The Nov. 7, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council is the last one with the current composition of the 11-member council. The agenda is relatively heavy, featuring at least 34 voting items. This preview includes a more detailed explanation of several of those items, but first provides a thematic overview.
The city’s downtown factors prominently on the agenda in at least three ways. The city council will be asked to consider passing a resolution to direct the city administrator to negotiate a sales agreement for the city-owned property on William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues, known as the old Y lot. The council will also be considering a revision to the city ordinance regulating the tax increment finance (TIF) capture of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. That’s been under consideration by the council since February, but now a committee of councilmembers and DDA board members has put forward a competing recommendation, which will also be on the Nov. 7 agenda.
Also related to downtown, the council will be formally accepting a report completed by the city’s park advisory commission with recommendations on downtown parks.
Non-motorized issues also factor prominently as a theme of the Nov. 7 agenda. In addition to an update of the city’s non-motorized transportation plan, the council will consider establishing a pedestrian safety task force. The council’s agenda also includes the first of a series of resolutions for two separate sidewalk projects – one on Stone School Road and another on Scio Church Road. The council’s resolutions for those projects, directing the design work and detailed cost estimates, are the first actions necessary for some of the funding of the sidewalks to be special assessed to the adjacent property owners.
An additional project related to non-motorized issues, but not obviously so, is a contract with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation to resurface a portion of Huron Street from Main Street westward as Huron becomes Jackson Avenue on to I-94, as well as a section of South Maple. The intent is to re-stripe the roadway, reducing the lanes from four to three and adding bicycle lanes.
The sidewalk and street projects are among several capital improvement-related items on the agenda, including one that would help stabilize the earthen berm adjacent to Barton Dam. The council will also be considering a half dozen resolutions that will authorize applying for state grants that could fund capital asset projects for the city.
In addition to the items related to the city’s physical infrastructure, the council has several items that could be described as relating to the city’s social infrastructure. Those items relate to grants from the state and federal government to the 15th District Court for several of its specialty courts that focus on drug offenses, domestic violence, and veterans issues. The council will also be asked to approve a modified continuation of its coordinated funding approach to human services.
The agenda includes some council initiatives announced at the council’s previous meeting on Oct. 21. One of those is a resolution requesting that the University of Michigan decommission a recently constructed digital billboard near the football stadium.
Another one is a resolution directing the education of city officials on professional conduct. Related tangentially to those ethical considerations are the approvals of new bylaws for two of the city’s boards and commissions – the planning commission and the design review board.
This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other meeting agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed live Thursday evening on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network.
The agenda includes several items related to the downtown area.
Downtown: DDA Ordinance
On the Nov. 7 agenda are now two possible revisions to the city’s ordinance regarding how the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s TIF capture is regulated (Chapter 7). The first version has been under consideration by the council since Feb. 19, 2013.
The second version is the result of recommendations by a committee of DDA board members and city councilmembers that has met four times since Aug. 26, most recently on Oct. 30. That committee was established at the council’s July 1, 2013 meeting – after the first version achieved initial approval at the council’s April 1, 2013 meeting. Representing the council on the joint committee are Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2). Representing the DDA are Sandi Smith, Roger Hewitt, Bob Guenzel and Joan Lowenstein.
A range of possible parliamentary mechanisms are available to the council for handling the two competing versions of the ordinance amendment. One approach would be to put off deciding between the two versions at the Nov. 7 meeting – by postponing the first version and giving the second version an initial approval. That could move the debate to the council’s Nov. 18 meeting – after the new composition of the city council is seated.
Another parliamentary approach on Nov. 7 could be to amend the first version through substitution of the second. Or the council could vote down the first version and consider the second version. The council could also vote to give the first version final approval and not consider the second version when it’s reached on the agenda. The first version appears first on the agenda – but that order could be re-arranged at the start of the meeting.
The first version, which will be in front of the council for final approval, would clarify the existing language of the ordinance regulating the DDA’s TIF capture in a way that would disallow the DDA’s preferred interpretation of a restriction in the ordinance. The restriction on TIF revenue that’s already expressed in the ordinance is defined by reference to the amount of growth in taxable value in the DDA district that’s anticipated in the DDA’s TIF plan – a foundational document of the DDA. When those restrictions are applied to the DDA’s TIF revenue, then the amount of TIF received by the DDA would be roughly $4 million in FY 2015. By way of comparison, in the current fiscal year (FY 2014), under its preferred interpretation, the DDA looks to capture approximately $4.5 million of the taxes levied by other jurisdictions.
Under the first version revision, that roughly $0.5 million difference would be proportionally divided among the taxing jurisdictions, which together levy roughly 27.5 mills of taxes in the DDA district. Proportionally, that translates to: city of Ann Arbor (60%), Washtenaw County (21%), Washtenaw Community College (13%), and Ann Arbor District Library (6%). So out of a $500,000 return to other taxing jurisdictions, the city of Ann Arbor would receive $300,000. However, that $300,000 would be distributed proportionally to the funds generating Ann Arbor’s levy. Part of Ann Arbor’s levy is a transportation tax that is passed through to the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. So of the $300,000 that would be returned to the city, about $40,000 of it would be passed through to the AAATA.
However, the total amount that would be returned on the first version revision is projected to rise each year from that roughly $0.5 million, to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million in FY 2017 based on projects in the downtown under construction and in the approval process.
The second version, proposed by the committee, would set a cap on DDA TIF revenue that would not apply at all until FY 2017 and would result in roughly $6.1 million of TIF revenue to the DDA that year, with an estimated return of $300,000 total to the other taxing jurisdictions. The city’s portion of that would be roughly $180,000, distributed proportionally across all its funds that get income from a captured levy, including the general fund.
Another major difference between the first version and the committee-recommended version of the Chapter 7 ordinance change is that the first version includes revisions to governance of the DDA, which the committee-recommended version omits. Those governance revisions include (1) a two-term limit for service on the DDA board; (2) a prohibition against elected officials, other than the mayor, serving on the DDA board; and (3) service of the mayor on the board (a possibility explicitly provided in the DDA state enabling legislation) subject to annual approval by the city council. If the council did not approve the mayor’s service on the DDA board in a given year, then that spot would go to the city administrator.
Downtown: Y Lot Sale
A resolution added to the agenda on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 would direct city administrator Steve Powers to negotiate a sales agreement with Dennis Dahlmann for the purchase of the city-owned property north of William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues in downtown Ann Arbor. Dahlmann has offered $5.25 million for the property, known as the Y lot. It had been listed at $4.2 million. [.pdf of Dahlmann offer 10.17.13]
If those negotiations are not successful, then the resolution directs the city administrator to negotiate with CA Ventures (Clark Street Holdings).
The memo accompanying the Nov. 7 resolution states:
The offers from Dennis Dahlmann and CA Ventures are the strongest (cash, no contingencies, sales agreement, close in 2013) of the five proposals. Differences between the two offers are slight, but may be significant to city council. Dahlmann is proposing a purchase price of $5,250,000. CA Ventures is proposing $5,150,000. Dahlmann is proposing to build to less than the maximum density allowed by D1 zoning. CA Ventures’ offer assumes the ability to build to the maximum density allowed by D1 zoning.
The Nov. 7 resolution directs the city administrator to provide a purchase agreement for the property for the council’s consideration at its Nov. 18 meeting. That purchase agreement is supposed to include protections against the property not being developed.
While the council’s Nov. 7 meeting follows the Nov. 5 city council elections, the Nov. 18 meeting is the first meeting of the newly constituted council. The Nov. 7 resolution is sponsored by mayor John Hieftje and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).
The city had hired Colliers International and local broker Jim Chaconas to handle the possible sale, as the city faces a $3.5 million balloon payment this year from the purchase loan it holds on that property. The city has owned the land for a decade.
A subcommittee of the park advisory commission (PAC) has been meeting since early 2013 to explore the possibilities for a new downtown park. The subcommittee delivered its recommendations at the Oct. 15, 2013 meeting of PAC. [.pdf of 21-page full subcommittee report]
Ingrid Ault chaired the committee, which also included Julie Grand, Alan Jackson and Karen Levin. The committee’s work is also meant to supplement the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project.
The subcommittee’s work was guided by this mission statement:
To determine whether and what additional parks are wanted and/or needed in downtown Ann Arbor, focusing on city-owned parcels in the DDA district while maintaining awareness of additional nearby properties, for example: Liberty Plaza, 721 N. Main and 415 W. Washington. The “deliverable” will be a set of recommendations for the City Council.
The eight recommendations are wide-ranging, but include a site-specific recommendation to develop a new park/open space area on the top of the Library Lot underground parking structure. Now a surface parking lot, the site is owned by the city and is situated just north of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building. The recommendation calls for only a portion of the site to be used for a new park/open space, and stresses that AADL should be involved in the planning process. The AADL board and staff discussed this recommendation at their Oct. 21, 2013 meeting.
Downtown – and Citywide: Park Fee Waiver
The council will be giving initial consideration to a change to the city’s ordinances so that charitable distribution of goods for basic human needs could be conducted in city parks without incurring a fee for park use. The proposal is not restricted to downtown parks, but the idea originated from an issue that emerged in connection with Liberty Plaza, which is a downtown park.
The recommendation for the ordinance change came from the city’s park advisory commission at its Sept. 17, 2013 meeting. This broader policy change comes three months after the Ann Arbor city council waived all rental fees for the use of Liberty Plaza during a one-year trial period, based on a PAC recommendation. That city council action came at its July 15, 2013 meeting.
The Liberty Plaza fee waiver was approved in response to a situation that arose earlier in the spring, when the city staff considered applying fees to the hosting of Pizza in the Park at Liberty Plaza – a homelessness outreach ministry of a local church. The proposal recommended by PAC on Sept. 17, and on the council’s Nov. 7 agenda, would amend Chapter 39, Section 3:6 of the city code. [.pdf of revised ordinance language]
It would be a permanent fee waiver for this specific purpose – the charitable distribution of goods for basic human needs – but it would still require that organizations get a permit to use the park, and follow permitting procedures, including clean up obligations.
Several items on the council’s Nov. 7 agenda relate to non-motorized issues.
Non-Motorized Issues: Non-Motorized Transportation Plan Update
The council is being asked to adopt an update to the city’s non-motorized transportation plan, which is part of the city’s master plan. The planning commission adopted the plan at its Sept. 10, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of draft 2013 non-motorized transportation plan update]
The update will be an amendment to the main non-motorized transportation plan, which was adopted in 2007. The new document is organized into three sections: (1) planning and policy updates; (2) updates to near-term recommendations; and (3) long-term recommendations.
Examples of planning and policy issues include design guidelines, recommendations for approaches like bike boulevards and bike share programs, and planning practices that cover education campaigns, maintenance, crosswalks and other non-motorized elements for pedestrians and bicyclists.
For example, the update recommends that the city begin developing a planning process for bike boulevards, which are described as “a low-traffic, low-speed road where bicycle interests are prioritized.” Sections of West Washington (from Revena to First), Elmwood (from Platt to Canterbury) and Broadway (from its southern intersection with Plymouth to where it rejoins Plymouth about a mile to the northeast) are suggested for potential bike boulevards.
Near-term recommendations include lower-cost efforts like re-striping roads to install bike lanes and adding crossing islands. Longer-term projects that were included in the 2007 plan are re-emphasized: the Allen Creek Greenway, Border-to-Border Trail, Gallup Park & Fuller Road paths, and a Briarwood-Pittsfield pedestrian bridge.
Non-Motorized Issues: Pedestrian Safety
Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) announced at the council’s Oct. 21 meeting that they’d be bringing forward a proposal to establish a pedestrian safety task force. At the Oct. 21 meeting, Warpehoski stated that the effort was not meant as an alternative to the efforts that other councilmembers are making to bring forward a repeal of the city’s pedestrian crosswalk ordinance.
The city’s ordinance differs from the Uniform Traffic Code (UTC) in two respects: (1) requiring motorists to stop for pedestrians, not just to slow as to yield; and (2) requiring motorists to take action to accommodate pedestrians standing at the curb at a crosswalk, not just those pedestrians who have already entered the crosswalk. The resolution establishing the task force acknowledges that many residents are concerned that current city policies create an unsafe environment for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.
The pedestrian safety and access task force would consist of nine residents, including “representatives from organizations that address the needs of school-aged youth, senior citizens, pedestrian safety, and people with mobility impairments.” Applications from interested citizens should be turned in to the mayor’s office by Nov. 22, 2013. [.pdf of standard city board and commission task force application] The intent is to appoint the task force at the Dec. 2, 2013 city council meeting.
The task force would deliver a report by early September 2014. That report would include recommendations for “improvements in the development and application of the Complete Streets model, using best practices, sound data and objective analysis.”
Some of the recent community conversation has included the fact that traffic crashes involving a pedestrian have shown an increase in the last two years, the period during which Ann Arbor adopted its local ordinance that requires more of motorists than the UTC. The charts below are by The Chronicle using data from Michigan Traffic Crash Facts.
The Nov. 7 city council agenda includes a number of resolutions involving capital projects and expenses, some of which relate to non-motorized issues.
Capital Projects: I-94 Business Loop ($301,600)
This project would resurface the section of Huron Street from Main Street westward as Huron becomes Jackson Avenue on to I-94. The project will include a re-striping to reduce the number of lanes from four to three and add bicycle lanes. An agreement with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation is required because the city must contribute 12.5% of the funding for the resurfacing. That accounts for $198,700. Additional funding is needed to pay for the resurfacing of the portion of South Maple Road, as part of the project. South Maple is a city-owned street. MDOT has agreed to include the South Maple resurfacing as part of the project, but it will be funded by the city of Ann Arbor for $102,900.
Capital Projects: Stone School Road Sidewalk
On the council’s agenda is the first of a series of resolutions that could lead to special assessment of property owners on Stone School Road for constructing sidewalks, curbs and gutters as part of a road reconstruction project. The resolution simply directs the city administrator to prepare plans and specifications for the sidewalk improvement project, determine an estimate of the cost, and make a recommendation on what portion of the cost should be special assessed.
Capital Projects: Scio Church Sidewalk
Also on the council’s agenda is the first in a series of resolutions that could lead to special assessment of property owners on Scio Church, west of Seventh Street, for constructing a sidewalk there to eliminate a gap. The resolution directs the city administrator to prepare plans and specifications for the sidewalk improvement project, determine an estimate of the cost, and make a recommendation on what portion of the cost should be special assessed. The Scio Church resolution appropriates $35,000 for the design work. [For Chronicle coverage of a neighborhood meeting on the Scio Church sidewalk, see "Sidewalks: Build, Repair, Shovel"]
Capital Projects: Barton Dam Repair
The council will be asked to approve a contract with Catskill Remedial Contracting Services Inc. to install a “drainage blanket” for the earthen berm adjoining Barton Dam ($123,685). A drainage blanket is a pervious but stable layer of material installed directly at the base of a structure to facilitate drainage. The installation is meant to repair a “boil” that has surfaced in the drainage ditch at the base of the right embankment at the dam. The boil has been identified as a potential cause of failure for the embankment by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – which is responsible for regulating the dam, because the dam generates electric power.
The contract is recommended to be awarded to Catskill, even though Pranam GlobalTech provided the lowest bid. The staff memo cites “substandard performance” by Pranam GlobalTech on two other city projects, which led to the disqualification of their bid. The cost of the project will be split between the water fund (as the dam creates a pond from which the city draws the majority of its drinking water) and the general fund (for the hydroelectric operations).
The council had been alerted to the need for this project earlier this year, at a Feb. 11, 2013 work session on the FY 2014 budget. From The Chronicle’s report of that session:
In addition to the concrete and steel part of the dam, a roughly 3/8-mile long earthen embankment is part of the structure that forms Barton Pond, [public services area administrator Craig] Hupy explained. FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has required the city to do some investigative work, and the city thinks there’ll be some follow-up work required when that investigative work is completed. [FERC is involved as a regulator because the Barton Dam generates electricity.]
Responding to a question from [Ward 3 councilmember Christopher] Taylor about the anticipated cost of the additional work, Hupy indicated that it would be “six figures.” The city is putting about $400,000 total in various parts of the budget for it. But until the study work is completed later this spring, the amount can’t be more precise, Hupy indicated. Because Barton is a federally controlled dam, whatever the work the city does will be what the regulator demands that the city does or doesn’t do. “Stay tuned,” Hupy told Taylor.
Capital Projects: Technical Engineering Services
The council will be asked to approve two different contracts that resulted from a bid it put out in June 2013 – for technical engineering services to support the water treatment services unit with capital, operation, and maintenance project support for the water system, dams, and hydroelectric generating stations. One of the contracts is with Stantec Consulting Michigan Inc. ($250,000). The other contract is with Tetra Tech of Michigan ($250,000).
Capital Projects: Ozone
The council will be asked to approve a purchase order with Ozonia for ozone generator dielectrics ($68,209). The city uses ozone in the disinfection process for its drinking water. The city is currently out of spare dielectric units, which are the components that convert oxygen gas to ozone gas. So this resolution would allow the city to have replacement parts on hand if the units fail.
Capital Projects: State Funding of Water Asset Projects
Six resolutions appear on the council’s agenda related to state legislation passed in 2012 that forms the statutory framework of the Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater (SAW) program – a grant program. The legislation funds grants and loans for what the staff memo accompanying the resolutions describes as “funding for grants and loans for asset management plan development, stormwater management plan development, sewage collection and treatment design plan development, and state-funded loans to construct projects identified in the asset management plans.” [.pdf of FAQ by the State of Michigan on the SAW program] [PA 511 of 2012] [PA 560 of 2012] [PA 561 of 2012] [PA 562 of 2012]
Although communities that are awarded grants can receive a maximum of $2 million in total grant funds through the SAW program, the city of Ann Arbor is applying for the following six grants, on the idea that it will maximize its chances if the state uses a lottery type system. The first $1 million has a 10% local match requirement, and the second $1 million of grant money has a 25% local match requirement.
The city is applying for funding for some projects that have already been started, because money awarded through the SAW program can be spent retroactively as early as Jan. 2, 2013. The council will be considering six resolutions corresponding to grant requests from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the following projects.
- Asset Management Plan for the Sanitary System ($1.1 million): Local match requirement is 10% of first million ($100,000) plus 25% of second million ($25,000) for a total of $125,000.
- Asset Management Plan for the Stormwater System ($1.1 million): Local match requirement is 10% of first million ($100,000) plus 25% of second million ($25,000) for a total of $125,000.
- Sanitary Sewer Wet Weather Evaluation Project (retroactive) ($1.2 million): Local match requirement is 10% of first million ($100,000) plus 25% of second million ($50,000) for a total of $150,000.
- Stormwater Model Calibration Project (retroactive) ($750,000): Local match requirement is 10% of first million ($75,000) or 25% of second million ($187,500) for a maximum of $187,500.
- Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) Asset Management Program ($350,00): Local match requirement is 10% of first million ($35,000) or 25% of second million ($87,500) for a maximum of $87,500.
- Asset Management Plan for the Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Sanitary Sewer System ($1.5 million): Local match requirement is 10% of first million ($100,000) plus 25% of second million ($125,000) for a total of $225,000.
In addition to physical infrastructure items, the council’s Nov. 7 agenda also includes several pieces of business that could be described as related to social infrastructure.
Social Infrastructure: 15th District Court
The council will be asked to consider authorizing five grant-related items involving the specialty court functions of the 15th District Court. [For background on the 15th District Court and some of its functions, see Chronicle coverage: "Round 1 FY 2014: 15th District Court"]
- Accept three-year $300,000 supplemental grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to enhance countywide efforts to prevent domestic violence, effective Sept. 12, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2016. Of the grant total, $181,000 will reimburse the city for the salaries for a full-time domestic violence probation officer, a half-time system coordinator, and a part-time data entry clerk. Another $5,000 will reimburse the city for training expenses required by the U.S. Dept. of Justice. The remaining $114,000 will reimburse the city for a contract with SafeHouse Center to provide domestic violence prevention services.
- Authorize contract with SafeHouse to provide domestic violence prevention services ($114,000). Under terms of the contract, SafeHouse Center will provide confidential support, information and referrals for victims of domestic violence cases in the 15th District Court, 14A District Court and 14B District Court; monitor court and probation activity as it relates to victim safety; work collaboratively to enhance victim safety; and offer advice and training to judges, magistrates, probation and compliance officers and community partners.
- Accept Michigan Supreme Court drug court grant ($144,000). The 15th District Court’s sobriety court is “hyper-intensive probation,” which follows sentencing. The court assigns a full-time probation officer to the sobriety court for a program that lasts 18-24 months and includes monitoring of participants’ attendance at treatment programs, their progress in treatment, how they’re spending their time at work and doing community service. Reporting requirements are extensive. Participants must take frequent portable breath tests (PBTs) and urine tests. The majority of sobriety court participants are second-offender DWI cases, but offenses need not be driving-related. Also eligible to participate in sobriety court are, for example, retail fraud (shoplifting) offenders and misdemeanor drug possession offenders. Some of that grant money will fund a contract with Dawn Farm.
- Authorize contract with Dawn Farm ($88,000). The contract is for out-patient drug abuse counseling as part of the 15th District Court’s sobriety court.
- Accept Michigan Supreme Court veterans treatment court program grant ($92,279).
Social Infrastructure: Coordinated Funding
The council will be asked to authorize the basic approach that it has taken to human services funding in the past, but with some modifications. The funds would continue to be managed through Washtenaw County’s office of community & economic development, using the coordinated funding approach.
The county is one of five partners in the coordinated funding approach. Other partners are city of Ann Arbor, United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. It began as a pilot program in 2010; this is the second time that the program has been extended.
The coordinated funding process has three parts: planning/coordination, program operations, and capacity-building. The approach targets six priority areas, and identifies lead agencies for each area: (1) housing and homelessness – Washtenaw Housing Alliance; (2) aging – Blueprint for Aging; (3) school-aged youth – Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth; (4) children birth to six – Success by Six; (5) health – Washtenaw Health Plan; and (6) hunger relief – Food Gatherers.
Last year, TCC Group – a consulting firm based in Philadelphia – was hired to evaluate the process. As a result of that review, several changes were recommended. One of those changes is that funding would not necessarily be allocated to the six priority areas based on the proportion of funding allocated in the past. Instead, allocations among the six priority areas would be based on identified community-level outcomes, the strategies that align with them, and how each are prioritized. An additional change would broaden the pre-screening process so that smaller nonprofits could be accommodated.
Recommendations for specific funding allocations will be made in spring 2014. In addition, the RNR Foundation – a family foundation that funded TCC Group’s evaluation of the coordinated funding approach – will now be an additional funder in this process. One of the goals of coordinated funding is to attract more partners, such as private foundations.
The Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave initial approval to the continued use of the coordinated funding approach at its Oct. 16, 2013 meeting.
The council’s agenda includes a couple of items that relate to ethics.
Ethics: Professional Standards of Conduct
Sally Petersen (Ward 2) is bringing forward a resolution that does not include “ethics” in the title, but addresses the kind of issues that could be described under the general rubric of “ethics.” The resolution directs an educational effort on Public Act 317 of 1968, which is the state’s conflict-of-interest statute.
A final “resolved” clauses direct the council’s rules committee to draft standards of conduct for local officials based on Public Act 196 of 1973, which applies to state employees of the executive branch and appointees of the governor. The final resolved clause – if it’s approved, and if the council adopts a standard that’s recommended by the council rules committee and it’s strictly followed – would end any unauthorized leaks of information from the city government.
Ethics: Consent Agenda – Planning Commission Bylaws
The Nov. 7 consent agenda includes approval of new bylaws for two entities – the city’s design review board and the city planning commission.
Not the subject of a revision, but still the source of some recent community interest, is the following clause from the planning commission bylaws, which imposes a limitation on the ability of a councilmember to address the city planning commission:
Section 9. A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission as a petitioner, representative of a petitioner or as a party interested in a petition during the Council member’s term of office.
That part of the bylaws surfaced recently, when councilmembers Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and Sumi Kailasapathy on separate occasions sought to address the planning commission – Warpehoski on July 16, 2013 and Kailasapathy on Aug. 13, 2013.
Based on an analysis in the Michigan Municipal League’s “Handbook for Municipal Officials,” it may be problematic for a city councilmember to address a body like the planning commission. That’s not based on having a property interest in a matter, but rather because the council is the appointing body for the commission. The handbook presents the following scenario as an ethical exercise – using the zoning board of appeals (ZBA). From the MML Handbook:
Situation #2 Before you were elected to the city council you served on your city’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA), so you know the ZBA procedures very well. A few months after your election to council, your neighbor and campaign manager files a petition with the ZBA seeking a variance. Since you know how the ZBA works, he asks you to accompany him to the ZBA and to speak on his behalf. Should you do it?
The analysis offered by the handbook is the following:
No. The Michigan Court of Appeals has labeled this situation as “patently improper” and an abuse of public trust for the reason that the person making the argument to the ZBA is also one of the people charged with appointing the ZBA. This creates duress on the ZBA, raising doubt about the impartiality of the ZBA’s decision. Any decision made by the ZBA under these circumstances is void. See Barkey v. Nick, 11 Mich App 361 (1968).
The implication of the Ann Arbor city planning commission bylaw is that it’s permissible for a city councilmember to address the commission exactly when the councilmember is not the petitioner or does not have an interest in the matter. That situation appears to be explicitly deemed unethical by the MML Handbook, if the handbook’s analysis is extended from the ZBA to the planning commission.
Ethics: Consent Agenda – Rental Housing Inspection
A consent agenda item increases the amount of a contract the city has with the accounting firm Plante Moran for a thorough review of the city’s permitting processes. That review comes in the context of the discovery that some rental housing permits had not been properly verified, according to city sources. Steps taken by the city staff to correct the problems included a review of all questionable permits. That included site visits to eight residential properties, six of them occupied, to ensure no one was living in unsafe conditions.
Re-inspection continues of residential and business properties to verify issued permits, to ensure the accuracy of the city’s records. Property owners are not being charged additional costs for re-inspection. The city anticipated that over 80 properties would be re-inspected as of Oct. 30. The permits for those 80 properties compare to a total number of 10,000 building and rental permits issued annually.
A number of other items appear on the agenda. Here are a few highlights.
Misc: Consent Agenda
Three other consent agenda items include a $60,000 contract with Utilities Instrumentation Service for electrical and instrumentation support services. According to a staff memo, the scope of UIS work will include “transformer testing, infrared testing of switchgear, testing of medium voltage breakers at City substations and generators, programming and calibration of instrumentation, Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) support and troubleshooting, Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) programming, and tuning and testing of dam and hydroelectric generator controls.”
A fourth item on the consent agenda sets a public hearing for establishing an industrial development district (for potential tax abatements) at 1901 E. Ellsworth. That hearing will be held on Dec. 2, 2013.
Misc: Church Site Plan
The council will be asked to approve a site plan for the expansion of the Ann Arbor Christian Reformed Church at 1717 Broadway St. The city planning commission recommended approval of the project at its Oct. 1, 2013 meeting.
The site plan proposal calls for tearing down five existing buildings and constructing a 12,850-square-foot, two-story addition to the rear of the church. The addition would be used for educational activities at the church, which is located on a 4.3-acre site in Ward 1, southwest of Broadway’s intersection with Plymouth Road.
According to a staff memo, only minor changes are proposed for the existing 142-space parking lot. Additional sidewalks will be added, including a roughly 20-foot extension of the public sidewalk along Broadway Street, which currently stops short of the south property line.
Because the church is located in an area zoned for single-family residential use (R1C zoning), a special exception use approval was needed from the planning commission. The city’s planning staff noted that the church has been located there for about 50 years. The church has a capacity of 126 seats, which will remain unchanged. At their Oct. 1 meeting, planning commissioners unanimously voted to grant approval for a special exception use.
The project is estimated to cost about $3 million. No approval is required from the city council for the special exception use, but the council must consider the site plan for approval.
The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor city council. We sit on the hard bench so that you don’t have to. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!