Site Plan Moratorium: Commentary, No Action

Land use is predominant theme linking several council agenda items

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 19, 2013): Land use was the predominant theme of the meeting, linking several different agenda items – but the council chambers were filled mostly with people interested in just one of them.

Orange Almonds

The architecture of councilmember snacks at the Feb. 19, 2013 meeting provided a nutritional buffer against zoning out during the meeting: a stacked configuration of units for fruit and nuts. (Photos by the writer.)

The item drawing that interest was a proposed six-month moratorium on site plan review by the city for projects in the D1 (downtown core) zoning district. After holding a nearly one-hour closed session to review written legal advice from the city attorney’s office, the council decided to postpone the issue until March 4, its next regular meeting.

Exceptions to the proposed moratorium are provided for projects that have already received a recommendation of approval from the city’s planning commission. While that exception applies to a large residential project at 624 Church St., it does not exempt a larger project at 413 E. Huron. Planning staff had concluded that the East Huron project meets all the zoning requirements. But the planning commission’s vote on 413 E. Huron was only 5-3 in favor of recommending approval – one vote short of the six it needed. Ordinarily developers can, on their own initiative, bring a site plan to the city council for action, even without the planning commission’s recommendation.

If the resolution is enacted, then during the period of the moratorium, the planning commission would be directed to review the D1 zoning standards against site plans submitted since 2009, when new zoning regulations were established. The commission would be asked to make recommendations by June 4, its first meeting in June. The postponed resolution states that the council is supposed to take any action by Aug. 19, its second meeting in August.

Legal counsel for the 413 E. Huron developer addressed the council, intimating that if a moratorium were enacted, then a lawsuit would be filed against the city. Attorney Susan Friedlaender expressed skepticism about a provision in the postponed resolution that provided a way for an aggrieved party to have a hearing before the council. The council will take up the moratorium again on March 4.

Also postponed was a related resolution to reconvene the design guidelines task force, which would be asked to recommend improvements in the design review process. That resolution also will be taken up on March 4.

In another item related to downtown land development, the council completed an accounting step – establishing a project budget – in connection with roughly $9 million of bonds recently sold by the city. Those bonds are funding the public parking deck portion of the private City Apartments project now under construction at First and Washington. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority will be making the bond payments.

Another land use issue postponed by the council was the proposed purchase of a parcel immediately adjacent to the Bluffs Nature Area. The postponement was based on council questions about the need for additional access from the west side of the nature area, and the price to be paid out of the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage. Related to that same millage, the council approved applying to the USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) for matching funds to acquire development rights on two farms as part of the city’s greenbelt program.

In other land zoning issues, the council gave final approval to the owner-requested rezoning of some residential properties in the Arbor Hills neighborhood. The council also gave initial approval to a rezoning that would allow a retail project called The Shoppes to be built near the junction of Plymouth and US-23.

The council took action related to city-owned land at 721 N. Main, approving a $30,000 physical study of the main building on that former maintenance yard, to see if it can be re-used. At least part of that site is slated to become part of an Allen Creek greenway.

Across the street from 721 N. Main stands a collection of vacant houses that were supposed to be demolished to make way for the Near North affordable housing project. With that project now defunct, the city is moving to demolish the houses as nuisances. The council’s action on Feb. 19 was to accept about $96,000 in additional federal funds through a community development block grant, which can be used only for demolition of houses on the former Near North site.

In other action, the council formally adopted a sustainability framework that now will be part of the city’s master plan. And related to sustainability, the city council authorized the issuance of up to $1 million in bonds for the property assessed clean energy program (PACE). The PACE program provides low-interest loans for owners of commercial properties to invest in energy saving improvements.

Changes to the city’s living wage ordinance also were on the Feb. 19 agenda. The council had previously contemplated but ultimately postponed those changes. This time around, they were tabled. That means the issue will not come back, unless the council proactively decides to take up the proposal again in the next six months.

Also as a result of council action on Feb. 19, the municipal airport will get new fencing.

Moratorium on Downtown Site Plans

The council considered a six-month moratorium on the acceptance of new site plans for developments in downtown Ann Arbor.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and mayor John Hieftje

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and mayor John Hieftje.

Councilmembers also considered a resolution that called for reconvening the downtown design guidelines task force to consider and make recommendations regarding improvements to the design review process. Currently, developers must follow a mandatory process of review for downtown projects, but are not required to comply with the review board’s recommendations. The resolution was added to the agenda about an hour before the meeting started. Members of the task force mentioned in the resolution are: Marcia Higgins (Ward 4 city council), Tamara Burns (architect), Dick Mitchell (architect), Bill Kinley (construction contractor), Norm Tyler (architect), Kirk Westphal (planning commission chair), and Doug Kelbaugh (University of Michigan professor of architecture and urban planning).

Under the proposed moratorium, a controversial project at 413 E. Huron would not be allowed to move forward, because its site plan did not receive a recommendation of approval from the city’s planning commission. However, the wording of the resolution provides for exemptions for site plans that have already received the planning commission’s recommendation of approval.

Specifically, the wording in the resolution means that the moratorium would not apply to the 624 Church St. project, which received a recommendation of approval from the city planning commission on Jan. 15, 2013. That project is expected to be considered by the city council at its March 4 meeting. The 14-story 624 Church St. project would offer 75 apartments with a total of about 175 bedrooms. Local attorney Scott Munzel, who represents the developer of the project, attended the council’s Sunday night caucus to get clarification on that point.

The moratorium also would not impact Kerrytown Place, a proposed development on North Main – the site of the former Greek Orthodox church – because it’s not in a D1-zoned area. It’s currently in a PUD area, but would meet D2 (interface) zoning requirements. Kerrytown Place consists of three 3-4 story buildings with a total of 19 units. The project was evaluated by the city’s design review board on Feb. 20.

Architect Norm Tyler attended the meeting but did not address the council.

Architect Norm Tyler attended the Feb. 19 meeting but did not address the council.

But based on the wording in the resolution, the moratorium would apply to the 413 E. Huron project, which recently failed to gain a recommendation of approval from the city planning commission, and could be on a city council agenda as early as mid-March. That project is located on a site zoned D1, the highest density allowed in the city. It would be a 14-story, 271,855-square-foot apartment building with 533 bedrooms, marketed primarily to university students.

But even without a planning commission recommendation, a developer ordinarily has the option of bringing a site plan proposal to the city council for consideration, which the 413 E. Huron developer intends to do. The developer is Greenfield Partners, a Connecticut-based firm doing business here as Ann Arbor Green Property Owner LLC. The real estate development firm Carter – based in Atlanta, Georgia – is a lead partner in the project.

The council’s resolution, if enacted, also would direct the planning commission to use part of the period of the moratorium to review recently approved and recommended site plans in the D1-zoned areas. The point of the review would be to determine if zoning standards provide appropriate guidance on form and use, and if the zoning conforms to the city’s master plan, downtown plan and character district overlays. The resolution states that the planning commission is to complete its work by June 4 (its first meeting in June) and the council is supposed to take any action by Aug. 19 (its second meeting in August).

The memo accompanying the resolution notes that an initial review of the relatively new A2D2 zoning, enacted in 2009, was supposed to take place after one year. But in that first year no projects had been proposed – because of the economic downturn. Since then, however, the memo points to four projects that have been proposed in D1 areas: Zaragon West (built), The Varsity (under construction), 624 Church St. (proposed) and 413 E. Huron (proposed).

Feb. 19 was the first council meeting after the city planning commission took action on the site plan for 413 E. Huron. The determination of the planning staff was that the project met the D1 zoning requirements, which in that part of the city includes a height limit of 150 feet. However, the outcome of the planning commission’s vote on Feb. 4, 2013 was not a recommendation for approval, because the 5-3 tally in favor did not give the project the required six-vote majority.

The planning commission vote came after long and harsh criticism during the public hearing on the 413 E. Huron site plan – at the two meetings when the planning commission deliberated on the proposal. Some residents called for a rezoning of the parcel, saying it was inappropriate for that area. The D1 zoning had been part of the A2D2 rezoning package for the downtown, which the council approved at its Nov. 16, 2009 meeting.

The resolution to establish a moratorium was brought forward by Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere and was co-sponsored by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Briere sits on the city planning commission as the council’s representative, and voted as a planning commissioner against the 413 E. Huron project. Joining her in that three-vote dissent were commissioners Wendy Woods and Ken Clein.

The council’s dilemma with respect to 413 E. Huron relates to the parcel’s zoning, which many residents contend was inappropriately zoned as D1. Opponents of the project argue that the site should have been zoned D2 (interface), in order to provide a buffer between densely developed areas and neighboring residential areas.

Last year, on April 16, 2012, the city council was asked to contemplate the reverse scenario, when a developer asked for conditional rezoning of a parcel at 1320 S. University – to change its 2009 designation of D2 to D1. The requested D1 zoning would have allowed for a much denser project, which would have exceeded the 60-foot D2 height limit by 85 feet. The council rejected that request. On that occasion, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) argued that the community conversation about the South University area – which had led to the D2 designation – had been significant and warranted the council’s respect.

Moratorium: Public Commentary

Peter Nagourney told the council he supported the resolution to review conformance of site plans with zoning and the rest of the city’s planning documents. He told the council that his interest in the topic went back to his participation in the citizens committee that had worked on the design guidelines as part of the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2) process. He was speaking on behalf of eight different neighborhood organizations, he said. In the downtown area, he said, except for properties that are bounded by University of Michigan properties, all parcels zoned D1 step down to D2 zoning before they meet residential areas. That principle is true except for two blocks on the north side of Huron Street, he said. It had been originally zoned D2, but he said that “at the last minute” it had been changed to D1.

Sketch of "worst-case scenario" created four years ago in March 2009 during the debate on A2D2 zoning.

Sketch of “worst-case scenario” created four years ago in March 2009 during the debate on A2D2 zoning.

When the D1 zoning was proposed for that part of East Huron, neighbors who live on North Division Street had sketched out the worst possible potential impact of the zoning – which did not comply with any of the city’s planning documents, and which require step-down buffers to adjacent residential areas. [Chronicle coverage from March 24, 2009 – "A2D2 Zoning in the Home Stretch" – included the same sketch Nagourney showed the council on Feb. 19, almost four years later.]

The unanimously adopted design guidelines were intended to help developers in the city generate new projects that conform to appropriate design and planning documents, Nagourney said – including character overlay districts and historic district guidelines. The original goal was to have design guidelines integrated into the city zoning ordinances, and to evaluate the zoning and design guidelines to determine how well they had met their goals.

Nagourney told the council that the 2009 sketch of the worst possible potential impact of D1 zoning turns out to be conservative – because the 413 E. Huron project has been designed to occupy every square inch of the parcel. The proposed building has no step-down to the adjacent residential area, and casts the historic district to the north in shadow much of the year, while threatening landmark trees that predate the city’s founding. In addition, he continued, as it’s now written the inappropriate zoning will allow a 180-foot tall building to be constructed on the lot adjacent to city hall (to the east) with no setbacks or buffer.

If Ann Arbor’s legal or financial records were threatened by an oversight in security or procedures, the city would act as quickly as possible to close that loophole, he said. Today, he contended, the city’s zoning code has a loophole in the A2D2 process – but in this case, the consequence is not a temporary loss of data, but a permanent alteration of the city’s character. The council should act now to stop and review these problems while it can, and preserve the character districts and historic districts that were intended to create a city to serve multiple generations over many years.

Steve Kaplan told the council that he was a lifelong resident of Ann Arbor – born here, bred here, educated here, and now he works here. He works for a company that has been here for 50 years, he said. As an independent small business person, he continued, he welcomed density and development in most cases – because it helps his business. It helps the bottom line. However, in certain specific cases, he felt that it might do more harm than good.

Kaplan said he’d participated in many of the meetings that were held as part of the A2D2 process, and in this one particular area, on the north side of East Huron, he recalled it being a tricky part of the equation. He said he was not alone in being surprised that the proposed zoning had been changed at the “11th hour” from D2 to D1 zoning. He characterized a decision as possibly being driven by the “loud threatening calls of a few people” with specific interests. As the city contemplates reviewing the process as it should have done a year ago, Kaplan said, he worried that the same loud and specific calls of the few would outweigh the benefits and the needs of the many. So he asked the council to remember that as they deliberated on the issue. He cautioned the council to be very careful before they took permanent steps.

Jeffrey Crockett introduced himself as a resident of East Kingsley. He told the council that several landmark trees in the Old Fourth Ward historic district were being threatened by the current D1/D2 zoning law on the north side of Huron. He described two bur oaks with 40- and 50-inch diameters, as well as a hickory tree with a 24-inch diameter. The estimated age of the larger oak tree, he said, is about 250 years. He read aloud a substantial portion of a letter from Christopher Graham, a landscape architect who previously served on the planning commission and is currently chair of the natural features committee on the environmental commission. Graham’s letter states in part:

It is area of the grove of trees under which Indians camped and managed the landscape into a spectacular, open, old tree canopied setting. A few of those old trees still exist, and the one immediately nearby may be one of them. … is counter to the grain of the spirit and work and intent of all those who have so carefully crafted our historic districts, including this most special one, the one that is original Ann Arbor, the one named for a grove of trees and a couple of founders wives’ first names. [.pdf of Graham's letter] [.pdf of a second letter from Graham]

Crockett described the mitigation provided by the zoning ordinance for damage to trees as inadequate. Replacement of a landmark tree with smaller substitute trees, he said, is designed for the benefit and convenience of the developer. That can’t compensate the community for the loss of a 250-year-old tree that inspired the name of Ann Arbor. He pointed out that the historic district ordinance for the city does protect landmark trees.

He quoted section 5:138 of the zoning ordinance, which reads “no approval of any plan, plat or division pursuant to this chapter shall be construed as authorizing any improvement or action not in compliance with all – not some – provisions of this code.” He called on the council to ensure the protection of landmark trees by ensuring that the historic district ordinance is upheld, which he said allows for protection of landmark trees. He described how the construction of the proposed 413 E. Huron could impact the nearby oak tree’s critical root zone and told the council that it might not happen immediately but within five years, the tree would be dead.

When the developers of tall buildings have cashed out their investment and left town, Crockett continued, it will be Ann Arbor’s citizens and their children and grandchildren who will be left to wonder why we didn’t do more to save the landmark trees in “tree town.” He urged the council to vote for the moratorium.

Attorney Susan Friedlaender introduced herself as a representative of the owner of the 413 E. Huron property. She began by quoting the political philosopher Jeremy Bentham:

With respect to property, security consists in no shock or derangement being given to the expectation which has been founded on the laws, of enjoying a certain portion of good. The legislator owes the greatest respect to these expectations to which he has given birth: when he does not interfere with them, he does all that is essential to the happiness of society; when he injures them, he always produces a proportionate sum of evil.

The result of the A2D2 zoning process, Friedlaender said, gave birth to the reasonable expectation that those new zoning laws would have some measure of stability. The city knew, or should have known, that the new laws would encourage significant investment in Ann Arbor. The council had drafted those laws specifically to encourage that investment, she said, observing: “Well, it came.” Her clients had reasonable expectation, she continued, that if investment was made in the city, that the rug would not be pulled out from under them. She noted that her clients had constitutionally protected property rights, which the moratorium was designed to take away. The last-minute addition of an appeal procedure, she said, would be completely futile – because if the council were to grant that appeal, it would destroy the whole purpose of the moratorium. She urged the council to vote against the resolution, which she characterized as “ill-advised.” It’s difficult and dangerous to try to legislate taste, she said.

Carl Hueter began with an allusion to the fact that his name had been rendered as “Carol” on the meeting agenda, joking that it’d been the first time he’d undergone a gender change. He told the council that he had been born in Ann Arbor sometime in the middle of the last half century, and he’s been a practicing architect in the city for the last 40 years. He had seen a great deal of change in his 60 years of life in the city, he continued.

Hueter described the site plan approval in the 1970s and 1980s as a relatively easy and uncontentious affair. But moving into the 1990s, more and more neighborhood groups got involved in the site plan approval process. More and more requirements were placed on the site plans, he said. It became harder and more difficult and more financially challenging to develop site plans in the city of Ann Arbor. As we moved through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, he continued, there were some very contentious projects. As an offshoot of that, the A2D2 process was established. The hope was that by re-looking at the city’s zoning ordinances, citizens would have a fair and adequate way to participate, and also to allow developers to see a clear path – if they followed through the course of the zoning ordinance, it would give them some certainty that they would receive approval.

The moratorium resolution the council is considering, Hueter said, was a “thinly veiled attempt to deny one specific project its due process.” He allowed that the D1/D2 zoning ordinance needs to be re-evaluated – and it was written into the code that it needed to be reviewed within a year after being enacted. But there were not a sufficient number of projects brought forward in that first year on which to base such a review, he said. And so far seven such projects have been proposed, he said. He described the opposition to the project as a “very well-organized minority of a small neighborhood in the city who have failed technically to deny the project moving forward.” So now the group is acting politically, he said.

Hueter allowed that the zoning needs to be reviewed, but asked the council not to deny this specific development – which was proposed by developers, who months ago had entered into a process with the trust that they would receive due process, review and consideration of their project.

Assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald touches base with Ward 2 councilmembers Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm

Assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald touches base with Ward 2 councilmembers Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm.

Pat Lennon introduced himself as an attorney with the Honigman law firm, representing the developer of 413 E. Huron. He’s chairperson of Honigman’s land use and zoning group, and is also a chairperson of the West Michigan Program’s committee of the Urban Land Institute – so he has an opportunity to review a lot of zoning and land use matters. He said he had the pleasure of appearing before bodies like the Ann Arbor city council all over the state. He was there because he and his client felt that it was “a pretty extreme situation.” In his view, his client had been put in an unprecedented situation. He was there to urge the council to vote down the moratorium. If the motion were to pass, then his client would be reviewing his legal rights and protecting his legal position, Lennon said. “Our client was stunned to learn about this proposed moratorium,” he told the council.

The proposal came virtually on the eve, he said, of his client’s opportunity to have his project considered by the city council. In addition to the issues raised by Friedlaender, he saw additional legal questions that a moratorium would raise. Based on the circumstances, the moratorium appears to be directed at one applicant and one project – his client’s. If that’s not in fact the case, he said, he would urge the city council to exempt pending applications from the moratorium.

Second, he questioned the circumstances under which the matter has been put before the council. There had been no mention of a moratorium before his clients started the application process, which had already been going on for months. No review had been mentioned previously for the D1 category. “We are understandably frustrated by this turn of events,” he told the council. His client would review whether the moratorium followed the proper path on its way to counsel, and he will be ensuring that his client’s rights had not been violated along the way.

Finally, Lennon said, the timing of the moratorium is dubious. A measure that’s as impactful and far-reaching as the one the council is considering had come up with short notice and apparently little discussion before it came before the council. It appeared to him that the moratorium and the potential changes to the ordinance can be seen as a last effort to avoid making a final decision on his clients “by right” project. In his view, any such use of the moratorium process would be improper, and if it were put in place, it would entitle his clients to their legal rights. Putting aside the question of legal rights, he said, he asked the council to consider what is best for the city of Ann Arbor. Imposing such a moratorium in this manner at this time, he told the council, would be to discard the A2D2 process, and would override the city’s interest in developing its tax base and the redevelopment of the downtown core areas.

Stuart Gordon introduced himself as a member of the committee for the ice rink next to the downtown library. A moratorium, he told the council, would give the ice rink initiative the chance to flower and grow. It could possibly show the alternatives that might be explored with city-owned properties. He told the council that there is continuing community support for the ice rink and that businesses in the downtown area were continuing to come on board with the project. Similar projects were being undertaken in several cities in Michigan, he told the council. The committee would be soon generating a short report and financial analysis. He asked the council to guide the Ann Arbor DDA to sit down with the ice rink committee and to take it seriously.

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Alan Haber also spoke in support of establishing an ice rink on top of the Library Lane parking structure, next to the library.

Doug Kelbaugh, professor of architecture and urban planning at the University Michigan, told the council that he was a long-term and outspoken proponent of greater density downtown. He was addressing the city council in that context. The zoning code is very clear about its intent to have a buffer, or an interface zone, between D1 and residential zones – in order to avoid an abrupt, rude, and awkward adjacency. “It’s just plain good zoning,” he said.

Downtown Ann Arbor zoning.

Ann Arbor zoning. Darker red areas are zoned D1. Lighter brownish areas are zoned D2. A more limited core area is outlined in white, reflecting a suggestion by University of Michigan professor of architecture and urban planning Doug Kelbaugh.

There usually is such a transition, Kelbaugh continued, as D2 zoning or the university campus abuts D1 areas. The one major exception, he noted, had already been discussed that night – the north side of East Huron Street. It’s a troubling exception, he said, and a glaring one. He told the council that he wanted to focus on the edges of downtown.

Ann Arbor has an opportunity to have a well-defined downtown core, with crisp edges, rather than the usual loose checkerboard of most American downtowns, Kelbaugh told the council. If the D1 zone were limited to the “true inner core,” it would lend a distinctive character to the city’s center. He suggested specifically that the city institute a moratorium to reconsider the extent of the D1 zone. Personally and professionally, he said, he felt the city should consider containing the 180-foot high area within Maynard and William at one corner, and Ashley or First at Huron at the other corner. That would make for a very “legible core,” with existing and new tall buildings limited to the inside of it.

The existing code would allow for a 180-foot tall building right across the street from Hill Auditorium, across from the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum, and right next to Nickels Arcade. That’s a pretty abrupt transition, he said. Instead of that, he said, the core area could be limited to 17 square blocks. That would allow the shaping of the city as a compact 24/7 core with more permanent residents of all ages, ethnicities, classes, income groups, and household sizes. That cluster would decrease the ecological footprint of the city, and add downtown vitality to attract the next generation of knowledge workers, who seem to want urban lifestyles, he said. Kelbaugh concluded by calling for surrounding the core completely with an interface to reinforce legibility and the normal build-up from leafy neighborhoods to vibrant downtowns.

Moratorium: Council Deliberations

The council held a closed session under the Michigan Open Meetings Act exemption that allows for material exempt from discussion or disclosure by state or federal statute, which presumably was attorney work product in connection with anticipated litigation in the event a moratorium was imposed.

Subsequent council deliberations were scant. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) moved for postponement based on the desire of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) to be part of the deliberations. [Higgins was not able to attend the meeting due to a professional commitment.] Deliberations on a separate resolution, to reconvene the design guidelines task force, were similarly brief.

Outcome on moratorium: The council voted unanimously to postpone consideration of the moratorium until March 4, 2013.

Outcome on reconvening design guidelines task force: The council voted unanimously to postpone consideration of the resolution to reconvene the design guidelines task force until March 4, 2013.

City Apartments Parking Deck

The council was asked to approve a step necessary for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to satisfy its commitment to support the construction of the parking deck within Village Green’s City Apartments project. The residential project is currently under construction at the southeast corner of First and Washington.

The step the council was asked to take was to create a project budget for the proceeds of bonds sold by the city on Jan. 22, 2013 – $8,666,075 total, of which $4,079,743 were taxable and $4,586,332 were non-taxable. The authorization to issue the bonds had come at the council’s Oct. 4, 2010 meeting.

The DDA is committed to covering payments on the roughly $9 million of bonds to support construction of the bottom two floors of the building – which will hold about 240 parking spaces. Of those, 95 will be available for public use. The remainder of the spaces will be used by residents of the 146-unit project, when construction is completed. Before then, the deck will be handed over to the city and the DDA after a certificate of occupancy for the parking deck is received.

City Apartments project under construction in early February at First and Washington

City Apartments project under construction in early February at First and Washington.

As of early February, the construction was on a pace that would result in a certificate of occupancy for the parking deck by March 15. The construction of the entire building is expected to be complete by the end of the summer.

City Apartments Parking Deck: Council Deliberations

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to know if the bonds would show up on the DDA’s annual TIF (tax increment finance) report as part of the DDA’s indebtedness. CFO Tom Crawford indicated that the city issues the debt and the DDA repays the city. So it won’t show on the DDA’s books as debt. It’ll show up as a commitment to repay.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to establish the project budget.

Open Space Millage (Greenbelt) Issues

The council had two items on its Feb. 19 agenda related to spending proceeds from the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage.

For one of the items, the council was asked to approve applying for federal matching funds to help acquire development rights on two pieces of farmland outside the city. For another item, the council was asked to authorize the purchase of a parcel inside the city near the Bluffs Nature Area.

Open Space Millage: Farmland

For the two parcels outside the city, council was asked to approve applications for matching federal funds to purchase development rights – for the 72-acre Donald Drake Farm on Waters Road in Lodi Township, and for a 100-acre property owned by Carol Schumacher on Pleasant Lake Road in Lodi Township. The federal match is only up to $5,000 per acre.

At its Oct. 15, 2012 meeting, the council had given approval for the acquisition of development rights for the southern part of the Drake farm. On that occasion, the requested expenditure from millage funds amounted to $483,450. Of that amount, $23,867 went to cover costs related to closing, due diligence and a contribution to the greenbelt endowment. The total purchase price of the land was $549,478, with the city of Ann Arbor’s share supplemented by $109,895 from Washtenaw County parks & recreation and $1,000 from Lodi Township.

What the council approved on Feb. 19 for the Drake Farm was an application to the USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) for matching funds to acquire development rights to the northern part of the farm. When the city failed to win an FRPP award for the farm as a whole last year, it divided the property – because the northern part is very suitable for agricultural production, and the city felt its chances were very good for winning an FRPP grant for just that portion of the farm. The Drake property had been mentioned recently at the Feb. 7, 2013 meeting of the city’s greenbelt advisory commission.

If the city wins the FRPP matching grants, the item will likely come before the city council in June.

Outcome: Without discussion, the council approved the FRPP grant applications.

Open Space Millage: Adjoining Bluffs Parcel

Inside the city, the council was asked to approve the $115,000 purchase of a roughly 0.357-acre piece of vacant land located at 1240 Orkney, with a current SEV (state equalized value) of $49,200. [SEV is based on 50% of market value.]

Parcel on Orkney proposed for acquisition

Map showing a parcel on Orkney proposed for acquisition by the city – the narrow parcel that’s highlighted in yellow.

The parcel is located immediately adjacent to the Bluffs Nature Area – in the north part of the city, near the confluence of North Main, M-14 and Huron River Drive. The parcel is intended to provide an additional access point to the nature area, from the west.

The total proposed appropriation of $128,000 in open space millage funds for purchasing the Orkney parcel included $3,000 in closing costs and $10,000 in due diligence. An environmental assessment would be done before the closing.

The proposed Orkney parcel acquisition is similar to one made last year for a parcel on Hampstead Lane immediately adjacent to the Kuebler Langford Nature Area. Like the Bluffs, Kuebler Langford is located in the northern part of the city. [.jpg of area showing cluster of nature areas in the city's north side] [.jpg image of map showing city-acquired parcel adjoining Kuebler Langford Nature Area]

The roughly 0.91-acre Hampstead Lane parcel was determined to have a fair market value of $110,000, with an additional $13,000 accounted for through closing costs and due diligence. The council authorized the acquisition of the Hampstead Lane parcel at its Oct. 15, 2012 meeting.

Open Space Millage: Adjoining Bluffs – Council Deliberations

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) objected to the purchase price, saying he didn’t think the assessment factored in the roughly $40,000 in utility connection charges that would apply to the parcel as developable land. If those charges were added in, Kunselman said, the total cost of the land would work out to $155,000 – which he did not believe reflected an amount a buyer would be willing to pay. So he thought the $115,000 purchase price was too high. [The council had debated the utility connection charges just recently, at its Jan. 22, 2013 meeting.]

Kunselman felt that the property was simply too expensive to acquire just to provide additional access. He wouldn’t support the city’s purchase of the property unless it came down in price to accommodate the utility improvement charges. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked if the park advisory commission’s land acquisition committee had looked at it. Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who serves as one of two city council liaisons to PAC, indicated that it had, in fact, been considered.

With respect to better access to the area, mayor John Hieftje said his concern is that access to the Bluffs Nature Area through the parcel wouldn’t be used except by people in that neighborhood. Sumedh Bahl, the city’s community services area administrator, confirmed that there’s no parking available, and that visitors to the nature area who’d get access through the parcel would need to park along the street.

Left to right: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and local attorney Scott Munzel.

Left to right: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and local attorney Scott Munzel.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that entrances already exist on three sides of the area, and some citizens have questioned the need for a fourth one – especially given the high cost. She asked Bahl to help her work through the rationale. Lumm said she’d heard from neighbors that they hadn’t been notified about the pending purchase. She felt that notification of neighbors would have been a normal step. Bahl told Lumm that the city doesn’t normally notify neighbors about pending land acquisition. [Land acquisition is a topic that can be discussed in closed session under Michigan's Open Meetings Act.]

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she remembered when the city was looking for ways to access the Bluffs other than from the Main Street side, the Orkney lot was identified, because it’s been used as informal access for years. She said that $115,000 is comparable in price to other unimproved lots in the area. The price itself didn’t bother her, but she found herself thinking about how useful it really is to have a small entrance to the nature area from a limited neighborhood. She wanted to understand why this is value. She described getting to the Bluffs Nature Area as “difficult and obscure.” But the city’s ownership of this parcel doesn’t help that, she felt. Why did PAC’s land acquisition committee feel the city ought to acquire this parcel as an entrance? Bahl indicated he had not been a part of all of LAC’s discussion, but that having access from all sides of the area had been a long-time goal.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) inquired if there’s a possibility of using the parcel as a parking area. Bahl said that could be considered. Teall ventured that she’d like to see the matter postponed.

Kunselman reiterated his objection based on the cost, and asked that the council be provided a copy of the appraisal. Hieftje indicated his view that a professional appraiser would have factored in the cost of utility connections. He went on to say that he was familiar with the neighborhood, and ventured that the value of property was legitimately high.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone the vote on the Orkney property until March 4.

Plymouth Retail Zoning

The council was asked to give initial approval for the rezoning of land that would allow a proposed retail development at 3600 Plymouth Road, just west of US-23.

The change would rezone the parcel from R5 (motel-hotel district) to C3 (fringe commercial district). That followed a recommendation of approval given at the Jan. 15, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission. The project – called The Shoppes at 3600 – had been postponed by the commission on Nov. 7, 2012.

The Shoppes at 3600 Plymouth, retail, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of a proposed retail development on Plymouth Road west of US-23 – The Shoppes at 3600. The site is in the complex where the Holiday Inn North Campus is located, visible on the right side of this image.

But on Jan. 15, commissioners recommended that the city council approve the project’s zoning, as well as the original site plan. At its Feb. 19 meeting, the city council did not have the site plan on its agenda – only the rezoning request.

The site is located in the same complex as the Holiday Inn North Campus. Responding to some commissioner concerns voiced at the November 2012 meeting, the developer had provided planning commissioners an alternative site plan that they reviewed on Jan. 15. But the developer sought approval for the original layout. The owner is listed as Ann Arbor Farms Hotel Corp., with property being developed by Diverse Development in Holland, Ohio.

The developer hopes to build 9,490-square foot, one-story retail building, to be constructed in what’s now the parking lot and front yard for the hotel, at an estimated cost of $1 million. The building would have space for several businesses, including a restaurant with a one-lane drive-through window and outdoor seating. An existing shared driveway off of Plymouth Road would be used to access the site. The original site plan calls for 33 parking spots and four covered bike parking spots near the entrance.

The planning commission’s recommendation of site plan approval was contingent on four conditions: (1) approval of a land division, to divide off a 1.15 acre parcel from the parking lot and front yard of the 10.85-acre hotel site where the Holiday Inn North Campus is located; (2) approval of an administrative amendment to the parent site plan to change the parking for the hotel, because some spaces will be removed to allow for the new building; (3) recording an ingress/egress easement along the existing drive from Plymouth Road, so that a new curb cut would not be needed; and (4) recording stormwater and cross-parking easements between the hotel and the new building.

The site plan will be considered by the council at a later date.

Plymouth Retail Zoning: Council Deliberations

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked about the turning pattern within the combined parking lot contiguous with the development, saying she was worried about how the new development would impact congestion within the parking lot. City planning manager Wendy Rampson told Petersen that the city doesn’t have standards related to interior drives, but when the city reviews site plans, the planning staff looks for continuity, pedestrian connections and the like. The city’s traffic engineer had taken a look at the traffic study. The petitioner had proposed adding signs, so that as someone exits the small shopping center, if a motorist wanted to go westbound on Plymouth, the sign would indicate that motorists should head toward Green Road – northbound Green could be used to turn left onto westbound Plymouth.

Ward 2 councilmembers Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm.

Left to right: Ward 2 councilmembers Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked about possible congestion at Green and Plymouth roads. Rampson replied that the traffic study indicated an additional four-second delay associated with the new retail development and that congestion would be limited. Lumm confirmed with Rampson that the city’s SCOOT (Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique) traffic signal system can adjust to help traffic flow. Rampson indicated that if you wanted to eliminate congestion at the intersection entirely, it would be necessary to add turn lanes.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) confirmed with Rampson that there’s a drive-through lane that goes behind the buildings. Given the parking in front of the buildings, Kunselman wanted to know where deliveries would take place. Rampson reported that deliveries would be made by small panel trucks, and they’d arrive early in the morning, and would park in the parking lot.

Kunselman felt the development seemed “very constrained.” It looked very difficult, he said. Rampson replied that the planning commission had similar concerns, and had asked for an alternate site plan that rotated the stores so that they fronted on the freeway ramp. A number of problems arose with that alternative, she said. In the end, based on the developer’s concern, the proposal that’s moving forward is the original one.

Responding to a question from Kunselman, Rampson explained that if the council approves the rezoning, then the owner would create a separate parcel within the lot. Kunselman concluded that the owner could come up with an alternate configuration. So he stated he would not support the rezoning.

Petersen asked about a berm that exists now. Rampson explained that it would be regraded for the proposed development. Rampson explained that there would be a net loss of parking in that area.

Outcome: The council gave initial approval to the rezoning. Voting against the rezoning on the initial vote was Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). The rezoning will require a second and final vote by the council to be enacted.

Ann Arbor Hills Zoning Tweak

The council was asked to give final approval to the rezoning of six parcels in the northeast Ann Arbor Hills neighborhood.

The sites were 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.

The rezoning would potentially allow three of the parcels – each lot size currently about 17,500 square feet – to be divided in the future, if other city code requirements are met.

Initial approval had been given by the council on Jan. 22, 2013. Prior to that, the city’s planning commission had recommended the rezoning at its Nov. 20, 2012 meeting. The planning commission had considered the item after the city council directed the planning staff to study the issue of rezoning the parcels. That direction came at the council’s Sept. 17, 2012 meeting.

According to a staff memo, the direction on 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; Vassilios Lambropoulos and Artemis Leontis; and the Clan Crawford Jr. Trust.

R1B zoning requires a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet and a minimum lot width of 70 feet. Three of the parcels don’t conform with that zoning. Under the new R1C zoning, all parcels conform with required lot size and width.

Ann Arbor Hills Zoning: Public Hearing

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a recent candidate for the Michigan state senate and house of representatives, and an advocate for the most vulnerable residents. He asked that the council reconsider the rezoning proposal and amend it – along with all other similar rezoning or annexation proposals – to require that for every acre of land that gains rezoning approval, if it enhances the property value of the lot, then an equal amount of land be dedicated to affordable housing.

Outcome: Without further discussion, the council unanimously approved the rezoning request.

721 N. Main Building: $30K Study

The council was asked to authorize $30,000 for a physical study of the building at the city-owed 721 N. Main property. The money is to be drawn from the city’s general fund balance.

A task force established by the city council on May 7, 2012 has been working to develop recommendations for a much broader area than 721 N. Main, including the North Main corridor and extending to the Huron River. The task force is supposed to provide recommendations for the area by July 31, 2013.

721 N. Main recommendations

A map showing recommendations for the city-owned property at 721 N. Main St.

But the task force has been asked to provide recommendations on the 721 N. Main property even earlier than that – because of application deadlines for grants that the city is interested in seeking. The two grants would be from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, which has an early April deadline, and the Connecting Communities grant from the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission. The city’s $300,000 proposal to Connecting Communities – for trails to be constructed through the 721 N. Main property – was mentioned at the Feb. 12, 2013 meeting of the county’s parks & recreation commission. The Connecting Communities application had a deadline in December 2012, which the city met.

The task force submitted its initial recommendation on the 721 N. Main property to the city council in December, and based on that, the council approved making the two grant applications at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

And at the council’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting, two members of the North Main and Huron River Corridor task force – David Santacroce and Darren McKinnon – gave a presentation to the council summarizing the group’s work to date. The task force recommendations were divided into the floodway portion and the non-floodway portion of the site. For the floodway portion, there was not a lot to decide – because a city council resolution from Aug. 15, 2005 calls for the floodway area of the 721 N. Main site to be included within a planned Allen Creek greenway.

For the roughly 2.5 acre non-floodway portion, the task force is recommending that it be developed to include non-motorized paths to connect from Felch Street to North Main and West Summit streets.

Santacroce and McKinnon told the council during their January presentation that the task force thought the main building had potential for reuse, but that it would need about $30,000 of physical testing to make that determination. It was that $30,000 of testing that the council was asked to authorize at its Feb. 19 meeting. The physical testing is supposed to be completed by May 31, which gives the task force two months of lead time before their final recommendations are due.

At the council’s Jan. 7 meeting, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had expressed a lack of enthusiasm for salvaging the building.

The city is undertaking similar physical testing on buildings that stand on another potential city-owned greenway property, at 415 W. Washington. At the council’s Dec. 17, 2012 meeting, an additional $32,583 for the study of 415 W. Washington property was allocated. 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.

721 N. Main: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the property at 721 N. Main was previously part of the city maintenance yard, where trucks would pull in and out. There’s no way to know what it might cost to refurbish the building there, Briere said. But it’s known that there’s asbestos. Later, mayor John Hieftje added that the asbestos is visible. Briere reported that the task force believes that before demolishing the building, it’s worth exploring what it would cost to make the building usable again. Briere indicated it’s similar to the approach the city is taking at 415 W. Washington.

Hieftje said he appreciated the work done by the task force. He’d toured the building and described it as not fit for habitation. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) thanked Briere for her leadership on the topic. He described the work as reflective of a long-term desire on the part of the community to see the property become a greenway.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the $30,000 allocation for the physical testing of the building at 721 N. Main.

Former Near North Demolition

The council was asked to receive formally an additional $96,000 through federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) allocations, which the city will put toward demolishing six houses on North Main Street.

The houses are on the site of the former Near North affordable housing project. That project, on which the nonprofit Avalon Housing had partnered, ultimately did not go forward. The city must complete the demolition by March 15, 2013.

The additional $96,000 can only be used for the demolition of structures at 700-724 N. Main.

Council deliberations were brief. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she felt that many in the neighborhood were eager to see the demolition occur. She thanked the staff for an innovative solution to pay for it. Mayor John Hieftje added that he had been pushing to get those houses down for a long time, but he didn’t feel as bad about the wait, now that the grant has been received. It would preserve some of the city’s funds that were reserved for the specific purpose of demolishing nuisance properties.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the receipt of the additional $96,000 in grant funding.

Sustainability Framework

The council was asked to adopt a sustainability framework that had previously been adopted by the city planning commission, making it a part of the city’s master plan. The planning commission had taken action at its Jan. 3, 2013 meeting. The vote by the planning commissioners was unanimous.

The item had originally been on the planning commission’s Dec. 4, 2012 agenda. Action was postponed at that time, after some commissioners raised concerns regarding a goal for high-performance buildings.

The city has been developing this framework for nearly two years. In June of 2012, the planning 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.

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?

The sustainability framework is 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.

Sustainability Framework: Public Hearing

Thomas Partridge called on the council to redefine environmentalism and sustainability and told them the top priority has to be ending homelessness. He called for socially integrated housing.

When no one else rose to speak during the public hearing, Alan Haber came out of the audience to say that he felt more than one person should speak at a public hearing on a topic this important. He said he was glad the proposal was coming forward – especially in the context of climate change. He called “sustainable development” a bit of an oxymoron, saying that development has to be done in such a way that does not increase the land value so much that the people who live and work here now can’t continue to live and work here. Things have to remain “inviting” to those who are here already, he said. He also called for a gathering place in the center of town, which he said would add to the sustainability of the city.

Sustainability Framework: Council Deliberations

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked about a language revision on the definition of sustainable buildings and respecting human contexts. She wanted to know if there were any other major themes that surfaced in the public hearings. Planning manager Wendy Rampson indicated that there were few comments at the public hearings, because it had been such a robust process that had led up to that point. Mayor John Hieftje clarified that a public hearing had been held, but nobody appeared from the public to speak. Rampson quipped that everyone was ready to move on to the action plan.

Lumm also confirmed that no comments had been received from adjoining communities. Rampson ventured that if other communities begin adopting similar frameworks, then it would be clear that they wanted to imitate it.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to adopt the sustainability framework.

Clean Energy Bonds (PACE)

The council was asked to approve the issuance of bonds that will assist owners of commercial property in making improvements designed to help save energy under the city’s property assessed clean energy (PACE) program. The item had been postponed by the council on Feb. 4, 2013. That initial decision to postpone stemmed from the fact that the item had not been added to the agenda until the day of the Feb. 4 meeting.

The sale of up to $1 million in bonds will support energy improvements to be undertaken by five property owners. In broad strokes, the PACE program is enabled by state legislation – the Property Assessed Clean Energy Act 270 of 2010. Property owners take out loans to make energy improvements to be repaid through regular installments as part of their taxes. Municipalities like the city of Ann Arbor administer the program. More than a year ago, on Jan. 9, 2012, the city council set the fees for participation in the program. Prior to that, on March 7, 2011, the city set up a loan loss fund with about $430,000 granted by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Properties for which owners have applied for improvements under Ann Arbor’s PACE program include: (1) Arrowwood (2566 Arrowwood Trail) for new HVAC equipment, insulation, occupancy sensors and lighting upgrade for the clubhouse; exterior lighting upgrade to LED; and solar shingles on one apartment building; (2) Big Boy (3611 Plymouth Road) for HVAC upgrade, lighting upgrade, cooking equipment replacement with energy efficient equipment, and controls; (3) Bivouac (330-336 S. State) for interior lighting upgrade; (4) Goodyear Building (118-124 S. Main) for HVAC replacement (boilers and A/C units), and lighting upgrade; and (5) Kerrytown Market & Shoppes (403 N. Fifth Ave.) for lighting upgrades in tenant areas and common areas.

PACE: Council Deliberations

Referring to the couple of years leading up to the enabling legislation by the state, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) described the city as hopeful that PACE funding would be available for single-family homes, in addition to commercial properties. While the city waits for legislation that would make it possible for single-family homes, she was pleased that the city could offer a program for commercial properties. It’s potentially one of the most effective ways to decrease the city’s energy footprint, she said, without costing property owners an incredible amount of money to get started.

Mayor John Hieftje characterized the council’s action as another step in a very long process. He described how the window of opportunity for the city’s stop loss load fund was set to expire next month, so it was important the council act. Hieftje picked up on Briere’s point about single-family homes, attributing the problem to the fact that Fannie Mae lenders didn’t want to be second in line if there were to be a foreclosure. He pointed out that PACE does apply to multi-family housing units.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved issuing the PACE bonds.

Living Wage Ordinance Changes

Consideration of several amendments to Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance was back on the council’s agenda, because at its Nov. 19, 2012 meeting the council had specified Feb. 19 as the date to which it would postpone consideration of the ordinance changes.

The main proposed changes to the local 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 nonprofits that receive funding from the city for human services work. The changes would mean that such nonprofits would not need to meet the minimum wage requirements.

Following the council’s Nov. 19 postponement, consideration of the changes had been referred to the city’s Housing and Human Services Advisory Board (HHSAB) for more study. [For coverage of the HHSAB's Dec. 18, 2012 meeting, see: "Human Services Group Ponders Living Wage"] The HHSAB is taking a bit longer with its recommendations in part because those recommendations will be informed by work done by a class of University of Michigan students. The class is being taught in the winter 2013 term by Ian Robinson, a lecturer in the department of sociology. Robinson attended the Dec. 18 meeting of the HHSAB, and sketched out the range of work he thought his students might be able to do to assist the board.

The current law applies to organizations that have contracts with the city for more than $10,000 in a given calendar year, and that employ five or more people (10 or more for nonprofits). The current law also provides an exemption for organizations funded from the city’s community events budget – an exemption put in place to accommodate the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s practice of paying its temporary employees less than the living wage and the city’s desire to fund the festival at a higher level.

Among the other contemplated amendments to the living wage ordinance was an increase from $10,000 to $25,000 for the amount of a contract triggering the application of the ordinance. The timeframe would also change from a calendar year to one fiscal year. Also included in the proposed amendments was one that would allow the city administrator to grant a waiver from compliance with the ordinance, instead of requiring the approval of the city council.

At its meeting on Nov. 8, 2012, the council had granted such a waiver to the nonprofit Community Action Network, which receives funding from the city to do human services work.

Living Wage Ordinance Changes: Council Deliberations

Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who serves as one of two city council liaisons to the housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB), led off discussion on the item. [Sabra Briere (Ward 1) is the other council liaison to HHSAB.]

Lumm said there’s not a consensus on HHSAB about whether the amendments should move forward along the lines currently proposed, so she thought it should be tabled. [A tabling motion is different from a motion to postpone to a date certain. If a matter is tabled, then it can be considered at any time in the future with a motion to take up the matter off the table – but it need not be taken up again. If a matter is postponed to a date certain, then it is automatically taken up on the date specified. A motion to table, according to Robert's Rules, is properly invoked when some other matter "of immediate urgency" has arisen, so that the other matter can be handled first. A motion to take the tabled matter up off the table can then come during the same session. If it's the desire of the body to kill the matter, without voting it up or down, then the proper motion is to postpone it indefinitely. A motion to table is also not supposed to be subject to debate.]

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) asked if this was a motion to postpone the matter indefinitely. City attorney Stephen Postema indicated his view that a tabling motion would have the effect of indefinite postponement.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that a matter that’s tabled has a finite period during which it can be taken up off the table, and after that it’s considered demised. Mayor John Hieftje stated the finite time period was one year. [According to the council's rules, the period specified for the demise of resolutions or for an ordinance approved at first reading is six months. The living wage ordinance before the council was being considered for its first reading.]

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked if there was an expectation that HHSAB would make some kind of recommendation – because he was interested in seeing at least a few procedural changes made to the living wage ordinance. Lumm told Kunselman that HHSAB might make some recommendations. But she ventured that the changes to the ordinance that HHSAB might eventually recommend would be a 180-degree change in direction – broadening the ordinance’s application instead of limiting it.

Lumm said she was not willing to bring to the council the kind of amendments that HHSAB is contemplating now. Anything that she would support would at least resemble the amendments that were in front of the council that night. Lumm ventured that maybe Briere would introduce a different recommendation from HHSAB – but knowing what HHSAB is contemplating, Lumm herself would not bring it forward.

Kunselman said he would hate to see it “die in committee.” He didn’t know if there’s a fire under HHSAB to make a recommendation. Kunselman expressed his view that he’d like to see a change in the ordinance so that a waiver can be given to a nonprofit organization by the city administrator, instead of requiring city council approval.

Briere told Kunselman that HHSAB was focused on the opportunity to undertake a broader study of nonprofits – those that receive funding from the city as well as those that don’t. She ventured that some members of HHSAB were concerned that the living wage ordinance should actually be the purview of the human rights commission. Briere characterized the last meeting of the HSSAB, in January, as lively and not unanimous. But she ventured that there was “gentle agreement” that the study of the effects of living wage on nonprofits was important. Briere said it should be complete by the end of April.

Kunselman, felt that any revision to the living wage ordinance should be something that’s ready to go by the time the council adopts the budget [by the second meeting in May]. He wondered if a resolution of direction to the HHSAB would help that. He stated that he’s willing to help, but said he’s not familiar with what’s going on at HHSAB.

Lumm told Kunselman that there was strong sentiment expressed by HHSAB members to study other aspects of the ordinance outside of HHSAB’s purview and more in line with the purview of the human rights commission. Lumm ventured that the majority of HHSAB members expressed some interest in revisiting the policy and requiring that the city pay a living wage to its own part-time and seasonal workers, as well as eliminating the exemption for those organizations that are funded from the community events fund [like the Summer Festival].

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to table the living wage ordinance revision.

Ann Arbor Airport Fencing

The council was asked to consider two items related to fencing at the Ann Arbor municipal airport. The first item consisted of a grant approval, which totaled $157,895. Of that amount, $150,000 is federal money, $3,947 comes from the state of Michigan, and $3,948 comes from the city airport’s operating budget.

The fencing is meant to improve safety. According to the staff memo accompanying the council’s resolution, three incursions (someone getting in a restricted area of the airfield) took place in 2012. Before those three incursions, none had taken place since 2009.

The second vote was on a $32,000 contract with URS Corp. for engineering services related to the gate and fencing project. Funding for the contract is covered in the grant that was also on the Feb. 19 council agenda. The scope of the project includes installation of two new gate locations, the replacement of two existing gates, the upgrade of an existing gate location, upgrade of existing security fencing and the installation of new security fencing in the three hangar areas of the airport.

Ann Arbor Airport Fencing: Council Deliberations

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) got clarification from fleet and facilities manger Matt Kulhanek that there was no eight-vote majority needed on the items because they did not reflect a budget adjustment. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked if there was no fencing currently. Kulhanek explained that two new gates would be installed in the northeast area of the airport. Three existing gates would be replaced. Kunselman wanted to know how that would prevent incursions.

Kulhanek described on incursion where an elderly woman was heading north on State Street, looking for Costco. And instead of turning on Ellsworth, she turned onto the airport property. She drove through the northeast hangar area, followed a vehicle through another gate and ended up pulling out onto an active taxiway.

Kulhanek characterized the city’s share as 2.5% of the total project. Kulhanek confirmed that the federal money comes from fees paid on airline tickets, not general tax dollars.

About the contract for the fencing installation, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) quipped: “It’s always good to get money and spend it immediately.”

Outcome: The council’s votes on the grant and the contract related to airport fencing were unanimous.

Communications and Comment

Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda. Here are some highlights.

Comm/Comm: Public Art Ordinance Revision

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) gave the council an update on the work of a city council task force that was assigned to review and make recommendations on the city’s public art ordinance. [Besides Briere, the group consists of councilmembers Sally Petersen (Ward 2) Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). They'd been appointed at the city council's Dec. 3, 2012 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 council’s resolution had not included a date in writing by which the task force was supposed to complete its work. But in making the appointments to the task force, mayor John Hieftje had indicated a date of Feb. 15. Briere reported that a draft resolution was now in the hands of the city attorney’s office. The task force would be meeting again on March 1, Briere said. [For the most recent Chronicle update on the activity of the task force, see the Jan. 23, 2013 meeting report of the public art commission.]

Briere characterized the issues addressed by the task force as including how and where public art should be placed, as well as changes to the funding mechanism. The task force is looking at ways to fund art that could include temporary art, publicly selected art, art the public helps to pay for, or performance art. The task force is working with language that would eliminate the “percent for art” funding mechanism, but would still allow capital improvement projects to have public art associated with the project as a “baked-in” ingredient.

Briere indicated that she hoped an ordinance change would be in front of the council by the end of March. [The council's second of two meetings that month falls on March 18.] She also indicated that a resolution separate from the ordinance change would also be brought forward, which she said would include additional guidance.

Comm/Comm: DDA Ordinance Amendments

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) announced that he now has a draft version of the ordinance amendments he’d mentioned at the council’s Feb. 4, 2013 meeting, regarding the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

He asked that the city clerk add the draft to the city’s online Legistar system for the Feb. 19 meeting. He’d be looking for co-sponsors, he said.

Among the revisions to the DDA ordinance Kunselman reflected in the draft are changes to the DDA governance, which would include term limits on board members, and a prohibition against elected officials serving on the board. But more significantly, Kunselman is proposing to change the way that the tax increment finance (TIF) capture by the DDA is calculated. The draft language leaves the issue still somewhat unclear. [.pdf of draft amendment to the DDA ordinance]

Comm/Comm: Housing Commission, CIP

During communications time, Kunselman conveyed his desire to see the properties of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) included in the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP). That came in the context of a presentation the council had recently received from AAHC executive director Jennifer L. Hall, who’s proposing a private-public partnership to address capital improvement needs for AAHC properties. Kunselman has expressed opposition to Hall’s proposal. [For background on the AAHC's efforts, see: "Housing Commission Selects Co-Developer."]

Comm/Comm: Taxicabs

Kunselman indicated that the Feb. 28 meeting of the city’s taxicab board – which he chairs – would include an update to the public about increased enforcement of the taxicab ordinance. He’s looking to see if any other changes can be made to the taxicab ordinance to make the taxi industry more responsive to the needs of the community. [For recent coverage of the taxicab board, see: "Ann Arbor Taxicab Board Grants Appeal."]

Comm/Comm: Former Y Lot

Kunselman also indicated that he’d be requesting brokerage services for the sale of the former Y lot at Fifth and William. Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he wanted to look at what could be included as an offer, but leave the property as unencumbered as possible.

Comm/Comm: Human Rights Commission

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) noted that the city’s human rights commission is looking for additional members.

Comm/Comm: Anglin, WALLY

During communications from council, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that his name has been mentioned as someone who is a supporter of the WALLY north-south commuter rail project. [The project currently has a funded study for station location design]. Anglin said information was being publicly distributed to the effect that he’s a supporter of WALLY and that people should contact him about it. Anglin indicated he did not support WALLY, but was very much in favor of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s bus system, saying that rail was “foolhardy at this time.” He wanted to stop discussion of funding rail transportation until people accept the public transportation that already exists.

Comm/Comm: Ward 2 Website

During communications time, Sally Petersen (Ward 2) alerted people that she and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had created a website for Ann Arbor’s Ward 2. Anyone is welcome to visit it, she said, and there’s a link to a Ward 2 resident satisfaction survey. She encouraged people to take the survey, especially residents of Ward 2.

Comm/Comm: Aging Conference

During communications time, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that she’d placed a flyer on her council colleagues’ seats about the AARP’s Age Friendly Communities Conference, which takes place on Feb. 28 in Ann Arbor.

Comm/Comm: Israel/Palestine

Henry Herskovitz responded to some remarks that Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) made at the council’s Jan. 22, 2013 meeting. Warpehoski had indicated he wouldn’t be contemplating a resolution on Palestinian rights as long as demonstrations continue outside Beth Israel on Saturdays during worship services. Herskovitz asked whether Warpehoski’s remarks contained elements of a “friendly offer” or a possible quid pro quo from Herskovitz’s group – Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends – to cease their demonstrations at Beth Israel. He contended that Warpehoski’s comment contains an “odd element” – because it recognizes that a problem exists in Palestine, which Warpehoski could, or would, act on as an elected official. So Herskovitz concluded that Warpehoski was not saying that the city shouldn’t divest from Israel, or that there are no grounds for divestment – only that Warpehoski is conditioning his action on the actions of Herskovitz’s group.

Herskovitz drew an analogy to the abolitionist movement in the 1800s, as John Brown conducted violent raids against pro-slavery interests. Some in the abolitionist movement decried Brown’s tactics, but they did not allow Brown’s actions to distract them from their goal of abolishing slavery, Herskovitz said. The situation in Palestine cries out for moral intervention, he said. But based on Warpehoski’s remarks, it appears that intervention will not take place until Herskovitz’s group stops expressing its point of view – in a manner that is protected by the First Amendment. Herskovitz allowed that it’s difficult for Warpehoski to accept his group’s tactics. But allowing the actions of another to determine one’s own actions, Herskovitz said, raises doubts about that person’s reasoning and commitment to resolving the issue.

Comm/Comm: General Criticism

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a resident of Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor’s Ward 5. He noted that he been a recent candidate for the Michigan senate and house of representatives. He called for ending discrimination and corruption in the Ann Arbor city government.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, John Hieftje, Chuck Warpehoski.

Present: Marcia Higgins, Christopher Taylor.

Next council meeting: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle listings to confirm date.]

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  1. February 25, 2013 at 10:56 am | permalink

    It appears that the City’s law department is being extremely timid in its assessment of the City’s ability to defend a moratorium on development in the downtown area. We cannot know for sure because such matters are discussed in closed session and are attorney-client privileged.

    The neighbors living to the north of downtown have hired a highly regarded attorney who specializes in such issues. That attorney believes the City is well within its rights to impose a moratorium to study and address the inconsistencies between the A2D2 zoning regulations and the City’s central area master plan.

    The City attorney brags that he has never lost a case. [link] Of course, surrender is not counted when tallying wins and loses. For example, when litigating the underground parking lot FOIA dispute, the City quickly settled to avoid defeat. When faced with any possibility of a suit by any developer, the law department seems to encourage the Council to just give in.

    The question now is how will the Council address the timid stance of the law department? If Council votes to impose a moratorium, the law department apparently already has admitted that it cannot defend that moratorium. Should Council seek an outside attorney with the expertise and ability to defend the moratorium? Time will tell.

  2. By Observatory
    February 26, 2013 at 4:26 pm | permalink

    Fruits and nuts! Excellent photo.

    Wasn’t A2D2 just approved a few years ago following numerous and lengthy Ann Arbor style studies with lots of consultants’ billing hours? and wasn’t it ballyhooed at the time by a trio of women who called themselves the ‘downtown divas?’

    Now the whole thing is considered a disaster and legal teams are called in to put a ring fence around the dangerous hole in the ground.

    Am I getting the picture right? I often miss it.

  3. February 26, 2013 at 5:03 pm | permalink

    Doug Kelbaugh’s remarks give welcome weight to the call for a moratorium and study of the D1 zoning right at the edge of downtown. As he indicates, this zoning does not conform to all the principled discussion that was held in the course of redoing downtown zoning. No one can call Prof. Kelbaugh a NIMBY or Ann-Arbor-in-Amber retrograde thinker – he has been a leading voice behind the downtown vitality movement.

    I was recently made aware of a website prepared by the Tylers [link] that has an excellent list of resources on this subject. It is prepared from the viewpoint of an advocate, but contains many “neutral” items and also presents a well-fleshed array of the arguments for a revisiting of the zoning.

  4. By Tom Whitaker
    February 26, 2013 at 6:05 pm | permalink

    @2: Yes there were lengthy studies and meetings and discussion. The result of all that was a report, approved by Council in 2007, that called for a core zone and an interface zone that stepped down to the neighborhoods. The report included a map, with the north side of E. Huron designated as this interface zone. This was consistent with the Downtown Plan.

    Sometime between May and August 2008, the planning commission decided to concede to the parcel owners at the corner of Huron and Division who complained (along with their attorneys) that their property would be devalued if it was made D2. This change to D1 was protested by many property owners north of Huron at that time. There was definitely no consensus on this matter.

    Then, on the night of the final council vote on the new zoning, numerous amendments were brought forward by various council members. Some were adopted and some weren’t. A proposal to postpone for a month in order to further study some of these last minute changes was defeated. As a concession, a resolved clause was added to the council action that called for a review of the zoning after one year. After a year, this review was added to the planning commission’s work plan where it has floundered for two more years, but it is still there for all to see.

    The review of the downtown zoning is long overdue–especially of the edge areas where D1 is currently designated next to residential areas, which is in direct conflict with the adopted master plan. Another such location is on South Main, between William and Packard.

  5. February 27, 2013 at 2:18 pm | permalink

    Let’s not forget that during most of the A2D2 zoning discussion, staff was proposing significant restrictions on massing of buildings. While complex, those massing rules would have prevented the monolithic towers we have seen built since the adoption of A2D2. The massing rules were abandoned in a late stage of the deliberations on the A2D2 plan.

    The discussions of the zoning changes also included considerable discussion of applying limitations on buildings through the use of character district overlays and the establishment of design guidelines. As I recall, the character districts were not implemented and the design guidelines were not mandatory. Neither have had a limiting impact impact on what could be built within the A2D2 areas.

    The D-1 and D-2 zoning districts represented a dramatic change to downtown zoning. It was obvious at the time the changes were adopted that there would be unintended consequences and unforeseeable outcomes. That is the reason the A2D2 plan included a promise to revisit downtown zoning within a short time after adoption.

    It is time to revisit the A2D2 plan and revise it to comply with the City’s Master Plan. The most important issue is the use of buffer areas between D-1 districts and nearby neighborhoods, both on the south side of William and the north side of Huron.