Archive for December, 2012


The governor asked that at 9:30 a.m. today there be a moment of silence and that all bells toll 26 times in memory of the 20 children and 6 adults killed in Connecticut last Friday morning. Joe O’Neal tolled the carillon at Kerrytown Market & Shops.

Column: 2012 in Sports – Good, Bad & Silly

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

2012 was a remarkable year in many ways, and the sports world was no exception. Here’s a look back on the sport year’s best and worst – and just plain silly.

Just a few hours into the New Year, Michigan State and Michigan both won January bowl games over ranked teams in overtime, and both finished with 11 wins – Michigan’s best record since 2006. A good start to the new year.

Not all the news was happy, of course. We said goodbye to some legends. Budd Lynch, who lost his right arm in World War II, announced Red Wing games for six decades, right up to his death this fall, at 95.

Another Bud, VanDeWege, ran Moe’s Sports Shops in downtown Ann Arbor for 46 years, turning thousands of Michigan fans into friends. He passed away at 83.

We also lost the great Bob Chappuis, another World War II hero whose plane was shot down over Italy, behind enemy lines. He hid for weeks, then returned to lead Michigan to a national title. Along the way, he appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. Try to sing his praises, however, and he’d wave you off. “Everybody says we’re heroes,” he told me, with a twinkle in his eye. “But what kind of idiot wouldn’t jump from a burning plane?”

The most watched funeral was Joe Paterno’s, the longtime football coach at Penn State. His life ended on Jan. 22, but the debate over his legacy is very much alive. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Handles Green Agenda

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 17, 2012): The agenda for the council’s final regular meeting of the year was relatively light, but was weighted toward “green” issues – including parks and more general environmental items.

Chart showing projected greenhouse gas emissions if the city of Ann Arbor does nothing, compared to enacting the steps outlined in the climate action plan, which was adopted by the city council at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

Chart showing projected greenhouse gas emissions if the city of Ann Arbor does nothing, compared to enacting steps outlined in the climate action plan, which was adopted by the city council at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

The council approved two grant applications for future development of at least part of the city-owned property at 721 N. Main St. as a park. It’s seen as an element of a future Allen Creek greenway that would arc northward along the railroad tracks, starting from the East Stadium bridges to the Huron River. The applications were for unspecified amounts from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) and the Washtenaw County parks & recreation Connecting Communities program. Last year the city received two $300,000 grants from the MNRTF – for the future skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park, and for renovations to the boating facilities at Gallup Park.

The current grant applications came in the general context of an initial recommendation made by a council-appointed task force that has been meeting since the summer. That task force has a much broader geographic charge, which includes the North Main corridor, extending eastward to the Huron River and over to the MichCon property. The task force is due to make recommendations to the council on that broader area by the summer of 2013. However, the group was asked to weigh-in specifically on the 721 N. Main property by the end of this year – because of the grant application deadlines.

The North Main task force had been appointed at the same May 7, 2012 meeting when the council had heard from representatives of 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios on the physical survey work necessary for another city-owned property – at 415 W. Washington. At least part of that property is also envisioned as part of a future Allen Creek greenway. After appropriating $50,000 for physical testing at its July 16, 2012 meeting, the council on Dec. 17 allocated another $32,583 after bids came back.

In addition to green space, the council’s Dec. 17 agenda included two “green” resolutions – one that adopted a climate action plan and the other calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act. Ann Arbor’s climate action plan calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 8% by 2015, 25% by 2025, and 90% by 2050. The reductions are compared to baseline levels measured in the year 2000. The action steps identified in the climate action plan are divided into four main categories: energy and buildings; land use and access; resource management; community and health. Those categories align with the city’s sustainability framework. The plan is also coordinated with a similar effort by the University of Michigan.

Other business handled by the council included another request to the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner’s office in connection with stormwater infrastructure for a street reconstruction project. The petition requested an application for $1.4 million in low-interest loans for a three-year project in the Platt-Packard neighborhood. Also connected to bricks-and-mortar infrastructure was an additional allocation of about $148,000 for the 2012 sidewalk repair and ramp installation program – the first year of a five-year cycle, corresponding to a millage approved by voters in 2011. The total mount of the 2012 sidewalk program was about $965,000.

The council also gave its recommendation to grant a micro brewer license to Biercamp Artisan Sausage & Jerky, a retail shop located at 1643 S. State St.

Initial approval was given by the council for a revision to the city’s ordinance regulating parking on front lawns. The change will make it easier to make arrangements for events other than University of Michigan football games.

And the council approved a $90,000 project budget that will allow for documents to be submitted digitally to the planning and development department. The project includes a public kiosk for reviewing plans.

The council also heard its typical range of public commentary, with topics including pedestrian safety, towing, and Palestinian rights. [Full Story]

AAPS Sets Stage for Budget Talks

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education committee of the whole meeting (Dec. 12, 2012): Faced with another looming budget deficit, the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) school board used their committee of the whole meeting to review a list of potential budget reductions.  The board tried to get a handle on the estimated savings that each reduction would bring the district.

Ann Arbor Public School trustees, Glenn Nelson and Susan Baskett

Ann Arbor Public Schools trustees Glenn Nelson and Susan Baskett. (Photo by the writer.)

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green stressed that the list brought by administration for review was in no way a list of recommendations – it was just a list of savings estimates, which trustees had requested at a previous meeting. The estimates totaled nearly $26 million in potential reductions. They included: reducing teaching staff; reorganizing human resources; eliminating funding for some extracurricular activities; and closing buildings.

As part of the budget discussion, trustees also reviewed their plans to begin a series of one-on-one and small group meetings with key community leaders, school groups, and other partners. Trustee Glenn Nelson described the plans as first sharing information about the funding situation currently faced by AAPS, and then engaging in an open discussion with a lot of listening. Trustees then plan to bring back the information gleaned from their discussions, and use it, as trustee Andy Thomas put it, “to put together a message and a campaign on how to keep these schools excellent – a message that will resonate with people … and will respond to their hopes and their fears.”

The bulk of the Dec. 12 meeting was spent discussing some preliminary recommendations on high school start times. The recommendations were made to the board by an administrative committee charged originally to look at that issue. Green explained how the scope of the committee had broadened beyond start times to include review of high school scheduling. The committee had also looked at the possibility of opening up the district’s comprehensive high schools (Pioneer, Huron, and Skyline) to in-district transfers and school-of-choice students.

The board also weighed the issue of semesters versus trimesters at Skyline High School, and seemed favorably inclined to consider a shift to semesters. No decision was made at the meeting on that topic. [Full Story]

Fifth & Kingsley

Crazy busy in the area around the Farmers Market, Kerrytown Market & Shops, and Zingerman’s Deli. Lots of vendors and shoppers at the Wednesday outdoor market, despite the temp.

DTE Site on Broadway

The Huron River shore has been replaced with new fill and a rocky edge, as part of the DTE/MichCon remediation project. [photo] A backhoe dumps (assumed contaminated) soil onto a truck to be hauled away. It looks like the excavation has uncovered some kind of orange underground structure. [photo]

Updated Capital Improvements Plan OK’d

At its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting, Ann Arbor planning commissioners approved the city’s proposed capital improvements plan (CIP), which will now be forwarded to the city council. No one attended a public hearing on the topic.

The plan covers the fiscal years 2014-2019, and includes a list of major capital projects, both those that are funded and those for which funding hasn’t yet been identified. [.pdf of CIP for FY 2014-2019] Required by state statute, the CIP must be developed and updated each year, looking ahead at a six-year period, to help with financial planning for major projects – permanent infrastructure like buildings, utilities, transportation and parks. It’s intended to reflect the city’s priorities and needs, and serves as … [Full Story]

544 Detroit St. Project Gets Planning OK

A plan to construct a three-story building at 544 Detroit St. with offices on the first floor and residences on the upper two floors took a step forward, with recommendations for approval from the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. The recommendations are for the planned project’s site plan, as well as changes to the required landscaping buffer. Approval is still needed from the city council.

The site – a triangle at the corner of Detroit and North Division – is in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District. [.pdf aerial map of 544 Detroit] [.jpg image of proposed design] The plan calls for demolishing a 560-square-foot gas station, which has been vacant for more than … [Full Story]

Rezoning for S. State Site Postponed

A rezoning request and area plan waiver for 2271 S. State St. – which would allow for auto sales on the site – was postponed by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. The city’s planning staff had recommended denial of the requests, noting that the changes did not align with uses in the city’s master plan for that area.

The 2.24-acre site is located on the east side of South State, across the street from a University of Michigan tennis facility. Most recently, Pilar’s Tamales restaurant was located there, though that building is now vacant. The owner, Capital Investment Co., requested rezoning from M1 (limited industrial) to M1A (limited light industrial) so that an auto dealership … [Full Story]

W. Liberty Townhomes Get Planning OK

A large townhome development at the northwest corner of West Liberty and South Maple is moving forward, following a recommendation of approval for its site plan from the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting.

Blue Heron Pond is a planned project of 64 units on a 7.8-acre site that’s zoned R4B (multi-family dwelling). It’s the site of a development formerly called West Towne Condominiums that was started in 2005 but never completed. A building with 11 units is on the site, although the original developer – the Concannon Company – had planned to build 87 units. [.pdf of map showing site location]

The new owner, Norfolk Development, bought the property in the spring of 2012. The … [Full Story]

Rezoning Request Gets Technical Denial

A rezoning request for 490 Huron Parkway from R3 (townhouse district) to R1B (single-family dwelling) failed to get the required six votes needed for a recommendation of approval at the Ann Arbor planning commission meeting on Dec. 18, 2012. The request will be forwarded to city council with a technical denial. If approved by the council, it would allow the currently vacant 1.22-acre site, located north of Ruthven Park, to be divided into three separate lots.

Of the six commissioners at the meeting, only five supported the request. Bonnie Bona voted against it, saying she supported more dense development in that area, which is located along a bus line. City planning staff had recommended the rezoning, and noted that the adjacent … [Full Story]

West Park Designated for New Dog Park

A section of West Park, located off of Chapin across from the New Hope Baptist Church, has been recommended as the location for a new fenced-in dogpark. The recommendation from the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, made at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting, was unanimous, and will be forwarded to city council for consideration.

The vote followed public commentary from more than a half dozen members of the New Hope Baptist Church, which would be located directly across from the dogpark. Members were opposed to the location, citing concerns over safety, noise and other issues. One speaker suggested the possibility of swapping the location with the existing Project Grow gardens, located in West Park but further away from the road.

The proposed … [Full Story]

Parks Group OKs Ann Arbor Skatepark Design

After getting an update on the Ann Arbor skatepark, the city’s park advisory commission unanimously recommended approval of the proposed design at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. [.pdf of skatepark design] The recommendation will be forwarded to city council for its consideration.

The park, expected to cost about $1 million, was designed by Wally Hollyday, who attended the meeting and briefed commissioners on his work. In July of 2012, the Ann Arbor city council had authorized a $89,560 contract with his firm, Wally Hollyday Skateparks, for the design and construction oversight of the skatepark, to be built in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park. City council action on the skatepark at that location dates back to a Dec. … [Full Story]

Cobblestone Farm Roof Repair in the Works

The Ann Arbor park advisory commission has recommended awarding a $109,500 contract to Renaissance Restorations Inc. to replace roofs at Cobblestone Farm on the event barn and on the Tincknor-Campbell House. It was the lowest of three bids received for the work. The contract includes a 10% contingency, bringing the total to $120,450.

The work would be funded with proceeds from the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage.

According to a staff memo, the Tincknor-Campbell House is a cobblestone farmhouse that was built in 1844. Its existing wood shingle roof was installed in 1977 and is in serious disrepair. The proposal calls for the new roof to be made of cedar shakes, with flashing done in copper.

The event barn, built … [Full Story]

Main Street

Noonday lineup of 16 or more patiently-waiting patrons hungry for one of the “Le Dog” soups.

Fourth & William

New post is up and ready for repaired Beer Depot sign.

Miller btw Miner and Fountain

The days are numbered for a final view of Burton Memorial Tower at the top of the hill heading into downtown. It is now behind the steel framework erected for the latest student highrise on Huron.

Ann Arbor to Apply for Grants for 721 N. Main

The city-owned parcel at 721 N. Main was the subject of two grant applications authorized by the Ann Arbor city council at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting. One application is for a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant. The other is to the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission’s Connecting Communities program.

The city considers its proposal for 721 N. Main to be a strong candidate for the Connecting Communities grant, because it incorporates paths and trails through the site that could potentially be extended to connect to the cross-county Border-to-Border Trail.  [.jpg of conceptual 721 N. Main site plan]

The conceptual site plan includes the following: (1) open space on the floodway portion of the site; (2) floodway portion … [Full Story]

More Funds for 415 W. Washington Study

An additional $32,583 for the study of the city-owned property at 415 W. Washington has been appropriated from the general fund balance reserve by the Ann Arbor city council. The vote, which included contracts with Tetra Tech Geo for $44,498 (environmental investigation) and Rueter & Associates for $26,935 (historic structure assessment) came at the council’s Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

The council had previously authorized $50,000 for physical testing of the property. That vote had come at the council’s July 16, 2012 meeting.

The 415 W. Washington property, with its three buildings, was previously used by the city as a vehicle maintenance facility, before the construction of the Wheeler Service Center south of town on Stone School Road.

The council received a presentation … [Full Story]

More Money Approved for Sidewalk Repair

Another $147,962 has been authorized by the Ann Arbor city council for repair of sidewalks and construction of ramps in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The vote to approve the change order, taken at the council’s Dec. 17, 2012 meeting, brought the total contract with Doan Construction Co. for the 2012 program to $964,991. [.pdf of map showing areas where work was done]

The funding source being tapped is the sidewalk repair millage, which was approved by voters in November 2011.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

Ann Arbor OKs Another Stormwater Petition

A request of the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner to apply for $1.45 million in state revolving fund loans has been made by the Ann Arbor city council at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting. It’s part of a street reconstruction project in the Springwater subdivision – with an overall project cost of $5.17 million.

The general location of the area is Platt and Packard roads. Streets that are part of the project include Nordman Road, Butternut Street, Springbrook Avenue, and Redwood Avenue.

The street reconstruction will use a traditional asphalt surface, but the management of stormwater will be achieved through oversized stormwater pipes. Construction is expected to start in late 2013 and will last three years. Sanitary sewer issues will also be … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Acts on Climate Plan

A climate action plan was adopted by a unanimous vote of the Ann Arbor city council at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

Also at the meeting, the council passed a separate resolution that urges the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act. A 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case gave the EPA the authority to regulate emission of green house gases (GHGs) as pollutants – such as water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone (O3).

Ann Arbor’s climate action plan calls for a reduction in GHG emissions of 8% by 2015, 25% by 2025, and 90% by 2050. Baseline for the reductions are 2000 levels. The action steps identified in … [Full Story]

Micro Brewer License for Biercamp OK’d

Biercamp Artisan Sausage & Jerky, a retail shop located at 1643 S. State Street, has been recommended for a micro brewer liquor license by the Ann Arbor city council. The council’s unanimous vote came at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, Biercamp intends to brew small batches of beer in growlers for off-site consumption to complement their artisan meats. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked if anyone knew what a growler was. Some of her council colleagues explained that it’s a common container – typically a half-gallon jug – for holding draft beer.

A micro brewer license limits the amount of beer produced to no more than 30,000 barrels per year. A barrel is 31 gallons.

The … [Full Story]

Initial OK for More Front Yard Parking

A slightly more flexible local ordinance regulating the ability of residents to park cars in the front yards has been given initial approval by the Ann Arbor city council. The vote came at the council’s Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

The change in local law, if given final approval at a future council meeting, would allow the city council to establish “special event dates” for temporary front open space parking. The current ordinance allows people to use their front yards for parking for University of Michigan football games. The ordinance change includes a provision explicitly to include “scrimmages,” which will accommodate the annual spring game.

The ordinance change was motivated part by the possibility that University of Michigan football stadium events might in … [Full Story]

Court Orders AATA to Reconsider Ad

In an order filed Dec. 17, 2012, judge Mark Goldsmith of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan has ruled that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority must reconsider an advertisement it had previously rejected for placement on the sides of its buses. [.pdf of Dec. 17, 2012 court order] The ad included the text “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid.”

In the course of the lawsuit, which was filed by Ann Arbor resident Blaine Coleman over a year ago, the court found in favor of Coleman on his request for a preliminary injunction. But Goldsmith left the question of appropriate relief to be determined. Since that initial ruling, the AATA board, at its Nov. 29, 2012 meeting, revised its advertising … [Full Story]

UM: Advice for Parents

Writing on the Hail to the Little Victors blog – on the University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital website – Kate Rosenblum gives advice on talking to children about tragedy. She writes: “Parents should keep their explanation simple, honest, and age appropriate. Asking questions first in order to get their child’s understanding lets parents respond to their children’s specific questions and concerns.” [Source]

Council Focus: Budget, Safety, Infrastructure

A key outcome of an Ann Arbor city council planning session held on Dec. 10 was the identification of five priority areas for the next year.

Three of the areas generated immediate consensus among the 11 councilmembers: (1) city budget and fiscal discipline; (2) public safety; and (3) infrastructure. Two additional areas were drawn from a raft of other possible issues as those to which the council wanted to devote time and energy: (4) economic development; and (5) affordable housing.

Five issues identified by the city council as the areas they'd like to invest time and energy in the coming year.

Five issues identified by the Ann Arbor city council as the areas they’d like to invest time and energy in the coming year: (1) city budget and fiscal discipline; (2) public safety; (3) infrastructure; (4) economic development; and (5) affordable housing. (Photos by the writer.)

Possibly more important than the five areas of focus were the answers councilmembers developed to two questions about each area: (1) What is the problem we are solving? and (2) What does success look like?

Based on remarks at the conclusion of the evening, councilmembers seemed almost universally enthusiastic with the outcome of the planning session, which was facilitated by Julia Novak of the Novak Consulting Group. Novak holds a masters degree in public administration from the University of Kansas – the same program where Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers obtained his degree. However, the two did not overlap there as students.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who’d helped plan the format and content of the session during budget committee meetings over the last two months, said: “I think the engagement among councilmembers tonight was extraordinary.” She attributed that engagement at least in part to the fact that councilmembers were asked not to bring their laptop computers or cellphones to the session.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) felt that having an objective facilitator helped. And Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) thought that Novak did a good job keeping the council focused on not presupposing solutions, but rather on trying to clearly define what problem the council is trying to solve.

The general enthusiasm among councilmembers  for the two-question approach that Novak took carried over to the work of a five-member city council committee on public art that met the following day. The group actively attempted to apply the problem/success approach to their work.

Somewhat dubious about one of the problem statements – in connection with public safety – was Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), who still wondered at the end of the session about the implications of the word “optimize.”

This report includes the consensus problem/success statements for each of the areas of focus. The report also provides a more detailed look at how the council moved from an initial draft to its final consensus on one of those priorities – public safety. [Full Story]

Council’s Public Art Committee Begins Work

Ann Arbor city council public art committee meeting (Dec. 11, 2012): The city council committee tasked with making recommendations on the future of Ann Arbor’s public art program met for the first time this month. Committee members began exploring the question of continued city funding for public art. They’re starting to think about ways for the city to fund art that are different from the current mechanism.

Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Ann Arbor city council, Ann Arbor public art, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor city councilmembers Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) at the first meeting of the council’s public art committee on Dec. 11. Other members are Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). (Photos by the writer.)

The group consists of councilmembers Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). They’d been appointed at the city council’s Dec. 3 meeting, when the council also voted to halt the spending of funds accumulated through Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art program  – except for projects that are already underway. The moratorium on spending lasts until April 1, 2013.

The committee was asked to recommend amendments to the city’s public art program, and make those recommendations to the council by Feb. 15, 2013. Among the possibilities the task force is expected to consider is a complete repeal of the current program, perhaps to be replaced with an alternative.

Peterson – the newest councilmember on the committee, who was elected on Nov. 6 – brought to the Dec. 11 meeting a draft survey for residents, to help clarify public sentiment about using city funds for public art. She noted that the outcome of a public art millage, which was defeated by about 56% of voters on Nov. 6, didn’t directly measure how people felt about the public funding of art. The four-year millage would have temporarily replaced the current Percent for Art program, which sets aside 1% of each city capital project to use for public art.

But other committee members – particularly Teall and Kunselman – expressed little enthusiasm for a survey, although the group agreed to bring back other ideas for public outreach to their next meeting.

Much of the committee’s discussion focused on exploring other funding options. Taylor suggested the possibility of a new nonprofit, which could help secure more private funding. He said he’s already been communicating with the city attorney’s office about this option. It was Taylor who had brought forward the millage proposal this summer, to the surprise of many in the local arts community. The arts community was unsuccessful in its efforts to urge the city council not to put the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The committee set its next meeting for Monday, Jan. 7 at 5:30 p.m. – before to the 7 p.m. city council meeting. Before then, committee members agreed to work on several tasks, including gathering information about how other communities handle funding for public art. And Kunselman plans to draft a resolution for the council to make a request of the state attorney general’s office – likely via state Rep. Jeff Irwin – for an opinion about the legality of Ann Arbor’s current approach.

The Dec. 11 meeting also was attended by two members of the Ann Arbor public art commission – Marsha Chamberlin, AAPAC’s chair, and John Kotarski – as well as Aaron Seagraves, the city’s part-time public art administrator. [For a report on the most recent meeting of the public art commission, see: “Public Art Commission Eyes Uncertain Future.”]

This report begins with some background on Ann Arbor Percent for Art program, then summarizes the wide-ranging Dec. 11 committee discussion and possible next steps. [Full Story]