Archive for February, 2014

Lawsuit Filed on City Footing Drain Program

A lawsuit has now been filed in Washtenaw County’s 22nd Circuit Court challenging the legal foundation of the city of Ann Arbor’s footing drain disconnection (FDD) ordinance.

A lawsuit has been filed in the 22nd circuit court challenging the constitutionality of the city of Ann Arbor's footing drain disconnection program.

A lawsuit has been filed in the 22nd Circuit Court challenging the constitutionality of the city of Ann Arbor’s footing drain disconnection program. (Illustration by The Chronicle.)

The ordinance was enacted in 2001. It establishes a program under which property owners can be required to disconnect their footing drains from the sanitary sewer system. Its intent is to diminish the risk of sanitary overflows into the Huron River and of sanitary sewage backups in homeowners’ basements.

In connection with that lawsuit, a motion for a preliminary injunction has also been filed, asking that the court order the city immediately to stop enforcement of its ordinance.

[FDDP-Complaint-Feb.27.2014-OCR] [FDDP-Motion-Feb.27.2014-OCR]

In September 2012, the Ann Arbor city council already took action partially to suspend the FDD program. That council decision of nearly 18 months ago came not in response to a formal legal action, but rather coincided with complaints from residents in the southeastern part of the city.

Then about a year ago, in February 2013, the city authorized a contract with an engineering firm to undertake a sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation (SSWWE) – in part to determine the impact of the FDD program to date. At a public meeting on the SSWWE held two weeks ago, on Feb. 6, 2014, the future status of the FDD program was portrayed as dubious: Even if the SSWWE study eventually identified an ongoing risk of sewage backups in Ann Arbor basements, the FDD would probably not continue “as is.”

The lawsuit claims the city’s FDD ordinance violates: (1) the Michigan state law setting forth the requirements for a government to take private property for public use; (2) the Michigan state constitutional prohibition against taking private property for public use without just compensation; (3) the corresponding U.S. constitutional prohibition against taking private property, which is a Fifth Amendment claim; and (4) the prohibition against violating the federally protected rights of others, which is a claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.

The lawsuit asks that the court declare the FDD ordinance is “unconstitutional, on its face and as implemented.”

Plaintiffs in the case are Ann Arbor residents John Boyer, Mary Jean Raab and Anita Yu. They are represented by attorneys Dan O’Brien, who’s chair of the litigation department at Woods Oviatt Gilman in Rochester, New York; Irvin Mermelstein, a local Ann Arbor attorney in private practice; and Mark Koroi, a Plymouth attorney.

Background leading up to the filing, as well as a description of the filing, has been tracked on Mermelstein is the resident agent for a2underwater, LLC.

The lawsuit was filed on Feb. 27, 2014. It has been assigned to judge Donald Shelton.

Some of the legal theories on which the lawsuit is based have already surfaced in correspondence that’s become public. And some aspects of the city’s potential defense against a lawsuit may have already been described publicly by assistant city attorney Abigail Elias. That description came at a recent meeting of a citizens advisory committee that is supposed to make a recommendation sometime in the summer of 2014 on the future of the FDD program. For additional background on the topic of the footing drain disconnection program, see Chronicle coverage: “Backups: Lawyers, Sewers, Pumps.” [Full Story]

March 3, 2014: Ann Arbor Council Preview

The council’s first regular meeting in March will include several items of business leftover from previous meetings, including one resolution on affordable housing, an ordinance on outdoor smoking, and several matters related to public art.

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 March 3, 2014 meeting agenda.

New to the agenda are several items related to non-motorized issues, most prominently a funding request to support the activity of an already-established task force on pedestrian safety and access.

The council will also be asked to fund requests related to city parks and other city facilities like city hall and the airport. Eighteen new vehicles will also be added to the city’s fleet, contingent on council action on March 3.

The council will also consider a resolution that urges full funding of the state of Michigan’s fire protection grant program – for cities like Ann Arbor that host state-owned facilities like the University of Michigan.

In somewhat more detail, one public art issue, embodied in two different resolutions, was postponed from the council’s Feb. 18, 2014 meeting, when councilmembers could not agree on an approach to transferring money out of the public art fund back to the funds from which the money was originally drawn. The specific point dividing the council was not so much the transfer of money but rather a plan to fund the new approach to public art – after the council eliminated the Percent for Art funding mechanism last year.

Updated March 1, 2014: The first resolution has been altered for consideration on March 3 so that it focuses exclusively on the public art program transition issue. The second resolution incorporates changes to reflect the council’s deliberations on Feb. 18: It transfers a total of $943,005 of Percent for Art money to its funds of origin, an amount that defunds the art project at Argo Cascades, but keeps funding for the Coleman Jewett memorial and for a project called Canoe Imagine Art.  [public art resolution (1) for consideration on March 3, 2014] [public art resolution (2) for consideration on March 3, 2014]

That disagreement over funding of the newly created program is also related to another public art item on the agenda – a six-month contract extension for the city’s part-time public art administrator. The item first appeared on the council’s Jan. 21 agenda, but the council postponed that vote until Feb. 3, when it was defeated. On Feb. 18 it was then brought back for reconsideration, but immediately postponed until the March 3 meeting.

Also postponed from Feb. 18 is an item that would direct the city administrator to prepare for the council’s approval a budget resolution regarding affordable housing. The resolution would allocate $600,000 from the city’s affordable housing trust fund to support the Ann Arbor housing commission’s plan to renovate its properties. That allocation would be contingent on the closing of the sale of the former Y lot to Dennis Dahlmann, as the net proceeds of that sale are to be deposited into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

Postponed from the Feb. 3 meeting was the first reading of an ordinance that would regulate smoking outside of public buildings and also potentially in areas of some city parks. Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), sponsor of the new proposed local law, appeared before the park advisory commission at its Feb. 25 meeting to brief commissioners on the proposal and solicit feedback.

New items on the March 3 agenda include a funding proposal for the pedestrian safety and access task force established by the city council late last year, with members appointed in late January. The $122,250 item includes a $77,500 contract for facilitation services from Project Innovations. That’s the same firm contracted for similar work in connection with the city’s sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation – which is expected to conclude in the summer of 2014.

Other issues on the March 3 agenda with a non-motorized connection are three stretches of sidewalk. In the context of sanitary sewer design work that Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber Inc. is being hired to do, two sidewalks are included: a stretch along Barton Drive, and a stretch along Scio Church Road. The council will also be asked to pay for the construction of a stretch of sidewalk along Ann Arbor-Saline Road near the I-94 bridge – as part of a road reconstruction project that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation is handling.

Another new item is a resolution that Jack Eaton (Ward 4) had announced at the council’s Feb. 18 meeting that he’d be bringing forward. It would waive the attorney-client privilege on a staff memo about laws governing the assessment of homes. The resolution indicates that the memo addresses the effect that reducing the assessment for one year would have on the property tax assessment for the subsequent year, based on action by the Board of Review and/or the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

In other action, the council will be asked on March 3 to approve the purchase from Signature Ford of 18 new vehicles – most of them for use by the Ann Arbor police department. Total cost of the purchase is $457,393.

City parks factor into three agenda items: (1) a resolution to establish an urban park on part of the surface level of the Library Lane underground parking structure; (2) a paving contract for the replacement of basketball and tennis courts at Clinton Park; and (3) a grant application to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Grants Management (MDNRGM) to support a universal access playground at Gallup Park. The Rotary Club has already pledged $250,000 toward such a playground.

The city hall (Larcom Building) is featured in two agenda items – to pay $160,923 for a secondary chiller unit and $28,469 for new light fixtures. An amendment to an agreement with MDOT for an already-completed fence project at the Ann Arbor municipal airport also appears on the agenda, and will cost the city $425.

After authorizing significant equipment purchases to support water main repair activity at its Feb. 18 meeting, the council will be asked to approve two additional items related to water main repair. One item is a $44,702 emergency purchase order to buy more aggregate material used for backfilling water main repairs. A second item authorizes an emergency purchase order for repairing and making a new connection for the water main at 1214 S. University. In both cases, the emergency purchase orders were authorized by the city administrator, and the work was done.

Street closures for two events are on the council’s March 3 agenda: Take Back the Night and the Monroe Street Fair.

Also on the agenda is a resolution that would encourage Gov. Rick Snyder, state senator Rebekah Warren, and state representatives Jeff Irwin and Adam Zemke to explore creative ways to fund the state’s fire protection grant program for municipalities like Ann Arbor, which host state institutions. In the last three years, the program has been only 40-55% funded.

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]

Skyline High School

Ninth grade Skyline-Pioneer basketball. Halftime lead for Skyline 32-21. JV is in the other gym. [photo]

Sizemore: Not Running for Re-election

Rolland Sizemore Jr., one of the longest-serving current members of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, has announced that he’s not running for re-election in 2014. The Ypsilanti Township Democrat was elected to his first two-year term in November 2000 to represent District 5, for a term starting in January of 2001. The district covers southeast Washtenaw, including Augusta Township and much of Ypsilanti Township.

Rolland Sizemore Jr., Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), at the Washtenaw County board of commissioner’s May 2, 2013 working session.

In an interview with The Chronicle on Feb. 26, Sizemore said he’d actually made the decision not to run again when he was elected in 2012. He said he’d wanted to continue to work on some projects during his current term, including the proposed recreation center for the eastern part of the county, to be located in Ypsilanti’s Water Street property. That project is being spearheaded by the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, on which Sizemore serves.

Sizemore also is the county board’s liaison to the Washtenaw County road commission and holds appointments to about a dozen other county boards, commissions and committees, including the community action board, the workforce development board, the Detroit Region Aerotropolis board, the River Raisin watershed council, and the county’s homeland security task force. He served as Washtenaw County board chair in 2009 and 2010. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Soap a Sign of Spring

In spring the Washtenaw pioneer farm wife prepared for arguably the smelliest, most dangerous, and most tiring chore of the year. Along the way, she could suffer chemical burns, ruin her clothes, or accidentally start a grease fire. The process was hours long, involved seemingly endless stirring, and often failed.

Ypsilanti merchant Charles Stuck solicited newspaper readers for ashes.

Ypsilanti merchant Charles Stuck solicited newspaper readers for ashes.

Her first step was to gather scraps of skin and fat left over from last fall’s butchering and the grease and bones saved from months of cooking. Often rancid and mixed with dirt and animal hair, the fats were combined with water in a big iron kettle outdoors and boiled over a fire. Upon cooling, the congealed floating layer of somewhat cleaner fat was skimmed off and saved.

Along with fats, wood ashes had been conserved for some months. Ashes went into the outdoor wooden ash hopper. The hopper was a large V-shaped trough, a barrel with a hole in the bottom, or even a hollow log set upright. A pad of straw at the bottom of any style of hopper helped retain the ashes. Water poured over the gray powdery mass seeped through to become caustic alkaline lye that trickled out into a collection bucket.

Lye was the wild card in this endeavor; upon its strength depended the success of seat-of-the-skirt pioneer chemistry. Lacking pH test strips or a digital scale, the pioneer woman tested the lye by dropping in an egg or potato – if it floated, the lye was thought to be sufficiently caustic. Another test involved dipping in a feather; if the lye dissolved the feathery bits from the quill, it was dangerous enough to be useful. In an era before rubber gloves or cheap safety goggles, even a small spill or splash could cause severe skin or eye damage, with hospitals, if any, perhaps miles distant.

The fat and lye was put in the kettle and heated and stirred for some hours until the combination thickened into a soft brownish soap, a process called saponification. The process sometimes failed. “Much difficulty is often experienced by those who manufacture their own soap,” noted the November 21, 1835 issue of the Rochester, New York-published Genesee Farmer. “Often when every precaution has been apparently taken, complete failure has been the consequence; and the time is not long past when some have even declared that they believed their soap was bewitched.” [Full Story]

Edwards Brothers Vote: Town-Gown Relations

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 24, 2014): Mayor John Hieftje welcomed high school students attending the meeting to satisfy course requirement by telling them they were probably getting off easy compared to other nights.

The Ann Arbor city council declined to exercise its right of first refusal on the Edwards Brothers Property at its special session on Feb. 24, 2014. Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) compared the process of reviewing the options over the last few weeks to riding a "see saw." (Art by The Chronicle.)

The Ann Arbor city council declined to exercise its right of first refusal on the Edwards Brothers Malloy property at its special session on Feb. 24, 2014. Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) compared the process of reviewing the options over the last few weeks to riding a “see saw.” (“Art” by The Chronicle.)

That’s because the meeting was a special session, dealing with just one substantive issue: a resolution to exercise the city’s right of first refusal to purchase the 16.7 acre Edwards Brothers Malloy property on South State Street, and a closed session to discuss that issue.

The council’s 5-6 vote on the land acquisition fell short of a simple majority, let alone the 8-vote majority it needed. That vote came after the closed session, which lasted an hour and 40 minutes. The council then deliberated for about an hour and 10 minutes.

The council’s decision came four days after the University of Michigan’s board of regents had authorized proceeding with a purchase of the property for $12.8 million. The site is located at 2500-2550 South State Street, immediately adjacent to existing UM athletic facilities. It’s assumed the university would use the land at least in part to support its athletic campus.

Voting to exercise the right of first refusal were: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Margie Teall (Ward 4), and mayor John Hieftje.

Voting against exercising the right of first refusal were: Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jack Eaton (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Deliberations focused on two main issues: (1) the financial risks and benefits; and (2) the city’s relationship with the university.

The motivation for the city to exercise its right of first refusal on the property was based in large part on a desire to protect the city’s tax base. The property current generates roughly $50,000 in annual real property tax revenue to the city’s general fund. But the city’s total revenue from the parcel is just 28% of the total taxes levied by all jurisdictions. The net present value over the next 25 years of the levy from all jurisdictions is roughly $6 million. That was weighed by the council against a purchase price of $12.8 million that reflected a “premium” over the appraised value of around $8 million.

Also a factor weighed by the council was a $218,000 annual holding cost for the land, which reflected a 1.7% interest rate that Flagstar Bank had offered. That’s about half the rate the council was assuming in its earlier review of its options.

Another piece of the financial equation was that the some of the tax abatement previously granted by the city to Edwards Brothers would be coming back to the taxing jurisdictions. That’s because by selling the property, Edwards Brothers would not be meeting all the terms of the tax abatement. There’s a clawback provision in that case – which returns taxes to jurisdictions amounting to a total of $200,000. Of that total, the city’s portion is $90,000. It’s under the terms of that tax abatement that the city had obtained a right of first refusal on the sale of the property.

The deal would have been financed from the general fund. According to the city’s year-end audited statements for FY 2013, the general fund unassigned balance stood at $14,392,854 as of June 30, 2013.

Councilmembers like Eaton and Kailasapathy were clearly opposed to exercising the city’s right of first refusal, based on the substantial risk they thought the city would be taking. Everything would need to go right, in order for the city to come out ahead, they said. Kailasapathy indicated that the “premium” price to be paid by the city for the real estate was a significant reason to vote against it.

Kunselman, in voting against the resolution, relied on what’s become for him a familiar criticism of “speculative development.” He cited in part what he’d learned taking a course on real estate from local developer Peter Allen, a lecturer at UM.

Councilmembers like Warpehoski and Taylor were less adamant about their no votes. Warpehoski thought the odds were “better than even” that the city would come out ahead long-term. But because the city would be gambling with public funds, he wondered if “better than even” was good enough. “Right now, I’m thinking maybe not,” he concluded. Earlier in the meeting Taylor had offered similar sentiments, saying that he’d “regretfully” vote no. “We could have pulled it off; we had a reasonable shot at pulling it off. In light of our mission, I think a reasonable shot is not good enough,” Taylor said.

The sixth vote against the resolution came from Anglin. He responded to one of the arguments made by those who supported the resolution – that by exercising its right of first refusal, the city could leverage some collaboration with the university on the future of the parcel. For Anglin, the price was too high just to sit at the same table with the university.

Petersen, Briere and Lumm specifically mentioned the ability to leverage some cooperation from the university on the future of the land as one argument for exercising the city’s right of first refusal. Kunselman called that trying to take the parcel hostage and holding a gun to the university’s head. But some who supported the resolution saw the possibility that exercising the right of first refusal could lead to improved city-university relations.

Hieftje ventured that the city-university relationship is as good now as it has ever been, adding: It’s a good relationship as long as things happen the way the university wants them to.

Those voting yes generally felt that the risk to the city posed by exercising the right of first refusal justified the potential benefit to the city’s tax base. They also cited the opportunity to control the future of the parcel, and to influence development in that part of the city. Responding to a remark from Warpehoski earlier in the meeting – that the South State Street corridor did not give him “warm fuzzies” – Teall said: “I like it. It’s my neighborhood.”

Some background information on the possible acquisition of the property by the city was released last week, on Feb. 18, the day of a regular council meeting. [Edwards Brothers chart] [Additional offer for Edwards Brothers] [Feb. 18, 2014 memo to council]

This article provides more background on the council’s handling of the issue, a sketch of the deliberations, and a more detailed presentation of the deliberations. [Full Story]

Parks Group Briefed on Urban Park Proposal

A proposal to build an urban park on top of the Library Lane underground parking structure was presented at the Feb. 25, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission.

Library Lane, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Library Lane park proposal

The presentation by Will Hathaway, on behalf of the Library Green Conservancy, included a draft proposal of a resolution for the city council to reserve about 10,000 square feet on the surface of the Library Lane Structure for an urban park, to be “bounded by the Fifth Avenue sidewalk on the west, the Library Lane Street sidewalk to the south, the western entry to … [Full Story]

Next Steps for Windemere Tennis Courts

Moving ahead on a project that’s been in the works for about two years, Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners recommended approval of a $134,297 contract with Nagle Paving Co. to relocate and rebuild the tennis courts at Windemere Park. The action took place at PAC’s Feb. 25, 2014 meeting.

The action follows PAC’s approval on Jan. 28, 2014 of 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 year.

The new location for the tennis courts has been disputed among neighbors who live near Windemere Park, a nearly four-acre parcel north of Glazier Way between Green and Earhart roads. The tennis courts … [Full Story]

Contract Recommended for Clinton Park

At its Feb. 25, 2014 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission recommended approving a $133,843.00 contract with Best Asphalt to rebuild the tennis and basketball courts at Clinton Park.

Clinton Park is located in the southeast part of the city, on Stone School Road, north of Ellsworth Road.

Clinton Park is located in the southeast part of the city, on Stone School Road, north of Ellsworth Road.

The park is located on the west side of Stone School Road, south of Eisenhower Parkway.

Including a 10% construction contingency, the project’s total budget is $147,227. Best … [Full Story]

Park Commission OKs Golf Cart Lease

An amendment to a two-year golf cart lease with Pifer Inc. was recommended for approval at the Feb. 25, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. The agreement would increase the original number of 65 leased carts by 34 carts, for a total of 99 carts. The city leases golf carts from Pifer for the Huron Hills and Leslie Park golf courses.

The lease amendment would be for two years, for an amount not to exceed $50,340 over the length of the lease amendment term. Funding for FY 2014 would come from the parks and recreation services general fund and would be in the proposed budget for FY 2015, according to a staff memo. In FY 2013, the city generated about $225,000 in … [Full Story]

Planning Bylaws Clarify Council Interactions

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Feb. 20, 2014): Wrapping up a process that began last year, planning commissioners voted to revise their bylaws related to two issues: how city councilmembers interact with the commission; and public hearings.

Eleanore Adenekan, Diane Giannola, Bonnie Bona, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor planning commissioners Eleanore Adenekan, Diane Giannola and Bonnie Bona. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners had debated the proposed revisions at a Feb. 4, 2014 working session. Some of the same issues were raised during the Feb. 20 discussion, which was relatively brief.

One revision clarifies the limitations on a city councilmember’s interaction with the commission. The revised section states: “A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission during the Councilmember’s term in office.” The intent is to prevent undue influence on the commission, and to avoid the possibility of legal action against the city.

Other revisions affect speaking turns at public hearings. The intent is to clarify how many turns the same person can speak at a public hearing, and how public hearings are continued if an item is postponed.

In other action, commissioners recommended rezoning a parcel on the city’s north side to public land (PL). The 2.2-acre site at 3301 Traverwood Drive, donated to the city by developer Bill Martin, is being added to the adjacent Stapp Nature Area, near the Leslie Park golf course. It was originally zoned R4D (multi-family dwelling) and had been part of a larger site that’s being developed with an apartment complex.

During communications, Kirk Westphal reported on a project that the environmental commission is working on: a neighborhood mini-grant program. Volunteers would coordinate a competitive grant program for community groups, who could apply to fund projects that address one of the city’s goals in its sustainability framework. That’s in the planning stages, he said.

Westphal also distributed a copy of a resolution recently passed by the city’s energy commission. It supports a recommendation to hire a full-time employee to focus on projects that help achieve goals in the city’s climate action plan. Westphal indicated that the planning commission’s executive committee would be discussing it. The energy commission would like a supporting resolution from the planning commission.

Commissioners also heard from two Skyline High School students, who spoke during public commentary as part of a class assignment. They talked about the importance of the Huron River and of the Huron River Watershed Council‘s River Up project. The planning commission’s work plan includes looking at how to implement recommendations from city’s North Main Huron River corridor task force. [Full Story]


House next to Mr. Roof on Ellsworth is actively on fire. Lots of responders on the scene. [photo] Added after initial publication: Apparently it is a training exercise, according to random firefighters we met elsewhere.

Ann Arbor Won’t Buy Edwards Bros. Land

At a special session on Monday night, Feb. 24, 2014, the Ann Arbor city council declined to exercise Ann Arbor’s right of first refusal on the purchase of a 16.7-acre property owned by Edwards Brothers Malloy. The council’s decision came four days after the University of Michigan’s board of regents had authorized proceeding with a purchase of the property for $12.8 million.

[Full Story]

Tax Question Focus of Transit Board Meeting

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (Feb. 20, 2014): The audience for the board’s regular monthly meeting was the largest in at least five years, as 35-40 people attended to show support for the main item on the agenda.

CEO of the AAATA Michael Ford

Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, just before the start of the Feb. 20, 2014 AAATA board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

That main item was a board vote to place a millage request before voters on May 6, 2014. The request – on a 0.7 mill tax that would be levied to pay for additional services over the next five years – would need a majority of votes across the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township to be approved.

The millage is supposed to pay for a set of service improvements over a period of five years. Those improvements include increased frequency during peak hours, extended service in the evenings, and additional service on weekends. Some looped routes are being replaced with out-and-back type route configurations. The plan does not include operation of rail-based services.

The AAATA has calculated that the improvements in service add up to 90,000 additional service hours per year, compared to the current service levels, which is a 44% increase.

The board’s vote to put the question on a May 6 ballot was unanimous, and came after more than a dozen people spoke during public commentary at the start of the meeting, urging the board to take the step of making a funding request of voters.

Elected officials as well as leaders of the faith, labor and disability communities all spoke in favor of making the request of voters to fund the service expansion, citing arguments based on economic and social justice. They pointed to the long period of planning that had begun about three years ago with a much more ambitious effort to expand service countywide. The current, more limited approach – focused just on the “urban core” area of the city of Ann Arbor and the two Ypsilanti jurisdictions – was a way to meet urgent transportation needs, they said.

After the board’s vote, during public commentary at the end of the meeting, one Ypsilanti resident recalled her own history marching with Rosa Parks down Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Although she’s been involved in activism for many years, she told the board, she could not think of anything that she was in the room to witness that was this important to her personally and to the city in which she lives.

Compared to typical AAATA board meetings, the atmosphere was relatively boisterous, as supporters at times chanted, “More buses, more places, more often!” But one speaker at the end of the meeting cautioned against the celebratory mood, saying there was now a lot of work to do. A counterpoint to the solid support the board heard from most of the speakers had been offered by the very first speaker of the evening. He asked the board to delay the election until November, arguing that it would save the roughly $80,000-$100,000 cost of holding the May election, and result in broader participation in the vote. Another point raised by that speaker was concern that everyone pay an equitable share for the additional transportation.

Although the main event was the resolution that placed the millage question on the ballot, the board’s agenda featured nine other items, many of which were at least tangentially related to the millage question.

For example, in other action the board approved a change to its budget to allow for up to $100,000 to be spent on the cost of holding the special election. The board also approved a funding agreement with Ypsilanti Township, to make explicit what will happen to the township’s existing purchase of service agreement (POSA) if the millage is approved. And as part of the board’s routine annual business, it approved a funding request to the state of Michigan – but did not factor in an increased level of service in the budget submitted to the state. That was done on the instruction of the Michigan Dept. of Transportation. That request can be amended if the millage succeeds.

Also at the Feb. 20 meeting, the board approved changes to its bylaws. Those changes were prompted by a change in governance to the AAATA last year – the addition of the two Ypsilanti jurisdictions. With the increase from seven to 10 members, the definition for the number of board members constituting a quorum or a majority needed to be modified. Out of that review of the bylaws came a decision to increase public speaking turns from a two-minute time limit to three minutes.

In other business, the board approved the hiring of a consultant to help the AAATA with a planned upgrade to its computer-aided dispatch and vehicle locating software. The board also approved the recently completed audit report for the 2013 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2013.

Another item approved by the board was a new contract for unarmed security services. And finally, the board authorized a contract for an insurance broker.

Among the various operational updates received by the board was the announcement that the newly constructed Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor would be open by March 17, 2014. [Full Story]

Brooks Street

Icy sidewalks – including the sidewalk outside Ann Arbor Open – force pedestrians into the street. A woman passing me says, “I’m not risking my neck on those sidewalks!”

Ashley & First

Downtown Home & Garden knows maple sugaring is happening. The next week will be too cold but after that be ready to harvest your own sap to turn into sweet syrup. They have everything, even the correct drill bit. [photo]

Redesign Planned for Library “Front Porch”

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Feb. 17, 2014): Work on a significant redesign to the front entrance of the downtown Ann Arbor library is moving forward, following action this month by the AADL board.

Ann Arbor District Library, InForm Studio, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rendering of proposed new entry at downtown Ann Arbor library, located at 343 S. Fifth Ave. (Image by InForm Studio.)

A vote to continue with the project followed a presentation by Cory Lavigne of InForm Studio, the architecture firm that previously designed AADL’s Traverwood branch. A final design will likely be brought forward for approval at the board’s April 21 meeting, after a public forum in mid-March. Update: The forum is scheduled for Thursday, March 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the downtown building.

The entrance would continue to be oriented to South Fifth Avenue, with new doors into the building. The plan described by Lavigne includes replacing the existing teal strip that wraps around the front of the building – above the doors and windows – with a “concrete skin” panel. Wood paneling would be used in the ceiling of the outside walkway adjacent to the building. Sloping entry walkways would be located on the north side from the Library Lane parking structure and on the south side from William Street, with steps in front leading to South Fifth Avenue. Additional elements include landscaping, a bench, handrails and other features that visually link the library to the adjacent city-owned Library Lane.

The north side of the front facade, closest to Library Lane, would also include a large, translucent sign – made of glass or cast resin – that would be placed between existing brick columns, creating a screen along part of the walkway on that side of the building. The sign would be lit from the inside, with additional lighting along the walkway, to create a glowing effect.

It was that sign element that drew some criticism and concern at the board’s Feb. 17 meeting, primarily from Ed Surovell. He cautioned against creating any kind of shelter, saying it would simply be “an inviting nuisance.” AADL director Josie Parker acknowledged the concern, saying that she had discussed the issue with the library’s security staff as well. She told the board that no matter how the area is designed, security issues will always be a factor and would be handled as they are now, by security staff.

In other action at the board meeting, trustees approved revisions to more than a dozen sections of the AADL policy manual, and voted to create a new committee to help develop the next strategic plan, for 2015-2020. That planning effort had been the focus of a Feb. 3, 2014 board retreat.

Board members also got a brief update on the agreement for a new bike share program called ArborBike, which trustees will likely be asked to approve at their March 17 meeting. It relates to a bike station that will be located on the northern end of the downtown library’s property.

During her director’s report, Josie Parker told the board that the downtown library will be a site for the Living Lab Initiative, a project funded by the National Science Foundation. AADL will be the first public library to be involved in this project, and researchers will be working in the youth department through the end of September.

The board also heard from two people during public commentary: Changming Fan of TiniLite World Inc., who expressed interest in working with the library; and Jamie Vander Broek, a University of Michigan librarian and homeowner who described several reasons why she appreciated AADL. She concluded her remarks by saying: “I love paying my taxes for this library.” [Full Story]

Committee to Oppose AAATA Millage

Opposing a new 0.7 mill transportation tax is a committee that filed paperwork with the Washtenaw County clerk’s election division on Feb. 21, 2014. [.pdf of ballot committee paperwork]

The committee, which is called “Better Transit Now,” filed its paperwork the day after the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board voted to place the tax on the May 6, 2014 ballot. Listed on the paperwork as the treasurer of the group is Libby Hunter. The filing paperwork indicates that the group intends to seek a reporting waiver, which is for groups that don’t expect to spend more than $1,000.

Deciding the issue will be voters in the AAATA’s three-jurisdictional area: the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti … [Full Story]

Column: Highs, Lows of Winter Olympics

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Why in the world are the Winter Olympics in Sochi, one of Russia’s warmest places? Chalk it up to corruption – both the Russians’, which we’ve come to expect, and the International Olympic Committee’s, which … we’ve also come to expect. The IOC hasn’t just shown a willingness to be bought, but an insistence. If you don’t pay ‘em, you ain’t getting the Olympics.

That’s how you get a Winter Olympic skating rink built in the shade of palm trees. The warm weather is funny, unless you spent your entire life training for these Olympics, and there’s no snow. Then it’s just heartbreaking.

Sochi will also be remembered for the bronze water you can’t drink, and the ritual police beatings of a punk music group called Pussy Riot – which is the kind of name you come up with when you want to call yourself something shocking, but you don’t know English very well.

But this is important, for two reasons. First, it allows journalists to say Pussy Riot on the air. I don’t think my boss will let me say it next week. And second, it restores our sense of moral superiority. This way, we can still hate the Russians – then beat them in hockey.

And that’s exactly what the Americans did, thanks to a guy named T.J. Oshie. [Full Story]

Marsh USA Gets AAATA Insurance Work

Marsh USA Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich., the same insurance broker that’s consulted for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority for the last 10 years, has been awarded a new five-year contract. The contract, for up to $270,000 of consulting work, was authorized at the AAATA board’s Feb. 20, 2014 meeting.

Marsh USA will provide insurance brokerage services for general, automobile, workers’ compensation, property and public officials/employee liability insurances.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth Ave., where the AAATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow: [link]

DK Security Gets Nod for AAATA Security

Unarmed security guard services for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s three properties will now be provided by DK Security. Those properties are the headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Hwy., the Blake Transit Center, and the Ypsilanti Transit Center.

At its Feb. 20, 2014 meeting, the AAATA board authorized a one-year contract with DK Security for the work, with an option to extend the contract for four one-year periods.

The contract needs to conform with AAATA’s living wage policy, which mirrors that of the city of Ann Arbor. The policy currently requires vendors to pay a minimum wage of $13.96 per hour without providing health care benefits and $12.52 per hour when providing health care benefits.

The amount of the contract is not … [Full Story]

AAATA CAD Consulting: TransSystems

TransSystems of Boston, Mass. has been awarded a consulting contract by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority as the AAATA looks to upgrade its computer-aided dispatch and vehicle-locating software (CAD/AVL).

AAATA board action authorizing a contract for up to $168,000 with TransSystems came at its Feb. 20, 2014 meeting.

As part of an planned upgrade for this type of software for its regular fixed-route buses, the AAATA is also looking to bring in-house the reservation and booking of paratransit rides. That’s currently part of its contracted paratransit service provider’s scope of work. That service provider is SelectRide. The switch to in-house paratransit bookings is planned for May 1, 2015, the day after the AAATA’s current contract with SelectRide ends. That contract … [Full Story]