Archive for January, 2013

Conservation Fund Contract Renewed

A contract between The Conservation Fund and the city of Ann Arbor was authorized by a vote of the city council at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting. The $156,230 contract is for management of operations for the city’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs. The programs are funded by a 30-year 0.5 mill open space and parkland preservation tax that voters approved in 2003. The contract is for a one-year period, with the option for two one-year renewals.

The city had issued a request for proposals (RFP) in early November, with a Nov. 28 deadline for responses. [.pdf of management RFP] Only one proposal had been received – from The Conservation Fund.

The Conservation Fund has held that contract since the greenbelt … [Full Story]

New Roofs for Cobblestone Farm

A $109,500 contract with Renaissance Restorations Inc. has been approved, which will allow replacement of roofs at Cobblestone Farm – on the event barn and on the Tincknor-Campbell House. The contract was given approval by the Ann Arbor City council at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting. The bid from Renaissance was the lowest of three 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 … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Adopts Priorities

Ann Arbor city council priorities for the next two years, adopted as part of a consultant’s planning session report, will include fiscal responsibility, public safety, infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing. The council voted at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting formally to adopt consultant Julia Novak’s report – based on a Dec. 10, 2012 planning session that she facilitated. [.pdf of Novak's report of Dec. 10 session]

For more detailed coverage of the problem and success statements that the council associates with each of the priority areas, see Chronicle coverage: “Council Focus: Budget, Safety, Infrastructure.” And for coverage of statements of councilmember sentiments in response to one of the planning session assignments – a 3-5 minute statement on “What … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Grant for Two Wind Turbines

Two wind turbines, intended to generate electricity for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, will be constructed in or near the city of Ann Arbor sometime in the next year and a half. At its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy that will fund part of the construction.

The city is obligated to provide an additional $484,390 in matching funds on the $951,500 grant – which it expects to achieve through partnership with a third-party developer, who was not named in the council’s resolution. However, city staff responded to councilmember questions before the meeting by indicating it was Wind Products Inc., out of Brooklyn, N.Y. that is … [Full Story]

Leahy Appointed to Local Development Board

Carrie Leahy has been appointed as one of six Ann Arbor representatives to the 9-member local development finance authority (LDFA) board. She replaces Theresa Carroll, whose term expired six months ago, on June 30, 2012. The vote came on a vote taken by the Ann Arbor city council at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting.

The LDFA is a tax-increment finance (TIF)-funded entity that comprises the geographic area of the city of Ann Arbor’s downtown development authority, as well as the city of Ypsilanti’s DDA. The LDFA is separate and distinct from the nonprofit Ann Arbor SPARK, which operates a business accelerator under contract with the LDFA. [The Chronicle is able to offer only occasional coverage of the LDFA. From June ... [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Skatepark Drops In

The final design of a new Ann Arbor skatepark, to be located in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, has been approved by the city council. The city’s park advisory commission had unanimously recommended approval of the proposed design at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. [.pdf of skatepark design] The city council’s vote approving the skatepark design came at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2013, with a goal of completing the project by the fall.

The park, expected to cost about $1 million, was designed by Wally Hollyday. In July of 2012, the Ann Arbor city council had authorized a $89,560 contract with his firm, Wally Hollyday Skateparks, … [Full Story]

Summit Townhomes Site Gets Initial Rezoning OK

Given initial approval by the Ann Arbor city council at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting was a request to zone a 2.95-acre site, just east of Stone School Road, as R3 (townhouse dwelling district). The property was recently annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township.

The city’s planning commission had voted to recommend the rezoning at its Nov. 20, 2012 meeting.

The R3 zoning would be consistent with the intended development of the site – to be called Summit Townhomes – for which the city’s planning commission recommended for approval at its Jan. 3, 2013 meeting. The developer wants to build 24 attached residential units in four separate buildings, with each building between 80 to 160 feet in length. Each … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor: More Front-Yard Event Parking

A slightly more flexible local ordinance regulating the ability of residents to park cars in their front yards has been given final approval by the Ann Arbor city council. The vote came at the council’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting.

The change in local law allows the city council to establish “special event dates” for temporary front open space parking. The ordinance had already allowed 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 UM’s annual intra-squad spring football game.

The ordinance change was motivated part by the possibility that University of Michigan football stadium events might in the future not necessarily be restricted … [Full Story]

Two More Residential Projects Move Forward

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Jan. 3, 2013): In action that somewhat paralleled their last meeting of 2012, planning commissioners approved two more residential projects – one relatively small building near downtown, and one larger townhome development on the city’s outskirts. Both projects had been previously postponed by the commission.

515 N. Fifth, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

This current house at 515 N. Fifth, just south of Beakes, will be demolished to make way for a new four-unit residential development. (Photos by the writer.)

The site plan for 515 N. Fifth calls for demolishing the current house – which has three apartments – and building a three-story structure with four two-bedroom units. Two of those units will be condos, with the other two rented out as apartments. Although the building’s design had previously received harsh criticism from Christine Crockett, president of the Old Fourth Ward Association, and Ray Detter of the downtown citizens advisory council, no one spoke against the project on Jan. 3 and the commission’s discussion was brief.

Also moving forward was a site plan for Summit Townhomes, a residential project at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road, between Stone School and Platt roads. That project proposes 24 attached residential units in four separate buildings. The planning commission and city council have already approved annexation of the site from Pittsfield Township, although that process still awaits authorization at the state level.

In other action, commissioners took steps on two major planning projects that have been years in the making. They recommended that the city council distribute a draft of the South State Street corridor plan to neighboring jurisdictions and other stakeholders, including the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. It’s the next step toward adopting the corridor plan’s recommendations into the city’s master plan.

Commissioners also voted to adopt a sustainability framework as an element of city’s master plan, and recommended that the city council take the same action. The sustainability framework will become the seventh element in the master plan, which is used to guide decision-making in a variety of ways. 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.

Related to that effort, planning manager Wendy Rampson highlighted a series of sustainability forums hosted by the city. The first one is on Wednesday, Jan. 9 and focuses on “sustainable systems,” looking at how weather changes might impact the community and the city’s infrastructure. All forums, held monthly through April, begin at 7 p.m. at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

The hour-long Jan. 3 meeting was relatively short, but commissioners are anticipating a much longer session on Jan. 15. That’s when two major residential projects will be on the agenda: a 14-story building on the northeast corner of Huron and Division, with 216 apartments; and a 13-story addition to the Pizza House building on Church Street, with 76 apartments. Both projects, especially the controversial proposal at 413 E. Huron, are expected to draw significant public commentary. [Full Story]

A2: Theater Photos

On her blog Relish, local photographer Myra Klarman posts two dozen images from last year’s Pioneer Theatre Guild production of “Ragtime.” She also uses the post to highlight Pioneer High School’s upcoming FutureStars 2013 – tickets for the popular show go on sale Monday, Jan. 7 at noon. The preliminary competitions are on Jan. 11-12, with the finals on Jan. 19. [Source]

A2: Michigan Economy

The Detroit Free Press runs a Q&A with Lou Glazer, president of the Ann Arbor think tank Michigan Future Inc., who argues that Gov. Rick Snyder is focusing on the wrong ranking to judge Michigan’s economic health – looking at the cost of doing business, rather than the financial welfare of the state’s citizens. From the interview: “Economic developers who court businesses tell me the first question companies ask is always about the availability of skilled workers. So when they’re doing business location decisions, they start with talent. But when they lobby, they lobby for low business costs.” [Source]

Spring & Miller

Knight’s Market is bagging up dog food – lots of it – made of raw ground chicken, bones and all. [photo]

Fourth & Catherine

Snow piled up in what otherwise would be parking for scooters and motorcycles. Guess no one figures it would be used in weather like this. Wrong! [photo]

New Washtenaw County Board Kicks Off 2013

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 2, 2013): The first meeting of 2013 reflected a mix of celebration as well as some tensions on the newly constituted nine-member board.

Declan LaBarre, Andy LaBarre, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Declan LaBarre, son of Andy and Megan LaBarre, was the youngest of many family members who attended the Jan. 2, 2013 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners to watch the new board get sworn in. Andy LaBarre is the newest Ann Arbor commissioner, elected on Nov. 6 to represent District 7. (Photos by the writer.)

After the swearing-in of commissioners – a ceremony officiated by county clerk Larry Kestenbaum – the two main agenda items were the election of board officers, and approval of revised board rules and regulations.

Two of the four new board officers are from Ann Arbor: Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), who was elected chair of the board on an 8-1 vote, with Dan Smith (R-District 2) dissenting, and Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), who was unanimously elected chair of the board’s working sessions.

In explaining his vote against Rabhi later in the meeting, Dan Smith cited the previous tradition of rotating the chair position between Ann Arbor representatives and commissioners from the out-county area, to ensure that all voices are well-represented in all aspects of county business. Smith’s district covers some of the county’s more rural townships, including the townships of Webster, Northfield, Salem. The chair for the previous two years, Conan Smith (D-District 9), is also from Ann Arbor.

Dan Smith said it was especially troubling to have another Ann Arbor chair because Ann Arbor districts have declined proportionately to the rest of the districts – decreasing from four districts on an 11-district board to three districts on a 9-district board, because of redistricting.

Responding to those concerns, Conan Smith said he never liked the tradition of rotating chairs on the board, and felt they should choose the right person for the times. Rabhi said he hoped to set a tone of collaboration and cooperation, and looked forward to working with Dan Smith and other commissioners to help achieve their goals for the county.

Also elected were Alicia Ping of Saline (R-District 3) as vice chair and Felicia Brabec of Pittsfield Township (D-District 4) as chair of the board’s ways & means committee. Dan Smith also dissented on the election of Brabec.

The first meeting of each year includes a review of the rules and regulations that govern the board’s actions. The major change, on a 5-4 vote, was to remove the ability of a commissioner to abstain from a vote. The amendment to strike the rule was put forward by Conan Smith. Others voting in favor of the deletion were Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8).

The question of abstaining from votes typically relates to resolutions on state or federal issues, over which the county board has no control. This year, the county board already appears to be moving to weigh in on at least one state-level issue. The board called a special working session for Jan. 3 to discuss the state’s new “right to work” law, which was passed during the legislature’s lame duck session late last year and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. That meeting will be covered in a separate Chronicle report.

The Jan. 2 board meeting also included an update on negotiations about the county’s contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV). The agreement, which hasn’t  yet been finalized, would pay HSHV $550,000 annually to provide animal control services to the county over four years. Of that, $460,000 would come from the county’s general fund. The remaining amount would be paid through contracts with other municipalities that have animal control ordinances: the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the townships of Pittsfield, Superior and Ypsilanti. County administrator Verna McDaniel said she’s already had discussions with those entities, as well as with the city of Saline.

Some commissioners expressed concerns about the Humane Society contract. Rolland Sizemore Jr. objected to HSHV receiving amounts over $550,000 if new revenue is brought in – because he felt the revenue should come back to the county instead. Ronnie Peterson worried about the additional financial burden that just a few municipalities would bear, and wanted to see every municipality help pay for animal control services. The new contract with HSHV is expected to be finalized later this month, and does not require board approval. [Full Story]

Next Step in AATA Ad Lawsuit Uncertain

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board special meeting (Jan. 3, 2013): The board had a single item on the agenda for a special meeting that had been announced on Dec. 27. That item was to convene a closed session as allowed under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act – to consider pending litigation.

AATA board members: Clockwise from left bottom: Roger Kerson, Sue Gott, David Nacht, Charles Griffith, Anya Dale, Eli Cooper.

AATA board members: Clockwise from left bottom: Roger Kerson, Sue Gott, David Nacht, Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, Anya Dale, Eli Cooper. (Photo by the writer.)

After about two hours in closed session, the board emerged and voted unanimously to reject – for a second time – an advertisement that had been submitted by Ann Arbor resident Blaine Coleman for placement on the sides of AATA buses. The ad included the text “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid” and a graphic that depicts a scorpion-like creature.

Both the text and the image figured into reasoning for the board’s decision to reject the ad – based on a new advertising policy that the AATA board adopted in November. [See Chronicle coverage: “AATA Adopts New Advertising Policy”]

The board’s resolution stressed that there were two reasons for rejecting the advertisement, either of which the board considered to be sufficient on its own to warrant rejection. First, the proposed ad violates the policy’s provision against political advertisements. Second, the advertisement is likely to hold up a group to scorn or ridicule, according to the board’s resolution – by dint of the enclosure of the word “Israel” in quotes, and the inclusion of the image. [.pdf of new ad policy, with changes indicated]

The AATA board reconsidered the advertisement using the new policy because of a court order issued on Dec. 17. [.pdf of Dec. 17, 2012 court order] That order came from judge Mark Goldsmith of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, who’s presiding over the case. The reconsideration of the ad is part of the injunctive relief that Goldsmith is proposing, having ruled in favor of Coleman on his request for a preliminary injunction. Granting the preliminary injunction was based on Goldsmith’s finding that the AATA’s old advertising policy was in part unconstitutional. Coleman’s requested relief, however, was for the AATA to run the advertisement. Goldsmith has not yet explicitly ruled on that request.

Under the court order, the AATA had until Jan. 4 to notify Coleman of its decision on the re-submitted advertisement.

A status conference scheduled for Jan. 9 will focus on whether the injunctive relief that’s been granted thus far is sufficient, and will allow the parties to talk to each other and the judge about how they’d like to move forward. The lawsuit, filed in late 2011, has not yet proceeded to trial. However, the legal standard of review for granting Coleman’s motion for a preliminary injunction is based in part on the likelihood that Coleman would prevail, if the case were to go to trial.

Public commentary at the Jan. 3 special meeting of the AATA board was focused on the possible conflict of interest that judge Goldsmith has, given his membership in various Jewish organizations.  [Full Story]

Column: When Tech Supports Policy Decisions

When the Center for Digital Government’s Digital Cities Survey ranked Ann Arbor as first in its population category for 2012, I considered this to be terrible news.

Ann Arbor Police Department old-style manual activity reports (bottom) contrasted with newer, digital system.

Ann Arbor police department old-style, manual officer activity reports (bottom) contrasted with a newer-style, digital records system.

It deprived me of my favorite way give a poke in the ribs to Dan Rainey, who heads up the city’s IT department: “A top 10 finish, huh? So what went wrong? Why not first place?”

Of course, a top ranking on the Digital Cities Survey is not a terrible thing. And by rights, as part of the Dec. 3, 2012 city council meeting report, Chronicle readers might have reasonably expected to see some mention of that first-place award.

That was the meeting when Rainey announced the award, and invited IT staff to the podium to talk about some projects they’ve been working on. Those included a project involving traffic and signal systems that’s connected to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute’s smart-vehicle research study. They also talked about a project that will integrate three major software systems at the city: asset management, finance and payroll.

None of that award talk made it into the Dec. 3 meeting report.

Last year, when the merely fifth place Digital Cities ranking was announced, it was also not included in The Chronicle’s council meeting report. As a partial explanation for that omission, I wrote in a subsequent column: “But one reason I don’t mind omitting that kind of award from a meeting report is that it really does not matter to me where Ann Arbor ranks on that survey. What matters to me is the fact that the city’s investments in the realm of digital technology make life in Ann Arbor as a local journalist easier than it would be otherwise.”

That column put a spotlight on some of the city’s digital tools I use on a regular basis that make my life as a journalist easier. This year, I’d like to highlight three digital projects that I think will make life easier and better for citizens and policymakers, too. None of these three projects were mentioned at the Dec. 3 meeting – which is to say that I stumbled across them in my regular travels.

Those three projects are: (1) the transition to a digital platform for submitting site plans to the planning and development department; (2) the integration of a simple button push that Ann Arbor firefighters can use to record timestamps at key points during their response to calls; and (3) conversion of pen-and-paper police department officer activity reports to a digital format.

It’s the third project I am particularly excited about – because of its potential to provide data that will directly affect policy choices made by the city council. That optimism is based in part on the fact that it was cited specifically at a recent city council planning session. The question it will help answer is this: How much time do Ann Arbor police officers have available for proactive policing?  [Full Story]

Fifth & Huron

At Ann Arbor city hall, a sign in the hallway outside of council chambers gives directions to the men’s and women’s restrooms. Underneath is a photo of a squirrel looking lost. [photo]

Next Steps Taken on S. State Corridor Plan

Moving ahead on a project that’s been long in the works, Ann Arbor planning commissioners have now recommended that the city council distribute a draft of the South State Street corridor plan to neighboring jurisdictions and other stakeholders, such as the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. It’s the next step toward adopting the corridor plan’s recommendations into the city’s master plan. The vote took place at the commission’s Jan. 3 meeting [.pdf of draft South State corridor plan]

The plan includes more than 40 overall recommendations for the corridor, which stretches about 2 miles between Stimson Street at the north end down to Ellsworth in the south. Recommendations are organized … [Full Story]

515 N. Fifth Project Moves Forward

Ann Arbor planning commissioners have recommended site plan approval for a residential development at 515 N. Fifth Ave., between Kingsley and Beakes on the west side of North Fifth. The action took place at the commission’s Jan. 3, 2013 meeting on a unanimous vote. The project is a three-story, 8,404-square-foot building with four two-bedroom units: two condominiums and two apartments.

The apartments would be on the second and third floors, while the condos would be on the first floor, with entrances from the north and south sides. Parking would be provided in an attached four-car garage in the front of the structure, though the garage openings are located on the side, toward the front of the building. [.pdf of site ... [Full Story]

Summit Townhomes Wins Planning OK

Ann Arbor planning commissioners have recommended approval of a site plan for Summit Townhomes, a residential project at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road. The decision occurred at the commission’s Jan. 3, 2013 meeting.

Similar versions of the site plan had been previously postponed by commissioners in June of 2012 and again on Nov. 20, 2012.

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, but still awaits authorization at the state level. And at the commission’s Nov. 20 meeting, the zoning for the property – R3 (townhouse dwelling district) – had been recommended for … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Master Plan to Add Sustainability

In a unanimous vote, Ann Arbor planning commissioners adopted an ambitious sustainability framework as an element of city’s master plan. In a separate vote taken at the commission’s Jan. 3, 2013 meeting, they recommended that the Ann Arbor city council also adopt the framework.

The item had been on the commission’s Dec. 4, 2012 agenda. Action was postponed at that time after some commissioners raised concerns regarding a goal for high-performance buildings. On Jan. 3, the goal was amended to this: “Sustainable Buildings – Reduce new and existing buildings’ energy use, carbon impact and construction waste, while respecting community context.” Planning staff had worked with commissioner Ken Clein, an architect with Quinn Evans, to revise the language so that it … [Full Story]

AATA Board: We Won’t Run Anti-Israel Ad

After a closed session lasting about two hours, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority voted unanimously to reject an advertisement submitted by Ann Arbor resident Blaine Coleman for placement on the sides of its buses. The ad included the text “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid.” The vote came at a special meeting held on Jan. 3, 2013 at 4 p.m. at the AATA headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway.

The vote came in the context of a lawsuit against the AATA – over the rejection of the same advertisement over a year ago. The current reconsideration of the ad came under a court order. It was reconsidered under the criteria set forth in a newly revised advertising policy, which the board adopted in … [Full Story]

County Board to Discuss “Right to Work”

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners will hold a special working session on Thursday, Jan. 3 to discuss how “right to work” legislation – passed by the lame duck state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in mid-December – will affect the county. The special session was set during the board’s first meeting of the year, on Jan. 2, 2013.

In an email sent to commissioners and commissioners-elect on Dec. 30, Yousef Rabhi – who was elected chair earlier at the Jan. 2 meeting – announced the intent to call a special session: “Second, there is a group of Commissioners (myself included) that wish to call a Special Working Session on January 3rd at 6:00 pm. Technically, this … [Full Story]

New Board Rules OK’d by Commissioners

At its first meeting of 2013 on Jan. 2, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners discussed and approved a revised set of board rules and regulations that are intended to govern their actions, meetings and other governance issues. [.pdf of revised board rules & regulations prior to amendments at the Jan. 2, 2013 meeting]

This is a standard agenda item for the first meeting of the year. The major change, on a 5-4 vote, was to remove the ability of a commissioner to abstain from a vote. The deleted sentence in the board rules – which had been added in February 2012 – was this: “Commissioners may abstain from voting on resolutions that express support or opposition and otherwise take … [Full Story]

County Board Elects New Officers for 2013

At their first meeting of 2013, on Jan. 2, the candidates who won their races on Nov. 6, 2012 were sworn in as Washtenaw County commissioners. Because of redistricting that took effect with this latest election cycle, the new county board has nine commissioners instead of the 11 it had previously.

The commissioners were sworn in by Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum. They are: Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), Dan Smith (R-District 2), Alicia Ping (R-District 3), Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9). All but two of the commissioners – Martinez-Kratz and LaBarre – are incumbents.

The board also elected its officers for … [Full Story]

Effort to Overhaul R4C Zoning Continues

Ann Arbor planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee meeting (Dec. 27, 2012): With the goal of delivering recommendations to the Ann Arbor planning commission this spring, a subset of planning commissioners have been meeting regularly for several months to work through issues related to R4c/R2A zoning districts.

Bonnie Bona, Diane Giannola, Ann Arbor planning commission, R4C/R2A zoning, city ordinances

Ann Arbor planning commissioners Bonnie Bona, center, and Diane Giannola at the Dec. 27 meeting of the commission’s ordinance revisions committee. (Photos by the writer.)

The Dec. 27 meeting of the commission’s ordinance revisions committee was the latest in a long, politically fraught process of overhauling the city’s R4C/R2A zoning – with an eye toward encouraging density while preserving the character of the neighborhoods.

R4C allows for multiple-family residential dwellings, such as apartment buildings, while R2A zoning limits density to two-family residential structures. Although both types of zoning are being addressed, R4C zoning is receiving the most attention. That type of zoning classification – which allowed for the controversial City Place development on South Fifth Avenue – has been characterized by city planners as “broken,” and in 2009 the city council formed an advisory committee to study the issue. That group presented a final report in May of 2012 to the planning commission, with a set of recommendations and analysis.

Since then, planning commissioners who are members of the commission’s ordinance revisions committee have been reviewing the recommendations and talking through other possible changes as well.

On Dec. 27, ORC members met again, this time focusing on parking requirements. Generally, commissioners seemed to lean toward discouraging parking on site. But commissioner Bonnie Bona felt the advantage of keeping parking requirements is that the city can then offer incentives for property owners to satisfy the requirements without actually providing on-site parking – by including other alternatives on site, like covered bike parking, or by paying into a fund that would support the launch of programs like car-sharing, for example. Commissioner Diane Giannola expressed concern about the impact of parking on residential streets. She also noted that in general, some of these changes might not be appropriate for all neighborhoods that are zoned R4C.

Commissioners reached a consensus to explore linking the parking requirement to the square footage of a structure. The current approach links the parking requirement to the number of units in a structure. Also related to square footage, commissioners briefly recapped a previous discussion they’d had about a possible approach to accessory structures. The idea would be to encourage owners to fix up their accessory structures, by allowing them to renovate or replace the buildings – as long as the renovated or new structures conform to the same size as the existing structures, and are on the same location within the site. Commissioners expressed interest in allowing these structures to be used as accessory dwellings, acknowledging that the previous effort to do that – floated in the 1990s – was strongly opposed by some community members and never taken up by the city council.

These ideas for R4C/R2A zoning are still being developed and are not yet even in draft form. The ORC is working toward a goal of crafting a final set of recommendations for the full planning commission to consider, possibly in March. If the recommendations receive planning commission approval, the next step would be for city councilmembers to take action on specific ordinance changes. [Full Story]