Archive for November, 2012

Huron & First

Lots of police cars, an ambulance, and AATA bus in front of Delonis Center.

Planning Group Supports Climate Action Plan

A draft climate action plan for the city of Ann Arbor, two years in the making, was endorsed by Ann Arbor planning commissioners at their Nov. 20, 2012  meeting. [.pdf of executive summary] The plan’s goals include a 25% reduction in community greenhouse emissions (over the year 2000 baseline levels) by 2025. This is the same goal set by the University of Michigan. In the shorter term, the goal is a reduction of 8% in emissions by 2015. Long-term, a 90% reduction is sought by 2050.

The plan provides a range of strategies for achieving these goals, divided into four categories: (1) energy and buildings, (2) land use and access, (3) resource management, and (4) community and health. … [Full Story]

Church to Convert Former Girl Scout HQ

A special exception use granted by the Ann Arbor planning commission will allow the Memorial Christian Church to use a building at 1900 Manchester Road, off of Washtenaw Avenue. It has been owned by and used as the Ann Arbor regional headquarters for the Girl Scouts Council. The church was previously located at 730 Tappan – the corner of Tappan and Hill – in a building that was purchased by the Michigan Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon.

Planning commissioners granted the request at their Nov. 20, 2012 meeting. It will allow the church to convert a 8,104-square-foot two-story office building to a church use for seating up to 111 people. This use is permitted under Chapter 55 (zoning) of … [Full Story]

Summit Townhomes Postponed Again

The site plan for a residential project at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road – called the Summit Townhomes – was postponed at the Ann Arbor planning commission’s Nov. 20, 2012 meeting. A similar version of the project had been previously postponed by commissioners in June of 2012.

However, on Nov. 20 the commission did recommend approval of zoning the property R3 (townhouse dwelling district). That zoning proposal will be forwarded to city council.

At the June meeting, commissioners had approved annexation of the 2.95-acre site, just east of Stone School Road, from Pittsfield Township into the city of Ann Arbor. The annexation was subsequently authorized by the city council and is awaiting state approval.

The developer, Shawn Barrow of Orlando, Fla., had withdrawn … [Full Story]

Residential Parcels Recommended for Rezoning

Six parcels in the northeast Ann Arbor Hills neighborhood were recommended for rezoning at the Ann Arbor planning commission’s Nov. 20, 2012 meeting. The sites would be rezoned from R1B to R1C. Both are types of single-family dwelling districts. The locations are 2014 Geddes Ave.; 2024 Geddes Ave.; 520 Onondaga St.; 2025 Seneca Ave.; 2023 Seneca Ave.; and 2019 Seneca Ave. [.jpg aerial view of parcels] These are six parcels in a block of 10 sites – the other four sites are already zoned R1C.

According to a staff memo, the rezoning came from city council at the request of property owners: Raymond Maturo and Ann Mulhern; Joseph and Suzanne Upton; Rishindra and Gwendolyn Reddy; Shahrzad Vazirzadeh and Chad Patterson; … [Full Story]

UM: Insider Trading

Forbes and other media are reporting on a massive insider trading deal involving Sidney Gilman of the University of Michigan Medical School, who allegedly gave information about an Alzheimer’s drug clinical trial to an investment portfolio manager – Matthew Martoma – prior to official release of the results. Martoma, who was arrested in Florida on Tuesday, reportedly made $276 million by trading on that insider information. From the Forbes’ report: ”Gilman appears to be participating with prosecutors, as a neurology professor at a leading medical school is listed as a ‘cooperating witness’ who has entered into an non-prosecution agreement with the authorities.” [Forbes] [USA Today] [Los Angeles Times] [Wall Street Journal] [New York Times] [Bloomberg News] … [Full Story]

Greenbelt, Park Commissions Strategize

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission and park advisory commission’s land acquisition committee – joint meeting (Nov. 1, 2012): Two city advisory groups – for parks and the greenbelt – have a common link, in addition to their land-related focus: Both oversee programs funded by a 30-year millage that voters approved in 2003.

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Staff and members of the Ann Arbor greenbelt and park advisory commissions at a joint meeting on Nov. 1, 2012. From left: Colin Smith, Shannon Brines, Archer Christian, Peter Allen, Tim Doyle, Laura Rubin, Alan Jackson.  (Photos by the writer.)

Earlier this month, members from both commissions met in a joint session to get a financial update from staff and learn more about the roles and priorities of the greenbelt and parks.

The greenbelt program uses about two-thirds of the millage proceeds. By the end of 2012, about 4,200 acres will have been protected around the outskirts of Ann Arbor. When the program began, the expectation was that it would fund protection for between 3,500 to 4,500 over the life of the 30-year millage. But because the economic downturn has lowered the cost of land, the program has protected more land – primarily through the purchase of development rights – than originally anticipated. Land that previously was valued at about $16,000 per acre is now closer to $4,000, with the likelihood of even lower costs in the coming year.

The last joint meeting of these groups was held in June of 2011, but membership on the groups has changed over the last year and a half. The park advisory commission in particular has seen considerable turnover since then. Earlier this year PAC members Gwen Nystuen, David Barrett, Sam Offen and Doug Chapman left the commission, either because they were term-limited or did not seek re-appointment. New members are Ingrid Ault, Bob Galardi, Alan Jackson and Missy Stults. New to GAC this year is Archer Christian, replacing long-time member Mike Garfield, who was term-limited. Both Garfield and Christian are executives at the nonprofit Ecology Center.

The Nov. 1 discussion among commissioners was wide-ranging. Among the topics covered were the need to provide connections between existing parks, potential for recreational use of greenbelt-protected land, farming trends, and protections for both greenbelt property and parkland. For this report, the conversations are summarized and grouped thematically. The meeting began with a staff update – and that’s where this report begins, too. [Full Story]

Proposed Revisions to Public Art Law Postponed

Two separate proposals about Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art program were tabled by the city council at its Nov. 19, 2012 meeting. One proposal would have terminated the program, while the other would have narrowed the range of eligible projects.

The council also postponed a resolution added to the agenda during the meeting to appoint a task force of five councilmembers to study the issue and to suspend the expenditure of funds – with several exceptions – currently allocated for public art. The resolution on the task force and temporary suspension, which was brought forward by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), was postponed until Dec. 3. The timeframe for a recommendation on how to move ahead with either revision or termination of the Percent … [Full Story]

Sidewalk for Scio Church Road to Be Analyzed

A study of alternatives to filling a gap in Ann Arbor’s sidewalk system along Scio Church Road got a $15,000 budget based on a city council decision made on Nov. 19, 2012. The area of study will extend from Maple Road to Delaware Drive. [.pdf of map showing area to be studied]

Around 75 residents submitted a petition to the city in August requesting that the lack of sidewalks along the stretch be addressed. Margie Teall (Ward 4), in whose ward the stretch is located, mentioned the lack of sidewalks along Scio Church during deliberations at the council’s Sept. 17, 2012 meeting. At that meeting the council considered, but rejected, a proposal from Mike Anglin (Ward 5) to enact a … [Full Story]

Towing Ordinance Revision Gets Initial OK

Inoperable cars will be a bit more difficult to store on the streets of Ann Arbor, if the city council eventually gives a final OK to changes it initially approved at its Nov. 19, 2012 meeting.

The city’s current strategy – of placing notices on cars that give owners 48 hours to move their vehicles – appears to be thwarted by people who simply push their vehicles a few feet. The proposed change in the ordinance would address directly the issue of whether a vehicle is operable, in part by adding the following language: “If a vehicle appears to be inoperative based on outward appearance or otherwise appears to not have been driven after a 48 hour notice has been affixed … [Full Story]

Initial OK for Noise Ordinance Strengthening

Changes to the city of Ann Arbor’s noise ordinance received initial approval at the city council’s Nov. 19, 2012 meeting. The amendments to the ordinance, sponsored by Ward 3 councilmember Christopher Taylor, were related to the now-completed construction of The Landmark at 601 S. Forest, an apartment building located in Ward 3. Construction noise was one of several aspects of the construction activity that came under sharp criticism at the council’s Oct. 1, 2012 meeting from nearby resident Eleanor Linn.

The revision adds language to the text of the ordinance to make clear that the ordinance can be enforced against those in a supervisory capacity – people who are causing the work to be done that is generating … [Full Story]

Living Wage Exemption for Nonprofits Postponed

Several amendments to Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance were postponed for three months by the city council at its Nov. 19, 2012 meeting. The main proposed changes to the law – which sets a minimum wage of $12.17/hour for those employers providing health insurance and $13.57/hour for those not providing health insurance – would exempt from the minimum wage requirements those nonprofits that receive funding from the city for human services work.

Consideration of the changes to the ordinance was postponed until the second council meeting in February 2013 and referred to the city’s Housing and Human Services Advisory Board for more study in the meantime.

The current law applies to companies that have contracts with the city for more than $10,000 … [Full Story]

Smith Nominated to Environmental Group

Patti Smith has been nominated as a replacement for John Koupal on Ann Arbor’s environmental commission – for a three-year term. Sabra Briere (Ward 1), the current Ann Arbor city council appointee to the commission, nominated Smith during the council’s Nov. 19, 2012 meeting. The commission provides advice to the city council on “environmental policy, environmental issues and environmental implications of all City programs and proposals on the air, water, land and public health.”

Unlike the majority of nominations to city commissions and boards, which are made by the mayor and confirmed by the city council, the environmental commission nominations are made by the council. The vote on Smith’s appointment will come at the council’s next meeting, on Dec. 3.

This … [Full Story]

Higgins Again Ann Arbor Mayor Pro Tem

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) will serve as mayor pro tem for the city of Ann Arbor for the next year – as she has for the last three years.

According to the city charter, the Ann Arbor city council must elect from its members a mayor pro tem “at its first meeting after the newly elected members have taken office following each regular city election…” That meeting was Nov. 19 – the first meeting for new councilmembers who won their seats in the Nov. 6 general election. The election of Higgins as mayor pro tem was unanimous.

New councilmembers include: Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5). Petersen won the August Democratic primary against incumbent Tony Derezinski, … [Full Story]

Fifth Avenue & Huron

Hanging in the north lobby of the Larcom Building in a glass case is a giant printout of a map showing distribution of voter turnout in the November 6, 2012 election by precinct. Includes comparison to 2010 turnout. Work was done by city’s GIS staff, who provided a file that’s easier to see than a cell phone photo: [.pdf of 2012 Ann Arbor voter turnout]

Michigan Flyer Gross Cost Misreported

In a report from a recent meeting of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, we mischaracterized the $81 per service hour paid by the AATA to Michigan Flyer  –  to provide service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport. We reported the $81 cost as higher than Michigan Flyer’s gross cost. In fact the $81 per service hour is lower than Michigan Flyer’s gross cost. We note the error here and have corrected the original article.

Packard & Main

Ann Arbor Housing Commission property Baker Commons is getting a new roof. [Grant funding for the work was authorized by DDA board on Oct. 3, 2012.] [photo]

County Pursues Major New Parks & Rec Deal

Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission meeting (Nov. 13, 2012): At their November meeting, county parks & recreation commissioners approved moving forward with a major project that could result in a new state recreation area in the southwest corner of Washtenaw County.

Trolz property, Manchester Township, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sign on the Trolz property in Manchester Township, which might become part of a new state recreation area in southwest Washtenaw County. (Photo by Russ Serbay.)

The proposal is to partner with the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources to acquire a total of 2,160 acres straddling the border of Jackson and Washtenaw counties – the Trolz property. The area includes an abandoned rail right-of-way that could become a multipurpose trail.

The county parks system would purchase about 461 acres of that total area – a parcel located in Manchester Township and appraised at $1.37 million. The commission authorized staff to conduct additional work on the potential deal, with a final proposal and request for approval in the coming months.

The commission also received an update on the proposed East County Recreation Center from Craig Borum, professor at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Borum presented two options for laying out the entire 38-acre Water Street redevelopment area in Ypsilanti, where the rec center would be located. He also reviewed two possible draft designs for the recreation building on a portion of the site.

The commission kept up its pace of land preservation efforts, often in partnership with other organizations. It gave final approval to acquire conservation easements on the 124-acre Drake property in Lodi Township, in partnership with the Ann Arbor greenbelt program. Final approvals were also given for easements on the 73-acre Hornback property in Salem Township, partnering with the greenbelt and Salem Township; and for the 213-acre Bailo property in Superior Township. In addition, the commission authorized preparation of a purchase offer for 65 acres in Superior Township – the Ford Road property – at a price of $500,000, contingent on completion of all due diligence and the commission’s final approval. When completed, WCPARC’s contribution to all these deals would total $900,224 to preserve 475 acres.

The nine-member commission will face some turnover in 2013. At the end of the meeting, commissioner Jimmie Maggard announced his intent to resign after 24 years of serving on WCPARC. Barbara Bergman, who serves on WCPARC because of her position as a county commissioner, did not seek re-election and will be leaving the county board at the end of 2012. The same is true for Janis Bobrin, who did not seek re-election as the county’s water resources commissioner. She’ll be replaced by Evan Pratt, who won the seat in the Nov. 6 election. Bergman expressed the hope that Bobrin would be appointed to a vacancy on WCPARC – those appointments are made by the county board. [Full Story]

A2: Public Art

Writing on the Creative Rights Blog, Jordan Kifer reflects on the recent rejection of a public arts millage in Ann Arbor: “How truly open-minded are we when it comes to public art? How willing are we to redefine not only what is considered public art but also what should be legal? Beyond the large-scale art installations costing upwards of $750,000, how much does the city of Ann Arbor actually embrace public art that is created outside the constraints of city decision-making channels?” [Source]

UM: Stem Cell Research

The Detroit Free Press reports on the University of Michigan’s embryonic stem cell research, four years after a statewide voter referendum abolished a ban on such efforts. From the report: ”U-M has emerged as the clear leader in Michigan when it comes to embryonic stem cell research, in part, because of an infusion of funds from shopping mall entrepreneur A. Alfred Taubman, who was asked by a friend dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – Lou Gehrig’s disease – to find a cure. Taubman helped finance the campaign to pass the 2008 ballot proposal that lifted the ban and has been relentless in his support of stem cell research, roaring at a politician in 2010: ‘Embryonic stem cell is probably the most … [Full Story]

AATA Looks to Ride Over Bumps

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Nov. 15, 2012): Board chair Charles Griffith called it a “bumpy month” since the incorporation in early October of a new countywide transit authority under Act 196 – The Washtenaw Ride. A week before the AATA board’s meeting, the Ann Arbor city council had voted to withdraw from the new authority and to terminate an agreement between four parties – the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA – that would have governed a transition from the AATA to The Washtenaw Ride.

AATA Route 5 between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor Transporation Authority

AATA Route #5 between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti has two variants – 5A and 5B. The leg that is mostly within the city of Ann Arbor will have increased frequency starting at the end of January 2013, based on an AATA board resolution.

Since the incorporation of the new authority on Oct. 3, 2012, the “bumps” have included a divergence of views by legal counsel – about the start of the 30-day opt-out period, and the ability of someone to render simultaneous service on boards of the AATA and The Washtenaw Ride. [Previous Chronicle coverage "Positions Open: New Transit Authority Board" and "Ann Arbor Mayor: Need Transit Board Members"]

Bumps also include decisions by a majority of municipalities countywide to withdraw from the authority, including some that the AATA had expected would participate. Ann Arbor’s withdrawal ended this approach to expanding transit. Until Ann Arbor’s decision to opt out, a majority of the county’s population was still included in the areas that would have participated.

Nevertheless, the mood of AATA’s Nov. 15 meeting was moderately optimistic. The Ann Arbor city council’s resolution had encouraged the AATA to pursue expanded service – but with a narrower focus. And CEO Michael Ford reported that following the council’s decision, a meeting had been held with representatives of eight different jurisdictions who were interested in pursuing some alternative to the Act 196 incorporation.

Having attended both the city council meeting and the subsequent meeting with representatives of interested jurisdictions, AATA board member Roger Kerson said, “The second was more fun than the first.” It’s expected that in December, it would be possible to start settling in on a geographic footprint for communities that would opt into an arrangement for expanded service and more stable funding.

Paul Schreiber, the mayor of Ypsilanti, attended the board’s meeting and encouraged the establishment of a more stable funding source than the purchase-of-service agreements (POSAs), through which the AATA has historically provided service to areas outside of Ann Arbor – like Ypsilanti.

The relatively optimistic tone of the board’s discussion was backed by two votes in support of expanded services: (1) the purchase of 25 additional vans to expand the AATA’s vanpool service; and (2) an allocation of funds to increase the frequency of service on the Ann Arbor branch of Route #5, which runs down Packard toward Ypsilanti.

The vote to increase service frequency on Route #5 came only after considerable debate and over the dissent of two board members. The AATA staff had recommended the increased service for Route #5 – but on a timetable that would have included a more thorough financial analysis of other services. Those other services have been added based on anticipated additional funding that would have been available through the newly incorporated Act 196 authority. They include: increased Route #4 frequency, the AirRide airport service, expanded NightRide service, and commuter express service to Chelsea and Canton. [Full Story]

A2: Sketchbook Project

The Sketchbook Project – described as “an interactive art exhibition on wheels, featuring a rotating selection of work from The Sketchbook Project installed in a custom-crafted library trailer” – has popped up at the Roos Roast shop (115 Rosewood) from 4-8 p.m. today (Saturday, Nov. 17). [Source]

Ashley & Liberty

Horse buggy built by Walker & Company Manufacturers – where the present-day Ann Arbor Art Center is located – finds a new home at Downtown Home & Garden. The buggy has been in the family of John and Holly Porter of Manchester, who are letting it roll full circle to DH&G, kitty corner across from the Ann Arbor Art Center. Grandchildren of the center’s president, Marsha Chamberlin – Gabrielle, Abigail and Zachary – tested out the suspension. The buggy will be displayed, suspended from the ceiling. [photo 1] [photo 2] [photo 3] [photo 4] [photo 5]

Farmers Market

Only a few Obama T-shirts left – being sold at the Farmers Market near the entrance to Kerrytown Market & Shops. [photo]

Transit Withdrawal Before Council Transition

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 8, 2012): The post-election meeting of the council – moved from its usual Monday slot to Thursday – featured one high-profile piece of business watched by many throughout the county. That was a vote on withdrawal by the city of Ann Arbor from a new transit authority – called The Washtenaw Ride – which was incorporated on Oct. 3, 2012. The vote to opt out was 10-0. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) was absent.

Margie Teall

Margie Teall (Ward 4) raises her hand asking to be recognized so she can speak at the Ann Arbor city council’s Nov. 8 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Smith had said her farewell from the council at the previous meeting, on Oct. 15. She had decided not to seek re-election to her seat. At the Nov. 8 meeting, two other councilmembers attended their final meeting – Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) who, like Smith, did not seek re-election, and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) who did not prevail in his August Democratic primary. New councilmembers – Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) – will be ceremonially sworn in at the start of the council’s next meeting on Nov. 19.

A transitional theme emerged, as discussion of some agenda items straddled the Nov. 8 and Nov. 19 meetings – including the transit authority opt-out vote. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had been planning to bring a similar item forward on Nov. 19, when he felt he’d have a six-vote majority on the question. But that move was preempted by the Nov. 8 item, which included the sponsorship of Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and mayor John Hieftje – who had previously been key figures in supporting the city’s role in the planned authority.

Discussion of a living wage waiver for the nonprofit Community Action Network (CAN) also included mention of the Nov. 19 meeting. That’s when a proposal will be brought forward that would change the living wage ordinance itself. The preference of Hieftje and Hohnke to wait and consider the ordinance revision for all nonprofits – instead of granting a waiver to CAN – was strong enough that they voted against the waiver. But the eight votes it received were enough to ensure that for the next three years, CAN does not need to abide by the living wage ordinance – which would otherwise require it to pay all its workers $13.57/hour.

A resolution that transferred $90,000 from the general fund reserve to the affordable housing trust fund was part of the transitional theme – because it had Sandi Smith’s name attached as a sponsor, even though she could not attend the meeting. The dollar amount was keyed to the price of a strip of land belonging to the former YMCA lot, which the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority recently purchased from the city. The transfer of funds was made in the spirit, if not the letter, of a policy enacted by the council at Smith’s urging at her final council meeting. That policy called for net proceeds of the sale of the Y lot to be deposited in the affordable housing trust fund.

The council’s agenda for Nov. 19 was partially previewed when both Briere and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) announced they’d be bringing forward proposals to revise the city’s Percent for Art ordinance – in the wake of a failed public art millage proposal at the polls on Nov. 6. Briere’s proposal would alter the definition of projects that qualify, while Lumm’s would eliminate the program. The Percent for Art ordinance requires that 1% of the budgets for all capital projects be set aside for public art.

And although he’ll be leaving the council, Derezinski will serve out the remainder of Evan Pratt’s term on the city planning commission. Pratt is leaving that role after being elected Washtenaw County water resources commissioner. At the Nov. 8 meeting, council confirmed Derezinski’s planning commission nomination, which had come at the council’s previous meeting. The council also decided to expand a task force on planning for the North Main corridor to make room for outgoing councilmember Sandi Smith, and appointed her to that group as a citizen member. She’s been serving as the council’s representative.

In other business, a resolution that would have moved toward converting the city’s retirement system to a defined contribution plan – instead of a defined benefit plan – was withdrawn. The council also approved increasing the staffing level of the fire department from 85 to 86 firefighters. And the city’s sign board of appeals (SBA) was dissolved by the council, with responsibilities transferred to the zoning board of appeals (ZBA). The council also voted to give city attorney Stephen Postema a 2.4% raise, his first in five years. [Full Story]

Fourth & Kingsley

Board members getting settled in to Ann Arbor DDA retreat at Zingerman’s Events on Fourth – guests include city administrator Steve Powers and Tim Marshall, Bank of Ann Arbor president and chair of the Ann Arbor SPARK board. Retreat runs through 3:30 p.m. and is open to the public. [photo] [photo]

W. Madison & Third Street

A hawk perched on the fence a few feet from the little brown and white rabbit that roams the corner yard.