Downtown Items OK’d, Public Art Delayed

City council approves 624 Church St. development, acts on downtown zoning revisions, OKs sidewalk projects, delays public art administrator contract extension, explores acquisition of Edwards Brothers land

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 21, 2014): Council communications at the start of the meeting highlighted an already-established pedestrian safety task force – and signaled that the evening could be contentious. It proved to be a night featuring some political friction, with the meeting extending past 1 a.m.

From left: Sumi Kailasapathy and Sabra Briere (Ward 1); Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm (Ward 2); Christopher Taylor and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). In color are the only two councilmembers on that side of the table who are not running for mayor. In addition to running for mayor, the four in black and white all served on a council committee last year that developed a proposal to end the Percent for Art program and replace it with a "baked-in" approach to art. (Photo art by The Chronicle.)

From left: Sumi Kailasapathy and Sabra Briere (Ward 1); Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm (Ward 2); Christopher Taylor and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). In color are the only two councilmembers on that side of the table who are not running for mayor. (Photo art by The Chronicle.)

The pedestrian safety and access task force appeared on the agenda because confirmation of its nine members was a question before the council. As part of that vote, as well as during council communications, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) revived the recent controversy over an attempted repeal of the city’s crosswalk ordinance – an effort that mayor John Hieftje ultimately vetoed. The task force was appointed at Tuesday’s meeting, after Kunselman established that he was still interested in revising the city’s crosswalk ordinance so that motorists would be required to stop for pedestrians only if they could “do so safely.”

In other business, the council approved the site plan for a revised, expanded version of the 624 Church St. project, located in the block just south of South University Avenue. The revised plan is for a 14-story, 116,167-square-foot building with 123 units and about 230 bedrooms. The approval came after an hour and a half of debate on the site plan, focusing on the way the project is satisfying a zoning requirement to provide parking spaces – through the city’s contribution-in-lieu (CIL) program. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority had approved three five-year extensions for the CIL monthly permits – beyond the standard CIL term of 15 years. When Kunselman’s bid to eliminate the extended term failed – a move that would have jeopardized the project’s financing – he told Sean Spellman, representing the developer: “I’m sorry if I scared you …”

Also related to downtown development, the council moved along a process to revise downtown zoning regulations. The council accepted the planning commission’s recommendations, and in turn tasked the planning commission to develop ordinance language to implement the recommendations. In general, the planning commission’s recommendations were intended to create more of a buffer between downtown development and adjacent or nearby residential neighborhoods. Several other recommendations focused on the issue of “premiums” – certain features that a developer can provide in exchange for additional by-right floor area ratio (FAR).

During its Tuesday meeting, the council added some direction of its own: (1) consider rezoning Huron Street from Division to Fourth Avenue to conform with the East Huron 1 character district, and consider incorporating 25-foot minimum side setbacks and 10-foot front setbacks where feasible in the East Huron 1 character district; and (2) consider whether other D1-zoned areas that do not have buffering from adjacent residential neighborhoods, including some areas of South University and Thayer Street, should be rezoned to D2. A date certain was also added by which the planning commission is to report to the council on all its work on this issue – Oct. 20, 2014.

In other zoning action at its Jan. 21 meeting, the council gave initial approval for the zoning of two unzoned properties on South State Street – 1643 and 1645 S. State. They are proposed to be zoned C1 (local business district). One of those properties houses Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky.

In another item related to South State Street property, the council approved with no discussion a $25,550 contract with Atwell LLC for environmental site assessment services to evaluate 2500 S. State St. That’s the Edwards Brothers Malloy property for which the council is currently exploring options to purchase. The item was added to the agenda on Friday, Jan. 17, after the initial publication of the agenda.

Delayed by the council was a six-month extension of the contract with the city’s public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves, and a proposal to add $18,500 to his compensation to cover the added term. The postponement was made amid concern about the remaining $839,507 unallocated balance in the now-defunct Percent for Art fund. The political horse-trade made at the council table was to postpone the contract extension, with the expectation that it would be supported at the council’s next meeting – but at the same time, a process would start to return the better part of the $839,507 to the various funds from which that money was drawn.

The city’s new public art program relies on the idea of integrated or “baked-in” art for capital projects. It was developed by a five-member council committee, which included all four of the councilmembers who have announced that they’re running for mayor in 2014 – Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). The fifth member of that committee was Margie Teall (Ward 4), who cast the only vote against postponing the contract extension for Seagraves – as she wanted to approve it at Tuesday’s meeting.

Also at its Jan. 21 meeting, the council approved $6,818 of general fund money to build a sidewalk from the northeast corner of Penberton Court and Waldenwood northward – to connect to a path leading the rest of the way to King Elementary School. The item, which has a history of at least four years, drew about 15 minutes of discussion.

Taking a half hour of council deliberations was another sidewalk-related item. The council approved the first of four steps in the process to impose a special assessment on property owners for a sidewalk on the east side of Pontiac Trail, between Skydale and Dhu Varren Road. Debate centered on a proposal from Kunselman to ask the city administrator to consider city funding for 80% of the project.

The council dispatched quickly two liquor-license related items: recommendation of a special downtown development liquor license for The Lunch Room at 407 N. Fifth Avenue, and a change in the classification of Silvio’s Organic Pizza license from a Tavern License to a Class C License.

Public commentary was highlighted by concerns about fracking.

Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force

Councilmembers were asked to confirm nominations made at the council’s Jan. 6, 2014 meeting for members of a pedestrian safety and access task force. Members of the task force are: Vivienne Armentrout, Neal Elyakin, Linda Diane Feldt, Jim Rees, Anthony Pinnell, Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Kenneth Clark, Scott Campbell, and Owen Jansson.

The task force was established at the council’s Nov. 18, 2013 meeting. The group is supposed to “explore strategies to improve pedestrian safety and access within a framework of shared responsibility through community outreach and data collection, and will recommend to Council improvements in the development and application of the Complete Streets model, using best practices, sound data and objective analysis.” The group is asked to deliver a report by February 2015.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

During council communications time at the start of the meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) read aloud from several sources, calling it a “collage of the crosswalk ordinance working as intended.” The first item he read aloud was an email from Chelsea resident Diane Locker, who questioned the city’s crosswalk ordinance, based on an experience she had. The subject line to the email was “Crosswalk law caused a recent near-accident.” The email asked for help in understanding how to comply with the city’s crosswalk ordinance. She’d never received a traffic ticket, nor had she been involved in causing an accident, she wrote.

The previous day she’d had an experience on W. Eisenhower near Waymarket Drive that nearly caused a serious accident, she wrote. Under the city’s ordinance, she felt, she should have received a ticket, like a half-dozen cars behind her. She also felt that the father and child who were waiting to cross Eisenhower would have been within their right to start crossing but would have been seriously injured or killed, if they’d started crossing. To date, that’s the closest she’d come to having an accident since the crosswalk law’s repeal had been vetoed by mayor John Hieftje. Locker said she sees pedestrians waiting at the curb to cross on her commute to work and would hate to think that an accident is inevitable. She described other occasions when she’s proceeded without even attempting to stop – because the pedestrian was not walking and the car following her was too close to react to her braking.

Kunselman then read aloud from the ordinance:

10:148. Pedestrians crossing streets.
(a) When traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.

Kunselman then read aloud from Hieftje’s statement vetoing the ordinance:

Referred to as the “Crosswalk Ordinance,” existing Section 10:148 in the Ann Arbor City Code differs from Rule 702 of the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code (“UTC”) in that it explicitly requires drivers to stop, if they can do so safely, for pedestrians stopped on the curb, curb line or ramp. [.pdf of the Dec. 9, 2013 veto statement]

Kunselman then read aloud from an interview with Hieftje in Concentrate magazine:

Given that you had to use your veto to stop council eliminating the requirement for drivers to stop for pedestrians waiting to enter a crosswalk, are you concerned about how the issue will change without your vote in play?

No, I’m pretty happy with the task force that I’ll be naming at our next council meeting. Their mandate is to study the issue. There’s absolutely no data to show that our crosswalk ordinance isn’t working as intended. So I would hope that the task force would be allowed to work.

Kunselman highlighted the part of Hieftje’s veto statement that requires drivers to stop “if they can do so safely.” He ventured that the city attorney’s office had reviewed the language of Hieftje’s veto statement. So now, Kunselman said – citing the email from the Chelsea driver – people are making decisions as to whether they can stop safely.

A few minutes later, the council was asked to confirm appointment of the nine members of the pedestrian safety task and access force. Kunselman asked what the task is for the task force: Is it to come up with recommendations to amend the ordinance?

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) replied that the task force was conceived independently of the heated controversy about the crosswalk ordinance. There are a whole slew of things related to pedestrian safety in addition to crosswalks, she said, which the task force would be reviewing. She alluded to a manual put out by the federal government that will guide the task force’s work. She also said that the task force will be given a book about walkable cities.

Kunselman contended that Briere’s explanation had made clear that the council can continue to consider the question of amending the crosswalk ordinance. He returned to his previous focus on the phrase from the mayor’s veto statement that said drivers should stop “if they can do so safely.” He ventured that an attempt might be made to amend the language of the ordinance to include that phrase.

Outcome: The council voted to confirm all the pedestrian safety and access task force appointments.

624 Church Street

The council considered approval of the site plan for 624 Church Street. This project would be located south of South University Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor, next to and over the two-story Pizza House restaurant on the west side of Church. A previous version went through the planning review process and was given approval by the city council almost a year ago at its March 4, 2013 meeting.

The current, revised plan is for a 14-story, 116,167-square-foot building with 123 units and about 230 bedrooms. The apartment building would extend to the southeast corner of Willard and Church, where the building’s entrance will be located. Existing buildings at 624 Church Street and 1117 Willard would be torn down.

624 Church, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rendering of 624 Church apartments, looking south from South University. Zaragon Place is pictured to the west, immediately next to the proposed 624 Church building. (Image included in the planning commission meeting packet.)

The original plan was for an 83,807-square-foot, 14-story building addition with 76 residential units. But after the original plan received site plan approval, the developer purchased an adjacent parcel at 1117 Willard to expand the project. The Tice family, which owns Pizza House, is partnering with Opus Group of Minnetonka, Minnesota, and 624 Partners LLC. When Pizza House expanded in 2006, the project included foundations that would allow for a taller building eventually to be constructed. [.pdf of site plan] [.pdf of draft development agreement] [.pdf of staff memo]

Premiums offered in the D1 zoning district – for buildings with residential uses, and LEED silver certification – are being used to allow a larger structure than would otherwise be permitted, gaining an additional 267% in floor area ratio for a total of 667% FAR. To use the residential premium, each bedroom must have a window directly to the outside. The premium also triggers the requirement to provide parking – either by building it onsite or through the city’s contribution-in-lieu (CIL) program.

The project includes a 1,491-square-foot outdoor dining area for Pizza House, which will be built underneath the apartment structure on the south side of the restaurant, opening onto Church Street. It will be partially enclosed, with large garage-style overhead doors along the front property line opening to the sidewalk.

Other features of the project and development agreement include:

  • Two small offices for building management on the ground floor of the addition, with a solid waste/recycling room and bicycle parking room at the rear. There will be no new retail space.
  • The top floor will include a small “club room” for residents and a rooftop patio with benches, a small grilling area, and garden trellis.
  • The second floor will contain a fitness room, study lounge and five apartments. Other floors will have 11 apartments each. The apartments will be divided into: 23 one-bedroom (19%); 88 two-bedroom (72%); and 11 three-bedroom (9%). The units will range in size from 490 to 1,100 square feet.
  • The developer will make a contribution of $47,120 to the city’s parks and recreation unit for improvements to the nearby Forest Plaza, adjacent to the Forest Avenue parking structure.
  • The development agreement includes a requirement to disconnect 27 footing drains as part of the city’s footing drain disconnect program. That’s an increase from the 20 that were required for the previous version of the project.

The new version of this development was evaluated by the city’s design review board, which was generally supportive of the project. [.pdf of September 2013 DRB report] The city planning commission recommended approval of the revised plan at its Dec. 17, 2013 meeting.

The development requires 53 parking spaces under the city’s zoning. Five of those will be provided in spaces underneath the building. The previous proposal had no on-site parking. At its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority granted the owner the ability to buy a total of 48 monthly parking permits in the Forest Avenue parking structure, through the city’s contribution-in-lieu (CIL) program. That program requires the developer to pay 20% more than the standard rate for monthly parking permits. The DDA had already granted a request for 42 permits under the original version of the project.

At its Jan. 8 2014 meeting, the DDA board approved a request for the option to extend the monthly parking contracts for three five-year periods. Opus had wanted the ability to extend the contract’s 15-year commitment to instead cover a 30-year financing period – based on feedback from firms that would be providing the financing.

The previous development proposal had drawn concern from representatives of the adjacent Zaragon Place apartments, at 619 E. University. The concerns stemmed in part from the fact that under the previous plan, the new building would have been built up to the lot line next to Zaragon Place. The current proposal calls for setbacks of 10 feet and 20 feet from that property line. According to planning staff, the city hasn’t received any feedback from adjacent property owners about this current proposal.

624 Church Street: Public Hearing

Brad Moore, the architect for the project, led off the public hearing.

Architect for 624 Church Street, Brad Moore.

Architect for 624 Church Street, Brad Moore.

Moore noted that what’s before the council is a revision to the previous project. He reminded the council that the renovation to Pizza House had been designed with strong enough foundations to facilitate a larger project to be built at a later time. He explained that the portion of the previous project that had zero setback with the adjacent Zaragon building has been redesigned, so that it now has a 20-foot setback. [That had been a point of friction with the owner of the Zaragon building in the previous iteration of the project, but has not been an issue this time around.]

Moore noted that the unit mix is about 90% 1-2 bedroom units, with 11 3-bedroom units.

Eppie Potts spoke about the parking permit issue. She questioned the contribution-in-lieu policy that allows a developer to pay for permits in the public parking system, instead of building parking spaces onsite. That’s not good for the public, Potts said. She won’t be able to get to her favorite restaurant, she feared. The public is being crowded out. If the developers can build that big of a building, they could also find a way to build some parking, she contended.

Next to speak was Scott Munzel, who is a local attorney representing Opus, the developer. He noted that the project complies with all the applicable zoning requirements. He called the project a creative use of a “difficult site.” That’s why it’s difficult to construct parking onsite, he said, and that’s why the developer is making use of the city’s contribution-in-lieu program. The project is consistent with the downtown plan, he said, and it’s consistent with other city goals, like creating a sense of place.

Maggie Ladd, director of the South University Area Association, told the council she supports the project. She said that the zoning was changed before the A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) process, and that A2D2 lowered the height restrictions.

624 Church Street: Council Deliberations

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) led off the discussion. She asked for planning manager Wendy Rampson to come to the podium. Kailasapathy wanted to know about the contribution to parks – as $72,450 had been requested. The developer had made a smaller contribution – $47,120. Rampson noted that the parks contribution is voluntary. Brad Moore, the project’s architect, responded by saying the city parks staff member had modified the request downward, based on the specific parks improvements at Forest Plaza that the city wanted to undertake.

Kailasapathy then expressed dissatisfaction with the extension option for the contribution-in-lieu parking program that the DDA had granted – three five-year periods past the standard 15 years for parking CIL permits.

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, described the usage pattern of the Forest Avenue parking structure, which is heavy during the school year. She ventured that a circulator bus downtown could allow for relocating the permits to a different parking structure sometime in the future. Mayor John Hieftje noted that the developer is taking advantage of an existing policy – the CIL program.

Pollay described an “experiment” or “pilot” program the DDA had tried where parking permits would be granted not on a first-come-first-serve basis but rather to property owners based on square footage. The number of parking permits that were being granted to the project fell within the square-footage guidelines of that pilot program, she said. [Property owners turned out not to be interested in managing parking permits on behalf of their tenants.] Hieftje elicited the fact that the CIL program requires a 20% premium to be paid on the regular price for a monthly parking permit.

About the Forest parking structure, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked: Is there a wait list? Yes, answered Pollay, 325 are on the list, and 153 of those have joined the list since 2012.

Kunselman said the extension of the CIL by three 5-year periods “irked” him. He asked what the DDA’s discussion had been like in terms of “fairness.”

Pollay said that fairness is the point of the “pilot” program. But the DDA had learned that the property owners didn’t want to manage parking permits for their own tenants. Pollay said the conversation about fairness was ongoing. About the South University area, Kunselman noted that “we’re running out of land over there.”

Kunselman wanted to know what other developments had contracts for parking permits. How many spaces are available to the public at the Forest parking structure?

Pollay said the Forest structure has almost 900 spaces, but the University of Michigan had been a partner on the expansion of the structure. So not counting the spaces allotted to UM, just under 590 spaces are available to the public, she said. There are 131 monthly permits that have been sold to the public now. She explained how the gate arms keep track of public usage versus UM usage.

Pollay noted that the current monthly permit system is on a month-to-month basis – which means that the DDA can choose not to renew a monthly permit. Kunselman wanted to know if the 48 permits for the 624 Church Street project would be taken out of the 131 existing permits. He elicited the fact that the 48 permits sold to the 624 Church Street project will jump ahead in line of those currently on the wait list. Pollay said that many people on the wait list may already be parking in the Forest structure on an hourly basis, adding that having a monthly permit is a matter of convenience.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said the council keeps hearing that for new developments that are built, the residents are going to bring cars. She was not sure that all 48 of those spaces would be needed for the project.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thought that if a more diverse housing mix is desired, not all residents would find it convenient to not have a car. She expressed concerns about the lengthened parking agreement. She was glad that flexibility on the location of the structure where they’d be granted had been built into the agreement. She asked Pollay if this relocation of the permits to a different structure during the extension period had been a point of discussion with the developer. Yes, answered Pollay. Pollay also noted that the CIL program had been approved by the council.

Lumm said she didn’t want to see cars parked in the neighborhood if people can’t get into the structure. Hieftje, who lives in the North Burns Park area, responded to Lumm’s remarks by indicating that the residential parking program is effective in preventing people from storing cars on the streets. Hieftje ventured that if the council wants to review the CIL program, it should do that separate from its consideration of the 624 Church Street project.

Kailasapathy responded to Hieftje by saying that the 15-year extension was outside the CIL policy. She called the use of the CIL policy “externalization of costs” associated with the development.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated support for the site plan –because it conforms with the zoning requirements. It would add useful residential units, he said. Previously the area had been challenged and desolate and it’s no longer so, he said.

On the parking permit issue, Taylor allowed that fairness is an issue, but said he’s relying on the DDA to take a longer view of managing the demand of the parking system. On the parking permit spaces, Taylor said: “They’re being used by Ann Arbor residents – they just don’t live here, yet.”

Kunselman asked if the DDA has looked at subsidizing lower-income students for their parking costs. Pollay replied by saying that the DDA’s strategy has been to make as many options available as possible and to let people choose.

Kunselman asked if the monthly permits allow someone to park 24/7. Yes, Pollay answered. That’s a problem, Kunselman said.

Kunselman then asked if long-term parking had been explored for people to park at a satellite lot for “storage parking.” Pollay said a pilot had been done at the Fingerle lot to explore the idea of “storage parking.” Not many takers had been found, she said.

Kunselman ventured that developments in D1 and D2 zoning districts are “parking exempt,” so he wanted an explanation for why the 624 Church Street project needed parking. Rampson explained that parking can be required for the larger buildings that result from premium FAR (floor area ratio).

Kunselman asked the city attorney what happens if the council amends the development agreement. Assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald suggested that instead of trying to amend the development agreement, the council should make changes in the resolved clauses of its resolution.

Kunselman asked for the developer to come to the podium, and asked about striking the CIL’s extended term and location from the development agreement: Will that be a deal-breaker? Yes, answered Sean Spellman with The Opus Group. The national lending market has spoken, Spellman added.

Spellman noted that for the extended term of the CIL, the location of the parking structure where the permits would be granted wouldn’t necessarily be the Forest parking structure. But having the extended term was essential to obtaining financing, Spellman said. Kunselman replied: “Your financing is not my concern.”

Kunselman said that all these years he’s participated in this kind of site plan review process, he’s always told citizens that the council is voting on the zoning, not the financing, and it’s up to the developer to put the financing together.

Spellman said that the council could move the spaces wherever it wants, but the development really needed the extension. Kunselman said that if the project can’t get financing without the parking, then maybe it’s too big. About the DDA board’s decision to agree to the extended term, Kunselman said: “The DDA rolled over for ya.”

Kunselman continued by saying that the DDA doesn’t sign contracts, and the developer would have to go to the bank with a DDA resolution, not a contract. Kunselman added that he’d be content not to have any parking required for the project.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) then reviewed with the developer the availability of spaces in the Forest structure. Pollay reviewed how a monthly parking permit is not transferable, and cannot be sublet.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked Rampson if the developer could meet the parking requirement by providing Zipcar spaces. Rampson reviewed the lessons learned from The Varsity project, and noted that Zipcar doesn’t necessarily accept locations on a private site.

624 Church Street: Council Deliberations – Proposed Amendment (Location)

Kunselman then offered an amendment to the resolution. Kunselman’s added “resolved” clause stated that the development agreement is to be renegotiated to eliminate the designation of the Forest parking structure and the three 5-year extensions.

Teall appreciated the sentiment of Kunselman’s amendment. She wished there were more parking in the South University area. But she didn’t think Kunselman’s amendment was practical.

Hieftje said he understood the financing issue. He also understood the value of the additional units the project would provide. He called Kunselman’s amendment a “poison pill” for the development.

Hieftje said the DDA has thought deeply about this issue and knows more about the parking system than the council does. Assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald suggested that the word “negotiate” should be eliminated from the amendment, because it’s just council’s direction to be followed and nothing would be “negotiated.”

Lumm wanted the question divided. So the designation of the Forest parking structure as the location for the monthly permits was one question. The three 5-year extensions were a separate question.

First up was the location of the permits. Briere asked Pollay if she understood the amendment to mean that the spaces couldn’t be assigned in the Forest structure, and that the DDA would be constrained to look at other parking structures. Pollay replied that she did not know what the DDA board members would think, but what she interpreted the amendment to mean was direction from the council that the council would prefer that the spaces not be allocated in the Forest structure, and the DDA would take it as direction to find spaces for the permits elsewhere in the system.

Jack Eaton (Ward 4) said the question should actually be directed to Kunselman as to what his intent was. Kunselman said he didn’t mind if the permits were assigned in Forest – and he wanted the DDA to have the flexibility to assign them wherever it deems suitable.

Taylor asked if the location of the parking spaces had an implication for the financing. Spellman indicated the assumption had always been that the majority percentage of the permits would be in the Forest structure. Taylor ventured that the DDA has already indicated that the spaces are available in the Forest structure. Petersen noted that the council had already approved 40 spaces in Forest, in conjunction with the previous version of the project.

Outcome on the location amendment: The amendment failed with support only from Kunselman, Eaton, Anglin and Kailasapathy.

624 Church Street: Council Deliberations – Proposed Amendment (Term)

Next up was the question of three 5-year term extensions. Lumm said she’d support the amendment, but noted that she wasn’t sure why the DDA agreed to the extensions.

Hieftje brought Spellman back to the podium. He got clarification that Opus needs the “capacity” to extend the term for the permits for 30 years. The location for that entire period is not important. About the chances for getting financing without the 30-year term, Spellman said: “It’s zero.”

Eaton asked if the project could get financing if the project were parking-exempt. Spellman indicated that if the project were exempt, then it would already be zoning-compliant.

Briere wondered what the expectation was for a building becoming compliant with zoning in year 16 – after the standard term for a CIL permit agreement. McDonald explained that the policy was to require a minimum for 15 years. The 20% additional payment is to provide an enhancement to the parking system, McDonald said. He noted that banks are concerned that the building could become out of compliance. He said it was the city that came up with the 15-year requirement.

From right: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2).

From right: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2).

Lumm ventured that not having the parking agreement could kill the project. McDonald said that the conversations with the developer have been extensive. He pointed out that the DDA’s initial response to the request of a 15-year extension was to reject that in favor of three 5-year extendable terms.

Taylor called it “nonsensical” to deny the permits, knowing it would stop the project. “This makes no sense to me,” he said.

Kunselman ventured that the previous project was apparently financeable without the parking permit term extensions. He then shifted to a somewhat conciliatory tone, saying the project won’t get killed, because his amendment would be voted down. But later he would be bringing forth a proposal to kill the CIL program. Hieftje ventured technically the vote could come out for the amendment, which would kill the project.

Outcome on amendment on the parking permit extensions: The amendment failed, with support from Kunselman, Eaton, Anglin and Kailasapathy. [Lumm hesitated, saying she was counting votes, then voted no.]

624 Church Street: Council Deliberations – Continued

With the main question before the council again, Lumm worried about the CIL program eating away at the capacity of the parking system.

Petersen said she voted no on Kunselman’s amendment, but wanted the CIL program re-examined. She hoped it could be “Zipcar in lieu of parking.”

Kunselman said he’d had no intention, coming into the meeting, of raising these issues, but as he listened, he thought that the fairness issue was important. He allowed that the developer might have found the council’s discussion to be scary: “I’m sorry if I scared you, but as we work this through, that’s what we do.”

Briere said she’d bring up this issue with the planning commission, as the CIL program is related to D1 zoning and premiums. She ventured that many in the community would advocate for requiring a developer to provide parking for tenants. The issue needs to be considered carefully, she said.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the site plan and development agreement for 624 Church St.

Downtown Zoning Recommendations

The council considered a resolution giving direction to the planning commission to develop revisions to the city’s downtown zoning ordinance.

Downtown Zoning Recommendations: Background

By way of background, a downtown zoning evaluation began last year, following a city council directive to the planning commission on April 1, 2013. That direction was prompted in part by the controversial 413 E. Huron development, at the northeast corner of Huron and Division. The council’s direction was for the planning commission to make recommendations to the city council by Oct. 1, 2013.

Planning consultant ENP & Associates was hired to gather public input and evaluate certain aspects of downtown zoning known as A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown), which was adopted in 2009. ENP’s Erin Perdu took the lead on this project.

Her report had been originally presented at the commission’s Oct. 8, 2013 working session. [.pdf of consultant's downtown zoning report] [.pdf of Appendix A: city council resolution regarding zoning review] [.pdf Appendix B: list of downtown development projects since 2000] [.pdf of Appendix C: public input results]

Commissioners held a public hearing on the consultant’s recommendations that began on Oct. 15, 2013, and continued at their Nov. 6, 2013 meeting. They also discussed the recommendations at a Nov. 12 working session. Based on that discussion, planning manager Wendy Rampson made revisions to Perdu’s original set of recommendations. Rampson drafted a memo and resolution containing these revised recommendations. [.pdf of Nov. 19 memo and draft resolution]

The commission continued the public hearing and debated most of these recommendations at its Nov. 19, 2013 meeting, which adjourned at about 12:30 a.m. The group did not tackle the most controversial item that night: Possible changes to the parcel at 425 S. Main, at the southeast corner of Main and William.

On Dec. 3, commissioners picked up the topic and heard from three people during the ongoing public hearing – all three of them addressing the issue of zoning at 425 S. Main. Following that, the commission’s discussion focused on 425 S. Main, as well as revisiting a recommendation related to the design guidelines.

For additional background on this process, see Chronicle coverage: “Feedback on Downtown Zoning Continues“; “Downtown Zoning Review Nears Final Phase“; “Priorities Emerge in Downtown Zoning Review”; ”Downtown Zoning Review Moves Forward” and “Downtown Zoning Review to Wrap Up Soon.”

Downtown Zoning Recommendations: Planning Commission to Council

In general, the final recommendations made by the planning commission at its Dec. 3, 2013 meeting aim to create more of a buffer between downtown development and adjacent or nearby residential neighborhoods.

Three of the recommendations related 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.

Prior to the meeting, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) distributed amendments that she intended to bring forward. [.pdf of Briere's possible amendments to the downtown zoning resolution]

At its Jan. 21 meeting, the council considered a resolution that accepted the recommendations as completing the planning commission’s assignment. The resolution further directed the planning commission to translate its recommendations into proposed ordinance language, which would require review and a public hearing. The specific ordinance language would then be recommended by the planning commission to the city council, which would make the ultimate decision after a public hearing.

Downtown Zoning Recommendations: Public Hearing

Peter Nagourney led off the public hearing.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) spoke with Doug Kelbaugh before the start of the council meeting.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) spoke with Doug Kelbaugh before the start of the council meeting.

He supported the work of consultant Erin Perdu. He called the master plan “the constitution” and the zoning ordinance “the law” – a sentiment he attributed to resident Tom Whitaker. In some cases, the consultant’s recommendations went beyond the council’s direction, he noted, but that was in order to achieve overall consistency.

Doug Kelbaugh, former dean of the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, was next to address the council. He said the fallout from 413 E. Huron had resulted in a productive process.

Going from 180 feet to 60 feet (D1 to D2) is too abrupt, he said. Kelbaugh asked that the rest of Ann Street also be considered as part of the zoning review. He alluded to Briere’s possible amendment as addressing the Ann Street concerns. He told the council that the recommendations in front of the council are supported by many people.

Tamara Burns, an architect and chair of the city’s design review board, told the council that the board does not support tying the award of premiums to compliance with the recommendations of the design review board. The design guidelines need to be revised and the process for the design review needs to be updated, she said – before making premium FAR (floor area ratio) contingent on design review board recommendations.

Steve Kaplan said that in recent history, his observation was that having design guidelines is a great start, but it’s easy to ignore them. He asked that some attention is given to how much teeth the guidelines can have – so that people follow them in the future.

From left: Eleanor Linn, Chris Crockett and Ray Detter.

From left: Eleanor Linn, Chris Crockett and Ray Detter.

Chris Crockett thanked the council for providing the direction to re-evaluate the downtown zoning. She said there are some changes to the recommendations that she would suggest. She wanted consideration of zoning changes all the way to Fourth Avenue on Ann Street. She called 413 E. Huron a sad experience because of a misapplication of character areas. Crockett said she has respect for Tamara Burns, saying she’s known Burns since Burns was in high school. But Crockett ventured that there could be some way to put some additional teeth into the design guidelines.

Hugh Sonk spoke representing the Sloan Plaza Condominium Association. Sloan Plaza is located on the north side of East Huron, next to the 413 E. Huron development. He called on the council to support the additional recommendations made by the near downtown neighborhood group. [.pdf of Near-Downtown Neighborhood Group letter]

Piotr Michalowski said he’s very concerned about the corner of Main and William. He asked the council to support the current recommendation to rezone that parcel as D2. He noted that residents of the neighborhood have already been “burned” once with a project he said he would not name. [He was referring to City Place, on South Fifth Avenue south of William.] He asked the council to maintain the transition between residential areas and Main Street.

Cy Hufano, a resident of Sloan Plaza, spoke next. On the technical side, he addressed the second recommendation – for the D1.5 zoning proposal, which includes a height limit of 120 feet, and the use of diagonals.

Cy Hufano.

Cy Hufano.

As far as the process goes, Hufano felt there were a lot of loose ends. He cautioned against making decisions based on the threat of lawsuits. He said he was speaking from the heart. He visited the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and looked at a mural. There was a figure holding a halter, he said: “People have got to watch what government is doing.”

When Ray Detter addressed the council, he essentially reprised the same comments that he delivered at the Jan. 8, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board. He agreed with Hufano’s comments.

Eppie Potts strongly urged support for the resolution to start the process of much-needed amendments. D1 and D2 have been tried, but found to be controversial, she said. To avoid future controversy, additional revision is needed. She cited problems with overlay districts. She gave The Varsity on East Washington as an example of a problem with front setbacks. She asked the council to keep the door open to reviewing other troublesome aspects of D1 and D2.

Eleanor Linn introduced herself as a resident of Forest Court, near Zaragon and the Landmark apartment buildings in the South University neighborhood. She ventured that another large building will be built on Church Street, depending on the council’s action later that night. [The council later approved the 624 Church St. project.] She supported the possible amendments to be offered by Briere – which would direct the planning commission also to consider revisions to zoning in the South University area. Linn recalled intricate details of the history of past planning exercises.

David Blanchard introduced himself as chair of the city’s housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB). He said he wanted to keep the idea of affordable housing alive, with a diversity of housing choices for different income levels. He remembered the PUD (planned unit development) system where cash-in-lieu of affordable housing units could be contributed. He also noted that the current zoning has a “super-premium” for building affordable housing. The current recommendation is to remove that premium, because that premium wasn’t being used. That might be the right recommendation, he allowed, but he wasn’t sure enough thought had gone into it. He urged the planning commission to work with HHSAB to make affordable housing a reality in Ann Arbor.

Downtown Zoning Review: Council Deliberations – Briere Amendments

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who represents the city council on the planning commission, said that the commission had discussed all the communications that had been described during the public hearing. The public had asked the planning commission to expand its scope of consideration, but the planning commission had decided to confine its recommendations to the council’s specific direction.

Briere then offered her amendments. In addition to the direction already given in the original resolution, her amendments directed the planning commission to: (1) consider rezoning Huron Street from Division to Fourth Avenue to conform with the East Huron 1 character district (which has a height limit of 150 feet instead of a 180-foot limit like other D1 areas); (2) consider whether other D1-zoned areas that do not have buffering from adjacent residential neighborhoods, including some areas of South University and Thayer Street, should be rezoned to D2.

Briere’s amendments added a date certain by which the planning commission is to report to the council on all its work on this issue: Oct. 20, 2014, which is the council’s second meeting that month. [.pdf of amendments to the downtown zoning resolution put forward Briere]

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked Briere if she’d be willing to add setback language to the amendments so that 25-foot minimum side setbacks and 10-foot front setbacks would be included for the East Huron 1 character district. Briere said she tried to not constrain the planning commission. So she had not suggested any side setbacks in her amendments. She didn’t think front setbacks of 10 feet would benefit all of Huron Street. Briere wanted further discussion before accepting Lumm’s suggestions as friendly.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) wanted to know if Briere would be willing to add Ann Street between Fourth and Fifth as an area for additional consideration. That suggestion was added in a friendly way.

Lumm then phrased her suggestion on setbacks in terms of “considering” changes to the setbacks, which was added to the set of amendments.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he wanted to “chat” about the reference to Thayer in the amendments offered by Briere. He didn’t think there’s residential in that area that needs buffering. But he thought there needs sight-scape buffering to Hill Auditorium, so he’d support the reference to Thayer.

Outcome: Briere’s amendments were approved.

Downtown Zoning Review: Council Deliberations – Taylor Amendment

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said there’s been a lot of good and solid work done on this by the planning commission and the public. He said he hopes that the recommendation on residential premiums means that it’s a reduction in the size of the units – as that would speak to the kind of housing that “millennials” are looking for. He said that the recommendation at the corner of Main and William had been a swift change from the consultant’s initial recommendation. So he wanted to keep an eye on that.

Taylor then offered a specific amendment on the recommendation about the design review board’s role. He said the city needs modest and smart growth. His amendment indicated that the revisions to the design review board process should have the support of the design review board. [That was a reaction to the public hearing comments by design review board chair Tamara Burns, who said that as things currently stand, the design review board did not want to be the arbiter of the award of premium FAR (floor area ratio).]

The phrasing of Taylor’s amendment was to highlight the recommendation on making adherence to core design principles mandatory [numbered (4) in the resolution] by exempting it from the resolution’s general direction to the planning commission to implement the changes.

Briere noted that when Taylor said “save (4)” many people understood it as “save for.” So wordsmithing ensued to ensure Taylor’s amendment did escape the Oct. 20, 2014 deadline.

Mayor John Hieftje said the design review board had all along not wanted to have mandatory compliance. So he appreciated Taylor’s amendment.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson said (4) had originally been drafted to say that there would be mandatory compliance. The planning commission had revised the wording to emphasize there should be a focus on the core design guidelines and improving the process, without making the design review board the gatekeeper to the premiums. About Taylor’s amendment, which Rampson said she was seeing for the first time, she concluded that “it looks fine.”

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked Rampson who the gatekeepers to the premiums would be – the planning commission? Rampson responded to Kunselman by saying that the planning commission had discussed various possibilities. Commissioners were reluctant to make compliance mandatory. They wanted the ability to look at each site as unique. Kunselman ventured that the final arbiter would be the council. Rampson suggested that two paths for a project review could be maintained, for site plan and for design review.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked Rampson to comment on the design review board process and the city’s participation in the state’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program. Would the DRB process prevent Redevelopment Ready certification? Rampson said the main thing with the program is that “we have to be clear” so that a developer knows what to expect.

Jack Eaton (Ward 4) talked about the idea that the council would be making the judgment about how close a developer had come to meeting the recommendations of the design review board: Is that approach workable? Rampson indicated that the approach works in other communities.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that some developers find out what the neighbors want and build that – while others don’t, and get pushback.

Anglin asked about setbacks. Rampson explained that the idea is that the setbacks allow for some flexibility, but the building should continue a pattern if there’s an existing pattern of buildings set forward on a particular street. The goal was not to crowd the sidewalk, Rampson said.

Lumm asked for confirmation about what the planning commission and design review board will be doing. Rampson indicated that she thought those two groups will be able to chart out a path to work together. Rampson noted that the DRB is not always consistent in its comments – with different members offering different perspectives. So the DRB is looking for a preliminary meeting, with more informal commentary, followed by a more formal process.

Hieftje said he’d always supported mandatory compliance, but he thought the amendment Taylor had offered is very thoughtful.

Outcome: Taylor’s amendment was approved.

Downtown Zoning Review: Council Deliberations – Amended Resolution

When the council had finished its amendment process and focused on the main question, Kunselman said he’d support the resolution. He noted that mandatory compliance can’t be required on a basic project, but it can be required for premiums. He noted that he’d been the only councilmember who’d voted against the A2D2 zoning. He had preferred the previous zoning, which was more of a “mosaic,” he said. He echoed the remarks of Eleanor Linn, who’d described during the public hearing how the “density chips” in the Calthorpe planning exercise were dumped on South U: “They definitely were,” he said.

When the zoning was changed in the South University area before A2D2, the council had not been told about the possibility of parcel combinations, Kunselman said. He added that the current revisions are implementing corrections to the previous policies and the “lust to build more and more housing.”

Briere said she’d support the resolution and she’d try to influence the outcome on the planning commission based on what she’d heard at the council’s meeting.

From left: Chuck Warphehoski (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3),

From left: Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) said he’d support the resolution – especially because of the deadline that Briere had added. He hoped that the pieces that are clear can be covered quickly, and that not everything will be held up in order that everything is done before anything is done. He was glad the process took a look at the southeast corner of William and Main. He said he’d trust the process, adding that the corner of Main and Packard is not a place for D1 zoning.

Lumm said she’d support the resolution. She ticked through a list of people she wanted to thank. She called the report and recommendations thorough and clear. The recommendations help address the flaws in the A2D2 zoning that manifested themselves in the 413 E. Huron project, she said.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) said was glad the council was moving forward with this. She’d attended some of the public outreach meetings. What was said at the meetings was reflected in the report, she said. The council’s work session last week [on economic development] gave her pause, she said. She wants to keep Ann Arbor’s housing stock diverse and affordable.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the recommendations, with amendments, to the planning commission for changes to the downtown zoning.

State Street Zoning Request

The council considered initial approval for the zoning of two properties on South State Street – 1643 and 1645 S. State. The zoning designation would be C1 (local business district). One of those properties houses Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky.

The unzoned parcels – located in Ward 4 just south of Stimson and the Produce Station – are owned by Stefan Hofmann. The site at 1645 S. State is used for storage. In addition to housing Biercamp, the parcel at 1643 S. State also includes an auto repair shop and furniture manufacturer, which is primarily a woodworking shop.

The zoning for these parcels, which were annexed into the city from Ann Arbor township in 2011, has previously been considered by the planning commission. That was when Biercamp owners Walt Hansen and Hannah Cheadle wanted to zone the property C3 (fringe commercial district), so their business could sell a wider variety of merchandise, including products not made on site.

When the property was annexed into the city from the township, the site had been zoned by the township for light industrial. The closest equivalent in the city’s zoning code was M1 (limited industrial zoning). The city’s master plan – prior to the adoption of the South State Street corridor plan – called for light industrial zoning in that area, but M1 zoning would only allow for retail space to occupy 20% of the building’s floor area, to sell products made on-site.

At its Sept. 8, 2011 meeting, the planning commission unanimously recommended denial of that C3 zoning request, based on the proposed zoning being inconsistent with the city’s master plan. The request was then made directly to the city council, which also denied the request at a meeting on Feb. 21, 2012.

At the time, planning commissioners also were advocating for a broader study of the State Street corridor. That study was subsequently completed, and on July 15, 2013, the city council adopted the South State Street corridor plan as an amendment to the master plan’s land use element.

According to a staff memo, the adoption of the corridor plan into the city’s master plan prompted city planning staff to initiate the current zoning request. The C1 zoning is consistent with recommendations in the master plan, which calls for a mixed-use neighborhood retail center in that area to serve the Yost and Burns Park neighborhoods.

C1 is a more restrictive type of zoning than C3, primarily related to limits on the size of a business. No drive-thru restaurants are allowed in C1 districts, and there’s an 8,000-square-foot limit on the size of a business, for example. There is no restriction in either C1 or C3 that limits the products sold to those that are made on-site.

The city’s planning commission recommended C1 zoning for these parcels at its Dec. 17, 2013 meeting.

State Street Zoning Request: Council Deliberations

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) noted that the staff memo gave the historical perspective on the Biercamp zoning request, but he wasn’t sure if the current proposal met Biercamp’s needs. He said that it gave him the chance to visit the business to get some jerky and to get a growler so that Sally Petersen (Ward 2) was clear about what a growler is. He lifted a growler onto the table, prompting Petersen to ask if it was a gift. [Petersen had previously asked at a council meeting what a growler is. That was the Dec. 17, 2012 meeting, when the council approved a micro-brewery license for Biercamp.]

Warpehoski reported, based on his visit, that the Biercamp owners are supportive of the C1 zoning.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the zoning of 1643 and 1645 S. State. It will need a second vote at a subsequent meeting.

Edwards Brothers Land

On the council’s agenda was approval of a $25,550 contract with Atwell LLC for environmental site assessment services to evaluate 2500 S. State St. That’s the Edwards Brothers Malloy property for which the council is currently exploring options to purchase.

At its Jan. 6, 2014 meeting, the council directed the city administrator and the city attorney to explore options and gather information. So the site assessment by Atwell is part of that effort. The council is working within a 60-business-day window that began Nov. 27, 2013.

By way of background, the pending sale of the property to UM was announced in a Nov. 27, 2013 press release. The business – a fourth-generation Ann Arbor publishing and printing firm – had signaled its intent to put the property on the market in late July.

The city’s right of first refusal on the property was 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.

According to the tax abatement agreement, the event triggering the city’s 60-day right-of-first-refusal window is a formal notification to the city by Edwards Brothers, which was made on Nov. 27, 2013.

Discussion at the city council’s Sunday night caucus on Jan. 19 indicated that conversations could be taking place between city officials and the university about UM’s needs and how the Edwards Brothers property meets those needs – with an eye toward the possibility of the city and the university arriving at a mutually agreeable outcome where the city acquired only a portion of the property.

Caucus discussion also indicated that talks are taking place between the city and developers who might have an interest in purchasing the property from the city. One obstacle in those conversations is the fact that the university could still eventually exercise its right of eminent domain to acquire the property from a developer, even after purchasing it from the city. But that would require convincing a court that the expansion of the university’s athletic campus at that location would be in the public interest.

Outcome: The council voted without discussion to approve the contract with Atwell to do a site assessment of the Edwards Brothers property. The council held another closed session on land acquisition at the end of the meeting, which lasted about 40 minutes.

Public Art Administrator Contract

The council considered an extension of the contract with the city’s public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves, by six months – through June 30, 2014 – and to add $18,500 to his compensation to cover the added term. A total of $20,500 was to be appropriated from the balance in the public art fund, with the additional money to cover various expenses. Seagraves is contracted to work an average of 20 hours a week.

By way of background, the city council enacted a public art ordinance in late 2007, setting up a Percent for Art program as a funding mechanism. For each of the city’s capital projects, 1% of the budget – up to a cap of $250,000 – was set aside for public art. The Ann Arbor public art commission oversaw the expenditures. However, the approach proved controversial and the city council changed the ordinance to eliminate the Percent for Art funding mechanism at its June 3, 2013 meeting. That ordinance change came after a failed public art millage that was put before voters in the November 2012 election.

Mayor John Hieftje

Mayor John Hieftje.

Under the new approach, city staff will work to determine whether a specific capital improvement should have enhanced design features “baked in” to the project – either enhanced architectural work or specific public art. The funding for any of the enhanced features would be included in the project’s budget and incorporated into the RFP (request for proposals) process for the capital project.

The funds accrued to the public art fund during the time of the Percent for Art program are still subject to the same legal constraints – which require a thematic link between the original source of the funds (e.g., the street millage) and the piece of art to be funded. The council debate at its June 3, 2013 meeting included wrangling about what to do with that fund balance, with Jane Lumm (Ward 2) arguing unsuccessfully that $845,029 should be returned to the funds of origin. The council voted to return only the money that had accrued to the fund in the most recent budget year – $326,464.

A budget summary provided by Seagraves in response to a Chronicle email shows a current balance of $839,507 in available funds for public art, as of Jan. 14, 2014. An additional $535,853 is earmarked for three projects that are underway: artwork at East Stadium bridges ($385,709), a rain garden at Kingsley and First ($7,009), and at Argo Cascades ($143,134). [.pdf of financial summary]

Public Art Administrator Contract: Public Commentary

Bob Miller, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, spoke to the council during public commentary at the start of the meeting. The art commission has followed the direction of the city council since the change to the ordinance last year, he reported. He gave a summary of the projects that are currently in the works. The commission looks forward to achieving the goals set by the council, he told councilmembers.

Public Art Administrator Contract: Council Deliberations

Jack Eaton (Ward 4) led off deliberations by saying he couldn’t support continuing to spend funds that were accumulated under the former Percent for Art program. [As a budget amendment, the item needed eight votes to pass on the 11-member council. So if the council had voted on the issue instead of postponing, there was a credible possibility that it would have failed.]

Jack Eaton (Ward 4)

Jack Eaton (Ward 4).

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) said the money in the public art fund balances should be returned to the funds of origin. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that she’s previously said she wouldn’t support continued spending of public art money. Her resolution to return about $800,000 to the funds of origin had failed several months ago. She said a “clean break” should be made between the current program and the old program.

[At the council's June 3, 2013 meeting, the council eliminated the Percent for Art program from the ordinance, and revised the ordinance in a way that allowed the return of money to its funds of origin – but just for money accumulated in the public art fund for the FY 2014 budget year. And the council voted at the same June 3 meeting to return that money, which amounted to $326,464. But a bid by Lumm to revise the ordinance to allow the return to its funds-of-origin money accumulated in previous years did not win majority support on the council.]

By the end of 2013, Lumm said, the council was supposed to have a description of the new program. Based on Ann Arbor public art commission chair Bob Miller’s remarks that night, Lumm said it didn’t appear that has happened.

On the question of the contract extension, mayor John Hieftje said that pretty much nothing happens without a staff member. A lot of citizens have put in a lot of time on a lot of projects that are in the works, he said. He asked Miller if any of the projects could go forward without an art administrator. Miller’s answer: No. Without an art administrator, the public art commission couldn’t function, he said.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) said she thought that money from the streets millage should be returned to that fund. But she saw the need for a public art administrator. This should be the last extension of his contract, she said. After this, part of the public art administrator’s job is supposed to include raising private funds.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) tried to get an estimate from public services area administrator Craig Hupy of the likelihood of having a private funding mechanism in place by June. Hupy, who supervises Seagraves, described a model where a nonprofit would be formed outside of the city. He ventured that the wastewater treatment facility art project, currently in the planning stages, would have 50% private support.

Briere said that the idea of leaving the money in the public art fund was to use some of that as a “bridge” to the new model. She was concerned about how long that might take. She said she thinks an administrator is needed for the next few months, but she didn’t want to see the contract extension for much longer.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked questions about the projects in the works. Hupy said that the East Stadium bridges artwork had run into some issues with the sustainability of the materials and some modifications had been made. That would come back to the public for review.

Kunselman said he’d made a commitment to following through on the transition. But at some point, he allowed, the council has to pull the plug. He felt that the projects left over from the Percent for Art program were a drag on the ability of the city to transition to the new program. Kunselman said it’s also unfair to Seagraves to be subjected to a contract renewal every six months.

Eaton suggested a postponement on the contract extension, and that it be brought back with a simultaneous proposal to revise the ordinance to allow the return of money to the funds of origin. Kunselman said if all the money is put back, you can’t pay for the art currently in the works.

Hieftje got clarification about Eaton’s intent – which was to provide enough money to fund an administrator, but to return the other public art money to the funds of origin.

Eaton’s motion to postpone nearly failed for lack of a second. But Briere offered the seconding motion.

Briere pointed out that an ordinance can’t be changed in one meeting – because it requires a first and second reading. Hieftje responded to Briere’s point by saying a resolution could be introduced at the council’s next meeting to direct the preparation of ordinance language. Kunselman asked what the ordinance amendment would do. Answer: It would allow the return of the money to the funds of origin for previous years.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) ventured that the compromise he was hearing Eaton offer was to take the amorphous wind-down time period of the old public art program and give it some additional structure. Petersen said she didn’t think the vote that night needed to be postponed.

Eaton clarified, saying that he wanted a quid pro quo – his vote in support of the contract extension in exchange for a commitment to return the unassigned money in the public art fund to the funds of origin.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) was not willing to make the deal Eaton was proposing. She said there had not been an agreement to end the public art program, but rather to transition to a new approach. She was disappointed that no nonprofit has yet been found to take the lead on the private funding component. She said she’d support the contract extension that night.

Kunselman said he’d support the postponement because it continues the dialogue and gives Eaton some time. He appreciated Teall’s sentiments, but said there are other areas of the city that have needs. He compared providing parking for wealthy students in the public parking structure – a reference to debate earlier in the evening over parking permits for 624 Church St. – with a tent out on Stone School Road where people are trying to keep warm.

Hieftje responded to Kunselman by saying there’s not a single dollar in the public art fund that could be used for human services.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that art projects that people can actually see would have a positive impact. He indicated support for the postponement.

Outcome: The council voted to postpone extending Seagraves’ contract as public art administrator. Sole dissent came from Teall.


Two items involving construction of new sidewalks – at two specific locations – appeared on the council’s Jan. 21 agenda.

Sidewalks: Waldenwood – Background

By way of background, at its Aug. 8, 2013 meeting, the city council had approved a $10,000 design budget for a sidewalk to fill in a gap from the northeast corner of Penberton Court and Waldenwood northward, connecting to a path leading the rest of the way to the King Elementary School.

Waldenwood sidewalk gap. Green indicates existing sidewalks. Red indicates a sidewalk gap. Blue stars indicate signers of a petition in support of the sidewalk.

Waldenwood sidewalk gap. Green indicates existing sidewalks. Red indicates a sidewalk gap. Blue stars indicate signers of a petition in support of the sidewalk.

In its form, that resolution was similar to other sidewalk design budgets the council approved last year. [For example, the council approved similar design budgets for a sidewalk on Barton Drive at its July 15, 2013 meeting, a sidewalk on Newport Road at its Jan. 22, 2013 meeting, and for a sidewalk on Scio Church Road at its Nov. 19, 2012 meeting.]

However, the sidewalk gap near King Elementary School includes a history of advocacy by nearby resident and former Ann Arbor Public Schools board member Kathy Griswold dating back to 2009.

For students crossing Waldenwood from the west to attend school, the new 186-foot sidewalk would allow them to make the crossing at the intersection, where there is a four-way stop – instead of crossing the street using a mid-block crosswalk.

According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, “The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Transportation Safety Committee has agreed the use of a new crosswalk at this stop controlled location would be preferable over the existing mid-block crossing at the school entrance.”

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) spoke with Michael van Nieuwstadt before the meeting started.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) spoke with Michael van Nieuwstadt before the meeting started.

From the fall of 2009 through the spring of 2010, Griswold addressed the council on at least nine occasions on the topic of the King Elementary School crosswalk and the related sidewalk gap. The construction of a sidewalk had been met with opposition by the immediately adjoining property owners. And the more recent feedback, reflected in the staff memo for the Jan. 21 meeting, indicates that an Oct. 3, 2013 neighborhood meeting attended by 22 people resulted in 15 feedback forms, 10 of which indicated support and 5 of which indicated opposition. [.pdf of letter from the van Nieuwstadts and Weismans]

The funding of new sidewalks – as contrasted with repair of existing sidewalks – is typically achieved at least partly through a special assessment on adjoining property owners. Sidewalk repair, but not new construction, can be paid for with the city’s sidewalk repair millage.

In the case of the Waldenwood sidewalk, it’s located to the rear of the residential properties – and the city does not typically special assess properties to finance sidewalks to the rear of a property.

Only a small amount of the originally approved $10,000 design budget was spent. To cover the $16,000 construction cost, an additional $6,818 of general fund money was requested at the Jan. 21 meeting.

Sidewalks: Waldenwood – Public Commentary

Michael van Nieuwstadt is an owner of property adjacent to the proposed sidewalk near King Elementary School. He asked for clarification about the nature of the agenda item: Did it involve moving the crosswalk as well as construction of the sidewalk? Sabra Briere (Ward 1) departed from the typical city council practice of not responding at all to public speakers, explaining to van Nieuwstadt that it’s just about construction of the sidewalk. He said he’s been asking for a safety report for the last four weeks, and he’d learned that one had been produced just earlier in the day. He wanted some time to look at the report. He described the sidewalk connection as connecting two pieces of “nowhere.” He asked for some additional time for the neighborhood to gather its thoughts.

Kathryn Dacosta also addressed the issue of the sidewalk extension near King School.

Kathryn Dacosta returned to the podium after providing the city clerk with copies of a photograph she had described during her public commentary.

Kathryn DaCosta returned to the podium after providing the city clerk with copies of a photograph she had described during her public commentary.

She walks her kids to school every day, so she’s on the front lines of the issue, she said. Before the 2011-12 school year there was no crossing guard. It’s a difficult situation and it’s very unsafe, she said.

Drivers are distracted by saying goodbye or looking for their kids. They’re not watching for kids doing unexpected things. Drivers are committing traffic infractions, she contended. She reported that Sally Petersen (Ward 2) had visited the site that morning. Dacosta said there have been three traffic accidents in the last year.

There’s gridlock, she said, causing angry drivers. Drivers are also on their cell phones. People also park on the side of the street where the extension is proposed. She took a photo to illustrate the situation, which she handed to the city clerk. It showed parents with their children walking in the street.

Sidewalks: Waldenwood – Council Deliberations

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) said she had the same impression as the speaker during public commentary – that the resolution dealt also with the location of the crosswalk. But the crosswalk location was not a part of the resolution. She proposed an amendment to make that clear.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) added that in the many conversations about the sidewalk, concerns had been raised about previous studies. She referred to a Jan. 21 email from Ann Arbor Public Schools director of ancillary services Brad Mellor, saying that the transportation safety committee agreed that the issue of the sidewalk construction adjacent to the school needs to be resolved, and would not benefit from further analysis or additional delay. [.pdf of email from Mellor]

Lumm said she thought that a sidewalk would provide a good location for kids to be dropped off.

Outcome: The council approved the amendment proposed by Petersen, which stated “Resolved, That such approval does not confer agreement to relocate the existing mid-block crosswalk;”

Petersen then wanted to know how a decision would be made to change the location of the crosswalk, if it were changed. Pat Cawley, a project manager for the city, explained the process to go through moving a crosswalk in the future.

Petersen then wanted to make sure that the King Elementary School families would have an opportunity to provide feedback on a change to a crosswalk location.

Lumm thought all the issues that had previously been raised had been addressed. Lumm inquired about the feedback form from a previous meeting and how it was distributed.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the Waldenwood sidewalk construction budget.

Sidewalks: Pontiac Trail

In separate sidewalk-related item, the council considered taking the first of four steps in the process to impose a special assessment on property owners for a sidewalk on the east side of Pontiac Trail, between Skydale and Dhu Varren Road. The project would also construct a concrete curb and gutter northward from Skydale about 920 feet along the east side of Pontiac Trail and about 1,030 feet along the west side of Pontiac Trail. Those stretches currently don’t have a curb and gutter.

This first step directed the city administrator to prepare plans, specifications and a cost estimate.

Sidewalks: Pontiac Trail – Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off the discussion by explaining why the sidewalk is only on one side: It’s not anticipated that there will be demand. If the property owners on the other side, in the township, are annexed into the city, a sidewalk on that side might be added, she said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked if the city was going to be contributing some percent of the cost. Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, said there’s no federal or state dollars involved. Kunselman responded by saying he wanted to amend the resolution. He wanted 80% of the cost to be borne by the city. He was comparing the way the city approached special assessments for some projects in the city when there were federal or state funds available. He didn’t think it was OK to sometimes provide a portion of the cost and sometimes not – for other projects that are special-assessed.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) asked for an explanation from Hupy about other projects. Hupy explained that for some other projects, state or federal funding is available. The federal or state portion is typically 80% of the project cost. Warpehoski ventured that Kunselman’s amendment would establish a new precedent of the city providing funding.

Nick Hutchinson, a project manager for the city, clarified that there would be eight property owners affected by the special assessment for the Pontiac Trail sidewalk.

Mayor John Hieftje agreed with Warpehoski that it would not set a good precedent as a way to fill sidewalk gaps, to commit city funds to it.

Kunselman asked for an estimate of the cost. Hutchinson ventured that it’d be $45,000 for 920 feet. Kunselman stressed that it’s the first step in the special assessment process and doesn’t commit the city to anything. The issue is to let the people know that the city is thinking about them. He said that Pontiac Trail should have federal dollars available and he thought that the city should wait until federal funds are available.

Hutchinson confirmed that the federal surface transportation program is for major streets and Pontiac is a major street, so it’s eligible. But Hutchinson said it would be at least 2018 before federal money might be available.

Kunselman called it an issue of fairness – because Ward 3 residents with a project on Stone School Road would have their project funded with federal monies, but Pontiac Trail wouldn’t. What he was proposing is to resolve the fairness issue with city dollars.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) joined Hieftje and Warpehoski in expressing a concern about setting a precedent. Hieftje spoke again to the issue of fairness by saying that special assessment is the standard way to finance sidewalk construction and always has been.

Briere said her immediate reaction to Kunselman’s amendment was to be intrigued by it. It seems to indicate a commitment by the council to filling sidewalk gaps. But Briere said that if the council determines the fallback position is that the city would pay 80%, then she fears that very few sidewalk gaps would be filled. Briere noted that she would be attending a meeting the following night with property owners on Newport Road who actually want to pay for construction of a new sidewalk.

Kunselman observed that Chapter 13 of the city code, governing special assessment, has been on the books for a long time but sidewalks gaps have persisted. Any neighborhood that doesn’t have sidewalks will have this process applied, he contended. Kunselman continued by saying the city needs to show some empathy for taxpayers instead of just saying that the city is going to assess them for a sidewalk.

Outcome on Kunselman’s amendment: It failed with support from only Eaton, Kunselman and Anglin.

Outcome: The council has voted to direct the city administrator to prepare plans, specifications and a cost estimate for the Pontiac Trail sidewalk project.

Liquor: Lunch Room, Silvio’s

The council considered two liquor-license related items. First, the council considered recommending that the Michigan Liquor Control Commission approve a special downtown development liquor license for The Lunch Room at 407 N. Fifth Avenue. That category of license was made available by the Michigan legislature in 2006 for cities that established districts where such licenses would be granted. The requirements include investment in the rehabilitation of the building that houses the establishment seeking the license, and a determination that the recipient of the license be recommended “above all others.”

And the council considered approving a change in the classification of Silvio’s Organic Pizza license from a Tavern License to a Class C License. A key difference between a Class C License and a Tavern License is that a Class C allows the sale and consumption of not just beer and wine, but also liquor. Silvio’s is located at 715 N. University Ave.

Liquor: Council Deliberations

For both liquor license items, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) reviewed the details of the requirements. She also thanked the various staff involved, including the clerk’s office, fire department, police department, and city attorney’s office. “They do great work,” she said.

Lumm serves on the council’s liquor license review committee, along with Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

Outcome: On separate votes, the council recommended approval of a downtown development district liquor license for The Lunch Room and the change in category from Tavern to Class C license for Silvio’s Organic Pizza.

Communications and Comment

Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.

Comm/Comm: Fracking

During public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, Kurt Gleichman told the council that there’s urgency to implement anti-fracking ordinances. Coalition groups have worked on raising awareness, he said. Corporations don’t have a conscience, he said, and they have huge resources to influence legislators and persuade the public. Those in power take the easy way out, he said. Because of a lack of action by those in authority, the people have to take it into their own hands, he added. Gleichman alluded to a trial that’s starting next Monday in connection with a civil disobedience action against fracking. He asked the council to make this a priority.

Leon Bryson introduced himself as a Ward 5 resident. He called for a local ordinance against fracking. He said he recently attended a meeting with state Rep. Gretchen Driskell on the topic. He said some of the people who attended the meeting had been approached by companies who wanted to buy their mineral rights. He’s concerned that horizontal drilling from locations outside the city could come close to his own house.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

Bryson alluded to the Elk River chemical spill in West Virginia that contaminated the drinking water. “We can take the lead in Ann Arbor” to ban fracking, he said. He alluded to the leadership of Ann Arbor on the pedestrian ordinance, and called on the Ann Arbor city council to show similar leadership on the fracking issue.

During council communications time following public commentary, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) noted that fracking is already banned by the city’s prohibition of any extraction of minerals within the city limits.

But he allowed that there could be loopholes – and said that the city is working to address those.

Ann Arbor is already leading on this issue, Warpehoski said. He pointed out that Ann Arbor, as a home rule city, can ban mineral extraction, but townships surrounding Ann Arbor can’t.

From the city code:

Chapter 56: Prohibited Land Uses

5:116. Oil and gas wells
The locating, sinking, drilling, casing, deepening or operating of oil wells, gas wells, and oil and gas wells and test holes for the location of natural crude oil or natural dry gas, or both, in the City of Ann Arbor is hereby prohibited.

Comm/Comm: Green Baxter Court Fire

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) gave an update on what’s being done for former residents of the Green Baxter Court building that was destroyed by fire on Jan. 8. It’s an Ann Arbor housing commission property. Petersen said she and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) held a town hall meeting and were updated by Joan Doughty of Community Action Network. CAN runs a community center at Green Baxter, under contract with the city.

Lumm followed up on Petersen’s remarks on the Green Baxter Court fire. She told people to go to the Community Action Network website to find out how they can help.

Comm/Comm: Cold Weather

During his communications time at the start of the meeting, city administrator Steve Powers told the council that the cold weather has again caused the Delonis Shelter to go into emergency mode. The intoxication and behavior rules have been relaxed. He gave additional information about warm places where people could seek refuge, noting that much of it had been covered previously in an update at the council’s Jan. 6, 2014 meeting.

Powers also described how the extreme cold was beginning to reduce the effectiveness of salting the roads, but the city was salting and sanding known “problem intersections,” hills and curves.

Comm/Comm: Homelessness Advocacy

During council communications at the end of the meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) also recognized advocates for the homeless community – Seth Best and Caleb Poirer, who were in attendance and stayed until the end of the meeting – for their cooperation. He said that they’d given assurances that the tent on Stone School Road would be taken down, because it’s not in conformance with city code.

Comm/Comm: Streetlights

During council communications at the end of the meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) reported that streetlights on Packard have been repaired all the way from Jewett to Stone School, so he thanked DTE.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, Jack Eaton, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski.

Next council meeting: Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

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  1. By Eric Boyd
    January 25, 2014 at 6:28 am | permalink

    I think it is a big mistake to only put the sidewalk in on the east side of Pontiac Trail. Leaving out sidewalks “because no one will use them” is exactly the type of thinking that left Ann Arbor with so many sidewalk gaps. The city should put it in now and work to continue the sidewalk network whenever possible. As the sidewalk grid becomes complete, people will begin to use “isolated” sidewalks.

    If the issue is instead that the west side of the street is township islands, then we should bring them into the city and assess them for the sidewalk. The city is supposed to be bringing township islands into the city as quickly as possible, but does not seem to be following through at all.


    The existence of township islands, which gain most of the benefits of being in the city without paying anywhere near the same amount of taxes is blantantly unfair to their city-dwelling neighbors.

  2. January 25, 2014 at 12:31 pm | permalink

    I agree with the statement by Mr. Boyd. That Township island should be at the top of the list for incorporation, and thereby receive a special assessment to pay for sidewalks on the West of Pontiac Trail. Those of us who have lived up here long enough remember the clearing of the land in anticipation of development, and the subsequent abandoning of the project. Bring that land into the city, so if it does become developed the city tax rolls will be enriched.

  3. January 26, 2014 at 6:38 pm | permalink

    Referring to Susan Pollay,”She ventured that a circulator bus downtown could allow for relocating the permits to a different parking structure sometime in the future.”

    That would be a revival of the Link (with possibly a different route). I’d like first to note that a current planning decision should not be made on the basis of an unrealized and unfunded notion.

    The idea of the downtown circulator bus has a checkered history. I am referring only to my memory with the following.

    The Link was once funded by the DDA and that funding was later withdrawn. Later it was reinstituted with major support by the UM. At that time, it provided transport from Oxford Housing, thus was not only a downtown circulator.

    A downtown circulator was included in the TMP (Transit Master Plan) that underlay the countywide transit proposal. When the Financial Task Force subcommittee reviewed elements of the TMP to make the 5-year workable with a (approximately) 0.5 mills tax, that element was summarily removed from the plan with a note, “find private funding”.

    A revival of this service would require purchase of a new bus and monies for bus purchases have now been fully committed. If an authority-wide millage is passed, it will be used to buy buses for the “urban core”. A downtown circulator is not included in the “enhanced” services proposed under the Urban Core concept.

  4. By Tom Hollyer
    January 26, 2014 at 9:44 pm | permalink

    Mr. Boyd, my home was in a township island and annexed into the city app. 7 years ago. I’m still trying to figure out what those benefits you mention are. My road still doesn’t get plowed, the city can’t provide me with water. Really nothing much has changed. I do get my trash picked up without having to pay an additional bill. But all in all, the significantly higher taxes seems a pretty steep price for trash collection.

  5. By John Floyd
    January 27, 2014 at 11:40 pm | permalink

    @4 Mr. Hollyer’s comment crystalizes the single greatest life-and-death issue in our city – and doesn’t once use the word, “Millennial”

  6. By Eric Boyd
    January 28, 2014 at 2:16 pm | permalink

    @4: As a resident of a township island, the city provides densely packed infrastructure just outside your doorstep. That includes an interconnected road network, sidewalks, bike lanes, many shops, schools, neighborhoods, stores, etc. in close proximity, a police force that keeps crime low despite the density, etc. It costs more in taxes to build that dense pattern of settlement than it does to live out in the country. So yes, you are benefiting from living “in” a wonderful city without paying your fair share if you live in a township island. There’s a reason people want to live here.

  7. By Tom Hollyer
    January 28, 2014 at 9:27 pm | permalink

    Mr. Boyd, I appreciate your point of view. Please appreciate mine. Interconnected roads existed decades before I was in the city. And they still don’t get plowed, or graded in the summer. Maybe because they’re dirt? Who knows? No sidewalks. No bike lanes. Closest shops a mile away. Closet bus stop a mile away. And we still have our well because the city claims it can’t run the city water lines to us. Policing I will buy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really complaining though it may sound so. I’m just pointing out that your initial post claiming “blatantly unfair” is ignorant at best. My city-dwelling neighbors have many things the city cannot or will not provide to me. All circumstances are unique, and to paint all township islands with the same brush is wrong. The implication that those remaining in them are somehow feeloading is equally wrong. But I do get to vote in city elections.

  8. January 28, 2014 at 9:54 pm | permalink

    Re (7) Where, approximately, is your location? What you report is distressing. We definitely owe full service to everyone in the city.

  9. By John Floyd
    January 29, 2014 at 1:28 am | permalink

    Mr. Boyd,

    City taxes do not pay for schools. City taxes do not pay for stores or shops, and for that matter much of our day-to-day shopping is now located in townships . Except by mutual agreement with a township, city police will not respond to township service calls.

    The larger point is that there is a reason that residents of Scio, Pittsfield, or Ann Arbor townships are not begging to be brought into the city: they perceive that what they would receive in services would not be worth what they would pay in taxes. People in the urbanized parts of Scio or Pittsfield have their own paved roads, parks, fire and police services, access to courts, etc. Some even have sidewalks. Their trash gets picked up. Their sewage is disposed. Many send the kids to, and pay for, Ann Arbor Public Schools. Many have an Ann Arbor mailing address. When they ask themselves, “Would any new or better services that would I get iif we were part of Ann Arbor be worth the greater taxes I would pay?”, the answer never seems to be “Yes”. Home owners are not asking to be part of the city. We ignore that piece of information at our peril.

    Ann Arbor does have legacy costs, such as under-funded pensions, that newer communities do not yet have. However, legacy costs seldom inspire confidence in the management of a city. We ignore this kind of information at our peril.

  10. By Steve Bean
    January 29, 2014 at 8:48 am | permalink

    Re: #9, “…they perceive that what they would receive in services would not be worth what they would pay in taxes.”

    Would such a perception be any wonder given the bemoaning of U-M purchases of private land—the so-called erosion of the tax base? Do the mayor and council members think that township island and other possible annexation-eligible township residents won’t hear that as their needing to make up for the losses when they’re brought into the city?

    John’s point about legacy costs is insightful. (Your first paragraph, though, John, seems to me to be a bit off base).

    In the bigger picture, is the strategy for addressing these matters to go ‘all in’ on downtown development (with the possible exception of speculating on the Edwards Bros property)?

    What we ignore at our peril—as I’ve been saying for several years now—is the unprecedented global credit bubble and the potential follow-on economic impacts after it bursts. Our focus is too narrow, too close in. The city can’t possibly hope to stem the tide of deflation. We’ve been whistling in the dark for years while the evidence mounts around us. Have we done anything at all to prepare for this possibility? (I could call it an inevitability, but I understand that some people disengage at the sight of such language.)

    Here’s an “economic development” study that the city (not SPARK, please) could commission that would actually be a worthwhile investment: an analysis of three possible five-year scenarios, each with (at least) two possible policy implementations. We’re not likely to do so, though, because we follow the optimistic herd. And when the mood shifts to pessimism, we’ll follow the herd down as well. We’re in denial. And we do that at our peril.

  11. By Eric Boyd
    January 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm | permalink

    @7: Mr. Hollyer, I also appreciate your point of view. (FWIW, “Eric” is fine, but I did not want to be disrespectful by being informal in return.)

    It does sound like your case in particular did not match the majority of the township islands, but, obviously, I have no idea where you live. However, looking at the city maps, there are plenty of township islands that make absolutely no sense from an equity perspective.

    For example, the building that now houses Biercamp (near corner of South State and Stimson) was just brought into the city. Before that, however, it was Ann Arbor township, albeit miles from the rest of the township). The street in front of that building is paved and plowed. There are sidewalks. There are bike lanes. There are cops catching speeders on South State, even if they weren’t technically required to respond to problems at that address. I’m guessing that the city fire department would “assist” (by getting there first) in case of a fire. I don’t know if they had sewer or water through the city, of course, but for all intents and purposes, they were benefiting from their location in the city. Just not paying their proportionate taxes.

    Take another example: there are streets off of Dexter west of Maple that are dirt. I’ve been told residents want them to be dirt because it slows / reduces traffic. Many of the houses in those neighborhoods are actually 2 lots. One lot is in the city and has the structure, city water (driven in part by the Pall plume), city sewer. The other lot is “yard” and is in the township. If the second lot is ever built, it will have to be brought into the city, But, for now, the owners pay township taxes for a yard that is for all intents and purposes, in the city.

    In both these examples, I think it’s an equity issue. Since presumably I can’t break off my backyard into a separate lot, revert it to township, and pay lower taxes, I would like the city to bring properties like these into the city and with that additional tax base either improve our services (e.g. more cops, better parks, more frequent street repairs, more plowing) or reduce our taxes (same revenue spread across more property).

    @9: I realize the schools and shops are not paid for by property taxes. My point was that the close proximity of schools and shops to dense neighborhoods is part of the inherent value of city living. Creating and maintaing that requires infrastructure built up over time, additional security, years of accumulation of legacy costs, etc.

    Moreover, the city and townships have long ago agreed that these township islands belong in the city. The only question is when is the city going to get around to it.

  12. By Steve Bean
    January 31, 2014 at 10:51 am | permalink

    Here’s some context for the recent tall-building boom downtown (624 Church St., et. al.):

    “As previously noted, the skyscraper indicator is flashing sell signals. The indicator is based on Edward R. Dewey’s observation that the tallest buildings go up at the end of economic booms. The Empire State Building was constructed through the Supercycle wave (III) peak in 1929; One World Trade Center was built through the Cycle wave III peak in 1966. The completion of the new One World Trade Center, which was topped off this year and will be ready for occupancy sometime next year, holds strongly bearish implications for the stock and real estate markets. This time the signal is amplified by some key divergences that are as dramatic as the views from One WTC’s observation deck. In November, the building became the tallest in North America, but it took a special ruling by the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (yes, there is such an organization) to crown it so. The council’s ruling said that One WTC’s spire is a permanent architectural element, which pushes the building’s official height to 1776 feet. In addition to the fudge factor that was needed to surpass Chicago’s Willis Tower (built through the major stock peak in 1973), there is the fact that One WTC will be the largest building in North America but not in the world. That honor remains with the Burj Khalifa, a 1,988-foot-tall building in Dubai that was constructed through the 2007 stock market peak.”–Elliott Wave International, Global Market Perspective – January 3, 2014.