Archive for August, 2013

Ann Arbor Canoe Liveries Re-Open

After being shut down temporarily due to a sanitary sewer overflow into the Huron River, Ann Arbor canoe liveries along the river have been re-opened as of 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, according to city of Ann Arbor staff. The liveries had been shut down on Aug. 29 until the problem was rectified and until testing of river water would indicate that it was safe to re-open them.

First & Washington

First in front of Kiwanis. ”Art Car” convertible with Florida plates parked in front of Kiwanis is covered with thousands of keys, many of which are complex car keys. Wish I had a photo of it.

Sewer Discharge into Huron River Reported

Overflow from the city’s sanitary sewer system was discharged into the Huron River – the result of a clog in the system caused by tree roots in the Nichols Arboretum, according to a city of Ann Arbor press release. [.pdf of city press release] The situation was reported on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 29, when “a sewer odor and some gray pooled water” was reported to the city, flowing overland into the river. The sewer was unclogged later that evening, and a city crew applied lime – a white powdery substance – to the ground to kill bacteria.

In addition, city of Ann Arbor canoe livery trips between Argo and Gallup were halted on Thursday through Friday. Water samples will be … [Full Story]

W. Liberty

Brick wall at Skin Bar being scrubbed clean of black graffiti with substance called “elephant snot.”

Design Approved for Rain Garden Sculptures

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Aug. 28, 2013): The only major action item for public art commissioners was approval of Joshua Wiener’s design for artwork in a new rain garden at the southeast corner of First & Kingsley.

Joshua Wiener, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A drawing of Joshua Wiener’s proposed rain garden sculptures at First & Kingsley. (Image provided in the AAPAC Aug. 28, 2013 meeting packet.)

His proposal entails creating white metal images of five small mouth bass, in varying sizes, that appear to be emerging from the landscape and pointed toward the Huron River. Two of the sculptures will be large enough to serve as benches.

Because the artist’s contract of $23,380 is less than $25,000, it does not require city council approval. The sculptures would likely be installed during the spring of 2014.

Commissioners also received several updates during the meeting, and reviewed a new spreadsheet designed to track more effectively current and potential projects. [.xls file project tracker] Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, reported that a selection panel picked Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass., as the artist for a major public art project on the East Stadium bridges in Ann Arbor. However, the panel is asking Widgery to revise her proposal before presenting it to AAPAC and the city council for approval. The project has a $400,000 total budget.

Other updates covered projects at Argo Cascades, the city’s wastewater treatment plant, Arbor Oaks Park, a memorial for Coleman Jewett at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, and the “Canoe Imagine Art” community project. Additional potential projects were mentioned, including possible artwork for the new bike share program and the public skatepark, which is now under construction at Veterans Memorial Park.

Commissioners also viewed a short video produced by Ashlee Arder, one of the newest members of AAPAC. The intent is to promote the commission and the city’s public art program. The video is already available on YouTube, and Arder plans to post it on the commission’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account, @AAPublicArt.

The meeting was attended by six of the seven commissioners, including Marsha Chamberlin, who participated via conference call. There are two vacancies on the nine-member commission. At the city council’s Aug. 19, 2013 meeting, Devon Akmon was nominated to fill one of the vacancies. Akmon is an Ann Arbor resident and the new director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. At its Sept. 3 meeting, the city council is expected to vote on Akmon’s confirmation to AAPAC .

No name has been put forward publicly for the second vacancy. One of the two vacancies resulted when Tony Derezinski was not reappointed. The other stemmed from Wiltrud Simbuerger’s resignation earlier this year. Her term would have ended Dec. 31, 2013. [Full Story]

Forest & S. University

About 20 people in front of Landmark apartments, wearing neon yellow T-shirts and helping students move in. Forest Street parking structure is full. [photo]

Tappan & Monroe

Three of the nine Indian Trails buses parked along Tappan and Monroe next to UM Ross School of Business, waiting to take MBA students to Detroit’s Eastern Market. [photo]

A2: Kerrytown BookFest

A post on the Kerrytown BookFest website highlights panel discussions and other features of the 11th annual event, held at the Ann Arbor farmers market on Sunday, Sept. 8 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. According to organizer Robin Agnew, president of the book festival and co-owner of Aunt Agatha’s mystery bookshop, this year’s theme is to celebrate Detroit and its writers. [Source]

Mixed Use Party: Noise at November Polls?

On the University of Michigan campus last Sunday, Aug. 25, a group of students organized as the Mixed Use Party convened their regular monthly meeting.

Mixed Use Zoning Map Speaker

Zoning scheme proposed by Mixed Use Party overlaid on a speaker icon. (“Art” by The Chronicle.)

The meeting was held in Angell Hall, and first on the agenda was discussion of a possible revision to the city’s noise ordinance. The ordinance revision – which was subsequently adopted into the party platform at the Aug. 25 meeting – would address the question of who is assigned responsibility for a violation.

Under the current city code, if the person responsible for the noise can’t be determined, a police officer has the discretion to deem the renter of the property (or also the property owner, or the occupant) to be responsible. Mixed Use Party members are concerned that the current code could create a scenario where the occupant of a property could be subjected to higher tiers of the allowable fines, based on noise ordinance violations of previous occupants.

Under the Mixed Use Party proposed ordinance revision, if the person who planned the noise-related activity can’t be determined, then it’s the occupants of the space where the activity is taking place who are responsible. And if that can’t be determined, then the responsibility would default to the property owner.

The basic kind of issue – appropriate assignment of responsibility for an infraction – was addressed three years ago by the Ann Arbor city council, but for a different ordinance. The city’s code on allowable storage of solid waste was amended by the council in 2010 – to restrict somewhat the ability of landlords to require tenants to pay fines associated with improperly stored trash.

Candidates affiliated with the Mixed Use Party will be contesting Ann Arbor city council races as independents in three of the city’s five wards. Sam DeVarti will be running in the Ward 3 race against incumbent Democrat Stephen Kunselman. DeVarti was the only one of the three Mixed Use Party candidates at the Aug. 25 meeting, which was sparsely attended.

DeVarti is a student at Eastern Michigan University, while the other two candidates are UM students. Jacyln Vresics is contesting the Ward 1 race along with incumbent three-term Democrat Sabra Briere and independent Jeff Hayner. In Ward 2, Mixed Use Party affiliate Conrad Brown will be on the November ballot with incumbent independent Jane Lumm and Kirk Westphal, who won an uncontested Democratic primary.

In Ward 4, Democratic primary winner Jack Eaton is unopposed in November. Ward 5 incumbent Democrat Mike Anglin faces no competition on the ballot, but resident Thomas Partridge is a declared Ward 5 write-in candidate.

Other aspects of the Mixed Use Party platform are somewhat broader than the proposed changes to the noise ordinance. For example, the platform includes a reconceptualization of the city’s zoning scheme, reducing the number of non-public land zones to three broad categories: heavy industrial, mixed use and restricted mixed use.

A highlight of the Mixed Use Party tentative infrastructure plan – which has not yet been formally adopted as an element of the party’s platform – might include selling Ann Arbor’s public parking system and using the proceeds to fund road repair, among other infrastructure. The infrastructure plan was discussed at the Aug. 25 meeting, but possible action was left for a future meeting.

More detail on noise and trash below the fold. [Full Story]

West Park Band Shell

Things are about to get exciting behind the West Park Band Shell. In a few days these Jewel Weed Plants (Impatiens capensis) will have exploding edible seed pods. Also called “Touch Me Not” the seeds have a nutty taste and can be harvested by carefully letting the pod explode in your closed hand. Just touch the pod and it opens with plant-like force. Great for kids. The juicy leaves help relieve rashes caused by poison ivy and insect bites when applied topically. [photo]

Library Board Briefed on Bike Share Program

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Aug. 19, 2013): A meeting with no major action items stretched into one of the longest sessions for the library board in recent years, with multiple presentations from staff and a briefing on the bike share program.

Ann Arbor District Library, Ghostly International, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

The logo for Ann Arbor-based Ghostly International was part of a presentation on digital content licensing at the Aug. 19, 2013 Ann Arbor District Library board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Heather Seyfarth of the Clean Energy Coalition described a new bike share program that CEC is managing, with a targeted launch of April 2014. One of the proposed bike stations could be located on library property at AADL’s downtown building, on South Fifth Avenue next to Library Lane. The library isn’t being asked to invest in the project, which is a partnership between CEC, the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority and the city of Ann Arbor. However, locating a station on AADL property would require a formal agreement between the library and CEC.

Seyfarth noted that the program doesn’t yet have a name, and organizers plan to ask the public for suggestions. They had originally settled on GoBike, but that name is already trademarked by another organization.

Trustees were also updated by library staff on activities related to goals in the five-year strategic plan, from 2010-2015, and on the latest direct licensing agreements that the library has reached with authors and musicians. Regarding the licensing deals, AADL director Josie Parker pointed out that the library staff decided not to pursue some options that are available to libraries, such as Freading and Zinio. In those other approaches, there is a go-between handling the licensing deals with authors and artists. She noted that at this point, AADL is in the minority as it pursues direct licensing. Some of those deals are with local authors and organizations, including indie label Ghostly International and graphic novelist Jim Ottaviani.

Trustees also received a briefing on a new format for presenting AADL statistics in five categories: Collections, users, usage, visits and participation. Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development, showed data in these categories using bar graphs and charts, and talked about the meaning behind the numbers. New information was also included in the report, like the value of the total AADL collection – estimated at $16.1 million, based on the replacement cost of all items in the AADL catalog.

In one of its few action items, the board approved three minor adjustments to the 2012-13 budget, for the prior fiscal year ending June 30, 2013. The adjustments totaled $11,000. Trustees also passed a resolution thanking Vicki Browne on her recent retirement. She had worked at the AADL since 1988.

During committee reports, Margaret Leary – chair of the facilities committee – noted that committee members had given Parker the go-ahead to get cost estimates for renovating the entry of the downtown library, including replacement of the front doors. It’s not yet clear if the project would require board approval.

Though not an agenda item, the library’s contract with Allerton-Hill Consulting emerged on several occasions during the meeting, including public commentary. Board president Prue Rosenthal also made a brief statement in response to public commentary at previous meetings. She stressed that “the board of the Ann Arbor District Library has done nothing illegal,” she said. “We are not in violation of the Michigan law.” Members of the Protect Our Libraries political action committee have questioned whether board’s committee meetings, which do not include a quorum of board members and are not open to the public, comply with the Michigan Open Meetings Act. [Full Story]

First & Washington

Electronic sign shows 64 available spaces in the not-yet-open public parking in the lower levels of City Apartments, which is still under construction. [photo]

Stadium & Main

New AAPS superintendent giving traditional first day “we’re awesome” speech from the podium.

Fourth & Washington

The Arena sports bar’s stainless steel urinal has OSU logo engraved in basin.

On Ann Arbor’s Energy Agenda: Carbon, Solar

Two energy-related items will appear on the Ann Arbor city council’s post-holiday agenda next week.

solar panels ann arbor

From a recent application to Ann Arbor’s historic district commission to allow the addition of photovoltaic panels, possibly in conjunction with existing thermal panels. A resolution on the council’s agenda would direct city staff to work with DTE to develop a pilot program that would benefit people who, unlike this homeowner, don’t have solar access.

One of those items calls on the city’s employee retirement system to divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies.

The second resolution would direct the Ann Arbor city staff to work with DTE to develop a pilot program for a “community solar” project – an initiative that would allow a group of people or businesses to purchase shares in a solar energy system, not located at the site of their electric meter.

The items appear on the council’s tentative agenda for Sept. 3, 2013, which is shifted to Tuesday from its regular Monday slot due to the Labor Day holiday.

Both resolutions were sponsored by the city’s energy commission, a 13-member group with the responsibility of overseeing city policies and regulations on energy and to make recommendations to the city council. [Full Story]

Hill Street

Football parking signs going up. First game is Saturday vs. Central Michigan at 3:30 p.m. [photo]

In it for The Money: How to Career as a Writer

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Because I live in a college town, I’m periodically asked to speak to undergrads about “careers in publishing.” Despite my discomfort with human beings in general, I tend to jump at these opportunities. First and foremost, it’s nice to seem important.

And undergrads are pretty easy to trick into thinking you’re worth listening to (just ask any Lecturer III).

Beyond that, launching a writing career is a really straightforward process, and I feel it’s more or less my duty (as a former educator) to demystify whenever possible.

I think that folks outside the university systems might also be interested in this process. So, for the benefit of anyone looking to make a terrible career move, I offer this roadmap. It starts with getting a baby. [Full Story]

Packard & Division

Spotted the Violin Monster entertaining a small crowd on the steps of the former Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger.

Council Gets Advice on Y Lot Development

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Aug. 20, 2013): As the city council considers selling the former Y site at 350 S. Fifth, planning commissioners have outlined the kind of development they’d like to see at that location.

Diane Giannola, Bonnie Bona

Ann Arbor planning commissioners Diane Giannola and Bonnie Bona drafted a resolution with recommendations to the city council regarding development of the former Y lot, which is owned by the city. (Photos by the writer.)

The commission voted unanimously to recommend that the council, if it decides to proceed with a sale, should use a request for qualifications (RFQ) and request for proposals (RFP) process.

The planning commission is also recommending that the council impose a set of conditions for future development. The list includes mixed-use development that encourages foot traffic and active first-floor uses, an entry plaza or open space, and mandatory compliance with the city’s design guidelines.

The site was one of five parcels that was the focus of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project. Much of the Aug. 20 discussion centered on the use of CWS as a framework for the resolution.

Sabra Briere, who serves as the city council’s representative to the planning commission, suggested removing entirely references to the CWS project. The council never adopted the CWS report or took any action to implement the CWS recommendations, she noted. Briere felt that leaving those references to CWS in the commission’s resolution might make some councilmembers more resistant to it.

Wendy Woods, a former councilmember, countered that “our role is not to give pablum to council.” The commission’s role is to give advice as a body, regardless of how it might be received by the council, Woods said. She also pointed out that it’s not necessarily Briere’s role to advocate for positions taken by the commission. “The planning commission is its own advocate and we stand on our own,” Woods said.

Bonnie Bona and Diane Giannola, who drafted the resolution, pointed to the amount of public input that had been solicited during the CWS process, and felt that it was more powerful for the commission’s recommendations to be supported by that input. Giannola didn’t want to get into the politics of guessing what the council might support, but offered to extract references to CWS from the two resolved clauses. That compromise was acceptable to Briere and the other commissioners. [.pdf of amended Y lot resolution]

During the discussion, Briere also reported that the broker hired by the city to handle a possible sale has been meeting with councilmembers to talk about the Y lot. The broker is likely to suggest putting as few stipulations on the property as possible, she said, because he believes that such stipulations will lower the purchase price. That’s not necessarily what all councilmembers believe, she noted, but it’s what they’re being told.

The commission’s resolution will be forwarded to the city council as an item of communication, and will possibly appear on the agenda as soon as Sept. 3.

In other action, commissioners recommended approval of a two-story addition that more than doubles the size of the Honda vehicle testing facility on Ann Arbor’s south side. The existing 19,357-square-foot building, built in 1975, is located at 3947 Research Park Drive on a 2.72-acre site. During a public hearing on the project, a representative of American Honda Motor Co. reported that the expansion will include a state-of-the-art environmental testing chamber, to help Honda develop vehicles with cleaner fuel emissions. The $4.3 million project is expected to increase the number of employees who work at the site from 6 to 10.

Commissioners also recommended approval of (1) the site plan for a proposed Belle Tire at 590 W. Ellsworth – just east of the intersection with South State Street, and (2) an annexation and zoning request for 2640 Miller Road, on the city’s northwest side. [Full Story]

Main & Liberty

“Folk Y’all” musical trio of banjo, concertina, homemade washtub bass merrily entertaining folks.

Third & William

Campaign sign in Ward 5 for Jeff Hayner, a Ward 1 independent candidate for city council. [photo]

Liberty & Ashley

Lewis the cat presides over proceedings at Bill’s Beer Garden. [photo]

WBWC Urges Work on Border-To-Border Trail

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Aug. 20, 2013): In a session that one member described as the “shortest meeting ever,” park commissioners heard presentations and updates, but had no action items on their agenda.

Larry Deck, Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, Ann Arbor park adivsory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Larry Deck of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition gave a presentation to the Ann Arbor park advisory commission about the Border-to-Border trail. (Photos by the writer.)

The main presentation focused on the Border-to-Border trail connections in Ann Arbor. The trail runs roughly along the Huron River from Livingston County in the north to Wayne County in the east, using paved shared-use paths, unpaved paths and bike lanes.

Larry Deck from the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition highlighted three areas that WBWC has identified as high priorities: (1) between Bandemer Park and Barton Park/Huron River Drive (the B2B trail ends at the north edge of Bandemer Park); (2) near the intersection of Fuller Road and Maiden Lane; and (3) near the Fuller Road bridge over the Huron River.

Another WBWC priority is to improve the bicycling connections between the University of Michigan’s central and north campuses.

Deck suggested that PAC consider a resolution recommending to city council that these projects be designed and funded, and in general renew the priority of the B2B trail along the Huron River greenway. It’s been a city priority for decades, he noted, but it’s good to have a reminder of that.

Discussion among commissioners focused on the challenges of crossing railroad tracks at various points along the B2B route, as well as interest in coordinating with other projects like the recommendations of the North Main Huron River corridor task force.

During the meeting, commissioners also got an annual update from George Taylor, president of the Cobblestone Farm Association, as well as briefings from PAC’s dog park and downtown park subcommittees. Results from surveys to solicit public input for both subcommittees are now available, and will be analyzed by commissioners and staff in preparation for upcoming public forums. [.pdf of 306-page dog park survey results] [.pdf of 110-page downtown park survey results]

Two public forums are scheduled for the downtown park project: On Monday, Sept. 9 in the basement of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., and on Wednesday, Sept. 18 at city hall’s basement conference room, 301 E. Huron, from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

The dog park subcommittee – which is looking for a possible location for a third dog park – will hold a public forum on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. at Cobblestone Farms, 2781 Packard. In noting the history of opposition to proposals for a dog park at West Park, Tim Berla wondered whether it would be possible to locate a dog park anywhere near a residential neighborhood. It’s a “classic Ann Arbor trap,” he said – everyone is in favor of it, until something specific is proposed and the neighbors say no.

In his manager’s report, Colin Smith highlighted several upcoming events. The annual season-closing “dog swim” at Buhr Park pool will be held on Sept. 4 and Sept. 5 from 3-8 p.m. On Sunday, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. in Liberty Plaza – the downtown park at Division and Liberty – a grand opening will be held for the “sensory garden” there. It’s a project of the Ann Arbor commission on disability issues, in collaboration with the city’s adopt-a-park program and the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Smith also noted that the popularity of Argo Cascades has led to a shortage of parking in that area. As a result, beginning Labor Day weekend the staff will start using a portion of Longshore Park to park cars. It’s a short-term measure while the staff seeks longer-term solutions, he said. [Full Story]