Archive for April, 2012

Catherine & Main

This billboard faces Fourth Avenue across the parking lot.  It is not related to the current business.  Must have a history –what is it? “Comes In All Shot, Goes Out ‘Red Hot’” [photo]

Summit & Wildt

Earth-moving equipment is excavating at the northwest corner, where formerly a dwelling of historic significance but in severe disrepair stood.  It is across the street from a series of candy-colored new houses.

Report: Better-than-Expected ’12 Tax Revenue

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 18, 2012): Most of the recent county board meeting was devoted to what’s become an annual ritual: Delivery of the county equalization report.

Raman Patel, Conan Smith

Raman Patel, left, Washtenaw County's equalization director, shares a laugh with county board chair Conan Smith before the April 18, 2012 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The report includes a calculation of taxable value for all jurisdictions in the county, which determines tax revenues for those entities that rely on taxpayer funding, including cities and townships, public schools, libraries and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, among others.

It was the 41st report that Raman Patel, the county’s equalization director, has completed – and he delivered some positive news. The county’s general fund budget was approved with a projection of $59.734 million in tax revenues. But actual revenues, based on 2012 taxable value, are now estimated at $62.395 million – for an excess in 2012 general fund revenues of $2.66 million.

Despite reporting better-than-expected taxable value, Patel cautioned that if the potential repeal of the state’s personal property tax is passed – being considered by legislators in a set of bills introduced last week – it could result in a loss of more than $5 million in annual revenues for the county government alone, and more than $40 million for all taxing jurisdictions in Washtenaw County.

Although most of the meeting focused on Patel’s presentation, other business covered a variety of issues. Commissioners discussed the next steps in an effort to deal with mandated animal control services in the county. A work group has met that includes representatives from the county, the Human Society of Huron Valley, and other municipalities that have animal control ordinances, such as the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township. Some commissioners highlighted the need to develop a policy to guide the work group, which will give recommendations about the cost of animal control services.

Related to the March 15 tornado that touched down in the Dexter area, board chair Conan Smith reported that he had declared a state of emergency earlier this month and sent a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder requesting reimbursement to local municipalities for costs incurred as a result of the devastation. Local governments itemized about $1 million in costs, but the total – primarily in damages to residences – is estimated at over $9 million. [.pdf of Smith's letter to Snyder] [.pdf summarizing tornado-related expenses]

During the meeting, the board also passed a proclamation recognizing the National Training Institute, put on by the National Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committee – a partnership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). The training institute is held in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan and this year runs from July 25-Aug. 3, bringing more than 3,000 people to town. Commissioner Rob Turner, an electrical contractor, is a member of both the IBEW and NECA.

Among the other action items at the April 18 meeting, commissioners (1) set a public hearing for May 2 to get public input on an annual plan for the Washtenaw Urban County, which gets federal funding for projects in low-income neighborhoods; (2) authorized the issuance of up to $6 million in notes at the request of the Washtenaw County road commission, for work in Ypsilanti Township; and (3) approved the hiring of Nimish Ganatra as assistant prosecuting attorney over the dissent of Wes Prater, who objected to paying a salary above the midpoint range. [Full Story]

Lacrosse: Pioneer 14, Huron 5

Pioneer beat Huron at home 14-5.

Scoring for Pioneer: Taylor Zdanowski (1 goal, 1 assist); Zach Weber (2 goals); Dylan Swanson (7 goals, 2 assists); Eric Loveless (1 goal); Harry Hadden (3 assists); Peter Burke (1 goal); Dylan Graham (2 goals).

Senior Goalie Mike Jones played the first half made 3 saves and gave up just 1 goal. Junior Goalie Jeff Digon played the second half and made 3 saves and gave up 4 goals.

Sandi Smith Won’t Seek Third Council Term

In a phone conversation with The Chronicle on Monday afternoon, Ward 1 Ann Arbor city councilmember Sandi Smith has indicated she will not be seeking reelection to a third term on the council. As competing demands on her time, she cited the growth of her company Trillium Real Estate and the recent surge in the real estate market. She has also agreed to a leadership position for the Jim Toy Center, Washtenaw County’s LGBT Resource Center.

Smith also serves on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Her current term expires in July 2012. She said she plans to seek reappointment to that position.

First elected to the council in 2008, Smith – a Democrat – is now serving her second … [Full Story]

A2: Business

Long-time Ann Arbor auto dealer Howard Cooper is selling his Howard Cooper Import Center to the Columbus, Ohio-based Germain Motor Company, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press. The deal was announced Monday. The Ann Arbor operation, which employs about 90 people, will be managed by Jessica Germain, daughter of the company’s owner, Steve Germain, and a graduate of the University of Michigan. [Source]

AATA Gets Countywide Task Force Report

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (April 19, 2012): Recently appointed to the board, Sue Gott’s first AATA board meeting was marked by three action items.

Sue Gott University Planner

Sue Gott takes her seat for the first time at the board table of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

First was the election of a new board treasurer, David Nacht, in the wake of two relatively recent resignations from the board – former board treasurer Sue McCormick and Rich Robben. Nacht was elected treasurer though he was absent from the meeting; however, based on remarks from board chair Jesse Bernstein, Nacht had agreed in advance to serve in that capacity.

The board also formally received the report from a financial task force on funding for an expanded, countywide governance and service area. The task force is currently “on hold” following its Feb. 29, 2012 meeting, when it made its recommendations to the AATA. A few days after that task force meeting, the Ann Arbor city council ratified its part of a four-party agreement – between the AATA, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – that provides a framework for possible transition to a new governance structure for the AATA.

Both the resolution to receive the report, as well as  remarks at the board table during the meeting, made clear that the AATA board isn’t committing to an unconditional acceptance of every recommendation made by the task force. Rather, the task force’s recommendations will inform the board’s decision-making.

Also related to possible countywide expansion, at the April 16 meeting, the announcement was made of a special board meeting set for Thursday, April 26 at AATA headquarters, 2700 South Industrial Highway. The purpose of the meeting will be for the board to vote on adoption of a five-year service plan. The plan would be part of a proposal that is eventually put before the general electorate, who must ratify whatever funding plan is used for an expanded transportation authority.

AATA CEO Michael Ford indicated that the working name for the new transportation authority, if one is formed through the four-party agreement, is “Washtenaw Area Transportation Authority.”

The board also made a decision on an unarmed security guard contract that was impacted by the AATA’s adoption of a living wage standard. The hourly wages in the contract now meet the city of Ann Arbor living wage standard, adopted by the AATA board at its June 16, 2011 meeting. The need to bring the wages up to the living wage standard resulted in an increase that met the threshold requiring the board to approve it.

The board also received its usual range of updates and reports from its CEO and committees. Those included recent ridership numbers, an update on the lawsuit that was filed last year against the AATA over advertising issues, the proposed north-south commuter rail known as WALLY, and the AATA’s response to the auditor’s report.

During the meeting, Ford reported on discussions between AATA and the Ann Arbor Public Schools that have led to a preliminary agreement to replace three high school bus routes with existing AATA service – one route each for Huron, Pioneer and Skyline high schools. According to Ford, the change would allow AAPS and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District – which currently handles bus services for AAPS – to eliminate three buses and reduce costs. [Full Story]

Ypsi: Paul Saginaw

In advance of a mid-May conference of the national Business Alliance for Local Living Economies in Grand Rapids, Mark Maynard posts a wide-ranging email interview with BALLE board member Paul Saginaw, co-founder of Zingerman’s. Much of the interview focuses on the broad issue of support for local, independent businesses, but in response to a question about a possible Zingerman’s operation in Ypsilanti, Saginaw writes: ”It would actually be easier and more realistic to move our Mail Order operation to Ypsi, and that is a possibility. I still would really like to have a Zingerman’s presence in Ypsilanti and I believe that it will happen at some point. Although I do worry about being viewed as an unwanted outsider.” [... [Full Story]

AAPS Weighs Cuts to Staff, Buses, Programs

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education Regular Meeting/Committee of the Whole (April 18, 2012): After quickly approving two items in a regular meeting, the AAPS school board recessed to a committee meeting to discuss informally proposed reductions to the fiscal year 2012-13 budget. The district faces a $17.8 million deficit for the coming year.

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations (Photos by Monet Tiedemann)

Trustees discussed possible staffing cuts, reductions to transportation services and discretionary budgets, the restructuring of alternative high school programs, and the elimination of some extracurricular funding. AAPS administration is currently relying on $6 million worth of projected revenue enhancements to cover a chunk of the deficit. The remaining deficit is proposed to be covered through a combination of cuts and use of fund balance – summarized in three different plans: A, B and C.

Plan A has the least amount of cuts and the most use of fund balance, but still calls for a reduction in staff by 32 full-time positions, the elimination of some busing services, and the closure or merging of one of the district’s alternative high schools. Plans B and C have progressively greater cuts and less use of fund balance.

A formal presentation will be made on proposed budget reductions at the next regular board meeting, this Wednesday, April 25, with community forums and public hearings to follow in May. Board president Deb Mexicotte said at the meeting that the board will pass a finalized FY 2012-13 budget in June.

After the jump, the specifics of Plans A, B and C are laid out it detail. [Full Story]

UM: Stem Cell Research

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has told the Detroit Free Press that Snyder doesn’t believe the state legislature can force the University of Michigan or any other university to answer questions about its embryonic stem cell research. The state’s budget legislation includes language about answering questions on embryonic stem cell research as part of a requirement for state funding. Snyder spokeswoman Geralyn Lasher called the language “unenforceable and unconstitutional,” according to the report. [Source]

Maynard & Liberty

Michigan Theater. At least eight cops descend on Fab Faux crowd. Bloody guy giving account of fight inside to cops out front. “I don’t know how you do it in Ann Arbor, but where I’m from you don’t just attack a #%*$&.” Six police vehicles, two ambulances. [photo 1] [photo 2]

UM Parking Structure: 700 Spaces

In a news brief filed from the April 19, 2012 University of Michigan regents meeting, we misreported the size of the parking structure to be built on Wall Street by the university. It’s planned for 700 spaces, which increases the capacity of the University of Michigan parking system by 500 spaces, given the 200 spaces currently on the site. We acknowledge the error here and have corrected the original article.

Councilmember Sabra Briere’s remarks to the effect that UM was planning a 700-space structure, made during the Ann Arbor city council’s April 16 meeting and reported in The Chronicle’s account of that meeting, were accurate.

City Council Acts on Zoning, Airport, Streets

Ann Arbor city council meeting (April 16, 2012): The most significant item on the council’s agenda was the introduction of the city’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget by city administrator Steve Powers.

Andrew Cluley interviews Steve Powers after the council meeting.

WEMU's Andrew Cluley had questions about the budget for Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers after the April 16 council meeting. Image links to Cluley's report. (Photos by the writer.)

But Powers led off the presentation by explaining that Monday evening would not be a time for detailed discussion and questions about the budget. For details of that presentation, see Chronicle coverage: “Ann Arbor Council Gets Draft 2013 Budget.”

The budget presentation occurred Monday night because of a city charter requirement. It was Powers’ first such presentation – as he was hired by the council last year, and started the job in September. The city council will have until May 21, its second meeting in May, to modify and adopt the budget.

In terms of the sheer number of agenda items, the topic of zoning and land use was a main focus of the meeting. The council unanimously rejected a proposed conditional rezoning of 1320 S. University to a higher density than its current D2 (downtown interface) designation. But winning unanimous approval was a site plan for a Tim Hortons on South State Street, near Ellsworth. The council also gave initial approval to AAA Michigan for a rezoning request involving a parcel on South Main, which the auto club would like to have designated as P (parking). A half dozen different rezoning requests for parcels that had recently been annexed into the city also received initial approval.

Prompting considerable discussion among councilmembers were four resolutions concerning an environmental study on a possible extension of a runway at the Ann Arbor municipal airport. The resolutions all passed, but the main grant funding went through on just a 7-4 vote. The city was being asked for an additional $1,125 in matching funds to wrap up the final stages of an environmental assessment being done by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, which was already mostly completed two years ago.

Also related to transportation, the council authorized over $6 million in contracts related to street resurfacing projects. That included a second set of local streets (after having approved funding for the first set at its previous meeting) as well as the section of East Stadium Boulevard between Packard and Washtenaw. In connection with those infrastructure projects, the council also authorized contracts for materials testing.

In other action related to infrastructure, the council approved a $93,438 item for construction of unisex bathrooms in city hall – but not without questions about the scope of the overall municipal center renovation work.

On personnel-related items, the council gave final approval to legislation that incorporates provisions of the collectively bargained labor contracts with police command officers and firefighters into the city’s set of ordinances on retirement and health care.

As a result of other council action on Monday night, Ann Arbor police officers will be able to arrest and charge “super drunk” drivers who have more than 0.17 blood alcohol content – because the council modified the city’s ordinances to conform with recent changes in state law.

In other business, the council also authorized a contract with a new auditor, The Rehmann Group, set a hearing on a tax abatement for Sakti3, and imposed a temporary ban on digital billboards.

Highlights of public commentary included concerns about new DTE “smart meters” and localized flooding incidents in the city. The flooding was attributed by residents to the city’s layering of new asphalt onto an adjacent street, and to the city’s sanitary sewer disconnection program. [Full Story]

Preschool, Gas Station Expansions Approved

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (April 17, 2012): Action items at the recent planning commission meeting were dispatched with relative speed – the session lasted less than an hour.

Eric Mahler

Eric Mahler, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission. (Photos by the writer.)

Approval was given for (1) zoning changes allowing an expansion of the Shell station’s retail store at Ann Arbor-Saline and West Eisenhower Parkway, (2) a site plan and special exception use for the Allen Creek Preschool, located at 2350 Miller Ave.; and (3) a slight revision to the special exception use for the Michigan Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon house at Tappan and Hill – increasing by one the number of beds allowed at the fraternity.

The brevity of recent planning commission meetings will be offset by packed agendas anticipated in May. The May 1 agenda items will likely include: (1) review of a possible revision to the city’s medical marijuana zoning ordinance, as directed by city council at their April 2 meeting; (2) update of the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP); (3) a master plan review; and (4) reconsideration of the Maple Cove project, after it was discovered that notices hadn’t been mailed out to all nearby residents for the previous planning commission meeting.

Two other major items that have been in the works since 2009 will be making their way back to planning commissioners soon. A draft report from the R4C/R2A zoning district advisory committee is nearly completed and might be reviewed as soon as the commission’s May 8 working session. Also, a consultant’s report on a zoning ordinance reorganization effort known as ZORO will be presented to planning commissioners in the coming weeks. Rampson told commissioners that the consultant described Ann Arbor’s current zoning ordinances as some of the worst he’s seen – complex, convoluted, and conflicting.

After being briefed on upcoming topics at an April 10 working session, planning commission chair Eric Mahler quipped, “The days of the marathon meetings are back.” Commissioner Diane Giannola gave this advice to the newer commissioners: “Come prepared with snacks.”

At least one new member will be joining the commission this summer. Following the April 17 regular meeting, commissioner Erica Briggs told The Chronicle that because of other time commitments, she would not be seeking reappointment when her term ends this July. She said she wanted to alert others who might be interested in applying for the position. [Full Story]

Liberty Street

Long lines of people outside the various record stores on Liberty are celebrating Record Store Day.

Hohnke Won’t Seek Another Term

Carsten Hohnke, a current Ward 5 Ann Arbor city councilmember, has announced his decision not to seek reelection to the council. Hohnke made his announcement in an email sent to constituents on Saturday morning, citing the desire to spend more time with his family, including his four-year-old son and infant daughter. There have been rumors for several weeks that Hohnke would not run again, even though he took out petitions from the city clerk’s office on Feb. 27.

Hohnke, a Democrat, was elected to his first two-year term on the Ann Arbor city council in November 2008. Other first-time councilmembers elected in 2008 included Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Hohnke was unopposed in … [Full Story]

Argo Cascades

Bridge over the mouth of the Argo Cascades is in place. Saw a steam roller preparing the path for pavement, hopefully soon. [photo]  [photo]

Ashley & Washington

Our table offered a close-up view of drummer Robert Warren’s kit as the Rick Burgess Trio played The Earle tonight. Warren said he’d seen everything from marriage proposals to the beginnings of a divorce at our two-top. [photo]

Main & Ann

Encountered this tiara-wearing woman outside the county administration building, on her way to get married. Her adorable daughter had the job of holding the bouquet of flowers. [photo]

AATA Board Sets April 26 Special Meeting

A special meeting of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board set for Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 4:30 p.m was announced by AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein at the board’s monthly meeting last night. The special meeting will be held at AATA headquarters, 2700 South Industrial Highway.

The purpose of the meeting is to receive formally a detailed five-year service plan that has been developed by the AATA as part of its plan to expand its governance and transportation service to a countywide area. The service plan is part of a key step specified in a four-party agreement – between the AATA, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, and Washtenaw County – that would establish a framework … [Full Story]

Seventh & Lutz

Heard skidding sound. Looked. Guy using foot on pavement to brake bike.

Column: Rite of Passage in UM’s Weight Room

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

While I was writing “Three and Out,” the Michigan football players challenged me to join their workouts in the weight room. They were surprised when I was actually game – one of the dumbest decisions of my life.

I’d heard so much about these modern gladiators and their weight room heroics that I wanted to find out for myself just how much harder it really is compared to what the average weekend warrior puts himself through just to avoid buying “relaxed fit” jeans.

The plan was simple: I would work out with these guys three times a week, for six weeks – “if you last that long,” said Mike Barwis, Michigan’s former strength coach, in his famously raspy voice. But before I even started, there were four signs that I shouldn’t be doing this.

When I asked Barwis if I should prepare by lifting weights, he said, “No, it’s too late for that!” Well, that’s one sign.

“Okay,” I asked, “what’s it NOT too late for?”


“Why running? We’re not going to run.”

“Because your heart is going to give out before your muscles do.” [Full Story]

AATA Receives Financial Group Report

At its April 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board formally accepted for further consideration the recommendations of a financial task force on funding for an expanded, countywide governance and service area.

The task force is currently “on hold” following its Feb. 29, 2012 meeting, when it made its recommendations to the AATA. A few days after that task force meeting, the Ann Arbor city council ratified its part of a four-party agreement – between the AATA, city of Ann Arbor, city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County – that provides a framework for possible transition to a new governance structure for the AATA.

The April 19 board resolution addresses part of the reason that the task force was reluctant … [Full Story]