Archive for March, 2012

Michigan Theater

A packed crowd for the opening night reception of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Long line for the Ravens Club cocktails! The festival is celebrating its 50th year and runs through Sunday, April 1.

Despite Concerns, North Maple Housing OK’d

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 20, 2012): After raising a series of concerns about a new residential development on North Maple Road, a majority of planning commissioners recommended it for approval on a 6-2 vote.

Public hearing sign posted for the proposed Maple Cove housing project

A public hearing sign posted at the site of the proposed Maple Cove residential development on North Maple, north of Miller Road on the city's west side. The project includes seven single-family homes and two apartment buildings. (Photos by the writer.)

The Maple Cove Apartments & Village development is proposed on nearly 3 acres at 1649 N. Maple, north of Miller Road on the west side of North Maple. It would consist of a small court with seven single-family homes, as well as two 3-story apartment buildings each with 18 one-and two-bedroom apartments. There will be two separate entrances off of North Maple – one for the houses, and another for the apartments. This was one of the issues raised by commissioners, as several of them preferred a single entrance to minimize conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles.

Pedestrian safety was also a concern for the drive into the single-family housing section of the development – there are no plans for a sidewalk on that street. Another concern raised by a neighbor during the public hearing – and echoed by some commissioners – was the potential for crime at the apartments, and whether crime data from nearby complexes should be requested to help evaluate the Maple Cove project. Tony Derezinski, a city councilmember who also serves on the planning commission, called using crime data as one of the criteria for approval a “slippery slope” and advised against it.

The possibility was floated to postpone action on the project until some of these concerns could be addressed, but no one made a formal motion to that effect. Brad Moore, a representative for the developer, pointed out that the project as proposed conforms with the city’s zoning ordinances.

Voting against the project were Bonnie Bona and Eric Mahler. The site plan will now be considered by the city council for approval.

Commissioners dispatched a second project on the agenda relatively quickly. After posing a few minor questions, they unanimously recommended approval of a new pump station at the city’s water treatment plant, on Sunset east of Newport Road. [Full Story]

A2: Film Festival

Michigan Radio reports on the 50th anniversary of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which starts today and runs through April 1. The segment includes an interview with Leighton Pierce, a filmmaker and installation artist who submitted his first entry to the AAFF in 1981: “It’s probably the festival’s fault that I became a filmmaker because that kind of encouragement early on can really like be a dangerous thing.” More information about this year’s schedule is on the festival’s website. [Source]

AAPS Mulls Revenue Enhancement Proposals

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (March 21, 2012): At its Wednesday evening meeting, trustees of the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) heard and discussed a variety of revenue enhancement proposals from the administration.

Christine Stead Ann Arbor Public Schools

Trustee Christine Stead directs a question to superintendent Patricia Green while trustee Glenn Nelson looks on. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposals ranged from digital billboards on district property to enrolling international students into the district. Board reaction to the proposals was mixed.

Trustee Christine Stead described the proposals as creative, but requested the opportunity to see “both sides of the ledger” – both revenue enhancements and cuts. Trustee Andy Thomas said he was “underwhelmed” by the revenue projections.

After a special briefing on a resolution to re-fund the 2004 Building and Sites Bond, the board unanimously approved the resolution. The re-fund, or “refinance,” of the bond would mean a slightly reduced millage rate for taxpayers. The re-funding will only go through if market conditions remain favorable. [Full Story]

Maple Road & M-14

Pioneer at Skyline lacrosse. JV: Skyline (3-0) 4, Pioneer (0-1) 3. Skyline goals: Dan Lee (3), Tom Devine (1); 11 Skyline shots on goal; 12 Skyline saves by goalie PJ Merica. No Pioneer stats yet available. Varsity: Pioneer (1-0) 13, Skyline (2-1) 3. No stats yet available.

A2: Michigan Theater

Boxoffice Magazine profiles Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater, including an extensive interview with executive director Russ Collins: “I think seeing large format images and wonderful sound on a screen in a public setting is a profound aesthetic experience that human beings want to have now and will want in the future. The only thing we can do at the Michigan Theater is work to make cinema relevant to our community and I think that’s a very powerful dynamic. I think that if we think about making communities good places for cinema to be experienced then cinema will always have a home.” [Source]

Western Skies

Starting ~8:45 p.m. Nice chance to see Jupiter, Venus, and a sliver of moon sinking into horizon together.

County Acts on Disaster Relief, Health Care

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 21, 2012): Public health, welfare and budget issues dominated the most recent county board meeting, which began with a briefing on the aftermath of a March 15 tornado touchdown in the Dexter area.

Mark Ouimet, Pat Kelly

Dexter Township supervisor Pat Kelly, right, attended the March 21, 2012 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting to thank the county for its help in the aftermath of the March 15 tornado that touched down in the township and caused considerable damage. To the left is Mark Ouimet, a former county commissioner who is now state representative for District 52, which includes the Dexter area.

Pat Kelly, Dexter Township supervisor, attended the meeting along with Mark Ouimet, a former county commissioner who is now state representative for District 52, which includes the Dexter area. Both thanked the county for its support and praised county staff – from sheriff’s deputies who provided security, to parks workers and others who helped with cleanup.

Later in the meeting, the board unanimously approved up to $500,000 from capital reserves to fund disaster relief and assistance to residents, including overtime costs for staff and payment for dumpsters to haul away debris. County administrator Verna McDaniel said that full amount might not be used, but it’s also possible that she’ll return to ask for more funding if it’s needed.

The board received a budget update for 2011 from finance staff, with the caution that minor changes might be made after an audit is completed. Although the originally approved budget had anticipated needing to use more than $5 million from the county’s general fund balance, only about $800,000 was actually used for the year – significantly less than expected.

Also related to the budget, the board authorized the county treasurer, Catherine McClary, to borrow up to $45 million against the amount of delinquent property taxes in all of the county’s 80 taxing jurisdictions. This is a standard request at this time of year as taxing jurisdictions – including cities, townships, schools systems and libraries, among others – turn their delinquent taxes over to the county, and are reimbursed for that delinquent amount. The county treasurer then assumes responsibility for collecting the delinquent taxes.

McClary noted that delinquent taxes are a leading economic indicator, and in that respect the trend is positive. This year, there is a drop in delinquent taxes for the first time since 2005. All jurisdictions saw a decrease, she said, and that’s really good news for the economy. McClary also gave her annual treasurer’s report for 2011, noting that revenues earned from delinquent taxes and fees totaled $5.557 million – about $3 million more than had been budgeted.

Also at the March 21 meeting, the board took a first step toward becoming a charter member of the Washtenaw Health Initiative (WHI), an effort to expand health care coverage for the county’s low-income residents. The membership includes a $10,000 annual fee in both 2012 and 2013, which would be funded through the county’s office of community and economic development. The 8-1 vote included dissent from Alicia Ping, who said she preferred funds to go directly to services, not for administrative purposes. Barbara Bergman was absent and Ronnie Peterson was out of the room when the vote was taken.

Among its other action items, the board gave final approval to creation of a county food policy council, and to an increase in certain fees charged by the public health department.

As an item for future discussion, several commissioners raised concerns over the issue of hydraulic fracturing – known as “fracking” – in rural parts of the county, to access oil or gas. Paxton Resources, a Gaylord, Mich.-based firm, has been acquiring mineral rights in the county’s rural areas for several months. A group of local residents called “No Paxton” has formed to oppose the company’s actions. The board discussed the possibility of a resolution urging more state oversight of the practice, and will likely schedule a working session on the issue. [Full Story]

UM Public Crime Meeting Planned for March 29

The University of Michigan department of public safety‘s March 29, 2012 crime meeting will be open to the public, including university students, faculty, staff and members of the general public. The meeting begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Michigan Union Pendleton Room.

DPS shift supervisors and officers involved in crime investigations, as well as representatives from housing security and hospital security, will be present to review recent major crime activity and trends, current criminal investigations and crime prevention strategies. There will be an opportunity for the public to ask questions, raise concerns or make suggestions, according to a university press release. This will be the final public session for the current academic year.

A2: Violin Monster

The Daily Texan posts a video of Ann Arbor’s Violin Monster playing on the streets of Austin. In an interview, the VM talks about the support he gets from the Ann Arbor community, and his plans to return home. [Source]

Council Votes on Liquor, Delays on Marijuana

Ann Arbor city council meeting (March 19, 2012): With only eight out of 11 city councilmembers in attendance, the council found some of its business a challenge to complete.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

From left: Ann Arbor city councilmembers Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) as they arrive to the March 19 meeting. Lumm was clearly feeling ill and was encouraged by her colleagues to head home, advice she heeded. (Photos by the writer.)

The council postponed for a second time (without deliberation) a resolution that would direct Ann Arbor’s city attorney to delay enforcement activities against medical marijuana dispensaries, except in limited circumstances. The only reason offered for postponing was to allow the absent councilmembers to participate in that vote. The same resolution had been postponed previously, at the council’s March 5 meeting. On that occasion, other deliberations had pushed the council’s meeting past midnight, and councilmembers had wanted to deal with the issue while they were fully awake.

And the council found itself unable to muster a six-vote majority for any intermediate action on a proposed change to the landscape and screening ordinance – and thus wound up simply defeating it. The changes would have restricted additional landscaping requirements just to those site plans requiring planning commission or city council approval, and would have exempted R4C (multi-family residential) districts from certain buffering requirements. Attempts to amend, postpone and table the resolution all failed on 5-3 votes, one vote short of the majority needed.

Several agenda items highlighted the Ann Arbor police department in some fashion. The council authorized the purchase of four new police vehicles, along with a street sweeper. And a new contract with the command officers union was one of two labor contracts ratified by the council at its meeting – the other was with the firefighters union. Deputy chief John Seto, who’ll be interim police chief when Barnett Jones retires at the end of the month, briefed the council on police activity on St. Patrick’s Day as well as during a severe storm the week before. Seto also was criticized during public commentary for a traffic stop he’s alleged to have made as a patrol officer in the mid-1990s.

The police department was also a key actor in the city council’s action to recommend to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission that the liquor license not be renewed for Dream Nite Club, located on Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. At an administrative hearing earlier in the day on that issue, much of the evidence presented by the city was based on police reports or police officer testimony.

In other business, the council approved an upgrade to control room equipment for Community Television Network. The city also added a total of around 160 acres to its greenbelt program, while selling a tiny wedge of property on Summit Street that had a murky history. Also related to land and its use, the city gave final approval to a rezoning request for the Les Voyageurs Society property located near Argo Dam.

The council passed a resolution expressing opposition to pending state legislation, which has already won approval from the Michigan house of representatives, that would allow grass clippings to be dumped in landfills under certain conditions.

The topic of Fuller Road Station emerged during public commentary as well as during remarks at the council table.

And councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) alerted his council colleagues that he’d be pressing two issues in the near future: (1) getting a written, public legal opinion from the city attorney regarding the city’s Percent for Art program; and (2) getting a calculation by the city treasurer of the tax capture to which the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is entitled. [Full Story]

Huron & Seventh

Magnolia trees in blossom on either side of Huron. A tad early, but beautiful.

Canton Center Road & Joy Road

Skyline High School lacrosse versus Canton. JV (2-0) hangs on for a 6-5 victory. Varsity (2-0) dominates 9-4. For the Skyline varsity:  Don Wiedner led the way with 4 goals, Matt Laubach had 3, Rick Krout 1 and Jake Hirschl 1. No assists. Skyline hosts Pioneer Monday afternoon (March 26).

Fourth & Liberty

Lunchtime rally in front of the Federal Building, part of a nationwide protest today against “Obamacare.” Some people wearing T-shirts stating “The Pill Kills,” carrying signs: “Stop Obama’s HHS Mandate” and “Stand Up for Religious Freedom.” Lots of kids in school uniforms, some priests and nuns, people carrying balloons and banners – including a large one from Gabriel Richard High School – and at least one car parked in front of the building with a Rick Santorum campaign sign. [photo] [photo] [photo]

Curbside Yard Waste Pickup: March 26

Due to a stretch of unusually warm weather, the city of Ann Arbor has announced that it will begin its curbside collection of yard waste on Monday, March 26, 2012, one week earlier than usual. Yard waste includes grass clippings, leaves, plants, garden debris, twigs, and branches up to six inches in diameter. [.pdf of press release]

A2: Film Festival

The Detroit News previews next week’s Ann Arbor Film Festival, which is celebrating its 50th season. The article quotes AAFF executive director Donald Harrison: “Along with all the new films, contemporary works and competition films, we’re going to be playing a lot of historic, rare and archival films from throughout the festival’s history. So people are going to get a chance to see what has changed, what is different. …For a film festival that wasn’t founded by a celebrity or a billionaire, it’s had incredible longevity.” The festival runs from March 27-April 1 at the Michigan Theater and other venues. [Source]

Washtenaw: State Rep. Race

Saline mayor Gretchen Driskell announced on Facebook her plans to run for state representative in District 52, a seat now held by Republican Mark Ouimet. Driskell, a Democrat, stated: ”I am running for State Representative because I believe the people in our communities have not been adequately represented. Lansing has cut education funding, community development programs, and put business before people.” She plans a campaign kickoff party on Tuesday, March 27 at Mangiamo restaurant, 105 W. Michigan Ave. in Saline from 7-9 p.m. [Source]

Packard & Easy

Two does crossing Packard out of Mary Beth Doyle Park.

Dexter: Tornado Aftermath

A week after a tornado touched down in the Dexter area, Channel 7 Action News – Detroit’s ABC affiliate – reports on cleanup progress there. The report quotes resident Penni Jones: ”I’m glad that it’s getting quiet again. It was very noisy from all the trucks and all the construction. They’ve cleaned up very quickly so it’s a relief to see it shape up so fast.” [Source]

UM: Food Art

Mae’s Food Blog highlights the current Fluxus exhibit at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, which runs through May 20: “Marcel Duchamp is a favorite of mine, so I enjoyed this exhibit of his followers, and appreciate that some like Claes Oldenburg and Daniel Spoerri produced work outside the confines of Fluxus.” One of Oldenburg’s works in the exhibit is titled “False Food Prototype for Rubber Food Fluxkit.” [Source]

AADL’s Director Marks 10-Year Anniversary

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (March 19, 2012): Monday’s relatively brief library board meeting was punctuated by a celebration of AADL director Josie Parker’s 10 years in that role.

Josie Parker

Josie Parker with a bouquet given to her by Ann Arbor District Library board members to celebrate her 10th anniversary as AADL director. (Photo by the writer.)

During her director’s report, Parker spoke at length in praise of the library’s staff and their service ethic, saying ”that ethic is what makes this library a great library” and one she is proud to lead. The board passed a resolution recognizing her decade of leadership, citing a list of accomplishments that included the opening of three new branches and the library’s role in taking on the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled and the digitization of the Ann Arbor News archives. Cake was served.

Earlier in the meeting as part of the board’s committee reports, Ed Surovell noted that for the first time in more than 15 years, the library staff doesn’t have sufficient information at this point to draft a budget for the coming fiscal year. Typically in March the board’s budget and finance committee, on which Surovell serves, will review the draft budget before it goes to the full board in April. That committee review process has been delayed because of uncertainties regarding future revenues, including funds the library receives from personal property taxes and penal fines.

Parker, who chairs the Michigan Library Association’s legislative committee, later told the board that she’s been spending a lot of time in Lansing, talking with state legislators and testifying in committee hearings about the importance of funding public libraries. She told The Chronicle that the budget process is expected to be back on track in April, after Washtenaw County’s equalization report is completed. That annual report is the basis for determining taxable value of property in the county, which in turn indicates how much tax revenue is collected by local taxing entities. The library board typically adopts a budget in May, for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

As part of another committee report, Prue Rosenthal noted that a new facilities committee had met to discuss the condition of the downtown building and what kinds of issues the board should be thinking about going forward. Board president Margaret Leary later clarified that the group met informally and that the committee hasn’t been officially created – that’s expected to occur with a board vote at the April 16 meeting. [Full Story]

AATA Receives Unqualified Audit

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (March 15, 2012): After waiting out a tornado warning in the basement of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building, the AATA board made relatively quick work of its monthly meeting.

Auditors David Helisek and Pam Hill of Plante Moran PLLC.

Auditors David Helisek and Pam Hill of Plante Moran. (Photos by the writer.)

Still, the board transacted two pieces of business. The first was to approve the report of its auditor, Plante Moran. The overall opinion was “unqualified,” which is the highest rating that can be given. Still, the audit revealed some issues that need to be addressed, one of which was dealt with as part of the audit – the recording of revenue from the tax levy in the year it’s received. That actually increased the amount of AATA net assets by $7 million, but is an accounting change, not an actual change. The auditors found one case of a contract that should have been subjected to Davis-Bacon compliance requirements but was not.

Another issue identified by the auditor involves the AATA’s practice of investing in fuel futures as a hedge against the volatility of diesel prices – the advice was to review the practice with legal counsel. Plante Moran also flagged an issue involving the shelf-life of federal grants – but the AATA and auditors see that issue differently.

The second business item was approval of revisions to the AATA management personnel handbook – it was part of a periodic review and revision. Among myriad other changes, the amended document adds “sexual orientation” to the list of protected classes. [Full Story]