Ann Arbor City Council OKs 618 S. Main

Also: Medical marijuana licensing revisions postponed until Oct. 1

Ann Arbor city council meeting (June 18, 2012): Of the two potentially controversial items on the council’s agenda, only one actually resulted in much conversation at the meeting: the site plan approval and brownfield financing for the 618 S. Main project. A possible revision to the city’s year-old medical marijuana licensing ordinance was the other item that could have provoked extended debate – but instead it was quickly postponed, until October, in light of several pieces of legislation currently pending in the Michigan legislature.

From left: Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and developer Dan Ketelaar.

From left: Councilmember Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and 618 S. Main developer Dan Ketelaar at the June 18, 2012 Ann Arbor city council meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The council debated but ultimately approved both the site plan and the brownfield plan for the 618 S. Main project – an apartment complex that Dan Ketelaar’s Urban Group Development Co. intends to market to young professionals. The 7-story building would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles. The project had received a recommendation for approval from the city planning commission on Jan. 19, 2012.

The project’s approval meant that the council granted a variance in the height allowed in the D2 (downtown interface) zoning district – 85 feet, which is 25 feet taller than the 60-foot limit allowed in D2. The majority of councilmembers felt that the project reflected a months-long positive collaboration by the developer with neighbors and with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which approved a $650,000 grant to complement the $3.7 million brownfield plan.

The project was opposed by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who essentially indicated he did not trust Ketelaar and other “speculators.” Kunselman also seemed unconvinced of the environmental benefits of the project. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) joined Kunselman in voting against the site plan and the brownfield plan. Both votes were 8-2 – Sandi Smith (Ward 1) was absent from the 11-member council.

In other business, the council made an adjustment to the current fiscal 2012 budget just before the fiscal year ends on June 30, to ensure that the city conforms with the state statute on uniform budgeting and accounting. The adjustment to the city’s general fund allowed for $1.3 million in additional expenses. Despite that, CFO Tom Crawford said he felt the city would end the year around “break even.”

The council also took action to allocate $1,244,629 to different nonprofits that provide human services. The amount was set as part of the FY 2013 budget, which the city council approved on May 22, 2012.

The council also authorized around $1.5 million for new dump trucks – with stainless steel parts to ensure a longer life than the vehicles they are replacing. And councilmembers approved a roughly $800,000 contract for a five-phase study to analyze stormwater in the city.

Other expenses authorized by the council included a $48,000 annual contract renewal with Governmental Consultant Services Inc., the city’s lobbyist in Lansing, and a $75,000 contract with Ann Arbor SPARK, the area’s economic development agency.

Also at the council’s meeting, nominations for three commissions were floated, to be voted on at the next meeting: Ken Clein for the planning commission; John German for the environmental commission; and Archer Christian for the greenbelt advisory commission.

618 S. Main

In separate items, the city council considered a site plan and the brownfield development financing for the 618 S. Main project.

618 S. Main: Background

The 618 S. Main project is an apartment complex that developer Dan Ketelaar intends to market to young professionals. The 7-story building would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles. The project had received approval from the city planning commission on Jan. 19, 2012.

At 85-feet tall, the project is 25 feet higher than permitted in the D2 (downtown interface) zoning district where the site is located. So it was submitted as a “planned project” – a provision in the zoning code that allows some flexibility in height or setbacks, in exchange for public benefits.

Footprint of the 618 S. Main project. The site is bounded by Main and Ashley on the east and west, respectively. It's bounded by Mosley on the south.

A planned project is not the same thing as a planned unit development (PUD), which allows for significant variance from the existing zoning by actually changing the zoning on a parcel. Among the public benefits cited for 618 S. Main is a rain garden system for stormwater infiltration, which is expected to reduce stormwater volume in the city’s piped system (as required by code), but would also result in cleaner flow.

The project borders the Old West Side historic district – and the board of the Old West Side Association submitted a letter of support for the development.

The proposed brownfield tax increment finance (TIF) plan works in concert with a $650,000 TIF grant (paid over a period of four years) awarded by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board at its June 6, 2012 meeting. Both the brownfield TIF and the DDA TIF grant work in a similar way: The developer must build the project and pay the new taxes on the project. After that, the developer receives reimbursement for eligible expenses.

The DDA’s grant covers work in the following categories: streetscape improvement costs; a rain garden to infiltrate stormwater, as opposed to detention-and-release; and upsizing a water main. Work covered by the brownfield plan includes: site investigations for characterization of soils and dewatering if water is encountered during excavation; disposal of soils; demolition of buildings and removal of existing site improvements; lead and asbestos abatement; infrastructure improvements like water, storm sewer and sanitary sewer upgrades, street repair and improvements to streets; and site preparation like staking, geotechnical engineering, clearing and grubbing.

The brownfield plan includes reimbursements to the developer of $3.7 million over 21 years. The city’s financial analysis puts the rate of return to the developer on his investment at between 5.81% and 6.13%. The city’s analysis concludes that the rates of return are below previously-approved brownfield plans. A risk identified in the city’s analysis is the fact that, based on the financial pro forma submitted by the developer, the return to the developer is low. [.pdf of the TIF analysis]

The city council’s brownfield review committee – Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) – had given the 618 S. Main project a 3-0 vote recommending the city council’s approval of the plan.

618 S. Main: Public Hearing

Several people spoke at the public hearing on the site plan.

Barbara Hall introduced herself as representing the board of the Old West Side Association. Members of the OWS board are pleased to have participated in several months of productive discussion about the 618 S. Main project, she said. All aspects of the final design reflect input made during that process. The project gives the Main Street side an industrial facade, but uses a rain garden to buffer the impact on the other side, abutting the neighborhood.

An alliance of groups – from downtown neighborhoods, to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the city’s design review board and the planning commission – have agreed that 618 S. Main is worth their support, Hall said. For the OWS board, the project as now presented offers a number benefits as compared to the strict D2 zoning. The benefits don’t completely offset the loss of locations for three long-standing businesses, she said. But she hoped that a large residential presence will re-invigorate existing retail business and spur additional businesses – like a grocery store. The OSW board sees the building as a gateway and urges approval of this opportunity for housing near the center of the city, Hall concluded.

Thomas Partridge expressed opposition to the project. As he understood the project, Partridge said, it includes no connection to a commitment to affordable housing – not even a single apartment. He urged reconsideration of the project as an affordable housing project.

Rita Mitchell introduced herself as a Fifth Street resident. She said she appreciates living in the Old West Side historic district – which is a great place to live, she said. She also appreciates the work of the OWS board, which has done a lot of work in connection with the 618 S. Main project. However, she was not sure the OWS board’s work represents all the people in the area – so she would speak for herself, Mitchell said. As presented, she noted, the 618 S. Main project requests a variance from the newly established D2 zoning – two stories taller than what the D2 zoning would allow. Immediately next to the building are one- and two-story buildings, Mitchell said. A 7-story building would create an out-of-character wall towering over the other buildings. Why would the council spend the time that had been invested to complete the A2D2 downtown rezoning process, only to approve a non-conforming project? she asked.

Mitchell said the developer appeared to have made a threat to build a worse alternative that could comply with the D2 zoning – the kind of approach that had led to City Place. [City Place is a controversial apartment project being built on South Fifth Avenue.] It’s an approach where a developer drives the agenda, she said. People feel compelled to agree, for fear of a worse outcome. Mitchell also questioned the value of the brownfield financial plan. She asked the council to vote no on the site plan and to return to the A2D2 process, to review and revise the downtown zoning again, so that effective step-downs are provided between downtown and neighborhoods.

Mike Siegel, associate principal of VOA Associates, a Chicago architecture firm, introduced himself as the project architect. He told the council that the project team had explored several schemes that were “by right” zoning. The distribution of the “building program” was lot-line-to-lot-line, from Ashley Street to Main Street down to Mosley Street, with a small courtyard in the middle. The building was 60 feet tall [the maximum height for D2 zoning] with some articulation architecturally along the streetwall.

Siegel said the project team was not really sure that “by right” approach was the right solution for the surrounding context. It’s a dynamic site from one side to the other, and it’s a transitional site, he said. So the team approached the city’s planning staff and had some conversations about how to deal with the issue. Planning staff suggested that with the “planned project” approach, there would be more flexibility for distributing the massing of the building – but there would need to be public benefits. In response to that suggestion, Siegel said three design schemes had been developed. To guide which of the three schemes would be pursued, the team had invited the community to a series of meetings, including local businesses. [For Chronicle coverage of one of those meetings held in November of 2011, see: "Public Gets View of 618 S. Main Project."]

A dialogue had been started, Siegel said. The community guided the shifting of the massing from Ashley Street to Main Street. Additional parking was requested, so an additional story of parking was added. The community asked that parking entries be divided on both side of the site, and that had been done, he said. The community wanted an enhanced pedestrian experience on Main Street, he said, so the building had been set back five feet to accommodate that. As the project went along, the team had appeared before the city’s design review board (DRB). The DRB was interested in the articulation of the streetwall. Out of that DRB conversation a tower element had been developed on the corner of Main and Mosley.

Shannan Gibb-Randall introduced herself as the project’s landscape architect. She’s with Insite Design Studio, an Ann Arbor firm. Gibb-Randall explained the concept of the rain garden, which she said could have been surface parking. But the team felt it had the potential to be something better. So the courtyard was created as an amenity for the people who will live in the building. But it’s also a great way to handle stormwater on the site in a sustainable way. She described it as the “back yard” for future residents of the building. Currently the site where the project is planned is 100% impervious, which means that every drop of rain runs into the Allen Creek and on into the Huron River.

Gibb-Randall explained that the rain garden will act as a sponge, with three feet of special soils and native plantings that are good at absorbing water. Anything that doesn’t get absorbed is connected to the sand seam layer, which is about nine feet down. So the stormwater will not travel through the city’s piped stormwater system. The site will be connected “just in case,” but a 100-year storm will infiltrate, she assured the council. The project would remove an acre of impervious surface that leads to Allen Creek, she said. She indicated that the project team hopes this approach will be a catalyst for other projects in downtown to do the same, which is possible because the downtown “sits on a pile of sand.”

Gibb-Randall also commented on the Main Street side of the building. The building has been pushed back, she said, which increases the 9-foot-wide sidewalk to a 14-foot-wide sidewalk. She also pointed to the densely planted area on the Mosley side of the building.

Dan Ketelaar, president of Urban Group Development Co., described the process as “surprisingly enjoyable.” He described the review process of the city’s design review board as working perfectly. The result shows how when people work together, you get something better than what you start with, he said.

The D2 is intended as a buffer between the downtown and the neighborhoods, he said. How do you do that, when one side is residential and one side is the downtown community? The project strives to do that in the best way it can, he said, and he felt like it had been successful. He described the process as difficult, but felt the community had enjoyed the process too.

Ketelaar stressed that 618 S. Main is not a student housing project, but rather it’s designed for young professionals. Of the units, 37% are studios, and 37% are one-bedroom units. The remainder are two-bedroom units. The amenities are meant to appeal to a young professional group – features like meeting rooms and lounge areas. The apartments are small, but with large common areas, so that residents can get together and spend time together, he said. It’s within walking distance to downtown, he said, and includes 120 parking spaces, which is twice the number required.

Ketelaar said the project team has tried to be as responsible as they know how to be. He felt that the project meets the requirement for a “planned project” outlined in the city code.

John Byl, an attorney with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, told the council he was a brownfield specialist, and has been working on that aspect of the project. He was there and available to answer any questions about that aspect of the project, he said.

Ray Detter spoke on behalf of the downtown citizens advisory council. He said that CAC strongly supports the position of the Old West Side Association. He noted that 618 S. Main was unanimously approved by the planning commission. He pointed to the additional housing units. He allowed that the project exceeds the D2 height limit, but noted that as a “planned project” it provides commensurate benefit.

Dick Carlisle of Carlisle/Wortman Associates introduced himself as an owner and tenant of the South Main Market, located across Main Street from the proposed 618 S. Main project. He said he was very supportive of the project. He said that he and the other partners of South Main Market had achieved 100% occupancy of the market, but that’s because they’d invested a lot and worked hard at it. With any project as dense as 618 S. Main, there’ll be issues, he said, but he’s satisfied that they can work with this project. As one of the closest neighbors of the project, he said, they’re very supportive and hope it will get the city council’s support, too.

618 S. Main Site Plan: Council Deliberations–Bona fides

The council’s deliberations included a range of claims to connections to the neighborhood, which are extracted from this report’s summary of deliberations.

Mayor John Hieftje stated that he grew up in that neighborhood and that friends of the Fox family [owners of the former Fox Tent and Awning, which had been located on the 618 S. Main site] were friends of his family.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she used to live next to the Washtenaw Dairy. [The popular shop is located less than a block away from the proposed project, at Madison and Ashley.] The Old West Side was her home for over a decade, Briere said. She bought Christmas trees at the lot where Fox Tent and Awning was located – because it was easy for her and her little boy to carry them home.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he’d live in the Old West Side for half of his adult life, so he had a strong affinity for the neighborhood.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) stated that as long as others had put their bona fides on the table, he wanted to mention that he used to work at Washtenaw Dairy: “So I see your living in the neighborhood, and [raise you a worked-at-the-dairy] …” The remark elicited laughs around the table.

618 S. Main Site Plan: Council Deliberations

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) led off deliberations by picking up on one of the comments made by Rita Mitchell during public commentary. He asked planning manager Wendy Rampson for the city staff’s perspective on the idea that the accommodation for the extra height – 85 feet compared to 60 feet – is a reflection that the A2D2 downtown rezoning process did not get the specific regulations for D2 exactly right.

Rampson responded to Hohnke by describing D2 as a wide-ranging district that interacts with neighborhoods in a variety of ways. She noted that on the other side of Ashley from the project site is a historic district (Old West Side) and the buildings in the historic district aren’t likely to expand in the same way as 618 S. Main. But she pointed out that those properties [including the Washtenaw Dairy] are zoned C2B (commercial).

Rampson also pointed out that originally there was no height limit for the proposed downtown districts, but the city council had felt it was important to include height limits. She noted that the 618 S. Main project is not using the full premium available in the D2 district – which would allow up to 400% FAR (floor-area ratio). The 618 S. Main project has a FAR of 355%. It was envisioned, Rampson said, that in some places it would be desirable to push a building to one side or another, and that would result in pushing the building taller.

Hohnke confirmed with Rampson that the site of the project itself was not in a historic district.

Hohnke then asked Rampson to summarize the public benefits of the project. Rampson mentioned that by increasing the height along Main Street, the setback on Ashley is increased. Hohnke also asked about streetscape improvements. Rampson indicated that she couldn’t speak to that, because that had been added after the project had been voted on by the planning commission. Hohnke indicated that he was content to leave that issue aside until the discussion of the brownfield plan.

View from the south of the 618 S. Main parcel

View from the southeast of the 618 S. Main parcel.

Mayor John Hieftje indicated that the site had looked the same way for decades – but right now, it’s a parking lot encircled by a fence. Normally, he said, he’s not in favor of planned projects. But he appreciated the way the developer has worked with the community and with the design review board. Hieftje said he was moved by the fact that the project has met with approval at every stage. There seems to be a great deal of support for it, he said. The project deviates from the height limitation of D2 zoning, he noted, but provides public benefits.

Hieftje said he’s not troubled by the lack of retail in the project, because there’s plenty of retail across the street. He joked that building the 618 S. Main project might mean that people have to wait a little longer for an ice cream cone at Washtenaw Dairy [which is located at the southwest corner of Madison and Ashley, down the street from the 618 S. Main site].

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) noted that D2 was established for areas close to residential neighborhoods. The height limit of 60 feet seemed appropriate to provide a kind of transition from downtown to residential he said. But the proposed 618 S. Main project is 40% higher than the D2 zoning’s 60-foot height limit. He contended that it’s the first projected presented in a D2-zoned area, since the A2D2 zoning was approved. [As Sabra Briere (Ward 1) would point out later in the meeting, the Zingerman's Deli expansion, approved by the city council at its July 19, 2010 meeting, was also located in a D2-zoned area.]

Anglin mentioned that it’s the block where Washtenaw Dairy is located. The site is a prime area to develop, he said. During the public engagement process, he said, a lot was achieved, but not much was ever said about the 60-foot height limit. Anglin expressed an objection to the presentation of a building design at one of the early public meetings that was 60-feet tall, conforming to the zoning – with the subsequent conversation focused on the idea that the design was not very good, but could be made better, by making it taller. Anglin characterized that approach as a game of changing rules for each new player.

The D2 zoning district is supposed to be a transition into neighborhoods, Anglin said. The 60-foot height limit was determined by looking at what was currently close to neighborhoods and found that it averaged 60 feet, which fit in quite nicely, he said. He gave Liberty Lofts, a former factory at Liberty and First that was converted into condominiums, as an example.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5)

Councilmember Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

As for community input, Anglin said, he characterized it as “organizational input,” but when someone at a public meeting raised the issue of height, Anglin contended, that was put aside very quickly. Anglin reported receiving a note from someone who attended a meeting – someone that Anglin characterized as an intelligent person who owns his own business. The gist of the note was that the ability to make the building taller and the support through brownfield financing reflected “double-dipping.” Anglin indicated that people are confused by the process of inviting development and paying for it. He did commend the architect and the developer for their work on the project.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said it was not often that she found herself in opposition to statements Anglin made about development.

At a recent meeting of the Ann Arbor DDA, Briere had run into an old neighbor from the time when she lived in the area of the 618 S. Main project. And she asked her former neighbor on Mosley how she felt about the project. When it was first proposed, Briere reported, her former neighbor said she was not happy. But now she said it’s really amazing and she thinks it’ll be good for the neighborhood.

Because her former neighborhood is not the most liberal or conservative person in town, Briere had listened carefully to what she’d said. Briere also pointed out that 618 S. Main is the second project to be proposed in a D2 zone, not the first, as Anglin had said. The first had been the Zingerman’s Deli expansion, which Briere said was easy to forget – because the Zingerman’s project was not residential and not very controversial.

Briere said she’d met with Ketelaar the previous week and had reflected on her own reservations about the project. The benefit of a “planned project” is that the accommodations that can be made can’t result in a greater number of units – that is, it can’t be denser.

By way of background, the relevant section of the city code on “planned projects” to which Briere was alluding reads as follows:

A planned project shall maintain the permitted uses and requirements for maximum density, maximum floor area and minimum usable open space specified in this Chapter for the zoning district(s) in which the proposed planned project is located.

Briere noted that in the course of the several public meetings and the city’s approval process, the project was amended over and over. She concluded that she supported the project.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said he watched the project as it was considered by a number of bodies that he sits on – the planning commission as well at the DDA partnerships committee. He allowed that the D2 zoning “was on our minds.” He described the project as an “incredible piece of work” and said it was gratifying to see the very collaborative process. He characterized the 618 S. Main project as tall only on one side – and on the residential side, it’s short, he said.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) called the “planned project” approach a tool that should be used cautiously – but concluded that in the case of 618 S. Main, it had been used beautifully.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) ventured that the outcome of the A2D2 downtown rezoning process was that “we got D2 right.” The result of the D2 zoning, the design review board, and the planned project status allowed it to come together as an extraordinary project, she said.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3)

Councilmembers Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) expressed her appreciation for all the work than had gone into developing the A2D2 zoning, which happened before she won a seat on the council in 2011. Her perspective on the project was from the point of view of the DDA partnerships committee on which she serves. The focus of that committee’s work was on the TIF grant from the DDA. The policy guidelines that were created by the DDA, as well as the A2D2 zoning, all helped to create a great project, she said. The fact that the project adds to the diversity of the housing stock is important, Lumm said, as is the environmental cleanup of the site. She noted that the planning commission’s support had been unanimous. She concluded by indicating she supported the project.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he’d support the project, which he believes was the result of a process that is well-designed and works. It begins with the benchmark of D2 zoning, the citizen participation ordinance, the work of the city’s planning staff, input from the design review board, and the opportunity to deviate from the more rigid aspects of the zoning.

Taylor also mentioned the indicated market for the residents of the project – “workforce housing.” Taylor noted that councilmembers often hear references to that kind of housing. But when a developer says the project is intended for workforce housing, Taylor said it’s rare for him to sit at the council table and say to himself, “Yeah, that’s right!” In this case, however, he felt that considering the design of the units and their size and the type of amenities that are being provided, it was, in fact, a workforce housing project. He said he looked forward to seeing construction.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that there’d been reviews of D2 zoning mentioned – the Zingerman’s Deli expansion. He reminded his council colleagues of the denial of a request to rezone a D2 parcel (conditionally to D1) on South University. [That denial by the council came at its April 16, 2012 meeting]. It was denied unanimously, he said, because of what that would have meant in terms of setting a precedent. Kunselman allowed that the 618 S. Main project as a “planned project” had a different standard. But he felt that the additional 25 feet allowed for the 618 S. Main project could be analyzed as “capricious and arbitrary.” And he felt the council could be setting itself up for something – in terms of “how we play with our local speculators” compared to other developers from outside Ann Arbor.

Kunselman also said he saw the evolution of the project very differently from the “Kumbaya of how … this speculator worked with the community.” Kunselman characterized it as no different from “a speculator with a big smile on his face and a knife in your back.” The strategy used by the developer, he said, was essentially, “You give me what I want, or I’ll give you what you don’t want.” Kunselman contended that the “by right” alternative that had been shown was not feasible and not marketable – so that scenario could not be used as a baseline against which to compare the “planned project.” Even the project that was being proposed was “on a string” financially, Kunselman said – which the brownfield financing analysis showed.

Kunselman said he didn’t share the impression others had of Ketelaar’s approach. Kunselman contended that Ketelaar did the same thing with the 601 S. Forest project. [Ketelaar was involved early on with that apartment project, now called the Landmark Building]. It started with a shorter building, was then proposed to be taller, and then everyone worked together to reduce the height. That was a building, Kunselman contended, that started the discussion about height limits. Now the height limits were to be adjusted for one particular “speculator,” Kunselman said.

Kunselman said he’d attended one of the citizens meetings and he mentioned that he’d be opposing the project. He said that the fear people expressed was astounding – that the developer would build something else that was worse. He repeated the phrase: “a knife to the back and smile on the face.” Development should start from a fresh slate of honesty and integrity, working with the community in a truly cooperative fashion, Kunselman said. He reiterated his concern that the city would be setting itself up to need to defend height limits in other situations. He concluded that he’d be opposing the project.

Hohnke noted that the 618 S. Main project is in Ward 5, which he and Anglin represent. It’s in a sensitive location, across from a historic district that has a significant amount of character, Hohnke said. But it’s also in the DDA district, which is the “official downtown,” he noted, where the community has said we want denser development. Hohnke was impressed with the collaborative process. He felt that in all his conversations, he never heard anything like a threat to build something worse, if this project was not approved. Hohnke noted that the extra height had resulted in a 60-100 foot setback on the Ashley Street side of the project, which he called an “enormous improvement.” He’d heard from a number of residents, who said they had a lot of concerns but were impressed by how input was incorporated by the development team – from a family that has lived near the project site for over 40 years.

Hohnke felt that the right balance had been achieved. He couldn’t imagine how a project could have been managed better than 618 S. Main.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the 618 S. Main site plan, with dissent from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

618 S. Main Brownfield Plan: Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) led off by summarizing the work that the Ann Arbor DDA’s $650,000 grant would pay for: Main Street streetscape improvement costs (including the stretch from Mosley to Ashley Mews, which is well north of the 618 S. Main site); a rain garden to infiltrate stormwater, as opposed to detention-and-release; and upsizing a water main.

Andrew Cluley, of WEMU, interviews Marcia Higgins after the meeting.

Andrew Cluley of WEMU interviews councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) after the June 18 meeting.

Higgins described the work on the streetscape improvements as an important part of transitioning from the proper downtown into the rest of the city, and described how the project would help establish a gateway to the city.

Higgins – who serves on the city council’s brownfield committee with Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) – reported that the committee had met twice to go over the project.

Higgins described the process for approval of the brownfield plan, which would need to go before the Washtenaw County brownfield redevelopment authority and the county board of commissioners before being forwarded to the state of Michigan. She ventured that within the next month or so, a decision would be made on the project by the state.

Higgins said that many brownfield projects would not go forward, if the brownfield financing were not available – because of the increased costs to the developer for cleanup of contamination. This isn’t the only project that needs this brownfield financing, Higgins said. She recalled that for the Zingerman’s Deli expansion, the owners of Zingerman’s had said that if they had not received approval of the brownfield plan, they would have needed to move out of the city of Ann Arbor – something she could not imagine.

The 618 S. Main project had met all the requirements. She asked the city’s environmental coordinator, Matt Naud, and the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford, to step to the podium and explain the project.

Crawford explained that the site is in the DDA tax capture district. The tax capture in the plan totals $3.7 million. Of that, Crawford said, about $400,000 is related to the city of Ann Arbor – and the rest is taxes from other jurisdictions.

In a previous brownfield project, Crawford said, the city had approved interest as a cost to be covered – during the period when the developer had not yet completed the project, and was borrowing money until the point when the project was completed and was generating the TIF that reimbursed the developer for eligible costs. However, the state decided not to approve the interest, which mean that the city of Ann Arbor had to cover the interest. So for the 618 S. Main project, Crawford explained, the city is only approving interest as an expense, if the state agrees that it’s eligible. If the state does not agree to cover the interest, Crawford said, then Ann Arbor is held harmless.

One of the criteria used to evaluate the project, Crawford said, is whether the return to the developer on his investment is reasonable, or if public dollars are being used to generate an excessive return to the developer. In this case, the return was estimated at around 6%, which is lower than the city had seen for other projects, Crawford said.

Responding to a question from Higgins, Crawford explained that the tax capture on the increment goes to the DDA, which would be used by the DDA as part of the grant it had made to the project. The city receives taxes on the additional property value over time that’s attributed to inflation, Crawford said.

Naud added that there also is economic development associated with the construction of the project. After the fourth year of the DDA grant, Naud continued, the DDA would be capturing the full increment and would have that money available to make further reinvestments in the downtown area. Naud characterized the brownfield plan as leveraging a relatively small local investment to get a larger investment from the state.

Mayor John Hieftje stressed that the local contribution being made by the DDA does not use funds that exist now, but rather uses the new taxes that the developer pays on the additional value of the property. Hieftje also wanted to stress that the DDA’s $650,000 TIF grant had been initially proposed to be $725,000. He had asked at the June 6, 2012 meeting of the DDA board [on which he sits] that money be removed that would have paid for elements required of the developer by city code. Hieftje pointed to enthusiasm for the streetscape improvements that Mike Anglin (Ward 5) had expressed early on.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that the topic had been discussed since March by the DDA partnerships committee, on which she serves. A policy and a set of guidelines had been developed in the context of the history of DDA grants. There was a consensus, Lumm said, that the DDA doesn’t finance projects that don’t need it. The initial request had been for $1.3 million, she noted. A lot of effort had gone into ensuring that support was being given for public benefits, not private developer costs. She felt that the only way the project would work is with the brownfield financing, and she supported the brownfield plan.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated he would not support the brownfield plan. Later in the meeting, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked Kunselman if something had changed since the time that Kunselman had voted for the brownfield plan as a member of the city council’s brownfield committee. Kunselman indicated that he viewed his committee vote as parallel to the way that city councilmembers will sometimes vote for an ordinance change on initial consideration – in order to move it forward for additional public discussion – but will vote against it on final consideration by the council.

Kunselman characterized the brownfield plan as “highly speculative.” He stated that the DDA grant in support of off-site improvements – the streetscape on Main Street northward to Ashley Mews – is breaking new ground when it comes to financing public infrastructure. He expressed concern that there’d be no local control over low bids for that work if the developer was undertaking it.

Kunselman also expressed concern about the use of federal HUD [U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development] financing. Kunselman noted that there’s another project in town that is hoping for HUD financing – on the site of the former Georgetown Mall. Given that there are other developments moving forward in downtown Ann Arbor with market-rate financing, Kunselman wondered why HUD financing was being used.

Kunselman also noted that Crawford had described how the rate of return for the developer is low – which Kunselman concluded meant that the project is speculative.

Kunselman also expressed concern about the Armen Cleaners site – at the northwest corner of Mosley and Ashley – which is contaminated. Once a hole is dug for underground parking, Kunselman contended, it changes the hydrology underground. The 618 S. Main project is not intended to clean up the Armen Cleaners site. Groundwater is 15 feet below grade, Kunselman said, based on Village Green’s City Apartments site at First and Washington. A number of changes had to be made to the City Apartments project, in order to accommodate the groundwater, he said. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if Ketelaar later asks for additional height to lift the building out of the groundwater.

Kunselman also ventured that the pollution from Armen Cleaners might be induced to spread after the hole is dug for 618 S. Main – because water follows the path of least resistance. He allowed that “smart people” will tell us that this has been analyzed and that this scenario won’t happen, but Kunselman insisted that “we don’t know.”

Kunselman dismissed the reduction of the DDA’s TIF grant from $725,000 to $650,000 as “a pittance” compared to the amount of money that will be going into the project.

He also expressed concern that the 618 S. Main project would be competing with Georgetown Mall for brownfield and HUD money. [Later during deliberations, Higgins got clarification from Matt Naud, the city's environmental coordinator, that the two projects were not in competition – because the brownfield plan for the Georgetown Mall site has already been approved by the state.] He called the brownfield plan “padding” for the developer.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that she’d attended several DDA partnerships meetings. At those meetings, she reported, Kunselman’s question about modeling the hydrology for the impact of 618 S. Main on the contamination at Armen Cleaners had been raised, and answered. John Byl, attorney with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP who’s worked for the development team on the brownfield aspects of the project, told Kunselman it’s an excellent question and it had been raised. Hydro-geologists had been retained and a report had been submitted to the DDA – the conclusion was that it wouldn’t have an impact on the Armen Cleaners site.

Anglin asked about the wells that were used to monitor the site. He expressed skepticism that there was significant contamination at the site that would warrant brownfield status.

Kunselman came back to the question of the impact of groundwater on the 618 S. Main construction. He wanted to know if the model that concluded there’d be no impact on the Armen Cleaners site included any pumping of groundwater associated with dewatering of the site. Byl indicated that not a lot of dewatering was expected, but Kunselman expressed skepticism that would be the case. Bob Wanty of Washtenaw Engineering told Kunselman that the amount of dewatering was expected to be nominal. The footings are about two feet above the high water elevation, so there’d be minimal dewatering for footings. “And if you’re wrong?” asked Kunselman. “That’s what the tests show,” Wanty replied.

Kunselman wanted to know if additional dewatering was needed, if that changed the model for the impact on the Armen Cleaners site. Wanty explained that a trimming seal would be put down so that not a lot of dewatering would be necessary. Kunselman asked additional questions that confirmed there would be a connection to the city’s stormwater system to provide for the possibility that the rain garden’s capacity for infiltration was exceeded.

City of Ann Arbor chief financial officerTom Crawford (back to camera) returns to the podium after conferring with the 618 S. Main development team to get an answer to a question from Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

City of Ann Arbor chief financial officer Tom Crawford (back to camera) returns to the podium after conferring with the 618 S. Main development team to get an answer to a question from Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Responding to questions from Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Naud clarified that not all of the eligible expenses that a brownfield plan can cover are just environmental cleanup. A brownfield plan can also cover the additional costs associated with infill development. He also clarified that the burden is on the developer – because you have to actually build something, achieve an increment in value on the property, and then the taxes paid by the developer on that increment are what drive the financing in the brownfield plan. Only the actual expenses incurred by the developer are reimbursed. The taxes the city is already receiving would continue to be received, Naud said. Compared to other communities, Naud said, Ann Arbor does a lot of review for these proposals.

Responding to a question from Hohnke, Naud indicated that there would be full remediation of contaminated soils on a “dig and haul” basis.

Lumm commended the DDA for the development of their brownfield policy, which took two months to craft. She stressed that the brownfield money is not paid upfront. It can’t be used to cover the developer’s land cost, for example.

Anglin asked Crawford how much of the project was hoped to be financed through HUD. After conferring with Ketelaar, Crawford told Anglin about 75-80%.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the 618 S. Main brownfield plan, with dissent from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Medical Marijuana Licensing Ordinance

On the city council’s June 18 agenda were revisions to Ann Arbor’s medical marijuana licensing ordinance – which the council enacted a year ago on June 20, 2011.

The proposed ordinance revisions, recommended by the city’s medical marijuana licensing board at its Jan. 31, 2012 meeting, had already been considered and postponed once before, at the council’s April 2, 2012 meeting. The licenses that the board recommended be granted to 10 dispensaries citywide – recommendations also made at the board’s Jan. 31 meeting – have not yet come before the city council for final action.

The board-recommended revisions to the medical marijuana licensing ordinance are laid out in detail in The Chronicle’s coverage of the medical marijuana licensing board’s Jan. 31, 2012 meeting. [.pdf of recommended licensing ordinance revisions] Representative of the revisions is a change that strikes the role of city staff in evaluating the completeness of a license application. The following phrase, for example, would be struck: “Following official confirmation by staff that the applicant has submitted a complete application …” The changes also establish a cap of 20 licenses, and grant the city council the ability to waive certain requirements.

Mayor John Hieftje and Sabra Briere (Ward 1)

Mayor John Hieftje and councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

Council deliberations were brief. A move to postpone the medical marijuana ordinance revisions came at the start of deliberations, and was made by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who serves as the city council’s representative to the medical marijuana licensing board. In arguing for postponement, she cited pending state legislation for regulating medical marijuana that could result in a need to further amend the city’s ordinance. Pending legislation includes House Bill 5681 (which would amend the public health code and create a “pharmaceutical-grade cannabis program”) and House Bill 5580 (which would give local authorities the option to allow dispensaries and testing facilities).

Briere invited city attorney Stephen Postema to comment on the pending legislation. He described the local option as allowing municipalities to regulate dispensaries in a manner similar to the way that Ann Arbor does. He expressed uncertainty about the likelihood that some of the legislation would pass – given that an amendment to a voter-initiated piece of legislation, like the 2008 Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, requires a 75% majority vote in the Michigan legislature.

Briere moved for postponement.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone action on revisions to the medical marijuana licensing ordinance until Oct. 1.

FY 2012 Budget Adjustments

The council was asked to amend the budget for its current fiscal year to bring actual expenditures in line with budgeted amounts – so that the city’s various funds do not show an excess in expenditures over budgeted amounts for the year. The amendments are necessary in order to conform with Act 621 of 1978 (Uniform Budgeting and Accounting Act).

The council’s action bumped the general fund expense budget from $79,642,485 to $80,993,946 – an increase of $1,351,461. According to a staff memo accompanying the budget resolution, city staff are still projecting that a little less than $0.5 million of fund balance will need to be used for the year, due to other offsetting expenses.

For the general fund, some of the larger adjustments included: tax refunds higher than budgeted ($444,700); police services severances greater than budgeted ($250,000); two unbudgeted elections ($165,000) and a golf fund subsidy that was higher than budgeted ($131,761). [.pdf of all adjustments]

The bulk of the adjustment outside the city’s general fund was for bond refinancing at a lower interest rate ($2,758,100).

Council deliberations were brief. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) indicated she did not have a problem with the adjustments. But she indicated to city chief financial officer Tom Crawford that in a prior communication to the council, Crawford had been more confident that the city would end the year by essentially breaking even. She asked if the projected deficit [of $0.5 million] reflected Crawford being conservative or if things had actually deteriorated a bit.

Crawford told Lumm that he still felt the city would be close to breaking even. The reason the amendment is necessary, Crawford said, is that expenditures are approved by fund and by agency – and favorable news in one area can’t automatically offset negative news in another area, due to the way that expenses are approved. He believed the city would come close to breaking even, despite that evening’s necessary amendments to the budget.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the FY 2012 budget adjustments.

Human Services Allocations

The council was asked to authorize allocations totaling $1,244,629 to different nonprofits that provide human services. The amount was set as part of the FY 2013 budget, which the city council approved on May 22, 2012. That amount reflected a $46,899 increase to the amount in the proposed budget – an increase that was approved with the budget on May 22.

The process of making allocations followed a “coordinated funding” approach, as the city worked in concert with the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, the United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw County, and the Washtenaw Urban County to make the allocations. That approach was approved by the city council on Nov. 4, 2010.

The total amount allocated through the coordinated funding process is expected to be $4,285,089, from the following sources: Ann Arbor ($1,244,629); United Way of Washtenaw County ($1,677,000); Washtenaw County ($1,015,000); and Washtenaw Urban County ($348,460).

Proposals from nonprofits for funding exceeded the amount allocated by $2,295,428. The five priority areas used to evaluate proposals were aging, early childhood, housing & homelessness, safety-net health, and school-aged youth. A sixth priority area (hunger relief) was identified as a “sole-source activity” that’s provided by Food Gatherers, and wasn’t included in the evaluation process.

The largest awards made to 73 different programs included: $276,766 from the United Way to The Corner Health Center’s patient assistance and care management program; $204,892 from the United Way Safety Net Health Services to Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw’s program for maintaining the independence of older adults; $207,551 from the city of Ann Arbor to the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County’s residential program. [Google Spreadsheet of all awards compiled by The Chronicle]

Deliberations were brief. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said it was a pleasure to serve on the city’s housing and human services advisory board with Sandi Smith (Ward 1). Lumm said she was pleased that the budget was amended to increase the allocation. She described the allocation process as “robust” and said it ensured that the dollars are used wisely and leveraged as much as possible. She said the coordinated funding approach works well and that the amounts allocated to the different nonprofits were “reasonable and studied.”

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to make the $1,244,629 in human services allocations.

Trucks and Plows

The council considered the purchase of 11 dump trucks and four front plows from Wolverine Truck Sales. The total cost of the vehicles and equipment was $1,548,376.

The 11 trucks to be replaced with the new vehicles are described in a staff memo accompanying the resolution as averaging $14,000 in repairs each for the last five years. Most of them date from 1999-2001. The dump bodies for some of the trucks are described as rusted out to the point that they would need to be replaced – at a cost of $30,000.

The plows to be replaced date from 1979–1981, and have a fixed angle. The new plows will have an angle that’s adjustable by the driver from inside the cab.

The money for the trucks and plows will be taken from the approved FY 2012 budget for fleet and facilities.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that the expenditure is not insignificant. She said she had inquired about the city’s vehicle inventory and felt the size of the fleet is not unreasonable for a community Ann Arbor’s size.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted the possible $30,000 per truck cost for some of the repairs and the ongoing repair costs for the vehicles. She also highlighted the fact that the city is anticipating that the trucks the city is purchasing will last longer because they have stainless steel bodies. The best part, Briere said, is the replacement of the snowplows – because instead of a fixed angle, they’ll be adjustable. Drivers will have a lot more control to tackle whatever snow we have, she concluded. Mayor John Hieftje said he appreciated the point Briere had made about the stainless steel.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the purchase of the 11 trucks and 4 snowplows.

Stormwater Study

The council was asked to approve a $822,700 contract with CDM Michigan Inc. for a stormwater analysis project. The project has five phases: (1) collect stormwater GIS data; (2) integrate the GIS with the model information and gather general monitoring data; (3) engage the public and perform preliminary model calibration; (4) gather comprehensive monitoring data and finalize model calibration; and (5) analyze modeling results and engage creekshed groups/neighborhoods.

In 2007, CDM was hired to complete the first two phases of the project. The contract considered by the council on June 18 is supposed to allow completion of the project.

Outcome: The council approved the stormwater study without discussion.

Ann Arbor SPARK Contract

The council considered a $75,000 contract with the economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK.

The contract has been renewed annually since the Washtenaw Development Council and Ann Arbor SPARK merged in 2006. Previously, Ann Arbor had contracted with the WDC for business support services for which it now contracts with SPARK. On June 20, 2005, the city council authorized that one-year contract with WDC for $40,000. This year’s $75,000 contract with SPARK describes the organization’s focus the same way it did last year, as “building our innovation-focused community through continual proactive support of entrepreneurs, regional businesses, university tech transfer offices, and networking organizations.”

Ann Arbor SPARK is also the contractor hired by the city’s local development finance authority (LDFA) to operate a business accelerator for the city’s SmartZone, one of 11 such districts established in the early 2000s by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC). The SmartZone is funded by a tax increment finance (TIF) mechanism, which in the current fiscal year captured around $1.5 million in taxes from a TIF district (the union of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority districts, though revenue is generated only in Ann Arbor’s district.) The specific taxes on which the increment since 2002 is captured are the school operating and state education taxes, which would otherwise be sent to the state and then redistributed back to local school districts.

For recent Chronicle reporting on the LDFA and its relationship with SPARK, see: “SmartZone Group OKs SPARK Contract.”

SPARK’s contract was included on the city council’s consent agenda, which consists of items involving less than $100,000. Consent agenda items are considered routine, and are voted on as a set. Any councilmember can pull out an individual item for separate discussion, which Sabra Briere (Ward 1) chose to do for the SPARK contract.

She had posed some questions about the contract before the meeting, which Skip Simms, SPARK’s vice president for entrepreneurial business development, had answered. So at the meeting, Briere asked Simms to the podium to provide the answers publicly. Simms did not have the written material in front of him, and Briere ended up essentially reporting on the information she’d received.

In summary strokes, she’d been told that in 2011 SPARK specifically recruited 20 companies to locate in Ann Arbor, and of those 20, 12 had moved into the city of Ann Arbor. Of those 12, according to SPARK, five had no knowledge, relationships or inclination to locate in Ann Arbor before 2011.

The companies that moved to Ann Arbor employ a total of 143 people.

Briere asked what kind of companies these are that moved to Ann Arbor. Simms explained that they are primarily technology and IT-based – software developers, for example. Simms indicated that the reason such companies relocated to Ann Arbor is that Ann Arbor has that kind of talent. In most cases, Simms continued, the companies are expanding. That expansion is sometimes accomplished by transferring an executive to Ann Arbor, who then starts up a new location for the company in Ann Arbor.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that the city has had this line item to contract with SPARK for several years, and noted that it had been increased a few years ago to $75,000 per year. She indicated she was happy to support the contract – because SPARK was able to entice companies to relocate to Ann Arbor with only a minimal amount of money. Simms contended that with $405,000 of city of Ann Arbor support over the last five years, SPARK had aided companies that had committed to $177 million worth of build-out, investments in projects and new equipment, and those companies have created 3,886 jobs, he said.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked Simms for responding to the questions and told Simms that SPARK is great at what it does. She also noted that SPARK is partnering with the Pure Michigan campaign. Simms described a video that SPARK has produced that will promote the whole area. Lumm said the work that SPARK does – to help start-up companies and incubate new companies – is important. She allowed that it’s difficult to measure, but contended that SPARK is bringing added value. Lumm indicated she’d seen the video, which she praised as looking like something straight out of Madison Avenue.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the $75,000 SPARK allocation.

Ann Arbor Contract with Lobbyist

At its June 18 meeting, the city council was asked to approve a $48,000 contract with Governmental Consultant Services Inc., a Lansing-based lobbying firm. It’s a one-year contract for fiscal year 2013, which starts July 1, 2012. The funds were part of the city administrator’s office budget, in the FY 2013 budget approved by council on May 22, 2012. The contract is the same amount as last year.

According to a staff memo accompanying the resolution, “GCSI has provided excellent work in the areas of legislation monitoring along with advocating fire protection grants and comprehensive corridor planning.”

GCSI’s Kirk Profit, a former member of the state House of Representatives representing the eastern part of Washtenaw County, typically makes an annual presentation to the council with an update on state-level legislative issues relevant to the city’s budget situation. Written updates to councilmembers on legislative activity are sent on a weekly or daily basis.

GCSI also has a contract with Washtenaw County and several other local units of government.

The GCSI contract was included on the city council’s consent agenda, which are items involving less than $100,000. Consent agenda items are considered routine, and are voted on as a set. No one pulled out this item for separate discussion.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the GCSI lobbying contract as part of its consent agenda.

Nominations: Boards and Commissions

Four nominations were made at the council meeting – to the planning commission, the greenbelt advisory commission and the environmental commission. Nominations to the planning commission are made by the mayor, with confirmation by a vote of the city council at the meeting following the nomination. Most of the other boards and commissions of the city follow that pattern.

However, nominations to the environmental commission and the greenbelt advisory commission are made by the council as a body and then also voted on by the council. The council will vote on all four nominations at its July 2, 2012 meeting.

Planning Commission: Ken Clein, Kirk Westphal

Mayor John Hieftje announced his nomination to replace Erica Briggs on the city planning commission: Ken Clein, a principal with Quinn Evans Architects. Briggs did not seek re-appointment.

Among the architectural projects Clein has worked on locally are the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium renovation, the new Ann Arbor municipal center, and the Zingerman’s Deli expansion.

Hieftje also announced that he was nominating Kirk Westphal for re-appointment to the planning commission.

The city council will vote on the appointments of Clein and Westphal at its July 2 meeting. City planning commissioners serve three-year terms.

Environmental Commission: John German

The council’s nomination to re-appoint John German to the city’s environmental commission was made by Sabra Briere (Ward 1). She is the city council’s appointee to that commission. German’s term expired in August 2011, but he has continued to serve. The council will be asked at its next meeting to re-appoint him retroactively for a three-year term ending on Aug. 7, 2014.

German’s background includes work with Chrysler, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Honda, and the International Council for Clean Transportation.

Ann Arbor’s environmental commission was established 12 years ago through a city ordinance, with the charge to “advise and make recommendations to the city council and city administrator on environmental policy, environmental issues and environmental implications of all city programs and proposals on the air, water, land and public health.”

Greenbelt Advisory Commission: Archer Christian

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), the city council appointee to the greenbelt advisory commission, announced Archer Christian as the council’s nomination to replace Mike Garfield on the city’s greenbelt advisory commission. Garfield is director of the Ecology Center, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, and Ms. Christian is the center’s development director. The council will vote on the nomination at its July 2 meeting.

The greenbelt advisory commission oversees the proceeds generated by two-thirds of the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage, which is levied at a rate of 0.5 mills.

Garfield is term-limited as a GAC member, having served two consecutive three-year terms. The spot vacated by Garfield is not designated for a representative of the Ecology Center. However, the 109-member commission includes two slots for representatives of environmental and/or conservation groups.

In his remarks at the June 18 council meeting, Hohnke highlighted Christian’s masters degree in crop and soil science. Hohnke also praised Garfield’s service on land preservation from the very beginning of the greenbelt initiative and thanked Garfield for his many years of leadership.

At GAC’s June 7 meeting, Christian briefly had addressed the commission, saying that as long as she can remember, she has wanted to be a farmer. Being able to translate that passion into helping preserve land in the greenbelt would be an honor, she told them. She gave a brief overview of her background, including the fact that she started at the Ecology Center four years ago as grants director, and became development director in January of 2012.

Christian told commissioners that she’s lived in Ann Arbor for eight and a half years, and it feels like home. Being in a forward-thinking community is a delight beyond measure, she said. [.pdf of Christian's résumé]

Communications and Comment

Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.

Comm/Comm: Ann Arbor Marathon

As a part of his city administrator’s report, Steve Powers noted the running of the Ann Arbor marathon, which had taken place the previous day.

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers.

A number of complaints had been received about disruption caused by the race. Powers asked councilmembers to forward complaints from constituents to him. The city staff is reviewing the event and would appreciate hearing from councilmembers’ constituents, Powers said.

Comm/Comm: Green Streets

During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Valerie Strassberg introduced herself as chair of the city’s water committee, a subset of the environmental commission. She called the city council’s attention to a communications item on the agenda. That item includes the environmental commission’s resolution in support of a green streets policy. She hoped Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who serves as the city council’s representative to the environmental commission, will bring that resolution forward to the council for the July 2 meeting. The idea of the green streets initiative is for city staff to look at green streets as a formal process. Right now, when the city reconstruct roads, the project includes a look at what can be done to integrate green infrastructure – planting vegetation, bioswales, curbs, bump-outs and other devices to control runoff.

From the communications item Strassberg mentioned:

The terms Green Streets or Green Infrastructure are adaptable terms used to describe an array of products, technologies, and practices that use natural systems – or engineered systems that mimic natural processes – to enhance overall environmental quality and provide utility services. Green Streets usually treat and/or infiltrate storm water which improves water quality and reduces the volume and rate at which stormwater leaves the street.

Currently, those features are considered when the city undertakes a project, she said, but it’s not the norm. Sylvan Avenue [which was reconstructed using permeable pavement] is an example, as is the city hall’s rain garden. But those are the exceptions, she said, not the norm. The resolution would allow staff to explore opportunities to make those kind of features “the norm,” Strassberg said. She asked councilmembers to give the resolution consideration when it comes across their desks.

The environmental commission’s resolution includes the “resolved” clause that asks the city council to give direction to the city staff:

RESOLVED, that the Ann Arbor Environmental Commission is fully supportive of the Green Streets Initiative of the Environmental Commission Water Committee, and hereby recommends Ann Arbor City Council directs City Staff (from the Systems Planning, Project Management, and Field Operations Units of Public Services; Parks and Recreation, and Planning from Community Services) to work with the Environmental Commission in the development of a Green Streets policy.

Later in the meeting, Briere indicated she intended to bring forward a green streets resolution to the council’s July 2 meeting.

Comm/Comm: Countywide Transit

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported to her colleagues on the result of a committee meeting held earlier that day on possible amendments to the 4-party agreement and articles of incorporation that are associated with a possible expansion of governance and service area of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The four parties to the agreement are the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA.

The cities and the AATA have approved the documents. But now the Washtenaw County board of commissioners has begun to focus on the document details. Briere noted that a June 14 working session of the county board, which had included AATA staff and legal counsel, had resulted in the airing of specific concerns by commissioners, who had suggested amendments to the documents. [Chronicle coverage: "Differences on Countywide Transit Debated"]

A committee with representation from each of the parties met the afternoon of June 18, Briere reported. [Members of the committee are: Sabra Briere and Christopher Taylor (Ann Arbor city council); Paul Schreiber and Pete Murdock (Ypsilanti mayor/city council); Conan Smith and Alicia Ping (Washtenaw County board); Jesse Bernstein and Charles Griffith (AATA board); David Read and David Phillips (U196 board).]

The committee’s consensus was that the possible amendments would not be brought before the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti or the board of the AATA at this time, and that the original language would be allowed to stand. The choice of phrasing by Briere resulted in some confusion.

Later in the Ann Arbor city council meeting, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) clarified that there will still be a formal vote by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Taylor stressed that it’s a matter of the other three parties declining to bring the county board’s amendments to their respective bodies.

Comm/Comm: Local Action on Energy Conservation

During public commentary, Kermit Schlansker told the council that the real argument about global warming is whether we should try to save energy or not. The Ann Arbor city council has shown almost no interest in saving the planet for our children, he said. Unless there’s a decided shift in local government goals, we’ll gradually become poorer and poorer as national resources become more scarce. Europe uses about half the energy per capita that U.S. residents do, he said. That’s because there are more apartment houses in Europe and more compact cities, more public transportation and smaller cars, he said.

An apartment house is an energy conservation device that “costs nothing and can live for 1,000 years,” Schlansker said. The whole cost of the building can be charged to habitation, which means the energy costs nothing, he said. An apartment building saves energy by using about 25% of the heating energy as a house, he said. More compact cities reduce the need for travel, and there is ready access to farmland, so that people can grow food.

The city needs to start a project consisting of an apartment house on farmland – because that’s the only way we can care for poor people in the coming time of universal poverty, Schlansker said. He called for planting trees as the best way to store carbon. Fruit and nut trees can be planted to provide cheap food for future generations. Local generation of food by the local population is a must, he said. Sewage needs to go back into farmland, not into the rivers, he said. Engineering research groups need to be formed to create energy-saving devices.

Schlansker concluded by saying that the problems of the future are just as much the responsibility of local governments as they are for the federal government. All the steps necessary for energy sustainability – aside from nuclear power – are a “part of local living,” Schlansker said. He suggested that the role of governments is to create models of ideal systems that could be implemented by private enterprise. If local governments do some of the right things, he said, President Barack Obama will follow – but “he needs our help.”

Comm/Comm: Crosswalks, Sight Distance

Kathy Griswold told the council she wanted to provide them with an update on two topics she’s commented on in the past. The first was a sidewalk construction project near King Elementary School that would allow moving the crosswalk from a midblock point to an intersection where there’s a four-way stop. [The new sidewalk would extend from the northeast corner the Waldenwood and Penberton intersection to a path that continues to the school building.] Griswold described the project as funded and at one point staked out, but then was stopped. She told the council that the city staff had determined the crossing was unsafe, and had thus deployed a crossing guard at that location, which she described as requiring recurring dollars. If crossing guards were to be provided, she said, then all locations should be considered and prioritized based on those that are the most dangerous.

Griswold also objected to the continued mowing by the city of private property near streets. Griswold told the council that former public services area administrator Sue McCormick had told Griswold that it bothered her, too. When visibility is obstructed, she said, private property owners need to be notified so that the private property owners can take care of it. She highlighted Glacier Way and Huron Parkway as areas that need attention.

Comm/Comm: Camp Take Notice

Thomas Partridge told the council he was there as a resident of city of Ann Arbor and of the county, as a grandfather, and as a Democratic candidate for 53rd District of the Michigan house of representatives. He called for expansion of integrated human services, including affordable housing – in the context of what he described as the housing crisis of Camp Take Notice, an encampment off of Wagner Road [on state-owned land in Scio Township]. He called for emergency housing shelter as well as transitional housing. He called for an expansion of affordable transportation – countywide and regionwide. He told councilmembers they should set special interests like medical marijuana aside.

Partridge said it was important to work to re-elect President Barack Obama, to advance the goals of Ann Arbor, the state and the nation. Returning to the topic of Camp Take Notice, he said that now is a time of crisis for the people who live there, living in a tent city without protection from the environment. They’re under a brutal eviction order from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, he said. [The camp is on MDOT land.] Partridge called on Gov. Rick Snyder to revoke the eviction order.

Later in the meeting, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked mayor John Hieftje to give an update on Camp Take Notice. Hieftje indicated that MDOT is working with all human services providers in the community at the city, county, and state levels. Housing vouchers will be provided, he said. The Delonis Center will provide some help for people in transition. And all-out effort is being made to make sure a place is found for everyone. Hieftje said he expected conditions will be better than at camp itself. [As an example, at its June 6, 2012 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners authorized a grant agreement for up to $60,000 in emergency housing assistance for residents facing eviction from Camp Take Notice.]

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Absent: Sandi Smith.

Next council meeting: Monday, July 2, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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One Comment

  1. By Dan Ezekiel
    June 25, 2012 at 8:08 am | permalink

    For the record, the Greenbelt Advisory Commission has nine (not ten) members. Also, although commissioners are limited to two three-year terms as stated in the article, the original commissioners’ (including Mike Garfield’s) first terms were exempt from that limitation, so Garfield served three terms, his initial two-year term, followed by two full three-year terms.

    Thanks as always for the amazing detail and thoroughness of your article.