Archive for March, 2013

New Residential Project Moves to Council

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 19, 2013): Planning commissioners reviewed two projects at their most recent meeting: a commercial project near South State and Ellsworth; and a residential development off Traver Road near the Leslie Park golf course.

Eleanore Adenekan, Tony Derezinski, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor planning commissioners Eleanore Adenekan and Tony Derezinski at the commission’s March 19, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The commission discussed, but then postponed action on a proposed site plan for State Street Center, just north of Ellsworth near the new Tim Hortons. The project calls for a drive-thru restaurant and separate retail building, with an entrance off of South State.

The planning staff had recommended postponement after discovering that the city’s official zoning map had been incorrectly labeled. It showed the site as zoned C3 (fringe commercial), and the developer had made plans based on that erroneous labeling. But during background research for this proposal, planning staff discovered that the site actually had been zoned as O (office) in 2003. The postponement is intended to allow the developer to submit a rezoning request.

A project that had previously been postponed by commissioners – called Hideaway Lane – was discussed and ultimately recommended for approval on March 19. The proposal is a residential development of 19 single-family houses on a 4.6-acre site off Traver Road, near the city’s Leslie Park golf course and on the edge of Traver Creek. Much of the discussion focused on issues related to the project’s impact on natural features, and how the developer plans to mitigate that impact.

The commission also authorized the reimbursement of expenses for Kirk Westphal – the commission’s chair – to attend the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference in Chicago from April 13-17. He’ll appear on a panel with city staff to talk about Ann Arbor’s recently adopted sustainability framework. Westphal, a Democrat, recently announced his intent to run for Ann Arbor city council in Ward 2, for the seat currently held by Jane Lumm. [Full Story]

AATA Receives Audit, Preps for Urban Core

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (March 21, 2013): The board’s main business of the evening was a presentation from the audit firm Plante Moran on the result of AATA’s fiscal year 2012 audit.

David Helisek, at the podium, presented highlights of the audit report to the AATA board.

David Helisek, at the podium, presented highlights of the audit report to the AATA board on March 21, 2013. (Photo by the writer.)

About the audit report, Plante Moran’s David Helisek told the board: “Hopefully, you found it somewhat boring.” By that he meant there were no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies to report. And his firm had struggled even to find suggestions for improvement in controls and processes. In the category of a suggestion was a recommendation to formalize a policy on user access to IT systems. And one question was left over from the previous year’s audit – on the legal basis of the AATA’s investment in heating oil futures as a hedge against possible price increases in diesel fuel. The AATA has inquired with the state of Michigan on that issue, but has not received an answer.

At the meeting, the board also rescinded a $119,980 contract it had authorized with PM Environmental – because of a failure on the AATA’s side to go through the standard procedure for bidding out the contract. The contract is for remediation of contaminated soil at the AATA’s headwaters on 2700 S. Industrial Highway. That contract will now be re-bid, and PM Environmental will have an opportunity to participate in that process.

In a final voting item on its agenda, the board authorized a four-month extension to the current pricing agreement the AATA has with Michigan Flyer – to provide AirRide service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport. The extension will allow negotiations to take place on a new arrangement, which is being considered in the context of at least two factors. Ridership on the service, launched last year in April, has exceeded projections. And Michigan Flyer may be eligible for a federal grant that could increase the number of trips per day. The current service is hourly.

The board also heard a range of updates from its committees and CEO Michael Ford. Among the most significant was about a meeting scheduled for March 28 among representatives of Washtenaw County’s “urban core” communities that have, for the last few months, been engaged in discussions with AATA about expanded transit in a much smaller geographic footprint than the entire county. [Full Story]

Special Council Session: March 25

The Ann Arbor city council has called a special session for Monday, March 25, 2013 starting at 6 p.m. in second-floor city council chambers at 301 E. Huron St.

The purpose of the special meeting is considering a resolution to approve a collective bargaining agreement with Local 369 of the International Union of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) AFL-CIO. The agreement would run from March 25, 2013 through Dec. 31, 2017, a bit under five years. The special meeting might also include a closed session to discuss labor negotiation strategy.

The council already had a budget work session scheduled for the same time. So the budget work session will start immediately following the special meeting. The topics of … [Full Story]

Community Meetings Set for AAPS Budget

The Ann Arbor Public School (AAPS) board of education has released dates for community dialogue meetings on the budget for fiscal year 2014. In a release from the district, the trustees indicated they would like community input to develop the principles they should follow in making cuts and strategies to lessen the need for such cuts in the future. The district must cut $17 to 20 million from the general operating budget in the coming year.

The budget dialogue meetings will be structured differently from the forums that have been held in previous years – to allow for more open conversation. Several board members will be in attendance at each meeting to engage in conversation with the community. Conversation topics will depend … [Full Story]

AATA Accepts Clean FY 2012 Audit

The board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has formally accepted the result of it fiscal year 2012 audit report. [.pdf of FY 2012 audit]

There were no significant deficiencies found in the audit, although a question remained from last year’s audit. One remark was made about the legal basis for the AATA’s investments in heating oil futures. The AATA has inquired with the state of Michigan seeking a legal opinion on the issue, but has not yet heard back. The AATA’s basic financial picture at the end of FY 2012 was as follows:
$17,109,000 Current assets
37,094,000 Capital assets, net
54,203,000 Total assets
1,619,000 Current liabilities
1,233,000 Noncurrent liabilities
2,852,000 Total liabilities
37,094,000 Invested in capital assets
[Full Story]

AATA Looks to Extend Airport Service

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board has voted to extend for another four months the current pricing agreement it has with Michigan Flyer to provide bus service between downtown Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metro airport.

AirRide Weekly Boardings: April 2012 through March 2013

AirRide Weekly Boardings: April 2012 through March 2013.

The current agreement has a yearly not-to-exceed cost of $700,000 per year, running for two years starting April 1, 2012. As the second year of the agreement is approaching, Michigan Flyer has indicated a willingness to renegotiate the arrangement in the context of a Transportation, Community, and System Preservation (TCSP) grant … [Full Story]

AATA Does “Do Over” on Soils Contract

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board has rescinded the award of a $119,980 contract with PM Environmental – because of a failure on the AATA’s side to go through the standard procedure for bidding out the contract. The contract is for remediation of contaminated soil at the AATA’s headwaters on 2700 S. Industrial Highway.

The board had originally approved the soil remediation contract at its Feb. 21, 2013 meeting. That action essentially extended the scope of work of the contract that PM Environmental already had for the site assessment work. However, the evacuation and remediation work was supposed to be bid out separately. From an AATA staff memo:
AATA processes require that a second RFP be issued for the soil remediation, to ensure full … [Full Story]

Westphal Pulls Petitions for Ward 2 Council

Kirk Westphal has pulled petitions to run in the Aug. 6, 2013 Democratic primary for a seat representing Ward 2 on the Ann Arbor city council. According to Westphal, he took out the petitions on the afternoon of March 21.

Kirk Westphal at the March 4, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council

Kirk Westphal was in the audience at the March 4, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council, when the council considered a moratorium on site plans for areas of the downtown zoned D1. He serves as chair of the city planning commission.

If he files the petitions with at least 100 valid signatures by the May 14 deadline, he’ll be competing for the seat currently held by independent Jane Lumm. Lumm was elected most recently in November 2011, winning the general election against Stephen Rapundalo, who ran as a Democrat. Lumm, who served for a period on the council in the mid 1990s as a Republican, is expected to run again this year.

In a telephone interview with The Chronicle, Westphal stated: “I consider myself strongly pro-environment, pro-transit, pro-alternative energy, and a strong Democrat. I hope to represent my ward in that capacity.” Responding to a standard question, he said he’s running “because I sense we’re on the cusp of some unique opportunities and challenges. I’m hopeful my vision of the future resonates with the ward.”

Westphal is currently chair of the city’s planning commission. He was first appointed on Oct. 3, 2006, replacing James D’Amour. The city council confirmed Westphal’s reappointment to the planning commission on July 2, 2012 for another three-year term on the commission, ending July 1, 2015. Westphal also serves on the city’s environmental commission.

Westphal is married with two children, ages 5 and 7, and lives in the Glacier neighborhood of Ward 2. Chronicle readers might be familiar with that part of town through The Chronicle’s coverage of last year’s Memorial Day parade. [Full Story]

South University

Guy on a bike towing a kayak heads off across campus as light snow falls. [photo]

In it for the Money: Running Gun Numbers

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. FYI, Nelson has written a piece for The Magazine about a device to adapt a digital camera to pinhole technology, called Light Motif – possibly of interest to Chronicle readers.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Thanks for returning for this second installment of Dave Not Really Taking a Meaningful Position on Gun Control. As you’ll recall, last month we talked about What Guns Are and Aren’t [1].

This month, we’re just going to talk numbers, because if you get your vision of the world from the daily news, then your impression is probably something like: (a) Guns kill maybe three dozen people per day, mostly in murders (many of which are committed by cops in the line of duty); (b) Lots of little kids find guns, play with them, and get killed; (c) Gun injuries aren’t that common; these things basically kill you or don’t, and most injuries are accidents [2]; and (d) NRA is a deservedly powerful voice in the national conversation about guns and gun control.

All of that is wrong.

I fully acknowledge that the fourth point has some aspects of opinion to it; the first three do not. These first three are demonstrably incorrect.

Just to get the punchline out of the way, in America: (a) Guns actually kill 86 people per day, and only about a third of those are murders; (b) A very small percentage of gun accident victims are kids; (c) Gun injuries are more than twice as frequent as deaths; and (d) NRA doesn’t have enough members to warrant the influence they wield. [Full Story]

County Board Approves Public Health Plan

Final approval to the Washtenaw County public health plan – mandated by the state of Michigan – was given at the March 20, 2013 meeting of the county board of commissioners. The board gave initial approval at its meeting on March 6, 2013. [.pdf plan of organization]

State law requires that the county submit a plan of organization every three years to the Michigan Dept. of Public Health. The 103-page document outlines the county health department’s legal responsibilities and authority; the department’s organization, vision, mission and values statement; community partnerships; services, locations and hours of operation; reporting and evaluation procedures; and procedures for approving the county’s health officer and medical director. In Washtenaw County, the health officer is Dick … [Full Story]

County to Explore Creating Land Bank

Washtenaw County commissioners have voted to form a committee that will explore the feasibility of creating a land bank. The unanimous vote took place at the board’s March 20, 2013 meeting. The resolution named three people to the committee: Commissioner Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), county treasurer Catherine McClary, and Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development. The committee is directed to report back to the board by Aug. 7, 2013.

A land bank is a mechanism for the county to take temporary ownership of tax- or mortgage-foreclosed land while working to put it back into productive use. “Productive use” could mean several things – such as selling it to a nonprofit like Habitat for … [Full Story]

New Washtenaw County Labor Deals Approved

Groundbreaking contracts with 15 of Washtenaw County’s 17 bargaining units were authorized by the county board of commissioners at its March 20, 2013 meeting. The deals, which take effect March 21, come a week before Michigan’s right-to-work law takes effect, and guarantee that employees will not be subject to the law until the contracts expire. The board also voted to approve comparable compensation and benefits for its non-union workers.

Caryette Fenner, AFSCME 2733, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Caryette Fenner, president of AFSCME 2733, the county’s largest bargaining unit, at the Washtenaw County board’s March 7, 2013 budget retreat. Her union had reached a tentative agreement with administration earlier that day, which was ratified by union members on March 13 and approved by the county board on March 20.

The majority of contracts run through Dec. 31, 2023 and are the longest-term labor agreements ever authorized by the Washtenaw County government, which employs about 1,300 workers. One of the unions agreed to a shorter-term contract: The contract for AFSCME 3052 lasts five years, through Dec. 31, 2017.

Typically, such agreements last two to five years. About 85% of county workers belong to a union.

In broad strokes, the agreements provide for annual wage increases, a cap on employee healthcare contributions, and the elimination of “banked leave” days. Banked leave days have been used in recent years to help balance the budget by cutting labor costs. The days are unpaid, but don’t affect retirement calculations.

Some of the major changes relate to benefits for employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014. Those employees will participate in a defined contribution retirement plan, compared to the current defined benefit plan – the Washtenaw County Employees’ Retirement System (WCERS). In defined benefit plans, retirees receive a set amount per month during their retirement. In defined contribution plans, employers pay a set amount into the retirement plan while a person is employed. The most common of these defined contribution plans is the 401(k). [Full Story]

County Board OKs 2 New Positions

Two new jobs – in IT support and water resources – were given initial approval by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at their March 20, 2013 meeting. The items will be considered for final approval on April 3.

The water resource specialist will work in the county’s office of the water resources commissioner, Evan Pratt. The job is authorized at a salary range between $30,515 to $40,253. According to a staff memo, the position is needed due to heavy drain construction activity and an increase in soil erosion application inspections. The job is described as a revenue-generating position, bringing in an estimated additional $41,337 in each of the first three years, and a minimum of $15,000 annually after that. … [Full Story]

Fees for Water Quality Training Get Final OK

A $75 fee for Washtenaw County’s training course to certify drinking water operators got final approval from the county board of commissioners at its March 20, 2013 meeting. The board had given initial approval at its meeting on March 6, 2013.

Entities with drinking water supplies or places that use certain water treatment processes – like factories or schools – are required by the state to have certified operators. Until the end of 2013, the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) reimbursed local health departments that offered these training courses, paying $75 for each certified operator who attended. Those funds will no longer be provided. The Washtenaw County public health department plans to continue offering the courses, but now needs … [Full Story]

County Gets Info on Flooding, Shares Options

A meeting last week at Lawton Elementary School, in southwest Ann Arbor, fell the day before the one-year anniversary of significant overland flooding in the neighborhood. The flooding resulted from heavy rains last year on March 15, 2012. Last week’s meeting followed an earlier one held on Jan. 29, 2013.

Ann Arbor city storm drain in action. (Chronicle file photo)

Ann Arbor city storm drain in action. (Chronicle file photo)

The meetings are part of a study of the Upper Malletts Creek watershed, being conducted by the office of the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner under an agreement with the city of Ann Arbor. The year-long study is supposed to culminate in a final report due to the Ann Arbor city council in February 2014. Water resources commissioner Evan Pratt was on hand at the meeting, along with other members of the project team.

In response to direction from a citizens advisory group that’s been formed for the project, the team used the March 14 meeting to introduce residents to the basic toolkit for stormwater management techniques. The general stormwater management practices described at the meeting – without trying to analyze which solutions might be appropriate for specific locations in the area – ranged from increasing the number of catch basins in streets to the construction of underground detention facilities.

At least 60 residents attended the meeting, and seemed generally receptive to the idea that some money might actually be spent on infrastructure projects to reduce flooding in their neighborhood: “If you want me to sign up for you breaking up my street and putting [stormwater management infrastructure] in there, just give me a consent form and I will sign it tonight!”

The project team is also still in a phase of gathering information about specific experiences that residents have had with past flooding problems. And the same technology platform – an online mapping tool – can be used by residents for logging future flooding events. For help in using a smart-phone app, one attendee volunteered her grandson “for rent” to other residents. Members of the project team also indicated they welcomed information submitted in any format – including letters, face-to-face conversation and phone calls.

But it was a missing follow-up phone call – expected from one resident who’d attended the first meeting on Jan. 29 – that indicated some continuing frustration about the city’s footing drain disconnection (FDD) program. The frustrated resident’s experience had been that after an FDD program sump pump was installed in his basement, he’d started having problems with a wet basement – problems he hadn’t experienced before. Project manager Harry Sheehan, with the county water resources commissioner’s office, extended an apology for the missed communication and an offer to arrange a site visit.

The FDD program removes a building’s footing drain connection to the sanitary sewer system and redirects that stormwater flow to the system designed to handle it – the stormwater system. The FDD program, which has been somewhat controversial, is not the focus of the Upper Malletts Creek study. But residents got an assurance that the additional volume of rainwater that goes into the stormwater system – as a result of the FDD program – would be accounted for in all the modeling that’s done as part of this study. [Full Story]

State Street Center Project Postponed

Ann Arbor planning commissioners have postponed action on a proposed site plan for State Street Center, near the intersection of State and Ellsworth. The unanimous vote took place at the commission’s March 19, 2013 meeting.

State Street Center, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of State Street Center project near South State and Ellsworth.

The plan calls for demolishing a vacant 840-square-foot house on this site. In its place, the developer plans a one-story, 1,700-square-foot drive-thru restaurant facing South State Street and a one-story, 6,790-square-foot retail building behind the restaurant. The driveway off South State … [Full Story]

Hideaway Lane Project Gets Planning OK

A proposal to build 19 single-family houses on a 4.6-acre site on Hideaway Lane off Traver Road – near the city’s Leslie Park Golf Course – was recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its March 19, 2013 meeting.

Hideaway Lane, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial map showing the location of the Hideaway Lane project.

Action on the planned project’s site plan and development agreement had been postponed at the commission’s Feb. 5, 2013 meeting. At that time, the city’s planning staff had cited the need to resolve several outstanding issues, such as determining the project’s impact on … [Full Story]

Parks Group Discusses Skating Rink Proposal

At their March 19, 2013 meeting, Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners discussed a proposal to build an ice-skating rink atop a portion of the city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure. They took no action on the item, but were briefed on the proposal by two advocates of the effort: Alan Haber and Stewart Gordon.

Commissioners have been lobbied about the project during public commentary at previous meetings, most recently on Feb. 26, 2013. At that meeting, Haber – one of the organizers of the Library Green Conservancy – told commissioners that he hoped PAC could make a statement as a body or individually to the city council, urging them to give the rink a try for just two months. … [Full Story]

Contract OK’d for Work at Argo, Geddes Dams

The Ann Arbor park advisory commission has recommended awarding a $295,530 contract to Gerace Construction Co. for repair work and repainting at Argo and Geddes dams, as well as site improvements around Argo Dam. The action took place at PAC’s March 19, 2013 meeting on a unanimous vote.

Gerace, based in Midland, submitted the lowest of four qualified bids for this work. Other bidders were Anlaan Corp. ($354,050); E&L Construction ($457,989); and Spence Brothers ($797,000). According to a staff memo, the work entails “repair and repainting of gear housings, lift equipment, tainter gate structural steel, miscellaneous concrete repair, and minor site improvements. Site improvements include addition of riprap and constructing a path to portage around Argo Dam.”

Brian Steglitz, an engineer … [Full Story]

DTE Easement Request Gets Parks Support

An easement between the city of Ann Arbor and DTE Energy – for land in Riverside Park where utility poles are located – was recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its March 19, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of easement agreement]

DTE Energy Buckler substation site plan

DTE Energy Buckler substation site plan. (Links to larger image)

The easement agreement recommended by PAC is needed so that DTE can remove old utility poles and install new poles and overhead lines – generally in the same location as existing poles and lines at Riverside Park. The easement will also allow DTE … [Full Story]

Contract OK’d for Gallup Livery Upgrade

The Ann Arbor park advisory commission has recommended that the city council award a $512,180 contract for improvements at the Gallup Park canoe livery to Construction Solutions Inc. The action took place at PAC’s March 19, 2013 meeting. The project budget includes a 10% construction contingency, bringing the total cost to $563,398.

Gallup Park, canoe livery, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Schematic of the proposed Gallup Park canoe livery improvements.

Construction Solutions, based in Ann Arbor, was the lowest qualified bidder on the project. Other bids were submitted by Braun Construction Group ($534,600); Detroit Contracting Inc. ($554,620); The … [Full Story]

413 E. Huron Project Gets Postponed

A site plan for a 14-story, 216-apartment building at the northeast corner of Huron and Division streets has been postponed by the Ann Arbor city council. The vote to postpone the 413 E. Huron project came at the council’s March 18, 2013 meeting. It will be back on the agenda for the council’s April 1 meeting.

413 E. Huron from the northwest. Division Street runs left-and-right across the rendering, from the site plan submission by the developer. 413 E. Huron from the northwest. Division Street is in the foreground … [Full Story]

Summit Townhomes Delayed by Council

The site plan and necessary zoning for the Summit Townhomes project have been postponed by the Ann Arbor city council at its March 18, 2013 meeting. The items will come back to the council on April 15. The property is located at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road.

Parcel (shaded yellow) requested to be zoned as R3 (townhouse dwelling district). The blue boundary delineates the Malletts Creek watershed. The parcel for the Summit Townhomes development (shaded yellow). The city council voted to postpone a final decision on zoning the parcel to R3 (townhouse dwelling district). … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council OKs The Shoppes

The site plan as well as the zoning for a proposed retail development at 3600 Plymouth Road, just west of US-23, has received final approval from the Ann Arbor city council. The vote on The Shoppes at 3600 came at the council’s March 18, 2013 meeting.

Aerial map of location for The Shoppes at 3600

Aerial map of the location for The Shoppes at 3600, located off of Plymouth Road west of US-23.

The developer hopes to build a 9,490-square foot, one-story retail building, to be constructed in what’s now the parking lot and front yard for a hotel, at an estimated … [Full Story]

Council Objects to Arena Liquor License

The Ann Arbor city council has formally objected to the renewal of the liquor license for The Arena – a bar located on the northeast corner of Washington and Fourth in downtown Ann Arbor. The action came at the council’s March 18, 2013 meeting.

Jane Lumm at the March 6, 2013 hearing on the non-renewal recommendation of The Arenas liquor license.

Jane Lumm at the March 6, 2013 hearing on the non-renewal recommendation of The Arena’s liquor license. She served as hearing officer.

The basis of the objection to the renewal, which will now … [Full Story]

No Downtown Ann Arbor Moratorium

The Ann Arbor city council has given direction to the planning commission to review downtown zoning – without imposing a moratorium on approval of site plans for downtown Ann Arbor. A moratorium had been contemplated in the council’s original resolution. The action took place at the council’s March 18, 2013 meeting.

[Full Story]