Civic News Ticker

Ann Arbor to Ask: Would You Sell That Land?

As a result of city council action on July 21, 2014, Ann Arbor’s city administrator will inquire with the respective owners about the availability of two parcels for purchase by the city – 2805 Burton Road, located just west of US-23, and 312 Glendale Road, on the city’s west side, just south of Jackson Road.

Animated .gif of the Burton Commons property showing the demolition of single-family homes on the parcels – from aerial images in the Washtenaw County and City of Ann Arbor GIS system.

Animated .gif of the Burton Commons property showing the demolition of single-family homes on the parcels – from aerial images in the Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS system.

If the parcels are available for sale, the council has also requested that the park advisory commission review the two properties and advise the city council by  Oct. 1, 2014 about whether they are desirable for city purchase using parkland acquisition funds and private contributions.

Originally on the agenda was just an item related to the Burton Road property, brought forward by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). During the meeting, the resolution was amended – at the request of Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) – to include the Glendale property. The deliberations that led to the amendment and that resulted in the final wording of the resolution are reflected in The Chronicle’s live updates from the meeting.

The Burton Road property is the site of a long-in-the-works affordable housing project that has never started construction.

The land is immediately adjacent to US-23 to the east and Sylvan Park to the north. A residential neighborhood lies to the west of the land.

Kunselman had told his council colleagues at their June 2, 2014 meeting that he’d be bringing forward such a resolution for the Burton Road property. The idea would be to use funds from the open space and parkland preservation millage to purchase the land. The resolution states that the estimated fair market value, according to the city assessor, is $628,800.

One-third of the open space millage proceeds are supposed to be allocated to acquisition of land within the city limits. At the June 2 meeting, Kunselman argued for the purchase based on the positive impact on climate change and the adjacency of Sylvan Park to the north.

The purchase of the land would also be consistent with a sentiment Kunselman expressed at a recent mayoral candidate forum – that there was resistance in Ward 3, which he represents, to “dumping and piling on” affordable housing in that ward.

Glendale Condominiums, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of proposed Glendale Condominiums site, south of Jackson Avenue.

Kunselman is a candidate for mayor in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary, along with three other councilmembers: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

The Glendale property is the site of a proposed development that was just recently in front of the city planning commission on July 1, 2014, but postponed. That meeting drew 22 speakers at the public hearing on the project, nearly all in opposition to it.

The plan calls for removing two vacant single-family houses and building six duplexes, each with two two-bedroom condos. (The original proposal had been for eight duplexes.) Based on the size of the parcel and the site’s zoning – R4B (multi-family residential) – up to 39 units would be allowed by right. Each unit would include two garage parking spaces, with 12 additional surface spaces on the site. That’s double the number of spaces required by zoning.

The amendment put forward by Warpehoski to include the 312 Glendale parcel in Kunselman’s resolution indicated that the estimated land value of the 2.64-acre parcel is $345,200.

On the combined resolution for both the Burton Road and the Glendale parcels, the vote was 8-2, with dissent from mayor John Hieftje and Sally Petersen (Ward 2). Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) was absent due to illness.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

November Ballot: Eligibility for Ann Arbor Officials

After a federal judge ruled earlier this year that eligibility requirements for elected officers in the city of Ann Arbor’s charter are not legally enforceable, the city council has now voted to put eligibility requirements on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot for voters to decide.

Action came at the council’s July 21, 2014 meeting. The council had one additional meeting on its calendar at which it could have voted to place the resolution on the ballot – on Aug. 7. That’s the last council meeting before the Aug. 12 deadline for certifying ballot language to the Washtenaw County clerk’s office.

The existing charter language imposes a one-year durational requirement of voter registration on elected and appointed officials in the city. But the federal court ruled that the city’s requirements were not enforceable, because they had been struck down as unconstitutional in two different court cases dating from the early 1970s. Similar durational requirements have – in the intervening years – been found constitutional in various jurisdictions. However, the court ruled on May 20 this year that the city could not enforce its requirements against Ward 3 Democratic primary candidate Bob Dascola – because the city had not re-enacted its requirement using a standard legislative process.

The placement of a ballot proposal in front of voters on Nov. 4 will use the legislative process of a popular referendum on the charter to establish eligibility requirements that are enforceable. The language approved by the council at its July 21 meeting imposes a requirement that in order to be mayor, someone would need to be a registered voter in the city, and to serve on the city council someone would need to be a registered voter in the ward they seek to represent – at the time they submit their paperwork to appear on the ballot.

For example, a potential candidate for the city council would need to be a registered voter in the ward they seek to represent at the time they submit their qualifying signatures to the city clerk. And a potential candidate for mayor would need to be a registered voter in the city at the time they submit their qualifying signatures to the city clerk.

With paperwork for partisan primaries due in April – for November elections – the new requirements would translate practically speaking to something similar to a six-and-a-half-month durational requirement. For independent candidates, that timeframe would be closer to three and a half months. In the case of a vacancy that needs to be filled by appointment, the new charter requirement would require the person to be a registered voter in the geographic area they are being appointed to represent – at the time of appointment. 

A draft of the new charter language and the ballot proposal was made public two weeks ago in advance of the council’s July 7 meeting. But that draft did not appear on the council’s agenda for that meeting. A different draft appeared on the council’s July 21 agenda. A key difference between the two versions was that the July 21 version took an approach that split the question into two different ballot proposals – one dealing with elected officials and the other dealing with appointed officials. The splitting of the proposal into two questions came at the suggestion of the state attorney general’s office.

On the afternoon of Friday, July 18, the city attorney’s office was working with the state attorney general’s office on the wording of the charter amendment and the ballot proposal. The wording of the draft to be considered by the council at its July 21 meeting was initially not accurately reflected in the online agenda, because words that were supposed to have been struck through were not struck through. By late Saturday night, the wording had been corrected.

The final version approved by the council, which reflected some additional minor changes, was circulated to councilmembers about a half hour before the meeting started: [.pdf of 6:30 p.m. July 21, 2014 version]

Details of the council’s deliberations on July 21 are included in The Chronicle’s live updates, filed from council chambers during the meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

Council Acts on Infrastructure Items

The Ann Arbor city council’s July 21, 2014 meeting featured action on a raft of infrastructure items – from street and sidewalk construction and bridge inspections to the purchase of pumps for the wastewater treatment facility.

The council approved a $1,537,608 construction contract with Bailey Excavating Inc. for the Springwater subdivision improvements project. That work will cover the reconstruction of streets and some utilities – on Butternut Street from Cardinal Avenue to Springbrook Avenue, and Nordman Avenue from Packard Road to Redwood Avenue.

Funding for the project will be drawn from the street millage fund ($883,316), stormwater fund ($903,065), and drinking water funds ($489,574) for a total project cost of $2,275,955.

Funding from the drinking water and stormwater funds is based on the fact that the project includes replacing the existing water main and performing stormwater system improvements – including construction of sand filters within the Butternut Street and Nordman Avenue right-of-way. Construction is expected to start in August 2014 with completion expected this fall.

The council also approved a $3,445,200 agreement with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) for the Stone School Road improvements project – between I-94 and Ellsworth Road. The planned work consists of reconstructing Stone School Road as a two-lane road with on-street bike lanes and concrete curb and gutter.

A new 5-foot-wide concrete sidewalk will be constructed on the west side of the roadway from Pheasant Run Circle to Ellsworth Road. Included in the project is the replacement of the existing 16-inch water main in Stone School Road. The water main has broken several times. A short segment of 8-inch sanitary sewer is included in the project. Bioswales and “in-line” stormwater detention will be included. An existing jack-arch culvert under Old Stone School Road along Malletts Creek will be removed, in order to improve creek hydraulics, habitat and stormwater quality. New street lights along Stone School Road will also be installed.

The council also approved an agreement with MDOT, which will require about $250,000 of local funding. It will establish the city as construction manager for the construction of sidewalks on the south side of Scio Church Road between Delaware Drive and Maple Road, and on the south side of Barton Drive from about 250 feet west of Chandler Road to Longshore Drive. A portion of the funding for both projects will be derived from a special assessment of adjoining property owners.

Here’s how the funding breaks down:

Project Funding
               Scio Church    Barton       TOTAL
Federal Share     $164,000   $36,000    $200,000
Local Share        199,474    42,626     242,100
Spcl Assess          1,626     1,980       3,606            

TOTAL             $365,100   $80,606    $445,706


In other action taken at its July 21 meeting, the council was set to give final approval of the assessment roll for the construction of a new sidewalk on Pontiac Trail, after a public hearing. But the council postponed the item until its next meeting, to allow for one of the property owners to protest. The total cost that would be assessed to adjoining property owners is $72,218.

According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, sidewalk construction would be done as part of the reconstruction of Pontiac Trail beginning just north of Skydale Drive to just south of the bridge over M-14. The project will also be adding on-street bike lanes and constructing a new sidewalk along the east side of Pontiac Trail to fill in existing sidewalk gaps and to provide pedestrian access to Olson Park and Dhu Varren Road. That’s part of the city’s Complete Streets program.

In addition to the sidewalk, approximately 1,960 feet of curb and gutter is being added north of Skydale along Pontiac Trail to protect existing wetland areas. [.pdf of Pontiac Trail sidewalk special assessment area]

Also at its July 21 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a $104,107 contract with DLZ Michigan Inc. for the regular bridge inspection program. The city is required by federal law to inspect its bridges every two years. The city’s approach is to inspect about half of its bridges each year in order to even out the cost.

Bridges to be inspected include the section of the Library Lane parking structure that is located under Fifth Avenue, which is considered a bridge.

According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, the following bridges will be inspected in 2014: Island Drive over the Traver Creek; Maiden Lane over the Huron River; Fuller Road (eastbound and westbound) over the Huron River; Huron Parkway over the Huron River, Norfolk Southern Railroad and Geddes Avenue; and Wastewater Treatment Plant Drive over the Huron River.

And in 2015, the following bridges will be inspected: Broadway over the Huron River; Broadway over Depot Street and the Norfolk Southern Railroad; E. Stadium Boulevard bridge over S. State Street; E. Stadium Boulevard bridge over the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks; Fuller Road over the Norfolk Southern Railroad; East Medical Center Drive over the Norfolk Southern Railroad; Eisenhower Parkway over the Ann Arbor Railroad; the portion of the Fifth Avenue parking structure under South Fifth Avenue; and the University of Michigan tunnel under Huron Parkway.

Funding will come from the major street fund ($133,500) and the sewage disposal fund ($2,500). The University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority will reimburse the city for about $6,600 for inspections related to facilities they maintain.

And finally, the purchase of six new pumps for the wastewater treatment plant – from Premier Pump Inc. for $425,682 – was also given approval during the city council’s July 21 meeting.

According to the staff memo accompanying the agenda item, the city’s wastewater treatment plant has six 150-horsepower secondary effluent pumps that are about 35 years old. When the plant is operating in typical mode, two of the six pumps are in continuous operation. Occasionally, when the Huron River is at high levels, additional pumps are used to pump secondary effluent simultaneously to the sand filters and the river.

Over the past three years, three of the pumps have failed. One of the pumps was irreparable, and the other two pumps were repaired but are not reliable for long-term use. The remaining three pumps are fully functional, but in a worn condition.

Failure of the secondary effluent pumps was unforeseen, according to the staff memo, so the cost of their replacement was not included in the design of the Facilities Renovations Project (FRP) currently under construction at the wastewater treatment plant. The city’s attempt to include replacement of the pumps in the FRP and to receive funding through the state’s revolving fund loan program was rejected by the Michigan Depart. of Environmental Quality, according to the staff memo.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

415 W. Washington Land Sale Item: Withdrawn

By the time of the Ann Arbor city council’s July 21, 2014 meeting, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) had withdrawn a resolution he’d sponsored on the agenda – which would have listed the city-owned 415 W. Washington property for sale and allocated $250,000 toward developing a master plan for the Allen Creek Greenway.

Warpehoski had sponsored the item along with mayor John Hieftje, with the title “Resolution to List for Sale 415 W. Washington and Appropriate Funds for Allen Creek Greenway Master Plan.”

As of mid-day Friday, July 18, no text or memo was included in the resolution. Warpehoski responded to an emailed query from The Chronicle by saying that the resolution might be pulled, depending on the outcome of a meeting of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy on July 18. [The agenda item was later updated with text. The amount to be allocated for the master planning effort was $250,000.]

On July 19, however, Warpehoski announced that he’d be withdrawing the resolution. An excerpt from the comment he left on The Chronicle’s meeting preview article reads as follows:

At the request of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy Board, I am withdrawing the resolution from the Council agenda.

The resolution to fund the creation of a greenway master plan and development of the greenway through the sale of the non-floodway portion of 415 W. Washington was developed in partnership with Bob Galardi, chair of the Greenway Conservancy, and Jonathan Bulkley, chair of the Greenway Roundtable.

Bob and Jonathan had discussed the potential resolution with the Conservancy board. They found some initial support from the board. At their meeting on July 18, the Conservancy Board reviewed the final resolution, but were not able to come to agreement to support the resolution at this time. As the conservancy does not have clarity in supporting the resolution, I am withdrawing it. From the beginning, the my approach to this was that if the Conservancy was supportive then we could bring it forward. If the conservancy was not in support then we would not move forward in this way.

The city-owed 415 W. Washington parcel is highlighted in yellow.

The city-owned 415 W. Washington parcel is highlighted in yellow.

Warpehoski indicated to The Chronicle that one reason a master plan for the greenway is important is that the lack of such a plan hurt the city’s application for funding from the state of Michigan to support renovations to the 721 N. Main property. The city did not receive the state grant after applying for it in early 2013.

In addition, Warpehoski wrote, there’s an opportunity to partner with the University of Michigan and a class taught by Larissa Larsen, a professor of urban and regional planning and natural resources. Such a partnership would reduce costs of the planning effort.

The idea of funding work on a master plan for the Allen Creek greenway was discussed most recently at the June 16, 2014 council meeting, in the context of a resolution that Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) had brought forward that would have jump-started an effort to redesign Liberty Plaza at the corner of Division and Liberty streets. Taylor’s resolution would have appropriated $23,577 for the work, which was to have included input from a variety of stakeholders, including adjacent property owners.

That resolution was ultimately referred by the council to the park advisory commission (PAC). At PAC’s July 15 meeting, two people spoke during public commentary to advocate for an integrated approach to the “library block,” which includes Liberty Plaza. But PAC postponed discussion related to Liberty Plaza and the council resolution, as only five of nine voting members were present. Taylor is an ex officio non-voting member of PAC, but had not discussed the resolution at previous PAC meetings. He attended PAC’s July 15 meeting.

The June 16 council meeting discussion featured the following exchange between Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Hieftje, recorded in The Chronicle’s live updates from the meeting:

10:15 p.m. Kunselman asks if this means that Liberty Plaza would jump ahead of developing a master plan for the Allen Creek Greenway. Hieftje says that if Kunselman can be a bit patient, there will be a master plan proposed soon.

10:18 p.m. Hieftje says that an Allen Creek Greenway master plan might be prepared before the end of the budget year. Kunselman asks if there’d been any council direction to start any of the activity that Hieftje has described. Yes, Hieftje says, there was a resolution involving 415 W. Washington. Kunselman reiterates the fact that staff has not been directed specifically to develop a greenway master plan. He’s reiterating the lack of resources for park planning. There are 157 parks in the city and he wonders why Liberty Plaza has become the most important one. Kunselman will support the referral to PAC.

If the council had directed the 415 W. Washington property to be listed for sale, it would have been be the third downtown city-owned property to be listed for sale in the last year and a half. The council directed the city administrator to move toward hiring a broker for the old Y lot at Fifth and William at its March 4, 2013 meeting. And on Nov. 18, 2013, the council authorized the sale of the lot to Dennis Dahlmann for $5.25 million.

And the council voted at its April 7, 2014 meeting to confirm its earlier decision to direct the city administrator to list the development rights for the top of the Library Lane parking structure for sale. On July 1, city administrator Steve Powers notified the council that he’d selected CBRE to market and broker the sale of the development rights.

The 415 W. Washington parcel is currently used as a surface parking lot in the city’s public parking system, which has averaged about $18,000 in revenue per month, or about $216,000 a year over the last two years. The parcel also includes several buildings that previously served as the road commission facility and the city maintenance yard. A study commissioned by the city of the property concluded that the cost of stabilizing and renovating all of the buildings could be as high as $6 million. [.pdf of Aug. 29, 2013 report] That study came after the 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios had stepped forward with an interest in the possible renovation and reuse of the building as artist studio space. For additional background on that, see “City Council Parcels Out Tasks: Open Space.”

Ultimately the city moved toward demolishing the buildings. The city administrator’s proposed FY 2015 budget included $300,000 for the demolition of the buildings, but the council amended out that allocation during its deliberations on May 19, 2014:

1:40 a.m. Budget amendment: 415 W. Washington demolition. This proposal will simply eliminate general fund support for demolition of the city-owned buildings at 415 W. Washington. [Kailasapathy, Lumm, Eaton, Anglin]

1:54 a.m. Outcome: The council approved this amendment over the dissent of Kunselman, Taylor and Warpehoski.

Two pieces of land immediately adjacent to 415 W. Washington have been in the news recently. At their July 1, 2014 meeting, city planning commissioners approved The Mark condo project for the parcel on Liberty Street where a car wash is currently located. The proposal from developer Alex de Parry is to demolish an existing car wash at 318 W. Liberty and build an 11,910-square-foot structure with seven residential condominiums – five two-bedroom and two three-bedroom units.

And at the July 2, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, it was announced that the final site recommendation for a downtown stop for the WALLY rail line is for the east side of the railroad tracks between Liberty and Washington streets – opposite of where the former city maintenance yard was located at 415 W. Washington. It was reported at that meeting that it would not be a full station. Rather, it would be a platform with canopies and a ramp to Washington Street to the north and a sidewalk connection to the south onto Liberty. The stop would be built entirely within the railroad right-of-way – and there would be no taking of public or private property. The site would be contingent on the WALLY project moving forward.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

3401 Platt Road Purchase OK’d

Authorization has been given by the Ann Arbor city council to purchase the parcel at 3401 Platt Road. The transaction, made on behalf of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, was approved at the city council’s July 21, 2014 meeting.

Purchase of the blue-highlighted parcel could be authorized by the city council at its July 21 meeting.

Purchase of the blue-highlighted parcel could be authorized by the city council at its July 21 meeting.

The parcel is adjacent to Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) properties that AAHC is planning to reconstruct.

Four units currently stand at the location, but AAHC has previously announced plans to demolish those structures and replace them with 32 units of housing – a net gain of 28 units.

Now, however, the AAHC is interested in expanding that project, using the additional adjacent property. At the planning commission’s July 15, 2014 meeting, planning manager Wendy Rampson reported that because the AAHC has decided to expand its development on Platt Road, they’ll be holding another citizen participation meeting about that on Monday, July 28 at 7 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library’s Malletts Creek branch, 3090 E. Eisenhower.

This is not the same site as a county-owned property on Platt Road, which is also being considered for affordable housing.

Earlier this year, at its April 21, 2014 meeting, council gave several approvals in connection with the AAHC renovations. The acquisition of the additional parcel will help the AAHC with its plans for the property.

Three of the existing four houses are in the floodway, and the water table is higher than the basements. When it rains, the properties flood. So the plan is to tear down the existing buildings, and construct new housing further north on the same site, on land that’s currently vacant.

The AAHC will be reimbursing the city for the $195,00 cost of the 1.17-acre property.

But it is the city that must execute the transaction, under Ann Arbor City Code, Chapter 8, Section 1:209(3):

All deeds, mortgages, contracts, leases, purchases, or other agreements regarding real property which is or may be put under the control of the housing commission, including agreements to acquire or dispose of real property, shall be approved and executed in the name of the City of Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor City Council may, by resolution, decide to convey or assign to the housing commission any rights of the city to a particular property owned by the City of Ann Arbor which is under the control of the housing commission and such resolution shall authorize the City Administrator, Mayor and Clerk to take all action necessary to effect such conveyance or assignment.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

Jackson Avenue Drive-Thru OK’d by Council

A site plan for a new drive-thru restaurant on Jackson Avenue – near the I-94 interchange – has been given approval by the Ann Arbor city council. The planning commission had recommended approval at its June 17, 2014 meeting. The council gave its approval at its July 21, 2014 meeting.

2625 Jackson Ave., Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of 2625 Jackson Ave.

The site is located at 2625 Jackson, on the southeast corner of Jackson and I-94, and just north of the Westgate Shopping Center. The plan calls for demolishing the existing one-story service station and auto repair shop and constructing a single building with a 1,820-square-foot drive-thru restaurant and 3,220-square-foot retail center. The gas pump islands and canopy will be removed. The total project would cost an estimated $400,000. [.pdf of staff memo]

The restaurant’s single lane drive-thru would primarily be accessed from a proposed curbcut on Jackson Ave., with an exit through the Westgate Shopping Center Jackson Ave. entrance. An existing curbcut off Jackson to the east would be closed. The new curbcut has been approved by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, and would prevent left turns onto Jackson. The drive-thru lane provides stacking for up to four vehicles and would be screened to the north by the proposed building.

In a separate vote at their June 17 meeting, planning commissioners had granted a special exception use for this project, which did not require additional city council approval. This was the first drive-thru proposal that has come through the city’s approval process since the city council approved changes to the Chapter 55 zoning ordinance that regulates drive-thrus. That approval came at the council’s June 2, 2014 meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

Dusty’s Collision Site Plan OK’d by Council

A new site plan for Dusty’s Collision at 2310 South Industrial Highway, south of Jewett, has been given approval in Ann Arbor city council action taken on July 21, 2014.

Dusty's Collision, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of Dusty’s Collision site.

The proposal calls for building a 30,537-square-foot, one-story auto collision repair facility on a parcel that’s currently vacant. A previous building at that location was torn down in 2013. The new building would include 5,285 square feet for office use, a waiting area of 5,227 square feet, and 20,025 square feet for the repair area and garage. The project is estimated to cost $2 million.

The site will include 106 spaces of exterior parking, including 24 spaces that will be deferred until needed, according to the staff memo. One bicycle hoop – for 2 bike parking spaces – will be located near the front of the building.

The planning commission’s recommendation for approval, made at its June 3, 2014 meeting, was contingent on the owner – Whitney’s Collision West of Ann Arbor – providing one footing drain disconnect before the city issues a certificate of occupancy. [.pdf of staff memo]

At the July 21 city council meeting, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked for permission to refrain from voting, as it’s a client of his. Taylor is a local attorney. Permission was granted by the council.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall located at 301 E. Huron.

State Street Village Gets Initial Zoning OK

Initial approval of the rezoning of the land for the State Street Village project has been given approval by the Ann Arbor city council. The 4.5-acre parcel is proposed to be rezoned from M1 (limited industrial district) to O (office district).

Action on the initial approval came at the city council’s July 21, 2014 meeting. A vote on the final enactment of the rezoning and on the site plan for the project will come at a future council meeting.

South State Village, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of State Street Village site.

A recommendation for the rezoning was given at the June 17, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission.

At that meeting, commissioners recommended approval of a site plan, development agreement and rezoning for the project. It’s a $10 million project put forward by Ann Arbor-based McKinley Inc. at 2221-2223 S. State St. The plan calls for constructing two 4-story apartment buildings at the rear of the site, totaling 112,262 square feet, with 38 units each. Another 2,027 square foot building – for a leasing office with two apartments above it – would be built on the front of the parcel, on South State.

The front part of the site is currently a surface parking lot, and is zoned O (office). The rear parcel – 4.5 acres – is vacant, and zoned M1 (limited industrial). Residential developments are permitted in office-zoned areas. [.pdf of staff report]

The development will include 114 parking spaces in the rear of the site and 13 spaces for the front. Another 22 spaces in the surface parking lot will be shared by the existing office building just south of the site.

In addition, 44 covered bicycle spaces and 8 enclosed bicycle spaces will be provided near the entrances of the apartment buildings and 2 hoops will be placed near the entrance of the rental office building.

Instead of making a $48,360 requested donation to the city for parks, McKinley has proposed two 8×10-foot grilling patios with picnic tables and grills.

According to the staff memo, the footing drains of 18 homes, or flow equivalent to 71.91 gallons per minute, will need to be disconnected from the city’s sanitary sewer system to mitigate flow from this proposed development.

Only the initial consideration of the rezoning issue was before the council on July 21. The site plan approval will be considered at a future meeting, likely at the same meeting when the council gives final consideration to the rezoning.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall located at 301 E. Huron.

Rules for Environmental Commish Get Final OK

An amendment to the ordinance establishing the city’s environmental commission (EC) has been given final approval by the Ann Arbor city council. Action came at the council’s July 21, 2014 meeting. Initial approval was given on July 7, 2014.

The staff memo accompanying the ordinance changes summarizes them as follows. The ordinance amendment:

  • clarifies that the councilmembers currently serving on the environmental commission nominate persons for “at-large” appointments, which are then approved by council resolution;
  • clarifies that the planning commission, park advisory commission, and energy commission each designate a representative to the environmental commission without council approval and for a one-year term;
  • clarifies that the 3-year terms should be equally staggered;
  • removes references to the Leslie Science Center Advisory Board, which no longer exists;
  • requires the city administrator or the designated support staff of the environmental commission to notify council of vacancies – previously this was delegated to the clerk’s office, which does not always have immediate knowledge of vacancies;
  • contains a few minor, non-substantive corrections and clarifications.

The EC is one of the few boards or commissions in the city for which the mayor does not make nominations. The more familiar procedure – for most boards and commissions – includes a mayoral nomination at one council meeting, followed by the confirmation vote of the council at a subsequent meeting.

In the past, the council has mimicked this procedure for the EC by having some councilmember put a resolution on the agenda appointing a member to the EC, and then postponing the resolution until the next meeting. So the ordinance revisions include clarification that the nominations put forward by the council as a body to the EC are to be made by the two councilmembers who serve as the council’s representatives to the EC.

Besides two slots for council representatives, the EC includes positions for members of the planning commission, park advisory commission, and energy commission. The ordinance revision that was given final approval on July 21 makes clear that those groups make their appointments to the EC without further city council approval.

This specific revision comes after the planning commission had selected Kirk Westphal from its membership to serve on the EC earlier this year. Some councilmembers voted against his confirmation, when the council was asked to confirm his selection two months ago. For background on that vote, see “Hutton, Westphal Reappointed to EC.”

Mark Clevey’s name had been scheduled to be put before the council on July 7 to be confirmed as a member of the EC, but was withdrawn – because he is the selection by the energy commission to represent that commission on the EC. After enactment, the energy commission appointment to EC (like that of other boards and commissions to the EC) will be for one year and will not need city council approval.

In other business related to boards and commissions at its July 21 meeting, the council amended a resolution from last year that placed a member of the city council on the commission on disability issues.

The amendment clarifies that the city council representative will be appointed for a one-year term annually. Currently the council’s representative to the commission on disability issues is Sally Petersen (Ward 2).

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

Downtown Zoning Changes Postponed

Final approval to changes in two parts of the Ann Arbor city zoning code affecting the parcel at 425 S. Main, on the southeast corner of Main and William streets, has been postponed by the Ann Arbor city council. The council will take up the zoning question again at its second meeting in September – on Sept. 15.

425 South Main, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of 425 S. Main – outlined in green – between William and Packard. An alley separates the site from a residential neighborhood along South Fourth Avenue.

Postponement by the council came after about a half hour of deliberations that included back-and-forth between councilmembers and the owners of the parcel.

Initial approval by the council had come at its June 16, 2014 meeting.

The council’s initial approval came only after two votes on each of the parts of the zoning, as councilmembers had first decided to refer the height limit issue back to the planning commission, but ultimately decided to amend the height limit to 60 feet. A summary of the deliberations is provided in The Chronicle’s live updates from the June 16 meeting.

By way of background, currently a two-story 63,150-square-foot office building – where DTE offices are located – stands on the southern part of that site, with a surface parking lot on the north portion. [.pdf of staff memo on 425 S. Main rezoning]

Considered separately by the council on July 21 were two separate votes that would have: (1) changed zoning of the parcel from D1 (downtown core base district) to D2 (downtown interface base district); and (2) changed the character overlay district, of which the parcel is a part, to specify the height limit at 60 feet, not the 100 feet that the planning commission had recommended. [.pdf of staff memo on overlay district]

Upper-story setbacks, specified in the character district overlay along with the height limits, had been specified based on the 100-foot limit.

The planning commission recommended both the zoning changes at its May 6, 2014 meeting. The planning commission’s vote on the basic zoning change was unanimous – 9-0. But the vote on the 100-foot height limit was only 6-3, with dissent coming from Sabra Briere, Ken Clein and Jeremy Peters. Briere also serves on city council, representing Ward 1. Both recommendations had been brought forward by the commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC). Members are Bonnie Bona, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal and Wendy Woods.

The planning commission’s recommendations came in response to a city council directive given at its Jan. 21, 2014 meeting, which had been based on previous work the planning commission had done. The commission had studied and developed a broader set of eight recommendations for zoning changes in specific parts of the downtown. The overall intent was in large part to buffer near-downtown residential neighborhoods. The commission had unanimously approved those original recommendations at its Dec. 3, 2013 meeting.

Those initial Dec. 3, 2013 recommendations from the planning commission had come in response to a previous direction from the city council, given at the council’s April 1, 2013 meeting. The council’s action in early 2013 came in response to the controversial 413 E. Huron development.

The zoning change affecting 425 S. Main, which the council delayed at its July 21 meeting, is just the first of what are expected to be several other changes recommended by the planning commission.

The current D1 zoning for 425 S. Main allows for a maximum height of 180 feet. The previous zoning, prior to 2009, set no limits on height. At this time, no new development has been proposed for the 425 S. Main site.

For more details on the July 21 council discussion, see The Chronicle’s live updates from that meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall located at 301 E. Huron.

Construction Budget OK’d for Library Entrance

The Ann Arbor District Library board has approved a $425,523 construction budget for renovations to the downtown library’s front entrance, at 343 S. Fifth Ave. The action took place at the board’s July 21, 2014 meeting.

The board also increased the capital outlays line item in the 2014-2015 budget by that same amount to cover the work, transferring it from the library’s fund balance. As of June 30, the fund balance stood at $8.17 million.

The construction budget was presented by O’Neal Construction Inc. At its June 16, 2014 meeting, the board had voted to hire O’Neal for construction management of these renovations. The project involves adding new doors and a redesigned facade facing South Fifth Avenue, along with changes to address accessibility issues.

The construction budget includes funding for heated sidewalks and two new flagpoles. Those were among the items that were considered discretionary, but that were recommended by the board’s facilities committee. [.pdf of construction budget resolution]

The existing teal porcelain panels that wrap around the downtown building’s 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.

The overall project was originally expected to cost about $250,000. Work will begin later this summer.

This brief was filed from the fourth-floor boardroom of the downtown library at 343 S. Fifth Ave. A more detailed report will follow.

Library Board OKs Funds for Elevator Repair

The Ann Arbor District Library board has authorized a $93,598 contract with Schindler Elevator Corp. to repair the public elevator at the downtown library, located at 343 S. Fifth Ave. The unanimous vote came during the board’s July 21, 2014 meeting.

The elevator has been broken and out of commission since this spring. AADL director Josie Parker had reported the situation at the board’s May 19, 2014 meeting, estimating it would cost about $100,000 to repair. It’s the same problem that took the freight elevator out of commission a couple of years ago. Leaks had developed in the hydraulic piston, causing it to fail a weight test.

The resolution authorizing the contract designates $57,988 for elevator repair, plus $35,610 for “well drilling (after-drill) of elevator hole in the existing hoistway and clean out of existing hole and casing.” The capital outlays line item in the 2014-2015 budget would be increased by a total of $93,598, to be transferred from the library’s fund balance. As of June 30, the fund balance stood at $8.17 million. [.pdf of elevator contract and resolution]

This brief was filed from the fourth-floor boardroom of the downtown library at 343 S. Fifth Ave. A more detailed report will follow.

AADL Board Adjusts FY 2013-14 Budget

At its July 21, 2014 meeting, the Ann Arbor District Library board approved five adjustments to the 2013-14 budget, for the prior fiscal year ending June 30, 2014. The adjustments totaled $96,300.

Eli Neiburger, AADL’s deputy director, had previously indicated that such adjustments would be necessary.

The resolution approved unanimously on July 21 authorized transfers in the following line items:

  • $22,500 from capital outlays to supplies.
  • $49,800 from capital outlays to software licenses/maintenance.
  • $17,000 from utilities to purchased services.
  • $6,500 from utilities to copier expense.
  • $500 from utilities to library programming.

This brief was filed from the fourth-floor boardroom of the downtown library at 343 S. Fifth Ave. A more detailed report will follow.

Washtenaw Dems Host Judicial Forum

The Washtenaw County Democratic Party is hosting a forum for candidates in county judicial races this morning (July 19, 2014) at 10 a.m. at the Pittsfield Township Hall on Michigan Avenue near Platt Road.

The Chronicle plans to provide a live audio broadcast from the event. The embedded live-stream player below will be replaced with an audio recording after the event is over.

Two contested races will appear on the ballot for the Aug. 5, 2014 primary – one for the circuit court and the other for the probate court.

The circuit court tries felonies and criminal matters, family law, and civil disputes where claims are greater than $25,000. However, the docket for this particular seat on the circuit court is heavily weighted toward family cases.

There’s no incumbent in this race. Pat ConlinVeronique Liem and Michael Woodyard will compete in the nonpartisan Aug. 5 primary, which will advance the top two candidates to the Nov. 4 general election. The winner of that contest will fill the open seat left by judge Donald Shelton, who turned 70 in June. According to Michigan state law, only a person under the age of 70 can be appointed or run for the position of judge.

On its website, the League of Women Voters has posted candidates’ written responses to questions: [22nd circuit court candidate responses] Community Television Network has recorded video playable on demand from the 22nd circuit court League of Women Voters forum.

The county probate judge handles largely estate cases, and issues regarding mental health and addiction.

Jane BassettTamara GarwoodConstance JonesTracy Van den Bergh and recently appointed judge Julia Owdziej will appear on the Aug. 5 primary ballot. The nonpartisan primary will narrow the race to two candidates for the Nov. 4 general election.

Owdziej was appointed to the seat by Gov. Rick Snyder just last month, on June 2, to fill the vacancy on the court left by Nancy Wheeler’s retirement. The announcement of that retirement came on May 1, after candidates had filed to run. Wheeler was expected to retire at the end of the year, but she stepped down earlier than expected due to health reasons. Bassett, Garwood and Jones currently work in private practice, while Van den Bergh is a staff attorney for a legal services nonprofit.

On its website, the LWV has posted candidates’ written responses to questions: [Probate court candidate responses] Community Television Network has recorded video playable on demand from the probate court League of Women Voters forum.

Listen to the July 19 forum live using the player below. Under the player are two text boxes, with identical content, which The Chronicle will use to provide notes about the live audio. The first box forces the view of the embedded text file to the bottom. The second box requires manual scrolling.

[.mp3 of Washt-Dems-Judicial-Forum-Probate]

[.mp3 of Washt-Dems-Judicial-Forum-Circuit]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of local elections. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already found in favor of The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

Kelly Qualifies for November Mayoral Ballot

The winner of Ann Arbor’s mayoral Democratic primary to be held on Aug. 5, 2014 will face an independent candidate on the ballot in the general election. Bryan Kelly is now qualified to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, according to Ann Arbor’s city clerk, Jackie Beaudry.

The last of Kelly’s signatures were validated late yesterday, July 16, the day before the deadline for independents to file. Mayoral candidates must obtain signatures from 50 voters in each of the city’s five wards for a total of 250. Kelly was short in Ward 2 and Ward 3 for his initial submissions, but filed sufficient supplemental signatures to qualify. By ward, his signature tally broke down as follows: Ward 1 (52); Ward 2 (51); Ward 3 (50); Ward 4 (56); Ward 5 (73).

Kelly’s campaign website includes the following background on his campaign:

I am a 28-year-old writer and regular old 12-to-8-er who was inspired to enter politics after attending a city council meeting in the thick of the 413 E. Huron development debate.

Listening to citizens of Ann Arbor plead with city government to vote against approval of the site plan – which was, in my mind, in clear violation of the spirit and letter of the community standards set forth in the A2D2 zoning regulation – motivated me to speak out. In this campaign, I’d like to try and represent those who are opposed to the too-rapid and too-slipshod development of Ann Arbor’s downtown and surrounding areas.

I am concerned that if the city remains on its current path, it will lose sight of what most people love about Ann Arbor: the Arbor part. The reason we choose to live in this city is the opportunity to live side-by-side and in communion with nature. Our parks, bike lanes, community gardens and farmer’s markets matter far more to me than parking structures, paved lots and fourteen-story high-rises that throw entire neighborhoods – including parts of Ann Street, the neighborhood in which I lived as a student – into shade, threatening property values, cluttering thoroughfares and endangering historic trees.

I feel that the candidates running for mayor in the Democratic primary have been too lax or too timid in addressing this issue.

Candidates in the Democratic primary are all currently members of the Ann Arbor city council: Stephen KunselmanSabra BriereChristopher Taylor, and Sally Petersen. No Republican candidates filed. There is no incumbent in the race, as mayor John Hieftje announced last year he would not be seeking an eighth two-year term.

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of local elections. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already voting for The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

Kingsley Development Moves to Council

The 121 Kingsley West condominium development will be moving to city council for consideration, following action at the Ann Arbor planning commission’s July 15, 2014 meeting.

121 Kingsley West, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rendering of 121 Kingsley West project, looking south from Kingsley. The existing building is in the left foreground.

The project calls for rezoning the site from a planned unit development (PUD) to D2 (downtown interface). The development would include renovating the existing two-story, 2,539-square-foot building, plus constructing two additional buildings: (1) a 3.5-story addition to the existing building; and (2) a 4.5-story structure at the southeast corner of West Kingsley and North Ashley. In total, the development would include 22 units and 40,689 square feet. The estimated cost is $6.5 million.

Developers are Tom Fitzsimmons, Peter Allen and Mark Berg, who all attended the July 15 meeting. Fitzsimmons and architect Marc Rueter answered questions from commissioners.

There would be 29 parking spaces below the buildings – though only two spaces are required, based on residential premiums that the project is seeking. The premiums give the project additional floor area, compare to what’s allowed by right. An elevator for each building will be accessible from the parking level. The parking level of the east building will include a bike room with 14 spaces.

According to a staff report, the project’s development agreement will address “easements for encroachments onto the City right of way by the existing building, onsite stormwater management, verification of LEED points, six required footing drain disconnects, future façade alterations, and the contribution to Parks and Recreation Services.” [.pdf of staff report]

Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning, site plan and development agreement. However, only five commissioners on the nine-member body were present, and the commission’s bylaws stipulate that approval requires six votes. So the project will be heading to city council for consideration with a recommendation of denial from the commission. Wendy Woods, who was elected chair earlier in the meeting, assured the developers that city council would be informed that the project secured unanimous support from all commissioners who were present.

The project is on the same site as a previously proposed project by Peter Allen called Kingsley Lane. That had been envisioned as a larger development with 46 units in a complex with two “towers” – at four and nine stories. According to a 2006 Ann Arbor News article, pre-sales of the units were slower than expected because of the struggling housing market, and ultimately financing fell through. At a July 9, 2013 planning commission work session, planning manager Wendy Rampson reported that the developers had lost the property to the bank, but subsequently secured the land and were expected to submit a new site plan. The PUD for Kingsley Lane had expired.

This brief was filed from the council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron, where the planning commission holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow.

UM Parking Lease Extension Considered

A possible four-year extension on a University of Michigan lease of three parking lots at Fuller Park was recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. The action took place at PAC’s July 15, 2014 meeting.

Fuller Park, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map of parking lots at Fuller Park that are leased to the University of Michigan.

The existing lease expires on Aug. 31, 2014. The three lots are: (1) the parking lot south of Fuller Road, next to the railroad tracks (Lot A); (2) the paved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot B); and (3) the unpaved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot C). The lots are used by UM during restricted hours.

According to a staff memo, the city has leased Lot A to UM since 1993. Lots B and C have been leased since 2009.

The proposal, which requires city council approval, is for a two-year lease with an additional two-year option for renewal. Annual revenue of this lease will be $78,665, and will be included as part of the parks & recreation general fund budget. [.pdf of proposed lease agreement] [.pdf of staff report]

The hours that UM can use these lots are stipulated in the agreement:

  • Lot A: 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • Lot B (paved lot): 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, beginning the day after Labor Day through the Friday before Memorial Day, excluding holidays.
  • Lot C (unpaved lot): 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.

Three people spoke during public commentary regarding Fuller Park, though most of their focus was on the possibility of locating a train station at that site.

Responding to concerns raised during public commentary, commissioners discussed and ultimately amended the recommendation, adding a whereas clause that stated the “resolution does not commit PAC to support or oppose the use of Lot A as a rail station.”

PAC’s recommendation was unanimous and will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

This brief was filed from the council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron, where PAC holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow.

Annual Review of Master Plan Approved

At its July 15, 2014 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission unanimously adopted a master plan resolution and list of resource documents used to support the master plan. This is part of an annual evaluation of the master plan that’s required by the commission’s bylaws. There are no significant changes. [.pdf of master plan resolution]

Seven documents constitute the city’s master plan: (1) sustainability framework, adopted in 2013; (2) parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, as adopted in 2011; (3) land use element, as adopted in 2013 to add the South State corridor plan; (4) downtown plan, as adopted in 2009; (5) transportation plan update, as adopted in 2009; (6) non-motorized transportation plan, adopted in 2007; and (7) natural features master plan, adopted in 2004.

On July 15, the commissions also adopted a revised list of resource documents, with two new additions: (1) the climate action plan; and (2) the North Main/Huron River corridor vision report, which replaces the 1988 North Main Street corridor land use plan.

Commissioners held a public hearing on a master plan update at their May 6, 2014 meeting, as part of this annual review process. Only one person – Changming Fan – spoke during the hearing, asking the commission to include his company’s technology in the master plan. The hearing continued on July 15, but no one spoke.

According to a staff report, in FY 2015 – which began on July 1, 2014 – the planning staff and commission will work to update the master plan in the following ways: (1) incorporating a right-of-way plan for Washtenaw Avenue; (2) developing a greenway plan for Allen Creek; and (3) revising the future land use recommendations for the North Main/Huron River corridor. They also will assist the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority in creating a streetscape framework plan and help city staff identify a locally preferred alternative for the connector high-capacity transit route.

Separately, commissioners voted to approve the FY 2015 work plan, which planning manager Wendy Rampson characterized as ambitious. [.pdf of FY 2015 work plan] [.pdf of FY 2014 work plan update]

This brief was filed from the council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron, where the planning commission holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow.

Planning Commission Elects New Officers

With five of the nine Ann Arbor planning commissioners present, the commission elected officers for the coming fiscal year, which began on July 1. The action took place at the commission’s July 15, 2014 meeting.

Wendy Woods was unanimously elected to serve as the commission’s chair, replacing Kirk Westphal. She has served as vice chair for the past two years. Ken Clein, who has served as secretary, was elected vice chair, replacing Woods in that position. Westphal reported that Jeremy Peters had expressed interest in serving as secretary, though he did not attend the July 15 meeting. Peters was unanimously elected to that position. None of the officer elections were contested. These three positions make up the commission’s executive committee.

This is also the time of year when the commission’s bylaws are reviewed. Planning manager Wendy Rampson introduced staff recommendations for changes to the bylaws, which had also been discussed at a July 8 working session.

Planning commissioners had originally adopted revisions to their bylaws at a Feb. 20, 2014 meeting. Those changes related to two issues: how city councilmembers interact with the commission; and public hearings.

Revisions to bylaws require city council approval. However, the city attorney’s office did not forward the Feb. 20 changes to the council for consideration. There was no action until earlier this month, when assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald provided suggested revisions to the bylaws related to public hearings. Those were the changes that were presented to commissioners at their July 8 working session, and again at their July 15 regular meeting. [.pdf of revised bylaws regarding public hearings] [.pdf of bylaws staff memo]

The revisions will be voted on at the commission’s next meeting, then forwarded to the council for consideration.

This brief was filed from the council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron, where the planning commission holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow.

Live from the Election Commission

The Ann Arbor city election commission meets today at 3 p.m. in the city council workroom at city hall. The Chronicle plans to present a live audio broadcast of the proceedings, using the embedded live stream player below.

This meeting is a regular event in the election process, and will include the approval of the list of election workers for the Aug. 5, 2014 primary. The three-member commission consists of chief of police John Seto, city attorney Stephen Postema and city clerk Jackie Beaudry.

Possibly of more interest than the approval of the list of election workers will be an update on proceedings in the pending legal dispute over the way that some misprinted ballots might be counted. Nearly 400 misprinted ballots were sent out to Ward 3 absentee voters.

Printed correctly on the ballots were Julie Grand and Samuel McMullen. However, Bob Dascola – who had filed a successful lawsuit against the city in order to be a candidate – was mistakenly left off the ballots. The city has sent replacement ballots to those voters, with a letter of instructions.

Dascola’s position is that votes in the Ward 3 race that are cast on the misprinted ballots should not count. Dascola’s attorney, Tom Wieder, has filed a motion expressing that position – as post-judgment relief in the lawsuit that was won to put Dascola on the ballot in the first place. Michigan’s Secretary of State has filed a motion to allow that state agency to intervene in the lawsuit, and takes the position that such ballots should be counted. See ”Ann Arbor Ballot Dispute: Michigan Wants In” for Chronicle coverage.

At the election commission’s meeting, an update will also likely be provided on the status of the number of potentially disputed ballots. Votes that could be disputed are those that were cast on misprinted ballots for which a replacement ballot has not yet been received. As of yesterday, July 14, that number stood at 12. Of those 12, successful contact had been made with five of the voters, who indicated they’d be submitting a replacement ballot.

Update: Of the 392 voters who were sent misprinted ballots, 131 have returned correctly  printed replacement ballots. Only 10 misprinted ballots have been received that have not been replaced with a properly printed second ballot. That leaves more than 250 voters who received a misprinted ballot, who have not yet returned any ballot. Beaudry reported at the meeting that in elections with high-interest races  (like this year’s mayoral race), the percentage of returned absentee ballots could be 90% or higher. But she noted that often ballots are not returned until very close to the date of the election. So there’s still an outstanding possibility that a voter could send in a misprinted ballot, without sufficient time to rectify the situation. However, Beaudry reported that procedures are in place to ensure that anyone who turns in a misprinted ballot in person on Election Day will be provided a correctly printed ballot. Efforts are ongoing to make contract with those who have sent in a misprinted ballot. The election workers were all approved.

[.mp3 of July 15, 2014 election commission meeting]

Live from the LDFA: A2/Ypsi SmartZone

The board of the local development finance authority (LDFA) meets today at 8:15 a.m. in council chambers at city hall. [.pdf of July 15, 2014 LDFA meeting packet] The Chronicle plans to offer a live audio broadcast of the meeting. After the meeting, the live stream audio player will be replaced with an .mp3 recording of the proceedings.

Update: The board failed to reach a quorum, but received reports. The update on the jobs audit is that the audit firm Abraham & Gaffney will be planning to audit jobs figures in the Ann Arbor SPARK Salesforce database. The board also received an update on the formation of LDFA satellites in Adrian and Brighton. One of those satellites will be selected as a partner for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti SmartZone as it seeks a 15-year extension past its current 2018 end date. A city council work session on the topic of the LDFA expansion is currently planned for Sept. 8. A vote is is planned by the council in October. 

On the agenda is a year-end report from Ann Arbor SPARK, the LDFA’s vendor for entrepreneurial support services. The fiscal year ended June 30, 2014. Also on the agenda is an update on the effort to extend the term of the LDFA past its current end date in 2018.

The LDFA’s last meeting, on June 17, 2014, included discussion of the LDFA’s capture of the local school operating millage and whether those captured taxes are reimbursed to the state’s School Aid Fund. After that meeting, The Chronicle reported that communications staff at the state treasury and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation had confirmed that under the LDFA statute, that reimbursement is not required for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti SmartZone.

Listen live to the audio broadcast using the embedded live stream player below. The two text boxes are identical in content. They are used to provide notes to the listener during the live broadcast. The first box forces the view to the bottom of the file. The second one can be manually scrolled.

[.mp3 of July 15, 2014 LDFA board meeting]

Library Board Candidate Info Session: July 14

The Ann Arbor District Library staff is hosting an information session for potential candidates running for election to the AADL board. The event will last from 6-7 p.m. in the fourth floor boardroom at the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

Three spots on the board will be on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot. These are non-partisan positions, with four-year terms starting Jan. 1, 2015. The seats are currently held by Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman and Ed Surovell.

Update: Newman and Surovell have told The Chronicle that they plan to seek re-election this year. However, Murphy has decided not to run for another term.

Depending on the outcome of the Aug. 5, 2014 primary, there might be an additional opening on the seven-member library board. AADL trustee Nancy Kaplan is a candidate in the Democratic primary for a seat representing Ward 2 on the Ann Arbor city council. The other Democratic candidate for that seat is Kirk Westphal. No Republicans are competing in that race. Kaplan has indicated that if elected to the city council, she plans to resign from the library board.

Prospective AADL board candidates have until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 12 to file to be placed on the ballot. To file, candidates must turn in an affidavit of identity to the Washtenaw County clerk’s office, along with a $100 non-refundable filing fee or a minimum of 40 valid signatures on a nominating petition. More details on the filing process are available on the county clerk’s election website.

The positions are elected by voters in Ann Arbor and portions of seven townships that are covered by the library’s district – Pittsfield, Scio, Ann Arbor, Lodi, Webster, Salem and Superior. Those are the same boundaries served by the Ann Arbor Public Schools, with the exception of Northfield Township, which is partly within the AAPS district but has its own library system.

County Board Appoints Road Funding Committee

Washtenaw County commissioners have approved appointments to a new committee that’s charged with exploring funding options for road repair. The appointments were made at the board’s July 9, 2014 meeting.

The board had created the road funding committee on June 4, 2014, after debating whether to levy a countywide road millage or put a millage proposal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot to fund road repair. The final vote to create the committee had been 6-1 vote, over dissent from Conan Smith (D-District 9). Commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Dan Smith (R-District 2) were absent.

In arguing against levying a tax at that time, some commissioners cited the need to study funding options – including a possible Act 283 levy, which doesn’t require voter approval – before making a decision.

Members appointed are:

  • Lew Kidder, representing the general public
  • Bill McFarlane, representing the road commission
  • Roy Townsend, managing director of the road commission
  • Rolland Sizemore Jr., the county board of commissioners’ liaison to the road commission
  • Dan Smith, county commissioner
  • Kent Martinez-Kratz, county commissioner
  • Rodrick Green, Superior Township trustee, representing townships
  • Steve Powers, Ann Arbor city administrator, representing incorporated municipalities
  • Ryan Buck, director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS)

The resolution directs the committee to meet within 60 days of this appointment to elect officers and draft bylaws. The committee is to report to the county board at its Sept. 17, 2014 meeting, and make quarterly updates after that with a final report due in December 2015.

The county administrator will help provide administrative support to the committee.

For additional Chronicle coverage on road-related issues, see: “County Board Continues Weighing Road Tax,” “County Board Debates Expanded Road Commission,” “County Board Sets Hearing on Road Tax,” “County Considers Road Funding Options,” “No Major Change Likely for Road Commission” and “Group Explores Road Commission’s Future.”

This brief was filed from the county administration building at 220 N. Main. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

County Makes Mid-Year Budget Adjustments

Washtenaw County commissioners passed a resolution making mid-year budget adjustments and allocating this year’s higher-than-expected property tax revenues, as well as a $3.9 million surplus from 2013. The 6-2 vote was taken at the board’s July 9, 2014 meeting, with Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) dissenting. Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) was absent.

The adjustments increased the general fund budget’s expenses and revenues by $720,486 for 2014, $733,233 for 2015, $745,980 for 2016 and $758,727 for 2017. The county operates on a four-year budget, with the fiscal year matching the calendar year.

The adjustments also followed the recommendation of county administrator Verna McDaniel, and set aside the $3,920,818 surplus from 2013 in unearmarked reserves, rather than spending it. The projected year-end 2014 fund balance is $20,638,675. The county board had previously approved a goal of holding a fund balance equal to 20% of its general fund budget. For 2014, the general fund budget is $103,127,202. [.pdf of staff memo and mid-year budget resolution]

In addition, the following mid-year budget adjustments were made to the general fund:

  • Structural adjustments resulting in a $494,677 increase in expenditures for (1) providing employee health care coverage for autism; (2) a consultant to help with the board’s budget priority work, (3) a “local government initiatives” intern; (4) reinstatement of two full-time equivalent positions in the sheriff’s office; and (5) salary adjustments for non-union employees.
  • Non-structural, one-time, adjustments that increased expenditures by $65,000 for homelessness initiatives.

The administration recommended that the remaining $160,809 be held as an undesignated allocation until budget projections improve as new information becomes available. The administration will present a second-quarter budget update on Aug. 6, 2014.

In explaining his dissent, Dan Smith noted that it’s been about three months since the board learned that there would be surplus revenue this year, and they’re already spending almost $600,000 of that surplus, which hadn’t been included in the original 2014 budget. There are no shortage of things to spend this money on, he said, including over $250 million in unfunded liabilities “which we have no particular plan to pay for, other than amortizing payments over 26 years – something that our actuary is recommending against us doing.”

One of the reasons to have a four-year budget is to have a plan and then execute that plan, Smith said. If the board wants to “constantly be in budget mode,” then they could simply have a one-year budget. He thought it would be more appropriate to make these changes in the fall, during the board’s annual budget reaffirmation process.

This brief was filed from the county administration building at 220 N. Main. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

Funding OK’d to Address Juvenile Crime

An increase in violent crime committed by teens in Washtenaw County has spurred the need for additional funding from the county’s Child Care Fund. At its July 9, 2014 meeting, the county board of commissioners voted to authorize using $642,707 from the Child Care Fund balance to pay for a range of services overseen by the county’s dept. of human services.

Linda Edwards-Brown, the county’s juvenile court administrator, told commissioners that there’s been an increase in young men “terrorizing” their communities. The sheriff’s office and court had started working together several months ago after they began observing an increase in gang-type activity, she said, including home invasions, firearm larceny, and assaulting police officers. They’d been hopeful that they could stem the tide of violence, she added, but it has escalated with a recent death in Ypsilanti.

So the sheriff’s office and court officials have reached consensus to remove some of these young men from the community and put them into residential facilities in other parts of the state, Edwards-Brown said. The juvenile division of the Washtenaw County trial court will place at least six youth in residential facilities this month, in addition to six youth who are currently in residential placements. According to a staff memo, residential placements are costly, with a typical length of stay at nine to twelve months.

In addition, detention beds in the county’s children’s services facility have been occupied at or near capacity for all of 2014, which has resulted in the need for part-time temporary staff as well as overtime pay.

The use of $642,707 will drop the Child Care Fund balance from $1,041,882 to $399,175.

At the July 9 meeting, commissioners and staff expressed the need to continue working on this issue as a community-wide effort.

This brief was filed from the county administration building at 220 N. Main. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

County Creates New Board of Health

A new Washtenaw County board of health was created following action at the July 9, 2014 county board of commissioners meeting. Initial approval had been given on May 21, 2014. Rolland Sizemore Jr. cast the sole dissenting vote on both occasions.

A description of the board’s duties was outlined in a staff memo that accompanied the original May 21 resolution:

The purpose and role of a Washtenaw County Board of Health will be to identify public health problems and concerns in the community, establish health priorities, and advise the Board of Commissioners and the Health Department on issues and possible solutions. The Board of Health will serve as advocates and educators for public health services and policies. The Board of Health will provide oversight and guidance to the Health Department, and will recommend a program of basic health services to the Board of Commissioners.

The new Board of Health will have the authority to hear appeals and requests for variances from the local public health and environmental regulations established under the Public Health Code. The Board of Health will have the authority to hear appeals regarding the suspension or revocation of food service licenses.

The board will consist of 10 members, including one ex-officio representative from the county board of commissioners. According to the staff memo, appointments could represent “health service delivery (physicians, dentists, mental health practitioners, administrators); environmental health and conservation, land use planning, food service and nutrition, academia, K-12 education, philanthropy, social service delivery, legal services, and consumers of public health services.”

Appointments will be made at a later date. Members will be compensated for attending each meeting. The total cost for the health board, including in-kind staff support, is estimated at $19,000 annually.

The resolution passed on July 9 also dissolved two existing boards: (1) the environmental health code appeals board/public health advisory committee; and (2) the hearing board of the health department food service regulation. Duties of those entities will be taken on by the new board of health.

This brief was filed from the county administration building at 220 N. Main. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

Next Phase Starts to Help Homeless

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners has voted to accept the report and recommendations of a task force that’s been working on a funding strategy to help end homelessness. The board’s action – taken on July 9, 2014 – also sunsets that task force.

The leadership group for the Task Force on Sustainable Revenues for Supportive Housing Services to End Homelessness made a presentation at the board’s May 22, 2014 working session. Their recommendations include the goal of building a $50 million endowment over 20 years. Payouts from the endowment would fund supportive services – such as treatment for mental illness and substance abuse – with the intent of addressing the root causes of homelessness. The concept is called permanent supportive housing, and is part of the community’s broader  Blueprint to End Homelessness, which was created in 2004 and is being updated.

A possible millage – recommended at 0.25 mills, for no more than 20 years – would help fund supportive services while the endowment is built. County commissioners are being asked to consider putting such a millage on the ballot, possibly in 2015.

Several steps have already been taken to achieve these goals. An endowment was established in 2011, with $2.1 million in commitments so far. That amount includes a $1 million gift from the St. Joseph Mercy Health System to create the endowment, which is called the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund for Supportive Services for Housing. Gellise is the former CEO of St. Joe’s. She served on the task force and is a founding board member of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance. Another $1 million commitment comes from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), where the endowment is housed. AAACF CEO Cheryl Elliott is another task force member. In addition, an anonymous donor has contributed $100,000.

The first fund distribution – of $26,100 – will be made this fall in a competitive grant process. AAACF’s distribution committee – an all-volunteer group – will be responsible for making grant recommendations.

AAACF is also helping provide a three-year, part-time development job to support fundraising for this endowment. Funding for the position will come from the Washtenaw Housing Alliance ($25,000), the AAACF ($5,000) and an anonymous donor ($10,000).

The foundation posted the position earlier this summer, with the intent of making a hire as soon as possible. The position would be in place until at least mid-2017. The employee will report to AAACF’s vice president for development and donor services, and to the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund development committee. Members of that committee are the same people who’ve served on the leadership team of the task force, Elliott said. In addition to herself, members include Bob Chapman, Sister Yvonne Gellise, Bob Guenzel, Norm Herbert and Dave Lutton.

This brief was filed from the county administration building at 220 N. Main. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

County Parks Tax Renewal on Nov. Ballot

The Nov. 4, 2014 ballot will include a proposal to renew a 10-year countywide parks and recreation operations millage. The Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave final approval on July 9, 2014 to put the request on the ballot.

The action on July 9 was for an amended version, compared to a resolution given initial approval on May 21, 2014. That’s because some state-mandated information had inadvertently been left off the proposed ballot language in the original resolution, according to a staff memo. [.pdf of staff memo]

The operations millage was first authorized by voters in November 1976 at 0.25 mills for a 10-year period and has been renewed three times. Because of the state’s Headlee amendment, the rate that’s actually levied has been rolled back and is now 0.2352 mills. The current millage expires in December 2016.

If renewed again, it would generate an estimated $3.4 million annually – or about half of the parks & rec annual operating expenses. Other revenue sources are admission/gate/membership fees charged seasonally at facilities including the Meri Lou Murray recreation center, the water/spray parks, and the Pierce Lake golf course. Funding is also received from state and federal grants as well as private donations.

The county parks system receives most of its funding from two countywide millages. In addition to the operations millage, another millage pays for capital improvements and park development. It was also originally levied at 0.25 mills, but has been rolled back to 0.2367 mills.

In addition, a third millage – levied at 0.25 mills but rolled back to 0.2409 mills – funds natural areas preservation, bringing in about $3 million annually. It was first approved by voters in 2000, and renewed for another 10 years in 2010.

The county’s parks & recreation department is overseen by a separate entity – the parks & recreation commission – whose members are appointed by the county board. The county board has the authority to put a parks millage proposal on the ballot, but does not authorize expenditure of the funds. That responsibility rests with the parks & recreation commission. The group meets monthly at the parks & recreation office at County Farm Park, and its meetings are open to the public.

This brief was filed from the county administration building at 220 N. Main. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

Security Alliance Formed for Eastern Washtenaw

A new public safety collaboration – the Eastern Washtenaw Safety Alliance – was announced on July 8, bringing together the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office, Eastern Michigan University, and the city of Ypsilanti to increase security efforts on the eastern side of the county. The alliance will work on several initiatives, including increased police officers, expanded patrols, installing new streetlights and shared jurisdictional authority, according to a press release. EMU is hiring 10 additional police officers this year, which will increase its police staff to 43 deputized officers by the fall. The city of Ypsilanti has hired eight new police officers since last fall, bringing the city’s total to 29. [Source] [Alliance FAQ] [Street light FAQ] [List of participants]

Motion Filed on Ward 3 Ballot Counting

In connection with the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary elections for Ann Arbor city council, a disagreement emerged last week over how to count votes cast with incorrectly printed absentee ballots for the Ward 3 race. And that disagreement has now resulted in a motion filed in federal court.

The motion, filed by candidate Bob Dascola’s attorney Tom Wieder, asks the court to permanently enjoin the city from counting votes in the Ward 3 race that are cast on incorrectly printed ballots if they are not replaced with corrected ballots. [.pdf of July 7, 2014 exhibit] [.pdf of July 7, 2014 motion]

The disagreement stems from incorrectly printed ballots, 400 of which were sent to Ward 3 absentee voters. Printed correctly on the ballots were the names of candidates Julie Grand and Samuel McMullen. However, Bob Dascola – who had filed a successful lawsuit against the city in order to be a candidate – was mistakenly left off the ballots.

In a May 20 federal court ruling, the city charter’s eligibility requirements were found to be unenforceable. The July 7 motion to prevent the city from counting Ward 3 votes cast on incorrect ballots was filed as part of that same case – as a request for post-judgment relief.

The incorrectly printed ballots were sent out to about 400 absentee voters in the last week of June. But on Monday, June 30, replacement ballots and a letter of instructions were sent, telling voters about the printing error. Voters who had not yet voted were told in the city’s letter that they should destroy the previous ballot and vote with the replacement ballot. Voters who have already sent in their absentee ballots were told in the letter to “please vote and return this replacement ballot in the enclosed envelope.”

The city’s election commission – which consists of the city clerk, the chief of police and the city attorney – is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. on July 8 to discuss the matter.  The Ann Arbor city council held a closed session lasting 30 minutes as part of its July 7 regular meeting. That closed session may have included the ballot-counting question.

The situation was complicated by the fact that the Michigan Dept. of State reversed its own position on the matter. On Friday, June 27, the Michigan Dept. of State had indicated that if someone mails in only the incorrect ballot, then their Ward 3 vote on the incorrect ballot should not be counted. Their votes in other races, however, should be counted. [.pdf of June 27, 2014 email from Michigan Dept. of State] But by Monday, June 30, the Michigan Dept. of State had reached a different conclusion. That new conclusion was this: If a voter submits only an incorrect ballot, then their vote in the Ward 3 race will count. [.pdf of June 30, 2014 email from the Michigan Dept. of State]

The letter sent by the city of Ann Arbor to voters who received replacement ballots does not appear to take a position on the question of whether a Ward 3 vote will be counted if it is submitted only on an incorrect ballot. [.pdf of June 30, 2014 city of Ann Arbor letter template]

At that time, Wieder told The Chronicle in a telephone interview that “if we do not receive an affirmative assurance that those ballots will not be counted, then we’ll be back in federal court.” The assurance was not given. As a result, Wieder filed the July 7 motion.