City Notifies Selma Cafe of Zoning Violation

Weekly breakfast gathering asked to address issues or cease operation at current location; also, FSEP pulls fiscal sponsorship, freezes assets

The city of Ann Arbor has sent a notice of zoning violation to the popular Selma Cafe, a weekly home-based breakfast gathering that raises money for local farmers and farming activities.

Selma Cafe, Lisa Gottlieb, zoning, Ann Arbor planning, Food System Economic Partnership, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A map posted earlier this year on the Selma Cafe website aimed to address parking and traffic concerns in the neighborhood.

The group has also received notice that the nonprofit Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) has decided to end its fiscal sponsorship of Selma Cafe, citing “significant violations” of the terms in a memorandum of understanding between the two entities. The FSEP board voted to make the move in late March.

But it’s the zoning violations that could force a dramatic change in Selma Cafe, which often draws more than 200 people to the home of co-founder Lisa Gottlieb, located near Eberwhite Elementary School. The letter, dated April 3 from city planning manager Wendy Rampson, notes that home occupations are allowed in residential areas, but with certain restrictions. The letter states that Selma Cafe violates those restrictions in three ways: (1) more people are involved in the operation than are allowed under city code; (2) more than the permitted 10 vehicle trips per day are generated; and (3) the need for parking is not being met.

Reached by phone on Friday, Gottlieb said she plans to hand-deliver a response to the city on Monday. She believes the parking, traffic and congestion issues are resolved, and she is actively pursuing two other locations as possible venues for the weekly breakfasts. She disagrees with the city’s interpretation of the code, noting that Selma Cafe is not a business and the people who work there are volunteers, not employees. Although she hopes to continue holding the breakfasts, she said at this point it’s unclear how things will play out and whether that will be possible.

Gottlieb noted that one neighbor had criticized Selma Cafe for bringing thousands of people to the neighborhood since they started in 2009. Although the neighbor had cited that as a negative thing, Gottlieb said to her it seemed “pretty incredible” that the effort had been able to engage so many people in raising money for the local foodshed, keeping money in the community and helping local farmers.

Regarding the issues raised by FSEP, Gottlieb explained that she had withdrawn funds from the FSEP-managed bank account to transfer into a new account created as Selma Cafe transitions to become an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit. She had not first informed FSEP of the withdrawal, as required under terms of the memorandum of understanding. Even if that had not occurred, she added, “the fact is they wanted to be done with us.”

Obtaining the nonprofit status is taking longer than anticipated, so Selma Cafe is seeking another fiscal sponsor. Until that happens, the funds for Selma that remain in the FSEP-managed account – which total about $40,000 – are frozen. If no new fiscal sponsor is found and Selma does not obtain its 501(c)3 designation by May 31, FSEP could take the Selma assets permanently, under terms of the MOU. If that happened, FSEP would need to allocate those funds “in any manner consistent with applicable tax and charitable trust laws and other obligations.”

Selma Cafe: Background

Selma Cafe today still reflects its origins as a homegrown venture, started by Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe in their home on Soule Boulevard, just down the street from Eberwhite Elementary. The breakfasts are prepared and served by a staff of volunteers, often featuring chefs from local restaurants and using locally-produced food. Recent chefs have included Keegan Rodgers of the People’s Food Co-op, Peter Roumanis of Vellum Restaurant, Rebecca Wauldron of Busch’s, and others from The Beet Box at Mark’s Carts, EAT, Sweet Heather Anne Cakes, and Tantre Farm.

The effort started when the couple – now separated – hosted a fundraising dinner for the nonprofit Growing Hope about five years ago. Because the tickets for that event were fairly high, they decided to hold something more informal as well, and hosted a fundraising breakfast called Diner for a Day, featuring the filmmaker Chris Bedford. The event drew about 160 people – enough to indicate an interest in people willing to support the local food economy.

They decided to keep it going as long as there were volunteers to support it, and eventually grew their volunteer pool to more than 500 people. The breakfasts are held on Friday mornings from 6:30-9:30 a.m. Diners pay voluntary contributions for their meals, raising money for microloans to build hoop houses for local farms, as well as other local food-related activities. The Selma Cafe website cites a broader mission as well, describing it this way:

A hub, a center, a heart of the many ongoing efforts to improve our lives through community building, free access to affordable, healthy foods and the fostering of right-livelihood in vocations with meaning and purpose.

A celebration of seasonal, local ingredients from the abundance of what our region has to offer.

An inclusive community, building the next stage of our local-foods infrastructure founded on the principals of openness, transparency and joy. We seek your help in building the tools and organizational structure to maintain these foundational principles.

A source of funding for building new local-foods infrastructure through loans for hoop houses, affiliations with other community non-profits, and support for the Tilian Farm Development Center.

Money contributed at the cafe also supports Farmer Fund, which was created to administer the microloan program. According to the cafe’s website, University Bank originates and services those loans.

Selma Cafe has been warmly received by many in the community. For example, when Gottlieb and McCabe made a presentation to the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission’s Nov. 10, 2010 meeting, commissioner Dan Ezekiel praised their work and said he’d eaten there many times: “Your efforts and your activism are amazing.”

The breakfast salon is regularly featured in local, state and national publications and blogs. A recent example is from a March 25, 2013 post on

I was lucky enough to share a table at the [local economics] forum with Lisa Gottlieb, a social worker and founder of Selma Cafe – a community breakfast that benefits local, sustainable farming efforts. Lisa invited me to the Selma Cafe and I squeezed it in one morning. Though Lisa was on her way to work when I got there, I shared a meal and lots of interesting conversation with some remarkable people, including a man who volunteers part-time in Haiti doing healthcare and other friendly folks interested in the concept of Ann Arbor as a sharing town.

City Code Violations

The popularity of Selma Cafe has also led to complaints from some neighbors, even in its early days. As The Chronicle reported in July of 2009, an anonymous letter – signed from “an Eberwhite Elementary School parent” – raised concerns about various possible city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County code violations occurring at the home. The possible violations included operating a restaurant in a residential area without licensing and inspection. Those issues were resolved at the time to the satisfaction of city and county officials, but complaints have since re-emerged.

Specifically, the city’s planning staff have communicated with Gottlieb and local attorney Nick Roumel – a Selma volunteer and occasional chef – about complaints that the city has received. That culminated in a letter sent to Gottlieb on April 3 from planning manager Wendy Rampson. [.pdf of Rampson's letter] The letter references a discussion held with Gottlieb on March 11 that had raised the same issues that are outlined in the letter.

The letter states that home occupations are allowed in residential areas, but with certain restrictions. The city defines a home occupation in this way: “an accessory use of a nonresidential nature which is performed within a dwelling or within an accessory building, and conducted by members of the family residing in the dwelling and not more than one additional employee.”

The city contends that the operations of Selma Cafe – the weekly breakfasts as well as other activities that have been held there, including a happy hour and concerts – have violated Chapter 55 of the city code, in the section related to “use regulations” for home occupations. The relevant part of the code states:

(c) Home occupation, subject to the following performance standards:

  1. Total floor area devoted to the home occupation in the principal or accessory building shall not exceed 25% of the gross floor area of the dwelling.
  2. Outside appearance of premises shall have no visible evidence of the conduct of a home occupation.
  3. No outdoor display of goods or outside storage of equipment or materials used in the home occupation shall be permitted.
  4. No article or service shall be sold or offered for sale on the premises except those which are produced by such home occupation on the premises.
  5. The nature of the home occupation shall not generate more than 10 business-related vehicle trips in any 1 day in the vicinity of the home occupation, and any need for parking generated by the conduct of such home occupation shall be provided offstreet in accordance with the offstreet parking requirements.
  6. No equipment or process shall be used in such home occupation which creates noise, dust, vibration, glare, fumes, odors or electrical interference detectable to the normal senses beyond the property boundary.
  7. The following are typical examples of uses which often can be conducted within the limits of these restrictions and thereby qualify as home occupations. Uses which may qualify as “home occupations” are not limited to those named in this paragraph (nor does the listing of a use in this paragraph automatically qualify it as a home occupation); accountant, architect, artist, author, consultant, dressmaking, individual stringed instrument instruction, individual tutoring, millinery, preserving and home cooking.
  8. The following uses are not permitted as home occupations if conducted as a person’s principal occupation and the person’s dwelling is used as the principal place of business: vehicle repair or painting, dental office and medical office.

Selma Cafe violates the city’s Chapter 55 zoning code in three ways, according to Rampson: (1) more people are involved in the operation than are allowed under city code; (2) more than the permitted 10 vehicle trips per day are generated; and (3) the need for parking is not being met.

Rampson’s letter states:

To resolve this violation, you may discontinue your home occupation or make changes to bring it into compliance with the performance standards, which would substantially reduce the scale of the activity. Another way you may resolve the violation is to relocate these events to an appropriately-zoned location that allows for assembly use and/or a commercial kitchen.

I am in receipt of a letter from your attorney, Nicholas Roumel, and appreciate your interest in reducing the impact of SELMA Cafe’s activities on your neighbors. However, none of the methods suggested by Mr. Roumel to address the traffic and parking problem would bring the current operation into compliance with the ordinance, because traffic and parking is still being generated by the use, albeit in a more dispersed manner. I’d like to emphasize that the City has received numerous complaints from a variety of sources, including neighbors and parents of Eberwhite students, all of whom are concerned about the concentrated traffic and parking issues that result from SELMA Cafe’s operation.

Rampson asked for a response by Monday, April 15 that provides a schedule for discontinuing Selma Cafe or any other activity that doesn’t comply with the city’s home occupation standards.

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Gottlieb said she plans to hand-deliver her response to Rampson on Monday.

Lisa Gottlieb

Lisa Gottlieb, co-founder of the Selma Cafe, at the Nov. 10, 2010 meeting of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. (Chronicle file photo)

Gottlieb said she first heard about these complaints in early March, though she wasn’t contacted directly by the neighbors. She characterized them as a handful of people who were primarily upset about the traffic, parking and congestion, as well as with a happy hour that was held as a fundraiser for the nonprofit Growing Hope. She said she immediately stopped all activities at her home – other than Selma Cafe – as soon as she heard about the neighbors’ concerns. Those events had included the happy hour, yoga sessions, some concerts by local musicians, and a Balkan dance party.

Gottlieb said the changes to parking – urging people who attend Selma to park outside of the immediate neighborhood – has eliminated that problem. Based on exchanges on the neighborhood’s listserv, she said, the general view is that issues stemming from parking, traffic and congestion at Selma are resolved. And since the Selma traffic and parking problem has been eliminated, she said, it’s now clear that the neighborhood has a serious problem with parents speeding through the streets on their way to drop off or pick up children at Eberwhite Elementary. Regardless of what happens with Selma, Gottlieb said she plans to work on addressing that problem.

Regarding the other issues cited by the city, Gottlieb indicated that she and Roumel disagree with the city staff about interpreting the code. For example, she said, Selma Cafe isn’t a home business, so the “not more than one additional employee” standard doesn’t really apply, since everyone there is a volunteer – including her.

Gottlieb likened the current situation to one that involved concerns raised by Washtenaw County public health officials a few years ago. Selma Cafe is unique and new, she said, and doesn’t necessarily fit within the strict understanding of existing regulations. Whenever something new like this emerges, she said, “it often meets with resistance.”

Because of its uniqueness, she said, there aren’t a lot of places that can accommodate the weekly event. She’s actively looking for another place, and is pursuing two possible alternative locations. She hopes to continue conducting Selma Cafe at her home in the meantime, but she’s not sure how things will play out and it’s unclear whether the breakfasts can continue there.

When asked whether she intends to advocate for changes in zoning so that this kind of event would be allowed, Gottlieb said she didn’t see that as her role, and that she didn’t have the energy to spare for such an effort. However, she said, the idea of changing the zoning is “worth a really thoughtful conversation” with city officials.

Responding to a query from The Chronicle, Rampson indicated that until she receives Gottlieb’s response, it’s premature to speculate on any further actions the city might take.

Relationship with FSEP

Separately, the board of the nonprofit Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) has decided to terminate its relationship with Repasts Present & Future [Repasts/Selma] – the umbrella organization that operates Selma Cafe.

The original fiscal sponsor was Slow Food Huron Valley, a nonprofit that focuses on supporting local farmers and food artisans “who engage in sustainable agriculture and are committed to the viability of the land,” according to the SFHV website.

SFHV, a volunteer organization, got formally involved as a fiscal sponsor of Selma Cafe in 2009. SFHV’s participation was a way to address concerns raised by Washtenaw County public health officials that Selma Cafe was operating as a “food service establishment” but not complying with the 2005 U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s food code. Among other things, the code prohibits serving food to the public out of a home. The county had determined that if Repasts/Selma were a 501(c)3 nonprofit – or were affiliated with a nonprofit – then that would give them exemption from the definition of “food service establishment.”

As part of that sponsorship, Gottlieb joined SFHV’s leadership team and served as the nonprofit’s secretary. But the relationship lasted only about two years before SFHV transferred the sponsorship to FSEP in 2011. [Kim Bayer of SFHV is also on FSEP's board.] At that time, the bank balance was $12,799, according to documents related to the transfer. Those documents also indicated that in 2009 and 2010, Repasts/Selma had made loans to nine local farmers totaling about $62,800. The purpose of the loans – which ranged from $5,100 to $9,647 – was to build hoop houses. [.pdf of 2011 assets and liabilities]

Gottlieb said that SFHV had wanted more involvement with Selma Cafe than was realistic, including an expectation that Gottlieb would invest more of her own time attending SFHV leadership meetings. Given her full-time job and work organizing Selma Cafe, Gottlieb said it wasn’t possible to make more of a time commitment to SFHV. Gottlieb is a social worker for the Washtenaw County juvenile detention program.

Jennifer Fike, Ginny Trocchio, Food Systems Economic Partnership, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Jennifer Fike, finance manager of the Huron River Watershed Council, and Ginny Trocchio, who manages the city of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs. Trocchio also serves as chair of the board for the Food System Economic Partnership. Fike is FSEP’s former executive director. Fike attended the April 4, 2013 meeting of the greenbelt advisory commission, where this photo was taken, because of her interest in being appointed to the commission.

In April of 2011, FSEP took over as fiscal sponsor, with terms laid out in a detailed memorandum of understanding (MOU). [.pdf of April 2011 MOU] In a phone interview with The Chronicle, FSEP board chair Ginny Trocchio said the decision to get involved with Selma Cafe was based on FSEP’s mission – which is to support grassroots efforts related to the local food economy. Selma Cafe was a good fit in that regard, she said. FSEP did not provide financial support to Selma Cafe, but served as the “corporate home” for the group, and handled a range of fiduciary activities. Those activities included maintaining a bank account for Repasts/Selma and reporting Repasts/Selma’s financial information in FSEP’s tax documents.

In the spring of 2012, leaders of FSEP and Repasts/Selma could not come to agreement on terms for renewal of the MOU. Gottlieb told The Chronicle that FSEP wanted to add provisions that would allow FSEP to remove her as operations manager at any point, and that would give FSEP the right to distribute assets in the Repasts/Selma bank account, if the fiscal sponsorship were terminated. Gottlieb said those terms were unacceptable to her, and ultimately were deal-breakers for reaching a new agreement with FSEP.

In a letter dated June 11, 2012, Trocchio gave notice of the intent to terminate the MOU, and outlined a transition period during which Repasts/Selma would need to find an alternative fiscal sponsor or obtain its own 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

Although Repasts/Selma is in the process of seeking a 501(c)3 designation, that designation has not yet been secured.

Trocchio told The Chronicle that over the last few weeks, FSEP’s board became aware of certain issues – including the city’s notification of zoning violations – which prompted the board vote to end its fiscal sponsorship. FSEP notified Gottlieb in late March about its decision, and has given Repasts/Selma until May 31 to find another fiscal sponsor. Assets in the Repasts/Selma bank account – over $40,000, according to Trocchio – will not be released to Repasts/Selma until another fiscal sponsor is identified or until nonprofit status is secured. At that point, the assets will be transferred to the new fiscal sponsor, Trocchio said.

On Friday, March 29, FSEP posted this statement on its website:

By decision of the board of directors, as of March 27, 2013 the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) will no longer be acting as a non-profit fiscal sponsor for SELMA Café. Unfortunately, significant violations of the terms of our memorandum of understanding have made this termination necessary.

In addition, the scope of SELMA Cafe’s activities and programs have expanded beyond the original intent of the agreement, such that the two organizations’ missions are no longer closely aligned.

Dissolving the relationship between FSEP and SELMA Cafe will make it possible for both organizations to pursue their own programming independently, as each evolves and implements their core missions.

In accordance with our memorandum of understanding, FSEP will transfer the SELMA charitable donations to another accredited non-profit organization once it has been identified by SELMA Café and we wish SELMA well in obtaining their own 501(c)3 in the future.

Gottlieb said that she and Roumel have started the process of obtaining 501(c)3 status for Selma Cafe. That process included forming a board of directors. Co-founder Jeff McCabe, though no longer involved in day-to-day operations at Selma, serves as a board member. The group also now has an EIN (employer identification number) from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, but has not yet received approval for the 501(c)3. The process has taken longer than anticipated, she said.

Meanwhile, they are looking for another nonprofit that would act as a fiscal sponsor. Gottlieb said there is one nonprofit that might be willing to act in that capacity, but no agreement has been reached yet, although she said it “looks promising.”

Regarding the MOU violations mentioned by FSEP as the reason for terminating its agreement with Repasts/Selma, Gottlieb said that as part of the process of creating the new 501(c)3 for Selma, she and Roumel had set up a separate bank account for the operation. She’d been advised by Roumel that she could transfer funds from the FSEP account to the new account, and did so without first informing FSEP. At that point FSEP froze the remaining assets in the account, she said, without informing her.

Gottlieb said she now realizes that her transfer of funds without informing FSEP violated the MOU, but “the fact is they wanted to be done with us,” she said. Since the assets have been frozen, she said she hasn’t been reimbursed for the $600-$700 that she has expended from her personal checking account each week to pay for Selma-related expenses.

She noted that the May 31 deadline is the point at which FSEP could take the Repasts/Selma assets permanently, under terms of the MOU:

If no Successor is found, after a time deemed reasonable to accomplish these tasks, FSEP may allocate RPF’s assets and liabilities in any manner consistent with applicable tax and charitable trust laws and other obligations.

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  1. By Junior
    April 13, 2013 at 4:25 pm | permalink

    SELMA should NOT have a non-profit designation.

    In a prior City Council election they placed an endorsement of a Fifth Ward City Council candidate who was elected. That candidate patronized their Friday breakfasts.

    Lisa Gottlieb has worked as a county employee and this particular location has gotten all kinds of breaks from city and county regulators who have bent over backwards to twist the language of applicable law and regulations to allow the enterprise to stay in business.

    Parking is an absolute nightmare in the neighborhood on Fridays because of these events.

  2. By Comm
    April 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm | permalink

    So sad to see this turn of events. Selma has changed so many people’s lives for the better, and really helped to strengthen our community. Its a real shame that our city officials can’t recognize the need to encourage this sort of community building.

    Many of us had thought the Eberwhite neighborhood to be a truly lovely and welcoming place to host such a great activity every week. Its too bad that a few unhappy people, unwilling to engage in real dialogue about their concerns, can spoil what brings joy to so many.

    I dearly hope that Selma will continue on somehow. Let’s make it happen!

  3. By lms
    April 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm | permalink

    Selma Cafe is an important entity in our community. It’s support of the local farmers has proven invaluable. How sad that the Eberwhite neighborhood has decided to evict the greater Ann Arbor community. We have enjoyed this community building event each week that supported a very important cause. We all adjusted when you complained about our parking on your street. There are no employees as many of us have volunteered in support of our local farmers. It was Ann Arbors Friday morning breakfast club. Perhaps if the neighbors bothered to participate they too would have benefited from the community spirit. Too bad you are such an exclusionary neighborhood. I hope you’re happy in your little fiefdom.

    I truly hope Selma finds a way to continue with new funding and more welcoming, open minded community.

  4. By Mark Koroi
    April 13, 2013 at 7:30 pm | permalink

    This article mentions Jeff McCabe, who is on the board of directors of SELMA, and several years ago was elected to the board of directors of the People’s Food Co-op. When he ran for the PFC board seat, there were observers asking questions about his fitness for the PFC seat when there was ongoing controversy about whether applicable legal guideleines were being followed in the operation of SELMA.

    In a May 2, 2009 article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle, City Attorney Stephen Postema was quoted as indicating that they were working with SELMA management on the issue of complaints about SELMA and possible legal infractions that may have been occurring. I am therefore flabbergasted that many of the same questions that were raised in 2009 are still being bandied about four years later. Where was the leadership of the City of Ann Arbor to get these things resolved from the get-go? We are still talking about parking problems?

    The issues raised in Wendy Rampson’s violation letter have been ongoing for literally years. Why did the City of Ann Arbor not bring a nuisance abatement proceeding four years ago? I believe the city “dropped the ball” on this one.

    While I believe that the general concept behind SELMA is laudable, I am also sympathetic to the homeowners and Eberwhite parents who have to live in or send their children to school the area and have a right to see applicable ordinances enforced in an even-handed manner.

    One of the suggestions that I have seen that may work may be to move SELMA’s place of business to a new location.

  5. By Donna Estabrook
    April 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm | permalink

    Lisa Gottleib is correct that new ventures that don’t fit the established pattern usually run into difficulties. Parking and heavy traffic are legitimate concerns and need to be addressed (or have been addressed?). However, Selma Cafe has done a wonderful job of not only raising money to encourage the local food system but also of helping people work together to improve the life of the city and, indeed, the region. If, as “Junior” says, she has used her position as a county employee to further this work, I say, all to the good. We have to push the envelope in order to make changes – the way things are done now is not necessarily the way they should continue to be done. I hope that Lisa Gottlieb is able to find a new location for Selma Cafe and to receive the 501(c)3 status. And I certainly hope that all those “frozen” assets are not lost to Selma Cafe. I wonder if the neighbors who have complained have ever attended Selma Cafe to see what it is all about.

  6. By Sam S.
    April 13, 2013 at 8:40 pm | permalink

    For an organization founded on supposed good intentions, Selma supporters sure turn on their neighbors – their ACTUAL neighbors – rather quickly when the neighbors’ concerns do not exactly line up with theirs.

    I wonder how the people on Crest or further down Soule felt about that map. It’s such a great representation of the modern privileged mindset: depending on the intelligence level, it’s either “if I can’t see the problem, it doesn’t exist” or, “if the problem can’t see me, they’re not allowed to be upset.”

    Good intentions alone do not negate the reasons our society has rules. Here is the instructionary bit:
    Sometimes society will look the other way, but that happens either when
    1: those affected value the consequence more than the method
    2: it’s more trouble to deal with it than to ignore it.
    When neither are true, you are just not doing something right.

    To the neighbors of Selma, I suggest a friendly neighborhood block party to shut down and barricade streets. They have to be over by 9pm, but there’s no mention of how early they can start: [link]

  7. By Ryan Freed
    April 13, 2013 at 11:26 pm | permalink

    I live not far from Selma, these people need to move on. I have made multiple complaints and nothing is ever done. l am pleased that this promblem is finally being discussed. We are taking our neighborhood back! Goodbye Selma

  8. By Lee
    April 14, 2013 at 12:42 am | permalink

    So sad that people in Ann Arbor have nothing better to complain about or put their energy towards than shutting down Selma Cafe. I mean seriously people, this is what you take political action about, some traffic? How is shutting down a community breakfast taking back a neighborhood? I’ve only been to Selma once and parked blocks away, saw no one going to Selma park near the house, and almost missed what house it was because it was so quiet I couldn’t differentiate what house I was supposed to go to. That isn’t community disruption and taking up city and council time to address it is a waste of time and resources.

  9. By Jas
    April 14, 2013 at 12:49 am | permalink

    As an active Ann Arborite and local farmer I am upset and shocked by the resistance to Selma. It is an excellent community building event that is good for everyone who goes and is involved. I understand parking concerns, but they are being addressed. Please open your mind and heart to this meaningful place to hundreds of people each week.

  10. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 14, 2013 at 6:49 am | permalink

    Amazing how you can dodge the law and other City health and tax regulations as long as you have a few politicians in your pocket, or in this case, sipping cocktails or chowing down on free range omelets at one of your tax free soirees. The fix was on from day one because of insider political connections and the chickens are coming home to roost. If this ‘cafe’ wants to remain in business find a local spot zoned appropriately. AND no more special treatment for anyone with political friends.

  11. April 14, 2013 at 8:44 am | permalink

    Lisa Gottlieb lives in my neighborhood. She has not communicated with the neighbors at all concerning Selma. We have a neighborhood email group. Discussion occured via this group in late February and early March. On March 8 Lisa discussed having a neighborhood meeting at Hathaway’s Hideaway. The meeting took place early April, I believe on April 7, and the neighbors in Lisa’s block or across the street were not notified. We did not realize the meeting had happened until after the event when some emails went out. Is this building community? I would say no.

  12. By Esmeralda
    April 14, 2013 at 9:17 am | permalink

    I’m an Eberwhite parent and a lover and one-time volunteer of SELMA. SELMA just got too big for its location.
    Patrons were making u turns, parking in the small school lot, stopping to drop off friends before finding parking– all of this two houses away from the school! Patrons were also parking in crosswalks. If you were walking your child to school on a friday morning you had to be extra cautious for SELMA people.
    Eberwhite is not exclusionary, I think we would *all* feel similarly to the neighborhood folks if there were 200 visitors next door, starting at 6 am….

    The purpose of SELMA is beautiful but the arrogance is ugly.

  13. By James Jefferson
    April 14, 2013 at 10:33 am | permalink

    A politicians patronage doesn’t mean the “the fix is in” but rather that they were aware of the happenings in their ward. When I saw the article about Selma with photos some time ago I thought that it looked too large to be an ongoing event, and certainly not in keeping with the spirit of a home-based business (or nonprofit) activity. Unless there is some political intrigue behind these zoning notices, I would suggest that it is time for Selma to recognize that with their success comes growth, and with their growth comes change. I hope that the city and the organizers of these events can reach an amenable solution for all. I suggest that Selma find a more appropriate location given the scale of their operations, so that they may continue with their efforts.

    As a home based business owner myself, I find the city’s definition of what is excessive a bit too burdensome. For instance, my house is tiny by any standard, and my detached shop easily exceeds the 25% square footage of the primary dwelling. Should I make the shop smaller to comply? The house bigger? When I have occasion to run a table saw, do I need to listen to make sure it cannot be heard by my neighbors?

  14. By Ben
    April 14, 2013 at 11:21 am | permalink

    Despite all the negative comments, there is one thing that’s for sure. Selma cafe was a force for good. They stimulated the local economy, supported local farmers, and made Ann Arbor a better place to live. The traffic problem seemed more likely do to hurried parents flying down Soule in a last ditch effort to drop kids off and still make it to work on time.

    Alan G. – could you name just one political connection to give your statement some credibility? Sounds more like an assumption than a fact. Also, sipping cocktails and eating free range omelets at a tax free soiree sound like an environmentally-conscious hoot. You should try it!

    Why is sharing your kitchen with the community arrogant?

  15. April 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm | permalink

    The neighborhood around Selma’s location is a very pleasant place. It was pleasant before Jeff and Lisa moved here. Selma has taken advantage of the goodwill of the neighbors located close to it. We do not like having 10,000 plus customers and food prep people each year visiting an indidual property, the delivery vehicles, the safety concerns for children and our property, the noise, the vehicle and foot traffic, and the parking situation. Selma is oblivious to the impact it had when it grew too large for a residential neighborhood. Then it decided to serve alcohol, bring in bartenders etc.(this seems delayed or canceled now), but this was the catalyst for the close neighbors to say, “Enough is enough.”. The neighbors in the close vicinity of Selma strongly support the City enforcement of the zoning laws.

  16. By Mary Morgan
    April 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm | permalink

    On Saturday afternoon, this message was posted on the Selma Cafe Facebook page:

    I’m terribly sorry to share that we will be closing breakfast operations for the time being while we focus on new fiscal sponsorship to get our funds back from FSEP, and to plan our future. Thanks for the love and support everyone.

    A brief message was also posted on the Selma Cafe website: “sorry, we are temporarily closed”

  17. By Eber White
    April 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm | permalink

    I am sympathetic to the causes Selma supports, but not to the organization itself. Selma has terrorized the neighborhood around it for years. Over the past year Selma has demonstrated that it is seeking to expand rather than contract its activities.

    This article, while thorough, fails to adequately convey the extent of the dissatisfaction among the neighbors. The number of people who are upset would better be characterized as a throng than a handful. Lisa’s assertion that suggested changes have “eliminated” the parking and traffic congestion problems is absurd. I know, because I can look out my window every Friday to see cars zipping up and down the street, carrying out wild u-turns in residents’ driveways, to get to breakfast. I have photographs from several weekends over the past two months showing cars parked in the “red zone,” particularly the 700 block of Soule (in which Selma is centered), and the Zion Church parking lot. These cars and people are not there the other days of the week – they are not, as Lisa Gottlieb asserts, Eberwhite parents dropping off their children. Her attempt blame congestion on the school traffic are misguided and incorrect.

    Those who aren’t here every Friday to see this, who would judge the people of this neighborhood for seeking safety and peace for themselves and the children of their community, what will it take for you to change your mind? A Selma patron running down a child walking to school? The current situation is untenable and unsafe.

    I trust that a satisfactory outcome will be achieved through fair application of zoning laws. Hats off to the city for making a move that may be unpopular, but that is long in coming and will improve the safety and well-being of this vibrant, welcoming Ann Arbor neighborhood.

  18. By Ben
    April 14, 2013 at 5:40 pm | permalink


    How many safety incidents involving children or property took place? Not sure what you are afraid of.

    Why is serving alcohol so taboo? Do you keep liquor in your house?

    So far the only barely validated concern appears to be traffic and to address it Selma diverted traffic.

    The 10,000 “customers” you refer to are your friends, neighbors, and fellow Ann Arborites. Maybe you should shut down the church and the school since they bring in over 100,000 “customers” each year into your neighborhood.

  19. By Duane Collicott
    April 14, 2013 at 6:06 pm | permalink

    There are several accusations of (and backhanded inference to) people’s resistance, closed-mindedness, and closed hearts over the activities of this organization. This is simply noise and feigned outrage, since nobody has made any statements in disagreement with what their work and mission. The discussion is clearly and exclusively over the appropriateness of the location. It’s really not a stretch to comprehend that this sort of activity does not work in a neighborhood.

    I’m curious how much overlap there is between the SLEMA supporters who want the law ignored for them vand the scofflaws who allowed their dogs to illegally run around unleashed in the nearby Slauson playground.

  20. By Old West Side
    April 14, 2013 at 6:21 pm | permalink

    Selma got way too big for its britches. I loved going there, and I love the idea and the principles and the cause. But I stopped going many months ago, because I simply could not get in. It started as a neighborhood thing, but it morphed into something MUCH bigger, and it didn’t feel very community-oriented any more. It certainly was not worth waiting an hour. Selma could easily have changed that by limiting the number of people.

    Much as I support all the principles and the hard work, and Lisa’s amazing generosity, I certainly would NOT want to be living next door! If you really think this is low-impact on a neighborhood, then feel free to collect your neighbors and offer to host it at your house.

    Thank you, Lisa and Jeff, for everything, and good luck! And thank you, Lisa’s neighbors — I hope everyone will be happy soon.

  21. By Robert Ziff
    April 15, 2013 at 6:03 am | permalink

    This is sad — I have had some the most delicious and pleasant meals in Ann Arbor there, and met many interesting people outside of my normal circles. The parking problem seems to have been solved. I am surprised there is so much resistance to something happening one morning a week — in an area that gets lots of other traffic for other reasons (the school, church, etc.)

  22. By Sam S.
    April 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm | permalink

    When talking about their wholesome mission, no one mentions that Selma the “charity” is raising money to LOAN to farmers to BUY a product made and sold by? One of the founders of Selma. What a racket. Would you donate to Wal-Mart so they can loan people money to shop at Wal-Mart?

  23. By Lisa P 500blk Soule
    April 15, 2013 at 1:28 pm | permalink

    I am and remain a SELMA Cafe supporter.
    Notes on neighborhood traffic & culture:
    The Cafe is just another community activity that takes place in our neighborhood that is an easy 1 mile walk from downtown.
    It is also a neighborhood with an elementary school, a large church that hosts its own and other unaffiliated groups activities, two Gretchen house preschools, and for 35y a Project Grow Plot. Our neighborhood has many reasons other people come here to work, learn, worship, celebrate, and play. Did I mention Eberwhite Woods and the school playgrounds brings people who do not live here/SELMA (Soule+Eberwhite+Lutz+Madison streets).
    Moreover, I and others have hosted other community groups in their homes (think toddler playgroups, book groups, etc. in excess of 10 cars)for periods longer than SELMA’s history.
    Problematic traffic has been an ongoing issue since my family moved here in 1989. Efforts to get the city install a stop sign at Soule & Maxwell (location of a rise in the road that creates a blind spot at the bottom for children crossing at the bottom @ Lutz-Wakefield intersection) have not been fruitful.
    BTW: Lisa G & Jeff lived on the 500 blk of Soule for years before moving up the street, AND it was good then too, to have them as neighbors.
    The neighborhood meeting took place on April 8th. It was not well attended. Those of us who came wondered why. The next day complaints about not being notified arose. One neighbor, who had saved the notice, shared it on this day after email ping-pong. The noticed announced a date, time, and place–even the bringing of coffee. Responsibility for not attending lies with those who did not come but intended to come.
    I am sorry that the wonderful effort Lisa G put forth to keep communication open and resolve issues were not recognized by those, who wanted simply SELMA to desist under the presumption that we have a quiet cul-du-sac style neighborhood. I am sorry for the first time in 23 years 5 months, 16 days to live here.

  24. By Steve Bean
    April 15, 2013 at 1:33 pm | permalink

    @22: Yes, that needed to be noted.

    To answer your question, if Wal-Mart served a great locally sourced breakfast and I could sit and talk with a bunch of nice people in a pleasant setting and the donation facilitated the expansion of local food production, I would consider donating. (I’ve been to SELMA once or twice and helped build a hoop house on a local farm.) Would I donate so people could shop at Wal-Mart? That would be silly.

  25. By unhappy misled farmer
    April 15, 2013 at 2:57 pm | permalink

    “When talking about their wholesome mission, no one mentions that Selma the “charity” is raising money to LOAN to farmers to BUY a product made and sold by? One of the founders of Selma. What a racket. Would you donate to Wal-Mart so they can loan people money to shop at Wal-Mart?” -Sam. S
    The point Sam is making here sums it up. When I went to Selma I thought I was donating to farmers to build hoops, not to be offered a loan by Selma. When the money is paid back…where does it go? To offer more loans? Where are the grants? Where are our donations going? Is this charitable? Farmers already have loan sources, they have to take out way too much as is to compete with Monsanto. This point has been absolutely hidden at the Selma functions. The breakfasts bring in a large source of funding, charitable donations from the community FOR small farmers! This is, in the opinion of this small farmer, misleading and wrong.

  26. By Habibi
    April 15, 2013 at 6:31 pm | permalink

    Unhappy Misled Farmer and other misguided ones,

    I did some fact checking and…

    Here is all of the Selma Cafe Financials that have been publicly posted since the beginning.


    Also to set the record straight Selma cafe funded exactly ZERO of Jeff McCabe’s hoop houses. The majority of the funding was either private, or through an NRCS grant that is part of the High Tunnel Incentive Program, See below:


    It’s one thing to not be happy about parking and noise – it’s quite another to lie. It makes you a bad person.

    Liars: 0
    Facts: 1

  27. By Steve Bean
    April 15, 2013 at 6:35 pm | permalink

    Re:25, someone with more direct knowledge of this than me could clear this up (maybe even you, UMF), but in the meantime I’ll give it a shot.

    Many organizations (both non-profit and governmental) leverage funds to have a larger impact than by simply passing funds through to beneficiaries. There are several models that are followed, from matching grants to minimum contributions to reduced-interest loans, perhaps others. My understanding is that the Selma organizers and their initial supporters chose some form of the loan approach. I don’t know what terms they set up, but I suspect that the focus on hoop house builds, including the organizing of volunteers, somewhat streamlines what could otherwise be an onerous undertaking for busy farmers.

    Given that a large number of hoop houses have been installed via this mechanism, characterizing it as “wrong” seems questionable.

    That said, there are plenty of strong feelings around this matter, and other aspects of the full picture that aren’t clear. I have confidence that those whose business (in the general sense) it really is (Lisa’s, Jeff’s, the farmers-who-participate’s, the volunteers’, the contributors’, city staff’s, the Selma neighbors’) will work it out without any bloodshed. So far, so good. Hurt feelings, on the other hand, will likely continue and maybe even spread.

    For my part, I’m clear that no one can hurt my feelings, I understand that everything happens for me, the past and future don’t exist, and I only suffer when I don’t question the untrue thoughts that pop into my not-so-little head. I invite you all to consider that for yourselves.

  28. By Anne Arbor
    April 15, 2013 at 6:57 pm | permalink

    For those who suggest the church and school in the area are comparable to Selma, let me assure you they ARE NOT. Both Zion and Eberwhite existed long before I bought into the neighborhood. I was well aware they would be my neighbors. Public meetings were held on their development. They did not pop up without some community input.

    Selma is a different matter. For an organization which claims to value community building they did a poor job of communicating with their immediate neighbors during inception. They sought no input from anyone on the block, and have evolved to a large venture serving 200 people/week. They continued to expand,culminating to allow a CSA pickup site in their driveway, hosting a happy hour, dances and and cooking classes among other things. Added together these events created more of a business atmosphere than residential. (Selma has ceased all activities but this gives an idea of it’s size and level of activity.)

    I believe in the causes Selma supports. I buy local, both produce and meats, and believe in micro loans. I am not opposed to play groups, book clubs, bridge clubs, mother’s groups, prayer groups, study groups, tupperware parties and the like. Nor do I plan on counting every car at every residence. All in all, we are a pretty chill neighborhood.

    However, when an organization advertises in the Detroit News, is listed on Trip Advisor, and draws patrons from Dexter, Pinckney, Rochester and Royal Oak, clearly they are no longer a “small local breakfast salon” but rather a restaurant (albeit non-profit) operating in a residential zone.

    Selma has a good run in the neighborhood. But it’s time to move on. They have no more or less right to use their property than the rest of us, despite their good intentions. Kudos to the planning department for recognizing this.

  29. By Social Observer
    April 15, 2013 at 8:17 pm | permalink

    @Sam S — Ask how many UM research faculty bought or started businesses to supply their research projects/discoveries? Goes on all the time. The hoop-house selling started YEARS after SELMA did.

    @Alan Goldsmith: “The fix was in????” Based on what evidence? Your paranoia and fantasy are breathtaking. By the way, Ms.Gottlieb, as a county employee, conceived of and started a major garden project at the Juvenile Detention Center, for the kids to grow the vegetables used in the Detention Center kitchen. That’s the ONLY semi-related activity connected with her status as county employee. We could use more people with her sense of community, dedication, creativity and energy.

    @Unhappy Farmer: All financial information has been posted on the Repasts website for years. Fully transparent, anyone can view. Like that disgruntled farmer complaining that he was “misled.” The sense of entitlement people demonstrate never ceases to amaze me.

    The so-called “safety” issue about drivers near the school is bogus. It’s the tardy parents who are the crazy drivers.

    Haters will hate, but lovers will continue to nourish the world.

    Live on, SELMA!

  30. By Habibi
    April 15, 2013 at 9:27 pm | permalink

    CSA pickup, happy hour, dances, cooking classes in someones house? Oh the humanity!!! If this keeps up the Old West Side will be rife anarchy ruled by packs of wild hippies.

  31. By Erica
    April 15, 2013 at 10:37 pm | permalink

    I’m not technically in the SELMA neighborhood. I live on Liberty, just east of Soule. However, my kids do walk to Eberwhite. And, yes, traffic is a bit crazier on Friday mornings, but Soule is always a fast, hilly street. I’ll glad they dont’ need to cross Soule to get to school. And, I’d agree with one of the previous commenters that Gretchen’s House causes just as many traffic headaches for kids walking to Eberwhite. Not complaining – just observing:) After walking by SELMA for years, I finally made it there about a month ago. So glad I did – it was delicious! I hope that it is able to continue in some capacity. Since the closure is about zoning and traffic issues, I find it tiring that so many negative comments are about finances/loans/etc. Good luck, Lisa! We’ll keep eating your delicious waffles (thanks for the recipe) while waiting for the next evolution of SELMA.

  32. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 16, 2013 at 8:23 am | permalink


    Oh how fun it is to rewrite history:

    “McCabe was involved in local food issues – the Friday breakfast salon SELMA Cafe is at his house and he sat on the Board of Directors of People’s Food Coop – before he started Nifty Hoops. Proceeds from SELMA were being used to finance and build hoop houses”.


  33. By Habibi
    April 16, 2013 at 7:23 pm | permalink

    @ 32

    Selma Cafe financed hoop houses for farmers and Jeff built them as a non-profit effort. After Jeff built a bunch of hoop kits designed by other companies he decided to use his background as an engineer to design a better hoop. He then started NiftyHoops – an LLC which was not funded by SELMA.

    Grasping for straws?

    Part of Selma’s mission statement is “create a new vital and sustainable regional food economy”. How can they do this without supporting four-season agriculture. Alan, go to the farmer’s market and ask the folks who are bringing fresh greens in the middle of the winter and ask them what they think.

  34. By TJ
    April 17, 2013 at 10:11 am | permalink

    It’s hard to build a strong community by alienating your nearest neighbors.

    The comparison to the church seems unfair, because church has their own parking lot (and as someone else pointed out, was already there and presumably follows all the applicable zoning rules). Granted, I don’t live in that direct neighborhood so don’t know all the issues regarding their operation.

    Selma is a good idea, but in the wrong spot. Similar to what Mark Koroi said way up in comment #4: “I am therefore flabbergasted that many of the same questions that were raised in 2009 are still being bandied about four years later. ” I feel like their attitude has been “hey, we’re doing a good thing but we don’t have time to do it properly, so cut us a break.” No more breaks. Find a better location. Maybe Zion Lutheran would share their kitchen? Then the diners and volunteers don’t even have to change their habits that much.

  35. By Lisa P 500blk Soule
    April 17, 2013 at 10:28 am | permalink

    Thank you Habibi and others for speaking SENSE. There is much nonsense and arbitrariness to the Yea/Nay repartee. Just as Erica (@31) mentioned school and preschool traffic as being on par with SELMA Cafe when citing traffic, noise citations are equally arbitrary. How can some neighbors (a couple of whom are complaining from Florida) cite foot traffic as a disturbance, when the church plays outdoor musical services for several months of the year that begin 8am and go on nearly all morning on those Sundays?

    I appreciate Steve’s observation of how to deal with our own private frustrations of this contankerous loop. I will attempt to do this when that dang strident noise pollution starts up again only a few more Sundays!

  36. By TJ
    April 17, 2013 at 10:44 am | permalink

    comments @26 and @29 refer to financial information. I looked at the link in #26 and it does indeed show weekly expenses and donations. Most weeks I looked at, donations were 2x or 3x the expenses. What I was unable to find was some kind of overall summary. We’ve read that they have a micro-loan kind of fund for building the hoops, but is there anything that shows where the money has gone, how many loans have been made, repayment rates, etc? Or is that not possible now because the funds are going through a bank? (which makes perfect sense logistically, but I’m trying to understand the claims of full transparency in light of the lack of summary data) Thanks in advance to anyone who can shed light on this!

  37. April 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm | permalink

    This is a tough collision of “goods”. Yes, the purpose is good, and SELMA can probably account for some real accomplishment (though that has not been spelled out in a very comprehensible way). Certainly, they’ve shown a real talent at recruiting enthusiastic volunteers and inspiring people. I wholeheartedly support the local food movement and local farming startups, as I’m sure the FSEP board members do.

    But we also have to enforce our zoning laws, which are there to benefit us all. Saying that you are doing an activity for a good purpose does not then serve as a blank check. I could make up a dozen examples of how “worthy causes” (and we don’t all agree on what is a worthy cause) could abuse neighborhood zoning rules. Basically, neighbors will put up with a lot for a short time, or intermittently. (Book clubs, graduation parties, etc.) But when it looks as though an enterprise like this is growing and will be going on indefinitely, it is inevitable that people seek the legal protection to which they are entitled. Otherwise we have no ability to seek peace and quiet within our own homes, which is a very basic need. I’m bothered by some of the anger being expressed against the neighbors being made by anonymous commenters here.

    With regard to the finances, the FSEP board presumably has the best handle on this. But I looked at the spreadsheets online and they don’t match up to what I would expect from a nonprofit. Mostly they only list expenditures and donations. Those raise some questions. For example, December 14, 2012 lists $912.81 in “costs”, and $2,147 in donations. That is a very hefty profit margin. But wait – the costs include $551.91 in nonedibles: kitchen repair, kitchen supplies, tables and chairs. (I did not “cherrypick” this example, was just searching for a recent one; there are no records for 2013.) Do the supplies and furniture belong to the nonprofit? And paying for repair to the private residence seems fair, considering the wear and tear the program must entail, but how to account for that?

    As TJ says, there is no accounting for how the money is actually used. I’d expect to see a cash account for routine expenditures and a separate fund for charitable purposes. Then I’d expect to see a list of how that fund was disbursed (to whom) and how repayments are handled, if a loan. With that amount of money flowing in, responsibilities are incurred.

    I did attend SELMA early in its life and agree it is a wonderful place to meet people. They have also injected a lot of energy into the local food scene. But this does not mean that they are free of all the rules that govern everyone (and every other worthy enterprise) else.

  38. By Benjamin
    April 18, 2013 at 1:53 am | permalink

    Im not a frequent selma patron, but seriously Selma was addressing major problems food security problems at a real grassroots and fun way. Parking problems? No such thing. The streets are built to have cars park on them. Quit griping about first world problems. Try living in a big city for a month and get over your self.

    Weigh the options, have a minor inconvenience a few hours of the week and address food security?
    or have empty streets and ignore the poor and environmental problems.
    Now thats a hard choice,
    Said no one ever.

  39. By Steve Bean
    April 18, 2013 at 10:52 am | permalink

    Benjamin, you’ve framed it as a false dichotomy (between two inaccurate characterizations, yet). There are other alternatives, and one of them will be what comes out of all this. It will satisfy the neighbors, meet the zoning regs, and not hinder the local food movement significantly. The movement is bigger than Selma, in any case.

  40. By John Dory
    April 20, 2013 at 3:09 pm | permalink

    Jeff McCabe, board member of SELMA, owns a hoop-house business that gets its construction of hoop houses financed with SELMA non-profit revenues. The loans are at 6% interest for 3 years. This arrangement has been disclosed in a number of farm journal articles downloaded from the Internet.

  41. By Mark Koroi
    April 20, 2013 at 8:04 pm | permalink

    @Vivienne Armentrout:

    “……..SELMA can probably acccount for some real accomplishment(though that has not been spelled out in a very comprehensible way)….”

    There have been very recent concerns that revenues derived from SELMA are funding miroroloans to local farmers to construct hoop houses and SELMA co-founder Jeff McCabe is a hoop house manufacturer.

    Do SELMA revenues go anywhere else except to fund hoop houses?

    What percentage of microloans are for Nifty Hoops, LLC – the entity owned by Jeff McCabe?

    Are SELMA-financed projects producing appreciable profits for Nifty Hoops, LLC?

    Should Jeff McCabe sit as a board member of SELMA if microloans from SELMA funds are being used to fund any hoop house projects his company is constructing?

    Jeff McCabe should be trying to clear the air by elucidating the nature of the microloans between SELMA and the hoop house projects it finances. People may speculate that SELMA revenues are being created to “grease” sales for his benefit.

  42. April 20, 2013 at 10:01 pm | permalink

    Re (41):

    New movements and ideas require a period of fluidity. There is a time when a few people bring together others in a moment of inspiration and hope to create something that has not been seen before. I was privileged to see some of the local food movement begin in 2007 (I was an observer, not an initiator) when Slow Food Huron Valley began to proselytize and educate on this subject. I wrote a piece for the Ann Arbor Observer, published in 2008. Not long after that, SELMA started up as a genuinely spontaneous, volunteer-driven effort to bring people together to inspire and fund local agricultural enterprises.

    One of the things I saw about SELMA in those early days was that they provided a focus, especially for the young (college-age) people who desperately wanted to make something happen. I myself volunteered a couple of times to peel vegetables and wash dishes and saw a dedication and enthusiasm among the young volunteers (who also helped with those hoop houses)which was very heartening.

    SELMA also provided a setting for a salon on local food, sustainability, green energy, and all the current topics of interest to a group who have aspirations for a better future. That alone was worthwhile.

    The sad thing is that SELMA never quite achieved the organizational competence that should have been the next step. Those familiar with the nonprofit world know what I mean. You have to get your accounting, your board, your bylaws, and your tax status all together after that first lovely flush of creative volunteer enthusiasm has crested. Their failure to achieve this and to move on to a better venue, professional accounting, and other things is regrettable. Unfortunately, it seemed to move on to a complex business model that mixed a number of different enterprises and became confusing.

    Your specific points (which I will not try to evaluate) all apply to what the mature organization might have been. You are correct that there seem to be a lot of reporting gaps. But I see no benefit in trying to track down all the details at this moment. Clearly they are at a moment of transition. Whether SELMA will surface again in this form, and its relationship to Nifty Hoops, are unknown.

  43. By Dan Ezekiel
    April 21, 2013 at 8:28 am | permalink

    As I said in the comments on “SELMA has been a joyful, creative gathering place for those who care about locally-sourced food. Let’s thank Lisa and Jeff for opening their home. If the gathering has now grown too big for the neighborhood, let’s look for creative (and legal) ways to continue it.”

    As to the conspiracy theories about Nifty Hoops, this is not exactly Solyndra. Nifty Hoops is a minuscule business, helping other minuscule businesses (mini-local-farms) to build $10K structures. Everyone at SELMA understood from the beginning that some of the proceeds from the breakfasts were to be used to build hoop houses, The first few dozen hoop houses were built with volunteer labor (largely drawn from the SELMA diners). Jeff made no money from them. I helped build several of these first hoops. Jeff skillfully orchestrated these all-day building projects, a modern version of a barn raising, keeping several dozen inexperienced volunteers safe and busy. The sense of group accomplishment and pride at the end of the day was inspiring.

    After donating several years of his life to building up the infrastructure for local food, Jeff needed an income and incorporated the hoop operation into a tiny company. He knows (from experience) more than anyone about how to build a strong, economical hoop house in SE Michigan. If this allows him to make a modest living and continue advocating for local food, more power to him!

  44. By Mark Koroi
    April 22, 2013 at 12:09 am | permalink

    @Dan Ezekiel:

    Can you tell us if Jeff McCabe or Nifty Hoops, LLC earned any money over and above materials and out-of pocket expense reimbursements on hoop houses that were funded by SELMA revenues?

    It seems as though the August 2012 article in suggested that SELMA revenues were financing Nifty Hoops, LLC projects.

    Are any capital expenditures for equipment made via SELMA revenues and, if so, who owns that equipment.

    Transparency would help.

  45. By Steve Bean
    April 22, 2013 at 9:26 am | permalink

    @44: “Transparency would help.”

    What exactly would it help? Your own transparency would help.

  46. By Mark Koroi
    April 22, 2013 at 10:47 am | permalink

    @Steve Bean:

    “What exactly would it help?

    There have been questions raised by the public about whether SELMA is in essence, a financing arm of Nifty Hoops, LLC or, rather, a bona fide non-profit entity. The recent actions of FSEP have magnified these concerns. Volunteer labor at SELMA and in the construction of these “hoop houses” supervised by Jeff McCabe result in significant operating expense savings. Are these savings passed along to the farmer or is it for the primary benefit of Nifty Hoops, LLC.

    “Your own transparency would help.”

    What transparency do you mean? If you mean I have an “axe to grind” – no. I have never met the operators of SELMA or ate or volunteered there. I like the basic model that it operates under – volunteering for a non-profit to benefit local farmers with donations from the public, however I have serious reservations about how SELMA has operated in practice being in a residential neighborhood and with respect to the recent actions of FSEP.

    I personally would like to see SELMA continue at an appropriate location and assist local farmers while complying with applicable standards expected of a non-profit in a transparent and professional manner.

    Ms. Armentrout’s observations, above, are well-taken.

  47. By Steve Bean
    April 22, 2013 at 11:36 am | permalink

    Mark, nice to see you speaking for yourself for a change.

  48. By Harvey Elliott
    April 28, 2013 at 6:49 pm | permalink

    I was at Selma several weeks ago and they were adamant about not parking on any of the streets in the area. Perhaps some Selma cafe attendees have ignored the volunteers directing traffic, but this whole thing seems silly to me. As an Ann Arbor resident of 7 years, closing Selma cafe seems like such a shame… If you’d like to know how Selma works, maybe you should volunteer there or go build a hoop house. I assure you, if you show some initiative outside of a google search, you wont have any concerns about transparency. It’s really a shame that the people who have complained may never have the opportunity to experience Selma. Congrats. You’ve “won.”

  49. By Derek Peterson
    April 28, 2013 at 7:46 pm | permalink

    “The letter states that Selma Cafe violates those restrictions in three ways: (1) more people are involved in the operation than are allowed under city code; (2) more than the permitted 10 vehicle trips per day are generated; and (3) the need for parking is not being met.”

    Seriously? Those are the issues? The first *may* be legitimate for safety reasons in the event of a fire or something, but the other two are completely asinine. Rather than targeting SELMA, perhaps Ann Arbor should revisit its city code because those are exactly the kind of rules that hold this city back.