The Ann Arbor city council’s May 13, 2013 session of its May 6 meeting will begin with consideration of the site plan for 413 E. Huron St. – a 14-story residential building proposed for the northeast corner of Division and Huron streets in downtown Ann Arbor. Live updates will be filed from the meeting, and published “below the fold.”
The May 13 session – scheduled to start at 7 p.m. – will begin immediately with the agenda item on the 413 E. Huron site plan, unless the agenda is re-opened and amended in some fashion. None of the routine elements associated with the start of meetings, like public commentary reserved time, will be included. Those items were already dispatched on May 6.
It was around 11:30 p.m. on May 6 when the council decided to recess the meeting, and to resume it on May 13. At that point the council had completed eight public hearings and voted on a number of other items, before reaching the 413 E. Huron site plan.
While the 413 E. Huron site plan will be the first item that the council confronts, several other significant items appear on the remainder of the council’s agenda.
The council is scheduled to hear a first reading of proposed changes to the city’s public art ordinance. The proposal includes removing the requirement that 1% of all capital project budgets be set aside for public art.
Another ordinance change to which the council will be asked to give initial approval is a change to utility connection charges for undeveloped property.
In addition to initial consideration of changes to those two ordinances, the council will be asked to give an initial approval to rezoning of two different parcels – a property at 490 Huron Parkway and on South State Street. The property on Huron Parkway is supposed to be rezoned from R3 (townhouse district) to R1B (single-family dwelling) and would allow the currently vacant 1.22-acre site, located north of Ruthven Park, to be divided into three separate lots.
The State Street Center project is located adjacent to a new Tim Hortons restaurant, which opened last year. The rezoning request is from O (office) to C3 (fringe commercial). It would make the actual zoning consistent with the city’s official zoning map, which had been mislabeled. The site plan calls for demolishing a vacant 840-square-foot house and building a one-story, 1,700-square-foot building with a drive-thru Jimmy John’s restaurant facing South State Street.
An expansion to the Theta Delta Chi house on State Street is also on the agenda for approval.
The Ann Arbor fire department shows up on two different items – one to accept a federal grant that will pay for exhaust fume removal systems for fire stations, and another to appropriate funds to replace protective gear worn by firefighters.
And the University of Michigan appears in two different agenda items. One item authorizes a contract for the city worth more than $600,000 in connection with the vehicle-to-vehicle study – for which the UM Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) won a $14 million federal grant. The other item related to UM involves a right-of-way agreement for the placement of electrical conduit under Tappan Street, so that an emergency generator can serve a law school dorm.
Other agenda items include some resolutions necessary to impose a special assessment on property owners along Miller Avenue, to help pay for construction of new sidewalks. And the council will be asked to choose Coke over Pepsi as the vendor for Ann Arbor’s city parks.
6:45 p.m. Pre-meeting activity. The council labor committee is meeting in the workroom adjoining the council chambers. A half dozen members of the 413 E. Huron development team have arrived, with several posters mounted on foam core. Two members of the public are here. One of those is Jack Eaton, whose candidate petitions have been verified by the city clerk for the Ward 4 city council Democratic primary. Incumbent Democrat Marcia Higgins has also filed her petitions. The deadline is tomorrow. Scheduled council meeting start time is 7 p.m.
7:05 p.m. About 40 people are now here. All councilmembers in chambers except for Sabra Briere (Ward 1). She reportedly filed her nominating petitions today to seek re-election to her Ward 1 council seat.
7:06 p.m. Briere has now arrived. We’re waiting, poised to begin.
7:10 p.m. The meeting has now started. There’s no roll call to start the meeting, but all councilmembers are present and correct. The council moves immediately to its first business item.
7:11 p.m. 413 E. Huron site plan. This is a 14-story residential project proposed for the northeast corner of Division and Huron Streets.
7:15 p.m. Sabra Briere has led off the discussion by questioning representatives of the developer about the curb cut onto Huron Street. It has an 81-degree angle, which is within the 15-degree variance from 90 degrees allowed by Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) standards.
7:20 p.m. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) questions whether the project complies with requirements of the East Huron character district. He’s highlighted the language that describes how the building should be seen “in the round” and have open space in the front. Kunselman states clearly: “I will not be supporting the project.”
7:22 p.m. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) highlighted her concern as the shading on the adjoining residences. She allows that for some of the properties, there wouldn’t be a significant increase. She expresses concern about the overall massing. She wants to know if there are any other revisions the developer would be willing to make to reduce massing. Conor McNally, the developer’s representative, points to efforts made to reduce some of the massing by removing some of the units from the top of the building. Further reductions in density are unlikely to be considered, he says.
7:27 p.m. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) questions whether the unit mix would actually attract young professionals. Conor McNally points out that 60% of the units are 1-2 bedrooms. He also responds to the view of Kunselman that the project doesn’t conform to the East Huron character district, because it contains a range of building types.
7:31 p.m. Lumm is now addressing the issue of the retention wall on the Sloan Plaza side of the site. The response from city planning staff on this issue is that the additional detail will be provided at the stage of obtaining construction permits, not at the site plan review. Lumm would like additional detail now.
7:34 p.m. Conor McNally is describing the retention system that will be used to build the underground parking garage. He describes vertical elements that will be drilled, not pounded into the ground. Between the vertical elements, there’ll be lagging. It sounds similar to the kind of system used to build the Library Lane underground parking garage earth retention system.
7:36 p.m. Briere now takes up the issue of the loading and unloading area and traffic on Division Street. She ventures that it seems to require trash collection that involves a garbage truck backing out onto Division. Conor McNally points out that the loading dock was moved off the street at the suggestion of the design review board. He compares the configuration to other large buildings downtown. He ventures that a large truck would need to back in or else back out.
7:40 p.m. Briere tells McNally she expects the project will have full composting capacity, including plate scrapings – because that’s the direction the city is headed. She says it’s not unrealistic that the tenants will demand this.
7:41 p.m. Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) brings up the issue of requirements for special exception uses. The question is whether the underground parking garage would require a special exception use. Planning manager Wendy Rampson is fielding the question. She explains that it’s a secondary accessory use.
7:45 p.m. Rampson explains that the key is that the parking use is customarily incidental to the primary use – residential.
7:49 p.m. Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) asks where customers to the retail tenants will park. McNally explains that not a lot of parking will be provided. The expectation is that the retailers will rely on foot traffic. The 6,500-7,000 square feet of retail space would most likely be split between two different retailers, he says, but that’s not certain.
7:53 p.m. Margie Teall (Ward 4) brings up the issue of the bur oak and the critical root zone. Rampson explains that the root zone is required to be identified on the site plan. Code doesn’t require mitigation for off-site impact. The developer has proposed to do maintenance on the tree for five years, Rampson says.
7:55 p.m. Kunselman returns to the issue of principal use and accessory use for the parking structure component of the building. He contends that the council could send the project back to seek a special exception use permit. He also returns to the issue of the East Huron character district and the open space description. Rampson explains that Kunselman is talking about the intent statement, not a regulation with numerical requirements. It’s an “explanatory piece,” she says.
8:02 p.m. Briere follows up on the character overlay district and the rules about setbacks and streetwall height. She says she can’t remember why the rules were done in a way that “don’t match.” Rampson questions Briere’s conclusion that they don’t match. Rampson and Briere go back-and-forth on this issue.
8:07 p.m. Mike Anglin brings up the issue of the criteria for site plan approval. The council is being asked to approve something based on a lot of presuppositions, he says. There’s too much confusion, he adds, and there’s a lack of certainty. He cites the public safety, health and welfare clause.
8:08 p.m. Anglin asks about City Apartments at First & Washington, which is currently under construction: What is the height? Rampson looks it up: 104 feet. Anglin fears that the site plan for 413 E. Huron will change from the one that the council is approving. He raises the possibility that changes will be approved administratively – which was done with the City Apartments project. Anglin notes that for the City Apartments project, changes were made as a result of the hydrogeologic conditions discovered.
8:10 p.m. Anglin wants to make the health, safety and welfare clause the primary consideration. He’s heard too many things that seem arbitrary and conflicting. MDOT’s approval doesn’t mean much to him, because the city is responsible for the safety of its residents, not MDOT.
8:15 p.m. Petersen refers to previous public commentary on May 6: What will be your legacy? She’s baffled about why the parcel wasn’t zoned D2 back in 2009. The legacy began in 2009 when it was intentionally zoned D1, she says. Even if a lawsuit would be won, that will cost the city a lot of money. She worries about the long-term consequences of a lawsuit, when the university is buying up city land. She fears a legacy of ill will from developers. Literal hisses come from the audience. She prefaced her remarks by saying that she knew it would be unpopular with many people in the room.
8:18 p.m. Kunselman comes back to the issue of setbacks: The developer has the ability to move the building back 10 feet. Rampson confirms that. Kunselman allows that moving it back will reduce the number of bedrooms. He recalls the zoning that preceded the D1 zoning enacted in 2009. Kunselman again states he’ll be voting against the project.
8:23 p.m. Lumm states that she doesn’t think the project conforms with the statement of intent in the East Huron Street character overlay district. She appeals to the criteria for site plan approval. She finds that the project hasn’t met all the standards. One possible nose count looks like this for those likely to vote no: Anglin, Kailasapathy, Briere, Lumm, Kunselman.
8:31 p.m. Warpehoski says the design has come a long way, but is simply too large for the area. In the various enforceable regulations in the code, he felt like previous councils hadn’t gotten everything right. That’s a reason he had previously voted for the moratorium. He describes piles of papers and full email inboxes from residents and the developers and their attorneys. He listens to it all and questions it all. He’s weighing the risk. What level of risk is he willing to take? He cites Kunselman’s statement on a different occasion that Kunselman doesn’t like to gamble with other people’s money. Warpehoski is not afraid of a lawsuit, but weighs what the cost is of losing a lawsuit. He refers to millions of dollars of damages, and calls that “too rich for my blood.” He calls his anticipated vote “a very pit-in-my-stomach-sickening vote yes.” That elicits hisses from the audience.
Assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald asks the council to amend the resolution to refer to the proper date of the development agreement.
8:35 p.m. Teall describes how she doesn’t like the massing of the building but isn’t willing to risk the taxpayers’ money. She thought there was merit to the consideration of legacy – on both sides. She says she’ll very reluctantly vote yes.
8:38 p.m. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) recalls the history of A2D2: “It wasn’t done in a vacuum.” She recalls the consensus that density would be restricted to the downtown, which kept it out of neighborhoods. She describes the tension between planning commission and the council. The developer has listened to a lot of things and some changes have been made. She notes there’s less massing than the original proposal. She contends it never happens that everyone says: “Yippee, let’s build this building and we’re all for it.” There’s always friction where downtowns rub up against neighborhoods. She reports that after the last public hearing, she started hearing from people who supported the project. There are 80,000 other people in the town who don’t always have the same viewpoint, Higgins says. She’s supporting it.
8:40 p.m. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) acknowledges the various detriments that the project will cause. He describes the tension between Huron Street, which can bear great density, and Division Street, which is residential. He notes that the project satisfies the regulations. He states that the task is not legislative, but rather administrative. He extends that to the idea that the task is actually judicial. He’s voting for it. He had no doubt who’d win if the developer and the city came to blows. When the head, the heart and millions of taxpayer dollars are in conflict, the head has to win, he says.
Taylor says his duty is unwelcome but also clear. The developer has not reduced the density for only one reason: profit. “They should own it and admit it,” Taylor says. He allows it’s their right.
8:47 p.m. Kailasapathy can’t fathom how the parcel was not zoned D2. The developer is providing minimum requirements. She hopes the developer goes back to the drawing board. She’s voting against it.
8:51 p.m. Briere thanks her colleagues for their coherent thought. No one is proud of this development, she contends. The council feels a little bit helpless, she says. A previous decision on a “by right” project resulted in City Place being constructed on Fifth Avenue, Briere notes. “This is a terrible way to make decisions.”
Briere calls for evaluating the entire set of information the council has received. She finds the project doesn’t meet all the requirements and could cause a nuisance. It fits the limited numeric zoning that is quantifiable, but the intangible shouldn’t be ignored. She’ll be voting against it.
8:55 p.m. Lumm is explaining again why she’ll be voting no. She echoes the code requirements cited by Briere that she thinks the project fails to meet. She highlights the traffic issues.
8:59 p.m. Mayor John Hieftje compliments the opponents of the project. He states it was not a NIMBY opposition. He worked to gain acceptance of a different plan that envisioned a 20-story building and scaling down as it moved towards Sloan Plaza. That would have been a “planned project,” he says. The building doesn’t honor the site. But he says it comes down to an unwillingness to take the legal risk. It’s too large a risk, with too small a chance of succeeding.
Outcome: The council voted 6-5 to approve the 413 E. Huron site plan. Voting against it were: Anglin, Kailasapathy, Briere, Lumm, Kunselman. Voting for it were: Higgins, Warpehoski, Hieftje, Petersen, Taylor, and Teall.
9:03 p.m. Theta Delta Chi site plan. The proposal includes expanding the square footage from 12,386 square feet to 14,752 square feet by making an addition at the rear of the fraternity house, which is located on the southwest corner of Monroe and South State.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the Theta Delta Chi site plan.
9:04 p.m. Establishment of a contingency budget of roughly $10 million for the facilities renovations project at the wastewater treatment plant. The council had previously awarded a roughly $10.8 million contract with Malcolm Pirnie Inc. (MPI) for engineering services. And the council had approved the tentative award of a roughly $93 million construction contract with Walsh Construction Company II LLC. This had been postponed from the April 15, 2013 meeting.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the contingency budget.
9:07 p.m. Approval of $262,000 in payments to Ultimate Software Group over the next two fiscal years. The city uses the software for human resources and payroll services. This had been postponed from the April 15, 2013 meeting.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the payments to the Ultimate Software Group.
9:10 p.m. Confirmation of appointments left over from April 1 and April 15 meeting. These include Sheila Steinman to the commission on disability issues, and Ingrid Ault to the housing and human services advisory board. Also included were appointments of Eric Mahler to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and Leon Moore to the housing board of appeals.
The council engaged in long deliberations on Eric Mahler’s appointment.
Outcome: The council voted to approve the appointments. But on Mahler’s appointment, Kunselman, Kailasapathy, Anglin, and Lumm dissented.
9:34 p.m. The council is now in recess.
9:48 p.m. Utility improvement changes ordinance. The charges in question are due when a single- or two-family property connects to water and sewer for the first time. The charges are paid by either the contractor/developer or the property owner, depending on who makes the request for a connection. When the council was asked for the annual adjustment upwards earlier this year, the council declined. This ordinance change would cut the charges roughly in half for the next two years. [.pdf of connection charge comparison]
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to changes to the utilities improvement ordinance.
10:16 p.m. Public art ordinance. The major change proposed for the Percent for Art ordinance is that capital improvement projects would no longer be required to set aside 1% their budgets for public art – up to a maximum of $250,000 per project.
Jane Lumm has proposed an amendment to allow the return of funds set aside for public art in FY 2014 to their funds of origin.
10:27 p.m. Lumm’s amendment is unanimously approved.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to changes to the public art ordinance.
10:29 p.m. 490 Huron Parkway zoning. The request is to rezone the parcel from R3 (townhouse district) to R1B (single-family dwelling). The rezoning would allow the currently vacant 1.22-acre site, located north of Ruthven Park, to be divided into three separate lots.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the rezoning at 490 Huron Parkway.
10:30 p.m. State Street Center zoning. The parcel is near the intersection of State and Ellsworth. The site 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 building with a drive-thru Jimmy John’s restaurant facing South State Street. A one-story, 6,790-square-foot retail building will be built behind the restaurant. Rezoning is requested from O (office) to C3 (fringe commercial) – because the official city zoning map already erroneously shows the parcel zoned C3.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the rezoning for State Street Center.
10:31 p.m. Hideaway Lane site plan. This is 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.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the Hideaway Lane site plan.
10:35 p.m. Acceptance of money for vehicle-to-vehicle study. The council is being asked to approve receipt of $622,884, which will flow to the city of Ann Arbor as a result of a much larger grant that was awarded to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). UMTRI received a $14.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement a pilot study of vehicle-to-vehicle technology. After the study, the city will own the telecommunications fiber, sensors and electronic equipment, as well as some network support.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the contract with the University of Michigan for the vehicle-to-vehicle research study.
10:37 p.m. Airport fencing. Outcome: The council unanimously approves the airport fencing item.
10:38 p.m. UM and city right-of-way agreement. The agreement would allow the University of Michigan to install conduits in Tappan Street – to connect a new emergency generator to the Lawyers Club buildings at 551 S. State Street.
The city and the university appear to have reached an understanding on how to disagree about the significance of the agreement. According to the staff memo:
The University has insisted that each occupancy agreement be processed as if the document grants to the University an interest in land, even if it doesn’t. The City does not believe that the occupancy agreement grants to the University any interest in land. As drafted, it grants to the University an interest in land only to the extent it grants to the University, by its terms, an interest in land.
Nevertheless, in accordance with the University’s request, but without agreeing that the agreement grants an interest in land, the document is being submitted to City Council for approval with a requirement of 8 votes as if it granted an interest in land.
Outcome: The council voted to deny the right-of-way occupancy agreement. It needed eight votes. Higgins, Anglin, and Kailasapathy voted against it. Because Taylor left the meeting early, the item had only seven votes in support.
10:47 p.m. Coke vs. Pepsi. This item awards the vendor contract for beverages in the city’s parks and recreation facilities to Coke. The 10-year deal with Pepsi is set to expire, and Pepsi didn’t meet the deadline to respond to the city’s request for proposals. The contract with Coke will cost the city an estimated $25,000 annually for non-vending items, but the city expects to generate $47,500 in revenues from the beverage sales. In addition, Coca-Cola Refreshments will provide an annual sponsorship fee of $10,000 to the parks and recreation unit.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to Coke as the parks and recreation beverage vendor. However, Warpehoski expressed concerns about Coke’s human rights record, as well as concerns about nutrition.
10:56 p.m. Miller Avenue special assessment. The properties will be special assessed for sidewalk improvements ($5,976) and curb/gutter improvements ($3,429) totaling $9,405. The two actions that the council was asked to take were to set the roll and schedule a public hearing – for June 3, 2013.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the two resolutions involved in the Miller Avenue special assessment.
10:57 p.m. Appropriation for firefighter gear. The council is being asked to appropriate $150,000 to replace protective gear that firefighters wear.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously approve the purchase of firefighter protective gear.
10:59 p.m. Grant for exhaust removal at fire stations. The federal grant is for $87,876 and comes from the Department of Homeland Security under the auspices of the Assistance to Firefighters grant program (AFGP). Ann Arbor’s project involves installation of vehicle exhaust capturing systems – so that diesel fumes don’t accumulate inside the fire stations.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to accept the federal grant for installation of exhaust removal equipment.
11:00 p.m. Nominations. These nominations will be put before the council for confirmation on May 20, 2013. Among them are Susan Baskett to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board and Paras Parekh to the city planning commission. Also included are the re-appointments of all the members of the downtown citizens advisory council, whose terms have all expired.
11:15 p.m. Public comment general time. Speakers are Thomas Partridge, Mark Koroi and Steve Beisheim.
11:24 p.m. The council is now adjourned. Details on some individual voting items can be found in The Chronicle’s Civic News Ticker.
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