Archive for May, 2012

Local Historic District Awards Announced

As part of National Preservation Month, 20 awards will be presented for local historic preservation efforts at the June 4, 2012 Ann Arbor city council meeting. The Historic District Awards cover several categories, according to a press release issued by the city. [.pdf of press release with complete list of winners]

Owners of five properties – including the University of Michigan’s Burton Memorial Tower and The Relax Station at 300 W. Huron – will be honored for rehabilitating those properties “in accordance with good preservation practice as established by the U.S. Department of the Interior.”  Owners of another 10 properties will be recognized for having preserved their property for over 10 years of continuous ownership. People in that category include councilmember Mike … [Full Story]

Washtenaw: Regionalism

The Detroit News reports on Thursday’s forum of five southeast Michigan leaders who discussed regional issues at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference on Mackinac Island. An animated exchange between Washtenaw County board chair Conan Smith and Oakland County executive L. Brooks Patterson highlighted tensions. Responding to Smith’s support of regional taxes, Patterson said “…you don’t have any skin in the game. Until you pay your way in, I don’t think you have a whole lot to say about how it’s done.” [Source]

A2: Auto Magazines, an online news site owned by AOL, reports that Road & Track magazine is moving from Newport Beach, Calif., to Ann Arbor this summer, making it the third major automotive magazine to be based here. Others are Car & Driver and Automobile. Larry Webster, Road & Track’s new editor, lives in Ann Arbor, according to the report. [Source]

Huron & Chapin

Bumper sticker on van: “Are you making an appointment with St. Peter on that cell phone?” [photo] Could be referring to drivers or anyone trying to cross Huron.

Skyline High School

Tionna Griffin sings the Star Spangled Banner for the Skyline High School Senior Awards Ceremony. Beautiful voice. [photo]

Ann Arbor Receives Firefighter Grant

In a press release issued on May 30, 2012, Michigan’s U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin announced the award of a $642,294 federal grant to the city of Ann Arbor to hire new firefighters. The grant comes through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program. How that money translates to firefighter positions is not yet completely clear.

Reached by email, city administrator Steve Powers indicated that the city’s application had been for three firefighter positions for what he believed to be two-year grant period. Ann Arbor’s unit cost for a firefighter full-time equivalent is $79,599 per FTE. For a two-year grant period, that would translate to almost exactly four firefighters for each of two … [Full Story]

Washington & Division

Westbound Washington is ripped up next to former Ann Arbor News building – new fire hydrant being installed.

Golden Paintbrush Winners Announced

Three local artists – Jim Cogswell, David Zinn and Margaret Parker – will receive the city of Ann Arbor’s Golden Paintbrush awards, to be presented at the city council’s June 18, 2012 meeting. The announcement came in a press release from the city, although plans for the awards were discussed most recently at the Ann Arbor public art commission’s May 23, 2012 meeting. AAPAC is responsible for selecting the winners.

Jim Cogswell was chosen for the “Enchanted Beanstalk” at the new University of Michigan C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The large-scale piece covers 660 windows on eight floors of the hospital, featuring imagery cut from vinyl. Cogswell is an Arthur F. Thurnau professor at UM’s School of Art & … [Full Story]

A2: Business

Crain’s Detroit Business columnist Tom Henderson writes about a billboard campaign by Bank of Ann Arbor that used social media to generate ideas from the community. From the column: “The bank had a custom Facebook app built so its Facebook fans could write headlines on virtual billboards that bank officials later translated into real billboards, which mocked the lack of local institutional knowledge in out-of-state banks with local branches.” [Source]

UM: Peregrine Falcons

The University of Michigan is holding a contest on Facebook to name the four peregrine falcons – two male, two female – that hatched on May 2 atop the University Hospital. Suggestions so far include Hugh, Andy, William and Kim (HAWK); Ann, Arbor, Maize and Blue; and Larry, Curly, Moe and Shemp. [Source]

Parks Group Acts on S. University, Windemere

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (May 15, 2012): At this month’s PAC meeting, commissioners gave positive recommendations for renovations to two city parks.

Argo Cascades

Argo Cascades on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012. (Photos by the writer.)

For Windemere Park, located in the Glacier neighborhood on the city’s east side, the commission passed a resolution supporting the reconstruction of two tennis courts there, allowing for costs as much as 15-20% greater than a site with better soil conditions. The exact location where the courts will be reconstructed within the park will be based on the outcome of a public meeting with neighbors.

The commission also recommended approval of a contract to undertake $39,575 of improvements to South University Park, using part of a $50,000 gift from Leslie and Michael Morris – donated to the city for the express purpose of renovations to that park.

Commissioners heard a number of updates, including a report on the city’s canoe liveries – the largest in Michigan, with nearly 500 boats. A highlight of the livery report was a status update on the Argo Cascades, a bypass that’s been constructed around the Argo Dam. The nine pools and drops have proven to be somewhat sportier than is suitable for complete novice paddlers, but city staff are working on a range of strategies to ensure safety and enjoyment.

The commission heard a briefing on the public art commission’s annual plan, which includes artwork in some local parks. They also got an update from the Cobblestone Farm Association, and were introduced to the new market manager, Sarah Benoit.

Among the highlights of parks and recreation manager Colin Smith’s report to the commission was the announcement that the city’s natural area preservation program (NAP) would change city departments. In the next month or so, NAP will begin reporting to the community services area instead of the public services area, as part of the city’s move to consolidate volunteer efforts.

The commission also said farewell to Sam Offen, who was term-limited for his service on PAC. [Full Story]

Forums Set on Downtown Library’s Future

The Ann Arbor District Library board has scheduled three public forums in June to seek input on the future of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library – including the possibility of putting a millage on the ballot in November 2012 to fund a project. According to a press release issued by AADL on Tuesday, the forums are also intended for library staff to present information about “the challenge and opportunities presented by the Downtown Library.” Tours of the current building at 343 S. Fifth Ave. will also be provided.

The forums are set for Saturday, June 9 from 10 a.m.-noon; Tuesday, June 12 from 7-9 p.m.; and Wednesday, June 20 from 7-9 p.m. All forums will be held in the downtown library’s … [Full Story]

Fifth & Huron

City Hall near sculpture: Celebration with yellow balloons, bottled water, and blue-iced cake for Recovery Relay Ride.

Public Art Commission Works on Strategic Plan

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (May 23, 2012): Much of this month’s AAPAC meeting was focused on developing a strategic plan for the next three years, with commissioners brainstorming about possible locations and types of public art projects they’d like to see in Ann Arbor.

Public art planning process

Draft of a schematic showing the Ann Arbor public art commission's process, from ideas through implementation. Other steps include decision-making, task force work, artist proposals, and selection. The flow chart is being designed by Hannah Nathans, a University of Michigan undergraduate who's working as an intern with the city. (Photos by the writer.)

Ideas included public art at the planned South State and Ellsworth roundabout, projects in underserved neighborhoods, the traffic island at the Washtenaw split with East Stadium, the dog park at Ellsworth and Platt, the non-motorized path along Washtenaw Avenue, and the skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park. About $500,000 is available in unallocated Percent for Art funds, with an estimated $200,000 to $300,000 coming in to the program annually from upcoming capital projects.

The discussion led some commissioners to speculate on the possibility of changing the composition of AAPAC to increase the number of commissioners, so that more people would be available to handle the work. Another possibility  they discussed was making the public art administrator’s job a full-time position. Currently, the public art administrator’s job is defined as 20 hours per week, with additional hours added for management of specific projects. After some discussion, it seems unlikely that commissioners will pursue either of those options at this time.

The commission handled two action items during the May 23 meeting. Connie Rizzolo Brown was recommended to represent AAPAC on a new city task force for the North Main/Huron River corridor. The task force had been established by the city council at its May 7, 2012 meeting with 10 members, then expanded at the council’s May 21 meeting to include four additional members. The council vote to add an AAPAC representative had passed on a 6-5 split, with some councilmembers concerned that the group was getting too large.

At their May 23 meeting, art commissioners also voted to fully fund the mural project at Allmendinger Park for $12,000. Previously, an initial $10,000 budget later had been increased to $12,000, with $7,200 of that amount to be paid for with a grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. But the city council first must formally accept the grant, and that’s not expected to happen until its June 18 meeting. Meanwhile, Percent for Art funds will be allocated to the project so that a contract can be executed with artist Mary Thiefels. The foundation grant will eventually reimburse the program for this project.

Also discussed at Wednesday’s meeting were the upcoming Golden Paintbrush awards, which will likely be presented at the city council’s June 18 meeting. The awards recognize local contributions to public art. This year, former AAPAC chair Margaret Parker will be among those artists honored. [Full Story]

Memorial Day 2012: A Neighborhood Parade

As they have for nearly three decades, residents of Ann Arbor’s Glacier neighborhood paid tribute on Memorial Day to soldiers who lost their lives serving this country.

Jim Mitchiner

Jim Mitchiner leads the Memorial Day parade down Bardstown Trail through the Glacier neighborhood. (Photos by Dave Askins)

The Monday morning event is the only Memorial Day parade in Ann Arbor. Though it includes some of the usual parade fare – a fire truck, drum corps and people campaigning for elected office – it’s a relatively low-key affair that winds through this east side neighborhood of wide, tree-lined streets and ends up at Glacier Highlands Park.

There, more than 200 people converged to stand quietly during a brief ceremony. A trumpeter played “Taps,” a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” and resident Stephen Landes made brief remarks, thanking soldiers for their service, and for “your dedication to our country and to your comrades here or in our thoughts.”

To a silent crowd, Landes read a list of Michigan residents who were killed while serving in the military over the past year and who received flag honors from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Jim Mitchiner, who had carried the American flag at the head of the parade, then retired the colors.

After the ceremony, Girl Scouts sold water to raise money for a trip to Switzerland, and the Optimist Club passed out red, white and blue popsicles. A table was set up in the park for people to make cards that will be sent to military personnel serving overseas – this year’s goal was to make 100 cards.

Here’s a chronicling of this neighborhood tradition, which is hosted by the Glacier Area Homeowners’ Association and the Ann Arbor Breakfast Optimist Club. [Full Story]

Larchmont & Barrister

Neighborhood Memorial Day parade. Lovely event. Names of Michigan’s fallen soldiers were read. Trumpeter blew “Taps.” Bagpiper piped “Amazing Grace.” Seemed like much of the neighborhood turned out. [photo]

UM: Stem Cell Research

The Livingston Daily Press & Argus reports on state Rep. Bill Rogers’ view that state funding for the University of Michigan should be cut unless UM fully complies with an embryonic stem cell research reporting requirement. The article quotes Rogers, who chairs the state House’s K-12 budget and Dept. of Education budget subcommittees: “The principle is that as a legislative body, we are only as good as the information we can attain. They basically thumb their nose at the (Legislature). They want to be autonomous, but they still want state taxpayer money. That is where I think a lot of this debate occurs.” [Source]

Debate Details: Ann Arbor FY 2013 Budget

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 21, 2012) Part 2: The council approved the city’s fiscal year 2013 budget – with disagreement about what priorities it reflected.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) looks on as Jane Lumm (Ward 2) pleads her case for increased police staffing levels.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) looks on as Jane Lumm (Ward 2) pleads her case for increased police staffing levels. Though Derezinski had little sympathy for Lumm’s amendment on police officers, he joined her in supporting a budget amendment to restore collection of loose leaves in the fall as a city service. The city now collects leaves and compost in containers instead of allowing residents to sweep piles of leaves into the street. The amendment failed. (Photos by the writer.)

The cumulative impact of the amendments approved by the council on May 21 increased general fund expenditures to $79,070,842 against revenues of $79,193,112, for a surplus of $122,270. The entire city budget, across all funds, was proposed at $404,900,312 in revenues against $382,172,603 in expenses. The fiscal year begins on July 1.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) saw two of her proposed amendments fail – which would have funded five additional police officers from non-specific reductions in other general fund departments, and would have restored the service of loose leaf collection in the fall. She also opposed the addition of a court secretary position for the 15th District Court, which the rest of her colleagues agreed to add into the budget that evening. That combination prompted her to vote against the overall budget, saying it did not adequately prioritize public safety. She was joined by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) in voting against the budget.

But Mayor John Hieftje summarized the majority view on the council in framing this year’s budget as a reflection of public safety as a top priority of the city – because nearly half of the general fund is being spent on public safety, and the vast bulk of additional revenue for FY 2013 (compared to the forecast in last year’s budget planning) is being spent on public safety. Those investments in public safety prevented further reduction in budgeted firefighters (by five) and in police officers (by nine) – reductions that were originally called for in the two-year budget plan. Those investments also allowed the city to add one police officer.

However, former police chief Barnett Jones and current fire chief Chuck Hubbard have identified ideal targets for staffing levels for their departments that are higher than the budgeted levels for FY 2013. For the fire department, that’s 82 firefighters compared to Hubbard’s ideal 88; for police, that’s 119 sworn officers compared to Jones’ ideal 150. The point of disagreement on the council essentially reduced to this: Should the city take additional steps this year to reduce the gap in public safety staffing between current levels and the ideal targets?

One resolution approved at the meeting – which did not actually modify the budget – simply directed the city administrator to bring a future mid-year budget amendment to add up to six firefighters to the budget – if a federal grant and increased state fire protection allocations materialize. Although it would have been conceivable to pass a parallel resolution on the police side of public safety, there was no effort at the table (by Lumm or other councilmembers) to modify Lumm’s resolution  and stipulate that additional police officers would be hired, if a federal grant application were successful.

Voting for the budget were eight councilmembers, including Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who saw two of his own amendments fail. One would have interpreted the city ordinance on DDA TIF capture differently, which would have resulted in additional revenue to the city’s general fund – revenue sufficient to fund two firefighter positions. Also failing was an amendment that would have prevented the transfer of money to the public art fund from a variety of different sources. [The 8-2 overall budget vote on the 11-member council was due to the absence of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) for the final vote. She attended the meeting and stayed for the better part of it, but succumbed to a persistent hacking cough before it ended.]

Although several amendments failed, others were approved by the council. Those included budget modifications that added a secretary position to the 15th District Court, increased human services funding by $46,899, added $78,000 to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission budget, and eliminated a contract with RecycleBank to administer a coupon program to encourage recycling.

The council’s budget discussion came in the context of a briefing from the city’s paid lobbyist in Lansing, Kirk Profit, who sketched an uncertain state budget picture, but offered compliments to the city’s approach to managing its budget.

Box-score style results on the budget amendments were previously covered in a report filed from the city council chambers on the night of the vote. Below we’ve summarized the deliberations by the council on the budget amendments. Items not related to the FY 2013 budget are detailed in Part 1 of this meeting report: “City Council Expands North Main Task Force.” [Full Story]

Argo Cascades

Floaters, rafters, kayakers at Argo Cascades. Some singing My Little Pony song.

Next Steps on County’s Animal Control Policy

Washtenaw County board of commissioners – animal control task force meeting (May 23, 2012): Five of the 11 county commissioners gathered on Wednesday to start talking about a policy for animal control services in Washtenaw County.

Rob Turner

At the May 23 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners' task force on animal control services, commissioner Rob Turner discusses the different service levels the county could provide. Turner is also the board's liaison to a work group led by sheriff Jerry Clayton that's developing a cost analysis of animal control services. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the second meeting scheduled. The first one – on May 9 – was canceled after only two commissioners showed up. The intent is to set policy that will guide a request for proposals that the county plans to issue later this year, for its next contract to provide animal control services. Those services are currently handled by the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), in a contract that expires at the end of 2012.

The wide-ranging discussion revealed tensions between the push to control costs – a point that’s been driving these changes – and a desire by some to provide a higher level of service than what’s mandated by the state. There seemed to be at least some initial consensus that while the state mandate focuses on stray dogs and animal cruelty, the county should support a broader range of animal control services, depending on the cost.

Also discussed was the need to bring more communities into the conversation – at least those that have their own animal control ordinances, including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Representatives from those municipalities are participating in a separate work group, led by sheriff Jerry Clayton, that’s developing a cost structure for animal control services. The hope is that other communities will also give financial support to HSHV, or possibly another service provider.

Four additional task force meetings are scheduled: on June 13, July 25, Aug. 22 and Sept. 12. All meetings are open to the public and will provide an opportunity for public commentary. They’ll take place from 8-10 a.m. at the county’s Learning Resource Center, 4135 Washtenaw Ave., and are being facilitated by representatives of the Dispute Resolution Center. [Full Story]

A2: Race for the Cure

The Detroit News published a column by Jenn McKee, entertainment writer for, about why she’s not participating in Saturday’s Race for the Cure, a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation: ”This past February, when news broke about the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to pull grants from Planned Parenthood – grants that fund breast cancer screenings for low-income women – I felt angry, betrayed and disappointed by an organization I’d supported for years. Even though Komen eventually reversed its decision, after days of heated debate and pushback, I didn’t feel elated about, or even satisfied with, the reversal. Not because I suspected that the fight wasn’t over for good but because I lost my innocence regarding an organization that … [Full Story]

Liberty & First

A blue tire is tied to the fence in front of Pizza Pino. [photo] Card attached to top shows photo of young girl – Luci N. of Muskegon – and gives a QR code “to learn about Luci’s wish and how this tire helped make it possible.” [photo] It directs you to the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Reasons to Ride website.

State & Liberty

Seven people emerge from Ben & Jerry’s wearing identical blue T-shirts: “100 Years of Hindman.” One of the women explains that they are celebrating two birthdays – for an 80-year-old, and a 20-year-old. I’m introduced to the 80-year-old gentleman, who tells me the 20-year-old is inside scooping ice cream. Happy Birthday!

Scio: Camp Take Notice

Michigan Radio reports on a rally held in support of Camp Take Notice, an encampment of about 65 homeless people located on state-owned land in Scio Township, near I-94 and Wagner Road. The Michigan Dept. of Transportation, which owns the property, has told residents they’ll need to relocate. The report quotes David Williams, who lives at the camp: “If we lose this camp it would be difficult for me to find another safe environment to live. And I hope that people understand that. Anyone can be homeless.” [Source]

Pittsfield Twp.: Plane Crash

Channel 4, Detroit’s NBC affiliate, reports that an experimental plane crashed in Pittsfield Township on Friday, injuring two people. [Source] The Pittsfield Township Dept. of Public Safety has issued a press release on the crash, which occurred in the 7000 block of Warner Road: “Crews arrived to find a two seat airplane that had crashed into the ground with the two occupants trapped in the wreckage. There was moderate damage to the airplane and an active fuel leak. Fire fighters extricated the victims and they were both transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital in critical condition.” Another experimental plane had crashed in April 2012 at the Ann Arbor Airport, which is located in Pittsfield Township. One person was injured in that … [Full Story]

Coordinated Funding Clarified

An article about the May 16, 2012 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners included a mention of the coordinated funding model – a partnership of the county, city of Ann Arbor, United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, and Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. We clarify here that the funds are not “pooled” together in a way that makes it impossible to associate funding from a particular agency with a particular nonprofit. Rather, the coordinated funding model allows for each of the funding partners to make specific allocations to specific nonprofits, at the discretion of the funding partner. We note the clarification here, and have changed the wording of the original article.

A2: Argo Cascades

The new Argo Cascades are featured on a segment by Channel 7 Action News, Detroit’s ABC affiliate. The report mischaracterizes the drop pools of the Argo Dam bypass as whitewater rapids – the whitewater feature will be added later, on the Huron River – but Ann Arbor parks manager Colin Smith notes that the speed of the water is about 60 cubic feet per second. The city’s canoe liveries will be open daily starting Saturday, May 26. [Source]