DDA Acts on Sidewalk, Housing Study

Also: Board approves grant policy, makes fiscal-year-end budget adjustments, gets update on LED streetlight conversion

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (June 4, 2014): At its final meeting of the fiscal year, the board acted on two items with implications for this year’s budget.

Mary Jo Callan, head of Washtenaw County's office of community and economic development, explained to the DDA board what the affordable housing  needs assessment would entail. The board voted to approve $37,500 for the study. (Photos by the writer.)

Mary Jo Callan, director of Washtenaw County’s office of community and economic development, explained to the DDA board what the affordable housing needs assessment would entail. The board voted to approve $37,500 for the study. (Photos by the writer.)

One was a $37,500 grant from the DDA’s housing fund to help pay for an affordable housing needs assessment to be conducted by Washtenaw County’s office of community and economic development. The other was a routine end-of-year budget adjustment that included the $37,000 grant as well as $500,000 of previous allocations made to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, and a $1.6 million payment for the First & Washington parking garage that was made out of this year’s budget instead of the previous year’s budget.

In other voting business, the board approved up to $125,000 for the redesign and reconstruction of the public sidewalk in front of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown location on Fifth Avenue. That money will come from next year’s (FY 2015) budget, starting July 1. The project will eliminate the step up immediately adjacent from the curb, which was installed as a result of the streetscape changes the DDA undertook during construction of the Library Lane underground parking garage in 2012. The sidewalk project will be incorporated into an AADL project that will substantially renovate the front entrance to the building.

The final item of voting business considered by the board was adoption of a policy for DDA grants to private developments. The policy establishes criteria for eligibility – which include public benefit to property outside the development. The policy also covers limits on the amount of funding, which is a portion of the additional TIF revenue generated by a project.

A resolution that had been postponed at the board’s May 7, 2014 meeting until the June 4 meeting did not receive any board action – a request to pay about $100,000 for the conversion of streetlights in the DDA district to LED technology. The board did not vote on the item. It did not appear on the board’s agenda as a resolution, but only as an update. That update consisted of remarks from executive director of the DDA Susan Pollay. She informed board members that as a result of conversations she’d had with city staff, they should consider the item tabled, but that the request might be brought back in the future.

The board also received its usual range of updates and reports from committees.

Affordable Housing Needs Study

The board considered allocating $37,500 for a housing needs assessment in Washtenaw County to be conducted by the county’s office of community and economic development. The total budget for the project is $150,000.

The firm selected by the county’s office of community and economic development (OCED) to do the needs assessment is czb LLC out of Virginia. [.pdf of RFP for the needs assessment] The current needs assessment will update a report done in 2007.

According to a memo from OCED staff to the DDA, the final report will “provide a clear, easy to understand assessment of the local housing market, identify current and future housing needs, and provide specific and implementable policy recommendations to advance affordable housing. The goal for this update is to include an analysis that links transportation cost and accessibility, as well as other environmental and quality of life issues to the location of affordable housing.”

The RFP for the needs study describes the timeline for the work as including a draft for review due at the end of October 2014, with a final presentation due in mid-December.

In addition to the DDA grant, money to cover the complete cost of the study will also come from a HUD Sustainable Communities Grant ($75,000) and a possible contribution recommended by the city of Ann Arbor’s housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB). The board is advisory, so the actual appropriation – from the city’s affordable housing trust fund – would need to be approved by the city council. That approval is scheduled to appear on the council’s June 16 meeting agenda.

In 2005, the DDA board voted to approve $15,000 for the housing needs assessment that the county undertook around that time.

Affordable Housing Needs Study: Board Deliberations

Joan Lowenstein introduced the resolution on grant funding for the housing needs assessment. The DDA is being asked to contribute $37,500 to support the affordable housing needs assessment, she said. The study would be useful to the DDA as well as to all the other governmental units, she said – because they would then not be operating “in the dark.” When they are asked to provide support for affordable housing, they would know what the needs actually are. They would not then have to put money into a pot without knowing what that pot of money would eventually support. The study would establish what the housing needs are in the community, she said.

Lowenstein continued by saying that this report would also consider workforce housing. When affordable housing is discussed in this community, she continued, people often think of below-poverty kind of housing, but this study will also be looking at workforce housing. Lowenstein invited Mary Jo Callan, director of Washtenaw County’s office of community and economic development, to the podium to briefly describe the study.

Callan described this current study as an update of a previous needs assessment. Following up on Lowenstein’s comments about workforce housing, she allowed that it was important to include a range of different affordable housing types. Affordability varies, depending on income, she said, and it’s important to include the workforce strata.

A consultant has been retained to do the study, Callan reported. The consultant was chosen because of his familiarity generally with doing affordable housing assessments – and understanding how markets work – and specifically for that type of analysis in college towns. That’s important for Ann Arbor, as a college town, she said. She expected it to be a significant undertaking – with lots of community engagement, lots of meetings and focus groups with stakeholders. The final report would be done in the fall, she said.

As Lowenstein had pointed out, Callan added, we know we need affordable housing – but it’s important to put some numbers on that. How much? For whom? Located where? She noted that she works for Washtenaw County, but each community in the county has particular needs with respect to affordable housing. The report will highlight some specific areas, she said. One of those specific areas will be the Ann Arbor DDA district. The city of Ann Arbor will also be a specific area focused on in the report. Ypsilanti and Pittsfield Township will also be highlighted as communities with specialized needs.

The study will also include an analysis of transportation as it relates to affordable housing, Callan continued. Access to transportation is critical. Affordable housing is great, she said, but it is only great if it provides access to jobs and other needs. The previous study had not included consideration of how transit affects affordable housing, Callan said.

John Mouat highlighted the fact that out of a budget of $150,000, the Ann Arbor DDA was a 25% stakeholder. Half of the amount would be provided by the HUD sustainable communities grant. And another quarter of the amount would be provided through the city’s housing and human services advisory board, he said. He also stressed the fact that the amount is an “up to” amount.

Callan agreed that it was an “up to” amount – which was important for the DDA board to know. She continued by saying that the $75,000 from the HUD sustainable communities planning grant would definitely be used for the study. And the cost of the entire study is currently pegged at about $92,000. However, she expects – as with any major community undertaking – additional components of the study could be added, including additional outreach and engagement. So while the amount is an “up to” amount, she aims to bring the study in under that amount.

Responding to a question from Lowenstein, Callan described the timeline as starting immediately as far as engaging with the consultant. The community engagement process would start very soon, she said. There would be a couple of major planned community engagement events, probably in September and October. She is shooting for the end of November for a final report, she said, but in any case by the end of the year it would be done.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved $37,500 for the affordable housing needs assessment.

Routine Budget Maintenance: FY 2014

The board considered routine annual budget adjustments totaling about $2 million. The amendments are typically made each year towards the end of the fiscal year to ensure that expenditures do not exceed appropriated amounts – in compliance with Public Act 621 of 197. The Ann Arbor city council undertook a similar action at its May 19, 2014 meeting.

The main part of the adjustment was a $1.6 million payment made for the First & Washington parking garage, which is part of the City Apartments project. The amount was budgeted for last year, but not paid until this year.

The rest of the adjustment was attributable to expenditures out of the housing fund – $500,000 of it to support Ann Arbor Housing Commission projects. The remaining $37,500 went to support a countywide housing needs assessment – an amount that was approved by the board in a separate vote.

The DDA will end the fiscal year with $6,167,757 in fund balance. The breakdown of that total is: TIF ($619,571); Housing ($160,154); Parking ($2,161,676) and Parking Maintenance ($3,226,356).

Routine Budget Maintenance: FY 2014 – Board Deliberations

Roger Hewitt introduced the item, saying that state law requires that the budget be amended so that expenses don’t exceed allocations in the budget. There were two areas in which the DDA has “overspent” this year, he explained. In the detail of the parking budget, he noted, there is a $1.6 million increase in the budget for the First & Washington parking structure.

DDA board member Roger Hewitt.

DDA board member Roger Hewitt.

That’s the final cash payment for that structure, he noted. The reason the budget needs to be amended is that the expenditure had been budgeted for the previous fiscal year. The DDA could not make that payment until the certificate of occupancy for the parking garage had been issued. He described it as money that had not been spent last fiscal year and was being spent this fiscal year instead.

The other area where the DDA had “overspent” was in the housing fund, Hewitt said. After the budget had been set, there’d been a request from the Ann Arbor Housing Commission for several projects, he noted. Those projects totaled $500,000. Also a part of the mix was the $37,500 the board had approved at the same meeting for the affordable housing needs assessment study.

John Mouat drew out the fact that the Ann Arbor Housing Commission projects were at Baker Commons and Miller Manor, which are either in or near enough to downtown to fit the criteria the DDA applies for its housing fund investments.

Outcome: The board approved the fiscal year 2014 budget adjustments.

AADL Sidewalk Improvement

The board considered providing $125,000 of funding associated with a redesigned entrance to the Ann Arbor District Library on Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. The money will be put toward the redesign and replacement of the public sidewalk along the east side of Fifth Avenue, between William Street and the entrance to the Library Lane parking structure.

The goal of the sidewalk redesign is to eliminate the step that was installed at the curb, when Fifth Avenue was regraded in connection with construction of the underground Library Lane parking structure, which was completed in the summer of 2012.

This is the step near the curb on the east side of Fifth Avenue in front of the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The step will be eliminated as part of a renovation project to the front entrance. The DDA will be funding up to $125,000 of the cost of the improvement to the public sidewalk.

This is the step near the curb on the east side of Fifth Avenue in front of the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The step will be eliminated as part of a renovation project to the front entrance. The DDA will be funding up to $125,000 of the cost of the improvement to the public sidewalk.

At its most recent meeting, on May 19, 2014, the Ann Arbor District Library board authorized the library director, Josie Parker, to negotiate with Ann Arbor-based O’Neal Construction Inc. for work related to the downtown library entrance. O’Neal would be contracted to provide construction management services. This is the next step in a process that began several months ago, stemming from the need to replace the entrance doors.

At its April 21, 2014 meeting, the AADL board had authorized Parker to hire a construction manager for the project. At that meeting, trustees also allocated $18,580 from the fund balance to pay InForm Studio for construction documents. InForm Studio, the architecture firm that previously designed AADL’s Traverwood branch, gave an update on the process at that same meeting.

The existing teal porcelain panels that wrap around the front facade, part of architect Alden Dow’s original design from the mid-1950s, will be replaced with a “concrete skin” panel. The entrance will continue to be oriented to South Fifth Avenue, with new doors into the building. Leading from the front of the building into the vestibule will be two balanced double doors, which will be easier to open than the existing entry, and a single automatic door. A matching set of these doors will lead from the vestibule to the interior of the building. A heated sidewalk is proposed along the exterior edge of the steps.

The new design also will address accessibility concerns that have been raised by the public. Concerns about the grading and steps on the public sidewalk had been brought up as issues that affect accessibility.

The overall library entrance project is expected to cost about $250,000.

AADL Sidewalk Improvement: Board Deliberations

John Splitt introduced the item. He said when the DDA had built the Library Lane underground parking structure, Fifth Avenue had been regraded – something that needed to be done for water flow and drainage. The level of the street had been changed, and the difference in elevation had to be dealt with near the entrance to the Ann Arbor District Library. So that was dealt with by adding a step, Splitt said. That step has never been terribly convenient for anyone, he said. But now the library is renovating its front entrance. The DDA has been asked to get rid of that step, he continued, saying it was right that the DDA had been asked to do that.

The resolution that the board was considering would allow the DDA to pay for the part of the project that’s in the public right-of-way, Splitt explained. The DDA is not doing the work itself, he continued. The original amount considered by the committee was $100,000, he said, but in the course of committee discussion, they had increased the amount to $125,000 to accommodate any needed enhancements. In the long run, he felt, the cost would be less expensive than that, noting that it was an “up to” amount.

Roger Hewitt pointed out that the Ann Arbor District Library was one of the taxing authorities from which the DDA captures taxes.

Keith Orr supported the resolution, saying it is well within the DDA’s wheelhouse, as it involved infrastructure. Joan Lowenstein asked if the mechanical parking meters that are currently in place would be reinstalled, or if kiosks could be installed. Splitt said he assumed that the mechanical parking meters would be used for the time being.

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, indicated that they are waiting to see what happens when the new Blake Transit Center opens – as the traffic flow will be reversed from what it was previously. When the center was located on the Fourth Avenue side of the block, buses entered from Fifth Avenue and exited onto Fourth Avenue. When the new driveway opens, expected in the next few weeks, buses will enter from Fourth Avenue and exit onto Fifth Avenue. It’s not clear how many of the parking spaces can remain, she said. Once more is known, then a decision can be made on the equipment, she said.

Splitt noted that the general strategy will be to replace the old-style meters.

Rishi Narayan asked, from a budget standpoint, if there was any consideration given to what projects this one might be replacing that already been budgeted for. Roger Hewitt responded to the question by saying that in a larger sense, the DDA has money allocated for sidewalk work. The DDA was holding off on decisions about where that sidewalk work might take place, until the streetscape framework plan is completed. Once that framework plan is in place, the DDA can begin to prioritize, he said.

Hewitt characterized the library sidewalk project as “jumping the queue” – although he said there really is not a queue of projects at this point. He summarized by telling Narayan that yes, there is money in the budget for this project, although it has not been allocated to specific projects. Money was not being taken away from some specific project.

John Mouat asked Splitt for some detail about the plans for the redesign of the library’s entrance: “How does the step magically disappear?” Pollay explained that the entire area in front of the library’s entrance is going to be recreated. Instead of the current two steps up into the entrance, there will be four steps, she said. That will allow the portion of the sidewalk that is near the street to be flat, she said. When the work was being done on the streetscape in connection with the underground garage construction, it was not possible to address that issue.

Mouat ventured that it was possible to view this sidewalk work as an unfinished phase of the reconstruction of Fifth Avenue. He indicated that when the step had been installed, everyone hoped that it would be a very temporary installation. Splitt summarized the results of the project as making the elevation change on library property and not in the public right-of-way.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the $125,000 for the library sidewalk project.

Partnerships Grant Policy

The board considered a policy on granting financial support to private developments. [.pdf of DDA partnership grant policy]

The development of the policy was spurred by a request from First Martin Corp., which has asked the DDA to support its extended-stay hotel project at the corner of Ashley and Huron streets. That location is within the DDA district.

Highlights of the policy include a limit on the amount, keyed to the amount of tax increment finance (TIF) revenue the project will generate: “… calculated to be between 1% and 25% of the ten year TIF captured by the DDA from this project, with these funds to be directed to the cost of the public improvements agreed to by the DDA.”

Criteria for awarding grants include:

  1. Addresses a documented gap in the marketplace or underserved markets of commerce within this sector of downtown.
  2. Demonstrated that the project will act as a catalyst for additional revitalization of the area in which it is located which will trigger the creation of additional new tax revenue.
  3. Is “connected” to the adjacent sidewalk with uses on the first floor that are showcased using large transparent windows and doorways to give pedestrians a point of interest to look at as they walk by the project.
  4. Creates a large office floor plate.
  5. Will facilitate the creation of a large number of new permanent jobs.
  6. Is a mixed use development, that will encourage activity in the daytime, evening, and weekend, such as a development with a mix of commercial and residential.
  7. Adds to downtown’s residential density.
  8. Reuses vacant buildings, reuses historical buildings, and/or redevelops blighted property.
  9. Number of affordable housing units created on site or funded by the project elsewhere in the community, which are beyond what is required by the city.
  10. Environmental design is at or above a Gold LEED certification, or an equivalent environmental assessment.
  11. Architecturally significant building or project design.
  12. Strengthens Ann Arbor’s national visibility.

The grant policy considered on June 4 is similar to but distinct from a policy the board adopted at its June 6, 2012 meeting to cover brownfield grants – a policy that was spurred by the 618 S. Main project. [.pdf of brownfield policy]

Partnerships Grant Policy: Board Deliberations

Joan Lowenstein introduced the grant policy item on the agenda. The board has been discussing this for quite a long time, she said. She described the DDA grant program as “lying dormant” for a long period. The policy would structure how the DDA works with private developers, she said. Some guidelines need to exist, she explained, because it can’t be done simply “catch-as-catch-can.”

The policy sets out guidelines, based in part on the DDA’s brownfield grant policy. But Lowenstein stressed that this policy goes in a different direction from the brownfield grant policy. Specifically, this policy begins by asking the question: What can this developer do for us and our downtown and the rest of the community? So the policy incorporates criteria for how a developer can be eligible for grant support. More than just the developer’s own site has to be included in the benefit, she said. “In that sense it is a partnership, not simply a gift,” she said.

Amber Miller, the DDA’s planning and research specialist, was invited to comment by Lowenstein. Miller described two areas where she’d work on the policy with city staff. First, they had focused on the eligible improvements section of the policy. They’d identified opportunities for project elements that are not typically required of a site plan. Second, her work with city staff had also focused on the process by which the grants could be applied for. She noted that it would be helpful to have a grant application reviewed at the same time that city staff reviewed a project. That would be the perfect time for city staff to identify additional public improvement opportunities.

Roger Hewitt ventured that based on the wording of the policy, any residential project would qualify. Back-and-forth between Miller, board chair Sandi Smith, and John Mouat established that the inclusion of residential units was just one of many criteria for eligibility, and was not necessarily a sufficient criterion. Hewitt did not want every student housing project to qualify automatically. Lowenstein characterized the criteria as a “package.”

Mouat noted that the list of criteria was finite – and as the program continues for a number of years, it might be important to remove some items from the list or to add items. For example the need for large office floor-plate space was high right now, but after more of that type of space is built, it might not continue to be a priority.

DDA executive director Susan Pollay said the policy would be reviewed on an ongoing basis – as the city’s priorities change and as developments change. Mouat expressed concern that there might not be enough on the list to get developers interested. Pollay described how the DDA at one time had a façade improvement program – and the same concern had been registered at that point. Not much has been heard about the façade improvement program in the recent past, she continued, and that’s because there was no development interest. These DDA programs are not meant to supplant market forces – but rather are meant to be supportive of the DDA’s goals, she said.

Al McWilliams inquired about a limitation on the number of grants that could be awarded any given year. Smith explained that payment on any grant would be made only after the property owner had paid all the property taxes due. The grant would never be paid ahead of the taxes, she said. For that reason, she said it is not a typical rebate, but rather a grant based on the payment of taxes.

City administrator Steve Powers characterized the policy that was before the board as much improved over previous drafts. Lowenstein said it was helpful to have this policy coordinated with the city’s capital improvements plan – a change she felt was really helpful.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the grants policy.

DTE LED Conversion

The board’s May 7, 2014 meeting included a resolution that asked the board to consider paying $101,733 to DTE for converting 212 mercury vapor and high-pressure sodium streetlights in downtown Ann Arbor to LED technology.

The board voted at that meeting to postpone a decision until its June 4, 2014 board meeting.

DTE LED Conversion: Background

In 2007, the DDA had previously granted $630,000 for conversion of 1,400 other streetlights in the DDA tax capture district.

Streetlight locations are mapped in the joint Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS system. Data available by clicking on icons includes ownership as well as the lighting technology used. This one is a high pressure sodium light operating at 400 watts.

Streetlight locations are mapped in the joint Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS system. Data is available by clicking on icons includes ownership as well as the lighting technology used. This one is a high pressure sodium light operating at 400 watts.

The 212 streetlights that haven’t yet been converted are owned by DTE, which would be undertaking the work. Currently, the city pays DTE $72,585 a year for the energy used by the 212 streetlights. After conversion, the annual cost for the 212 lights is expected to drop to $51,895, for an annual savings of $20,690.

After an EO (energy optimization) rebate of $10,224, the $91,509 cost would be recovered in just under 4.5 years.

The project would include converting 100 watt MV (mercury vapor), 175 watt MV and 100 watt HPS (high pressure sodium) lights to 65 watt LED (light emitting diode). Further, 400 watt MV and 250 watt HPS lights would be converted to 135 watt LED. Finally, 1000 watt MV and 400 watt HPS lights would be converted to 280 watt LED.

DTE LED Conversion: June 4 Meeting

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, told the board that at the previous month’s [May 7] meeting, she’d put forward a request to the board to consider a grant that would enable converting the remaining non-LED streetlights downtown to LED technology.

Some very valid points were raised by the board members, she said, which she’d taken back to a meeting with city staff. In that conversation, city staff had seen merit in both of the points. The first question concerned how the streetlight conversion project lines up with other priorities in the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP). About that, Pollay reported that “there was a lot of resonance for that question.”

The second question was how the streetlight conversion project lines up with the streetscape framework plan, which is not yet completed: “And that also had resonance with staff,” Pollay said. As part of the development of the streetlight framework plan, she said, we might decide as a community that the goal is to remove all of the cobra-head lights downtown – that we’d like to have all of downtown be lit with pedestrian-scale lighting, she said. And to make an investment at this point – before the DDA finishes that planning process – really didn’t make much sense, she continued.

Staff had “resonated with your questions,” Pollay told the board. So she’d put that board resolution on hold: “So effectively, that resolution you saw before, you should assume is tabled – not permanently, certainly, until after the framework plan,” she said. “If we feel it is important, we will bring it back.”

By way of additional background, in order to take advantage of this year’s funding cycle from DTE – which has a deadline of June 30 for application – the city’s energy office has developed a revised proposal for converting streetlights not in the DDA district. That proposal, to convert 223 mercury vapor lights to LED technology, is scheduled to be on the city council’s June 16, 2014 agenda. The net cost to the city for that conversion is $55,060, with an expected payback period to the general fund of 3.1 years.

Communications, Committee Reports

The board’s June 4 meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council.

Comm/Comm: Connector Study

Roger Hewitt reported out on the status of the connector study. [By way of background, an alternatives analysis is currently being conducted by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops.]

The technical oversight committee had met the previous day, Hewitt said. They met with an expert on federal transportation administration (FTA) funding. The ultimate hope of the project, he continued, is that half of the construction funds will come from a federal grant. The expert had provided the committee with a lot of good ideas about how to request grant funding for the next phase of the project – which is the environmental impact study.

The expert had also provided ideas about how to request funding for the construction phase of the project, Hewitt reported. The expert had reviewed the projections of ridership 20 years into the future for this particular corridor, and characterized the numbers as “phenomenal,” Hewitt reported. This would easily be one of the top candidate projects for federal funding, as measured by the cost of the project compared to prospective ridership.

The expert had suggested that some FTA officials be invited to visit the city in the fall, when the University of Michigan students are back, because the FTA will not believe the numbers – they would have to see it for themselves. There’s a public meeting planned for Sept. 17, Hewitt reported. That will take place in the evening at the Ann Arbor District Library to bring the public up to date about the conclusions of the alternatives analysis.

Comm/Comm: Zoning Revisions

Reporting out from the downtown area citizens advisory council, Ray Detter said the group had reaffirmed its support for the city council’s decision to review the downtown zoning, to “correct mistakes that were made in the past.” He said that the previous month, some members of the citizens advisory council had spoken during public commentary at a recent meeting of the planning commission, which had voted unanimously to recommend a change in the zoning of the parcel on the southeast corner of Main and William streets – from D1 to D2. The CAC had supported that change, but had objected to another change associated with the same parcel – which allowed a height of up to 100 feet, instead of the 60 feet associated with other areas of the downtown that are zoned D2.

Detter said he believed that a “planned project” approach would be better than increasing the allowable by-right height in the zoning to 100 feet. Detter said the CAC supported the hiring of a competent urban planning professional to advise the city council and planning commission on ways to make decisions involved in shaping the final recommendations on zoning ordinance changes.

During communications time, Roger Hewitt responded to Detter’s comments made during the initial public commentary of the meeting, saying that past zoning is not necessarily a mistake – it could simply be a difference of opinion. A change in the zoning does not mean that the past zoning was a mistake, he stressed. It might mean that the views of the public have changed. Hewitt reminded everyone that he had served for three years on the A2D2 study committee, which resulted in the zoning changes adopted in 2009. So Hewitt objected to the outcome of those recommendations being referred to as a “mistake.”

Comm/Comm: Footing Drain Lawsuit

As part of his report from the downtown area citizens advisory council, Ray Detter said the group had spent some time discussing the status of the footing drain disconnection lawsuit that is currently pending against the city. The outcome of that lawsuit could affect the downtown area, he said. He reviewed how the lawsuit had recently been sent back to Washtenaw County’s 22nd circuit court from the federal court, over the objection of Ann Arbor city attorneys.

The footing drain disconnection ordinance, he continued, established a program under which property owners could be required to disconnect their footing drains from the city’s sanitary sewer system. The intent of the ordinance to diminish the risk of sanitary sewer overflows into the Huron River and sanitary sewage backups into homeowners’ basements.

Detter said he wouldn’t go into detail on the topic, but he summarized the essence of the lawsuit as involving inverse condemnation – the taking of private property without just compensation. If the lawsuit is decided against city, he continued, likely possibilities include the discontinuation of the footing drain disconnection ordinance and a discontinuation of the developer offset mitigation program. The developer offset mitigation program applies to every new development. Without that program in place, Ann Arbor’s sanitary sewer system would, he contended, be closed to new development.

The issue of inadequate sewage infrastructure in the city would have to be addressed, he said. If projects like 413 E. Huron are not able to mitigate sanitary in-flow, those projects would have to construct above-ground storage, he ventured. It could also have an impact on the University of Michigan’s new graduate dormitory, he said. The dorm is being constructed at the site of the former Blimpy Burger at Packard & Division.

Comm/Comm: Streetscape Framework Plan

John Mouat reported on a number of upcoming events related to the streetscape framework study. There will be a committee meeting on Tuesday, June 10 at 9 a.m. at the DDA offices. [At its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, the board had authorized the consulting contract SmithGroupJJR and Nelson\Nygaard to manage the project.] There will also be a public meeting on June 12. The open house for the June 12 meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. with a presentation and feedback starting at 7 p.m.. That will be held at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown location at 343 S. Fifth Ave.

Comm/Comm: City’s FY 2015 Budget

City administrator Steve Powers updated the board on the fact that the city council had adopted the fiscal year 2015 budget at its May 19 meeting. The budget includes funding for three additional police officers – two of them for the city’s community engagement unit, and one for traffic enforcement. The budget also includes funding for an additional firefighter and an additional rental housing inspector. There’s also a one-time use of fund balance of $1 million dollars to address the backlog in maintenance on trees in the public right-of-way. The fiscal year begins July 1, 2014, Powers concluded.

Comm/Comm: Main Street Light Poles

Board chair Sandi Smith noted that the replacement of the Main Street light poles was well underway. From what she heard, there’s a significant difference in the brightness of the lights.

Comm/Comm: Communications, Marketing

Reporting out from the partnerships committee, Rishi Narayan said that the communications subcommittee had focused on a couple of different data items to help determine how best to market downtown. The key is how to help market downtown, not for the DDA to take sole responsibility for doing it, he said.

The idea is to help the downtown area associations and the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau. He said the committee is currently exploring a couple of ideas. They’re waiting for some feedback on Ladies Night, which had been an attempt to increase sales and traffic at a time that was not normally high-traffic. It took place on May 9.

They’d come up with some pretty cool ideas about how to use parking data, Narayan said. They were looking at using a startup company in Ann Arbor to look at macro data on purchasing in the downtown. Narayan characterized the committee’s approach as multi-pronged. The committee wanted to get the most bang for the DDA’s buck, and did not want to simply invest money in various events, or into advertising or a website without having a metric by which to gauge success or failure.

Comm/Comm: Main Street BIZ

Keith Orr reported out from the partnerships committee on an update received from the Main Street Business Improvement Zone (BIZ).

Main Street BIZ geographic area and expansion.

Main Street BIZ geographic area and expansion. (Map by The Chronicle from the BIZ plan using Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS services mapping tools.)

Property owners immediately adjacent to the existing BIZ had been interested in participating, and the result of the vote among property owners was in favor of expansion. The expansion increases the geographic area of the Main Street BIZ by about 150%, he said.

The DDA had been asked to voluntarily contribute to the BIZ – something the DDA had already been doing for the Palio surface parking lot – even though the DDA is not assessed because it is a governmental entity, Orr said. Additional parking structures for which the DDA would be contributing a voluntary assessment would include the Kline Lot, the Fourth & William parking garage and the Fourth & Washington garage.

Comm/Comm: Sidewalk Maintenance

John Splitt reported that DDA executive director Susan Pollay and Joe Maynard [of Park Avenue consultants] had conducted a walk-around of the downtown to identify trip hazards and small maintenance issues with sidewalks. The budget for the work this year, which will take place over the rest of the summer, was about $75,000 or $100,000 dollars, Pollay thought. Splitt characterized the work as involving small concrete repairs, re-laying brick and those kinds of things.

Comm/Comm: TiniLite, Tiananmen Square

Changmin Fan introduced himself as the owner of TiniLite World. He told the board that he belongs to two countries – the United States and China. He noted that that very day – June 4, 2014 – was the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising. Up to 1,000 people were killed during that uprising, he said. The whole world had talked about it at the time, but it’s quiet now, he said. We should appreciate the democratic system that we have in the United States and in Ann Arbor, he said. He suggested that his company’s technology could be used to help solve social problems by providing a better means for communication.

Comm/Comm: Downtown Spring Party

Reporting out from the downtown area citizens advisory council, Ray Detter said the next day’s weather, on June 5, was going to be sunny and 70 F degrees for the annual downtown spring party, which he hosts at his home on North Division. He ventured that all of the candidates for city council and mayor would be in attendance, and said that everyone was welcome to come.

Present: Al McWilliams, Cyndi Clark, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, Steve Powers, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.

Absent: Russ Collins.

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, July 2, 2014, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]

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