DTE Project Prompts Questions on Energy Use

Also: Maple Cove residential project moves ahead despite concerns

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (June 5, 2012): Planning commissioners acted on two items at their recent meeting that have implications for the city’s future energy use: A proposal for a new DTE Energy substation, and recommendations for a set of sustainability goals.

Erica Briggs

Erica Briggs is ending her term on the Ann Arbor planning commission at the end of June, and is not seeking reappointment. At the June 5 meeting, she lobbied unsuccessfully to postpone a DTE Energy project, arguing that the community needs a broader discussion about whether providing unlimited energy fits the city’s long-term goals of energy reduction.

The estimated $10 million project by DTE to build a new electrical substation was met with caution by commissioner Erica Briggs, who urged her colleagues to postpone the proposal. DTE is building the substation to meet increased energy demands in the city.

The project – called the Buckler substation – had previously been discussed at the commission’s May 15, 2012 meeting, which Briggs did not attend. When the item came up again at the June 5 meeting, she argued that a broader conversation about the community’s energy needs is needed. It’s a rare opportunity for that, she noted, given that projects like this don’t occur frequently – the last Ann Arbor substation was built in the 1960s. She used an analogy to transportation: If a proposal came in to widen all the roads in the community, that idea wouldn’t automatically move forward – because people would stop to discuss whether this is what they want for the city. The DTE project will essentially widen the energy capacity for the city, she said, at a time when the community is talking about the need to reduce its energy use.

As examples, Briggs noted that the city is moving forward with sustainability goals, as well as with a climate action plan. Later in the meeting, the commission unanimously recommended approval of 16 sustainability goals, including three that relate to climate and energy. One of the goals calls for the city to “reduce energy consumption and eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions in our community.”

Briggs made a motion to postpone the substation proposal, but it died for lack of a second as none of the other commissioners at the meeting were supportive of another postponement. A possible ally on the issue – commissioner Bonnie Bona, who works for the nonprofit Clean Energy Coalition – did not attend the June 5 meeting. The project was approved on a 5-1 vote, with Briggs dissenting and three commissioners absent. It does not require further approval by city council.

Another proposal that had been postponed from an earlier meeting in May – Maple Cove Apartments & Village development – was taken up again on June 5. The two apartment buildings and seven single-family homes are proposed at 1649 N. Maple, north of Miller Road between North Maple and Calvin Street on the city’s west side. Safety concerns over two planned entrances off of North Maple had caused the previous postponement, but planning staff reported that the entrances conform to city code.

Two residents of Calvin Street spoke during a public hearing, both of them objecting to the project. Several commissioners also expressed disappointment in the project, as they had at earlier meetings. But they noted that because it conforms to the city’s ordinances, they had no choice but to approve it. Briggs said it pointed to the need to reexamine some problems in the city code that led to this situation. The commission’s unanimous recommendation of approval will be forwarded to city council for consideration.

The vote on a project located near Maple Cove – a proposed Speedway gas station at the northeast corner of Maple and Miller – was postponed by commissioners. City planning staff had recommended postponement, to allow the owner to make requested revisions in a landscaping plan and traffic impact statement.

Two other requests were approved, both related to rezoning of land acquired by the city: (1) two parcels for an expansion of the Bluffs Nature Area, and (2) a site adjacent to the Bryant Community Center. In both cases, commissioners recommended that city council rezone the sites to PL (public land).

DTE Buckler Substation

Following a postponement by the planning commission at its May 15, 2012 meeting, the site plan for a new DTE Buckler electrical substation at 984 Broadway near Canal Street was on the agenda again for the June 5 meeting.

The project entails building the substation in the utility company’s Ann Arbor service center – to provide an increase in electrical power to the downtown area due to increased demand for electricity. The project will include two 15.5-foot tall electrical transformers and related electrical equipment on raised concrete pads, and a new power delivery center (PDC) – a 630-square-foot, 12.5-foot tall steel structure. A new six-foot tall perimeter chain link fence will be built, with one foot of barbed wire and a concrete block retaining wall. The source of power will be transmitted through underground sub-transmission cables in an existing manhole and conduit system.

Because of floodplain issues, DTE has proposed to build raised transformer pads by bringing in 800 cubic yards of fill. To mitigate that impact to the floodplain, DTE plans to remove 1,155 cubic yards of earth on the MichCon site at 841 Broadway. [MichCon is a DTE subsidiary.] The proposal also calls for removing a building on the MichCon site, which will give the company an additional 55 cubic yards of  ”floodplain mitigation credit.” The proposal for that MichCon portion of the project received unanimous approval by planning commissioners at their May 15, 2012 meeting.

DTE Energy Buckler substation site plan

DTE Energy Buckler substation site plan. (Links to larger image)

The project also needs a variance to the 15-foot conflicting land use buffer requirements along the east side property line, adjacent to Riverside Park. DTE requested a variance that would allow 33 trees and 38 shrubs to be planted along the far western side of Riverside Park instead of on DTE property. The city’s park advisory commission recommended approval of that variance at its Feb. 28, 2012 meeting.

Planning staff had previously requested a postponement to resolve some outstanding issues with the site plan, which were addressed by the June 5 meeting.

The June 5 approval came with several contingencies, however: (1) obtaining variances from the city’s zoning board of appeals for the conflicting land use buffer and storm water detention requirements; (2) obtaining a Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) permit for work within the floodplain, prior to issuance of building permits; (3) relocating a fire hydrant and construction of its associated water main, prior to the issuance of building permits; (4) completing the required footing drain disconnects, prior to final inspection approval; and (5) executing the contract for water main easements, prior to final inspection approval.

DTE Buckler Substation: Public Hearing

Only one person spoke during the public hearing. Mike Witkowski, DTE planning engineer for Washtenaw County, thanked the planning staff and said he wanted to reiterate the critical nature of this project. As he’d done at the May 15 meeting, he noted that from 2009 to 2011, summer peak loads were up 12% for the Ann Arbor area, and 17% for the mile radius around the nearby Argo substation, located across Broadway at the intersection with Swift. Without this project, there is an increased risk of brownouts or blackouts, he said. DTE has already upgraded its infrastructure somewhat to combat that, but the new substation would allow the company to serve new businesses and address future demand.

Witkowski thanked the staff and commission for getting the project back on the agenda. The company needs to order a $500,000 piece of equipment soon, he said, in order to ensure delivery by January or February of 2013. If that window is missed, they’d likely have to wait until April of 2013 to install it, and that puts DTE’s ability to serve next summer’s loads at risk.

DTE Buckler Substation: Commission Discussion

Erica Briggs started off by saying she’d missed the May 15 meeting, but she had watched it on video and had noted that one big question hadn’t been raised. “Brace yourself,” she added – it’s a little radical.

Briggs expressed concern that the commission hadn’t done its due diligence with respect to looking at the city’s long-term energy needs. It’s great that DTE is trying to be proactive in meeting its customers’ energy demands, she said, but the community of Ann Arbor has a different agenda. The last time that a substation was built in Ann Arbor was in the 1960s, she observed, so these discussions don’t arise frequently.

The city is moving forward with sustainability goals, Briggs noted, as well as with a climate action plan. [Later in the meeting, the commission unanimously recommended approval of 16 sustainability goals, including three that relate to climate and energy. One of the goals calls for the city to "reduce energy consumption and eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions in our community." .pdf of sustainability goals]

Briggs drew an analogy to road expansion – if someone proposed to widen all of the roads in Ann Arbor, people would see the need to take a step back and have a broader discussion about that, she said. There are parallels to energy use. One way to limit the community’s energy consumption it so limit the supply of energy, she said. Briggs added that she realized it’s not entirely in the city’s control. But she’d recommend postponing action on this project in order to have a broader conversation, even though they ultimately might arrive at the same conclusion.

She also asked whether there had been discussions along these lines that she might not be aware of, regarding future energy needs.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson replied that there have been discussions about greenhouse gas emissions, and DTE has been at the table with the city’s energy commission and others on that issue. The electrical grid for the downtown area has been discussed for more than a decade, she said, regarding the city’s growing energy needs to support downtown density. The energy commission has understood that this project would be moving forward, Rampson said, and while she didn’t know the details of that discussion, no one told DTE “don’t do this.”

The climate action plan will look at reducing energy use and using cleaner energy, Rampson said, but she hadn’t heard any discussion about limiting energy availability. Rampson noted that planning commissioner Bonnie Bona serves on the climate action plan task force – but Bona did not attend the commission’s June 5 meeting. A draft of the climate action plan will be coming to planning commissioners in the fall, Rampson said.

Briggs said she recognized that she was asking to postpone a $10 million investment in Ann Arbor’s energy infrastructure. But if the goal is to significantly reduce the amount of energy that the community is using, this is a tool to do that, she said. It concerned her that they hadn’t talked about it, and she wondered what other commissioners thought.

Mike Witkowski, Paul Ganz

From left: DTE staff Mike Witkowski and Paul Ganz.

Tony Derezinski told Briggs that she’d made some good points regarding future planning, but the problem is that this project is in front of them today. He said he heard her angst. He recalled that when the mayor of Tübingen, Germany, had visited Ann Arbor last year as part of a delegation from that city – one of Ann Arbor’s sister cities – energy use had been one of the topics they discussed.

But this DTE project has a timeframe that’s very urgent, Derezinski said. He agreed that this issue should be discussed, and said he hoped to do it at an appropriate time.

Eric Mahler felt that DTE had laid out its needs, but he asked whether the company’s representatives could talk about its renewable energy efforts. He agreed with Briggs to some extent. On the one hand, there’s a sense of pride because Ann Arbor’s economy is growing again. On the other hand, there are concerns about future energy use.

Paul Ganz, DTE’s regional manager, described the situation as a convergence of two issues. One is the distribution grid’s needs, which are entirely separate from green energy needs. The Argo substation has grown to its maximum capacity, he said, and now DTE is trying to fill a 26 megawatt “hole” that has grown in the middle of the area that the substation serves – from hotels, restaurants, and other developments, and the University of Michigan medical center, to some extent. That is driving the need for a new substation. Projects that have previously been approved by the planning commission are adding to that energy demand. The company is responding to that need with an $8-10 million investment, he said.

That’s separate, Ganz added, from DTE’s goal of generating 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2015, or from its $4 billion investment in wind farms.

Briggs said that obviously there’s a need for green energy, but the other question is about the amount of energy that the community uses. That’s an issue of sustainability. The problem with delaying a conversation on this topic is that there hasn’t been an opportunity like this since the 1960s, and it might be another 40 years before another opportunity arises, she said. ”This is our opportunity, so I don’t want to let that pass by and rubber stamp something because a large piece of equipment needs to be purchased.”

Briggs again used a road analogy. In communities that don’t have a lot of traffic congestion, there’s no need to talk about alternative transportation – it’s not an issue. In Ann Arbor, people talk about alternative transportation because they don’t want to build another expensive parking structure. The same thing is happening with the city’s energy infrastructure, she said, and the community needs to think about that. Maybe a few blackouts will make people recognize that they have a responsibility to do something about it.

Acknowledging that she didn’t sense much support around the table, Briggs made a motion to postpone.

Outcome: No one seconded the motion to postpone, so it died without moving to a vote.

Wendy Woods said she understood what Briggs was saying. Some discussions are taking place at the energy commission, she noted. Woods suggested that for future projects, perhaps the planning staff memo can include a paragraph indicating how much energy would be required for each project. Her understanding was that the energy from the new Buckler substation is already half “used up” from pent-up demand. She pointed to the needs of the University of Michigan as another factor.

Mike Witkowski of DTE clarified that UM serves about 90-95% of its energy needs from its own system. The Kellogg Eye Center, for example, is served by the university’s power facilities.

Outcome: The project was approved on a 5-1 vote, with dissent from Erica Briggs. Three commissioners – Bonnie Bona, Evan Pratt and Kirk Westphal – were absent. The project does not require additional approval from the city council.

Sustainability Goals

The planning commission was asked to recommend that a set of 16 sustainability goals be incorporated into the city’s master plan.

The sustainability goals are in four categories: resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. The goals were culled from more than 200 already found in existing city planning documents, as part of a project that began in early 2011. It’s been funded by a Home Depot Foundation grant. [.pdf of sustainability goals]

This work by city staff was initially guided by volunteers who serve on four city advisory commissions: park, planning, energy and environmental. Members from those groups met at a joint working session in late September of 2011. Since then, the city’s housing commission and housing and human services commission have been added to the conversation. A series of panel discussions on each category topic was held earlier this year, as was a public forum to solicit input.

Additional background on the Ann Arbor sustainability initiative is on the city’s website. See also Chronicle coverage: “Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor,” “Sustaining Ann Arbor’s Environmental Quality,” “Land Use, Transit Factor Into Sustainability,“ and “Final Forum: What Sustains Community?

Jamie Kidwell, who has served as the staff point person for this project, reported that four other commissions have already recommended approval of the goals. The housing commission will vote on a recommendation later this month. If approved, these relatively general goals would be fleshed out with more detailed objectives and action items.

No one spoke during a public hearing on the goals.

Sustainability Goals: Commission Discussion

Tony Derezinski said he regretted that Bonnie Bona wasn’t at the meeting – because this was a challenge that she had taken on over the past few years, he noted, and she accomplished what she set out to do. [Bona served as chair of the planning commission when the sustainability effort began.]

Evan Pratt thanked planning manager Wendy Rampson and Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator, for taking the initiative to apply for the Home Depot Foundation grant, which provided $95,000 to pay for staff support of the project. He also pointed to the city council’s role, saying that councilmembers see this as a visionary document.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to recommend that the 16 sustainability goals be incorporated into the city’s master plan. The recommendation will be forwarded to city council.

Maple Cove

For the third time, the planning commission considered a site plan for the Maple Cove Apartments & Village development. The project is located on 2.96 acres at 1649 N. Maple, north of Miller Road between North Maple and Calvin Street on the city’s west side.

The plan calls for combining two sites – 1649 N. Maple and 1718 Calvin – and demolishing an existing single-family home and detached garages there. Two 3-story apartment buildings would be built with a 64-space parking lot and eight bike spaces. The project also includes building a private street to serve seven new single-family houses near Calvin Street, but with an entrance off of North Maple. The apartment complex would have a separate entrance, also off of North Maple.

The project has a somewhat unusual history. Planning commissioners originally approved it at their March 20, 2012 meeting. But that vote was rescinded because Scio Township residents on Calvin Street had not been included in an original public notice mailed out for the commission’s March meeting.

Several residents attended the commission’s May 1, 2012 meeting to protest the development. Although there were no changes to the plan in the interim period between March 20 and May 1, commissioners voted to postpone action to get more information from the traffic engineer about whether the proposed two separate entrances to the property created a health, safety and welfare hazard.

According to city planning staff at the June 5 meeting, the city’s traffic engineer raised some concerns, but he subsequently confirmed that the site plan – with two entrances off of North Maple – does conform to city code.

In giving the planning staff’s report, planning manager Wendy Rampson said that if the two entrances cause problems in the future, then the traffic engineer could decide to close one of the entrances. But it can’t be pre-assumed that the two entrances will cause a problem, she said.

Maple Cove: Public Hearing

Two residents of Calvin Street spoke during a public hearing on the Maple Cove project, both expressing concerns about its impact on their neighborhood. Other residents had spoken against the project at previous planning commission meetings on March 20 and May 1.

Several representatives of the owner  – Muayad Kasham of Dynasty Enterprises – attended the June 5 meeting, but did not address the commission.

Entrance to Calvin Street, off of Miller Road just west of North Maple.

The entrance to Calvin Street, a private road off of Miller Road just west of North Maple.

Minda Hart had emailed commissioners before the meeting. [.pdf of Hart's email] At the hearing, she began by saying she was dismayed by this project. Obviously the planning commission intended to approve it, she said, but why wasn’t there any planning or attempt to address concerns of residents on the street? It’s a very rural street, not like any other street in the area, she said. [Calvin Street is a private dirt road, with one entrance/exit off of Miller Road, just west of North Maple.] Hart said she’s lived there for 18 years, and some people have lived there for as long as 47 years – the street’s residents are not transient.

Hart said she learned about the Maple Cove project from one of her neighbors – there had been no warning that it was happening, she said. When she had taken courses on planning at the University of Cincinnati years ago, Hart said she’d learned that people are important in the planning process. But it seems like the Ann Arbor planning commission isn’t taking residents of Calvin Street into consideration.

Noting that there are many trees along the street, Hart said it seems the developer will be taking down a lot of large trees, and that’s upsetting to her. When a project had been proposed for the same site several years ago, it had been for an office building, she said, and nobody had objected to that. Now, it’s for a high density apartment building, when there’s already a lot of vacant housing in Ann Arbor, she said. The additional traffic will be touch-and-go, down a street that’s traveled by students going to Skyline High School. Traffic will increase on Miller too, she said, and it’s already difficult to turn out of Calvin onto Miller.

Another resident of Calvin Street, Cheryl Shavalia Brown, noted that she had spoken to commissioners at a previous meeting. She wanted the developer to be aware that Calvin Street was private, and that there would be no construction traffic allowed on the street. She said she’d be outside with her notebook and camera, and would contact the police if anyone trespassed. She’d be keeping a close eye on things. Brown also said that residents would appreciate some kind of fencing along the property line that backs up to Calvin Street.

Maple Cove: Commission Discussion

Erica Briggs pointed out to the owner – Muayad Kasham of Dynasty Enterprises – that there’s been a lot of disapproval about the project, and that’s a shame. It points to the need for better planning. Perhaps there are some issues that couldn’t be resolved, like the project’s density. But she felt the smaller issues could have been worked out. It’s a shame that there’s already animosity in the neighborhood, Briggs said, even before construction has started. She suggested that the developer sit down with the neighbors and work on some of these smaller issues.

Briggs also felt it was a “failing on our part” not to properly educate residents about the implications of the previous zoning change, which later allowed for this residential project to take place. Neighbors had supported the office project, but hadn’t been aware that the rezoning would permit for residential development too. Going forward, it would be good to educate residents about the full spectrum of zoning issues, she said.

Further, the project points to problems in the city’s zoning code, Briggs said, as well as Chapter 47 of the city code, which relates to streets and sidewalks. She hoped the commission’s ordinance review committee would look into it.

There are a lot of problems with the Maple Cove project, Briggs concluded, ”but I don’t see a way around [approving] it.”

Tony Derezinski said he agreed with Briggs. He also pointed to the caveat that planning manager Wendy Rampson had mentioned – that if a traffic problem emerges, it can be addressed. There were many other issues that had been raised in a heartfelt way, he said. He noted that the developer had sent the commission a letter, pledging to make sure the project complied with all of the city’s ordinances. If the project meets the city’s requirements, it can move ahead, Derezinski said. So because it conforms to city code, Derezinski said he’d support it.

Perhaps some of the city’s ordinances do need a review, he said – that is happening with the R4C/R2A zoning. [An advisory committee has been reviewing the R4C/R2A residential zoning districts. See Chronicle coverage: "Planning Group Weighs R4C/R2A Report."] Derezinski reported that he had visited the Maple Cove site and walked around the property – “I did not trespass on Calvin,” he quipped. The site could use some improvement, and this project does that, he said. It’s hard to predict what might happen in 10 or 12 years. You make your best judgment, he said, and right now, the project complies with the city’s ordinances.

Wendy Woods said she still had concerns about the two entrances/exits onto North Maple, but she understood that the developer could move forward with this site plan. Even so, she encouraged him to reconsider. This project would likely move forward for city council approval, she said, and it would help to compromise, even just a little. Like Derezinski, Woods pointed to Kasham’s letter, noting that he says he cares about Ann Arbor. From the letter:

We want you to know that the developers are a team of siblings, all born and raised in the great city of Ann Arbor and are end products of the Ann Arbor Public School system. My family and I have a strong vested interest in the community, as we too are longstanding members of Ann Arbor. We have made a commitment to remain in this great community to raise our families and invest in it.

We want you to be reassured that we are working very hard to ensure that this project serves in the best interest of the community while addressing the market needs for both single family and apartment living space. We have selected a team of local and reputable civil engineers and architects to work on this project in an effort to ensure best methods/techniques and advancements are utilized to facilitate the plans of the project. [.pdf of entire letter]

Woods noted that Kasham might have additional opportunities to look at this project, and she hoped he would. In the long-run, she concluded, compromise works better than holding a stick.

Kevin McDonald, Eric Mahler

From left: Senior assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald and Eric Mahler, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission.

Eleanore Adenekan said she would support the project too – the city’s competent planning staff has recommended approval, she noted, and the owner is in compliance with the law. But she was disappointed that the project had been considered three times, and the owner hasn’t changed the project, cooperated, or responded to the neighbors’ complaints.

Eric Mahler was the final commissioner to weigh in, saying he remained dismayed over the lack of a sidewalk along the private drive leading from North Maple to the single-family homes. The developer dropped the ball on that important safety feature.

But Mahler took issue with criticism that had been levied against the planning staff and commission during the public hearing. There had been three meetings with opportunities for public input, he noted. The planning staff had taken into account everything that was said, and Mahler said he was proud of what they’d done. The project is not what it could be, he concluded, “but it is what it is.”

Outcome: The commission’s vote was unanimous, with six of the nine commissioners present. Absent were Bonnie Bona, Evan Pratt and Kirk Westphal, The commission’s recommendation will now be forwarded to the Ann Arbor city council for its consideration.

Speedway Gas Station

An agenda item for a project just south of Maple Cove was a site plan for a Speedway gas station at 1300 N. Maple. The project is located at the 1.39-acre site on the northeast corner of Miller and North Maple roads. The proposal also included a request to rezone a portion of the site from PL (public land) to C3 (fringe commercial).

Site of proposed Speedway gas station at the northeast corner of Maple and Miller

Site of a proposed Speedway gas station at the northeast corner of Maple and Miller.

The plan calls for demolishing an existing 1,500-square-foot vacant service station building, which was built in the 1950s, and constructing a new 3,968-square-foot, single-story gas station and convenience store with five pumps. The gasoline pumps will be covered by a 28-foot by 121-foot canopy. Fourteen parking spaces will be provided next to the convenience store, and six bicycle hoops will be located on the south side of the building, adjacent to a sidewalk leading to Miller.

According to a staff report, underground storage tanks have been removed and an environmental analysis of the site is underway. If any environmental contamination is found, the owner will be required to remediate the site to meet requirements of the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality.

The rezoning relates to a previous site plan that was approved in 1972 but never built. That plan provided a 30-foot dedicated public easement along the eastern and northern sides of the site, intended as a greenway for the adjacent Garden Homes neighborhood. However, even though the strip was zoned as public land, it remained in private ownership. The easement for public access will remain, despite the rezoning.

The planning staff recommended postponing action on the site plan and rezoning, to allow more time for the owner to address issues related to landscaping and the traffic engineer review.

One person representing Speedway – Kevin Foley of Grand Rapids – spoke briefly during a public hearing on the item. He introduced himself and said he was available for questions.

Speedway Gas Station: Commission Discussion

Tony Derezinski said he felt obligated to ask a question of Kevin Foley, since Foley had traveled all the way from Grand Rapids to attend the meeting. Derezinski asked if there are any time constraints related to the project.

Foley replied that it’s budgeted for this year, and the company would like to start in early September and finish before winter weather hits. But to get everything in place to everyone’s satisfaction, he acknowledged that it sometimes takes many months.

Derezinski asked if Foley saw any insurmountable problems in getting the requested revisions to the landscaping plan and traffic impact statement. No, Foley said. He hoped that the outstanding issues could be resolves so that the proposal would be placed on the planning commission’s June 19 agenda.

With that, Derezinski made a motion to postpone.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to postpone action on the Speedway site plan, based on the planning staff’s recommendation.

Rezoning for Bluffs Nature Area

On the June 5 agenda was an item recommending the rezoning of two parcels that were recently acquired for expansion of the Bluffs Nature Area at 1099 N. Main St., north of Sunset Road.

Entrance to the Elks lodge on Sunset.

The entrance to the Elks lodge on Sunset. The drive leads to a parking lot behind the lodge, with access to a trailhead to the Bluffs Nature Area.

A 1.12-acre parcel to the north of the Bluffs – connecting the existing parkland to Huron View Boulevard – is currently zoned O (office), and had been donated to the city by a nursing home near that site. A 0.57-acre addition to the south connects the existing parkland to Sunset Road and is currently zoned R4C (multiple-family dwelling). It had been purchased by the city from the Elks lodge, using funds from the open space and parkland preservation millage. Both parcels were recommended to be rezoned as PL (public land).

Alexis DiLeo, the city planner who gave a staff report on this item, told commissioners that the parcels make the nature area more accessible. Though there is frontage onto North Main, there’s no easy access there for pedestrians or cyclists.

No one spoke during a public hearing on the rezoning.

Rezoning for Bluffs Nature Area: Commission Discussion

Diane Giannola asked if access was immediately available through the parcels. DiLeo replied that the deeds have already been transferred to the city – the city owns the property. She wasn’t sure about the long-range plans for these entrances, in terms of signs and additional infrastructure. That will be handled by the city’s parks staff.

Giannola observed that there aren’t many access points to this nature area. Is there a path that can be accessed from these new parcels?

The parcel near the Elks lodge has a trailhead adjacent to a parking lot. There had previously been an informal arrangement with the lodge that people could use the parking lot to access the trail, DiLeo said. Erica Briggs indicated that people can access a trail from the north parcel as well, off of Huron View Boulevard. Briggs said she’s glad to see the property rezoned, and called the nature area a “hidden park in our community.” She hoped that it now could become better known.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to rezone the parcels for Bluffs Nature Area. The recommendation will now be forwarded to the Ann Arbor city council for its consideration.

Rezoning for Bryant Community Center

Commissioners were asked to recommend rezoning of an 0.2-acre site at 5 W. Eden Court from R1C (single-family dwelling) to PL (public land). No one spoke at a public hearing on the proposal.

This land was recently purchased by the city for $82,500 using funds from the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage – a purchase approved by the Ann Arbor city council at its Sept. 6, 2011 meeting. The site is located next to the city’s Bryant Community Center in the Arbor Oaks neighborhood off of Stone School Road, north of Ellsworth.

During her staff report, city planner Alexis DiLeo said the property contains a single-family home that will be used by the community center to expand its operations. Eventually, the center would like to renovate the interior and build an addition to connect the two buildings, she said. The center is managed under contract with the nonprofit Community Action Network.

Outcome: With no discussion, commissioners unanimously voted to recommend rezoning of the property. The recommendation will be forwarded to the city council for its consideration.

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Erica Briggs, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Evan Pratt (arriving at 8:10 p.m.), Wendy Woods.

Absent: Bonnie Bona, Kirk Westphal.

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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  1. June 11, 2012 at 8:44 am | permalink

    I’m disappointed the substation will be hidden behind landscaping. I find big transformers attractive.

    Regarding the Speedway easement, why rezone if the easement will remain? Who will maintain this easement, shoveling the snow in winter and repairing the pavement?

  2. By abc
    June 11, 2012 at 12:46 pm | permalink

    “Briggs drew an analogy to road expansion…”

    There are somethings that you do not over build for the once a year event. We do not build houses for everyone who visits at Christmas to stay in their own bedroom suites. We do not (should not) build parking lots to easily fit all of the Black Friday shoppers. And we do not (should not) build roads to accommodate all of the football traffic to arrive just in time to get your seat. All of these systems are basically designed for ‘normal’ use as we also have ways to accommodate more demand on an occasional basis.

    However there are things, like utility delivery systems, that we may not want working undersized, or even at the edge of their capacity. Would we be content with a water supply system that was undersized; after all we also want to conserve water? I think the fire department might have something to say about that. Would we want our gas lines to be undersized so we heat and cook less saving fossil fuel? I think the insurance industry would want to chime in about the kind of damage burst plumbing causes. Maybe less phone capacity would save some energy; that 911 call can wait for the service to come back online.

    “Maybe a few blackouts will make people recognize that they have a responsibility to do something about it.”

    Maybe a few blackouts… Really? Blackouts are dangerous and costly.

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm | permalink

    “Maybe a few blackouts will make people recognize that they have a responsibility to do something about it.”

    Another brilliant bon mot from someone who has no place on the Planning Commission and yet another example of why we need a new Mayor to prevent future appointments of similar people to City commissions.

  4. By John Q.
    June 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm | permalink

    First off, don’t act as if what you are reposting is a quote of what someone said when the original statement isn’t in quotes. I didn’t hear her comments but unless the author of the article put her comments in quotes, which she did not, it’s wrong to assume that the person is being quoted versus a summary of what they said. Secondly, I think the previous two comments misconstrue what she said. She wasn’t advocating for blackouts to teach people a lesson. She was noting that it’s blackouts that make people realize that they are overly dependent on the current energy system. It’s perfectly reasonable and rationale to ask whether the solution to the current energy usage is throwing more infrastructure at the problem. Reducing usage through energy conservation measures would save the consumer both in usage and in reduced costs to the utilities which ultimately get passed down to the consumer. Spending more money on infrastructure isn’t going to help anyone long-term if you don’t address the underlying demands on the system.

  5. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 12, 2012 at 2:42 pm | permalink

    I put the passage in quotes because I was quoting from the article. Perhaps ‘bon mot’ implied it was a direct quote, but if not an actual bon mot, it was a paraphrased philosophical one. Words have meaning and this appointee is the textbook example of several of the people the Mayor seems bent on appointing to Commissions and Boards–the kind who are in lockstep with his views. Fortunately, in this case at least, reality based folks on the Commission weren’t drinking the Kool-Aid.

  6. By Steve Bean
    June 12, 2012 at 3:29 pm | permalink

    The focus on presentation over substance distracts from the valid question posed by Briggs about increased electricity demand, which could be addressed in ways that result in permanent reductions (e.g., green roofs, white or reflective roofs) or long-term, peak-load-timed supply (i.e., photovoltaics, which also shade roofs), as well as reduced infrastructure costs.

    Giving attention to floodplain issues while ignoring climate stability issues is an example of why I worked for so long to develop comprehensive environmental goals for the city–doing good in one area isn’t enough.

  7. By abc
    June 12, 2012 at 4:08 pm | permalink

    @ John Q.

    You make a valid point about the quotation so I went back and re-read sections of the post and I see quite a lot of ‘he and she said’s that are not followed by quotation marks. I also found at least one example of a traditionally quoted remark. I am not sure of the distinction Mary is intending but I was reading remarks that follow ‘he said’ as something that person actually said.

    How else can one interpret… John said the sky was blue. (a hypothetical John, of course)

    Also please note that whenever I pull from another’s writing I put that in quotes to distinguish it from my remarks; as I have done to you below. So I was not trying to overly attach Ms. Briggs to the comment. I was simply quoting Mary’s writing.

    You wrote, “It’s perfectly reasonable and rationale to ask whether the solution to the current energy usage is throwing more infrastructure at the problem. “

    Yes I think it is rational to ask but I do not think this kind of system should be on the margins. This proposal is not speculative; it is being reported that we have a 26 megawatt deficit. So if this is correct doesn’t DTE need to fill the void in this utility system?

    You also wrote, “Spending more money on infrastructure isn’t going to help anyone long-term if you don’t address the underlying demands on the system.”

    I am not sure I agree. These kinds of systems need to be invested in and need to have some redundancy in the event of an emergency. So ignoring a system that is undersized in the hopes that you will conserve your way out of it does not strike me as a good overall approach. Certainly we should all be working to use less but I am not fond of knowingly leaving a system with a deficiency.

    I think dieting should be about eating less and exercising more which will require will-power, understanding and time. But there are other ways to weight less. One diet I heard about has the dieter heavily sedated so they sleep for 3 or 4 days at a time; you can’t eat if you’re in a coma. They basically stop you from living while the calories get used up. I don’t like that approach. Rolling blackouts strike me as being similar to sedation.