DDA OKs Streetscape Contract, Parking Permits

Also: Board discusses possible downtown Ann Arbor ambassador program, plans for Jan. 1 NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Nov. 6, 2013): Two voting items were considered by the board: (1) an award of a consulting contract to SmithGroupJJR and Nelson\Nygaard to develop a streetscape framework plan; and (2) approval of monthly permits in the public parking system for the 624 Church St. project.

From left: Peter Allen, Dennis Tice, Brad Moore, Sabra Briere

From left: Local developer Peter Allen, 624 Church St. project owner Dennis Tice, that project’s architect Brad Moore, and Ward 1 city councilmember Sabra Briere. Briere accepted congratulations on her council re-election win the previous day. (Photos by the writer.)

Both items were approved on unanimous votes at the meeting, which featured perfect attendance by the 11 current members of the board. The following evening, on Nov. 7, the Ann Arbor city council confirmed the appointment of Cyndi Clark, owner of Lily Grace Cosmetics, to fill a vacancy on the 12-member DDA body. At its Nov. 6 meeting, the board did not discuss either Clark’s appointment or the other council agenda item affecting the DDA – a revision to the city ordinance that regulates the DDA TIF (tax increment financing) capture.

The sale of monthly parking permits for the 624 Church St. development was an issue that the DDA board had previously considered – for an earlier version of the project, which had actually completed the city approval process. It had gone through planning commission review and recommendation, with a site plan approved by the city council on March 4, 2013. For that earlier version, the project was required to provide 42 parking spaces for the additional residential square footage it contained beyond the by-right density under the city’s zoning code. Instead of providing the parking spaces on-site, the owner of the project sought to satisfy the requirement through the contribution in lieu (CIL) program – a request that was granted by the DDA.

For this revised and expanded version of the project – made possible through additional land acquisition – a greater number of parking spaces is required. And the project owner again sought to meet that requirement through the CIL program. So at its Nov. 6 meeting, the DDA board granted the project owner the ability to purchase 48 monthly parking permits in the Forest Avenue parking structure.

The DDA board also acted on its streetscape framework project. The contract awarded to SmithGroupJJR and Nelson\Nygaard is meant to provide guidance for developing future streetscape projects, not to design any specific streetscape project. The most recent streetscape improvement undertaken by the DDA was the Fifth and Division project, which included lane reconfigurations and bump-outs.

In addition to its voting items, the board received a raft of updates, which included reports on the first quarter financials. The DDA is essentially on course to realize $4.5 million in TIF capture revenue and about $19 million in parking revenue. Other updates included reports on preparations for the NHL Winter Classic hockey game, debriefing on the International Downtown Association conference attended by some board members and staff, Freedom of Information Act issues, and public commentary.

The board heard from Ray Detter, speaking on behalf of the downtown area citizens advisory council, about the ongoing downtown zoning review. Detter’s remarks were countered by DDA board members. Detter reprised his comments at the city planning commission meeting later that evening. So that back-and-forth will be reported out in more detail as a part of The Chronicle’s Nov. 6, 2013 city planning commission report.

624 Church Street Parking Permits

The board considered a request by the owner of the 624 Church St. project to purchase additional monthly parking permits as a part of the contribution in lieu (CIL) program – up to 48 such permits. The spaces were requested for the Forest Avenue parking structure.

The original proposal for 624 Church St., which received site plan approval from the city council at its March 4, 2013 meeting, was for a 13-story, 83-unit apartment building with approximately 181 beds. And for that version, the Ann Arbor DDA had authorized the project to purchase up to 42 monthly permits through the city’s contribution-in-lieu (CIL) program. The CIL program allows a developer the option of purchasing permits to satisfy a parking requirement that would otherwise be satisfied by providing parking spaces on site as part of the project.

The newly revised 624 Church St. project, which still needs planning commission and city council review, is larger than the original project, with roughly 122 units and 232 beds. [The architect for the project, Brad Moore, attended the Nov. 6 DDA board meeting, as did the owner, Dennis Tice. Neither of them formally addressed the board nor were they asked to respond to any questions. The new version of the project could be coming before the planning commission in later in November or December.]

The parking requirement is a function of the by-right premiums for additional square footage beyond the basic by-right 400% floor area ratio (FAR). So the parking requirement for the revised project is greater than for the original version of the project. That’s why the DDA was asked to increase the number of permits from 42 to 48. The number of required parking spaces for the revised version of the project is actually 53, but five of them will be provided on site.

The DDA makes the decision about whether there’s adequate capacity in the parking system to allow the sale of additional monthly permits – because the DDA that manages the city’s public parking system under a contract with the city.

Ann Arbor’s “contribution in lieu of parking” program was authorized by the city council on April 2, 2012. That program allows essentially two options: (1) purchase monthly parking permits in the public parking system for an extra 20% of the current rate for such permits, with a commitment of 15 years; or (2) make a lump sum payment of $55,000 per space. It’s option (1) that the 624 Church St. project was pursuing.

624 Church Street Parking Permits: Board Deliberations

Roger Hewitt reviewed how the board had previously approved 42 parking spaces. The project had increased in size as a result of the acquisition of a house to the south of the original project site, Hewitt explained. The total amount of required parking is 53 spaces, five of which will be provided on-site, he noted. That would increase the number of spaces needed in the parking system from 42 to 48. Hewitt pointed out that the number still falls within the framework of a pilot project the DDA was working on, based on assigning the ability to purchase monthly parking permits to owners of property, on a square-footage basis. At the July 3, 2013 DDA board meeting, Hewitt had described the pilot allocation as 1 monthly permit per 2,500 square feet.

[The DDA manages the system in a manner that sells monthly parking permits on a first-come-first-serve basis. Subsequently, DDA staff has reported little interest in the pilot program among property owners in the South University area. Executive director Susan Pollay said at the Sept. 4, 2013 board meeting that letters had been sent to property owners, but almost none of the property owners were interested in managing the parking permits on behalf of their tenants.]

Mayor John Hieftje said it’s important to note that the monthly parking permits purchased under the CIL program are 20% more expensive, so the parking system would receive more revenue than for a regular-priced permit. Hieftje also recalled a discussion at a downtown marketing task force meeting – which he invited DDA board members to attend – when a representative of the South University Area Association reported the impact of having more residents in the area had been positive. The Church Street development would increase activity and vibrancy in that area, he said.

Hewitt added that as a business owner in the area [of revive + replenish], that part of town has definitely become more vibrant and more active.

Keith Orr said that the allocation still falls within the pilot project square footage guidelines, so he’d be supporting the proposal, saying it made sense.

Outcome: The DDA board voted unanimously to approve the allocation, under the CIL program, of 48 parking permits in the Forest Avenue structure to the 624 Church St. project.

Award of Streetscape Plan Contract

The board considered awarding a contract to SmithGroupJJR and Nelson\Nygaard to develop a streetscape framework plan for the city’s downtown.

A budget for the project had been authorized by the board at its July 3, 2013 meeting – $200,000 over the next two years. The Nov. 6 resolution set a not-to-exceed amount of $150,000 and indicated that the project scope still requires refinement. The resolution establishing the budget referred in general terms to the DDA’s development plan, which the resolution characterized as including “identity, infrastructure, and transportation as key strategies, and also recognized that an enjoyable pedestrian experience is one of downtown’s principal attractions.”

The downtown streetscape framework plan, according to the July 3 resolution, would “align with these strategies, as it would address quality of place in streetscape design, on-going maintenance, and private development projects.” The July 3 resolution indicated there would be considerable collaboration with other entities like the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, and the University of Michigan. The benefit of having a streetscape framework plan, according to the July 3 resolution, would be “shortened planning phases, and thus cost, for future streetscape projects due to the overarching plan guidance.”

The most recent streetscape project undertaken by the DDA related to improvements on Fifth and Division, which included a lane reduction and bump-outs.

SmithGroupJJR provided consulting support for the DDA’s Connecting William Street project. Nelson\Nygaard is the consulting firm the DDA hired to study the parking system, resulting in a 2007 report.

Award of Streetscape Plan Contract: Board Deliberations

John Mouat led off by saying the streetscape framework plan would be a wonderful tool for the city and DDA as well as private developers.

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority: Nov. 6, 2013

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board: Nov. 6, 2013

It’s a good step, he said. There’d been good cooperation between the DDA and city staff on the project. DDA planner Amber Miller had put in a lot of work, he said. A consultant selection committee consisting of DDA staff, city staff and a DDA board member had put together a request for qualifications sent out in mid-October, Mouat said. Four teams responded. Two of the qualified submissions were selected and then invited for an interview in October.

The selection committee recommended hiring SmithGroupJJR and Nelson\Nygaard, Mouat said. Noting that two firms are being recommended, Mouat said that while SmithGroupJJR will be the lead firm, Nelson\Nygaard will do a bit more of the work. Mouat noted that Nelson\Nygaard had completed similar plans for other cities across the country. SmithGroupJJR brings facilitation skills, engineering and more technical and “nitty gritty” skills, he said.

Mouat noted that the resolution in front of the board is for work not to exceed $150,000. The budget has been approved for up to $200,000 – to add additional services. Two things that might be added, Mouat said, were enhanced civil engineering services that the city staff is interested in. The other thing that might be desirable is to bring in an economist who can analyze the benefits of streetscape projects. Potentially, that work could be extended to gathering base data on what exists now in the downtown.

Roger Hewitt mentioned that the board has worked with Nelson\Nygaard in the past on the parking demand study. The experience with that firm had been very satisfactory, Hewitt said.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the resolution on the streetscape plan.

Quarterly Financial Statements

Roger Hewitt gave the board an overview of the financial statements for first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year. [.pdf of July-Sept 2013 financial statements] That’s the three months of July through September for a fiscal year that starts on July 1. [The DDA's fiscal year aligns with the city of Ann Arbor's fiscal year.]

TIF (tax increment financing) income is slightly below budget, he reported. There’s still some TIF revenue that’s expected to come in later in the year. That amount is anticipated to be about $4.5 million by the end of the year. Operating expenses are also lower than budgeted, he said, but it’s anticipated that they’ll ultimately be within 3% of what was budgeted. Not a lot of capital expenditures have been incurred so far. Most of construction work occurs during the summer and for much of the construction in the latter part of summer, the DDA hasn’t been billed yet. Overall that number is expected to be close to what was budgeted, Hewitt reported.

Parking revenues for the quarter exceeded budget slightly, and it’s anticipated that the DDA will be close to budgeted gross revenue of a bit over $19 million, Hewitt said. Parking operating expenses are “a little off,” he reported. The costs for the First and Washington structure were budgeted in the previous fiscal year, but the work did not take place in that year. That’s because the private contractor doing the project did not finish the work, and did not have a certificate of occupancy for the parking deck portion of that apartment project [City Apartments] during FY 2013. The certificate of occupancy was the trigger, Hewitt said, for releasing the money. A budget revision would be necessary later in the year, he said.

Direct parking expenses were slightly under budget thanks to Republic Parking manager Art Low, Hewitt said. Overall, the numbers are anticipated to being close to budget by the end of the fiscal year.

A lot of maintenance on the parking structures had been done this summer, Hewitt said, but not many bills have shown up yet. He did anticipate spending the budgeted amount of $2.2 or $2.3 million. The housing fund, Hewitt said, is about where he thought it would be. He offered to answer any questions.

Hewitt then reviewed the unaudited income and balance sheet statements for each of the funds. There’s a bit over $1 million in the housing fund, but Hewitt noted that most of that is committed to projects the board has already authorized. The TIF fund balance is $5.3 million, Hewitt said, and the parking fund balance is $3.3 million. The TIF fund is high because the DDA has received almost all the income for the whole year, but not yet incurred the expenses.

Parking Numbers

Roger Hewitt delivered the parking report. For the first quarter of the fiscal year, revenue is up about 8% and hourly patrons are up about 4% compared to the same quarter in the previous year, Hewitt said. In dollar terms, revenue for the first quarter was about $5 million.

Hewitt noted information about weather and the number of University of Michigan football games that might affect the parking activity. He also said there were fewer spaces in the system than a year ago. [7,804 in 2012 compared to 7,727 in 2013. The difference is primarily in the number of on-street spaces and the number of spaces available in the Fifth and William lot due to construction of the Blake Transit Center.]

Keith Orr got clarification that some of the reduction in on-street spaces is due to the use of meter bags.

Revenue per Space: Structures

Revenue per Space: Structures (Chart by The Chronicle with data from the DDA.)

Ann Arbor Public Parking: Patrons

Ann Arbor Public Parking: Patrons (Chart by The Chronicle with data from the DDA)

Ann Arbor Public Parking Revenue

Ann Arbor Public Parking: Revenue (Chart by The Chronicle with data from the DDA)

Hewitt reviewed a rough draft of a profit and loss statement on each parking structure for the past year. [.pdf of parking structure profit and loss statement FY 2013] He stressed that the information had not been audited. It illustrates that it is solid when considered as an entire system, he said. Newer structures don’t make money until the bonds that funded those structures are paid off, but they’re supported by revenues from other structures and on-street parking spaces, he explained.

As examples, Hewitt gave the Fourth and Washington and the Forest Avenue structures – both of them have lost money even though they have a high rate of occupancy. That’s because the bond payments on them are not yet paid off. Once the bonds are paid off, those structures are expected to become very profitable, he said. That compares to Liberty Square and Ann Ashley – with their bonds paid off, both are very profitable, Hewitt said. Liberty Square, Hewitt said, makes almost $1 million a year.

Russ Collins ventured that there would always be bond payments because there will always be capital maintenance. The expenses are consistent over time if the parking system is properly maintained, Collins said. Hewitt allowed that bond payments would be required if the system expands or needs major capital work.

Collins allowed that there’s a certain value in tracking the bond payments associated with a particular structure. But Collins didn’t want the public to think that at one point all the bonds would be paid off. It’s the DDA’s job to make sure there’s ongoing capital maintenance and investment, Collins said, to look after this capital asset.

Hewitt said that the structures at Maynard Street and Fourth and William aren’t profitable because both have a huge amount of money that has been spent over the years in major reconstruction and expansion. On Maynard, about 10 years ago roughly $11 million had been spent on major reconstruction. Older structures, even with enhanced maintenance, will need major structural improvements. So Hewitt concluded that Collins was right – that a point will not be reached where everything is paid off. It’s a system that needs both routine and major maintenance. He ventured that some of the DDA board members had been around long enough to know what happens when the parking structures are not properly maintained.

Communications, Committee Reports

The board’s meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council.

Comm/Comm: Bike Share

Keith Orr gave an update on the Clean Energy Coalition (CEC) bike share program. CEC will need to request the use of some on-street parking spaces for the bike share stations, Orr reported. A report had been received from B-cycle, the vendor selected for the program, and details are still being worked out. The request will come at the November partnerships committee meeting, with board approval requested in December. He allowed the timeline had slipped a bit. The CEC is still on course for targeting Earth Day in 2014 (April 22) for launch. A name for the bike share program has not yet been decided, Orr said, but a contest to name the program is going on. [The deadline to submit a name is Nov. 15.]

Comm/Comm: Abandoned Bikes

Keith Orr noted that many complaints had been received over the years about abandoned bikes. The DDA has always tried to work with the city on the problem, and now a system has been worked out. A process had been created to identify and remove bikes. Orr described how about 50 junk bikes were removed in October with the help of Republic Parking. There’s now storage for “bikes with value” – so a recovery system is now in place. A “sweep” will likely be conducted on a quarterly basis, Orr said.

Comm/Comm: Connector Study

Roger Hewitt announced the connector study getting closer to the end. [By way of background, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is currently conducting an alternatives analysis study for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of locations for stations and stops. A previous study established the feasibility of operating some kind of high-capacity transit in that corridor.]

The following week a series of public meetings would be held, Hewitt reported. The possibilities had been narrowed down to six different alignments, he said, but they can be mixed and matched. Meetings on Nov. 14 are scheduled at 9:30 a.m. at the Malletts Creek branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, at 1 p.m. at the downtown AADL and at 6 p.m. at the library’s Traverwood branch.

Mayor John Hieftje inquired if there had been any discussion of gondolas as a possible mode. Hewitt explained to Hieftje that the consultants were not enthusiastic about that option because of limited capacity. The needed capacity equated to that of a light-rail system, Hewitt said, and a system with gondolas wouldn’t have the needed capacity.

Comm/Comm: NHL Winter Classic

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, reminded the board that she’d mentioned the logistical planning that was going in to preparations for the Winter Classic – an NHL hockey game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. The game will be played outdoors at the University of Michigan football stadium.

Pollay said she’d been working with city staff and University of Michigan staff on the preparations. She indicated that the Ann Arbor city council would be asked on Nov. 18 to approve a plan to create transit and parking strategies similar to those that are typically in place for a home football game at Michigan Stadium.

The game is scheduled for New Year’s Day, she noted, when AAATA buses and University of Michigan blue buses aren’t running. The plan will involved charging for use of public parking on that day, when typically no charges would be applied. That will allow people to reserve parking in advance, Pollay said. The idea would be to have as many people park away from the stadium as possible. Arrangements are being made with Briarwood Mall to allow people to part there. Shuttles would be running from hotels, and there’d be downtown shuttles that would stop at parking garages.

The Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is also planning an event – called The Puck Drops Here – for New Year’s Eve, Pollay reported, which is expected to attract around 10,000 people to the downtown area. Michelle Chamuel, who placed second on the most recent season of The Voice, would be performing, Pollay said, well as DJs with a regional draw. Plans are coming together well, Pollay, said, but the city council needs to be comfortable with the logistics decisions.

John Mouat was curious to know how the community has reacted to the upcoming events. Mayor John Hieftje responded to Mouat by saying the downtown marketing task force had received an update from the Ann Arbor Area CVB, and the report was that a lot of people are responding positively, saying that they never really have anything to do on New Year’s Eve. Hieftje noted that Toronto has a population willing to travel, with 45,000 expected to arrive in Ann Arbor on buses. The game is a chance to showcase the city, Hieftje said – and an opportunity for Ann Arbor to really shine. If even 10% of those who attended the game wanted to come back, that would be a really good thing, he said.

Hieftje ventured that Canadians are generally more polite than Americans.

Board chair Sandi Smith asked if the city council needed to pass a resolution to allow for the DDA to charge for parking. Pollay indicated that the Nov. 18 resolution was not about asking permission, but rather just making sure that if there are concerns, those concerns are addressed.

Hieftje felt that the fans who are arriving for the game are paying a whole lot of money for tickets – and they won’t care if they have to pay a bit more for parking. It was important for the DDA to cover its costs, Hieftje said. Keith Orr noted that if the weather is bad for the game, which will be played outdoors at Michigan Stadium, then Jan. 2 would be the back-up date, and it would take place at 7 p.m.

In more detail, the resolution that the Ann Arbor city council will be asked to consider on Nov. 18 will implement many of the conditions that apply during University of Michigan home football games. For example, the newly implemented street closures for home football games would also be authorized for the Winter Classic:

  • E. Keech Street between S. Main and Greene streets, limiting access to parking permit holders on Greene Street from E. Hoover to Keech streets
  • The westbound right turn lane on E. Stadium Boulevard (onto S. Main Street) just south of the Michigan Stadium
  • S. Main Street closed to both local and through traffic from Stadium Boulevard to Pauline

Those closures would be effective three hours before the game until the end of the game – with the exception of southbound S. Main Street, which would be closed beginning one hour before the game until the end of the game.

The council will also be asked to invalidate peddler/solicitor permits and sidewalk occupancy permits in the following areas:

  • S. State Street from E. Hoover Street to the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks
  • Along the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks from S. State Street to the viaduct on W. Stadium Boulevard
  • W. Stadium Boulevard from the viaduct to S. Main Street
  • S. Main Street from W. Stadium Boulevard to Hill Street
  • Hill Street from S. Main Street to S. Division Street
  • S. Division Street from Hill Street to E. Hoover Street
  • E. Hoover Street from S. Division Street to S. State Street
  • S. Main Street from Scio Church Road to W. Stadium Boulevard
  • W. Stadium Boulevard from S. Main Street to Prescott Avenue

The council will be asked to authorize a special temporary outdoor sales area so that the owners of commercially and office-zoned property fronting on the following streets could use their private yard areas for outdoor sales and display:

  • West side of S. Main Street between Stadium Blvd. and Hoover Street
  • East side of S. Main Street from 1011 S. Main to Hoover Street
  • North side of Hoover Street between S. Main and S. State streets
  • North side of W. Stadium Blvd. between S. Main and S. State streets

The council would also be asked to designate the Winter Classic game as a date on which the usual front open space parking prohibition does not apply. So residents who customarily offer their lawns for home football game parking would be able to do so for the Winter Classic as well.

Comm/Comm: IDA Conference

Joan Lowenstein reported that the most recent partnerships committee meeting had included a lot of time debriefing from the International Downtown Association Conference in New York City, which took place from Oct. 6-9. Lowenstein said that as usual, the conference was very valuable and attendees had learned a lot from people all over the country.

Joan Lowenstein, Bob Guenzel

Ann Arbor DDA board members Joan Lowenstein and Bob Guenzel.

Some of the topics of sessions attended included nurturing downtown streets, the role of arts and culture, and ways to create metrics of success, Lowenstein said. Most of the attendees were members of business improvement districts (BIDs), she noted. Lowenstein described the possibility that the DDA could become a source of statistics. She said there’s evolving technology to capture pedestrian and vehicle traffic – besides hiring interns to stand on a street corner using counters. She ventured that maybe go!pass and Flocktag could be used to gather data.

Lowenstein also mentioned open space management as a topic. She said that New York City had 57 different BIDs throughout the city. Some of those worked with nonprofits to enliven public spaces. Lowenstein stressed that the spaces in New York City exist through the efforts of organizations. The partnerships committee meeting had included the idea of branding downtown as a whole and the possibility of creating a downtown marketing plan.

Sandi Smith talked a lot about metrics, Lowenstein reported. The DDA’s state of the downtown report is a solid base, she said, but there are ways to be more creative.

About the IDA conference, John Mouat said it was interesting to hear about shifting trends in how people shop. He also enjoyed a visit to the High Line – the elevated park on an abandoned rail line. He described how the High Line goes under a building, leading to a big display by Kindle that includes couches and coffee tables.

Smith responded by noting that the High Line is run by a conservancy, which rents out that space and helps fund other nice things, she said.

Comm/Comm: FOIA

During the Nov. 6 meeting, Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director of the DDA, reported to the board in her capacity as the DDA’s Freedom of Information Act coordinator. She described receiving a FOIA request from [Ann Arbor Chronicle editor] Dave Askins [this reporter] for which the DDA had produced records, but which included some redacted content.

An appeal had been submitted, Pollay reported, and as a result of that appeal, the DDA would produce a “clean copy” of the records as requested in the appeal. Board chair Sandi Smith then stated that it appeared that the DDA has been inundated with requests made under Michigan’s FOIA. She wanted the executive committee of the board to review the FOIA policy and consider refreshing the FOIA policy.

[The appeal concerned the redaction of items like the government email address of a state university employee, which had been inappropriately redacted by the DDA under the statute's exception for unwarranted intrusion into someone's private life.]

Comm/Comm: 5-Year Transit Update

Nancy Shore, director of the getDowntown program, addressed the board during public commentary at the end of the meeting. She updated board members about a series of public meetings that the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is holding to explain its five-year transit improvement program. Everything is contingent on additional funding, she said.

Comm/Comm: Conquer the Cold

In her remarks to the board during public commentary at the end of the meeting, getDowntown director Nancy Shore plugged the program’s Conquer the Cold commuter workshops and classes. She reported that 80 people had registered for classes this year. Fleeces would be given away for the first 200 people who sign up, she said.

Comm/Comm: Civic Tech Meetup

During public commentary at the end of the meeting, Ed Vielmetti told the board about the Ann Arbor Civic Technology Meetup. It’s an effort he’s started to get citizens involved with technology and the city. The next meeting will take place at Menlo Innovations space on E. Liberty St. on Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. The topic of that meeting would be public data sources, he said.

As an example of using public data sources, Vielmetti reminded the board about an effort that had been made a few years ago to come up with a plan for mobile access to parking availability data. He’d modified that approach and had now developed something for his own use. He said he’d be happy to show everyone. It’s a way to show people which parking facilities are full and which are empty, he said.

Comm/Comm: Former Y Lot

Former DDA board member Dave DeVarti addressed the board during public commentary at the end of the meeting. He told them it was great to see some former colleagues who were still there.

Former DDA board member Dave DeVarti

Former DDA board member Dave DeVarti.

He wanted to put forward an idea he’d been thinking about for some time, he said, which he’d already mentioned to some people. He suggested that something might be done in the direction of affordable housing on the former Y lot. [The city-owned parcel is locate on William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The city had hired Colliers International and local broker Jim Chaconas to handle a possible sale, as the city faces a $3.5 million balloon payment this year from the purchase loan it holds on that property. At its Nov. 7, 2013 meeting, the city council directed city administrator Steve Powers to negotiate a sales agreement with Dennis Dahlmann for the purchase of the property.]

DeVarti proposed that the Ann Arbor DDA could ante up the money that’s owed on the city’s loan and remove the need to repay the debt as a consideration. That would give the city a range of options, he said, which would provide some leverage to encourage the development of affordable housing at that site or something else, or the land could be used in other ways. He would be willing to work on a committee to try to flesh out some ideas, he said.

Comm/Comm: Ambassador Program

For several years, the Ann Arbor DDA has had an interest in maintaining some kind of additional patrol presence in the downtown. In the mid-2000s, the DDA entered into a contract with the city of Ann Arbor with the implicit hope that the city would maintain the dedicated downtown beat cops. (That contract was structured at that time to pay the city $1 million a year for 10 years, with the city able to request up to $2 million a year for a maximum of $10 million.)

That hope was not realized, and the DDA has since discussed the idea of providing additional funding for police or for ambassadors. The idea of “ambassadors” was explored in the context of subsequent re-negotiations of the contract between the city and the DDA under which the DDA operates the parking system. The DDA wanted to be assigned responsibility for parking enforcement (a function performed by the city’s community standards officers) and imagined that activity to be performed in an ambassador-like fashion.

At its June 3, 2013 meeting, the city council approved a resolution encouraging the DDA to provide funding for three police officers (a total of $270,000 annually) to be deployed in the DDA district.

During communications time at the start of the DDA board’s Nov. 6 meeting, Roger Hewitt reported that he, John Splitt, Keith Orr and DDA executive director Susan Pollay had made a field trip to Grand Rapids and met with Grand Rapids DDA director Kris Larson about that city’s ambassador program.

Hewitt said the group had received a lot of information about the Grand Rapids downtown ambassador program. The ambassadors provide directions to help locate businesses and services, call for medical assistance, provide information on parking, provide social service information for people in need, identify and report hazards and contact police. What had caught everyone’s attention, Hewitt said, was that they’d observed an ambassador holding an umbrella over a woman putting money in a parking meter. Hewitt said he thought it was an idea worth pursuing, and that the DDA’s operations committee should take a look at.

Splitt confirmed that he was along for the ride and said he was very impressed by the ambassador program in Grand Rapids. He thought the Ann Arbor DDA should take a serious look at implementing it here. Orr called it a very informative trip. He noted that besides the ambassador program, the trip had included a look at the structural relationship between the Grand Rapids DDA and the city. There was an umbrella organization that did the visioning for a variety of organizations, Orr said, including the DDA. He said it was interesting to see that structure and the success that had resulted from that approach.

Sandi Smith asked if the ambassadors work with Grand Rapids police department. Yes, Orr confirmed, there’s a direct contact between ambassadors and the police, but ambassadors are not deputized in any way. They act as “eyes and ears” for the police department, Orr said. They’re trained differently, with a social services component, so that situations can be diffused, before they become “police situations.”

Hewitt added that the ambassadors are “not assistant cops or anything.” Orr noted that Grand Rapids hires a company that specializes in this type of thing [Block by Block]. Ambassadors are there to help, but not to enforce the law and not to perform police functions.

Smith confirmed with Hewitt that he’d bring a proposal forward through the operations committee. Mouat indicated support for the idea that if someone is having a problem and they contact a social services organization, it goes directly to someone who can help solve the problem without having to involve the police.

Orr followed up on Mouat’s observation by saying it was important to select the right person with the “right beat.” In a geographic area where there were a lot of social services agencies, the ambassador is actually a social worker – because he was able to help people find the services they needed instead of treating it as a police problem. Orr noted that while the ambassadors are not deputized, they do wear uniforms so there’s a perception of added security and that the area is being patrolled.

Russ Collins said he was not on trip to Grand Rapids, but reported that he was aware of an ambassador program in Schenectady, New York that works with Schenectady’s equivalent of Ann Arbor’s Delonis Center, a shelter for the homeless. He said that the Schenectady program provided a transitional employment opportunity.

Comm/Comm: Ashley Terrace On-Street Parking

Theodore Marentis addressed the board during public commentary at the start of the meeting on behalf of the 111 N. Ashley Condominium Association. He’s vice president of the board of that group. He described the building as located across from the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. He wanted to talk to the board about one or perhaps half a space of on-street parking. He said there’s a parking shortage due to the higher density of the building – with its 100 units of residential space.

It’s hard for people to drop off kids or things they’ve purchased while out shopping during the day or in the evenings, Marentis said. That’s because they don’t have control of the space right by the entrance to the building. They’d be content if even half of the space could be given over to the building for its control. Marentis suggested some system of a windshield card that could control use of the space, and pointed to the residential parking permit areas located to the north of the building as an example of the regulation of on-street parking that already exists in the area. His board had sent him to address the DDA, and he told the board that the condo association was open to discussion.

Present: Al McWilliams, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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  1. November 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm | permalink

    I applaud Dave DeVarti’s attempt to find solutions to our affordable housing problems. After the old Y was demolished, the lack of availability of single occupant rooms has not been addressed.

    I hope that we will not allow the downtown to develop into an area full of 1/2 million dollar (or more) condominiums and $1,000 (or more) per bed, per month apartments.

  2. By Sandi Smith
    November 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm | permalink

    Jack, this is an incredibly complex problem. I welcome your ideas as to how we can add affordable and workforce housing to not only the Downtown, but near downtown neighborhoods.

    I am not sure that the SRO model is one that we want to replace. We do, however, need to replace those lost units and design a sustainability plan to maintain them.

  3. November 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm | permalink

    Re (2) Ah, yes. Sustainability. Like Near North? (North Main) That was a DDA solution to affordable housing in the “near downtown neighborhoods”. I’m losing track. I think the City just paid to have those abandoned buildings demolished. I’m not sure of the status of the land at this time. It was hardly sustainable to ruin that viable section of a neighborhood for that purpose.

    The DDA has been very clear that it wants to move all affordable housing, and certainly that for the most distressed population, way away from the valuable real estate downtown. There was even a thought to assign affordable housing premiums for downtown development to be payable into a fund for locating such housing away from the downtown area that such premiums were designed to diversify.

    And the solution? To impact the near downtown neighborhoods with this and other troublesome formulas. DDA would transform the near downtown into the downtown’s overflow basin.

  4. By Sandi Smith
    November 11, 2013 at 10:30 pm | permalink

    Near North was an Avalon project.

    And yes, sustainability. Building new units without a plan for long term maintenance is doomed for failure.

  5. By Donna Estabrook
    November 12, 2013 at 9:31 am | permalink

    Avalon Housing has a very good record of maintaining (and sometimes building and maintaining)low-income housing. It was too bad that the North Main project didn’t progress. I was sad to see all those houses on Main St torn down with nothing to replace them. There are several Avalon Housing properties near me. You would never know that they were low-income housing.

  6. By Alan Goldsmith
    November 12, 2013 at 10:50 am | permalink

    “An appeal had been submitted, Pollay reported, and as a result of that appeal, the DDA would produce a “clean copy” of the records as requested in the appeal. Board chair Sandi Smith then stated that it appeared that the DDA has been inundated with requests made under Michigan’s FOIA. She wanted the executive committee of the board to review the FOIA policy and consider refreshing the FOIA policy.”

    Ah…’refreshing’ the FOIA policy…Guessing NOT to make it more transparent? Correct me if I’m defining ‘refresh’ incorrectly.

  7. By Jeff Hayner
    November 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm | permalink

    Vivienne has got it right. There is nothing sustainable about tearing down existing housing stock. If the DDA really wanted affordable housing downtown, they wouldn’t be in such a hurry to cover every square foot of the downtown with un-affordable (for many) housing.

  8. By John Floyd
    November 13, 2013 at 12:44 am | permalink

    The idea of sustainability is that a system can be more-or-less closed; that is, not needing a constant flow of resources from outside the system, to keep the system going. The system can sustain itself. For Ann Arbor to be “Sustainable”, neither food, nor energy, nor building materials, nor population, nor anything else, should be brought to town. “More people” is not part of “Sustainability”.

    The paradigm of “Your city is either growing, or it’s dyeing”, which seems to drive the local business community (the real estate sector in particular), is not merely unrelated to sustainability: it is the exact opposite of sustainability.

    There seems to be an element of the Ann Arbor community that uses the word “Sustainability” merely as a cover for old fashioned economic boosterism.

  9. By Sandi Smith
    November 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm | permalink

    For me “Sustainability”, when applied to affordable housing units in the City of Ann Arbor, means that when we build new (publicly owned) units, we have a long term financing plan in place to maintain them. We have not done a good job with maintaining the units that we already own and we are several million dollars behind in vital repairs and maintenance.

    I would rather raise the level of discussion on this topic. This is not about the sinister plot of the DDA to demolish neighborhoods. While one could focus on my intent behind the use of a word, I would prefer a more *robust* discussion about affordable housing in the City. I think it is fair that I asked an incoming Councilmember about his ideas for addressing the issue of affordable housing, but it is certainly easier to attack me than to face the really hard issue.

    Some questions that we could focus on:
    * How do we build more units?
    * How do we provide maintenance for new and existing units?
    * Where do new units belong?
    * Who should pay for them?
    * Do we really want them anywhere in our City or our we just saying so to make ourselves feel good?

  10. By Jack Eaton
    November 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm | permalink

    I agree with Sandi Smith. It isn’t necessary to decide whether the Council and the DDA have failed in the past to address homelessness and affordable housing for us now to proceed with a constructive discussion.

    I think that Dave DeVarti’s comments to the DDA are a good starting point. He has identified where the new units belong, who should pay for them (DDA pays for the property and the DDA and City both contribute to the cost of building), and thereby, he has asked that we acknowledge that we really want them somewhere in our City. That is a good starting point. I agree that we need to address Ms. Smith’s other questions, too.

    Mr. DeVarti has been involved in housing issues for many years and that is why I applauded his efforts to begin this discussion. No one person will have all of the answers, but the discussion is overdue.