Archive for March, 2014

Ashley & Liberty

Inside Old Town Tavern a guy arrives with a tube of caulk and asks the barkeep: “Is Scotty here yet?” “No.” “Give him this, he’ll know.” Live music later was The Webbs with Scotty Karate on banjo. For the record, I did not observe Scotty caulking his banjo before they played their set. [photo 2] [photo 1]

Conan Smith to Seek County Board Re-Election

Democrat Conan Smith has announced his intent to seek re-election to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, representing District 9 in Ann Arbor.

Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Conan Smith (D-District 9) at the Washtenaw County board of commissioners March 19, 2014 meeting.

He emailed The Chronicle about his decision on Saturday, March 22, 2014 and posted a comment on his Facebook page the following day, on March 23.

Smith was elected to his first two-year term on the county board in 2004. He served as board chair in 2011 and 2012. He is executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, a nonprofit based in Ferndale.

Smith is married to Rebekah Warren, a state senator representing District 18. Earlier this month, Smith told The Chronicle that his decision on seeking re-election hinged in part on whether Warren would decide to run for Congress. She had formed a Congressional exploratory committee for the 12th District seat held by Rep. John Dingell, who is not seeking re-election. But on March 7, Warren announced her decision not to run for that office, and to instead seek re-election to the state Senate. [Full Story]

Fourth & Catherine

I was taking a photo of Leslie Raymond, director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, for a Stopped.Watched item when we were approached by two women. They cheerily offered to take a photo of us together – assuming, I think, that we’d just been married around the corner at the county administration building earlier today. We looked at each other, paused, then said: “Sure!” We’d met only about 5 minutes before, but we do make a cute couple. Raymond was out publicizing this year’s festival, which runs from March 25-30. [photo]

Library Board Weighs Urban Park, Survey

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (March 17, 2014): About three hours before the Ann Arbor city council took action on the issue of a park at the Library Lane site, the Ann Arbor District Library board passed a resolution on that same topic.

Eli Neiburger, Prue Rosenthal, Jan Barney Newman, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: AADL associate director Eli Neiburger, board president Prue Rosenthal, and board treasurer Jan Barney Newman.

On a 6-1 vote, the board asked the council to reject designating a portion of that city-owned site – which is adjacent to the downtown library – as a public park or plaza at this time. Nancy Kaplan cast the lone dissenting vote.

In presenting the resolution, Rebecca Head noted that the library hasn’t objected to the concept of open space at the Library Lane site, as part of overall development of that city-owned property. But the AADL board resolution states that the council resolution “does not allocate the City resources needed to create a successful park, such as physical maintenance, programming, and monitoring unsafe behavior; and … the City has not been able to allocate resources for those purposes to the nearby Liberty Plaza park, Wheeler park, Sculpture plaza on North 4th Ave., or the Kerrytown plaza. …”

Several trustees weighed in to support the resolution. Barbara Murphy said she was conflicted, because she supports having a park or plaza on the Library Lane site at some point. But the council resolution seemed to be putting the cart before the horse, she said. She pointed out that the AADL board resolution is not advocating for tall buildings – but some kind of development is needed, she said.

In dissenting, Kaplan described the long history of efforts to put a public park or plaza on the Library Lane site. She didn’t want to cut off that process. Kaplan also raised the point that the library board would be asking the council to reject a resolution without knowing the exact content of that resolution – because the council could amend the resolution during its deliberations later in the evening. [The council did make a significant amendment to the part of the resolution addressing the amount of square footage.]

Board president Prue Rosenthal told Kaplan that “I don’t think we’re trying to cut off anything.” All that the AADL is asking, Rosenthal said, is that issues should first be addressed – like how the park would be used, who’ll take care of it, how the security will be handled – “so that behavior we’ve seen around the outside of the [downtown library] building will not increase in that space and spill over into our library.”

AADL director Josie Parker attended the city council meeting, which started at the same time as the library board meeting but didn’t adjourn until 1 a.m. Parker read aloud the board’s resolution to the council, and described some of the challenges that the downtown library faces with security.

The downtown library was the focus of another part of the March 17 AADL board meeting, as trustees were updated on renovations to the front entrance. Ken Van Tine, an architect from InForm Studio, answered questions about possible design revisions since a March 13 public forum. InForm will be presenting a revised design to the board’s facilities committee, before the design is brought to the full board for approval.

Trustees also received results from an EPIC-MRA survey that the library had commissioned. About 500 respondents were surveyed in mid-February. Bernie Porn – president of the Lansing-based firm – described the outcome as “a great news poll, in terms of results, and I think you all should be very, very proud.” There are a couple areas of concern, he said, “but they’re not the kinds of things that can’t be overcome.”

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. Since 2012, the positive job rating for AADL has increased by 7 points – from 81% in 2012 to 88% in 2014. That’s a significant increase, Porn said. The 2014 survey also showed that only 3 in 10 respondents knew that AADL is “an independent governmental body” funded by its own separate tax assessment. This is one area of concern, Porn noted, adding that it’s certainly something that’s “solvable.”

The current survey results are expected to help guide development of the library’s next strategic plan, which will be completed later this year.

On March 17, the board also passed a resolution authorizing the library director to enter into a bike share program license agreement with the nonprofit Clean Energy Coalition. The CEC is managing the new program called ArborBike, which is launching this spring. It would include a bike station on AADL’s downtown library property on South Fifth Avenue, as well as locations at other sites in downtown Ann Arbor and on the University of Michigan campus. There will be about 14 bikes at the downtown AADL station on the north side of its property. [Full Story]

Washtenaw: Marriage

Several media outlets report on marriage licenses issued in Michigan, including Washtenaw County, on Saturday, March 22 – following a federal court ruling the previous day that struck down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. WEMU reports from the Washtenaw County administration building in downtown Ann Arbor, where more than a dozen wedding officiants were performing ceremonies. [Source] The Detroit News quotes Martin Contreras, who married Keith Orr, his partner of 27 years – they own and run the \aut\ bar in Ann Arbor: “I never thought it would happen in my lifetime. It’s indescribable. I never expected we could get this far.” [Source] Heritage Media published a series of photos from the crowd. [Source]

Washtenaw: Marriage

The Detroit Free Press reports that the Washtenaw County clerk’s office will open on Saturday, March 22, to issue 60 same-sex marriage licenses, in the wake of Friday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman that struck down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum: “We’re not typically open, but basically the Board of Commissioners strongly urged me to be open tomorrow.” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed an emergency motion requesting a stay on Friedman’s ruling. [Source]

Brooks Street

Spotted on Brooks Street: Black squirrel chasing a grey squirrel.

First & Liberty

Sign for Blank Slate Creamery in front of empty storefront at the northwest corner of First & Liberty. Work crew say it’ll open this summer. [photo]

Column: Michigan-MSU Rivalry Recharges

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Sunday, the Michigan Wolverines faced the Michigan State Spartans in the final of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament. After a decade of domination by the Spartans, John Beilein’s Wolverines held the upper hand the past four years. After losing two stars to the NBA and one to back surgery, they surprised just about everyone when they won the regular season Big Ten title this year by three games. Now they had the rare chance to beat the Spartans three times in one season.

Well, they say beating your arch-rival three times is almost impossible, and that proved true. There was no debating this one. The Spartans beat the Wolverines by 14 points. Spartans’ head coach Tom Izzo is doing what Tom Izzo does: Getting his team ready at just the right time for a good run in the NCAA tournament.

But Sunday’s game might have given both teams what they needed for the tournament: a spark of confidence for the Spartans, and a wake-up call for the Wolverines. I’ll bet both Izzo and Beilein are smart enough to use the Big Ten final game to motivate their players.

But, whatever happens in the NCAA tournament, both teams have elevated basketball in the state of Michigan – and with it, the rivalry between them. And they’ve done it the right way, too. [Full Story]

AAATA Extends AirRide Contract

Michigan Flyer will provide transportation between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport for a third year, in a service called AirRide. Action by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board on a contract that pays Michigan Flyer an amount not to exceed $170,000 came at the board’s March 20, 2014 meeting.

The average number of passengers for the last four weeks is 1,406, according to the AAATA .

The average number of passengers for the last four weeks is 1,406, according to the AAATA.

Two years ago, the board had authorized … [Full Story]

First & Liberty

At the railroad tracks, two beagle-type dogs investigate fresh odors on both sides of the street and criss-cross Liberty. Owner tries to corral them with the aid of passers-by on each side of the street and the cooperation of motorists who wait in an increasingly long queue. I did my part. I left the scene as the two hounds were brought under some kind of control.

Ann Arbor Releases Bond Memo

After the Ann Arbor city council voted on March 17, 2014 to waive attorney-client privilege on a memo written by outside bond counsel, the city of Ann Arbor has provided the document to The Chronicle in response to a request made under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.  [.pdf of Aug. 9, 2012 Dykema memo]

The Chronicle has not yet reviewed the memo, which deals with private-use tests as applied to the Library Lane underground parking structure. The private-use limitations stem from the fact that the structure was financed with Build America Bonds. For additional background, see: “Column: Rocking Back on the Library Lot.”

McFarlane Appointed to Road Commission

At its March 19, 2014 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners made appointments to six county committees, commissions and boards. [.pdf of application packet]

The appointments included naming former Superior Township supervisor Bill McFarlane to the Washtenaw County road commission board, to fill the seat left vacant by the recent death of long-time road commissioner Fred Veigel. The remainder of that six-year term runs through Dec. 31, 2014. Unlike most other county appointed boards, road commissioners receive annual compensation of $10,500.

McFarlane was among 10 applicants for the position. Others who applied included former county commissioner Rob Turner; Mike Henry, chair of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party; and University Bank CEO Stephen Ranzini.

Nominations are made by the board chair. The current … [Full Story]

County Opposes Lyndon Twp. Mineral Mining

A mineral mining proposal in Lyndon Township received formal opposition from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its March 19, 2014 meeting.

On a majority vote, the board passed a resolution that “formally opposes the establishment of the proposed McCoig Materials mining operation in Lyndon Township on the basis of the very serious negative consequences to the surrounding communities.” The company is proposing a sand and gravel mine on 189 acres north of Chelsea on M-52. The rural site is located near several parks and nature areas, including  Waterloo State Recreation Area, the Pinckney State Recreation Area, Park Lyndon, the Green Lake Camping area, and the Waterloo-Pinckney Hiking Trail.

McCoig is asking Lyndon Township for special land use zoning and has submitted … [Full Story]

Delinquent Tax Borrowing Gets Initial OK

In an annual action to help the cash flow of local governments in Washtenaw County, the county board of commissioners gave initial authorization to county treasurer Catherine McClary to borrow up to $30 million against the amount of delinquent property taxes in all of the county’s 80 taxing jurisdictions. The action took place at the board’s March 19, 2014 meeting, with a final vote expected on April 2.

It’s a standard practice to help the local jurisdictions manage their cash flow. The estimated amount of delinquent taxes is lower than in recent years, possibly reflecting a recovering economy. Last year, the board authorized borrowing up to $40 million. [.pdf of delinquent tax resolution]

After March 1, taxing jurisdictions – including cities, townships, … [Full Story]

County Moves to Offer Insurance for Autism

Washtenaw County employees will soon be able to get health insurance coverage for the treatment of autism, following action at the county board’s March 19, 2014 meeting. In a unanimous vote, the board gave initial approval that would authorize adding a Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) rider to existing active employee and retiree benefits. [.pdf of staff memo and resolution]

Adding the rider would cost the county an estimated $182,589 this year, according to staff – to be paid to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. To cover that cost, each county department will be charged on a per-employee basis. In addition, the county will pay for claims made by employees for this benefit, with the assumption that most if not all claims … [Full Story]

Kunselman, Kailasapathy File Petitions

Candidates for local Ann Arbor office have started filing petitions for the upcoming August primaries.

First to file the minimum 250 signatures (50 per ward) for a mayoral candidate was Stephen Kunselman. The Ward 3 city councilmember turned in his signatures on March 17, 2014 and by the following day, the city clerk’s staff had verified 286 of them, according to records from the clerk’s office.

First to file signatures for city council was Sumi Kailasapathy, the incumbent Ward 1 candidate. She turned in more than the required 100 signatures on March 19, 2014, but as of late afternoon that day the clerk’s staff had not completed the verification process. [Updated: On Friday, March 21 the clerk's office verified that 102 signatures had been verified for Kailasapathy.]

Both Kunselman and Kailasapathy are running in the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary. [Full Story]

Footing Drain Lawsuit Moves to Federal Court

The city of Ann Arbor has moved into federal court a lawsuit filed over its footing drain disconnection ordinance. The case was originally filed in the 22nd circuit court in Washtenaw County.

The ordinance that’s being challenged was enacted in 2001. It establishes a program under which property owners can be required to disconnect their footing drains from the city’s 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.

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 … [Full Story]

Planning Group Gives Advice on Library Lane

One day after the Ann Arbor city council took action related to the city-owned Library Lane site, Ann Arbor planning commissioners weighed in with advice to the council about how to develop that South Fifth Avenue property. Planning commissioners passed a resolution on the item at their March 18, 2014 meeting.

On March 17, the council had passed a resolution directing the city administrator to hire a brokerage service to sell development rights to the Library Lane surface, where an underground parking structure is located. The council also engaged in a lengthy debate – two and a half hours of sometimes heated commentary – over a proposal reserving part of the surface for a publicly owned urban park. That resolution also … [Full Story]

UM Given Advice on Edwards Brothers Site

Ann Arbor planning commissioners have passed a resolution recommending that the University of Michigan collaborate with the city of Ann Arbor regarding the future development of the former Edwards Brothers property at 2500-2550 South State Street, immediately adjacent to existing UM athletic facilities. The university is purchasing the 16.7-acre property, following the Ann Arbor city council’s decision on Feb. 24, 2014 not to exercise its right of first refusal to buy the site.

In introducing the resolution, planning manager Wendy Rampson said she drafted the resolution based on previous discussions at planning commission and city council. The intent is for this resolution to be jointly passed by both entities. [.pdf of resolution as amended at March 18 planning commission meeting]

The … [Full Story]

Shell Station Project on S. State Moves Ahead

An overhaul of a Shell station and a new drive-thru restaurant at 2991 S. State will be moving head, following action at the March 18, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission. The site is located at the northeast corner of the East Eisenhower Parkway and South State Street.

Shell, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of the site for a Shell station and drive-thru restaurant at the northeast corner of South State and East Eisenhower.

Commissioners recommended approval of a site plan and modifications to the city’s landscaping requirements. The plan calls for demolishing the current one-story convenience store and car wash on this site, which total … [Full Story]

Collingwood Site Plan Gets Planning OK

A proposal to expand an office building at 278-280 Collingwood received a recommendation of approval from the Ann Arbor planning commission at its March 18, 2014 meeting.

Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view indicating location of 278-280 Collingwood Drive.

The site plan calls for removing the existing second floor on the east side of the office building and constructing a 2,451-square-foot second floor over the entire building for office use. A new staircase will be added at the southwest corner of the building. The second floor will overhang the first floor along the front of the building and along part of the north side. An existing curbcut … [Full Story]

Belle Tire Easement Moves to Council

An easement related to a new Belle Tire at 590 W. Ellsworth received a recommendation for approval at the Ann Arbor planning commission’s March 18, 2014 meeting.

Belle Tire, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of a proposed Belle Tire site.

The commission had recommended site plan approval at its Aug. 20, 2013 meeting, and the project subsequently received city council approval on Oct. 7, 2013. The site is located in Ward 4.

A 50-foot-wide right-of-way easement on the front this site was recorded by the city as part of a previously approved land division for this parcel. … [Full Story]

Grant Request in Works for Gallup Pathway

The Ann Arbor park advisory commission has recommended that the city apply for a grant to help renovate the Gallup Park pathway, which is part of the countywide Border-to-Border trail. The grant application is to the federal transportation alternatives program (TAP), which is administered in this region by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and statewide by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT).

Gallup Park, Border to Border trail, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view showing location of trail improvements at Gallup Park. (Links to larger image.)

Funds would be used to renovate the path from the Geddes Dam at the east end of … [Full Story]

Ashley & Washington

Two guys cruise by in a convertible with the top down, blaring what sounds like klezmer.

County Board Briefed on Transit Tax

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (March 6, 2014): Two months before voters will weigh in on a public transit millage proposal, staff with the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority briefed county commissioners about the initiative, and answered a wide range of questions.

Michael Benham, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Michael Benham, special assistant for strategic planning at the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposal – for an 0.7 mill tax to pay for expanded transit services – was placed on the May 6 ballot by the AAATA board on Feb. 20, 2014. The tax would be levied by the AAATA only if it wins a majority of support among voters across its three member jurisdictions: the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), an Ann Arbor commissioner who chairs the working sessions, pointed out that those three jurisdictions touch seven of the nine districts represented by the Washtenaw County board.

The three commissioners representing Ann Arbor – LaBarre, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) – attended the March 6 working session. The two commissioners representing Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) – were absent. A small portion of Ann Arbor is in District 2, represented by Republican Dan Smith. District 4, represented by Democrat Felicia Brabec, includes a small portion of Ypsilanti Township.

Questions during the March 6 session included clarification that the millage revenues would not support rail service, and a query about why the tax proposal was being put forward in May rather than November, when turnout would be higher for the general election. Another issue raised was whether a property tax for this type of activity is fair, considering that residents of apartments don’t see the impact of a property tax as directly as a homeowner does.

Michael Benham, AAATA’s special assistant for strategic planning, noted that the possibility of rail service is part of the authority’s 30-year plan, but it’s not in the current five-year plan for expanded services that would be funded by the new millage. He told commissioners that a May election will focus attention on transit, while there would be many other issues in November competing for attention. Benham also stressed the urgency of moving ahead on more services, which will include increased service hours, greater frequency of buses along some routes, and expanded Dial-a-Ride services.

As for the fairness of a property tax, Benham pointed out that the AAATA has few available options for raising revenue, and that revenues from the new millage will leverage additional state and federal funding.

Most commissioners were supportive of the millage and expanded services, citing reasons of environmental sustainability, social equity and economic development. Rabhi said he wanted to make it clear that his support for the transit millage does not mean he supports using public transit to divide the community based on socioeconomic levels. People should be able to live in downtown Ann Arbor even if they don’t earn above the area median income, he said. The concept of “segregating our community along economic boundaries is one that sickens me,” he said, adding that he didn’t think AAATA’s five-year plan buys into a segregated vision for this area.

At the end of working session, six commissioners – including the three who represent Ann Arbor districts – announced their official support for the millage in a press release.

For additional background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “Tax Question Focus of Transit Board Meeting“; “5-Year Transit Plan: Possible Tax Vote Soon“; “Survey: Majority Favorable on Transit Tax“; “Transit Vote for A2 and Ypsi: May 6, 2014“; “Committee to Oppose AAATA Millage“; and “Column: Let Data Steer Local Transit Policy.” [Full Story]

Council Takes Steps on Library Lane Future

The question of how the top of the Library Lane underground parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor will eventually be used has taken some steps toward getting answered. The city council acted on two key related resolutions at its March 17, 2014 meeting.

Library Lane parking deck

The Library Lane parking deck is highlighted in yellow. The name “Library Lane” is based only on the proximity of the structure to the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The library does not own the structure or the mid-block cut-through. (Base image from Washtenaw County and City of Ann Arbor GIS services.)

The council’s meeting actually featured three items related to … [Full Story]

Library Board Weighs In On Urban Park

About three hours before the Ann Arbor city council took action on the issue of a park at the Library Lane site, the Ann Arbor District Library board passed a resolution on that topic. The board asked the council to reject designating a portion of that city-owned site – which is adjacent to the downtown library – as a public park or plaza at this time. The vote taken at the AADL board’s March 17, 2014 meeting was 6-1, with dissent from Nancy Kaplan.

The resolved clause states:
That the AADL Board asks the Council to reject the Resolution until the entire site at 319 South Fifth Avenue receives a complete review by experts in zoning, land use, economic development, and … [Full Story]