Archive for January, 2014

M-14 & Barton Drive

In the westbound lane of M-14, road workers are running out into the middle of the highway with tar to patch potholes. It’s just like playing Frogger – absolutely insane.

First Street

American Red Cross mobile unit trailer being slowly and carefully hooked up to an enormous tow truck.

Feb. 3 Agenda: Edwards Brothers Land Buy

Now on the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 3, 2014 agenda is a resolution to move ahead with the purchase of the 16.7-acre Edwards Brothers Malloy property on South State Street. The University of Michigan has made an offer to Edwards Brothers to purchase the property for $12.8 million, but the city has a right of first refusal.

The item was added to the agenda on Thursday, Jan. 30 and is grouped with staff-generated items. City administrator Steve Powers is indicated on the council’s agenda as the originator of the item. The resolution approves the exercise of the city’s right of first refusal, appropriates necessary funds, and directs the city administrator to notify Edward Brothers Malloy about the exercise of the city’s right. As … [Full Story]

Pontiac Trail & Barton

Pontiac Trail blocked (broken water main, presumably) just north of Barton, with expected traffic chaos thru the neighborhood.

UM Diag

Students putting up lanterns to celebrate Chinese New Year. [photo]

Feb. 3, 2014 Ann Arbor Council: Preview

Updated Friday, Jan. 31: An item authorizing the city’s right of first refusal to purchase the Edwards Brothers property on South State Street has been added to the agenda.

Two new ordinances will be given initial consideration at the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 3, 2014 meeting. One involves public art – which relates to leftover business from the council’s previous meeting. The second proposed new local law involves prohibitions against smoking in some public places.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor online agenda management system. Image links to the next meeting agenda.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor’s online agenda management system. Image links to the Feb. 3, 2014 meeting agenda.

Public art is actually the topic of two separate items on the council’s agenda. One is a contract extension for the city’s part-time public art administrator, which had been on the council’s Jan. 21, 2014 agenda, but was postponed at that meeting.

The postponement took place in the context of a political horse trade offered by Jack Eaton (Ward 4) at the council table on Jan. 21. Eaton indicated he’d support the public art administrator’s contract extension at the council’s subsequent meeting – but only if the council would move toward returning as-yet-unallocated money set aside during the now defunct Percent for Art program to its funds of origin (e.g., sanitary sewer fund, street millage fund etc.).

Both elements of the horse trade are scheduled for the Feb. 3 meeting. The move toward returning money out of the public art fund takes the form of initial consideration of an amendment to the city’s public art ordinance. The ordinance amendment, sponsored by Jane Lumm (Ward 2), would allow the council to return money accumulated under the city’s former Percent for Art program to the funds from which that money was drawn. The ordinance change would need a second and final council vote at a subsequent meeting to be enacted. Any transfer of public art money would require separate council action after the potential ordinance change.

A third public art item is expected to be on the agenda as an item of communication – the annual public art plan for fiscal 2015, which was approved by the Ann Arbor public art commission at its Jan. 29 meeting. It lists projects that are underway, as well as potential new projects for the coming year.

Also getting initial consideration on Feb. 3 will be a new ordinance that would prohibit smoking in specific outdoor public areas. Made punishable through a $50 civil fine would be smoking within 20 feet of: (1) bus stops; (2) entrances, windows and ventilation systems of the Blake Transit Center; and (3) entrances, windows and ventilation systems of any city-owned building. The ordinance amendment would also authorize the city administrator to have signs posted designating certain parks or portions of parks as off limits for outdoor smoking.

In another item on its Feb. 3 agenda, the council will consider approval of a $398,703 contract plus a $40,000 contingency with Hubbell Roth & Clark Inc. to reconstruct Geddes Avenue from Huntington to Huron Parkway. The project, which includes five components, is scheduled to start in the spring of 2015 and may continue through 2016. The five components of the project are: reconstruction of Geddes, sanitary sewer on Geddes, sanitary sewer on Dover Place and Riverview, storm sewer on Geddes, and water main on Dover Place and Riverview.

Also on the council’s Feb. 3 agenda is a proposed expansion for Germain Motors – an auto dealership on South State Street, formerly Howard Cooper Imports.

The council will also consider setting a hearing date for three establishments that could potentially be recommended for non-renewal of their liquor licenses for non-payment of taxes: The Arena, Banfield’s Bar & Grill, and Café Zola. The three businesses were also subject to the same scrutiny last year, and all eventually paid their taxes without having their licenses revoked.

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Murray & Washington

I don’t know what this is but at least it is evidence that someone has been enjoying the snow. We have a deficit of snow art. [photo]

Argo Dam

I am now sitting at my desk watching two bald eagles fly upstream, just passing over Argo Dam. First time for two at once and flying so low. Also seeing great blue herons just below the dam for the first time in 10 years in the wintertime, even below zero.

In the Archives: Dynamite Baseball Catcher

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s local history column appears in The Ann Arbor Chronicle usually sometime around last Wednesday of the month. This month’s column draws upon the archives of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s namesake – a 19th century University of Michigan student newspaper called The Chronicle-Argonaut. In its era, The Chronicle-Argonaut maintained a rivalry with the Michigan Daily – in the form of a “base ball” game. So it’s fitting that Bien’s column this month also highlights University of Michigan baseball from that time period.

Moses with his 1882 UM teammates.

Moses Fleetwood Walker with his 1882 UM teammates.

He smashed the color barrier in major league baseball. During his lifetime, Congress passed sweeping civil rights legislation. No modern baseball player can wear his team number on a uniform. And unlike Jackie Robinson, he was a University of Michigan alum.

Moses Fleetwood Walker was born Oct. 7, 1856 in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. His parents may have settled there due to the eastern part of the state’s long association with the Underground Railroad.

Moses, or Fleet as he was later called, was the fifth or sixth of seven children born to physicians Moses and Caroline Walker. The 1860 census lists two three-year-olds, Moses and Lizzie. The little girl, possibly Moses’ twin, does not appear in the 1870 census.

Soon after Moses’ birth, the family moved to nearby Steubenville, 40 miles west of Pittsburgh. Their neighbors there worked as bricklayers, dyers, pattern makers, tinners, and laborers. Moses attended an integrated school and at graduation chose Oberlin College, one of the first colleges in the nation to admit black and female students. When Oberlin formed its first baseball team in 1881, Moses joined as a catcher.

It was a tough position to play in that era. The catcher had no body protection or face mask. He didn’t even have a glove, but caught barehanded. In addition, in 1881 the pitcher’s throwing position was not 60 feet and six inches from home plate as it is today, but only 50 feet (and before that 45 feet). Pitchers for a time were even allowed to take a running start. Common catchers’ injuries included broken ribs and fingers, facial injuries, and concussions. [Full Story]

Location Selected for Windemere Tennis Courts

Taking action on a project that’s been in the works for about two years, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission has unanimously voted to approve a revised new location for tennis courts at Windemere Park, on the city’s northeast side. The final location approved by PAC was one put forward at a public meeting earlier this month.

Windemere Park, tennis courts, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Recommended new location for new Windemere Park tennis courts. (Image included in Jan. 28, 2014 meeting packet for the Ann Arbor park advisory commission.)

Action by park commissioners came at their Jan. 28, 2014 meeting.

The new location for the tennis courts … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Reports South Industrial Sewer Overflow

The city of Ann Arbor has announced that a sanitary sewer overflow took place on Jan. 28, 2014. According to a press release on the city’s website, the overflow was caused by the break of a 16-inch water main on South Industrial Highway, which caused a nearby sanitary sewer line to break.

Untreated water from the broken sanitary sewer line flowed up to the street via manholes, according to the press release. The untreated water then made its way into the city’s stormwater system, to Malletts Creek and, ultimately, to the Huron River. A report has been made to Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality about the incident, according to the city.

In a conversation with The Chronicle last week, public services area … [Full Story]

AADL Board Adjusts Budget, Reviews Policy

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Jan. 20, 2014): Acting in part on recommendations from last year’s communications audit by Allerton-Hill Consulting, the library board authorized budget adjustments totaling $118,000 at its first meeting of 2014.

Prue Rosenthal, Ann Arbor District Library board, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Prue Rosenthal was re-elected to another one-year term as president of the Ann Arbor District Library board of trustees on Jan. 20. (Photos by the writer.)

Two of those items relate to communications and outreach: $63,000 to design, print and mail event postcards, newsletters and other items to all district residents; and $25,000 for a satisfaction survey of 500-600 library district residents, to be conducted by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA. The library previously did a survey in early 2012, in part to gauge public support for financing a new downtown library. The board later put a bond proposal on the November 2012 ballot to fund a new downtown building, but it failed to receive a majority of votes.

The new survey will be used to measure the public’s recognition of the products and services provided by AADL, their regard for AADL as a public institution in the region, and the avenues by which people obtain information about the library.

Results will be ready by this spring, and are expected to help inform the library’s next long-term strategic plan. Trustees have scheduled a retreat on Feb. 3 from 4-7 p.m. in the fourth-floor boardroom of the downtown library, to begin discussions for updating the current strategic plan that runs through 2015.

Also on Jan. 20, trustees elected officers for the coming year. All votes were unanimous with no competing nominations. Prue Rosenthal was re-elected for a second one-year term as board president. Also re-elected for a second one-year term was Rebecca Head, as board secretary. Barbara Murphy was elected as vice president, and Jan Barney Newman was elected as treasurer. Newman had served as vice president in 2013.

The board also established special committees for communications and facilities, and made appointments to those as well as to standing committees for finance and policy.

Work of the policy committee was another item on the Jan. 20 agenda. The committee previously had discussed staff proposals to revise more than a dozen sections of the AADL policy manual. Discussion at the board meeting focused on policy changes to offer free library cards to non-resident students and staff at state-sanctioned schools within AADL’s district. Also highlighted were the library’s behavior rules, which board member Nancy Kaplan called generous and kind. AADL director Josie Parker noted that even though the current policy prohibits sleeping in the library, during the recent extreme cold no one is asked to leave when they are found sleeping. The board will vote on the proposed policy revisions at its February meeting.

The board heard from five speakers during public commentary, including thanks from local cartoonist and teaching artist Jerzy Drozd for services that the AADL provides for the youth of Ann Arbor. Since 2011, Drozd has hosted a podcast called Comics Are Great! that’s recorded in the AADL podcast studio. Drozd called it “The Dick Cavett Show for cartoonists.” Also during public commentary, Kathy Griswold again urged the board to videotape its meetings for broadcast, and to open its committee meetings to the public. [Full Story]

Rotary Pledges $250K for Gallup Park Playground

The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor is making a $250,000 contribution to the city of Ann Arbor for a major new “universal access” playground at Gallup Park, to celebrate the club’s centennial anniversary in 2016. A presentation about the project was made at the Jan. 28, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory committee meeting.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks & recreation manager, described a universal access playground as one that exceeds the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It aims to create environments that can be used by all people. There are about 80 playgrounds in Ann Arbor, but none are universally accessible, he said, calling it a “huge shortcoming” for the parks system. In part … [Full Story]

Parks Group Recommends Van Purchase

At their Jan. 28, 2014 meeting, Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners recommended purchasing two 15-seat GMC Savana passenger vans from Red Holman GMC in Oakland County for a total of $50,212.

According to a parks staff memo, the city’s current fleet of seven 15-passenger vans was unable to keep up with the increasing shuttle transportation demands for Huron River trips in 2013, following the opening of Argo Cascades. More vans are needed to transport people on these trips, which start at the Argo livery and end at Gallup Park. One van in the fleet needs to be replaced. The other van purchase would increase the total van fleet to eight.

The new vans will be purchased out of the FY 2014 parks & recreation … [Full Story]

Column: A Reminder on Open Government

As part of an ongoing study of Ann Arbor’s sanitary sewer system during wet weather, a public meeting will take place next Thursday, Feb. 6, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Slauson Middle School auditorium. At that meeting, an update will be presented on the study. Also to be discussed at the meeting are results of a recent survey of participants in the city’s footing drain disconnection program.

Government should not be like an open sewer, but it should at least be open.

Government should not be like an open sewer, but it should be open.

Fact: In local government, it doesn’t get any sexier than sanitary sewers.

The study’s full name is the sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation (SSWWE). As background reading, in preparation for next Thursday’s meeting, readers might find it useful to immerse themselves in this recent Chronicle report: “Backups: Lawyers, Sewers, Pumps.” That report is centered on a Jan. 9, 2014 meeting of the city’s citizens advisory committee (SSWWE-CAC) associated with the study.

But this column does not dwell on the substance of either the Jan. 9 or the Feb. 6 meetings. Instead, it focuses on the nature of meetings and expectations of Ann Arbor residents for local governmental activity: Government shouldn’t be like an open sewer, but it should be open.

First, meetings that are accessible to the public – like the one earlier this month or the one next Thursday – are a part of the fundamental standard set by Ann Arbor residents for the function of our local government. Ann Arbor residents don’t consider the convening of a publicly accessible meeting, with data and information available beforehand, to be some kind of bonus, value-added feature of our local governance. It’s just axiomatic.

Of course, Ann Arbor residents don’t have a monopoly in Michigan on an expectation of open government. Two state statutes ensconce a statewide commitment to open government – the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). From the OMA: “All meetings of a public body shall be open to the public and shall be held in a place available to the general public.”

But a group like the SSWWE-CAC is not, strictly speaking, a “public body” as defined in the statute. So in Ann Arbor, we take the OMA a step further. By longstanding city policy established through a city council resolution passed in 1991, even advisory groups like the SSWWE-CAC are expected (to the best of their abilities) to conduct their meetings in accordance with the OMA.

I’ve written a lot about this topic in the past, and don’t really have much to add now.

What prompted me to write this column, more as a reminder than anything else, was seeing a note sent to SSWWE-CAC members via Basecamp – a piece of project management software that allows group collaboration and communication. The note was sent by one of the city’s outside consultants for the sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation – Charlie Fleetham of Project Innovations.

Fleetham’s note included the following statement about the Basecamp site that’s been set up for the SSWWE-CAC: “… I believe that the CAC is and would be well served by having a site [Basecamp] to discuss this very complex and emotional issue without fear of public scrutiny.”

While I think that Fleetham’s sentiment was likely well-intended, public scrutiny is part of what Ann Arbor residents sign up for when they serve on one of the city’s citizens committees. This kind of service makes a resident a participant in a quintessential governmental function. As such, that service should be and will be subjected to public scrutiny. [Full Story]

NB State South of Stimson

Large Fed-Ex truck tries to stop. Does slow, clockwise 270° spin on State Street. Car ahead takes quick evasive action and avoids being swept into the Produce Station. Good move. Whew.

Rezoning for Delta Gamma Moves to Council

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Jan. 23, 2014): Only one project was on the agenda for consideration by the planning commission on Jan. 23: rezoning and an area plan for a house that the Delta Gamma sorority wants to convert into a residential annex.

Delta Gamma, Robb Bourroughs, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Members of the project team for 515 Oxford, which will be an annex to the Delta Gamma sorority. (Photos by the writer.)

The 515 Oxford property is near the main sorority house at 626 Oxford, and is currently split into three apartment units. Planning commissioners recommended approval of the request to rezone the parcel from R4A (multi-family dwelling) to R2B (two-family dwelling and student housing).

Additional approvals for the project itself will be required before the project’s construction work can begin.

The proposal for a renovation would accommodate a maximum of 20 residents, including a required resident manager. A special exception use will also be required to allow for a sorority use. That request will be made to the planning commission at a later date, along with a more detailed site plan.

The house was designed by architect George Brigham and built in 1940 as his home and studio. He designed over 40 houses in Ann Arbor, including many in Arbor Hills and Barton Hills. Planning staff reported that they were contacted about this site by a2modern, a group created to highlight mid-century modern architecture in Ann Arbor. On Jan. 23, the group posted a “statement of concern” about the proposal on its website.

At the planning commission meeting, Robb Burroughs, the project’s architect, said that until they were alerted by a2modern, the design team hadn’t been aware of the site’s history. They’ve now done research at the Bentley Historical Library and have met with a representative from a2modern, and are working on the site plan to preserve to the greatest extent possible the exterior view of the house.

The rezoning request and area plan, which commissioners also recommended for approval, will now be considered by the city council.

In other action on Jan. 23, commissioners voted to recommend that the city council reappoint Kirk Westphal as the planning commission’s representative to the environmental commission. Westphal, who chairs the planning commission, did not participate in the vote, and vice chair Wendy Woods led the meeting as the commission acted on that item.

During communications time, planning manager Wendy Rampson noted that the city council had passed a resolution at its Jan. 21, 2014 meeting regarding the downtown zoning review. The council has directed the planning commission to develop ordinance language that would enact the commission’s recommendations for zoning revisions, with a deadline of Oct. 20, 2014. The commission’s ordinance revisions committee will meet on Feb. 4, before the regular planning commission meeting, to start figuring out how to implement these council directions.

In other communications, Bonnie Bona reported that the energy commission plans to propose a commercial energy disclosure ordinance for the city council’s consideration. They’d like the planning commission to consider a resolution in support of that. An energy disclosure ordinance would require owners of certain properties to report how much energy their buildings use. [Full Story]

First & William

There must be a story behind this scooter that was left behind. Meanwhile the plow works around it clearing yet more snow. [photo]

Jackson Road & Parkland Plaza

Two deer dash across Parkland Plaza Drive from east to west. They are followed by a third, youngish looking deer who totally did not look both ways before crossing.

Three File for 2014 County Board Races

With about three months remaining until the April filing deadline for partisan elections, three candidates have filed petitions with the Washtenaw County clerk’s office to run for county commissioner in 2014, including two incumbents: Republican Dan Smith of District 2 and Democrat Kent Martinez-Kratz of District 1. Also running in District 1 is the third candidate to file – Republican Larry Murphy.

Petitions for the partisan primary in August 2014 must be turned in by April 22. For this race, candidates can file either 100 50 signatures from their district or pay a $100 fee to appear on the ballot. All three candidates who’ve filed so far have paid the $100 fee, according to Ed Golembiewski, the county’s director of elections.

There … [Full Story]

A2: Homeless

Channel 7 Action News, Detroit’s NBC ABC affiliate, reports on concerns voiced by homeless people, living on public land near the Fuller Bridge in Ann Arbor, about being evicted from that spot, which they call “Troll Village.” The reporter interviews a man named John about the possible eviction: “You can move us. There will still be homeless people. It doesn’t solve a problem. I just want to live where I have my freedom.” [Source]

West Park

Two young women are using pink and blue chalk to put markings in the snow [photo] [photo] and utility pole [photo] along Chapin near West Park. They describe it as a trail for an urban scavenger hunt.

Public Housing Conversion Takes Next Step

Ann Arbor housing commission meeting (Jan. 15, 2014): Transitions for Ann Arbor’s public housing will continue in the new year, even while the housing commission is also dealing with the aftermath of a major fire in one of its complexes.

Christopher Geer, Ron Woods, Marta Manildi, Ann Arbor Housing Commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor housing commission board members Christopher Geer, Ron Woods and Marta Manildi at the AAHC Jan. 15, 2014 meeting, held at Baker Commons. Not pictured here is Tim Colenback, the newest appointment to the AAHC board. Gloria Black, who represents AAHC residents, was absent. (Photos by the writer.)

At their first meeting of the year, commissioners were briefed about the impact and aftermath of a Jan. 8 fire at Green Baxter Court, a public housing complex on Green Road next to Baxter Park on the city’s east side. They heard from Joan Doughty, executive director of Community Action Network, which operates a community center at that complex under contract with the city. CAN staff are helping AAHC provide support for families who were displaced by the fire.

At their Jan. 15 meeting, board members authorized up to $9,000 in extra funds to help pay for that emergency work. CAN is also seeking additional donations from the community.

In separate action, the board amended Chapter 14 of its housing choice voucher administrative plan to include a preference for families that have been involuntarily displaced due to a fire, natural disaster or any other reason. The vouchers would be used to subsidize rental housing, if no units are available in the city’s public housing system.

The Jan. 15 meeting also included an update from Lori Harris, vice president with Norstar Development, on a major initiative to upgrade the city’s public housing units. Specifically, she presented Norstar’s recommendation for an equity partner to purchase low-income housing tax credits awarded by the state to AAHC late last year. The board approved the recommended firm, Red Stone Equity Partners.

Investors had responded positively to Norstar’s request for proposals, Harris said, with higher-than-expected offers. “You have a very, very good story here, and it’s played very, very well in this process,” she told the board. The tax-credit transaction will provide the majority of funding for renovating five public housing complexes: Miller Manor, South Maple, Baker Commons, Hikone and Green Baxter. These properties make up the majority of public housing units in the AAHC portfolio – 248 out of a total 326 units.

However, AAHC executive director Jennifer Hall told the board that additional funding will still be required. As part of that, the AAHC is requesting $600,000 from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Hall said she expects the DDA board to make a decision on that by March or April. The DDA previously gave the housing commission a $300,000 grant for capital improvements at Baker Commons, which is located within the DDA district. That approval came in March of 2013. And in October 2012, the DDA had provided a $260,000 grant primarily for replacing the Baker Commons roof.

In other action, the AAHC board approved a 3% cost-of-living adjustment for Hall, in line with other COLA increases given to city employees. The board also authorized changing the way its minutes are kept in order to begin using the city’s online Legistar system. The new approach will be less detailed in reporting deliberations, and will primarily provide a report on the outcome of action items. Currently, AAHC board minutes and board packets aren’t part of Legistar, but are provided on the AAHC page of the city’s website. Minutes from the AAHC board meetings are also attached to the city council agenda as an item of communication.

And near the end of the meeting, commissioner Marta Manildi reported that she is not seeking reappointment. Her term ends this spring, but she has offered to step down early. She was praised for her work in helping lead the AAHC through a difficult transition several years ago. Speaking during public commentary, Doughty said Manildi “really led the charge for a turnaround that’s been amazing to witness.”

A week later, at the Ann Arbor city council’s Jan. 21 meeting, mayor John Hieftje nominated Daniel Lee to serve out the rest of Manildi’s term. A confirmation vote is expected at the council’s Feb. 3 meeting. Hieftje described Manildi’s service on the commission as profound and beneficial. [Full Story]

Downtown Items OK’d, Public Art Delayed

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. [Full Story]

UM: New President

Mark Schlissel has been named the new president of the University of Michigan, after a vote by the board of regents at a special meeting on Jan. 24. He’s currently the provost at Brown University. Mary Sue Coleman’s contract runs through July 31. [Source] [Source]

In it for the Money: Bed Bugs!

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. If you want to get a not-more-than-weekly update on what Nelson is thinking about, sign up for his quasi-automated newsletter.

We met our first bed bug while traveling in the spring of 2011. My wife had plucked the creature from a friend’s bedroom wall.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

As tends to be the case in situations like this, the meeting began with a debate over whether the arthropod in question was in fact a bed bug. Because I’ve had the privilege of being born and gendered male, my initial response was a very confident declaration:

“That’s not a bed bug!” Then we Googled it.

It was totally a bed bug. It was, quite possibly, the exact some bed bug shown in the top result returned for “bed bugs.”

What followed was a complete and hysterical existential freak-out. We helped our friends tear apart their home, searching for signs of bed bugs with all the frantic compulsion of deeply addicted meth heads scouring the rug for that last lost shard.

Our findings were inconclusive – as lots of things look like bed bug carcasses when you are freaking out. So we elected to beat a hasty retreat – fleeing not just the house, but the city and state, and stopping only to spend an hour or two at a highway rest area tearing through our belongings in a disgusted search for bugs, nymphs, carcasses, or droppings.

Meanwhile, our four-year-old played in the grassy border unattended, attempting to coax robins into landing on a stick he held by pretending to be a tree. [Full Story]

Rezoning Recommended for Delta Gamma Annex

At its Jan. 23, 2014 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission recommended approval of a rezoning request and area plan for 515 Oxford, to convert a house for use as an annex to the Delta Gamma sorority. The main sorority house is located nearby at 626 Oxford.

Delta Gamma, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view showing the location of 515 Oxford, south of Geddes.

The request, supported by the city’s planning staff, is to rezone the parcel from R4A (multi-family dwelling) to R2B (two-family dwelling and student housing). Most of the surrounding parcels are also zoned R2B. The building is currently a rental property with three … [Full Story]

A2: Nicola’s Books

Nicola Rooney tells Publishers Weekly that she’s looking for a buyer for her Ann Arbor bookstore, Nicola’s Books. “I have a long-term continuation plan in mind. It’s really a gentle process. My ideal scenario is a gentle transition.” The independent bookstore opened in 1991 and is located in the Westgate Shopping Center, on Ann Arbor’s west side. [Source]