Planning Commission Reviews 2014 Priorities

Projects include sustainability action plan, corridor improvements, zoning revisions, "Redevelopment Ready" initiative; ZORO still stalled

Ann Arbor planning commission working session (Jan. 7, 2014): At a thinly attended working session – the first of the year – planning commissioners reviewed the status of their 2013-2014 work plan, and discussed priorities for the next six months of the fiscal year.

Wendy Rampson, Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

City planning manager Wendy Rampson and Kirk Westphal, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission, at a Jan. 7, 2014 working session in the basement of city hall. (Photos by the writer.)

Planning manager Wendy Rampson gave the mid-year update, reporting on items that were moving ahead, delayed or stalled. Some projects – like the downtown zoning review – had taken more time than anticipated, she reported. That meant some other projects didn’t get as much attention. [.pdf of work plan status report]

Two projects on the work plan have been completed: (1) an update to the city’s non-motorized transportation plan, and (2) the second-year update to the capital improvements plan (CIP). Other work – like the years-long effort to reorganize the city’s zoning ordinances, known as ZORO, continues to languish. That project is being overseen by the city attorney’s office, with support from planning staff.

Based on feedback from the four commissioners at the working session, as well as input from other commissioners via email, some items on the work plan will be tweaked.

City staff have drafted an action plan to implement goals of the city’s sustainability framework, which was approved last year. Planning commissioners are interested in moving that forward.

Commissioners also expressed interested in forming a new committee to explore the impact of pending changes to mandated floodplain insurance, with a cross-section of representatives from planning, the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner’s office, the city’s historic district commission and local creekshed groups.

In addition, Rampson was asked to explore the possibility of forming a joint planning commission with representatives from the four jurisdictions along the Washtenaw Avenue corridor – the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township. A right-of-way report for that corridor will be completed soon, which will be reviewed by the commission.

Commissioners also directed Rampson to develop a list of pros and cons for eliminating drive-thrus as a by-right option in certain zoning districts, and instead requiring developers to seek a special exception from the planning commission in order to build one. Some commissioners think that drive-thrus – especially for fast food restaurants – make an area less pedestrian-friendly. Also of concern are the emissions generated from idling vehicles.

More immediately, the commission’s ordinance revisions committee will be reviewing recommendations from an advisory committee on R4C/R2A residential zoning. There will also likely be work on ordinance revisions for downtown zoning, depending on what direction is given by the city council. A set of recommendations already approved by planning commissioners is on the council’s Jan. 21 agenda.

Work Plan Overview

Each year, the planning commission sets a work plan, prioritizing initiatives and long-term projects that they’ll work on with staff during the city’s fiscal year, which runs from July 1 through June 30. For fiscal 2013-2014, commissioners developed a work plan in June of 2013, which was formally approved at their June 18, 2013 meeting.

At the commission’s Jan. 7, 2014 working session, Kirk Westphal, who chairs the group, reported that the commission’s executive committee had met to review the work plan and get an update on the status of various projects that the planning staff is undertaking. The intent was to review these projects at the working session and see if any priorities have shifted. The city is about halfway through its fiscal year.

The work plan has two main sections: (1) items related to master planning, and (2) items related to ordinance revisions or implementation. [.pdf of work plan status report]

Several items in the work plan haven’t moved forward as quickly as expected, according to city planning manager Wendy Rampson. The review of downtown zoning had been “all consuming” during the first six months of the fiscal year, she noted, and the ongoing R4C/R2A zoning review had also taken up considerable time. Neither of those efforts have produced anything tangible yet, she added, “but all of the discussion that’s gone on in the community has resulted in some consensus-building in that area.”

Rampson told commissioners that she was looking for direction about where the planning staff should put its energy in the next six months. The commission will also hold a retreat in the spring to look at priorities for next year.

The work plan also will be reviewed at an upcoming meeting of the full planning commission. Only four commissioners attended the Jan. 7 working session.

Master Planning

Under the category of master planning, the planning commission’s work plan has two main projects: (1) developing an action plan for the city’s existing sustainability framework; and (2) corridor projects on Washtenaw Avenue and North Main Street.

Master Planning: Sustainability Framework Action Plan

The planning commission and city council had approved a sustainability framework last year, adding it as an element of city’s master plan. The framework has 16 overarching sustainability goals, which are organized into four categories: resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. City staff have drafted an action plan to implement the goals of that framework. [.pdf of draft action plan]

Planning manager Wendy Rampson reported that the staff made some good progress on drafting the action plan over the summer, but now “it’s basically stopped.” The two staff members who had taken the lead on it – Jamie Kidwell and Jill Thacher – got pulled into other projects, she said.

The draft action plan hasn’t yet been circulated to the three groups that were involved in developing the sustainability framework: The planning, energy and environmental commissions. If there’s interest in prioritizing this project, getting feedback from these commissions would be the next step, Rampson said.

The intent of the action plan is to take each goal of the sustainability framework and pick one to three items that could be implemented throughout the organization.

For example, under the category of integrated land use, one of the goals from the framework is: “Encourage dense land use and development patterns which draw people downtown and foster an active street life, contribute to its function as an urban residential neighborhood and support a sustainable transportation system.” Two action items have been drafted to help achieve that goal:

Develop a reuse strategy for end of life, vacant city-owned properties in and near downtown.

Implement the recommendations of the Connecting William Street effort, once adopted.

By way of background on Connecting William Street, at its March 5, 2013 meeting, the planning commission voted to add the Connecting William Street report as a resource document. However, the city council has not taken any action regarding that effort, which was undertaken by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority at the direction of the city council.

Action items for other land use goals include implementing recommendations of the South State Street corridor study and the North Main/Huron River corridor task force, continuing participation in Reimagine Washtenaw, and implementing appropriate city code revisions related to the R4C/R2A zoning review.

Kirk Westphal noted that the sustainability framework represents the highest priorities of several city commissions, and it made sense to him to finish the project by completing the action plan. “So even if we’re not always on the same page, at least we’re in the same pamphlet,” he joked.

In response to a query from Paras Parekh, Rampson said the action plan would be a working document. If approved, the staff would review progress on these items each year.

Rampson said it’s possible to link almost everything that the planning commission works on to the sustainability action plan. The Zoning Ordinance Reorganization (ZORO) project, for example, is linked to economic health and public engagement – the idea that there’s a clear understanding of the rules for development.

Jeremy Peters supported working on the action plan, saying it’s a point of pride if someone can look at work on the sustainability goals and say, “This is why I want to live in Ann Arbor. This is why I want to start my business in Ann Arbor.”

Diane Giannola urged each of the commissions to focus on the action items that are most relevant to their work. She was worried that it would be difficult to reach consensus on all of the action items.

Rampson said she’d schedule a time for the planning commission to discuss how to move forward, possibly at a working session in February.

Master Planning: Washtenaw Avenue, North Main Corridors

Wendy Rampson noted that two projects related to central corridors – Washtenaw Avenue and North Main – are on track.

Paras Parekh, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Paras Parekh.

The North Main/Huron River corridor task force had completed its work in the summer of 2013. The question for commissioners is whether they want to do a full-blown corridor study for North Main, as they did for South State Street, Rampson said.

Paras Parekh noted that there had been a lot of ideas about North Main, calling it a “vital part of the city.” He thought the commission should make a decision about what to do with the task force report, one way or another. Diane Giannola observed that a full-blown corridor study, like the one that was done for South State Street, is intense and would require a lot of work. Rampson pointed out a similar study for North Main would likely be less intense, because the North Main/Huron River corridor task force has already done a lot of public engagement and research. “It gives us a bit of a jump start,” Rampson said.

Regarding the Washtenaw Avenue corridor, the planning commission was briefed about Reimagine Washtenaw at a working session in December of 2013. The commission will need to decide what it wants to do next, regarding recommendations for that project.

Rampson reported that a Washtenaw Avenue right-of-way study being conducted by Smith Group/JJR would be completed soon. She suggested that the planning commission could look at how the right-of-way recommendations would impact potential redevelopment along Washtenaw Avenue. That corridor passes through four jurisdictions: the city of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti Township, and the city of Ypsilanti. Rampson noted that the biggest challenge for Ann Arbor’s section is that it’s the widest part of the corridor. Any changes that would narrow the road would affect the service drives, which include parking areas.

Because the Reimagine Washtenaw recommendations will be coming soon, that’s probably the most timely project for implementation, Rampson said.

Parekh confirmed with Rampson that the changes would happen incrementally over the next few years, as properties get redeveloped. Owners would not be required to conform the existing buildings and setbacks to new zoning, for example. Although major changes would not happen immediately, Rampson noted that some property owners are interested in redevelopment. She cited the owners of the Victory Inn at 3750 Washtenaw Ave. near the US-23 interchange, saying they’ve come in to talk with planning staff about redeveloping that site.

It’s important that new requirements are in place so that when redevelopment does occur, it can conform to what the city and other jurisdictions would like to see along Washtenaw Avenue, Rampson said. Changes in transit will also impact some of the corridor improvements. “This is real planning – when you’re looking so far into the future,” she added. In addition to some of the “problem-solving” projects on the planning commission’s work plan, it’s good to have a longer-term project as well, Rampson told commissioners.

Kirk Westphal confirmed with Rampson that it would be possible to have a joint planning commission for the corridor, with representatives from each jurisdiction. He wondered if creating that would be the best first step. Rampson noted that state law governs the formal process of setting up a new joint planning commission. She pointed out that once it’s created, it has to be sustained – so the question is whether there’s enough energy among all the jurisdictions to do that. Responding to another question from Westphal, Rampson said a joint planning commission doesn’t preclude the formation of a corridor improvement authority (CIA).

Rampson reported that a joint technical committee – composed mostly of staff from the four jurisdictions, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, and the Michigan Dept. of Transportation – continues to meet monthly. Their work has been driven by the right-of-way study, so after that the committee “will have to figure out what our reason for being is,” she said.

Also, there’s some funding from the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities planning grant for public art in the Washtenaw Avenue corridor, Rampson said, and Deb Polich of the Arts Alliance is working on that. Polich is also participating in the joint technical committee.

The involvement of elected officials in this project has started to wane, Rampson reported. The staff has also tried to get merchant associations involved, she added, but it’s been difficult along the Washtenaw Avenue corridor. The core businesses for the Washtenaw Avenue Merchants Association are Hiller’s grocery, Paesano restaurant, and Wheels in Motion, Rampson said, but she wasn’t sure how active the group is.

Rampson said she’d follow up with Nathan Voght of the Washtenaw County office of community and economic development, who is providing staff support for Reimagine Washtenaw, to explore a possible joint planning commission.

Master Planning: Completed Projects

Rampson noted that two projects on the work plan in the master planning category have been completed: (1) an update to the city’s non-motorized transportation plan; and (2) the second-year update to the capital improvements plan (CIP).

The planning commission approved an update to the non-motorized transportation plan at its Sept. 10, 2013 meeting. The document includes sections on planning and policy, as well as recommendations for short-term and long-term projects, such as bike boulevards, crosswalks, sidewalks and larger efforts like the Allen Creek greenway and Border-to-Border Trail. The city council subsequently approved the update as well. Items in the city’s master plan must receive approval from both the planning commission and the council.

The council does not approve the CIP – as that’s the planning commission’s purview. But the city council has budgetary control over the plan. Commissioners approved the 2015-2020 CIP at their Dec. 3, 2013 meeting, and it was forwarded to the council as an information item.

The CIP is a supporting document for the city’s master plan, and the city council bases its capital budget on the CIP. It 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 this year’s 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.

Ordinance Revisions & Implementations

Several items on the work plan relate to ordinance revisions, including reviews of downtown zoning and R4C/R2A residential zoning, the ongoing Zoning Ordinance Reorganization (ZORO) project, and possible ordinance changes related to floodplain issues.

Ordinance Revisions & Implementations: Downtown Zoning

The recommendations regarding changes to downtown zoning were originally due to the city council by October 2013. The planning commission had finished that work and approved the set of recommendations on Dec. 3, 2013. Wendy Rampson reported that the recommendations will be on the city council’s Jan. 21 agenda. “So we’re making progress on that, but it’s slow,” she said.

Kirk Westphal noted that even if the council signs off on the recommendations, then the planning commission gets “restarted” as they work with staff to develop actual ordinance revisions that implement the recommendations.

Ordinance Revisions & Implementations: R4C/R2A

Amendments to the city’s R4C/R2A zoning were scheduled to be completed by March of 2014, but that project isn’t moving ahead as quickly as planned, Rampson reported. She noted that a final report will be submitted soon by an advisory committee, and at that point the planning commission will need to decide what to do next. [.pdf of final advisory committee report]

Diane Giannola, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Diane Giannola.

A review of these residential zoning ordinances has been in the works for several years. An advisory committee was originally established by the Ann Arbor city council in 2009. Its purpose was to give input as the planning commission developed recommendations for what some city staff have called a “broken” zoning district. The committee’s original recommendations were delivered to the commission in 2012, and planning commissioners adopted their own set of recommendations for the council in April of 2013.

Although there was considerable overlap, the planning commission’s recommendations diverged from the advisory committee in some significant ways. Some advisory committee members felt their work had been cut short and that the final report presented to the planning commission on behalf of the committee did not fully reflect the committee’s consensus. They also wanted to weigh in on some of the commission’s recommendations, including a proposed “group housing” overlay district.

So the city council reconstituted the advisory committee in the summer of 2013, with slightly different membership. The group met four times, then created a new report for the planning commission to consider.

Most recently, planning commissioners were briefed on the advisory committee’s report at a Dec. 10, 2013 working session. For background, see Chronicle coverage: “R4C/R2A Zoning Proposals Reviewed.”

On Jan. 7, Diane Giannola said that she and Bonnie Bona are interested in making some proposals related to the R4C zoning ordinance, like making it easier to convert garages into “carriage houses,” for example.

The next step will be for the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee to look at all of the recommendations for the R4C/R2A zoning, and decide how to move forward. It’s possible that a new set of recommendations would be brought forward to the full planning commission. Ultimately, the city council would need to give direction on how the planning commission should proceed in developing actual revisions to the zoning ordinances.

The advisory committee’s final report will be part of the planning commission’s Jan. 23 meeting agenda.

Ordinance Revisions & Implementations: Citizen Participation Ordinance

An evaluation of the city’s citizen participation ordinance was due to be completed by October 2013, but hasn’t made much progress. Rampson said that Angeline Lawrence of the city’s planning staff has written a memo with suggestions about how to improve the city’s citizen participation. So Rampson would like to review that with the commission’s citizen outreach committee. Members of that committee are Sabra Briere, Diane Giannola, Paras Parekh and Jeremy Peters.

Ordinance Revisions & Implementations: ZORO

ZORO stands for Zoning Ordinance Reorganization. It’s a project that began in 2009. The goal is to do a comprehensive review of 11 chapters of the city code that are related to development, and to present the material in a more concise, user-friendly way, clarifying terminology, and eliminating inconsistencies and outdated material.

The chapters being reorganized by ZORO are:

  • Chapter 26: Solid Waste
  • Chapter 47: Streets and Curb Cuts
  • Chapter 55: Zoning
  • Chapter 56: Prohibited Land Uses
  • Chapter 57: Subdivision and Land Use Regulations, and the attached Land Development Regulations
  • Chapter 59: Off-Street Parking
  • Chapter 60: Wetlands Preservation
  • Chapter 61: Signs and Outdoor Advertising
  • Chapter 62: Landscaping and Screening
  • Chapter 63: Soil Erosion, Sedimentation Control and Storm Water Management
  • Chapter 104: Fences

Don Elliott of the consulting firm Clarion Associates was hired by the city to do the initial work, and presented a draft report about two years ago. Since then, it has been worked on by planning staff and the city attorney’s office, which is overseeing the project. Over the years, planning commissioners have expressed frustration that ZORO hasn’t been completed. At the commission’s April 23, 2013 retreat, for example, it was a topic of discussion.

On Jan. 7, Rampson reported that ZORO has made no progress in the last six months.

Kevin McDonald of the city attorney’s office, who’s point person for the project, was originally scheduled to give commissioners a ZORO update at a Jan. 14 working session. However, a special meeting of the planning commission was convened on that night instead, for the purpose of holding closed session with McDonald to discuss attorney-client privileged information. That is one of the exemptions allowed under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

Ordinance Revisions & Implementations: Floodplain Ordinance/Insurance

Rampson told commissioners that it looked like FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was going to delay moving to mandating market rate flood insurance, “so that gives us a little breathing room.”

By way of background, at its March 5, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to an ordinance change that will adopt a new Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) for the city. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) makes flood insurance available for properties in participating communities – Ann Arbor is a participant. If a building has a federally-backed mortgage and it’s located within the “1% annual change floodplain” (previously called the “100-year floodplain) then flood insurance is required.

Ann Arbor’s previous FIRM dated from Jan. 2, 1992. In 2004, the FEMA began a map revision process for Washtenaw County. Various drains in the city were re-analyzed, using updated data, and on July 27, 2007, FEMA issued preliminary maps. After required public review, appeal and revisions, on Oct. 3, 2011, FEMA issued a letter with a final determination, indicating that the new maps would become effective on April 3, 2012. [.pdf of Oct. 3, 2011 letter] [.pdf of Dec. 20, 2011 reminder letter]

Jeremy Peters, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Jeremy Peters.

Compared to the previous 1992 maps, 321 parcels are no longer analyzed as lying within a floodplain. However, 116 parcels that were previously not analyzed as in a floodplain are now in a floodplain, according to the new maps. Building-wise, 452 structures are no longer analyzed as lying within a floodplain, while 88 buildings are now in a floodplain, according to the new maps. [See also Chronicle coverage: "Column: Digital Information Flood."]

Federal legislation passed in 2012 – the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act – will result in dramatic rate hikes for flood insurance, because federal subsidies will be eliminated. However, implementation of those increases has been delayed.

On Jan. 7, Rampson explained that the plan is to incorporate changes into the city’s flood and zoning ordinances that reflect the insurance risk factor. The primary changes will relate to the flood ordinance, which isn’t the planning commission’s purview. However, any zoning changes would come through the planning commission.

Historic structures have been exempt from regulations related to floodplains, Rampson said. But now, any structure in a floodplain must carry flood insurance, and the rates are expected to increase significantly. The deeper a property is into the floodplain, the higher the insurance rates would be. That might result in disinvestment within those areas, she said, or possibly owners would elevate buildings, which would change the character of a neighborhood. [If a structure is elevated above the flood depth, its insurance rates would be lower.] It’s primarily the impacts on historic districts that the city staff felt should be addressed by possible zoning ordinance changes.

Rampson suggested that the effort should be coordinated with the historic district commission. The question is whether the HDC would come up with a new set of standards for dealing with historic structures in a floodplain. The Secretary of the Interior’s standards don’t really address it, she said. Rampson noted that the HDC has been briefed on this issue by city planner Jill Thacher, “so they already understand that this will be a problem.”

Diane Giannola proposed putting together a committee to tackle this issue, and include former planning commissioner Evan Pratt, who is now Washtenaw County’s water resources commissioner. Other members could be pulled from the HDC, the planning commission, the zoning board of appeals, and local creekshed associations. Giannola noted that Pratt has extensive background on this issue.

Rampson asked about priorities. If planning commissioners want the staff to work on this project, what other project will be moved to a lower priority? Giannola recommended holding off on launching a North Main corridor study, and that the floodplain project should take priority over that.

Rampson reported that Jerry Hancock, the city’s stormwater & floodplain program coordinator, had briefed the city council on this issue last year. He had anticipated that the council would provide direction on what steps to take next, but that hasn’t happened yet. Giannola didn’t think that councilmembers understood the implications of the flood insurance rates on historic districts.

Rampson said she’d work on pulling a committee together to work on this issue. Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Jeremy Peters volunteered to serve.

Ordinance Revisions & Implementations: Redevelopment Ready

The city council – at its Nov. 18, 2013 meeting – authorized the city to participate in the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Redevelopment Ready Communities Certification Program. The planning commission had been briefed on the program at a Sept. 10, 2013 working session.

The program was originally developed by the nonprofit Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and later acquired by the state through the MEDC. [Both organizations have local connections. The suburbs alliance is led by Conan Smith, an Ann Arbor resident who also is an elected official serving on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. MEDC's CEO is Michael Finney, former head of Ann Arbor SPARK.]

The program is viewed as a tool to help communities put in place elements that would allow redevelopment to happen. Those things include master plans that are clear about what community expectations are for new developments, and zoning that reflects those expectations in a very specific way. It means that when developers look at a specific property, they’ll be able to know exactly what they can do. The program includes a list of best practices focused on six categories: (1) community plans and public outreach; (2) zoning policy and regulations; (3) development review process; (4) education and training; (5) redevelopment ready sites; and (6) community prosperity (economic strategies, marketing and promotion). [.pdf of best practices document]

In March of 2013, the MEDC announced that 8 communities – including Ann Arbor – had been selected for the program’s first round to receive a formal Redevelopment Ready Communities evaluation. If the city completes this evaluation successfully, Rampson said, then it would be certified as a “Redevelopment Ready” community. The state has indicated that communities with this certification could receive priority points on grants from MEDC and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

On Jan. 7, Rampson reported that the city is moving forward more slowly than expected, and will probably get started on the certification process in March. That had originally been the timeframe for expected completion of the certification.

Ordinance Revisions & Implementations: Sign Ordinance

A project to revise the city’s sign ordinance is on the work plan for completion by June of 2014. Rampson reported that the staff is waiting for funding to pay for a consultant before that work can start.

Potential Future Projects

In addition to the projects already underway, Wendy Rampson provided an updated list of potential projects that planning commissioners have previously indicated an interest in pursuing:

  • Economic development initiatives
  • Student neighborhood property conditions/enforcement in R4C
  • Southeast area neighborhoods visioning
  • “Mixed use” overlay amendment
  • Neighborhood outreach/engagement
  • Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance amendments
  • “Age-Friendly” master plan and ordinance amendments
  • Non-motorized plan implementation/pedestrian safety & sidewalk initiatives (with systems planning unit)
  • Lowertown land use amendments
  • Ordinance amendment to make all drive-thrus special exception uses
  • High school student representation on the planning commission

Potential Future Projects: Drive-Thrus

Diane Giannola asked what the impetus was to look at eliminating the current by-right use of drive-thrus. It’s come up in discussions about corridor improvements, Rampson replied. One of the challenges in encouraging major corridors to be less auto-friendly is that the city keeps getting proposals for drive-thru restaurants, like Tim Hortons, she said. Currently, drive-thrus are allowed “by right” on any property that’s zoned C3 (fringe commercial). It’s particularly an issue along Washtenaw Avenue, where most of the property is zoned C3.

Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commission chair Kirk Westphal.

Kirk Westphal noted that most restaurant proposals include drive-thrus. “It’s just a cash box in a busy corridor,” he said, “but it makes everything around it not walkable.” To him, it’s a broader question of looking at which parts of the city could evolve into a “walkable node.” If those areas are identified, then the city could ban drive-thrus there. In the meantime, changing the ordinance to require a special exception use for a drive-thru seemed like a good safeguard, he said, so that the planning commission could make a decision on a case-by-case basis.

In response to a query from Paras Parekh, Rampson explained the process for changing the ordinance. Language for an ordinance revision would be drafted by city staff and reviewed by the commission’s ordinance revisions committee. The planning commission would hold a public hearing on it, vote on a recommendation, then send that recommendation to city council. The council would need to approve any ordinance change.

Rampson noted that some cities have banned drive-thrus completely. With a special exception use, it would allow drive-thrus under certain conditions. Those conditions would need to be articulated.

In addition to restaurants, other businesses that use drive-thrus include banks and pharmacies, Rampson noted.

Based on the interest that commissioners were indicating, Rampson said the planning staff would add it to their work plan and draft some ordinance language for commissioners to review.

Diane Giannola and Jeremy Peters asked for an analysis for making this change. “You’ll have landowners and business owners and franchisees up in arms, so it would be good to see some pros and cons,” Peters said. Giannola cautioned that eliminating drive-thrus might result in the need for more parking.

Westphal responded, saying that it might result in fewer fast food restaurants coming to town. “I don’t know that McDonald’s would build a new restaurant if they couldn’t include a drive-thru,” he said. “So that’s one question: Do we have enough drive-thrus?”

Rampson added that from a sustainability perspective, vehicle emission from idling at drive-thrus is an issue. The air quality issue has caused some communities to ban drive-thrus.

Present: Diane Giannola, Paras Parekh, Jeremy Peters, Kirk Westphal. Also: City planning manager Wendy Rampson.

Absent: Eleanore Adenekan, Sabra Briere, Bonnie Bona, Ken Clein, Wendy Woods.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the second floor city council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. The typical Tuesday meeting has been shifted to Thursday to accommodate scheduling changes related to the Jan. 20 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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  1. By Kathy Griswold
    January 17, 2014 at 5:12 pm | permalink

    Two excellent future projects would be:

    - High school student representation on the planning commission
    - Non-motorized plan implementation/pedestrian safety & sidewalk initiatives (with systems planning unit)

    Thanks for the interest in these two areas.

  2. January 18, 2014 at 10:15 am | permalink

    Thanks to Jeremy Peters for asking for an analysis of the drive-thru situation, before the social engineers on Planning Commission eliminate them in their quest for ‘walkable nodes’. The Potential Future Projects list contains a lot of amending – it will be important to apply the same analysis to these items. What is it that calls for amending? What problem are we trying to solve? As for economic development leading the list, I would suggest we take care of old business first, like finishing ZORO, before starting new projects.