATA has spent about $100,000 in FY 2011 out of local millage money to fund it. [Total cost of the service was around $320,000.]

During public commentary, Thomas Partridge noted that February is African American history month, so he called for “freedom rides” to promote a transportation system in Washtenaw County that is affordable, accessible, and is an equal-opportunity transportation system.

Four-Party Transit Agreement: Council Deliberations

During his communications time near the start of the meeting, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) noted that the council had had a long discussion about the four-party agreement. He was glad that AATA’s chief executive officer Michael Ford had indicated a willingness to meet with councilmembers before the agreement comes before the council again. Anglin indicated that he felt it’s now an appropriate timeframe in which to ask questions. He reported one such question that someone in the community had asked: Why aren’t members of the AATA board publicly elected, like the library board?

The council’s deliberations began with an amendment to the agreement offered by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), which ultimately was not approved by the council.

Four-Party Transit Agreement: Council Deliberations – 1%

Briere’s amendment would have eliminated the reference to 1% as the amount of the municipal service charge that the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti could impose on the local millages that they would be contributing to the new Act 196 authority [proposed deletion in strike-through, additions in italics]:

… the tax levy in its entirely to AATA at the 2012 millage rate or as adjusted by State of Michigan statute less a municipal service charge of one percent (1%) of the annual millage at the time of the collection of taxes to be negotiated by the city administrator, of which the portion of the service charge for the collection of any tax levy shall not exceed the allowable maximum under statute for tax administration fees.

Mayor John Hieftje reacted to the proposed change by saying that the specific figure of 1% makes it definite. And he wondered about the choice of the word “negotiated.” Assistant city attorney Mary Fales explained that Act 196, under which the new transportation authority would be incorporated, uses that word. ["Any agreement negotiated under this subsection shall guarantee the collecting unit its reasonable expenses."]

Asked to comment on the proposed change, Michael Ford, CEO of AATA, indicated that he could not comment – AATA’s legal counsel was not present and he was just seeing the proposed change for the first time.

Hieftje suggested the council should go ahead and undertake any changes the councilmembers thought were necessary, even if the intent is to postpone the vote. In the process of taking “little bites,” he felt this might be an appropriate bite. Responding to the view by Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) that there would be additional amendments coming at future meetings, Hieftje felt that it would be beneficial to go ahead and take care of as many of those issues as the council could.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked what the “municipal service charge” referred to. It was his understanding that the municipal service charge is something that the city charges to, for example, the golf course enterprise fund to cover overhead. He said the city charges an administrative fee on the collection of taxes already, so he wondered: Is the charge referred to in the four-party agreement an additional charge? Briere ventured that based on the communication she’d had with the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, she believed it’s the same thing. It’s two different ways of saying the same thing, she ventured.

Kunselman disagreed with Briere, saying he didn’t understand it that way at all. City treasurer Matt Horning provided some clarity on the issue, by explaining that the 1% administrative fee is something charged to taxpayers above and beyond their tax bill. The municipal service charge is something charged within the city’s accounting system to different units.

[What the four-party agreement would do, then, is allow the city of Ann Arbor and the city of Ypsilanti to forward just 99% of their local millages to the new Act 196 authority. The administrative fee does not result in a reduction of millage money forwarded, because it's paid by taxpayers on top of their entire tax bill.]

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) got clarification that the maximum allowable rate for the tax administration fee is 1%. Noting that Act 196 refers to a negotiation, he wondered if the conversation the council was having, plus the conversations of the other parties, constitute the negotiation? Fales allowed that the four-party agreement could be used as the point of negotiation. But she said Briere’s suggestion would allow flexibility. Taylor agreed that Fales’ description was accurate, but he felt that now was the time when the negotiation is taking place. He appreciated having flexibility downstream – but said the city would be moving down from what it had previously charged. So he said he’d decline to support the amendment as drafted.

Outcome: Briere’s 1% amendment failed, with support only from Anglin, Briere, and Kunselman.

Four-Party Transit Agreement: Council Deliberations – Termination

Briere offered another amendment to add language to the termination clause to make explicit what some of the options are – to which Taylor eventually added the second sentence. He also tweaked the initial sentence so that it referred to withdrawal from the new transit authority, not the four-party agreement.

The City of Ann Arbor may also withdraw from the new TA [transit authority] using any of the methods authorized by MCL 124.458. In the event that the city of Ann Arbor exercise any of the forgoing rights, Ann Arbor may terminate this agreement upon written notice to the other parties.

Briere offered as rationale the fact that much of the conversation has been about the option to withdraw from the Act 196 authority within 30 days after its incorporation. She noted that there are more options than just the 30-day period, and it’s a good idea not to waive any of those options.

Kunselman asked what would happen if the new authority were created and Ann Arbor withdrew. Fales indicated that the agreement would be binding on the other three parties. Responding to a question from Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Fales noted that the council will vote separately on the articles of incorporation.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) got clarification that the added language was clarifying the existence of the city’s rights, not giving it new rights.

Outcome: The amendment clarifying withdrawal options was approved unanimously.

Four-Party Transit Agreement: Council Deliberations – Postponement

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) initially made a motion to postpone the issue to March 19. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she did not want the date to be specified. Lumm wanted to make it non-specific and contingent on receiving the funding recommendation and service plan.

Briere noted there are two options – postponing until a date certain or tabling with an uncertain date. She said she felt the March 19 date would address the concern expressed by Lumm. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) objected to the idea of leaving the date uncertain. She said the council should pick a date and shoot for that date. That way the council and the public will know when “we’ll be queuing it up,” Smith said. If necessary, the council can postpone again.

Asked for his thoughts, Michael Ford – CEA of the AATA – indicated that the AATA had asked for postponement only until the March 5 date. The AATA would be prepared with the information on March 5, he said.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had mixed feelings. She noted the Feb. 29 meeting of the financial advisory group, and said that March 5 comes up quickly after that meeting. She was concerned that the council wouldn’t have the time it would need to evaluate the information.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked Ford if the March 19 date would slow down the AATA too much. Ford replied, “It will slow us down.” Ford reiterated that the AATA could provide the information by March 5.

Taylor expressed his view that the information that some councilmembers want to see before taking a vote on the four-party agreement is not necessary to see. He said it’s an agreement between parties and doesn’t bind the city to enter into a new financing plan. Rather, it creates an analytic process by which to move forward. It’s not law the council is making here, he said. The agreement is binding only according to its terms, nothing more.

Lumm said she wanted to postpone it longer, but was comfortable with March 19. That would also allow time for the community to assess the information. She rejected the idea that it’s important not to lose momentum. “If it’s a good concept today, it’ll be a good concept tomorrow,” she said.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4)

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Higgins indicated that she’d heard people say nobody is pushing this, but she noted that Taylor had reminded the council twice it needs to move forward. She said she was just looking for the final pieces to fall into place. She gets asked frequently by her constituents about the funding piece of the plan. She allowed that the funding is separate from the four-party agreement, but said that the two things come together at some point in time.

As far as a timeline goes, Higgins asked Ford why he could not meet with the city of Ypsilanti and work on their part of the agreement. Ford explained that the AATA has had meetings with Ypsilanti officials, but a lot of people are looking at what Ann Arbor is doing. To be blunt, he said, people are looking for Ann Arbor’s leadership.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he shared the view that the financing plan is separate from the four-party agreement. If the council did receive the requested material on Feb. 29 , that’s consistent with the timeframe for which it receives information for its council meetings – on the Wednesday before the next Monday meeting. He did not see a problem with changing the postponement date to March 5.

Briere agreed with Hohnke’s point about the timing of the information. She also agreed with Higgins and Lumm when they said the public would also want a chance to dig into it. After that, she continued, if Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA all sign off on it, then the public will have the next several months to dig into it.

Mayor John Hieftje said he felt it’s important to keep the ball rolling. March 5 would be another opportunity to figure out how to amend the agreement.

Lumm objected to that date as too short a timeframe. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wondered why Ypsilanti is even being included the agreement, given its relatively small financial contribution.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) reminded his colleagues of the concerns they’d heard during public commentary about the financial part of the plan.

Smith noted that on March 5, the four-party agreement can be postponed again if the council decides it needs to be postponed. She noted that “… if Ann Arbor’s not playing, there’s no game.”

Briere reminded her colleagues and the public that the proposed bills in the state legislature, which could alter the funding picture, had only been introduced. Just because something has been introduced doesn’t mean it will pass, she said. Trying to theorize what would happen is a waste of time, she said – we have no control over what happens in Lansing. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) felt the council tends to overuse postponement. He felt the four-party agreement is a preliminary step and the council should just go ahead.

Higgins was not entirely satisfied with the March 5 date, but extracted an assurance that if the funding recommendation and the service plan were not available, it could be taken off that meeting’s agenda. Hieftje told Higgins that he and city administrator Steve Powers would “get together on that.”

Outcome: The council voted to postpone the vote on the four-party agreement until March 5. Voting against the postponement, because of the date that was specified, were Anglin and Lumm.

Wastewater Treatment Contract

The council considered the tentative award of a $92,929,000 contract with Walsh Construction Company II LLC to undertake the work associated with the facilities renovation project at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The “tentative” award is a requirement for receiving a low-interest loan from the state’s revolving fund loan program, which is administered through Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The city reviewed six bids: Lakeshore Toltest Corp. ($83,302,048); Granger Construction Co. ($89,990,000); Walsh Construction Co. II LLC ($92,929,000); Walbridge ($95,380,441); Hunt/Colasanti ($99,990,000); and Barton Malow Co. ($102,884,000).

The firms making lower bids were found by city staff not to be sufficiently qualified to undertake the specific work, because they did not have experience as a general contractor in charge of a wastewater treatment facility construction project with a similar complexity and size.

Wastewater Treatment Contract: Public Comment

During his turn at public commentary at the start of the meeting, Kermit Schlansker did not address the specific issue of the wastewater treatment contract. However, he did reprise a theme on which he has addressed the council for nearly 20 years: energy conservation and municipal sewage disposal. From the Sept. 7, 1994 city council minutes:

Kermit Schlansker, 2950 Marshall St., stated that cities should start building their own power plants because small facilities are more energy conserving and cheaper than large facilities. He voiced concern with the status quo in energy conservation and expressed the need for the creation of an environmental science commission staffed with experts to accomplish such conservation projects. Mr. Schlansker stated that conservation is cost effective and essential in achieving a sustainable society.

Schlansker is a former aerospace engineer for Allied Bendix.

At the Feb. 6, 2012 meeting, Schlansker told the council that sewage disposal is more effective if there are multiple goals. He called for recycling sewage, suggesting that the southwest side of the city should have an experimental sewage plant. If we don’t start to use sewage as fertilizer for crops, millions will starve, he warned.

Glenn Granger of Granger Construction Co. addressed the council during public commentary, objecting to the assessment of the city’s staff that his firm had no similar previous experience.

Glenn Granger

Glenn Granger of Granger Construction Co. In the background is councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Granger pointed specifically to a $70 million project in Wyoming Township that he contended was comparable. He allowed that the total dollar value was somewhat less than the $90 million contract for Ann Arbor’s wastewater treatment facility, but said from the point of view of the dollar value of construction expected per year, it was comparable.

Granger described wastewater treatment and solid waste as “within our wheelhouse,” noting that the very first construction project he’d been involved with in his career was a wastewater treatment facility. So he said he was confused by the city’s assessment. Noting that some students from Skyline High School were in the audience, he told the council that Granger was the contractor for that project, as well as many other local building projects. Granger asked the council to delay their consideration of the contract.

Wastewater Treatment Contract: Council Deliberations

Mayor John Hieftje noted that while his name is given on the agenda as the sponsor of the resolution, he’s not responsible for the hard work that went into it.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) led off deliberations by asking that Craig Hupy to come forward to the podium to answer questions. Hupy is interim public services area administrator in the wake of Sue McCormick’s resignation late last year. She took a job heading up Detroit’s water and sewerage department.

Earl Kenzie, Craig Hupy

From left: Earl Kenzie, unit manager at the city's wastewater treatment plant, and Craig Hupy, interim public services area administrator.

Taylor noted that the council had received communications from the unsuccessful bidders on the project. Taylor told Hupy that he was looking to have him confirm and affirm the rationale for the selection of Walsh.

Hupy stressed that the rationale has nothing to do with Granger’s ability to perform as a general building contractor. The firm has wide experience in that area, Hupy said.

Hupy addressed the specific issue of the Wyoming Township project, which Granger had cited as a comparable project. That is a drinking water treatment plant, he said, whereas Ann Arbor’s project is a wastewater plant. The Wyoming Township facility, he said, was built adjacent to the existing facility, with service switched over to the new facility in one step. The Ann Arbor project, he said, would require demolishing out sections of an existing facility and switching over service step by step over time. Hupy described it as involving multiple cutovers and tie-ins. It’s a different complexity than the Wyoming facility.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked what was “tentative” about the contract award. The explanation is that it’s a required step for receiving a low-interest loan from the state’s revolving fund loan program, which is administered through Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Earl Kenzie, unit manager at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, responded to a question from Mike Anglin (Ward 5) by walking the council through the process used to review the bids.

The staff took a look at the three low bids and based on a review of those bids, the city submitted written questions to the three lowest bidders. Those bidders were then brought in to discuss the answers that had been given.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) wrapped up the deliberations by saying that the project’s engineering firm, Malcolm Pirnie of Michigan Inc., had provided a detailed memo on the selection of the contractor. She characterized the evaluation process as “quite robust.”

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the tentative award of the wastewater treatment facility construction contract to Walsh Construction.

Arlington Square PUD

The council considered final approval to changes to the supplemental regulations of a planned unit development (PUD) for Arlington Square. The changes to the PUD supplemental regulations would allow for urgent care and restaurant uses at the site, with no additional parking. No exterior changes are proposed.

The two-story, 51,285-square-foot retail and office complex is located at 3250 Washtenaw Ave. – the southeast corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Huron Parkway. An 8,000-square-foot space in the complex, where Hollywood Video was formerly located, is vacant, and the owner would like to have the option of leasing the space to a restaurant or urgent care facility.

The current PUD zoning, which was approved in 1989, allows for certain C3 (fringe commercial) uses, but due to an increased need for parking that would be created, the original regulations did not allow for (1) restaurants with seating, (2) barber/beauty shops on the first floor, or (3) office uses on the second floor, with the exception of medical/dental offices.

The site includes 200 parking spaces. To accommodate potential increased parking demand, the building’s owner – Nadim Ajlouny of Orchard Lake, Mich. – is offering to provide bus passes to all employees on the site and to provide an additional 14 enclosed bicycle parking spaces.

The city planning commission, at its meeting of Dec. 6, 2011, had recommended approval of the request.

The city council had given its initial approval at its Jan. 9, 2012 meeting. Because change to the PUD is a change to the city’s zoning, the change is subject to the requirements of any ordinance change, which include a second and final approval by the council as well as a public hearing.

Arlington Square PUD: Public Hearing

As he typically does at any public hearing involving zoning changes, Thomas Partridge called for zoning that accommodates the need for equal access to transportation and affordable housing.

Steve Dykstra of Hobbs + Black Architects appeared to indicate essentially that he was available for any questions.

Arlington Square PUD: Council Deliberations

One question that arose during the council’s initial deliberations on Jan. 9, 2012 involved the number of parking spaces that are actually on the site.

During deliberations on Feb. 6, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who had questioned the number of spaces, reported that his question had been answered, noting that the spaces were located under the building, and thus had been hard to find. [.pdf of site schematic]

Kunselman said he had some concerns due to the fact that it’s a “tight corner.” He said that some residents had asked about the entrance off Huron Parkway. It requires turning right then immediately turning left. Kunselman described the turn as “awkward.” Kunselman asked how that entrance is expected to function if the traffic will increase, based on new uses. Dykstra told Kunselman that when the building previously had been fully rented [it's currently partly empty] there were no issues with traffic. He added that no physical changes are being made to the site.

Kunselman pressed the issue of possibly increased traffic flow. Dykstra indicated that he didn’t think that there would be any additional traffic flow beyond what the site experienced when it was fully rented. The additional specific use is an urgent care facility and that looks like it will actually generate somewhat lower traffic volumes. Kunselman noted that the PUD regulations indicate that an annual traffic monitoring report is supposed to be done. Dykstra indicated that had been done only once in the past and said that the developer would be more careful with that.

Kunselman then asked Wendy Rampson, head of city planning, what would happen if the traffic monitoring report indicates an increase in traffic flow. Would there be any opportunity to address that? Rampson indicated that yes, the city would be able to approach the developer and work on ways to mitigate or reduce the additional traffic flow – through carpooling or bus passes.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give final approval to the additional uses specified in the Arlington Square PUD.

Liquor Hearing Officer & Transcript Fees

The council considered the appointment of Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) as the hearing officer for annual liquor license renewal and revocation. Derezinski serves on the council’s liquor license review committee along with Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2). Also before the council for separate consideration was a resolution to set the fee for transcripts of any hearings.

Jane Lumm Tony Derezinski

Ward 2 councilmembers Tony Derezinski and Jane Lumm.

Early last year, at the council’s March 7, 2011 meeting, councilmembers had approved Derezinski as hearing officer. That came amid some minor controversy as then-chair of the liquor license review committee Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) had made clear that his expectation before the council’s meeting was that there’d be a hearing panel consisting of the three members of the liquor license review committee.

During deliberations this year, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that the date specified goes past the end of Derezinski’s term – he’ll need to stand for election this year. Higgins said she hoped that Derezinski is running again, but wanted the date set to Nov. 8, 2012, which is the first council meeting after the Nov. 6 election. [Derezinski has stated publicly that he's running again.] She also wanted to fold the appointment of the hearing officer into the regular council appointments list. Derezinski indicated that was fine with him.

Derezinski described how the liquor license review committee does an annual review of all 121 licensees in the city. That allows the committee to recommend renewal or non-renewal. That approach also allows the city council to recommend non-renewal to the state liquor control commission. The process was established a year ago, he said. Former councilmember Stephen Rapundalo had a lot to do with setting up an orderly process for the review, Derezinski said. Licensees pay a fee to have it reviewed, which covers the cost of the process. The review involves fire department officials, the building department and the police. He described how a number of form letters are sent out.

Derezinski reported that a “usual item” that’s discovered is non-payment of fees and taxes by licensees. Last year the amount came to about $46,000. He continued by saying that every once in a while, a pattern of unacceptable conduct is identified. Last year, there were two establishments that fell into that category, he said. The committee is starting the process again this year.

Derezinski noted that petitioners are entitled to basic due process. That can include an appeal, which has an associated hearing that’s treated as an evidentiary hearing. One of the hearings last year took about four and a half hours and included a lot of contradictory statements. The deadline for completing the review process is March 30, he said, in order to make recommendations to the city council, which then makes recommendations to the state liquor control commission. The form letters have been sent out, he said, and the city is starting to get responses.

Derezinski also noted that there’s a procedure to undertake revocation of a license, outside the context of the annual review and renewal. That hasn’t yet been necessary, he said, venturing that the threat of that is as powerful as the exercise of the authority.

Anglin, who serves on the liquor license review committee with Derezinski, said that Derezinski had done a good job last year. He ventured that licensees want to cooperate with the committee, and said he thought it’s difficult to operate a business in a large student area.

Lumm, who replaced Rapundalo on the city council and on the liquor license review committee, described the committee as “ably chaired” by Derezinski, and thanked him for volunteering his expertise and time to serve as hearing officer.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to appoint Derezinski as hearing officer.

On the issue of the transcript fee, Derezinski noted that a transcript of a hearing can be made available if there’s an appeal or someone doesn’t like the decision that has been made. Generally, no transcript is made, but the hearing is recorded.

The resolution that set the fee did not do so in terms of a dollar amount, but rather set it to be equal to whatever the actual cost of the transcription service is. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that no information is included about what the cost per hour is. Assistant city attorney Mary Fales told Briere she’d done some preliminary checking – the average cost is about $3.50 per page. There are additional services that can be requested, like getting the transcript on a disk. She described it as a “pass through” cost.

Briere wanted to know if someone would know before they ordered a transcript how much it would cost, or if someone would need to wait until the transcript is complete. Fales indicated that transcribers can estimate based on how long the hearing lasted.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know who would be performing the service. Would the city be hiring someone? She ventured that this kind of fee should be set with the other fees that are set with the approval of the annual city budget.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the transcript fees as the actual cost charged by the transcription service. Higgins dissented.

Re-Funding Bonds

The council considered approval of the issuance of $2,850,000 of bonds to refinance the outstanding principal amount of Michigan Transportation Fund Bonds for the Broadway bridges project. After factoring in bond issuance costs, the city expects to save around $185,000 over the next 11 years.

Council deliberations were brief. Mayor John Hieftje said he appreciated the work of the city’s financial staff. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) also praised the city staff. When Hieftje mentioned that the refinancing was being done for the Broadway bridges project, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said that point warranted repeating. Many people have forgotten that the city had financed that project.

Outcome: The council voted to approval issuance of the re-funding bonds.

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: Leasing Ordinance

During her communications, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) told her council colleagues that she’d been approached by members of the Washtenaw Area Apartment Association about the city’s leasing ordinance. She also reminded council that on the same issue they’d heard from Michael Benson, president of the graduate student body at the University of Michigan. At issue is a provision in Ann Arbor’s leasing ordinance, approved by the city council in 2008, which is supposed to prevent landlords from renting or showing an apartment to another renter until 70 days of the current lease period has passed.

Lumm reported that Benson will be scheduling a couple of forums and depending on the feedback from those forums, some recommendations will be forthcoming. She hoped some improvements could be made in the ordinance – some people might like to see the time period requirement repealed, and that might be the best solution, she said. She told the council that she’d give them a heads up when any meetings are scheduled.

Mayor John Hieftje responded to Lumm by saying he felt that people would be happy to entertain discussion of the issue, but he asked that any changes be completed before the end of the semester. The time period requirement had been added to the ordinance because of student concerns, and he wanted want to make sure their input was considered before any changes were implemented.

Comm/Comm: DDA TIF Report

During his communications time, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) contended the council had not yet received the annual report from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority for the fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30, 2011 and for which the audit was complete. Kunselman said he hoped that either mayor John Hieftje or Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who both serve on the DDA board, could ensure that report is forwarded to the council.

In an email sent to Kunselman the following afternoon, Smith pointed out to Kunselman that the DDA’s annual report had been included in the council’s information packet for its meeting a month earlier – on Jan. 9, 2012. [.pdf of Smith email to Kunselman][.pdf of TIF report]

The TIF (tax increment finance) report shows estimated assessed property value in the district of $392,193,873, of which $140,612,435 is captured value. That’s the increment on which the DDA’s tax increment finance mechanism “captures” the taxes that other taxing authorities would otherwise receive. On that captured value, the DDA received $3,419,042 in revenue. The TIF report also shows outstanding bond indebtedness amounting to $77,854,652 in principal and $39,492,937 in interest for a total of $117,347,589.

Comm/Comm: Recognition of Volunteers

Two residents were honored by separate mayoral proclamations for their volunteer work in assisting the Ann Arbor police department and the broader community: Diane Schillack and Beverly Robbins.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) stood with Robbins as she received her proclamation. After a pause for some photographs, Kunselman delivered a few remarks about Robbins. He called her his “other mother” and her two three sons his brothers, her dad his “gramps.” He said it’s a testament to her good nurturing that he is where he is today, and he gave her a hug to conclude his remarks.

Comm/Comm: Energy Website

Andrew Brix, the city’s energy coordinator, gave the council an update from the energy office. As part of the emphasis on energy savings throughout the community, the energy office has launched a new website: One of the slogans featured prominently on the site reads “Caulk is cheap.” Brix observed that for most homes in Ann Arbor, the two most effective measures to take are air sealing and attic insulation.

Comm/Comm: Year of the Co-op

A mayoral proclamation was issued in honor of co-op businesses in the community – 2012 has been declared “International Year of the Cooperatives” by the United Nations.

Eric Lipson, a former city planning commissioner who is general manager of the Inter-cooperative Council, presented a mug to the council with the twin-pine symbol of co-ops.

Tiffany Ford, new president of the University of Michigan Credit Union, also delivered some remarks to the council, thanking them for the recognition, and reviewing some of the history of UMCU – it was established in 1954.

Comm/Comm: Student Visitors

A large number of students from local schools attended the council’s meeting to satisfy requirements for a class.

Some teachers require students to obtain a signature from a councilmember on an agenda in order to attest to their attendance. So towards the start of the meeting, mayor John Hieftje paused the proceedings and asked students to take the opportunity to get a signature, so as not to distract councilmembers later during the meeting, when students left. He joked that if they left early that he and councilmembers would call their teachers. A student shot back from the audience: “Do you know our teachers?”

Herb David, owner of the eponymous guitar studio located on the corner of Liberty and Fifth Avenue, and Ali Ramlawi, owner of the neighboring Jerusalem Garden, were seated in the audience, having signed up for a public commentary reserved slot. In their remarks, they both addressed the challenges they face in their downtown location – caused by the closure of Fifth Avenue during the construction of the new underground parking structure. When Hieftje brought up the topic of student visitors getting signatures from councilmembers, David quipped to Ramlawi: “I’d like to get one, too – on a check!”

Comm/Comm: Fifth Avenue Underground Parking Garage

Herb David told the council that his business – the Herb David Guitar Studio – would be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. He said he’s enjoyed his situation in Ann Arbor. He contended that Ann Arbor’s downtown is changing from one that is people-oriented to one that is characterized by franchise cookie-cutter businesses. The character of downtown is being destroyed, he contended, and he blamed part of that on the construction of the new Fifth Avenue underground parking garage. He noted that before that, the Internet had already started to have a negative impact on downtown retail.

David told the council that the city gives tax abatements to businesses it wants to attract. What about people you want to retain? he asked councilmembers. People come to his guitar studio from all over the world, and the studio has been written up in various publications. “I think I’m worth supporting,” he said. The council should think about positive ways to support the businesses that bring more people here.

Near the start of his remarks, Ali Ramlawi – owner of Jerusalem Garden – welcomed Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to the council. [She was newly elected in November 2011, having served previously in the mid-1990s.] Ramlawi said he was interested is seeing if Lumm can bring “progressive ideas to a hungry audience.” He said he understood why she ran as an independent and why she won as an independent. About his fellow Democrats, he said, “These are not my daddy’s Democrats.”

Ramlawi told councilmembers that he was there to address them because his neighbor, Herb David, had asked him to come and speak. Fifth Avenue has been closed since August 2010. He’d been told the street would be open again in August 2011. “We want to know when the road will open,” he told the council. Herb David is going into his nest egg, Ramlawi said. Ramlawi’s own business is back to normal – but that’s due to the increase in his catering business to the University of Michigan. He characterized his in-house traffic as “in the toilet.” He told the council he’s used up all his rainy day funds.

Ramlawi ventured somewhat sardonically that he should thank the council – what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. He allowed that after the road opens, he will have a stronger business than he had before. But he noted that the downtown has lost three or four retailers in the last year, and some of that loss he attributed to the construction. He described the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which is overseeing the parking structure’s construction, as “whisky drunk” on parking revenue. He urged the DDA to stop focusing on the parking system as a source of revenue and to focus on funding police foot patrols and dealing with panhandling issues. People come downtown for arts, culture and food, not to park in a structure, he concluded.

Comm/Comm: Warming Center, Affordable Housing

Several people addressed the council during public commentary about their desire to see a day shelter set up for use as a warming center for the homeless.

Alexandra Hoffman told the council that she’d heard the issue of homelessness described politically as “a hot potato.” She ventured that, “It’s time to get some oven mitts.” She told the council that they shouldn’t shy away from the issue.

Cardboard house

Alexandra Hoffman at the podium addresses the council, advocating for a warming center.

Mary Johnson challenged notions of who the homeless are and what they’re capable of. She described the writing workshop at the St. Andrews Episcopal Church that’s offered to homeless people. She told the council that promises have been made to provide affordable housing that remain unmet. She said homeless people would like to contribute back to the city – they can become powerful city volunteers, she said.

Orian Zakai reminded the council that she’d spoken to them twice before about the need for additional warming spaces in the city available all hours of the day and night. Her group has narrowed their request to just daytime. But she told the council that support from the city has failed to manifest itself in a tangible way. She said her group could use help from people with influence who can pick up their phones and make things happen. She’s still waiting for any action on the possibility of using the city-owned 721 N. Main building as a warming center, she said.

While the group is waiting, she said, they’d undertaken their first creative project, during their regular meetings. They’d decided to build a cardboard house – if no one gives them a house, they’d build one themselves, she said. Two walls of the house tell the story of the 100 units of affordable housing that were removed from the downtown area, when the old YMCA building deteriorated to the point that it became uninhabitable and needed to be demolished.

Lily Au was critical of two projects intended to increase the supply of affordable housing – the Near North project, which she described as having high construction costs, and 1500 Pauline, which she said actually resulted in the loss of 15 units of housing.

Alan Haber told the council that they’d been putting out a lot of prayer to hold off the winter. [It's been a mild winter so far.] He said the group of warming center advocates had been given a tour of the city-owned 721 N. Main property by Ralph Welton, the city’s chief development official. Subsequently, Haber said, no one has been responding to their phone calls.

During his communications time, mayor John Hieftje responded to some of the commentary by saying that the city had been working diligently to replace the 100 units of affordable housing that previously existed at the former downtown YMCA. Not all of it is in a single place, he said, but he said that 70 additional units have been created.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) followed up on Hieftje’s remarks by asking him if it weren’t the case that he’s meeting with people on that issue, which he confirmed he was. Parties to the conversation that he named were the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, H-PORT (Homeless Project Outreach Team), the Washtenaw County administrator and the nonprofit Dawn Farm. He concluded that the need is being met and no one is being turned away. A detox unit has been opened not far from the Delonis Center, he said, for those who are not sober and can’t come into the shelter. No one is outside, he contended, “unless they desire to be out in the cold.”

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Next council meeting: Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor city council. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!