Archive for November, 2012

Kerrytown & Downtown Ann Arbor

A few scenes from the crowds at Kerrytown’s Kindlefest and at Midnight Madness downtown. A man swings his child, dancing to a jazz duo at the entrance to Kerrytown Market & Shops. [photo] St. Nicholas gets his robe adjusted before leading a parade of luminaries down Fifth Ave. [photo] Breakdancers in front of bd’s Mongolian Grill. [photo] A Yeti in front of the Himalayan Bazaar. [photo]

Cedar Bend & Broadway

Two white stretch limos driving slowly up Broadway. Drivers pointing out the sights (to whom?)

Argo & Chandler

Near Beckley Park, fancy new Popemobile street sweeper cleaning leaves from the gutters outside my window. [photo]

Washington & Main

Bennett Optometry holiday window painting features Christmas tree trimmed with colorful eyeglass frames. There’s also a chicken, which I’m still puzzling over. [photo]

Column: Brady Hoke’s Sophomore Slump

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Exactly one year ago, Brady Hoke was the darling of Michigan football fans.

He’d charmed even the doubters at his first press conference – where he coined his now famous phrase, “This is Michigan, for God’s sake!” – then led a team that had averaged just five wins a season over the previous three years to a 10-2 regular-season record, including thrilling wins over Notre Dame, Nebraska and arch-rival Ohio State. Then he capped it all off with an overtime upset of Virginia Tech in the prestigious Sugar Bowl – Michigan’s first BCS bowl victory since a young man named Tom Brady beat Alabama on Jan. 1, 2000.

The man could do no wrong. When Hoke started referring to injuries as “boo-boos” and Ohio State as “Ohio,” fans did not think he was an ignoramus who knew nothing about the greatest rivalry in sports – as they surely would have if Rich Rodriguez had said the same things – but a motivational genius, who understood exactly what the duel was all about.

When fans noticed Hoke did not wear a headset during games – unlike just about every other coach in the country – they did not conclude he was an out-of-touch, glorified cheerleader, but a master delegator and teacher, trusting the play calling to his assistants while he focused on coaching his players.

When you’re winning, everything’s cool. But when you start losing, the same people who patted you on the back start questioning your quirks. [Full Story]

First & Washington

Line of people down to the railroad bridge at Kiwanis waiting for the Holiday Sale. Doors opened at 9 a.m.

UM: Provost

The New York Times reports that University of Michigan provost Phil Hanlon has been named president of Dartmouth College and will begin his tenure there in July of 2013. The article quotes Hanlon, a Dartmouth graduate, on how information technology and other issues are changing higher education: “A second change is the nature of the workplace, which is becoming more diverse, and a third thing that is changing is that the kind of issues the world is facing — the future of health care, transforming K-12 education, balancing the federal budget — are becoming more complicated.” Hanlon became UM provost in 2010, replacing Teresa Sullivan, who left to become president of the University of Virginia. [Source]

Ideas Floated for South State Corridor

An informal session with University of Michigan urban planning students gave Ann Arbor planning commissioners more ideas for possible changes to the South State Street corridor.

Danielle Thoe, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle, South State Street corridor, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning

Danielle Thoe, a University of Michigan graduate student in urban planning, explains a concept for creating a boulevard for pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate better the I-94 overpass along South State Street. (Photos by the writer.)

The Nov. 27 meeting included a presentation by four graduate students in urban and regional planning. They had analyzed the corridor between Ellsworth and Stimson, which the city has also been studying. The presentation came in the context of a draft report currently under review by planning commissioners, with more than 40 recommendations to improve the corridor. [.pdf of draft report]

The students approached their work by identifying changes that could have an immediate impact on the corridor, while also looking at more visionary, long-term goals. Shorter-term suggestions included replacing and widening sidewalks, and adding new sidewalks in sections where there are none.

A more ambitious idea is to transform the broad center turn lanes on the I-94 overpass into a protected bicycle/pedestrian median. Currently, navigating the freeway interchange on foot or by bike is daunting. The approach could serve multiple purposes. If bioswales and landscaping were in place along the outer edges, it would help with stormwater management and provide a physical barrier between vehicles and pedestrians/cyclists. The greenery would also have visual impact for people exiting the freeway, indicating that you’re entering a city that values the environment and alternative transportation, according to the students.

Creating a sense of identity along the corridor was a common theme, with an additional focus on safety issues, stormwater management, and functionality/aesthetics.

The meeting was attended by four of the eight current planning commissioners, as well as planning manager Wendy Rampson. The commission is expected to make a recommendation on the city’s draft corridor plan at either its Dec. 18 or Jan. 3 meeting. The Ann Arbor city council would need to approve the plan before any action is taken toward implementing its recommendations. [Full Story]

AATA Calls Special Board Meeting for Nov. 29

A special meeting of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board has been called for Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 starting at 4 p.m. at the AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Highway. The meeting, which was announced via email on Nov. 21, did not have an agenda set until Nov. 28. The agenda includes a closed session and an item that would revise the AATA’s advertising policy. [.pdf of board packet, including revised advertising policy]

The board’s meeting comes in the context of a legal case that’s pending against the AATA for refusing to run an advertisement on the sides of its buses that states, “Boycott ‘Israel.’” The initial substantive ruling in the case went against the AATA, when the judge … [Full Story]

Main & Liberty

Holiday snowflakey type motif getting painted on the windows at Lena. Menu items getting written between the frost lines. [photo]

Avondale & Las Vegas

Sharp-shinned (?) hawk perched in backyard willow tree, eating red squirrel. Blue jays eventually spot it and sound alarm. Makes deposit in compost pile below (thank you) and flies off with leftovers.

Retaining Talent on a Teeter Totter


Editor’s note: HD, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is also publisher of an online series of interviews on a teeter totter. Introductions to new Teeter Talks, like this one, also appear on The Chronicle’s website.

Bill Merrill

Bill Merrill

In the last few years, I’ve spent more time riding the hard wooden benches in the Ann Arbor city council chambers than I have straddling the teeter totter board. So last month I was glad to have a chance to take a ride with Bill Merrill, a software developer I met for the first time four or five years ago on a Ride Around Town (RAT). That was a monthly event that the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition used to sponsor.

If Merrill had ever addressed the Ann Arbor city council during public commentary, then he could have reasonably begun by saying something like, “I came to Ann Arbor to attend school, but I stayed. And I’ve owned my house across from Allmendinger Park for almost a decade.”

This would, of course, be a standard gambit for public commentary – not just in Ann Arbor but probably in most every community – establishing your bona fides by appealing to longevity and rootedness in the community.

Home ownership is not just a way of saying to Ann Arbor city councilmembers that you’ve been here long enough to count. It’s also a way of saying, “I’m one of you.” All 11 members of the council are homeowners, even though less than half of Ann Arbor residents own the place they live.

In my time covering the city council for The Chronicle, Merrill has never addressed that body during the time allowed for public commentary. In that way he is like most other Ann Arbor homeowners – or for that matter, renters. Most of them, like Merrill, do not ever in their lifetime head down to city hall on the first or third Monday of the month to tell the city council what they think.

But the fact that he’s now sold his house and left Ann Arbor – even though he’s not leaving to take a job somewhere else or to follow a spouse, or for any other specific reason – makes Merrill different. It makes him different in a way that is likely not what the Pure Michigan campaign had in mind with its Ann Arbor slogan: “Ann Arbor does it up different.” That advertisement is supposed to make the “talent” want to come live here, not pick up and leave for no particular reason. [Full Story]

Washtenaw: Transit

The Detroit News reports that the state might lose $25 million in federal funds for a Woodward Avenue street car, in part because Washtenaw County commissioners have pulled support for a regional transit authority. From the report: “The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution this month saying the county wants to manage its own transportation systems and funds and let voters decide whether to join the authority. Ann Arbor and several townships opted against forming a countywide bus system. ‘The whole thing is kind of coming apart,’ said state Rep. Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Township.” [Source] The county board took this  action at its Nov. 7, 2012 meeting.

Climate Action Plan Moves to City Council

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Nov. 20, 2012): An ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2025 – with the goal of a 90% reduction by 2050 – was recommended for approval by the city’s planning commission at its most recent meeting.

Evan Pratt, Wendy Woods, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Former Ann Arbor planning commissioner Evan Pratt hugs Wendy Woods, the commission’s vice chair, after receiving recognition for his service at the group’s Nov. 20 meeting. On Nov. 6, Pratt was elected Washtenaw County water resources commissioner, and resigned from the city’s planning commission because of obligations for his new job. (Photos by the writer.)

The climate action plan includes about 80 recommended actions to help achieve those goals, ranging from possible changes in city code to actions that individuals or organizations can take voluntarily, like weatherizing buildings. [.pdf list of recommendations]

In his presentation of the plan, Nate Geisler of the city’s energy office told commissioners that the plan doesn’t tie the city to making firm commitments about these actions, but “it sets us on the path to doing this.” He indicated an urgency in taking action, highlighting the negative impact of global warming and the risks associated with doing nothing. The plan – which is coordinated with the city’s sustainability framework and with a similar effort by the University of Michigan – has already been recommended by the city’s energy and environmental commissions, and will be forwarded to the city council for its consideration.

Bonnie Bona, a planning commissioner who served on the task force that developed this plan, praised Geisler and Wayne Appleyard, chair of the city’s energy commission, for their role in leading the initiative. She offered the planning commission’s help in implementing the recommended actions. More information about the overall effort is online at

Also on the Nov. 20 agenda was a site plan and zoning request for a residential project at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road – called the Summit Townhomes. A similar version of the project had been previously postponed by commissioners in June of 2012. The current plan calls for building 24 attached residential units in four separate buildings, with each building between 80 to 160 feet in length. Each of the 24 units would have a floor area of about 1,300 square feet, and an attached one-car garage. The plan includes two surface parking areas on the east and west sides of the site, each with 12 spaces.

On Nov. 20, the commission recommended approval of zoning the property R3 (townhouse dwelling district). That zoning proposal will be forwarded to the city council. But because of outstanding issues – including questions related to regrading the site’s steep slope – commissioners followed planning staff’s advice and voted to postpone a recommendation on the site plan.

In other action, the commission granted a special exception use that will allow the Memorial Christian Church to use a building at 1900 Manchester Road, off of Washtenaw Avenue. The building has been owned by and used as the Ann Arbor regional headquarters for the Girl Scouts Council. And six parcels in the northeast Ann Arbor Hills neighborhood – on Geddes, Seneca and Onondaga – were recommended for rezoning from R1B to R1C. Both are types of single-family dwelling districts. The rezoning would allow some of the larger lots to be divided.

During the Nov. 20 meeting, commissioner Eric Mahler gave a brief update from the commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC), which is reviewing recommendations on changes to the city’s R4C/R2A zoning district, including a report from a study advisory committee. He said ORC is still working on the project and hopes to have a report ready for city council in the spring of 2013. [For an overview of the R4C/R2A initiative, see Chronicle coverage: "Planning Group Weighs R4C/R2A Report."]

The meeting included a formal commendation for former planning commissioner Evan Pratt, who recently stepped down from the group after winning election on Nov. 6 as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner. Pratt had served on the planning commission since 2004, and had been its most senior current member. [Full Story]

UM: Ethics Bowl

The University of Michigan Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl Team will be competing on Dec. 1 in the 17th annual Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl Championship, held at Loyola University in Chicago. The Michigan team won the Upper Midwest regional trophy last year. The 2012-2013 team leaders – Tracey Fu and Hasenin Al-Khersan – talk about the competition on a podcast interview with [Source]

A2: Farming

On her blog, Diana Dyer writes about winding up the season on her family’s local organic farm. She describes some of the photos included in her post: “Now you know we are a ‘real’ farm because we have piles of ‘stuff’ everywhere. Here are piles of top soil, wood chips, small stones, brush. We also have piles of compost and piles of field stones and larger rocks harvested from our fields….One thing I have learned is that nothing (I mean it – nothing) is nonchalantly thrown away on a farm.” [Source]

A2: Union

The Lansing State Journal publishes a column by Henry Greenspan of Ann Arbor, who describes why he’s a “union man.” Greenspan, who teaches at the University of Michigan, writes: ”Do not be fooled by the rhetoric of ‘right to work.’ No competent person is being denied the ‘right to work’ in our state. No Michigan citizen is being denied the right to do anything that their God-given talents, their training, their good fortune, and their liberty make possible. I am a son of liberty. And I am a union man. ‘Right to work’ is a fraud. And so are those who are trying to force it through the Legislature before their time runs out.” [Source]


In the courtyard of Kerrytown Market & Shops, the crowd sings carols led by Pioneer High School students as they awaited Santa and the tree-lighting ceremony. [photo] [photo]

Pre-Thanksgiving Council Pre-Heats Oven

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 19, 2012): The first meeting of the council’s new edition featured delaying action on two main agenda items – revisions to the Ann Arbor living wage ordinance, and two competing proposals about the city’s public art ordinance.

The newly elected members of council are sworn in by city clerk Jackie Beaudry (back to camera). From left: mayor John Hieftje, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

The newly elected members of council are sworn in by city clerk Jackie Beaudry (back to camera). From left: mayor John Hieftje, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1). (Photos by the writer.)

Legislative activity on the public art ordinance resulted from the Nov. 6 rejection by voters of an alternate means of funding public art – a 0.1 mill tax that would have generated roughly $450,000 annually. At the Nov. 19 meeting, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) proposed ending the existing public art program, which requires that 1% of the budget for all capital projects in the city be allocated for public art – with a limit of $250,000 per project. A competing proposal, from Sabra Briere (Ward 1), would narrow the type of capital project from which Percent for Art funds could be allocated. Briere’s proposal would have the practical effect of reducing – by about 90% – the amount of public art funds generated by the existing program. In the last two years the program has generated over $300,000 a year, and more in previous years.

The council wound up tabling both proposals, a parliamentary move that means there’s no particular time in the future when the council must consider them. The proposals will expire, if the council does not take them up off the table in six months. However, the council’s strategy will likely be to appoint a committee to study the matter and to suspend temporarily the existing program. A resolution to that effect was added to the council’s agenda during the meeting, after the tabling of the other proposals – but that third resolution was then postponed until the council’s Dec. 3 meeting.

Also postponed was a set of revisions to the city’s living wage ordinance. The main change would be to exempt those nonprofits from the ordinance that receive funding through the city’s human services allocation, which has totaled roughly $1.2 million each year for the last several years. The ordinance currently has a waiver provision, requiring a city-council-approved plan for compliance with the living wage ordinance within three years. Only one such waiver has been sought since the living wage ordinance was enacted in 2001. That came at the council’s meeting earlier this month, on Nov. 8, 2012.

Based on council deliberations at the Nov. 19 meeting, the living wage revisions in their current form seem likely to be approved only with great difficulty. Some councilmembers seemed more interested in pursuing exemptions for categories of workers – temporary or seasonal – instead of exempting categories of organizations. The living wage ordinance revisions were postponed until Feb. 19.

Getting initial approval were changes to two other city ordinances – on noise and the storage of cars on streets.

The changes to the noise ordinance were prompted by the impact that recent construction of the Landmark building at 601 S. Forest had on neighbors. If given final approval by the council, the changes would make clear that holidays are to be treated like Sundays and that supervisors can be cited under the ordinance, not just a worker who’s operating a piece of equipment.

The revision to the towing ordinance would make it easier to prevent people from storing inoperable vehicles on city streets. Like all changes to city ordinances, it will need a second vote by the council, after a public hearing.

In other business, the council authorized a $15,000 budget for analyzing alternatives for installing a sidewalk along a section of Scio Church Road. Residents in the area have petitioned the city for a sidewalk.

And Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) used his communications time toward the end of the meeting as an occasion to deliver harsh criticism of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and mayor John Hieftje.

In the first meeting for newly elected councilmembers, the council also chose Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) to serve as mayor pro tem, as she has for the last three years. The order of succession to the mayor, based on seniority lines, was also set. [Full Story]

AADL Gets Input on Downtown Library

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Nov. 19, 2012): Though turnout didn’t match the attendance at a typical Ann Arbor city council meetings, several members of the public came to the AADL board meeting on Monday evening. It was the first board meeting since the Nov. 6 general election, when voters rejected a $65 million bond proposal that would have funded a new downtown library.

Ingrid Sheldon, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ingrid Sheldon, a member of the Our New Downtown Library campaign committee, reviews her notes before speaking during public commentary at the Nov. 19 meeting of the Ann Arbor District Library board. (Photos by the writer.)

Two people spoke during public commentary, directly addressing the issue of the downtown building at 343 S. Fifth Ave. Ingrid Sheldon – representing the Our New Downtown Library committee, which had campaigned in support of the bond proposal – told the board that committee members were disappointed but willing to continue supporting the library however they can. Other committee members in attendance included Betsy Jackson and Donald Harrison.

Also addressing the board was Lyn Davidge, who had run for a seat on the library board but had not been elected. During her campaign she had advocated for renovation of the downtown building, not new construction. She volunteered to serve on any citizen advisory group that she hoped the board would form soon, to give input on the building’s future. Davidge also urged the board to add a public commentary slot at the end of their monthly meetings – because she felt it would encourage more participation.

There was scant discussion among board members about the Nov. 6 outcome or next steps for dealing with the downtown building. In a brief report to the board, Prue Rosenthal – chair of the board’s special facilities committee – indicated that the committee members hadn’t yet made any decisions or had any substantive discussions about what to do next. There was no discussion about the possibility of forming an advisory committee.

In other action, the Nov. 19 meeting included an audit report by the accounting firm Rehmann for AADL’s 2011-2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The audit was clean, and included a recommendation to start conducting periodic inventories of “moveable capital assets” – items like furniture and fixtures.

During her director’s report, Josie Parker highlighted a financial concern that is outside of AADL’s control: The possible elimination of the state’s personal property tax. PPT legislation will likely be handled in the state legislature’s lame duck session. If the PPT is eliminated and no replacement revenue is provided, the library would lose about $630,000 annually in revenues, Parker said. The library’s annual budget is roughly $12 million.

Parker also related positive news. Again this year, AADL has been ranked with five stars by the Library Journal – the highest ranking awarded by the journal for library use in a community. AADL is the only library system in Michigan that achieved that level. In its category – libraries with budgets between $10 million to $29.99 million – AADL ranked fourth nationwide.  [Full Story]

UM: Football

On the Eleven Warriors blog, Elika Sadeghi interviews John U. Bacon about the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry in advance of the Nov. 24 match-up between those teams. When asked for a score prediction, Bacon calls it “one of the toughest games to handicap in recent memory.” He picks Ohio State, 28-24, adding: “But watch for this: If Ohio State gets ahead late in the game, I would imagine Coach Meyer responding less like Coach Tressel, and more like Mr. Wayne Woodrow Hayes. That said, I have more questions than answers, but I think the future of this rivalry, with both teams stabilized and recruiting well once again, is very bright, and the era of long winning streaks is probably over.” … [Full Story]

Michigan Theater

Great crowd of families at the post-Thanksgiving showing of Warner Bros. cartoons, which The Chronicle co-sponsored. [photo] The theater’s two spotlights made my photo from the stage a challenge – hard to see that everyone was shouting “Bugs Bunny!” [photo]

In it for the Money: C.R.E.A.M.

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Nelson is sort of a long-winded son-of-a-gun. If you want to read very short things by Nelson, more frequently than once a month, you can follow him on Twitter, where he’s @SquiDaveo

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

I voted to re-elect Barack Obama. I doubt that’s a terrible shocker, but I want to explain why I did so – and why, regardless of how the economy looks on Jan. 1, or next summer, or in four years, I will still be proud of that decision.

In the run-up to Nov. 6 we kept hearing – and by extension kept telling each other – that this election was “about the economy, stupid!” I beef with that claim, but don’t reject it entirely – certainly not so long as I’m writing under the banner of being “In It for the Money.”

A lot of Americans frame the American Dream as one of economic security. While economic security is obviously a vital component of the Dream, to see that as the whole Dream is – as I’ve sorta harped on in the past – more than a little sad. When Jefferson cribbed Locke for the Declaration of Independence, he revised those original unalienable rights from “life, liberty, and estate” to the often ironically snarked “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I doubt that was a typo.

Call me a sucker, but like Honest Abe, I believe in the Declaration of Independence as the fundamental expression of what our Unfinished Work [1] is all about – now in its 236th year. And, while you may need to bank some Estate in order to pursue that Happiness, it’s a bit shallow to argue that acquiring the Estate is the same thing as acquiring Happiness.

When I stood at the flimsy little voting station – a plastic tray with telescoping metal legs, set up in Allen Elementary School – I wasn’t there to vote for a smaller national debt or expanded social programs or lower taxes or higher unemployment. I was there to vote to advance our Unfinished Work.

And that meant filling in the bubble next to Obama/Biden. Let me explain. [Full Story]

Main Street

A very quiet Thanksgiving afternoon on Main Street, aside from a couple of panhandlers and the Starbucks that’s open at Main & Liberty. Also a couple of David Zinn’s creatures, wrapping a gift in front of Peaceable Kingdom. [photo]

Washtenaw: Holiday Donations

The Washtenaw County sheriff’s office annual Shop with a Cop has kicked off this season, and is soliciting donations. Deputies and other law enforcement staff take children in need on holiday shopping sprees. “Donated gift cards are provided to each child who then buys holiday gifts for their family members while shopping at Wal-Mart and Meijer…. Dinner for the children and officers, gift wrapping by volunteers, crafts, entertainment, and a picture with Santa conclude the evening.” [Source]

Thanksgiving Funnies: Pass the Leftovers


Editor’s note: Thanksgiving is all about leftovers. This cartoon originally appeared in The Chronicle on Thanksgiving in 2009. We kept it in the freezer and defrosted  it for 2011. This year, we felt like there was still enough left on the bones to make a meal. Enjoy!
turkeytoon1 [Full Story]