Ann Arbor Takes Late Bus to Transit Accord

Other topics: marijuana; liquor; land use; sewer bonds; parks

Ann Arbor city council meeting (March 5, 2012): The council’s meeting did not conclude until almost 1 a.m., prompting resident Thomas Partridge to remark during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, “It’s almost time to plan for breakfast!”

Sandi Smith, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Jane Lumm

Left to right: Councilmembers Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2). (Photos by the writer.)

The issue driving the lengthy meeting was an agreement between four different entities, including the city of Ann Arbor, that would set up a framework for a transition of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a new funding and governance structure. The intent of transitioning to a new authority would be to provide increased transportation service both within the city of Ann Arbor as well as throughout Washtenaw County.

The Ann Arbor city council approved the agreement on Monday night on a 7-4 vote, after postponing it three times previously. That sets the stage for the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA to approve it as well. Even after approval by those three entities, several steps would remain before a new transit authority, incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196, could take over transportation services from the AATA.

The council considered several amendments to the agreement, but approved only two relatively minor, clarificational items. [.pdf of agreement as amended]

Toward the end of the meeting, the nomination of University of Michigan planner Sue Gott to the AATA board was given spirited discussion by two councilmembers, but was ultimately confirmed on a unanimous vote.

Falling victim to the lengthy deliberations on the transit agreement was a resolution that would direct the city attorney to delay enforcement of medical marijuana laws for local dispensaries, except for zoning violations. A vote on that resolution was postponed without deliberation, due to the late hour. That resolution comes in the context of a recommendation from the city council’s medical marijuana licensing board, currently pending with the council, to award the first 10 medical marijuana licenses under local legislation enacted last year.

Related to a different kind of licensing, the council approved a resolution that recommends non-renewal of liquor licenses for two establishments in Ann Arbor – Dream Nite Club and Rush Street. A hearing on the two licenses will be held on March 19, with the city council’s final recommendation to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to be made that same day.

The council also passed several resolutions related to land and its use. The council approved the acquisition of another 58.85 acres under its greenbelt program, as well as the purchase of property on West Kingsley so that a long-vacant house there can finally be demolished. A rain garden is to be constructed on that parcel, because it’s situated in the Allen Creek floodway. In a related item, a new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood map was also given final approval by the council on Monday night.

The council gave initial approval to a revision of parking regulations in open space at the front of land parcels, but postponed any action on a proposed revision that would eliminate a requirement on landscape buffers in areas zoned R4C (multi-family residential).

Receiving approval from the council were a total of nearly $1.7 million in renovations to several of the city parks. The funding includes improvements to ballfields at Veterans Memorial Park, Southeast Area Park and West Park, as well as upgrades to roads and paths at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm.

The council also approved the issuance of $120 million in revenue bonds for the reconstruction of the city’s sewage treatment facilities, long planned and in the works.

Four-Party Transit Agreement

For the fourth time, after three postponements dating to the first meeting of 2012, the council considered a four-party transit agreement – with the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The agreement would provide a framework and chronological sequence for the transition of the AATA to a new governance and funding structure. The Ann Arbor approval leaves several steps that would still need to be completed, before such a transition would be possible. [.pdf of four-party agreement as amended on March 5, 2012]

By way of more detailed background, the council had previously postponed voting on the four-party agreement at its Jan. 9 and Jan. 23 meetings. Thirty-nine people spoke at a public hearing held on Jan. 23.

The council postponed the agreement again at its Feb. 6 meeting. But for that meeting, the AATA itself had requested a postponement until March 5.

The council agreed at its Feb. 6 meeting to postpone the vote until March 5 – but with the proviso that postponement to that date certain would be “contingent upon materials being submitted to City Council by Feb. 29, 2012.”

During the Feb. 6 deliberations on postponement, councilmembers were content to give the mayor and city administrator the discretion to hold the item off the agenda, if the desired information was not submitted to the council by Feb. 29. That proviso nearly led to the omission of the item from the March 5 agenda, but in the end, it was presented to the council for its consideration.

Transit Agreement: Public Comment

The four-party transit agreement prompted several people to speak during public commentary.

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a city resident and former candidate for state senator in the 18th district. He has been and will continue to be a candidate for public office, he said. His platforms call for countywide and region-wide affordable accessible transportation, education and housing. He highlighted the coincidental goal of economic development that would be supported through improved transportation.

Elizabeth Donoghue Colvin introduced herself as a Ward 1 resident of Maiden Lane. She stressed that what she wanted to say were her views, but she knew that many people shared them. Regarding the Fuller Road Station, she understood that the University of Michigan was no longer planning to participate in the project by building a parking structure there. But she said she still favored building a transit center there. It’s near the place where a large number of employees work, and it’s not in a neighborhood, she said. The Fuller Road location has space to accommodate traffic flow. She said she hoped the parkland issue can be resolved in a positive way, perhaps with a trade-off. She felt the highest value is to put a transit center there, in the context of broadening a county transportation system.

That related to a second issue Colvin wanted to address, namely the four-party transit agreement, and she supported broadening transit in that fashion. She sees that as part of a larger plan to broaden transit regionally with neighboring counties. She said she appreciated the funding challenges, but encouraged the council to move the agreement forward. If there were an additional transit millage put on the ballot, she concluded, she would vote for it. “I would like to pay for broadened transportation in this county,” she said.

Carolyn Grawi introduced herself as the director of advocacy and education at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (CIL). Looking at the four-party transit agreement, in light of a recent survey the AATA has done, and in light of recommendations from a financial advisory group, Grawi said she wanted to highlight one point: Of those who were surveyed, 86% talked about the importance of providing those with disabilities and seniors with door-to-door service. Right now that kind of service is provided up to a certain geographic point, but then it stops. If 86% of people want that service, Ann Arbor needs to look at how it fits as the puzzle piece in the center of the county.

Looking at transportation services, Grawi said, she was hopeful that the community would continue to fund local services. The disability community relies on the city council for leadership to ensure that local service continues to be provided.

Christine Green spoke on behalf of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. She told the council she was there to comment favorably on the four-party agreement. MLCV has worked for many years to support similar initiatives in Michigan. In 2011, MLCV helped pass the Grand Rapids transit millage and that has in turn helped bring state, federal and private revenue to that community. Green then ticked through some reasons why MLCV has used its resources to support public transportation.

Public transportation improves public health, Green said, through reducing particulate pollution, encouraging more active forms of transportation, and reducing runoff from surface pollutants. She also said that public transportation helps create jobs and helps local business. Green pointed to better land use as a result of public transportation, saying that it helps prevent urban and suburban sprawl and protects open spaces. Public transportation, she said, also helps revitalize cities.

Lawrence Baird introduced himself as a Ward 1 resident – a financial advisor for 22 years in Ann Arbor. In his professional capacity he spent a lot of time dealing with budget numbers. He said Ann Arbor has been blessed with a level of financial stability beyond what most Michigan cities have enjoyed.

To illustrate his point, he said, he’d brought along his tax bills from last year. The city’s core values are reflected in the tax bills, he said. What appears on the tax bills is the fact that Ann Arbor is funding education, library, recycling, parks, street maintenance and also transit. So the current debate is not about core values – very few residents are against mass transit, he ventured. Most residents have no problem paying hundreds of dollars a year to fund transit.

Baird had accepted the fact that he pays more to fund transit than many other services – like the library, parks maintenance, and street repair. He said that renters in the city should also receive a copy of the categories on the tax bills so they’d understand how property taxes are used.

The city council is being asked to approve the four-party agreement, which Baird described as the continuation of a process to dissolve a decades-old transportation system. [Baird then alluded to a political tactic that Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) has used, in which he calls the four-party agreement the "mayor's plan." Mayor John Hieftje has responded consistently with the assertion that he can't take credit for the plan.] Noting that Hieftje has maintained he can’t take credit for the plan, Baird observed that Hieftje had nominated the AATA board members, whom the council then confirmed. Back in 2008 those board members accepted the lead role in the development of the WALLY north-south commuter rail project. [The vote came at a special meeting called by the AATA board.]

Baird then read from a document on the AATA’s website, dating from July 24, 2009:

AATA is funded through a combination of federal, state and local revenues, as well as passenger fares. State funding has remained at the same level since 1997. As a result, AATA has implemented extensive measures to reduce costs. Looking ahead, expected decreases in local property tax revenues threaten our ability to meet current and future ridership demands. AATA is projecting significant reductions in revenue in future years due to a decrease in local property values and continued pressures on state operating assistance.

Baird concluded that while property taxes and state assistance are in flux, the AATA had taken on a commuter rail project from scratch. The AATA had also adopted a vision statement [at its Nov. 18, 2009 meeting] that says:

AATA Vision Statement: The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority shall be the public transportation provider for Washtenaw County. Our customers shall see AATA’s expanded services as the preferred option for traveling to destinations within the county, as well as to and from the county. AATA will offer appropriate modes of transportation with the most efficient use of resources. These services shall enhance the quality of life for Washtenaw County stakeholders while promoting the economy, safeguarding the environment, and strengthening communities.

So during the depths of one of the worst financial crises the country has known, Baird concluded, the AATA had decided to get into the railroad business and to expand its original mandate.

Paul Schreiber introduced himself as the mayor of Ypsilanti. He said councilmembers had likely seen the AATA’s financial task force report. The group had reduced a roughly $60 million funding gap to around $30 million by eliminating rail transportation and concentrating on those services that could be supported with local funding. He said the financial advisory group had done some great work and he encouraged the council to approve the four-party agreement.

Schreiber noted that the agreement includes the authorized 2.5 mill tax currently levied by Ann Arbor and almost a 1 mill tax from Ypsilanti. But he noted that Ypsilanti’s service is contingent on a purchase-of-service agreement (POSA). A countywide transit authority would be a more stable source of funding, he said. He noted that Ypsilanti voters had approved their transit millage in August 2010, and passed it on a 2:1 margin. Due to a technicality, it had to be put on the ballot again in November, when it passed on a 3:1 margin. So Ypsilanti voters support transit, he said.

Transit Agreement: AATA Comment

Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, was asked by mayor John Hieftje to make some remarks, along with some members of the financial advisory group, about the recommendations of that group. It’s been referred to for some time now as a “task force.”

Bob Guenzel, Norman Herboer, Mar Perry

Members of the AATA financial advisory group, from left: Bob Guenzel, Norman Herbert, and Mark Perry.

Ford told the council he was there to ask for the council’s approval of the four-party agreement. He told them that since the last council meeting, councilmembers had been provided with the recommendations from the financial task force, information on survey results and legislative information.

[For an overview of the survey results, see Chronicle coverage: "AATA OKs AirRide; Survey Results Positive." For an overview of pending state legislation, see Chronicle coverage: "Michigan Regional Transit Bills Unveiled."]

Bob Guenzel, former Washtenaw County administrator, co-chaired the financial task force with Albert Berriz, CEO of McKinley Inc. Guenzel attended the council’s meeting, along with two other members of the group – Norman Herbert, retired treasurer of the University of Michigan; and Mark Perry, director of real estate services for Masco Corp. Ford stressed that of all the issues, he wanted to focus on the four-party agreement.

Guenzel told the council that he’d try to be brief, but felt that the financial task force should report to the council. He said he was honored to be part of the task force. It was Berriz who represented the private sector on the task force and had helped bring the business community to the table. The task force was made up of business leaders as well as government leaders, Guenzel said, and others who had an interest in transportation. He noted that the task force had agreed to have only four meetings, and they’d had three – but a subcommittee was formed that had additional meetings.

The task was to review the funding options for the transit master plan and see if they could develop some recommendations. Perry and Herbert were on the subcommittee that had done a service review and had dug into the finances, Guenzel said. The group looked at whether the services should be funded with local money or other sources. A funding gap – between existing revenues and what it would take to pay for expanded service was planned in the first five years of the new transit entity – had been reduced from $62 million, roughly in half to $33 million, he said.

That reduction had been achieved in several ways: (1) cost reductions; (2) enhanced revenues, through increased fares or increased state and federal revenue; and (3) change services. As an example of the third strategy, Guenzel cited an Ann Arbor downtown circulator – while it’s a worthwhile service, the task force was recommending that it be funded privately or through other agencies. Development of regional rail transportation had also been removed from the first five-year plan, Guenzel said.

To try to get a handle on how much funding is needed, if the property tax method of funding were used, it would translate to about 0.5 a mill. That’s not a recommendation, but rather an attempt to give some context to what it might mean for this community, Guenzel said. It still needs some refinement, for example, in terms of fare issues, and state and federal funds. The recommendations of the subcommittee were supported by the whole group as a guide for further development. The group recommends that a final funding recommendation be reserved until the concerns raised by the subcommittee have been addressed. The recommendation is that the task force be put on hold. There may be the need to convene more meetings going forward. As the service plan is developed, Guenzel said, that obviously has some effect on the financing.

Guenzel then read a portion of a letter from Albert Berriz, whom Guenzel described as representing the business community. Guenzel noted that his own career had been in the public sector. From the portion read by Guenzel:

My service on this committee and my work with the senior leadership team at the AATA over the past year has been very rewarding, and I have learned very much. I have scrutinized the people, the process and the numbers like I would in my own business; and I am very comfortable with Michael Ford and his team at the AATA.

No matter how much criticism and commentary this process may receive, I can speak as a CEO of a multi-billion dollar business and say that their results and the work product are solid and real. We should be very comfortable as a community that we have the right people in the right seats running the AATA. The practical reality of regional transportation is that it is a highly subsidized business. In the words of a for-profit guy, you can’t make the numbers work. So what remains is how you decide to raise those public dollars, and is it politically expedient to do so in the current environment that you find yourself in.

Guenzel noted that one way to raise the funds is through a millage, and the other is to look at what is currently being proposed in Lansing. [Some of the state legislation deals with establishing a regional transit authority for the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland. But another separate bill provides for the possibility of local transit funding through a voter-approved vehicle registration fee.] Guenzel said he agreed with Berriz that it’s premature right now to pursue a millage option until the legislative picture is clearer. But he is pleased that the task force is willing to be on call. He said the task force is ready to continue the study ultimately to make a recommendation. The task force feels, he said, that the rest of the process should proceed.

Norman Herbert then addressed the council. He noted that along with Mark Perry, he’d worked on the subcommittee charged with reviewing transportation services proposed under the AATA’s countywide master transportation plan. He told the council they’d already heard about the benefits of public transportation – access to health care, job opportunities, reduction in traffic congestion and better land use.

The primary conclusion of the task force, Herbert told the council, is that more information is needed before drawing any conclusions about the finances. The subcommittee recommended that certain services only be developed if federal, state or private funding could be identified for those specific services. The result is a focus on local and county service improvements, he said, that also reduced the funding gap from $62 million down to around $33 million. What’s needed now, he said is agreement on what the plan should be. The finance plan should not drive the service plan, he said. What’s needed is a definition of the project. The interested parties of the county need to join Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to determine the specific elements of that plan.

Ann Arbor, Herbert said, needs to take a leadership role by entering into non-binding discussions. The 0.5 mill property tax is just a proxy to identify the magnitude of what it would cost a county taxpayer – if transportation improvements were made that focus on local and county needs, and if the cost were shared by all the various communities. It’s time to move forward with the planning, and the city council should agree to initiate those discussions with the AATA and the other interested parties, he said. Transit is a key amenity, and it helps everybody, but it helps Ann Arbor the most, Herbert concluded.

Mark Perry, Marcia Higgins

Mark Perry, a member of the AATA financial advisory group, with Ann Arbor city councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Mark Perry told the council a bit about how the 0.5 mill was calculated. They’d built an economic forecasting model that included traditional revenue forms. On the revenue side, they’d created a line item for state revenue sources that aren’t identified yet. There’s typically four or five revenue sources in the state of Michigan, he explained: sales and use tax; personal income tax; business income tax; property taxes; and fees. Only the last two can be levied at the local level, Perry noted. The 0.5 mill was based only on what is currently known. He said that the forecasting model the group had used included line items for the other revenue sources, but filled them with zeros.

Perry told the council that the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce was represented on the task force, but could not attend the council’s meeting, so he’d agreed to read something aloud on their behalf. [.pdf of Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber letter] An excerpt from the letter:

Our County needs a transit system that is affordable, accessible and practical. Such a system may include fixed-route and other bus and van options, and in the longer term, rail and other modes of transit. Ultimately, this system should connect not just those within Washtenaw County, but it should also enable us to connect throughout the greater southeast Michigan region. The benefits to be derived from such a system are many, including environmental, economic and humanitarian. The process provided through four party agreements allows us to pursue this objective. Should it not be approved, then the process will flounder.

The agreement is not a commitment to a plan or a millage, and it does not set fares. It is merely a process to explore these and other issues further. We have nothing to lose or risk by taking this step, but we have much to lose if this step is not taken. We therefore urge Council to approve the agreement and, as a Chamber, look forward to being actively involved in the planning towards fulfilling these objectives.

[.pdf of budget summary][.pdf of capital budget] [.pdf of operating budget] [.pdf of financial performance data] [.pdf of financial group's final report] [.pdf of financial group's subcommittee report]

Transit Agreement: Council Questions – Finance, Legislation

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked Mark Perry if the taxable value used for the property tax calculation was for the entire county. Yes, said Perry, because it’s not clear yet which political subdivisions would be participating – that’ll be determined at a later date. There’s also debate by the state legislature on exemption of tangible personal property. He indicated that if personal property tax were to disappear, as a whole countywide it would not be a large enough number to change the projected transit millage amount.

Smith asked if scenarios had been modeled with less than complete participation throughout the county. Perry indicated that they had not, but the spreadsheet they’d set up is such that different townships can be zeroed out. Norman Herbert added a point that Terri Blackmore, executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS), had made during deliberations of the financial task force: To the extent there’s an opt-out by a political subdivision, there’s a corresponding reduction in expenses, due to service reduction in that area.

Smith then asked state representative Jeff Irwin, whose District 53 covers most of Ann Arbor, to comment on pending state legislation.

Irwin thanked the council for taking up the issue. He told councilmembers there are as many as 15 different bills, any of which could have an impact on transportation. He urged them not to let that uncertainty prevent them from moving forward. Nothing in the pending legislation would surpass or supplant what the council is trying to accomplish locally, he said.

Jeff Irwin

Jeff Irwin, state representative for District 53, which covers most of Ann Arbor.

The bill creating a regional transit authority (RTA) would create a four-county RTA, he said, including Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland. The best way to think about that authority is as an “overlay authority,” governing services that cross jurisdictions, he said.

The RTA would also be responsible for creating connections between regional service and local service, Irwin said. For example, he said, if the RTA establishes service along I-94, then local service needs to meet those vehicles as they come into town. The new RTA would have the same relationship with AATA as to SMART (the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) and DDOT (the Detroit Dept. of Transportation).

Irwin then described a bill that’s separate from the RTA bill, which would establish the ability of local jurisdictions to impose voter-approved vehicle registration fees. That would open up another funding option, he said. Irwin noted that all of these ideas have been around for a long, long time. He was not sure it is wise to hang our hopes on any of these bills that are currently pending. Local governments have been asking for decades for the ability “to be more artful” in the way they generate revenues, Irwin said, and he didn’t see any of that changing in Lansing. So we need to “seize our own destiny locally,” he said.

Irwin went on to say that if details in the bill are changed that would make Washtenaw County an afterthought, then that should be viewed with caution. However, he felt that as the RTA bill is currently written, it protects Washtenaw County’s interests, because federal dollars will still go to Washtenaw. Right now it looks like it’s moving in a productive way. He ventured that the community needs to be mindful, but not paralyzed with fear.

Transit Agreement: Deliberations – Initial Commentary

As early as during the council’s communications time toward the start of the meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) raised the topic of the four-party agreement. He reprised his commentary from the previous council meeting on Feb. 21, 2012, when he complained that the AATA was not living up to terms of a 1974 agreement with the city to provide certain regular reports. [.pdf of Sept. 30, 1974 agreement]

By way of background, the 1974 agreement was signed in the context of litigation that was pending at the time between the city and the AATA. It was a lawsuit over the handling of $221,000 in funds dating from 1970. The AATA contended it was entitled to the money, while the city of Ann Arbor administration had claimed the money had been loaned to the AATA and needed to be repaid. So the city had subtracted that sum from the millage money collected by Ann Arbor for the AATA before the money was passed through to the AATA.

Kunselman had previously quoted from the agreement:

11. REPORTING To ensure that council is kept apprised of the AATA’s activities, the AATA will submit to Council at least quarterly a written report indicating its activities to include such key elements as levels of ridership, budget variances and other service level information.

Kunselman noted that the council had not received the specified quarterly reports. According to the agreement, Kunselman said, the council is also supposed to receive the AATA’s proposed budget for review by April each year.

At the council’s March 5 meeting, Kunselman returned to his point that the council is supposed to receive the AATA’s budget by April 1. Given that it’s now March, he said, he figured the council would have it by now.

He again complained that the AATA is sending commuter express buses to Chelsea and Canton, primarily empty in order to pick up commuters. Does that make sense? he asked, then answered his own question by saying it doesn’t make sense to him. Yet the AATA proposes to expand that kind of service, he said.

Transit Agreement: Unsuccessful Amendments – Summarized

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) proposed a series of amendments to the four-party agreement, one of which she asked Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) to introduce – the one that would increase Ann Arbor’s representation on the board of the new transit authority. Kunselman had indicated at a previous meeting that he’d wanted to see the agreement amended in that way.

The four amendments are presented here first as a complete group, for readers’ convenience. None of them were approved by a majority of the council [additions in italics and deletions indicated with line-through]. TA refers to transit authority.

8. Contingencies to Closing. The closing of the transfer of assets and assumption of liabilities by the NEW TA is contingent upon all of the following occurring on terms acceptable to all parties:

(d) In exchange for the mayor’s nomination with council confirmation, of seven eight directors of New TA’s board, …

Ann Arbor agrees … (iii) designate the New TA, as successor to AATA, as the contracting agency for use of the 2.5 mills tax levy under Section 8.18 of the Ann Arbor City Charter and allocated 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 upon transfer from an Act 55 to an Act 196 authority. Said designation shall not become effective until AATA has submitted satisfactory evidence, which the City has independently confirmed, that the cost of the minimum level of service to the City under the NEW TA is equal to or greater than to the amount of millage funds levied and assigned to the NEW TA under this Article. After succession to the AATA, the NEW TA shall be required to maintain this level of services to millage funds relationship as a condition of continued assignment of the City tax levy.

g. A minimum participation level in the NEW TA of fifty percent (50%) of the jurisdictions within Washtenaw county.

12. Termination of Agreement.

d. Regional Transit Authority, Continuation of Agreement. The general purpose of the 4-Party Agreement is to address future governance, management, operations, and financial obligation before, during and at date of transition (“Transition Period”) from the existing services provided by AATA to a Act 196 NEW TA providing Authority-wide public transportation services. The parties acknowledge that Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) legislation may be adopted during this Transition Period which may suggest that changes to certain provisions of this Agreement are necessary or desirable to effectuate the purposes of the Agreement or that termination of the Agreement is appropriate. The parties agree that should RTA legislation be adopted prior to the completion of the transition to a NEW TA (e.g. Closing) they will, before the effective date of any RTA legislation, jointly review the provisions of this Agreement and mutually determine whether modifications are necessary or appropriate or it should be terminated.

Deliberations on each of these proposed amendments are described below.

Transit Agreement: Unsuccessful Amendment – Minimum Service Level

At the council’s Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, the council had already amended the agreement to include the requirement that the new transit authority provide “at a minimum, the continued level of services provided by its predecessor-in-interest, AATA.”

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) characterized her added language – that satisfactory evidence, independently confirmed, be provided on service levels – as a policy statement that would provide comfort. She said she appreciated the time that Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager and AATA board member, had spent with her. She indicated that Cooper felt that in terms of process and substance, the amendment could work.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) stated that, like it or not, Ann Arbor is the bellwether, and other communities are watching what Ann Arbor does. He then adduced an analogy to which he often appeals when the council is presented with a complex proposal. It’s pretty tightly wound, he said, and when you pull at one part, other things begin to unravel.

By way of background, at the council’s Nov. 16, 2009 meeting, Derezinski made similar remarks about the A2D2 zoning initiative that some councilmembers wanted to amend. From The Chronicle’s meeting report [which also reveals The Chronicle's affinity for the verb "adduced"]:

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) then adduced an analogy to which he’d return later in the deliberations: The zoning ordinance as proposed was tightly wound, and if they began picking it apart, it would unravel.

And commenting on the desire to amend the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP), at the council’s Feb. 1, 2010 meeting Derezinski offered similar sentiments. From The Chronicle’s meeting report:

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) also objected to the idea of pulling out a single line item in the CIP. He used a similar analogy to the one he had adduced in describing his colleagues’ attempts to amend a recent major rezoning initiative: It’s like pulling strings off of a tightly wound ball, with the risk that it would all unravel.

At the council’s March 5 meeting on the four-party transit agreement, Derezinski wondered what signal would be sent. The amendment has an easy appeal to those who live in Ann Arbor, he said. He stated that there is much to be lost if the step of the four-party agreement is not taken – the time is now, he said. Derezinski then followed another of his habits, by offering a literary quotation, saying, “There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;” [It's from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," and the speaker is Brutus, who's conveying to Cassius that it's important to act while the ratio of military forces is most advantageous.]

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked whether Michael Ford and Mark Perry had had a chance to review the proposed amendment – Perry had not. Ford said he’d only had time to review the amendments briefly. The amendments were circulated for the first time to many of the interested parties during a recess in the council meeting that was called just before deliberations on the four-party agreement began. Ford indicated he did have some concerns about what’s being proposed. Briere said she was hoping for some insight into the economic forecasting model. Briere wanted to know if it were possible to pull out of the model what the current costs are.

Perry told Briere that the way the model was constructed was not that granular.

Responding to Ford’s comment, Lumm stated that in ensuring that the amount of service is greater than or equal to current levels, what she was asking for is not different from AATA’s resolution on the RTA, which it approved at its most recent board meeting.

Lumm then cited a document prepared by AATA service development manager Chris White. [.pdf of White's notes] White described legitimate concerns in a multi-county context for the RTA, which Lumm compared to the same concerns she had about the multi-jurisdictional situation internal to the county. She wanted to safeguard and protect the AATA. She said she’d shared a memo with the mayor a week ago and that her amendment is just addressing the concerns raised in the memo.

Ford indicated that the AATA has been working with Dennis Schornack, a special advisor to Gov. Rick Snyder on transportation, to ensure the AATA is protected. Ford said the AATA had also worked with the chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Conan Smith. Ford stated that Lumm’s amendment sounded somewhat restrictive in terms of its flexibility in delivering the service.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5)

From left: City councilmembers Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) had a question for Lumm: Given that this agreement is the product of significant input among a great array of stakeholders, have you shared this language with those stakeholders and what has their reaction been? Lumm appeared annoyed by the question, saying that what she’s proposing are amendments. “I’ve done a lot of homework,” she said. On the last occasion when the four-party agreement was amended, she said, amendments were floated at 10 p.m. at night. She said she’d sent the amendments to some people on Feb. 24. In response to that, she’d had various exchanges with staff, and she’d met with Eli Cooper, the city attorney, and the city administrator. That sort of review didn’t occur with other amendments, she said.

Hohnke then observed that Lumm seemed to have taken offense at his question, but contended that he didn’t intend to offend. So Hohnke turned to Cooper, who also serves on the board of the AATA. Hohnke noted that Lumm’s amendment would make the AATA responsible for ensuring that a precise level of service was achieved according to some metric. Hohnke ventured that it would be a complex undertaking, to ensure that three, four or five years from now, the service Ann Arbor is receiving relative to the funds generated is the correct relationship.

Cooper did not give the reply that Hohnke had seemed to invite, and explained instead that it would be relatively straightforward to measure service levels in any number of ways – including revenue miles or route miles. Cooper said the amendment speaks to providing satisfactory evidence. He felt it was relatively straightforward. Said Cooper, “The term ‘benchmark’ comes to mind.” Whatever the parameter is, it’s a relatively straightforward relationship. Hohnke insisted that while something might seem straightforward in theory, it might not prove to be straightforward in practice.

Hohnke said he felt that the protection offered in Lumm’s amendment is provided through Ann Arbor’s representation on the new transit authority’s board. Ann Arbor has a heavy weight on the board, Hohnke said. So he would not support Lumm’s amendment.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the language of the agreement [added by amendment at a previous meeting] already guarantees a minimum level of service. What was the expectation for guaranteeing it? She wanted to know if Lumm’s amendment was an added burden or an added clarification? Ford indicated that the AATA has said throughout the process that it would maintain the level of service in Ann Arbor. Briere wanted to know if the language changed anything in practice or only clarified what was already intended. [It was a distinction that eventually allowed Briere to persuade her council colleagues to approve two other amendments she brought forward later.]

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he appreciated the intent of Lumm’s proposed amendment and said it provides value. But he declined to support the amendment – because future councils can ask their own questions and demand their own answers. He felt the amendment functionally seeks to bind councils in the future and seeks to do the work of the future new transit authority board. There are many opportunities to “bug out” of the process, Taylor said, and he did not want to bind future councils.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) indicated she was disappointed with what she was hearing. It’s up to the council to define expectations, she said. She noted that Cooper had said it would be straightforward. Ann Arbor has a right to know that it will have the right to the same level of transportation service in the future. She did not understand the amendment as binding future councils, other than to require the council to look at that data. She said she’d support the amendment, because it’s a clarification.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) echoed the sentiments Derezinski had expressed in terms of the message it sent to other communities.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he saw the amendment as a clarification. Citizens have gotten accustomed to the level of service and the current millage, he said. Citizens have never decided not to levy the millage, he said. [The transit tax in Ann Arbor is perpetual, so voters do not renew it on a regular basis.] Anglin said that a wise person would ask if Ann Arbor will get a better system or not.

Anglin was dismissive of the way that AATA had sought to increase ridership, saying that the way to increase ridership would, for example, be to go to Washtenaw Community College and ask how many people would take the bus if you ran it at a certain time. Anglin said the AATA needs to get Ann Arbor on board so that residents don’t feel hoodwinked. And the more the agreement can be clarified, he said, the more people will get on board.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) stated that the four-party agreement is not a binding agreement. She noted that if a service plan comes out that shows there’s going to be less service in Ann Arbor, and voters are asked to approve a millage with more money and less service, they won’t approve it. She saw no reason to layer things onto the agreement that will make potential partners wonder. It’s time for Ann Arbor to take a leadership position, and to let the conversation go forward, she said. She felt the amendment was micromanaging at a level that she’s not fond of.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) stated that the discussion is all over the place. He said that Ypsilanti’s 1 mill doesn’t pay for what they’re getting today. He compared the $9 million that Ann Arbor contributes to transportation to the roughly $280,000 that Ypsilanti’s millage generates. It’s a question about Ann Arbor tax dollars, he said. The vote could be put to the people, he said, but it’s not yet known which jurisdictions are going to opt in.

Kunselman returned to the political tactic he’s adopted of calling the four-party agreement “the mayor’s proposal.” The AATA board consists of the mayor’s nominees and the policy direction comes out of the mayor’s office, he said. Why is AATA pursuing incorporation under Act 196? he asked. As Kunselman appeared ready to continue, mayor John Hieftje, who chairs the council meetings, asked Kunselman to speak to the amendment the council was considering. Kunselman contended that other councilmembers were also not necessarily restricting their comments to the amendment, but indicated he was content to yield if he’d have another chance to speak later.

Outcome on minimum service level amendment: The amendment failed on a 5-6 vote, with support only from Anglin, Briere, Lumm, Kunselman and Higgins.

Transit Agreement: Unsuccessful Amendment – Review on RTA Passage

Next up was Lumm’s amendment that would require the four parties to reconsider the agreement if the state legislature passed the bill establishing a regional transit authority (RTA) for Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties.

Briere noted that a new transit authority for Washtenaw County [not the same as an RTA] could change both the governance and financial aspects of the current local system. She was concerned about what happens if broader RTA is enacted, or additional local funding options are available, after a countywide millage has been approved. Would it be the expectation that the new transit authority levy the entire amount? Briere noted the history of the Ann Arbor District Library, which has historically not always levied the entire amount that voters have approved.

Ford indicated that his understanding is that the AATA would not have to levy the full amount every year. Back and forth between Briere and Ford covered the possibility that the new RTA might decide to offer service to Detroit Metro airport, which the AATA itself has recently decided to establish. If the four-county RTA were to add that service, that could mean that AATA would not be in the business of offering service to the airport – but that would also mean a corresponding drop in expenses.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin came to the podium to say that Ford was characterizing the role of the RTA correctly. If the RTA were to step in and say it was going to pay for something along the I-94 corridor, it might have an impact on how AATA provides service on Washtenaw Avenue. But ultimately it will be the board of the new transit authority that makes that decision. If there is additional, non-millage funding available, or existing millage funds are not needed for a specific service, the board could roll back the millage, or perhaps decide to meet some other, unmet transportation need.

Lumm reviewed what the amendment does and said it’s important to speak with one voice about the RTA – a lot of people are speaking about the RTA, she said. She was alluding to the fact that Conan Smith, chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, had indicated in testimony made on Feb. 14 before the Michigan senate’s transportation committee that he’d be willing to see Washtenaw County give up one of its two board seats on the RTA, if that’s what it took to get the legislation passed.

Derezinski pointed out there there’s a lot of contingencies in the four-party agreement already. He wondered how hamstrung people should be. He weighed in against relying on another legislative body to act. Having served in Lansing, he said, a lot of things can come and go. He characterized it as too far-fetched to agree with.

Briere compared the effort to drafting a prenuptial agreement when you don’t trust the other person. But the four-party agreement is not marriage, so it doesn’t need a divorce, she said. She allowed that part of the reason she supports the agreement is she has “faith” that if the world changes (with the passage of RTA legislation), that the four parties would be back around the table anyway. She felt this particular amendment has gone down the road to mistrust instead of trust.

Outcome on required reconsideration upon passage of RTA legislation: The amendment failed on a 3-8 vote, with support only from Anglin, Lumm and Kunselman.

Transit Agreement: Unsuccessful Amendment – Minimum Participation Level

Next up was an amendment that required 50% of jurisdictions to participate in the new Act 196 authority as a condition to closing the deal. In introducing it, Lumm indicated that Eli Cooper said the requirement made sense, because it established a baseline for participation.

Briere ventured that in spirit, the proposed amendment was similar to an amendment that had been made at a previous meeting. That previous amendment provided for automatic termination of the agreement, if the city of Ann Arbor were the only participant in the new Act 196 authority. Briere ventured that the added language belongs in the section on automatic termination.

Smith stated that she found the 50% number entirely random. Even if half the townships participated, that could be the least amount of participation in terms of population, she said. If the minimum participation level talked about population centers or something similar, she might be inclined to support it.

Hieftje elicited from Ford the fact that after initial formation, and after the authority operated for a while, other jurisdictions could join, even after they’d initially opted out. Lumm expressed concern that a geographic district might get a seat on the board, even if only one jurisdiction in the district participates in the Act 196 authority.

Kunselman returned to a point he’s made before: Under Act 55 of 1963 (the statute under which AATA is currently incorporated), any jurisdiction can request to join. When Grand Rapids converted to Act 196, only the communities already receiving service opted in, he said. Lansing’s transit authority (Capitol Area Transportation Authority) is an Act 55 entity, and is serving all those that this community wants to have served, Kunselman contended. Under the proposal for Washtenaw County, Chelsea could opt in, without communities between Ann Arbor and Chelsea participating. That would mean running buses past communities along the way without stopping.

Briere drew out the fact that a minimum of 50% of municipalities in Washtenaw County would translate to 14.

Taylor said he’d decline to support the amendment. The four-party agreement is a framework for ongoing conversation about service and funding. If it’s of value for Ann Arbor, then the necessary steps would be taken to effect the closing. The amendment muddies the waters, Taylor said.

Invited to the podium to comment was Jeff Ammon, a Grand Rapids area attorney who’s been consulting for the AATA on legal issues surrounding transit authority governance. Ammon assured Kunselman that under the four-party agreement, “you’re not locked in.” Only if things happen in a certain way, does the closing happen. The initial formation of the Act 196 authority was simply an “empty shell.” After incorporation, they’d wait 30 days to see which jurisdictions opted out. At that point there’d be something on the map. At that point, the question would be: How does it look? Also with respect to the proposed service plan, if the council’s response is “That doesn’t look so good,” Ammon said, then that’s the end of the story, and the AATA would be back to the drawing board. The four-party agreement would just get the ball rolling, Ammon said.

Kunselman attempted to explore the history of the Grand Rapids Act 196 conversion with Ammon, which the two did briefly. Hieftje eventually encouraged the focus to return to the amendment.

Anglin noted that Lumm had indicated Cooper had been consulted on the question. Anglin said he liked the idea of setting a minimum threshold. To launch something, Anglin said, you need something with an enthusiastic start. Asked at the meeting to comment on the 50% minimum participation, Cooper appeared to put some distance between himself and the amendment. He stated that it had not been put to him as an open-ended question. He allowed that 50% seems like a reasonable critical mass.

Outcome on amendment requiring 50% minimum participation: The amendment failed on a 4-7 vote, with support only from Anglin, Lumm, Kunselman and Higgins.

Transit Agreement: Unsuccessful Amendment – Ann Arbor Majority

Kunselman put forward the amendment giving Ann Arbor eight of the 15 proposed board seats for the new transit authority. Ann Arbor, he said, would have the majority of the population and money in the new authority. He allowed that the amendment would not be in the interest of township politicians who want to make sure Ann Arbor doesn’t control the new authority.

Smith ventured that even with seven of 15 seats, if Ann Arbor wanted to accomplish some significant change in service, they’d need to talk to only one other party on the board. Ann Arbor could talk to Ypsilanti and gang up on the rest of the board. Ann Arbor would need only one other “conspirator,” she said. She felt that Ann Arbor is well-represented, but not to the point of scaring off the other participants. Politically it’s important to maintain a balance, she said.

Hohnke said he shared Smith’s view. He asked Kunselman to think about the view of other participants in the new authority. Kunselman had taken a conservative perspective on protecting Ann Arbor’s interests, Hohnke said, adding that he understands that conservative inclination. But the goal, Hohnke said, is to make some progress and find ways to collaborate countywide. Seven seats provides for very strong representation for Ann Arbor, he concluded.

Lumm said she’d support an Ann Arbor majority on the board. Under any funding plan, Ann Arbor will provide more than half the funding. She pointed out that the council had just voted down all the amendments that would conserve Ann Arbor’s interest. Adding an Ann Arbor seat to the board would be a good thing, she said, to ensure that there’s taxation with representation.

Briere told her colleagues that over the past “interminable” weeks some of the consistent messages she’d heard were: I don’t feel I’m represented by the AATA board; I don’t feel the AATA board listens to me; I want a better transit system; I want a board consisting of Ann Arbor appointees.

Standing is Sabra Briere (Ward 1). Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), farthest from the camera, are seated.

Standing is councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1). Margie Teall (Ward 4) is in the foreground, with Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) farthest from the camera.

In her conversations with constituents, Briere reported, they’d talked about the fact that the area currently served by AATA includes townships, and there are people who don’t live in Ann Arbor on the board [e.g., David Nacht] who represent a view on the board about a need for service in those areas. In the future, Briere said, she imagined the mayor might focus on making appointments to the new Act 196 board only to represent Ann Arbor’s interests, because townships will have their own representatives. She noted that the seven Ann Arbor appointees will need to cooperate internally – and getting seven people in Ann Arbor to agree on anything can be difficult, she said.

Derezinski said he would not support the amendment because of the signals it sends. One way to defeat something is to kick it down the road, he noted, and another way is to put in things that you know other communities won’t support. He cited the comment made by Norman Herbert at the start of the deliberations: Transit helps everyone, but it helps Ann Arbor the most.

Taylor also said he wouldn’t support adding an Ann Arbor seat to the board. It’s in Ann Arbor’s interest to be collaborative, he said. Ann Arbor should lead the Act 196 board not through dominance but rather through persuasion. Demanding a majority of seats is at odds with collaboration, he said.

Higgins noted that if Ann Arbor already has seven members, it can already dominate. If it’s all about collaboration, why isn’t the formula one member per jurisdiction? Either we weight it or we don’t, she said. Kunselman said he was having a hard time with this proposal because it’s creating an inequity. He said the AATA’s transit policy is to subsidize Canton and Chelsea, for example, but it’s giving Ypsilanti just a 9-month contract.

Briere said that in Grand Rapids, some of the different jurisdictions in the Act 196 authority have different millage rates. She also noted that Lansing has people sitting on boards in disproportionate amounts. Lansing and East Lansing don’t dominate the board of the Capitol Area Transit Authority, she said. If we’re asking people to support mass transit, Briere said, we need to give them a reasonable voice. She liked Higgins’ idea of disentangling the money from the representation. She said she had a problem with the idea that the wealthy can speak louder.

Higgins asked Ford how the 15-member board was determined, with Ann Arbor receiving 7 seats. Ford deferred to state representative Jeff Irwin. Irwin said he’d taken it upon himself with Terri Blackmore – executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) – to survey community leaders. They’d met with folks from the townships and other transportation service providers in the county. In the end, he said, they’d realized that there’s a million different ways to cut up this pie. They’d put out some suggestions about what some “rough justice” looks like.

One representative per jurisdiction doesn’t seem to work, Irwin said. Basing it just on population didn’t respect the additional financial contribution of Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor has roughly 1/3 the population of the county but would be contributing more resources. They’d wanted to respect that with some additional representation. They’d concluded that Ann Arbor should get about half. Given a half-and-half deal, it’d make the most sense to go with 7 out of 15, so that as the plan was pitched to other communities, they wouldn’t feel Ann Arbor is dominating.

Outcome on amendment giving a majority of board seats to Ann Arbor: The amendment failed on a 3-8 vote, with support only from Anglin, Lumm and Kunselman.

Transit Agreement: Successful Amendments

Two amendments put forward by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) were ultimately successful. An attempt by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) to strike the phrase “Notwithstanding anything in this Agreement to the contrary,” failed. Briere’s two amendments were as follows [additions in italics, deletions with line-through]:

7. Full Faith and Credit. The parties agree that Washtenaw County does not by virtue of its action in creating the New TA, provide its full faith and credit for any project undertaken by the New TA. The parties further agree that the Cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti shall not be required to, and do not by virtue of execution of this Agreement, pledge their respective full faith and credit for any project assumed by the NEW TA at Closing or undertaken by the New TA thereafter when operational.

9. Ann Arbor Approval. Notwithstanding anything in this Agreement to the contrary, if voters in the City of Ann Arbor fail to approve the NEW TA Act 196 funding source at any interim vote prior to December 31, 2014, regardless of whether it is approved or not by the other voting jurisdictions, then the City shall have the right to, but is not required to (i) withdraw from this Agreement without penalty; (ii) veto any attempted termination by AATA of the AATA-City operation agreement; and (iii) refuse to designate and/or assign its millage under Section 3(a). If Ann Arbor voters fail to approve the NEW TA Act 196 funding source before December 31, 2014, regardless of whether it is approved or not by the other voting jurisdictions, then the City shall withdraw from this agreement without penalty, shall veto any attempted termination by AATA of the AATA-City operation agreement, and shall refuse to designate and/or assign its millage under Section 3(a).

In broad strokes, the amendments won support based on the fact that other councilmembers were persuaded that the amendments did not change the substance of the agreement, but merely clarified the existing intent of the language.

Outcome on Briere’s amendments: The council approved both of Briere’s amendments. The amendment on full faith and credit won unanimous approval. The amendment on voter approval and withdrawal from the agreement passed on a 9-2 vote, with dissent from Derezinski and Teall.

Transit Agreement: Council’s Concluding Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know what the future is for a high-capacity north-south connector within the city of Ann Arbor.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4)

City councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

She said she’d advocated for such a system for 13 years and wanted to know why there was a zero on the funding line for that project. Michael Benham, AATA strategic planner, told Higgins it reflects that the project is being deferred to focus on those services that can be provided just with local funding. He told Higgins that local millage dollars would not be allocated, but state and federal dollars could be put toward it. An application has been made for preliminary engineering, he said. Higgins was content that the connector not being tabled and that it’s still a recognized need.

By way of background to illustrate how long the concept of the connector described by Higgins has been around, a series of articles from the Ann Arbor District Library’s Old News archive documents that the idea of a high-capacity, elevated guideway connector between the University of Michigan north campus, central campus, and the Amtrak station was conceived in the early 1970s. [Oct. 30, 1973][Nov. 2, 1973] [Dec. 6, 1973]

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) expressed concern that approval of the four-party agreement would mean approval of Fuller Road Station, which the council had not done. [See Chronicle coverage: "UM, Ann Arbor Halt Fuller Road Project"] He felt that the transit plan incorporates Fuller Road Station without a vote.

Benham explained that the Fuller Road Station project is in the five-year plan as a program, but there’s nothing that the financial advisory group has recommended that endorses the project. Anglin stated that the AATA is putting forward uses at the site at Fuller Road for a transit station but the city council has never taken a vote on that. Benham told Anglin that nothing precludes the council from voting on that issue. The reason the Fuller Road Station is included is that it’s a project that’s desired by many people, he said.

Benham indicated that the AATA would be publishing the detailed five-year service program in late April or May.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) expressed her thanks to those who’d worked on the issue and said that so far, AATA has had a grueling marathon journey – but it’s just the first 5 miles. She said she’s heard consistently from emails and at the podium that Ann Arbor and greater Washtenaw County want a higher level of transportation service – it’s good now, but not good enough.

She said it’s time to vote on the four-party agreement and to vote on it in the affirmative. She hoped that her colleagues could put aside their concerns about the way the agreement had arrived at its current form. “This is what’s in front of us,” she said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he appreciated the optimism expressed by Smith, but maintained it’s his responsibility to do due diligence. He compared improving the transportation system to homebuilding – he wouldn’t tear down a house, when he can build an addition, he said. He described the approach that the AATA is taking as not the best way, but rather the most complex way. He ticked through a variety of other options for creating an Act 196 authority or retaining an Act 55 authority. He read aloud extensively from a document that he said he’d found on the AATA’s website, which outlines the comparative advantages and disadvantages of Act 196 and Act 55.

As Kunselman continued to read, mayor John Hieftje pointed out that Kunselman had been speaking for seven minutes. Kunselman challenged the idea that there was a time limit – but Hieftje noted that the council rules provide for one. [It's five minutes for the first speaking turn on a topic and three minutes for the second speaking turn.]

Kunselman said that if the proposal were for the city of Ann Arbor to incorporate an Act 196 authority, he’d be on board. But he objected to what he characterized as turning everything over to the county. He contended that Washtenaw County would “control” the articles of incorporation for the new transit authority.

Assistant city attorney Mary Fales was asked to comment and she noted that Section 3.04 of the articles of incorporation identifies the role of the county:

The Washtenaw County Clerk/Register shall endorse these Articles of Incorporation after their adoption by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and the “New” Authority shall publish them once in a newspaper of general circulation throughout the County on a date at least 10 days, but not more than 30 days, after their adoption.

As far as amending the articles after their adoption and filing, Fales noted that it would require a 2/3 vote of the new transit authority’s board.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he’d support the four-party agreement – because he wanted the option of talking about it some more. He responded to Kunselman’s frequent refrain that it’s the mayor’s proposal by saying that it was brought forward by Michael Ford and those who worked on it for the AATA.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) echoed what Hohnke said, noting it’s just the initial step and that he’s glad the council is taking that first step.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she regretted there’s not more of an appetite to tighten up the language. But she said a majority of the council felt it’s not in Ann Arbor’s interest that Ann Arbor have a majority on the board or that 50% is a reasonable critical mass for minimum participation.

Kunselman then directed a question to Hieftje asking him why, because Hieftje brought it forward, was Hieftje suggesting that Ann Arbor turn this authority over to the county? Hieftje indicated that he’d respond later as to why he would be supporting the four-party agreement.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he was delighted to support the four-party agreement. Responding to Lumm’s interpretation of the financial task force’s message that things should be put on hold, he said he’d heard the financial task force say only that the funding be put on hold. The message he’d heard from the task force was that the council should forge ahead. About the agreement, Taylor said, it doesn’t bind the council to move forward, but only to do so in a particular manner if they decide to move forward. It provides full authority for Ann Arbor to “bug out” if AATA doesn’t provide full value.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) highlighted among the various reasons to support the agreement her desire to ensure that residents get the chance to vote.

When it came time for Hieftje to weigh in, he said he thought the council had been presented with a financial plan. The task force had put a number on the amount required, but had not said what the methodology is going to be. It would still require a vote of the residents. The plan had been developed over a long period of time, with over 70 public meetings. It wasn’t something Ford dreamed up, he said.

Hieftje pointed to the support that had been expressed by the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. Hieftje drew an analogy of the four-party agreement to another decision the council had made – on the agreement of all but one councilmember [Anglin] to build the underground parking garage. Hieftje said Ann Arbor wants to be a community that continues to grows jobs.

Kunselman then challenged the mayor to answer Kunselman’s previous question. Hieftje said he’d just done that.

Outcome on four-party transit agreement: The agreement was approved on a 7-4 vote, with dissent from Anglin, Lumm, Kunselman, and Higgins.

Gott Nomination to AATA Board

One of the mayoral nominations that the council was asked to confirm at its March 5 meeting was for the appointment of University of Michigan planner Sue Gott to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

Councilmembers generally vote on confirmation of mayoral nominations to board and commissions “all in one go” in the same way that consent agenda items are voted. And in the same way that individual consent agenda items are sometimes pulled out for separate consideration (which can be done at the request of any councilmember), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to separate out Gott’s nomination from some others and to request a roll-call vote on that.

Higgins said she had some concerns with a University of Michigan employee being appointed to the board, because UM contracts for services with the AATA, and because of the weight that UM has in the community. She felt the appointment could be better used for other citizens in the community.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) added that Gott would be the second UM employee serving on the AATA board, to which mayor John Hieftje replied, “I’m not aware of that.” Kunselman countered with the name of the other UM employee who serves on the board, Anya Dale. By way of background, Dale was employed by Washtenaw County at the time of her appointment to the AATA on May 17, 2010 – which earned her a dissenting vote from Sabra Briere (Ward 1). But at least as early as mid-June 2011 it was publicly known that Dale would be leaving her post with Washtenaw County to take a position in the UM sustainability office. Dale’s position within UM is not particularly high level.

Also useful by way of background is the fact that the AATA board member whom Gott is replacing was a relatively high-level administrator, Rich Robben, executive director for plant operations.

Kunselman then went on to point out to Hieftje that when the vacancy came up, Kunselman had suggested appointing someone to the AATA board from one of the jurisdictions with which the AATA has a purchase-of-service (POS) arrangement. By way of background, that suggestion had come at the city council’s Jan. 23, 2012 meeting. That type of appointment, ventured Kunselman, would perhaps start the collaborative effort for countywide transit. Kunselman noted that Hieftje had responded to his suggestion on that occasion by questioning whether it would be legal to have an elected official from a township serve on the AATA board. But Kunselman noted that David Nacht (who currently serves on the AATA board) was originally a Scio Township trustee around the time he was first appointed to the AATA board.

Kunselman stressed that Gott is a wonderful person, but said he shared Higgins’ concern that the AATA board needs a little more breadth, and the communities contracting with AATA for service have been wanting a seat on the board, he said.

Hieftje responded to Kunselman by saying that Ypsilanti is participating in the framework of the as-yet unincorporated Act 196 (U196) board, and is pretty happy they’re being represented. With Gott’s base of planning knowledge, Hieftje said, it’s appropriate that she have a seat on the ATA board at a time when plans are being made for the future. Gott has lived in the community for a very long time, Hieftje said.

Briere then asked Hieftje to help explain which skills Gott would bring to the AATA board. Hieftje said that Gott had a breadth of knowledge that covers such a wide range – she’s familiar with UM plans. He ventured that if you read her resume you’d see a lot of experience in transportation planning.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) echoed what Hieftje had said, noting that he’d worked with Gott on some issues with University of Michigan in his capacity as a city planning commissioner. Hieftje then said that people on city council also work for UM and he doesn’t see a conflict of interest – an allusion to Kunselman’s employment with UM as an energy liaison.

Kunselman countered that there’s a big difference between being an elected versus an appointed official. Kunselman then said he knew Gott from “way way back” and would support her nomination. But he lamented the fact that the opportunity had not been taken to appoint someone who represented an entity that has a purchase-of-service agreement.

Outcome: Sue Gott’s appointment to the AATA board was unanimously confirmed.

Direction on Medical Marijuana

On the council’s agenda was a resolution that would direct the city attorney, Stephen Postema, to “delay all enforcement activities against medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities except for claims that they violate Section 5:50.1(3) of the City Code [zoning regulations], until the Council amends or rejects amendments to the zoning and licensing ordinances for medical marijuana.”

The resolution reflects an ongoing tension between the city’s medical marijuana licensing board and the city attorney’s office.

That tension between the board and the city attorney’s office is reflected in a statement sent by members of the board to city councilmembers on March 2, which reads in part: “[The city attorney's office] has been aggressively trying to shut [dispensaries] down while we actively try to license them.” The statement goes on to point out that a representative from the city attorney’s office had been present at all of the board’s meetings and that the board’s recommendations had been reported to the city council. But after that, the city attorney’s office had sent out new letters to all dispensaries requesting them to provide information about how their business operates. [.pdf of entire statement from Ann Arbor's medical marijuana licensing board to the Ann Arbor city council]

The part of the city code called out for continued enforcement in the resolution, Section 5:50.1(3), specifies the zones in the city where medical marijuana businesses may be located. From the code: “Medical marijuana dispensaries shall only be located in a district classified pursuant to this chapter as D, C, or M, or in PUD districts where retail is permitted in the supplemental regulations. Medical marijuana cultivation facilities shall only be located in a district classified pursuant to this chapter as C, M, RE, or ORL.” [.pdf of Section 5:50.1(3)]

The resolution on the March 5 agenda stemmed from a meeting of the city’s medical marijuana licensing board on Feb. 28 that was convened in response to concerns by several dispensary owners, who had received letters dated Feb. 24 from the city attorney’s office. The letters make specific inquiries into several aspects of the business model of dispensaries – in order to assess whether they are in compliance with Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act. Compliance with the MMMA is a requirement for issuance of a medical marijuana license, and recipients of the letters have license applications pending with the city. Although the legal position of the city attorney appears to be that it’s possible for a dispensary to operate in compliance with the MMMA, no explication of what that model would entail has been set forth.

Among the questions being posed to all dispensaries in the letters are the following: “Does any person or entity deliver marijuana to [Dispensary Name]? If so, does [Dispensary Name] ever pay, donate, or in any way give money to the person or entity who delivers the marijuana or to anyone else? If so, to whom is the money paid, donated, or given and how much?” [.pdf of set of letters]

The city council resolution was sponsored on the agenda by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who is the city council’s representative to the medical marijuana licensing board. After its Jan. 31, 2012 meeting, the board submitted a required report to the council with recommendations on the issuance of the first dispensary licenses and revisions to the city’s medical marijuana ordinance. The report recommends to the council that 10 dispensaries be issued licenses.

The city council enacted zoning and licensing regulations for medical marijuana businesses at its June 20, 2011 meeting.

The resolution requests that the council decide on recommendations for amendments to the city’s medical marijuana ordinance before June 18, 2012.

The council did not reach the item on its agenda until around 12:30 a.m. Briere ventured that the item was complex and deserved the council’s attention and its “ability to stay awake,” so she moved for a postponement, a move that was met with consensus without any deliberation.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone consideration of the item to its March 19 meeting.

Liquor License Non-Renewals

The council considered a resolution with a recommendation that liquor licenses for two businesses – Dream Nite Club and Rush Street – not be renewed this year. The vote was based on the recommendation of the council’s liquor license review committee. For Dream Nite Club, the non-renewal recommendation is based on maintenance of a nuisance and patron conduct. For Rush Street, the issue relates to non-payment of $8,040.42 in taxes.

Liquor License Map

Blue dots are locations of liquor licensees. Note that the map includes licensees of all categories, not just those that have licenses permitting on-premise consumption. (Image links to dynamic map, that allows zooming and clicking and the like.)

The council’s resolution and subsequent notification of the two businesses meets the requirement of Chapter 109, Section 9:79 of the city code – that a business be notified of the council’s intent to object to the renewal of its liquor license by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, and that a hearing be convened to afford a business an opportunity to plead its case. [.pdf of Chapter 109 Section 9:79]

Hearings for the two businesses were set for March 19, which is the soonest they could be held – 10 days after notification. The hearing officer will be Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who chairs the city council’s liquor license review committee. Later that same day, on March 19, the city council will need to make a final recommendation to the MLCC. The MLCC’s deadline is March 31.

The council’s resolution was based on the recommendation of its liquor license review committee, which met on Feb. 23, 2012 to conclude its annual review of licenses in the city.

During the brief city council deliberations, Derezinski characterized the resolution as simply reflecting the recommendation of the liquor license review committee. He stressed that there was a time element, due to the time of notice that had to be provided to the licensees.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who also serves on the review committee with Derezinski and Jane Lumm (Ward 2), asked him to explain the reason that the two establishments were recommended for non-renewal. Derezinski clarified for the council that one related to police reports and patron conduct (Dream Nite Club) while the other related to non-payment of taxes (Rush Street).

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to recommend non-renewal of two liquor licenses and to set the hearings for March 19.

Greenbelt Land

The council considered a resolution authorizing the use of $82,576 from its open space and parkland preservation millage to acquire development rights to the Newton Farm property – 58.85 acres in Ann Arbor Township. The city’s contribution will be paired with an equal amount from Ann Arbor Township and matched with a federal farm and ranchland protection program grant of $158,676 for a deal worth a total of $323,828.

Deliberations on the item were limited to a comment by Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who characterized it as a strong proposal. It’s strong, she said, because it meets the goals of the greenbelt program, the city’s share is less than one-third of the cost, the township is matching the city’s share, local dollars are leveraging federal funds, and it’s adjacent to other properties protected by the greenbelt program. She said she hoped that future greenbelt acquisitions would be similarly structured.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the acquisition of development rights on the Newton Farm property.

W. Kingsley House

The council considered a resolution approving the purchase of two parcels on the northern edge of downtown Ann Arbor, at 215 and 219 W. Kingsley. The purchase price is $185,000. That will clear the way to the demolition of a long-vacant house, considered by many to be an eyesore. The money for the purchase was awarded as a pre-disaster mitigation grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which the city council accepted through a resolution passed at its Nov. 15, 2010 meeting.

Map of  215-19 W. Kingsley

The parcels at 215-19 W. Kingsley are outlined in red. Blue area is the floodway. Green area is the floodplain. Image is a screen shot from the joint Washtenaw County/City of Ann Arbor flood mapping website. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

The delay in the purchase of the property was due in part to the owner’s initial reluctance to sell the property to the city at the appraised price.

After the city acquires the land, the house on one of the parcels will be demolished and a rain garden will be installed, using stormwater utility funds as part of the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP). The parcels are located in the FEMA floodway as determined by the new map given final approval by the city council the same night the purchase was approved. [.jpg image of parcels and floodway]

The city’s public art commission, at its Nov. 30, 2011 meeting, approved the new rain garden as a project in which to include public art, establishing a project budget between $20,000 and $27,000.

W. Kingsley House: Deliberations

Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who sponsored the item on the agenda, led off deliberations by saying that she was pretty happy to be able to bring the item forward. The house had been vacant for 12-14 years, the basement has been crumbling in for some time, the garage has been set on fire, but was finally removed, she said. The house has been boarded up for around eight years.

Smith described it as a delicate balance between private property rights and dealing with nuisances. She mentioned that with the fund established at the council’s Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, now the city has ways to deal with such cases. Smith noted that the money being used for the acquisition comes from FEMA money – which is possible because the property is in the floodway.

Given that Jerry Hancock, the city’s stormwater and floodplain manager, had remained at the meeting well after midnight to field any questions, Smith invited him to the podium to describe for the council what was special about the acquisition and demolition of the property. Hancock described the history of the city’s efforts with the property as starting with an enforcement action through the city attorney’s office because of the nuisance it posed. Then the city learned it was eligible for FEMA money because of the city’s flood mitigation plan that was approved in 2007. The city felt that pursuing FEMA funding might be a more palatable enforcement path, so an application was made in 2008.

Like everything associated with the project, Hancock said, the application has taken longer than expected. FEMA issues held things up and it took a while to get clear title. The grant from FEMA covers 75% of the cost, he said, and the rest will come from the stormwater fund. The property also needed to be deed-restricted, he said – because that’s a FEMA requirement.

Instead of filling in the basement, Hancock continued, it was felt that some flood storage capacity could be established there. So a project on was put on the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) to create a rain garden. The city hired Patrick Judd of the Ann Arbor-based Conservation Design Forum, who had also worked on the landscaping at the new city hall plaza. Part of Judd’s proposal was to coordinate with Ann Arbor’s public art commission. So, Hancock said, there will not only be a rain garden but also a public art installation at the site. Smith ventured that there would be a neighborhood block party there when it’s done.

Questions from Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) drew out the fact that the council’s resolution that night was just for the acquisition. The money had already been accepted and the rain garden did not require city council approval. Responding to a question from Kunselman, Hancock explained that a few more steps remain before a contractor can be hired to perform the demolition – a grading plan and a survey needs to be in place before it can be bid out. He estimated 4-6 weeks before a contractor would be lined up.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) ventured that it’s going to be good to drive by a nicer-looking site. He asked about other sites that might be eligible for FEMA money for demolition. Hancock responded by saying there’s only one other site on which the city has moved forward with FEMA applications: 721 N. Main St., a city-owned property.

The city had received approval of a grant to remove two storage structures in the floodway on the 721 N. Main site, but that grant has been delayed because the city’s All-Hazard Plan has expired. The city’s emergency manager, along with the city attorney’s office, is updating that, Hancock explained. Once that All-Hazard Plan is complete, the city will be able to move ahead with that grant. However, no other sites besides the two storage structures at 721 N. Main have been identified for FEMA applications, Hancock said.

Outcome: The council unanimously authorized the acquisition of the West Kingsley properties for demolition.

New Flood Map

The council considered a resolution giving final approval to an ordinance change that will adopt a new Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) for the city. Initial approval had been given by the council at its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting.

By way of background on those maps, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) makes flood insurance available for properties in participating communities – Ann Arbor is a participant. If a building has a federally-backed mortgage and it’s located within the “1% annual change floodplain” (previously called the “100-year floodplain) then flood insurance is required.

Ann Arbor’s most recent FIRM dates from Jan. 2, 1992. In 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began a map revision process for Washtenaw County. Various drains in the city were re-analyzed, using updated data, and on July 27, 2007, FEMA issued preliminary maps. After required public review, appeal and revisions, on Oct. 3, 2011, FEMA issued a letter with a final determination, indicating that the new maps would become effective on April 3, 2012. [.pdf of Oct. 3, 2011 letter] [.pdf of Dec. 20, 2011 reminder letter]

Compared to the previous 1992 maps, 321 parcels are no longer analyzed as lying within a floodplain. However, 116 parcels that were previously not analyzed as in a floodplain are now in a floodplain, according to the new maps. Building-wise, 452 structures are no longer analyzed as lying within a floodplain, while 88 buildings are now in a floodplain, according to the new maps. [See also Chronicle coverage: "Column: Digital Information Flood."]

During the public hearing on the new map only one person spoke. Thomas Partridge called on the council to go beyond this ordinance to enact construction guidelines and restrictions in Ann Arbor to give adequate protection to residents from private companies involved in construction activities that flagrantly violate noise ordinances, worker protections, and threaten health and safety of pedestrians and drivers.

The council did not deliberate on the new flood map, having entertained some discussion when the ordinance was given initial approval at the council’s previous meeting.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to adopt the new flood map.

Park Renovations

The council considered two major contracts for renovations of city parks.

The first, for $893,030 with RMD Holdings, covers the renovation of softball and baseball diamonds at Veterans Memorial Park, Southeast Area Park, and West Park. The second, with Fonson Inc. for $786,536, will cover renovation of roads and parking lots, build paths and improve stormwater management at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm. Both contracts also include an additional 10% contingency.

The projects were discussed by the city’s park advisory commission and recommended for approval – the Buhr/Cobblestone project on Feb. 28, 2012, and the ballfield renovations on Jan. 24, 2012.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who is one of two city council representatives to the park advisory commission, noted that PAC was particularly excited about this project. The ballfields have been an area of particular concern. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) remarked that anybody who’s been around the fields knows how much use they get when the weather is nice. It’s a nice step forward for those who use those amenities, he said.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5), the other council appointee to PAC, said the public should know that the city will receive more revenue down the road, because more teams will return to using the fields, given that the ballfield renovations are in the city’s Park and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan. Sandi Smith (ward 1) confirmed with Taylor that commencement of the work will wait until after the summer season ends.

On the Buhr Park renovations, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said Buhr Park is just down the street from him, so he was pleased to see potholes in the entry road taken care of.

Outcome: On separate votes, the two park renovation items were unanimously approved.

Land Use Buffer Changes

The council considered a change in landscaping and land use buffer requirements in the city code.

The first change would restrict some requirements that have been added recently just to those plans that require city planning commission or city council approval: (1) providing landscaped islands for every 15 parking spaces; and (2) providing bioretention areas in 50% of the interior landscaping areas. Administrative amendments to existing plans would not trigger the requirements.

The second change involves requirements to provide buffers between parcels with conflicting land uses. Recent amendments added requirements that properties in R3 (townhouse dwelling) and R4 (multiple-family dwelling) districts include a buffer along the side and rear property lines if the parcel is immediately adjacent to a property that is principally used or zoned as residential.

The amendment considered on March 5 would remove the R4C zoning district from the recently-added land use buffer requirement. The rationale for exempting the R4C sites from the requirement is characterized in the staff memo as due to the fact that the R4C sites “are typically located on small lots in older neighborhoods near downtown. Most R4C lots are too small to accommodate a 15 foot wide conflicting land use buffer along the entire side and rear property lines.”

Land Use Buffer Changes: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said that when she saw the item on the agenda, she noticed how dependent the changes were on the R4C area. She noted that the R4C zoning district study committee has not yet reported its work, so she had some concerns about protections being removed for residents who live in such areas. Why does the ordinance need to be done tonight, instead of waiting? asked Briere.

Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, explained that the R4C item was not urgent, and might be delayed. But for the other items, she suggested it would be useful to move ahead. Administrative amendments to site plans were causing a bioswale requirement to be triggered, she said. She allowed that a petitioner can still go to the planning commission to get an exemption, but that seemed like an extra, unnecessary step.

As an example, Rampson gave a Glacier Hills nursing home construction project. The ordinance would have required the nursing home, in light of a small modification to the site plan, to take 50% of the landscape islands and convert them to bioswales. She ventured that if the council wanted to remove the R4C buffer requirement from the amendment package and move the other two amendments forward, the staff would prefer that.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who serves as the city council’s representative to the planning commission, supported Rampson’s remarks. The review of the R4C/R2A zoning area has taken a long time due to the amount of the public input that has been included, he said. Rather than cut off that public input, the planning commission had decided to delay that report. Derezinski said that hopefully within the next couple of weeks, that report would be done. About the R4C/R2A review committee’s work, he said that issues like the landscape buffer are the “grist of what we were dealing with.” He said that in terms of the final recommendations, nobody got everything, but everybody got something.

Alluding to the delay in the R4A/R4C report, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that he had paid attention to the R4A/R4C study report because the council hasn’t yet received it. But he asked if a maximum lot size within R4C was within the proposed recommendations.

By way of background, Kunselman has raised the point of placing a maximum lot size on R4C parcels in the past. From The Chronicle’s report on the council’s Oct. 24, 2011 meeting, in the context of deliberations on establishing a historic district in an area that includes R4C parcels:

Kunselman noted the issue certainly has a long history. He said he’d recently visited Chicago, where he’d seen a neighborhood that had some zoning in place that prevented the accumulation of parcels. He asked if it were possible to pass a zoning ordinance that specified a maximum lot size. The answer from assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald was: Yes, it’s possible.

Kunselman said he had no problem having a historic district study committee, but he was also looking to the existing R4C/R2A zoning district study committee. If that committee doesn’t take action, then he’d initiate a change in the zoning code to establish a maximum lot size. He said he’d hate to have something like City Place on Hamilton Place [the next street to the east from Fifth Avenue, where City Place is likely to be built]. In the Chicago neighborhood, he said, it was possible to have modern single-family homes right next to the old ones. The city has to allow for rebuilding, he said. He was open to learning and listening like [Christopher] Taylor, but concluded by saying that the council needed to move in some way.

In response to Kunselman’s question on March 5, Rampson said that the R4C committee had talked about reducing the possibilities for combining parcels. Kunselman asked for details on how that reduction of possibilities would work. Rampson said she did not know – no zoning language proposal is included in the report. What’s described in the report are concepts. The only numbers specified are in places where there was sufficient consensus. She indicated that the next step for the report would be submission to the planning commission.

So Kunselman ventured that what he was asking for won’t be in the report, which Rampson confirmed. The committee spent a lot of time getting to what the concepts are that people agree on, she said. She suggested that the council would want to spend some time going through the report, because it’s quite complex.

Kunselman ascertained that there’s sentiment on the committee to put constraints on combining lots. If that’s going to be months and months and months away from implementation, he wondered what would prevent another project like City Place from happening. [The controversial City Place project on South Fifth Avenue had combined seven parcels to create a single project.] Rampson allowed that nothing would prevent the kind of combination of lots like City Place. She characterized the R4C committee work as very deliberative. She expected that the committee’s report would be in the city council’s meeting information packet sometime in April at same time the planning commission looks at it during a working session.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) suggested postponing the ordinance revision for two weeks. Asked by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) why she wanted to postpone it, Higgins said she would just like to review it further.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone, until March 19, all the landscape ordinance revisions, including one that would eliminate the need for a landscape buffer for R4C areas.

Off-Street Parking Regs

The council also considered changes to its off-street parking code.

The first change reduces the exceptions allowed for front open space parking for sites that have more than one front lot line. Currently, a site with three frontages can have a parking area for two of the frontages – between the building face and the public right of way. The code revision would limit parking areas to a single frontage.

The second change would require that any new driveways serving drive-up windows in the front open space of a site be no wider than 12 feet and provide a raised sidewalk with bollards where the sidewalk crosses a drive-up lane. The change is meant to improve pedestrian safety.

The third change relates to minimum off-street parking requirements in the downtown districts, zoned D1 and D2. Developers currently have the option of making a payment in lieu of providing the required parking. The revision to the ordinance would add the option of signing a contract for parking permits in the city’s public parking system.

The council did not deliberate on the item before voting to give it initial approval.

As a change to the city’s ordinances, the revisions will need to be given a second and final approval by the city council at a subsequent meeting after a public hearing.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the new off-street parking regulations.

Dexter Avenue Improvements

The council was asked to consider authorizing an agreement with Michigan Department of Transportation for the Dexter Avenue improvements project in the amount of $2,353,425. That amount corresponds to the amount provided by the Federal Surface Transportation Fund (STPU). The project, which involves reconstruction of the street, as well as necessary utility improvements, has a total cost of about $6 million, which will be divided as follows: STPU, $2,353,425; city street millage fund, $1,407,850; city storm water fund, $1,360,635; water fund, $881,000; special assessments, $18,590. The special assessments on property owners were given final city council approval at its Dec. 6, 2011 meeting.

During deliberations, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) praised the work of the city staff in seeking the participation of the community.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) questioned how bike lanes could be added if the curb-to-curb width did not change. The explanation from project manager Elizabeth Rolla was that the current lanes are extra wide.

Rolla also indicated that after opening the bids, the cost was about $900,000 lower than anticipated. Lumm also wanted to know how the locations of the three new pedestrian crosswalks had been decided – was it similar to the way Plymouth Road crosswalk locations had been determined? Rolla explained that Dexter Avenue is different from Plymouth Road – Dexter Avenue is just two lanes. The exact locations were based on input from public meetings, and factored in school traffic and bus traffic. Also factored in were hills and sight distances.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the Dexter Avenue MDOT contract.

Consent Agenda: Water Meters, Aerial Photography

Two items were separated out from the council’s consent agenda for separate consideration. For one of them, some confusion ensued, when Jane Lumm (Ward 2) requested a different item be separated out than the one she actually wanted to question. It resulted in the council’s reconsideration and re-voting of the steps for approving the consent agenda.

The item Lumm had wanted to discuss was a $53,340 contract with Photo Science Geospatial Solutions to do a flyover and to generate aerial photography of the city, so that stormwater rates can be computed for each parcel. The city uses a formula that depends on the amount of impervious surface on a parcel as determined by infrared aerial photography.

Lumm questioned the selection of the contractor with the highest bid. [The other bids were for $44,213 and $49,409.] The city’s head of IT, Dan Rainey, said that non-price factors outweighed the lower cost offered by other vendors, citing specifically the ability of the selected vendor to provide the service on demand, on whatever day the city wanted the flyover done. The quality of the flyover was the most important consideration, he said.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) pulled out the other item from the consent agenda for individual scrutiny. It authorized the purchase of water meters from Midwest Municipal Instrumentation Inc. for $50,000. Briere confirmed with interim public services area administrator Craig Hupy that the devices were “smart meters” in the sense that they did not require a human agent to collect their data.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve all the consent agenda items, including the two separated out for special consideration.

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: Parks Millage

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who serves as one of two city council representatives to the park advisory commission (PAC), alerted his council colleagues to a topic at the council’s next working session on March 12: the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage. The city staff and a PAC working group have been discussing the issue, he said. Taylor called it a preview of the public conversation, which will cover the options of millage renewal, expansion, or retraction. [The city of Ann Arbor levies a 1.1 mill tax for park maintenance and capital improvements, last approved in 2006 for a period of six years.]

Comm/Comm: Board and Commission Open Positions

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) alerted the public to a slew of open positions on various boards and commissions. She invited the public to think about applying. [Information about applying is on the city clerk's webpage.]

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who serves as the council’s representative to the taxicab board, noted that among the vacancies are two openings on that board. He said the board had some serious business to address.

Comm/Comm: Chief Jones Retires

City administrator Steve Powers announced that chief of police Barnett Jones would be retiring. He thanked Jones for five years of service to the city of Ann Arbor and 30 years of service statewide. Powers indicated that the appointment of an interim would be announced at a later time. Later in the week, it was announced that deputy chief John Seto would serve as interim.

Comm/Comm: Council Rules

At the conclusion of the meeting, during public commentary, Michael Benson noted that the council had outlasted CTN. [Although the live broadcast ends at midnight, the entire meeting is recorded for broadcast later.] Benson suggested revising the council rule on public commentary reserved time at the start of council meetings so that speaking turns would be limited to two minutes instead of the current three minutes. But that would be balanced against an increase in the total time allotted from 30 minutes to 40 minutes. Such a change would double the number of people who could sign up to speak – from 10 to 20.

Benson also suggested making the first preference for those people who wish to speak on agenda items more restrictive – to require that it be an action item on the agenda. Another suggestion put forward by Benson was to model a rule for public speaking used by the University of Michigan regents, which would give first preference to those people who had not addressed the council recently.

Comm/Comm: Warming Center

During public commentary, Orian Zakai followed up on the way that mayor John Hieftje had responded to her comments at the council’s previous meeting.

At the previous meeting she’d addressed the issue of 100 units of affordable housing that were lost when the old YMCA at Fifth and William streets was demolished. She quoted Hieftje’s response: “A lot of people don’t understand that the council has been working steadily for years to replace those units.” One of the people who doesn’t understand, Zakai ventured, is the head of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance. When Zakai had asked her for an interpretation of the mayor’s response, she had had no clear idea where the 70 new units had been built, which Hieftje had described. Zakai said she and her group don’t want to get between the city and the county, but two people in such a state of misunderstanding on such a crucial issue raises doubts about how seriously the goal of ending homelessness is taken, she said.

Regarding Hieftje’s allusion to efforts to create a warming center, Zakai maintained that this had been denied by WHA. The only group working on a warming center, she concluded, is a group she’s working with, Imagine Warming Centers. The group has encountered trouble communicating with the city. The group has visited the city-owned property at 721 N. Main. She described it as needing some repairs, but because it was a workplace until as recently as three years ago, those repairs can be effected. It’s also full of furniture that her group had been told is surplus. Her group could use the furniture or sell it, she said.

Alan Haber told the council he didn’t want to repeat anything too much, but Imagine Warming Centers has been seeking a space for people who need warmth. The group had looked at private properties as well as the city-owned 721 N. Main site. They’d looked through it with the city administrator and they’d identified problems with the building. But now, Haber said, progress is getting bogged down.

Haber said the group would like to rent the 721 N. Main from the city for a year for a nominal low rent. The group would provide liability insurance and pay utilities. Members who have skills would do repairs. Longer-term improvements would be negotiated with city staff, he said. He felt the building could be safely worked in. The building is also full of stuff with real value, he said, which could be put on the market. The space would be too low-tech for Ann Arbor SPARK, he said, but could be a great productive space. The group now needed the city to say, Okay, we’ll lease it to you. He told the council to open their hearts, open their minds, open the door.

Thomas Partridge led off his turn at public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting by alluding to the late hour, saying it was almost time to plan for breakfast. He stressed the urgency of planning for government services not in the future but now. He told the council he’d come to some public meetings after standing out in snowstorms with inadequate clothing and no boots, with only a few dollars in his pocket. He told them he’d personally suffered – he’s a victim of multiple sclerosis. He said when people advocated for a warming center, they’re really calling for affordable 24-7 housing support.

Later in the meeting, Hieftje responded to the commentary by indicating that he could get a report on the units of housing that had been constructed in the city. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) prodded Hieftje to mention the ongoing meetings he’s having about creating a warming center – he said he had one on his calendar on Friday. As far as the discussion on 721 N. Main, Hieftje said there are many issues, including the location of the property in the floodway. [The parcel also arose during discussion of another item on the agenda – the acquisition and demolition of a house in the floodway on West Kingsley. The city's stormwater and floodplain manger, Jerry Hancock, said that two storage buildings at the 721 N. Main site were planned to be demolished, using funds applied for from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).]

Comm/Comm: Israel, Palestine

Henry Herskovitz told the council that his friend Herman had called him to say he’d heard on talk radio that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had welcomed Obama’s statements on Israel’s right to self-defense. Herskovitz called that political code language for giving Israel the green light to attack Iran preemptively.

Herskovitz’s friend told him he’d heard on the radio that Israel is a small country, and being threatened by a neighbor, and that gives it the right to self-defense. Herskovitz said he’d asked his friend, a black man living in Detroit, how he’d feel if whites living in Grosse Pointe had evicted him in an attempt to transform Detroit to a white city. His friend had replied that he’d fight to the end to defend his right to live in his home. Herskovitz then drew an analogy from that to the history of the Middle East.

Herskovitz said that attacking Iran is nothing new for Israel. Eight years ago the drums were also being beaten for Iran.

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: Monday, March 19, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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  1. By Mark Koroi
    March 11, 2012 at 4:22 pm | permalink

    The City Council wants to recommend non-renewal of the liquor license of the Dream-Nite Night Club.

    That nightclub is currently suing the City of Ann Arbor in federal court for $3,000,000.00 alleging anti-Indian bias and other unfair treatment(the ownership is Asian Indian-American.

    The City of Ann Arbor last spring was instumental in a shutdown of the club via a nuisance abatement action, but it was eventually re-opened under the supervision of a receiver appointed by Judge Melinda Morris.

    City Council should be dicussing the statuses of the nuisance abatement action as well as the federal action brought by Dream-Nite. They should be encoraging the City Attorney to negotiate a resolution.

  2. By Mark Koroi
    March 11, 2012 at 4:56 pm | permalink

    “Higgins said she had some concerns with a University of Michigan employee being appointed to the board….”

    The same concerns she cites about the contractual relationships between U-M and the AATA and too much “weight” U-M has in Ann Arbor government apply with equal force to her dual status as a full-time U-M employee in the School of Engineering while sitting on City Council when the City of Ann Arbor has service and lease agreements that run between U-M and itself that City Council must debate and approve.

    The University of Michigan has put a number of prominent elected officeholders on its payroll, which is a very wise investment, since it can often pay a pretty penny for part-time or full-time work and then be in a position to have an advocate friendly and informed as to U-M’s interests on matters they must decide upon. There are several City Council members who have collected paychecks from U-M recently. Check for the identities and compensation received by these City Council members. A sitting Washtenaw County circuit judge has collected compensation as an employee from U-M in recent years.

    The University of Michigan has been quietly getting Ann Arbor elected officials on its payroll and obtaining appointments to its key influential boards.

    The public should be opposing the appointment of U-M employees to boards and commissions where the University has vital interests.

  3. March 11, 2012 at 6:51 pm | permalink

    Re: [2] “…. [Higgins'] dual status as a full-time U-M employee in the School of Engineering while sitting on City Council”

    While Higgins was previously employed by UM, it’s my understanding that she’s now employed elsewhere.

  4. By Mark Koroi
    March 11, 2012 at 8:48 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the correction, Dave. I had not been aware Marcia left her employment at U-M.

    John Hieftje was listed on the aforesaid website as a lecturer in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy fr the 2010-11 academic year, but not afterwards for the 2011-12 year.

    Marcia appears on the salary info website as being employed during the 2011-12 academic year as does Steve Kunselman.

  5. March 11, 2012 at 9:25 pm | permalink


    I really appreciate the hard work you do, and hesitate to ask you to do more. But is there any way to find out which of the current AATA and future TA board members live in the City, and which regularly ride the bus to work?

  6. March 11, 2012 at 10:09 pm | permalink

    re (5): do you mean the future TA members who represent the city? Of course all the others on the 196 board will not live in Ann Arbor, unless their districts appoint people who do not live in them, which they are unlikely to do.

    Ann Arbor under the new regime would be represented (presumably) by the current AATA board members. However, that would not happen automatically. The Mayor would have to name nominees to the new board. Whether he will choose to name the same individuals who currently serve on the AATA board is not known, but is not preordained.

    Another question: will the current AATA board members serve concurrently on the AATA board (while it still exists, with responsibility for our city transit system) and on the new TA board? Will there be any conflict inherent in such an appointment? I really am just asking the question.

  7. March 11, 2012 at 10:14 pm | permalink

    Re: [5] current AATA board members residential status

    Based on random bits of lint trapped the Velcro of my brain combined with the city’s online property records search [link] here’s the current status of AATA board members:

    Roger Kerson: city resident
    Jesse Bernstein: city resident
    Eli Cooper: not a city resident
    David Nacht: not a city resident
    Sue Gott: city resident
    Charles Griffith: city resident
    Anya Dale: city resident

    In a cursory search of Chronicle meeting reports, I couldn’t find the reference, but I have a vague recollection of Dale mentioning “her bus” at one of the board meetings, suggesting to me she’s at least an occasional bus rider if not a regular one. I don’t know if any of the other six ride AATA buses on a regular basis.

  8. March 12, 2012 at 2:34 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the brain lint, Dave.