Planning Group Postpones Vote on Sustainability

The Ann Arbor planning commission voted to postpone adoption of a new sustainability framework – including a set of 16 goals – into the city’s master plan. The postponement will allow the staff to work with commissioners on fine-tuning language related to the energy efficiency of existing buildings. The action was taken at the commission’s Dec. 4, 2012 meeting. The commission will take up the item in January of 2013, when it will also vote on recommending that the city council also approve adopting the goals into the master plan.

The city has been developing this framework for nearly two years. In June, the commission had recommended approval of the 16 overarching sustainability goals, which are organized into four categories: resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. In September, commissioners voted to disseminate the framework to neighboring jurisdictions, which was a necessary step on the path toward including it in the city’s master plan. [.pdf of sustainability document]

Based on feedback during the past few months, one change was recommended by staff. In the section on climate and energy goals, a phrase was added to a goal regarding high-performance buildings (added text in italics): “Increase efficiency in new and existing buildings within our community while preserving the architectural integrity of existing buildings.” According to staff, the change was made in response to concerns from some residents about the need to safeguard the historic integrity in older structures during sustainability retrofits.

During the Dec. 4 meeting there was considerable discussion among commissioners about the appropriateness of inserting that new phrase. Commissioner Ken Clein – an architect with Quinn Evans – also noted that the phrase “high-performance” has a specific meaning among building professionals, which might not be completely consistent with what the city intends. Planning manager Wendy Rampson pointed out that there was no urgency to adopt the framework at this meeting, and suggested that the staff could work on revising the language based on commissioners’ input and bring it back at a later date.

No one spoke during a public hearing held by the planning commission on Dec. 4. In giving the staff report, city planner Jill Thacher noted that the next steps – after both the planning commission and city council adopt the framework – include refining a sustainability action plan, which she characterized as being in a “very drafty” mode. The action plan would provide details for implementing the sustainability goals.

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

If approved, the sustainability framework would become the seventh element of the city’s master plan. Other elements are: (1) land use; (2) downtown plan; (3) transportation plan; (4) non-motorized plan; (5) parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan; and (6) natural features master plan.

This report was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron, where the commission meets.