Stories indexed with the term ‘couch ban’

Ann Arbor Porches: Couch-Free

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Sept. 20, 2010): On a unanimous vote at its Monday night meeting, the council approved a ban on placement of upholstered furniture in outdoor locations, if that furniture is not designed for outdoor use.


Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), standing, shares a moment with Kim LeMasters, mother of Renden LeMasters, who died in an April 2010 fire on South State Street in Ann Arbor. Taylor sponsored the city ordinance to ban couches on porches – a contributing factor in the fire that killed LeMasters. (Photo by the writer.)

The case for the change in the city’s code was based primarily on the fire hazard posed by outdoor couches as compared to indoor couches – increased oxygen supply outdoors, coupled with decreased ability of indoor occupants to detect outdoor fires.

The council chambers were filled with friends and family of Renden LeMasters, who died in an April 2010 fire on South State Street. Though that blaze did not start in upholstered furniture, a porch couch was analyzed by city fire officials as contributing to that fire by helping to spread flames from a waste container to the house itself.

University of Michigan students opposed certain aspects of the proposed enforcement mechanism, and after the vote reminded the council that the measure they’d enacted that evening was one part of a large piece of work yet to be done on ensuring safety of off-campus student rental housing in the city.

The council also approved the creation of a task force that will work for the next six months to identify cost-effective ways to achieve better enforcement of the city’s ordinance against panhandling, and to provide help to panhandlers who are addicted to drugs. The idea is to build on the knowledge gained from the work of a previous task force that had been formed in 2001 and continued through 2003.

Several people addressed the council in support of a resolution, added to the agenda on Monday, which reaffirmed community support for religious freedom, in the wake of increased anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence. The resolution required some modification to gain support of all councilmembers – Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was dissatisfied with the singling out of Muslims in the language of the resolution – but in the end, it passed unanimously.

Some councilmembers made clear on Monday night that they saw the vote as a reaffirmation of the council’s previous 2004 resolution, which condemned the demonstrations against U.S. support of Israel that had then begun each Saturday outside the Beth Israel synagogue on Washtenaw Avenue – and continue to the present.

The meeting was also notable in that no action was taken to reconsider the Heritage Row project. Betsy de Parry, wife of developer Alex de Parry, attended on his behalf and expressed her disappointment that the council had not seen fit to bring back the project for reconsideration that evening, reviewing many of the same points of discussion at the previous evening’s caucus. [Full Story]

Caucus Chess Talk: Building City Place

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday night caucus (Sept. 19, 2010): Most residents who attended the council’s informal Sunday night meeting seemed to be keen to focus the night’s discussion on one of two topics: a possible ban on porch couches; or the future of the Library Lot on Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. An underground parking garage is currently being constructed there, but no decision has been made about what, if anything, to build on top.


Front to back: Alex de Parry, Alan Haber, Haskell Rothstein. (Photos by the writer.)

A specific suggestion for one of various amenities that could be constructed on the lot came from Haskell Rothstein: giant chess boards, with giant pieces. Already during pre-caucus chatter, Rothstein had opened the topic of giant chess boards on the Library Lot, and that conversational gambit prompted an interesting revelation from Alex de Parry: It turns out that de Parry’s father was a chess player of some distinction, once playing Bobby Fischer to a draw.

De Parry, of course, is developer of a proposed 154-bedroom residential project called Heritage Row, which would have been located on Fifth Avenue, a few squares south of the Library Lot. Heritage Row was rejected by the council at its June 21, 2010 meeting, on a 7-4 vote in favor of it, falling one vote short of the super-majority needed to approve the planned unit development (PUD) project. The super-majority was needed because of a protest petition filed by nearby property owners.

Heritage Row was brought back for reconsideration at a subsequent council meeting on July 6, 2010, but again failed, that time on a 7-3 vote. It was nearly brought back a third time – on that same evening. But Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) abandoned the effort in the middle of a parliamentary procedure that had appeared momentarily would result in another vote, this time with Hohnke providing the deciding vote in favor of Heritage Row. Hohnke had voted against the project on both previous occasions.

De Parry has an already approved “matter of right” 144-bedroom project in the same location as Heritage Row – called City Place. Approved last year, the City Place project contrasts with Heritage Row in that it would demolish seven existing houses and replace them with a streetscape consisting of two buildings separated by a parking lot. In the Heritage Row project, the seven houses would be renovated, and three additional buildings would be constructed behind them, with parking located under the site.

De Parry would like to begin construction in May 2011 – on either Heritage Row or City Place – and he indicated at the caucus meeting that the necessary lead time for permitting means that work on construction drawings needs to start now. So de Parry’s negotiations with city councilmembers to bring back Heritage Row for reconsideration have entered the end game.

During the caucus conversation, de Parry discussed with Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – the only two councilmembers present at the caucus – the meetings and correspondence they’d had with each other and other councilmembers on the possibility that changes to Heritage Row might win a third consideration from the council. Previously, Anglin and Briere had both voted against the project, as did Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). So one of those four would need to see significant enough modifications in Heritage Row to change their vote.

On Sunday evening, however, Briere told de Parry: “As near as I can tell, nobody is budging.” De Parry then indicated to Briere and Anglin: “We’re going to start on the other project [City Place].” Briere’s reply: “I mourn that.”

Additional topics discussed at the caucus included porch couches, panhandling, the future of the Library Lot, religious tolerance, and the format of the caucus meeting itself.
[Full Story]