Council Meeting: Floods, Fires, Demolition

Also: Knight's rezoning; county transit; step for Barracuda tax break

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Aug. 9, 2012) Part 2: Ballot initiatives for the Nov. 6, 2012 election – two about parks and one on public art – were the dominant theme of the council’s meeting. Those are covered in Part 1 of the meeting report.

Mayor John Hieftje and city administrator Steve Powers

From left: Mayor John Hieftje and city administrator Steve Powers before the start of the Aug. 9, 2012 council meeting.

But the council transacted several other pieces of business as well, some of which could be grouped into the general thematic pattern of land and property use. Most obviously connected to land use was the council’s initial approval of a rezoning request in connection with an expansion proposal from Knight’s Market, at the corner of Miller and Spring streets. The rezoning would allow a house to be converted into a bakery. It would also allow for eventual approval of a site plan to build a 1,200-square-foot addition to the existing grocery store and to expand, reconfigure, and improve the existing parking lot.

The council also passed a resolution to deal with an issue stemming, in part, from land use decisions made decades ago that resulted in residential development in the area of the Malletts Creek drainage district. Recently, residents in the area have been faced with severe localized flooding. The council’s resolution directed staff to start negotiations with the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner to identify “opportunities for stormwater conveyance and stormwater quality improvement in the area of the Malletts Creek drainage district.”

Related at least tangentially to land use at the level of a specific parcel was a resolution the council passed establishing the property at 317 Maynard in downtown Ann Arbor as an industrial development district. The move sets the stage for an expected application from the future tenant of the space, owned by First Martin Corp., for a tax abatement that would be worth around $85,000. The tenant is Barracuda Networks.

And the council took another step in implementing a strategy to eliminate blight. The city had previously set aside funds that could be used to demolish blighted buildings – if the city is unsuccessful in getting property owners to demolish them. The council’s action last Thursday authorized the city to sign contracts with four different companies to do such demolition work on an as-needed basis. It was announced at the meeting that the houses on North Main – at the site of the planned Near North affordable housing project – will likely be among the first to be demolished under the contracts authorized by the council.

To the extent that transportation systems have an impact on future land use, another item related to land use was a reapproval of the articles of incorporation for a possible new countywide transportation authority. The articles of incorporation are part of a four-party agreement to establish a framework for possibly expanding the governance and service area of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

The four-party agreement is between the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA. The Ann Arbor council changed the minimum threshold of votes required on the proposed new 15-member transit authority board, an action that brought the council in line with a version that the Washtenaw County board of commissioners had approved earlier this month. That threshold was increased from a 2/3 majority (10 votes) to a 4/5 majority (12 votes).

In other business, the council authorized the hiring of three additional firefighters for the next two years, using a federal grant. It also authorized the purchase of a new aerial fire truck.

Nominations to city boards and commissions made at the meeting included reappointment of Sandi Smith, Roger Hewitt and Keith Orr to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. And Sally Petersen, who won the Ward 2 Democratic primary on Aug. 7, was nominated for the city’s commission on disability issues.

The council also heard public commentary on a range of topics, including smart meters and the idea of corporations as people. 

Knight’s Market Rezoning

The council was asked to consider a rezoning request that would allow for expansion of Knight’s Market.

Knight’s Market Rezoning: Background

The market is located at the northeast corner of Spring and Miller. The market’s owner, Ray Knight, also owns two separate, adjacent parcels. (Knight is perhaps best known for his family’s restaurant, Knight’s Steakhouse, located at 2324 Dexter Ave.) The grocery store is on land zoned C1 (local business) and M1 (light industrial). Another parcel at 306-308 Spring St. is zoned R2A (two-family dwelling) and M1, and contains two single-family homes and part of a parking lot. The third parcel at 310 Spring St. is zoned R2A and MI, and contains the other half of the store’s parking lot. All three parcels are currently non-conforming in some way, according to a staff report, and are located in the 100-year Allen Creek floodplain.

The proposal from Knight’s involves several steps. The request calls for 306, 308 and 310 Spring to be rezoned to C1. That rezoning would allow the building at 306 Spring to be converted into a bakery, although the intent is to leave the exterior of the house intact. The rezoning would also allow for approval of a site plan to build a 1,200-square-foot addition to the existing grocery store and to expand and reconfigure the existing parking lot. In addition, the plan requests that 418 Miller Ave. – the site of the existing grocery – also be rezoned to C1.

The proposed work to the parking lot includes providing three additional spaces (for a total of 17 parking spaces), a designated snow pile storage area, solid waste and recycling container storage enclosure, right-of-way screening, conflicting land use buffer, and rain gardens for storm water management. An unused curbcut on Miller Avenue would be removed and the curb and lawn extension would be restored there. A temporary storage building at 418 Miller would be removed. The house at 310 Spring would remain a single-family dwelling. The city planning commission recommended the rezoning on a 6-1 vote at its June 19, 2012 meeting.

Knight’s Market Rezoning: Council Deliberations

When the council came to the item, mayor John Hieftje looked first to Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) to move the item, but Sabra Briere (Ward 1) interjected, noting that the market was on the Ward 1 side of the street. So Hieftje gave Briere and her wardmate Sandi Smith the privilege of moving and seconding the motion.

Briere noted that both Ward 1 and Ward 5 residents shop at the market and ventured that there are also people who drive to the market as well. She had attended one public meeting about the proposal. She noted that neighbors were very supportive of Knight’s Market, but had questions about the potential impact on the neighborhood. Generally, their concern is about what happens if the property is rezoned and then changes hands, so that Knight’s Market is no longer the owner.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2)

Left to right: During a break, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) joke about the smartphone app Smith uses to time speaking turns of other councilmembers. There have been occasions when Smith has not been joking when she has raised the point of order on Lumm’s speaking turns.

Smith said she’d had a number of conversations with people in the neighborhood – and they’re very supportive of having a local grocer right there and available. That fits well into the zoning, she said, and the idea of fringe commercial abutting the residential area. She heard strong support for it, she said.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who is the city council’s representative to the planning commission, noted that the commission had had a thorough discussion of the issue. He called the characterizations by Briere and Smith as very accurate. It reminded him of the proposal that Zingerman’s Deli had made, when the neighbors had been carefully consulted. Neighbors had raised some issues – not in an attempt to stop the project – but there’d been an outpouring of approval, he said. Questions had been asked and answered, he said. He felt that “commercial crawl” could not occur because of the natural boundaries that would preclude it.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) noted that the goal was to establish a bakery that would serve the restaurant and the retail store. He noted that it’s meant to strike a balance between land use goals. He said he lived in a neighborhood where he could, without a car, still walk to places and find places to buy enough to eat and drink. But there are neighborhoods where that’s not possible. He said that Knight’s Market is a place that makes that possible, and that Knight’s is a good neighbor.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) also indicated his support for the rezoning request. There used to be a store on Miner between Hiscock and Felch, he recalled, and he was not sure if the city’s zoning still allows for such mom-and-pop type stores. It’s important that the city have opportunities for a walkable, diverse and sustainable community. It’s not something the council would do frequently, he said, but in this case it’s important to do.

Hieftje noted that Knight’s Market has survived for a long time and is kind of a throwback to the past. If you look around Ann Arbor you can find buildings that were at one time a corner store in a neighborhood. As zoning changed, we’ve moved away from that concept, but in select areas, it might be possible to move back toward that approach, he said. Neighborhood stores like Washtenaw Dairy, Jefferson Market and Knight’s Market are a real asset, he said.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) added she was the “daughter of a grocery man” and called the market a wonderful amenity that everyone in Ann Arbor values. When she goes there, it’s a reminder of what her father did. She appreciated the discussions that had occurred and the support that people were showing for it.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the Knight’s Market rezoning request. Because the request involves a rezoning – a change to the city’s set of ordinances – the council will need to give a second, final approval at a subsequent meeting, following a formal public hearing.

Development District 317 Maynard

On the Aug. 9 agenda was a resolution to establish a new industrial development district for the downtown Ann Arbor property at 317 Maynard St., which sets up the opportunity for Barracuda Networks to apply for a tax abatement as it moves from its current location on Depot Street to the downtown site.

Under Michigan’s Act 198 of 1974, the next step for that abatement, on application from Barracuda, will be for the city council to set a public hearing on the abatement. After the public hearing, the council could then grant the abatement, which is estimated to be valued at around $85,000.

At its July 2 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council had voted to set the Aug. 9 public hearing on the industrial development district. A letter dated June 1, 2012 from First Martin to the Ann Arbor city clerk requested the establishment of the district. First Martin is the owner of the property at 317 Maynard.

From Act 198, it’s the property owner – in this case, First Martin – that files for the establishment of the IDD.

207.554 Plant rehabilitation district or industrial development district; establishment; number of parcels; filing; notice; hearing; finding and determination; district established by township; industrial property as part of industrial development district or plant rehabilitation district also part of tax increment district; termination; notice.
Sec. 4. (1) A local governmental unit, by resolution of its legislative body, may establish plant rehabilitation districts and industrial development districts that consist of 1 or more parcels or tracts of land or a portion of a parcel or tract of land. (2) The legislative body of a local governmental unit may establish a plant rehabilitation district or an industrial development district on its own initiative or upon a written request filed by the owner or owners of 75% of the state equalized value of the industrial property located within a proposed plant rehabilitation district or industrial development district. This request shall be filed with the clerk of the local governmental unit.

And according to Act 198, the tenant – in this case, Barracuda Networks – can file an application for the tax abatement.

207.555 Application for industrial exemption certificate; filing; contents; notice to assessing and taxing units; hearing; application fee.
Sec. 5. (1) After the establishment of a district, the owner or lessee of a facility may file an application for an industrial facilities exemption certificate with the clerk of the local governmental unit that established the plant rehabilitation district or industrial development district.

Development District 317 Maynard: Public Hearing

Only one person spoke at the public hearing on the establishment of the IDD – Thomas Partridge. He lamented the loss of vitally-needed tax money through abatements, and contended that because of this, schools are becoming challenged to maintain standards of education and retain adequate numbers of teachers, especially special education teachers. Partridge asked recipients of tax abatements to voluntarily curtail the period of the tax rebates or forgo them. He allowed that the community needs jobs, but also needs to support our most vulnerable residents.

Development District 317 Maynard: Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), chair of the council’s budget committee, reported that the committee had met to consider the issue, but several committee members had not been able to attend. [Higgins participated in the committee meeting by speaker phone. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) attended in person, and was joined by city administrator Steve Powers, chief financial officer Tom Crawford, and Luke Bonner, an economic development specialist with Ann Arbor SPARK.]

317 Maynard is highlighted in yellow.

317 Maynard is highlighted in yellow.

Aerial photo of 317 Maynard. The office space is located under the Maynard Street parking garage

Aerial photo of 317 Maynard. The office space is located under the Maynard Street parking garage.

Higgins reviewed the distinction between the establishment of the district and the granting of the tax abatement: The parcel’s owner had applied for the establishment of the district, while the tenant, Barracuda, would be applying for the abatement.

The council was only authorizing the establishment of the district, she stressed. Only when the district is established, she said, would Barracuda be able to apply for the abatement. At that point, the city council’s budget committee would meet and review the application for an abatement.

Briere noted that some members of the community had been confused about who gets the benefit of the tax abatement, so she appreciated the explanation Higgins had offered. She noted that in the past, some districts had been established where no tenant had taken up the opportunity to apply for an abatement.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he was sorry that he couldn’t attend the budget committee, but wondered if there were some preliminary figures. Higgins told him that some preliminary figures had been submitted, but she didn’t have them with her – but they looked promising, she said. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) expressed her support for the district, saying that the new jobs that Barracuda would be bringing is a positive development for the downtown.

Lumm agreed that the incentives being offered to Barracuda are warranted. Ann Arbor is an attractive location for businesses, she ventured, and it was not necessary to constantly offer tax incentives to attract businesses. Ann Arbor only does that on an infrequent and selective basis. She thinks this proposal is worthy of the support. She also pointed to a $1.2 million expansion grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to Barracuda, and how the MEDC generally expected a local match.

Lumm had some remaining questions about the parking commitment. Higgins cautioned against diving into the details of the possible Barracuda proposal, until the application was final.

Mayor John Hieftje also said he didn’t think parking spaces would be presented to the council – because Barracuda would simply be taking advantage of a “special” being offered by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which manages the city’s public parking system. [The DDA has offered incentives generally, not just to Barracuda, in the form of reduced rates on monthly passes for the new underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue, which opened in July.]

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to establish the industrial development district at 317 Maynard.

Water Resources Commissioner: Flooding Solutions

The council considered a resolution directing city staff to start negotiations with the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner to identify “opportunities for stormwater conveyance and stormwater quality improvement in the area of the Malletts Creek drainage district bounded by Ann Arbor-Saline Road upstream to I-94 and Scio Church Road.”

Partial area map of the area of study for the Malletts Creek

Partial map of the area of study for the Malletts Creek drainage district.

The city council had heard complaints from residents in that area during public commentary earlier this spring about localized flooding.

The Aug. 7 primary election results from that precinct in Ward 4 were nearly decisive enough in favor of challenger Jack Eaton to win the Democratic nomination over incumbent Margie Teall – but his total fell short of Teall’s by 18 votes across the ward. [On Aug. 16, Eaton filed for a recount, which will likely occur later this month.]

The resolution considered by the council on Aug. 9 directs staff to bring an agreement to the city council with the water resources commissioner by Oct. 1, 2012.

Flooding Solutions: Council Deliberations

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he was intrigued by the proposal and asked Cresson Slotten to answer some questions. Slotten is a senior project manager with the city. He told Kunselman that there’d been similar studies done in other areas of the city. The area described in the resolution, he said, is part of an existing drainage district, Malletts Creek, that’s within the county’s jurisdiction.

Kunselman ventured that outside the city limits, drain improvements get assessed to property owners, but inside the city, the cost is paid for out of the city’s stormwater utility fund. Slotten explained that one of the benefits of working with the water resources commissioner’s office is the ability to work within the state’s “drain code,” which is the statute that establishes the water resources commissioner’s office. [.pdf of Act 40 of 1956]

Malletts Creek is a Chapter 20 drain under that code, Slotten said. A key point is that costs are assessed to the governmental entity, the city of Ann Arbor, based on how much of the area is in the city. Some of it would be in an area owned by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation near I-94, he said, so MDOT would also contribute a small share. The city could choose to assess property owners as well, but typically has chosen to treat it as a “system cost,” especially if it’s a broad project area. And by working through the county, it’s also possible to arrange financing over time, so that there’s not a large up-front cost, Slotten said.

Kunselman noted that the city owns most of the stormwater conveyance – streets, gutters, storm sewers – and at some point there’s an outfall into Malletts Creek. So he wondered how much is really under the county’s jurisdiction. Slotten described the portion of Malletts Creek that’s under the county’s jurisdiction – the open creek visible down by Briarwood Mall and Ann Arbor-Saline Road, where there is “open creek.” In addition, if you continue past Ann Arbor-Saline Road, you see some ponds, and upstream of that is a large pipe that’s a part of the drain. That drain continues up to Scio Church Road and then even up to Maple Road.

That’s the reason the partnership between the county and the city that has evolved over the years – given the intermingling nature of the physical systems – is so beneficial, Slotten said.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) wanted to know how many dollars in damage Ward 4 had experienced during the localized flooding. Slotten was not certain, but ventured that those claims would have been made through the city’s insurance board. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) pointed out that the insurance board report had been included in the consent agenda.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) reported that this project had been discussed as part of the Malletts Creek coordinating committee meeting the previous day. She clarified that the agreement would come back to the council on Oct. 1 for approval.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the resolution giving direction to start negotiations with the county water resources commissioner.

Demolition Contracts

The council was asked to approve two-year contracts with four different companies, to perform demolition services on an as-needed basis. The four companies are Bierlein, DMC Consultants, Beal, and Van Assche.

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council had approved a $250,000 allocation for demolishing buildings that the city deems dangerous under Chapter 101 of the city code. The city would like to target buildings that are diminishing the quality of neighborhoods, dragging down property values and attracting nuisances. The city expects to be able to reimburse the general fund for that allocation, from the proceeds of a lawsuit settlement related to the old Michigan Inn property on Jackson Avenue.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) described the resolution as giving the city some flexibility by having predetermined contractors that the city can call on, to demolish some blighted properties and allow the city to move quicker when the city gets to that stage. As an example, she gave the house on First and Kingsley. It’s located on property that the city purchased earlier this year – the vacant house is expected to be demolished later this month.

Mayor John Hieftje then asked Sumedh Bahl, community services area administrator, to talks about Avalon Housing‘s Near North affordable housing project, located on North Main. Houses on the site of the expected development have long stood vacant.

Bahl explained that if Avalon doesn’t move to demolish the buildings, then the city will. He explained that the city might start the process soon. It might take up to two weeks to finalize the contracts with the demolition companies and to make sure all the right types of insurance are in place, he said. In the meantime, the city will look disconnecting at the water utilities. There has to be a 10-day notice of any demolition, he said. So even if the city starts the next day with the process, you won’t see a bulldozer then. But in 45-60 days, the city will have the buildings down, he said.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that in the last year or so, she’d heard concerns from several councilmembers about houses that aren’t being maintained in the community. Being able to move forward as quickly as possible is a catch-phrase they’ve talked about, but she noted that it’s hard actually to move quickly. The contract approvals, which are not tied to any particular building, mean the city won’t have to jump through that extra hoop. It’s a tool that won’t be used lightly, she said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said, “This is great.” He noted that the fund had been set up but he recalled that the amount of the fund was less than the $600,000 that you get when you multiple four contractors times $150,000 apiece. [The fund was set at $250,000.] So he wanted an explanation. Bahl explained that he would not be spending more than $250,000, but that the multiple contracts give him flexibility.

Bahl picked up on remarks by Smith and Briere that these demolitions would not be undertaken lightly. He described the due process that had to be used to demolish derelict houses.

Kunselman noted that the follow-up on the demolitions involves liens on the property and the proper paperwork so that the city can get reimbursed.

Kunselman also wanted to address the issue of the former St. Nicholas Church on North Main Street, which is currently under county tax foreclosure. Given that it’s in “the public hand,” Kunselman felt the city should be able to move quickly on that and take it down, because it’s no longer a private property. He noted that there’d been a house on Sharon Street when the county had cooperated with the city in that way.

City administrator Steve Powers observed that up to now, the city’s fund for demolition has been used as an incentive to property owners to do the work themselves – it’s a way to get a property owner’s attention. Regarding the St. Nicholas Church, Powers said that county treasurer Catherine McClary is well aware of the situation. She’d indicated that the county would be proceeding with demolition on the “county dime” but would be putting a lien on the property against that cost.

Smith asked Mike Appel, senior developer with the nonprofit Avalon Housing, to speak to the question of the Near North development. Appel told the council he appreciates the city’s patience and the whole community’s patience with the situation that he described as taking “too many months.” They’ve been working very hard to move the project forward, he said. They thought they could get the buildings taken down earlier, but now have been cooperating with city staff – by providing them with the asbestos surveys and the electric and gas utilities shutoffs. He said Avalon is doing everything in its power to get the houses down.

1992 FEMA floodway

1992 FEMA floodway in light crosshatched blue, with the green lines indicating the boundaries of the floodplain. The intersection shown is Main and Summit. Red parcels are those that are now in the floodplain but previously were not. Green parcels were previously in the floodplain and now are not.

2012 FEMA floodway

2012 FEMA floodway in dark blue, with the green lines indicating the boundaries of the floodplain. The intersection shown is Main and Summit. Red parcels are those that are now in the floodplain but previously were not. Green parcels were previously in the floodplain and now are not.

At this point, it appears that having the city do the demolition is quicker than doing it themselves, Appel said. The most recent event that’s slowed down the project is that in April of this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had issued new floodway and floodplain maps. The floodway had expanded considerably, he reported. The proposed building is not in the floodway, but some of the activities associated with the building are – like parking. The state would allow the project to be built, but the federal funds they’d been planning to use won’t be available. So now Avalon is trying to find a way to substitute non-federal funds for federal funds.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the contracts with demolition companies.

Transit Articles of Incorporation

In front of the council for the third time were the articles of incorporation for a possible new countywide transit authority. The council had approved them twice before.

The articles of incorporation are part of a four-party agreement to establish a framework for possibly expanding the governance and service area of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The four-party agreement is between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA.

This most recent iteration on the Aug. 9 agenda came in response to an amendment made by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its Aug. 1, 2012 meeting.

The county board’s amendment changed the minimum threshold of votes required on the proposed new 15-member transit authority board to change the authority’s articles of incorporation. That threshold was increased from a 2/3 majority (10 votes) to a 4/5 majority (12 votes). With a 7-4 vote, the Ann Arbor city council adopted the county’s change. Dissenting were Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

The council had already reapproved the transit documents once before, at its June 4, 2012 meeting, in response to a change to the four-party agreement that had been made by the Ypsilanti city council. The Ann Arbor city council had initially given its approval to the four-party agreement on March 5, 2012.

Transit Articles of Incorporation: Council Deliberations

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reviewed the history of the document approvals and the nature of the change that was being requested.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) offered a possible explanation for wanting one super majority (4/5) compared to another (2/3). A concern she’d heard was urban versus rural. The cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, along with Pittsfield Township, would together have 10 members of the board. They could “conspire” to reduce the impact of the other members by changing the articles of incorporation. By asking for 12 instead of 10, it’s necessary to have a mix of urban and rural in order to change the articles of incorporation. The proposal of a 4/5 majority is a compromise between requiring unanimous approval and the original 2/3 majority, she said.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked Michael Ford, the AATA’s CEO, if the 4/5 majority were acceptable to the AATA. Ford said it was.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) indicated she had no issue with the specific change. Her concern remains with the agreement itself. She suspected no one had changed their fundamental position on that question. She then reviewed her standard objections to the proposal.

Left to right: Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Ann Arbor Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford

Left to right: Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Ann Arbor Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) felt that the “countywide” initiative would not be countywide at all and would end up being a regional Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor system. He felt there are better ways of accomplishing that. Kunselman then accused Ford of knowing the answers to some questions that Kunselman asked the last time Ford appeared in front of the city council. Kunselman said Ford had chosen not to share those answers. [Kunselman may have been alluding to the lack of specificity Ford provided when asked by Kunselman about the AATA's plans in case Ypsilanti was not able to meet the terms of its purchase-of-service agreement.]

Kunselman felt like the AATA has not been working in good faith and has been dropping the ball. He said it was not a countywide proposal, so he asked people to stop calling it that.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) indicated that he’d vote against it because of the inclusion of Fuller Road Station as part of the plan. Having watched the county board of commissioners vote just 6-4 in favor of the agreement, he was not sure of the strength of the buy-in.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) wanted to know what would happen if the council did not approve the change. Assistant city attorney Mary Fales explained that the document was binding only if all parties agreed to it. Hohnke indicated he was not interested in “belaboring the debate.”

Taylor indicated he’d support it for all the reasons previously discussed.

Outcome: The council voted to reapprove the articles of incorporation for the new countywide transit authority, with dissent from Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Firefighters, Fire Truck

The council considered two agenda items directly related to fire protection: hiring three additional firefighters and authorizing the purchase of a new aerial truck.


The council was asked to authorize a revision to its FY 2013 budget that will allow for staffing of three additional firefighters for the next two years, bringing the budgeted staffing level for firefighters from 82 to 85. The positions will be funded with a $642,294 federal grant through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), which was announced earlier this year on May 30, 2012.

According to fire chief Chuck Hubbard, the city currently has three vacancies – which means 79 firefighters on staff.

The $321,000 from the SAFER grant for each of the next two years will be allocated for three firefighter positions, which the city estimates will cost $255,000 (at $85,000 per position). The remaining $66,000 per year will be spent on other unspecified fire services needs, according to the staff memo accompanying the resolution – including overtime and fleet expenses. Hiring a fourth firefighter would require using $19,000 of the city’s fund balance, according to the memo.

The budget amendment was anticipated based on the city council’s budget deliberations and final FY 2013 budget resolution earlier this year, on May 22, 2012, which directed the city administrator to submit a proposal to amend the budget and hire additional firefighters if the SAFER grant were to be awarded.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2)

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asks to be recognized to speak during the council’s Aug. 9 meeting. On the left is Tony Derezinski (Ward 2).

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) wanted to know what the $66,000 would be spent on. City administrator Steve Powers indicated that part of it would go toward overages already incurred. It would also be used to help pay for overtime, fleet expenses, and other fire service operations. The city is projecting a tight budget for FY 2013, Powers said.

Lumm wanted to know if the department was fully staffed at the budgeted level of 82. Hubbard indicated to Lumm that the approved budgeted level was 82. Powers clarified the question, which was essentially: Are we fully staffed? Hubbard indicated that right now the fire department has 79 firefighters – due to a retirements and recalled firefighters who did not return.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) expressed concern about funding for firefighters in future years after the grant expires: What happens in two years? Hubbard indicated that in 2014 the city has the option to apply for another grant. Powers indicated that part of the rationale for hiring three firefighters instead of four is that the city’s projections are that it can sustain the staffing level of 85 when the two-year grant program is over. He allowed that one possibility is to reapply for the SAFER grant, but the city would prefer to fund the positions on its own.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the budget change to allow the hiring of three additional firefighters.

Fire Truck

The council was also asked to authorize $1,043,685 from its fleet fund to purchase a new 2013 Sutphen model SPH100 mid-mount aerial platform – a “tower truck.” The department currently has two aerial trucks. The new purchase replaces a 1999 Emergency One brand 100-foot ladder truck – but it will be kept as a “reserve” aerial truck in the department. The department also has a 1996 Emergency One brand 100-foot aerial truck, which will be kept as a secondary aerial truck. Whichever Emergency One aerial truck first starts to have maintenance and repair costs that exceed its value will be retired from service – and the other truck will remain as a reserve.

The new truck is expected to arrive in 10-12 months.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that some constituents of hers who live in tall buildings were concerned about the city’s current tower truck functioning well. She wanted to know the difference between a ladder truck and a mid-mount truck.

Fire chief Chuck Hubbard explained that “mid-mount” is related to the way it’s built – on a mid-mount vehicle, the aerial component of the truck is mounted to the area just behind the cab. Responding to a question from Briere, Hubbard indicated that it’s not mid-mount versus rear-mount that determines how high the aerial platform can go, but rather the angle of inclination.

Briere said she’d heard that the city’s existing ladder truck had a weak piece that broke and couldn’t easily be fixed. Hubbard indicated that the new truck is very well built, made by a 100-year-old company. He felt that the issues with the existing truck had been well addressed in the purchase of the new truck – and indicated that replacement parts would be easy to acquire.

Mayor John Hieftje was keen to stress that the city’s ladder truck and tower truck were both currently back in service. And during the period when they were not in service, the “box-alarm” could have been used to get a tower truck from a neighboring jurisdiction. He ventured that long-term, it would make sense to think about a regional approach to those types of vehicles, saying that in many departments they are rarely used.

Responding to a question from Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Hubbard said there are more than 100 buildings in the city that are considered “high rises.” Smith asked if it wasn’t the case that they were likely fully-sprinkled – equipped with sprinkler systems under city code. Hubbard allowed that the codes are fairly strict. Hieftje asked city administrator Steve Powers to track down the percentage of high rise buildings that have sprinkler systems.

Responding to a question from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Hubbard said that the preference for a platform instead of a ladder was based on ease of rescue. A ladder would require that a firefighter assist someone all the way down the ladder.

Kunselman got confirmation from Hubbard that the fire truck purchase is not connected at all to the possibility that the city will adopt a new station plan – operating out of three stations instead of the current five.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) wondered if the number of firefighters required for operation of the truck was related to the “sway” of the truck. Hubbard said it has nothing to do with that, but rather with the number of tasks that have to be performed in connection with an aerial truck.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the purchase of the aerial fire truck.


The usual pattern for appointments to various boards and commissions is that their nominations are made at a council meeting and a vote is taken at a subsequent meeting.

Disabilities Commission: Petersen

Among the nominations for boards and commissions made by mayor John Hieftje at the city council’s Aug. 9 meeting was Sally Petersen to fill a vacancy on the commission on disability issues. Petersen will likely be joining the Ann Arbor city council itself in November, having received more votes than incumbent Tony Derezinski in the Aug. 7 Ward 2 Democratic primary. No other candidate will be on the ballot for Ward 2 on Nov. 6.

In announcing Petersen’s nomination, Hieftje said there was no reason to delay it. Petersen had also applied for appointment to the park advisory commission at the same time she’d applied for a spot on the commission on disability issues.

The commission on disability issues dates back to 1969, but has undergone several name changes since that time, including various forms of the word “handicap.” The commission was established to “promote and advocate for equal opportunities for all individuals with physical, mental and/or emotional disabilities.”

The city council will vote on confirmation of Petersen’s appointment at its Aug. 20 meeting.

DDA Nominations: Smith, Hewitt, Orr

Nominated for reappointment to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority are Sandi Smith, Roger Hewitt and Keith Orr. Those nominations were placed before the city council by mayor John Hieftje at the council’s Aug. 9 meeting.

This year’s DDA board officer elections, held  two months ago at the DDA’s July 2, 2012 annual meeting, again featured abstention on some votes by board member Newcombe Clark – because the future composition of the board was not yet clear. Hieftje’s custom for many reappointments to city boards and commissions has been to provide no public indication of his intentions on those nominations.

Communications and Comment

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

Comm/Comm: Community Center

Orian Zakai addressed the council as an organizer for the Imagine Community – a nonprofit that promotes solidarity between homed and homeless people, she said, through skill-sharing and creativity. In the last four months, she said, they’ve been cooperating with an educational program at the local homeless shelter, the Delonis Center. Their goal for this year is to open a community center in Ann Arbor, where homed and homeless people can create social lives, learn from each other and stay out of the cold together. They’re waiting for someone to address what they see in the streets – growing desperation, more people out on the streets, insufficient social services, public health care and metal health assistance. They’ve proposed to the city to lease the empty 721 N. Main city-owned building and to take over responsibility for the maintenance of the building in order to make it a hospitable space for a community. She claimed that the city is more interested in costly business plans that would serve business owners and corporate interests than about creating community.

Addressing the contracts with companies that would perform demolition, she wondered what would be built in place of the houses to be demolished – parking lots, high rises and business centers? She said that mayor John Hieftje had been quoted as saying that we’re going to hand the city off to the younger generation and that he thinks young people want to live in a city center with a lot of activity. Contrasting with that sentiment was one expressed by Rose, a Groundcover News vendor, who said that community and not consumption is the next big thing. Zakai said that as a young-ish person, she wanted to live in a community – where people care about each other and no one is left out in the cold to fend for themselves – not a city center. If she had wanted that, she would have chosen to live in Chicago, Tel Aviv, or New York.

Comm/Comm: Democratic Progressive Agenda

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as resident of Ann Arbor and the 53rd District of the Michigan house of representatives. He called on the council and the public to stand up for democratic progress, and build a new Michigan by building affordable housing and re-electing Barack Obama. We need to take courage and stand up and call on our leaders to adopt significant agendas that will benefit the majority of residents. He called on the council to turn away from special interests and the charter amendment protecting city parks, and to focus instead on providing adequate funding to end homelessness, access to affordable housing and to city, countywide and regionwide affordable transportation.

Comm/Comm: Sustainable Practices

Kermit Schlansker recalled his time as a soldier in Germany during 1945-47 after World War II. What he saw was extreme poverty and food shortages, he said. People would trade cameras, radios and jewelry and other items for food. The German farmer was king, he said. His German wife told of going to cut a designated tree for fire wood and having to transport it a long distance in a pull-wagon.

Schlansker indicated that could happen in this country as natural resources get scarcer, and poverty will grow. Before it becomes a national catastrophe, many people will be suffering. We need a place where desperate people can go and trade a little work for food and a place to sleep, he said. We need a place where parolees and drug addicts can go and survive without stealing, he said. Sooner or later, poverty will be ubiquitous. The best remedy is to establish work farms located near cities – for growing food and energy, designing new products and starting new businesses.

Comm/Comm: Smart Meters

Darren Schmidt again addressed the council on the topic of smart meters – which are being installed by DTE Energy to allow for remote measurement of electric usage and for measurements in finer increments. He brought a device that he told the council could measure the effects of such smart meters. The device indicates with colored lights the amount of electromagnetic radiation, he said. He contended that DTE is controlling the Michigan Public Service Commission. Even though there’s an opt-out program, he said, what’s at issue is public airspace. He offered to show people the measuring device and reported that Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator, had taken him up on the offer.

Comm/Comm: Citizens United

Stuart Dowty told the council that he was there to recruit them as a group to do something about the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Ultimately, it’s about money, he said. CU means that we’re dealing with a fundamental change in the nature of our democracy – and something should be done about it. The Ann Arbor council should join the effort toward education about CU, he said. Bob Davidow told the council he’s a member of the group – the Washtenaw Coalition For Democracy. It’s important to understand, he said, that CU didn’t create a problem, but rather exacerbated a pre-existing problem.

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

Next council meeting: Monday, Aug. 20, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle events listing to confirm date]

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