Archive for December, 2013

Column: How Football Helped Build MSU

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Every university has its giants, of course, but those schools born around the Civil War needed bigger men than most to carve these campuses out of forests, then build them to rival the world’s greatest institutions – and to do it all in mere decades.

The list of icons includes the University of Chicago’s President William Rainey Harper and Amos Alonzo Stagg, who put their new school on the map; Michigan’s James B. Angell and Fielding Yost, who made Michigan what it is today; Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne, who made Notre Dame famous, and Father Ted Hesburgh, who made it great.

At Michigan State, that man is John A. Hannah. [Full Story]

Michigan Theater

Screening of “Medora,” a documentary that includes the trajectory of a small-town high school basketball team’s season.

DDA Tackles Street Lights, Land Sale Issue

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Dec. 4, 2013): At its last regular meeting of the year, the board approved the final funding necessary to replace 81 light poles on Main Street, passed a resolution waiving a claim to reimbursement for the DDA’s costs associated with the former Y lot, and formally accepted its audit report for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2013 (FY 2013).

On Dec. 4, 2013, city administrator Steve Powers attended his first DDA board meeting as a member.

On Dec. 4, 2013, city administrator Steve Powers attended his first DDA board meeting as a member. (Photos by the writer.)

The board also considered a resolution added to the agenda on the day of the meeting, related to the contribution-in-lieu (CIL) parking agreement for the 624 Church St. project – but ultimately decided to table that resolution pending further review at the committee level.

The DDA’s Dec. 4 resolution allocating $280,000 for the Main Street light pole replacement ended the political wrangling over who should pay for those downtown Ann Arbor light poles. Replacement of the deteriorating poles was identified by the city as a need in the first half of 2012. The source of an estimated $600,000 required for the project was specified in the city’s CIP (capital improvements plan) that year as coming from the DDA – though the funds were at that time not authorized by the board.

In the spring of 2013, the city council weighed how it might clarify the city’s ordinance that restricts the DDA TIF (tax increment finance) capture. In that context, DDA executive director Susan Pollay told the council that the DDA might not be able to afford to pay for the Main Street light pole project – if the council changed the ordinance language to clarify the calculations in a way that did not favor the DDA. The question of the DDA’s TIF capture was not ultimately settled until the council’s Nov. 18, 2013 meeting.

In the interim, the city council voted at its May 20, 2013 meeting to request that the DDA allocate at least $300,000 for the $580,000 light pole project. After the council then declined at its Oct. 21, 2013 meeting to approve a budget allocation for the remaining $280,000 that was needed for the project, the DDA board passed its Dec. 4 resolution, citing the urgency of replacing at least 36 of the poles as the reason for its decision.

According to the DDA’s resolution, staff will use the DDA funding to begin now with replacement of those poles most in need of being removed, with the remainder replaced in the summer of 2014.

Also at its Dec. 4 meeting – in connection with the city’s pending sale to Dennis Dahlmann of the former Y lot, at William Street and Fifth Avenue – the DDA board passed a resolution that waived claim to $1,439,959 in reimbursements from the sale that the DDA has calculated it might be owed. The city council adopted a policy on Oct. 15, 2012 that included depositing net proceeds (after reimbursements) from the former Y lot sale into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

So the DDA board’s action is an attempt to increase the amount that will be deposited into the affordable housing trust fund. The resolution passed by the DDA board also calls on the city council to waive the city’s claim to reimbursements. The city purchased the property in 2003 for $3.5 million and has made interest-only payments for the last 10 years on a loan for that amount. The agreed-upon sale price to Dahlmann is $5.25 million.

In another formal action taken on Dec. 4, the DDA board accepted the audit report from the most recently concluded fiscal year – FY 2013, which ended June 30, 2013. The auditor issued an “unmodified” or clean opinion.

The board also considered a request, which was ultimately tabled, from the developer of the 624 Church St. project. The developer is asking for an extension of the contractual agreement under which parking permits could be purchased using the city’s contribution-in-lieu (CIL) program. The program allows a developer to satisfy certain zoning requirements that parking spaces be provided for a project – by purchasing monthly permits in the public parking system at a premium rate, instead of building the spaces on site. The developer of the 624 Church St. project wants the ability to extend the 15-year minimum to cover a 30-year financing period – based on feedback from firms that would be providing the financing. The DDA board ultimately voted to table the question pending further review by the board’s operations committee.

The board’s newest members introduced themselves at the meeting: city administrator Steve Powers and Main Street retailer Cyndi Clark.

Also at its Dec. 4 meeting, the board heard a range of updates on various projects and public commentary. Highlights included a report from the Main Street BIZ (business improvement zone), which has enough money in its fund balance to handle sidewalk snow removal for the coming winter, without collecting the winter tax assessment to which it is entitled. In a separate update, there’s a possibility that downtown ambassadors could be hired by the DDA as soon as the summer of 2014.

Other topics covered in updates included the effort to save the State Theater, the NHL’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, and The Puck Drops Here festivities on New Year’s Eve. [Full Story]

A2: Holiday Gifts

The Damn Arbor blog has posted a gift-giving guide premised on a positive answer to this question: “Do you want to make sure the money you spend this season stays in the community?”  The post continues, “… we have worked tirelessly to assemble an outstanding list of locally made gifts.” Items range from sausage to bourbon to “Mit Lit.” [Source]

Fifth & Huron

Orange cones at both ends of the pedestrian bridge in front of city hall.

Group Explores Road Commission’s Future

At its second meeting since being formed in early October, a subcommittee that’s exploring the future of the Washtenaw County road commission met on Dec. 4 and discussed a variety of issues surrounding one central challenge: How to improve the condition of local roads.

John Stanowski, Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, York Township, Washtenaw County road commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

York Township supervisor John Stanowski, center, talks with Washtenaw County commissioner Conan Smith, who represents District 9 in Ann Arbor. They are members of a subcommittee appointed by the county board to explore the future of the road commission. (Photos by the writer.)

The subcommittee was created by the county board of commissioners, which has the authority to appoint the three road commissioners but does not oversee the road commission’s budget or allocation of funds. State legislation enacted last year opened the possibility of absorbing the road commission into county operations, which would give county commissioners direct control over funding and operations now administered by the road commission.

According to the County Road Association of Michigan, five of the state’s 83 counties have merged their road commissions into the county government. Of those, the closest parallel to Washtenaw County in size and demographics is Ingham County, home to Lansing and East Lansing – where Michigan State University is located.

At the Dec. 4 meeting, there appeared to be universal agreement that more road funding is needed, but no clear consensus about the best way to achieve that goal. Conan Smith, a county commissioner representing District 9 in Ann Arbor, noted that there are more options to explore than just leaving the road commission unchanged, or absorbing it as a county department. He said he could almost guarantee that it wouldn’t be the best option to have the county board become the road commission.

However, he argued that there are likely structural and procedural changes that can improve the coordination of countywide transportation planning and land use planning, and to ease the burden on rural townships for funding the maintenance of roads that are used by people throughout the county.

A variety of funding mechanisms were discussed on Dec. 4, including the possibility of the county board levying a countywide road millage under Act 283 of 1909 – which at this point seems unlikely – or putting a millage question on the ballot for voters to decide.

The Dec. 4 meeting drew more than two dozen observers, including two of the three current road commissioners, several township elected officials, and many road commission employees. The subcommittee plans to schedule another meeting for early January 2014, and is expected to complete its recommendations by the end of March.
[Full Story]

Ped Safety Task Force: Deadline Now Dec. 16

The deadline to apply for an appointment to an Ann Arbor pedestrian safety task force has been extended until Dec. 16, 2013. Appointments are now scheduled to take place at the council’s Jan. 6, 2014 meeting. [.pdf of standard city board and commission task force application]

Action to extend the deadline took place at a special meeting of the city council at 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 9. The initial purpose of the special meeting was to hold a closed session on written attorney-client privileged communication and land acquisition. The item extending the task force deadline was added later.

The council voted to establish the pedestrian safety task force on Nov. 18, 2013. The pedestrian safety task force would … [Full Story]

City’s Audit Triggers Standard State Letter

The city of Ann Arbor’s FY 2013 audit report – which received an “unmodified” or clean opinion from the firm that conducted the audit – has triggered a standard letter from the office of the State of Michigan Department of Treasury. The letter, dated Nov. 22, 2013 and received by the city on Dec. 4, resulted from a note in the audit report on the city’s local street fund.

According to city of Ann Arbor CFO Tom Crawford, the city’s response to the letter would not require any city council action. The city staff would be explaining to the state how the city’s internal financial procedures mitigate against what Crawford characterized as a “minor issue.”

A note in the city’s own audit report called … [Full Story]

Hieftje Files Veto of Crosswalk Law Repeal

At 3:41 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2013, Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje filed the veto of a revision to the city’s crosswalk ordinance that the city council had approved at its Dec. 2, 2013 meeting.

The council had approved the significant amendment to the existing law on a 6-4 vote. The amendment would have eliminated the requirement that motorists extend the right-of-way to pedestrians at the curb or curb line – in addition to those within a crosswalk. It would have left in place the requirement that motorists stop, not just yield to pedestrians within a crosswalk.

As a result of Hieftje’s veto, the law will continue to read as follows:
10:148. Pedestrians crossing streets

(a) When traffic-control signals are not … [Full Story]

A2: Davy Rothbart

Damn Arbor has published an interview with Davy Rothbart, creator of FOUND Magazine, about “Medora” – his new documentary focused on Medora, Indiana. Along with Andy Cohn, Rothbart is co-director and co-producer of the film, which follows the Medora Hornets varsity basketball team and the complexities of poverty and drug abuse in a small Midwestern town. From the interview, answering a query about Rothbart’s relationship with basketball: “I grew up in Ann Arbor and Ypsi and love playing basketball. We’d shovel off the court at Wheeler Park and play in the winter. We didn’t drink much in high school, so we played basketball. Eberwhite, Burns Park. We’d play at midnight or 4 a.m. We played constantly. We weren’t that good … [Full Story]

Column: Ann Arbor’s Brand of Participation

An Ann Arbor city council budget planning session is scheduled to take place on Monday, Dec. 9, starting sometime around 4 p.m.

CAnn Arbor Brand

Illustration by The Chronicle, based on bar chart in a preliminary draft report of a fall 2013 National Citizens Survey conducted among Ann Arbor residents.

Councilmembers have been asked to prepare for the session by thinking about Ann Arbor’s “brand.” Specifically, they’ve been asked to reflect on what “differentiates Ann Arbor from other communities in Michigan” and what “makes Ann Arbor a truly special community to live, work and play.”

Councilmembers will be asked to spend about five minutes each at the start of the session talking about how they see the Ann Arbor “brand.”

The facilitator for the session is Julia Novak of the Novak Consulting Group. In advance of last year’s session, she asked councilmembers to prepare by formulating thoughts that could be summarized as “What I Believe.

Last year’s homework assignment was, I think, easy compared to this year’s. And I do not envy councilmembers this chore. It sounds hard. I wouldn’t know where to begin. Anytime somebody starts talking about “brands” – especially a brand for a city – my first thought is: “Why, you sound like a charlatan standing there talking to me; why don’t you go off and make something useful, then come back and tell me all about that very useful thing you made instead of blathering on about brands.”

And so, because I am human, and every bit as lazy and ill-tempered as the rest of you, I will not get down to the business of completing the chore … before bitterly lamenting the nature of the chore itself (with all due respect to Julia Novak). I do hereby bitterly lament the branding chore. But I’ll take a shot.

That shot includes quoting a five-year-old interview.

But before delving into the dusty archives, I want to have a look at the preliminary results of a survey that was conducted recently among residents. I think it shows that our self-image as a community valuing public participation is not especially well-founded. So that’s not our brand. Not right now, anyway. [Full Story]

Deja Vu: Special Meeting, Planning Session

The annual budget planning session of the Ann Arbor city council will start sometime after 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 9 in the jury assembly room of the Justice Center adjoining city hall. The uncertain actual start time of the planning session is due to a special meeting of the council that has now been called to start at 4 p.m. in city council chambers.

City administrator Steve Powers, Jane Lumm (Ward 2)

City administrator Steve Powers and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) just before the Nov. 18, 2013 council meeting started – a conversation Lumm wrote about after the meeting in an email thread to other councilmembers.

The special meeting will include a closed session – based on written attorney-client privileged communication and land acquisition. The land acquisition likely relates to the pending sale of the Edwards Brothers property on South State Street to the University of Michigan for $12.8 million, which was announced in a Nov. 27 press release. The business had signaled its intent to put the property on the market in late July.

A right of first refusal on the property is held by the city of Ann Arbor as a condition of a tax abatement granted by the city council almost three years ago, on Jan. 18, 2011. Purchase by the university would remove the property from the tax rolls. Washtenaw County records show the taxable value of the property at just over $3 million.

The closed session to be held on Dec. 9 follows some friction among councilmembers about the way information was shared with the council about the sale. That friction resulted from comments overheard by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) just before the council’s Nov. 18 meeting started, which prompted her to email her council colleagues expressing her dissatisfaction that not all councilmembers had been kept in the loop.

The email thread, provided to The Chronicle in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, goes on to include a query by Lumm to UM director of community relations Jim Kosteva for information about the status of the Edwards Brothers property, followed by an admonishment to Lumm from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) that there were scenarios under which Lumm’s inquiry could potentially be detrimental to the city’s interest. The thread includes a note from Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) that indicates concern that the issue should appropriately be discussed in a closed session under the state’s Open Meetings Act, not in an email thread among all councilmembers.

The email thread includes a clarificational inquiry to Taylor from Jack Eaton (Ward 4), as well as a note from Sabra Briere (Ward 1) about news coverage of the Edwards Brothers property sale. Eaton, Briere and Lumm signed the call to the Dec. 9 special meeting, which any three councilmembers can do under the city charter.

After the special meeting and its closed session, the council will move to the jury assembly room at the adjoining Justice Center for its annual budget planning session. That session could include an airing out of the issue of shared information – under an agenda item labeled “Articulating Mutual Expectations.” More specifically, the item indicates that the council will “identify and discuss mutual expectations for governing together” with the following desired outcome: “Articulate and agree on mutual expectations for members of the governing body.”

The background materials that have been provided to the council in preparation for the planning session include draft copies of reports with results from the National Citizens Survey that was conducted in the fall of 2013 by mailing a questionnaire to a random sample of 3,000 city residents, 778 of whom completed surveys. [.pdf of draft Ann Arbor National Citizens Survey report] [.pdf of responses, benchmarks, methodology and questionnaire]

The survey covered a broad range of topics. For example, 55% of survey respondents indicated that they rely at least somewhat for their news and information on online newspapers and media. That compares to 37% who said they rely some for news on printed newspapers. More respondents than that said they rely on news from the city website specifically (44%) or on radio stations (41%).

But questions about public safety – one of the top three priorities identified at last year’s planning session – will likely be of greater interest for councilmembers who will be weighing budget decisions at this year’s session. In general, under the community characteristics portion of the survey, 89% of Ann Arbor survey respondents rated their overall feeling of safety as good or excellent, with ratings for neighborhood safety at 97% and for downtown/commercial area safety at 92%. Those numbers are similar to the set of benchmarked communities that participated in the survey. The council’s measure of success for public safety includes the idea that residents should perceive the community as safe.

For the open-ended response survey item, which asked respondents to identify the city leaders’ top three priorities to maximize the quality of life in Ann Arbor, public safety was one of the top three items, with 19% of the open-ended responses identifying safety, crime and police as a concern. Also cited in 19% of responses were government, taxes and communication. However, the dominant concern in the open-ended responses was mobility issues – as 57% of responses were coded as related to roads, transportation, traffic, traffic enforcement, bikes and pedestrians.

That survey result mirrors the wide participation by the community in the recent debate about the repeal of the city’s crosswalk law. That debate ended in a city council vote on Dec. 2, 2013 to modify significantly the existing ordinance. But mayor John Hieftje announced immediately following the vote that he intended to exercise his power of veto.

The priority placed on the topic by the public and by councilmembers will also be reflected in two anticipated agenda items for the council’s Dec. 16 meeting. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) is expected to bring forward a resolution directing the city administrator to present a plan for funding elements of the recently adopted update to the city’s non-motorized transportation plan. And Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) has told The Chronicle he expects to bring forward a resolution on Dec. 16 that would allocate $500,000 from the general fund reserve this year to pay for police overtime to conduct traffic enforcement.

How police officers use their time while on duty is part of a report the council has been provided in preparation for the Dec. 9 budget planning session. Initial results from a newly implemented (Jan. 1, 2013) electronic timesheet logging system appear to indicate that police officers have at least 40% of their time that’s either unassigned or dedicated to proactive policing and community engagement. At last year’s planning session, the council had defined a success statement for public safety that included a goal of 25-30% time available for proactive policing.

The sequence of a special city council meeting followed by the budget planning session was also played out last year in mid-December. That’s when the council convened a special meeting to take a vote protesting the establishment of the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority. Like last year, the council’s budget planning session will be led by Julia Novak of the Novak Consulting Group.

Material presented in this article includes an annotated email thread about the Edwards Brothers property sale – which started in the Nov. 19 early morning hours, after the council meeting ended. [Full Story]

Recommendations Set for Downtown Zoning

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Dec. 3, 2013): Following months of public input and review by a consultant hired by the city, Ann Arbor planning commissioners finalized a set of recommendations to revise parts of the city’s downtown zoning. Those recommendations will now be forwarded to the city council, possibly at its Jan. 20 meeting.

Bonnie Bona, Wendy Rampson, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor planning commissioner Bonnie Bona talks with city planning manager Wendy Rampson before the start of the commission’s Dec. 3, 2013 meeting. Bona was successful in advocating for the downzoning of a parcel at the southeast corner of Main and William. (Photos by the writer.)

In general, the recommendations aim to create more of a buffer between downtown development and adjacent or nearby residential neighborhoods.

Three of the recommendations relate to specific parcels: (1) Rezone the parcel located at 336 E. Ann from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface); (2) Reduce the maximum height in the East Huron 1 Character District (on the north side of Huron, between Division and State) to 120 feet. Include a tower diagonal maximum and consider a step-back requirement to reduce the shading of residential properties to the north; (3) Rezone the parcel at 425 S. Main, at the southeast corner of Main and William, from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface) and establish a maximum height of 60 feet for D2 zoning in the Main Street Character District.

Several other recommendations focused on the issue of “premiums” – certain features that a developer can provide in exchange for additional square footage. Those recommendations are: (1) Revise the premium conditions to require mandatory compliance with core design guidelines for a project to receive any premium in the D1 or D2 districts; (2) Reduce the residential premium with the goal of encouraging the use of other existing or proposed premiums to compensate for this reduction, such as increased energy efficiency certification, open space with landscape, active ground floor use, balconies and workforce housing; (3) Review options in D1 and D2 districts, with the housing and humans services advisory board (HHSAB), for providing additional affordable housing within mixed income projects or through other funding mechanisms; (4) Eliminate the affordable housing 900% FAR (floor area ratio) “super premium”; and (5) Evaluate the downtown real estate market to determine the effectiveness of premium incentives every 2-5 years.

On Dec. 3, commissioners heard from three people during the public hearing – all three of them addressing the issue of zoning at 425 S. Main, including one of the property owners, Andy Klein. Speaking on behalf of the owners was Scott Bonney of Neumann/Smith Architecture, who suggested a third option to consider: Keep the D1 zoning on that site, but reduce the maximum height to 122 feet and add a tower diagonal maximum of 50% of the maximum diagonal dimension of the site. Ted Annis, who lives near that location, called for D2 zoning there.

Bonnie Bona, who’d been involved in the original A2D2 zoning process that’s now being partially reviewed, advocated for downzoning the entire site at 425 S. Main, to provide a buffer between D1 zoning and the nearby residential neighborhood. Some commissioners, including chair Kirk Westphal, wanted more density in the downtown, and noted that the site has allowed for denser development since the 1960s. The final vote on the recommendation for that site was 5-4, with support from Bona, Eleanore Adenekan, Sabra Briere, Jeremy Peters and Wendy Woods. Voting against it were Westphal, Ken Clein, Diane Giannola and Paras Parekh.

Also, because of feedback received from the city’s design review board, commissioners revisited a recommendation that they’d previously settled regarding compliance with design guidelines. They unanimously voted to change the recommendation – so that it would require mandatory compliance with some of the design guidelines. The intent is to develop a process that will clarify the design compliance that will be required in order to receive premiums.

The vote on the full resolution with all of the recommendations, as amended, passed unanimously.

The next step is for the council to review the recommendations and give direction back to the commission about which recommendations to implement. At that point, the commission’s ordinance revisions committee would work with city planning staff to craft actual ordinance language. Any specific ordinance changes would be reviewed by the full planning commission and ultimately would require city council approval before taking effect. That process would include additional opportunities for public input.

Also on Dec. 3, commissioners reviewed the 2015-2020 capital improvements plan (CIP). After about an hour of discussion – touching on street lights, sidewalks, the rail station, public engagement, and other issues – they voted unanimously to adopt the updated CIP as a supporting document for the city’s master plan, and to recommend that the city council base its FY 2015 capital budget on the CIP.

The CIP includes a list of major capital projects, both those that are funded and those for which funding hasn’t yet been identified. [.pdf of staff memo and CIP for FY 2015-2020] Most of the updates relate to FY 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014. This year reflects the first-time inclusion of projects undertaken by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the Ann Arbor housing commission. [Full Story]

Ashley & Liberty

Downtown Home & Garden is having the most fun with some pretty calm farm animals. [photo 1][photo 2]. They were also sharing free roasted chestnuts. It was indeed madness downtown but with music, crowds, and stores doing what they could to lure people in with bargains. Kindlefest at Kerrytown was also crowded and lots of vendors in the Farmers Market space.

Column: Michigan’s Biggest Problem

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

I’ve often joked that some Michigan football fans aren’t happy unless they’re not happy. But after eleven games this season, even they could be excused for having plenty to be unhappy about. A week ago, the Wolverines were 3-and-4 in the Big Ten, with undefeated Ohio State coming up next.

The Wolverines had been surprisingly bad all season – until the Ohio State game, when they were suddenly, surprisingly good, falling short by just one point in the final minute. It was the first time I have ever seen Michigan fans feeling better about their team after a loss than before it.

Still, the heroic performance was bittersweet. The most common reaction I’ve heard this week: Where was that team all year? And which team will return next year – the one that got crushed by Michigan State, or the one that almost beat the Buckeyes?

But Michigan’s bigger problems are off the field, not on it. In just four years, the athletic department’s budget has expanded from $100 million to $137 million – and that does not include the $340 million earmarked for a new building master plan.  This rapidly growing empire could be threatened by a perfect storm of a bad record, skyrocketing ticket prices, and next season’s horrible home schedule.

This brings up two questions: How do they increase the budget by 37%? And where do they spend it? [Full Story]

Fifth & Huron

City clerk’s office. City clerk Jackie Beaudry shows me the card catalog of past mayoral veto messages. [photo 1] The most recent entry of April 23, 2001 predates the start of her service as city clerk by four years. That 2001 veto was tendered by John Hieftje. The reason given in his official message refers to a “technical issue” with the ordinance that was passed, citing support from the city attorney and city administrator. [photo 2] Occasion for the clerk to have the files handy: Hieftje’s recent announcement he’d be vetoing a change to the city’s crosswalk ordinance.

City Council Special Meeting: Dec. 9, 2013

A special meeting of the Ann Arbor city council will be held starting at 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 in the council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. The special meeting is being called for the purpose of holding a closed session under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. In the call for a special meeting, two exceptions to the OMA are cited as the purposes for holding the closed session: discussion of attorney-client privileged communication, and discussion of land acquisition issues.

The land acquisition component of the closed session likely relates to the pending sale of the Edwards Brothers property on South State Street to the University of Michigan for $12.8 million, which was announced in a press release … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor SPARK to Post Financials

The economic development nonprofit Ann Arbor SPARK will be posting its financial statements on its website, according to a letter written by SPARK executive director Paul Krutko on Dec. 4, 2013. Krutko’s letter was sent to Washtenaw County board of commissioners chair Yousef Rabhi and Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers – both of whom are members of SPARK’s board. The letter came after an Ann Arbor SPARK board of director’s meeting on Nov. 25, 2013.

The meeting and the letter came after SPARK had declined several previous requests for its financial statements – from rank-and-file residents, journalists as well as elected officials. SPARK’s previous decision not to release past statements became moot when Ann Arbor resident Kai Petainen … [Full Story]

Washtenaw County Board Makes Appointments

Over 30 appointments to various county boards, committees and commissions were approved at the Dec. 4, 2013 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. [.pdf of appointments]

The board also appointed Evan Pratt, the county’s water resources commissioner, as director of public works, effective Jan. 1, 2014. While all other appointments were unanimous, the vote for Pratt’s appointment was 8-1 over dissent from Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5).

The current director of public works is Daniel R. Myers. According to a staff memo, the board of public works had raised a question about potential conflict-of-interest with this appointment. From the memo:
Since Evan is currently the elected Water Resources Commissioner for the County, the Board of Public Works wanted to assure … [Full Story]

County Board Honors Fleece, Meade

Washtenaw County commissioners passed resolutions of appreciation at their Dec. 4, 2013 meeting to honor two men who have served the county for decades: Dick Fleece and Nelson Meade.

Fleece has worked for the county for 38 years in the field of public and environmental health, and is retiring at the end of 2013. He was appointed the county’s environmental health director in 1994, and has served as the health officer since 2009. [.pdf of resolution of appreciation for Fleece] Fleece received a standing ovation from commissioners and staff.

At the county board’s Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, commissioners appointed Ellen Rabinowitz as interim health officer.

Also on Dec. 4, commissioners honored Nelson Meade, who is stepping down from the Washtenaw County … [Full Story]

Action on County Infrastructure Projects

Two infrastructure projects – in Dexter Township and Freedom Township – were supported with actions by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its Dec. 4, 2013 meeting.

The board authorized issuing up to $460,000 in bonds for the Copper Meadows drain project in Dexter Township, northwest of Ann Arbor. The drain is located in the Copper Meadows subdivision off of North Territorial Road, near the Dexter town hall. The bonds would be repaid with special assessments on Dexter Township, Washtenaw County, and property owners in the drainage district. The first assessment would be levied in December 2014. [.pdf of staff memo on Copper Meadows project]

The board also passed a resolution that directs the county’s board of public works to … [Full Story]

County “Peacekeeping Court” Gets Funding

At their Dec. 4, 2013 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners authorized acceptance of a $150,000 grant to establish the Washtenaw County Trial Court’s Peacemaking Court. The grant, awarded by the State Court Administrator’s Office, is for funding from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014.

The state grants are intended to support creative approaches in the court system. The Peacemaking Court is described in a staff memo:
Like tribal peacemaking programs and restorative justice programs, the Peacemaking Court will provide a great benefit to youth and the community in juvenile cases by reducing recidivism and giving youth a diversionary option to avoid a record that can preclude future educational and employment opportunities. Domestic relations and other family cases will benefit from more durable … [Full Story]

County Takes Step to Form PACE Program

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners has taken an initial step to create a countywide Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. The action – an initial vote to pass a notice of intent to form a PACE program – took place at the board’s Dec. 4, 2013 meeting, following about an hour of discussion.

The goal of PACE is to help commercial property owners finance energy improvements by securing financing from commercial lenders and repaying the loan through voluntary special assessments. The proposal entails joining the Lean & Green Michigan coalition and contracting with Levin Energy Partners to manage the PACE program. Andy Levin, who’s spearheading the PACE program statewide through Lean & Green, was on hand to field questions. … [Full Story]

DDA Waives Claim to Y Lot Sale Proceeds

The board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has voted to waive any claim to a reimbursement of about $1.4 million it might have had coming from the net proceeds of the pending sale of the city-owned property known as the former Y lot. The property is located on William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues downtown.

Waiver of that claim could lead to the transfer of the money to the city of Ann Arbor’s affordable housing trust fund, under a policy established by the Ann Arbor city council a year ago. The DDA board’s action came at its Dec. 4, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of unamended Dec. 4, 2013 draft DDA resolution on Y lot proceeds]

The DDA board resolution also … [Full Story]

DDA Audit: Clean Opinion for FY 2013

In action taken at its Dec. 4, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board voted to accept the authority’s FY 2013 audited statements. The overall opinion was that the DDA’s records are a fair and accurate statement of the authority’s finances – an “unmodified” or clean opinion.

The DDA’s audit firm is the same one used by the city of Ann Arbor – Rehmann. [.pdf of DDA FY 2013 audit]

This brief was filed from the DDA offices at 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

DDA Ponies Up for Main Street Light Poles

Political wrangling over who should pay for downtown Ann Arbor Main Street light poles has ended with a resolution passed by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board to allocate the remaining $280,000 for the project. The DDA board had previously allocated $300,000 for the $580,000 project to replace 81 light poles on downtown Main Street.

DDA board action on the $280,000 was taken at its Dec. 4, 2013 meeting, and came after the Ann Arbor city council had declined to approve an additional $280,000 budget allocation.

Downtown Ann Arbor Main Street light pole Downtown Ann Arbor Main Street … [Full Story]

Planning Commission OKs Capital Plan

The city of Ann Arbor’s capital improvements plan (CIP), which provides a roadmap for investments in a wide variety of infrastructure projects, was approved by Ann Arbor planning commissioners at their Dec. 3, 2013 meeting. The CIP is prepared by city staff and is the basis for budget decisions made by the city council, but the council does not approve the CIP. That’s the purview of the planning commission.

The planning commission’s meeting also included a public hearing on the CIP, but no one spoke.

Required by state statute, the CIP must be developed and updated each year, looking ahead at a six-year period, to help with financial planning for major projects – permanent infrastructure like buildings, utilities, transportation and parks. It’s … [Full Story]

Downtown Zoning Heads to City Council

Following months of public input and review by a consultant hired by the city, Ann Arbor planning commissioners finalized a set of recommendations to revise parts of the city’s downtown zoning. Those recommendations will now be forwarded to the city council. The action took place at the commission’s Dec. 3, 2013 meeting.

The recommendations, which in general aim to create more of a buffer between downtown development and adjacent or nearby residential neighborhoods, included the following:

  • Rezone the parcel located at 336 E. Ann from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface).
  • Reduce the maximum height in the East Huron 1 Character District (on the north side of Huron, between Division and State) to 120 feet. Include a tower diagonal maximum and consider … [Full Story]