Stories indexed with the term ‘energy commission’

Ann Arbor Grinds Gears But OKs Rail Study

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Oct. 21, 2013): The council did not adjourn its meeting until just before 1 a.m., but still left itself with unfinished business.

Mayor John Hieftje checked his computer screen before the meeting started. Six hours later, the meeting adjourned.

Mayor John Hieftje checked his computer screen before the meeting started. Six hours later he declared the meeting adjourned. (Photos by the writer.)

Some of that business – the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority ordinance revision on TIF (tax increment financing) capture – was postponed until the council’s next meeting, on Nov. 7. Other business – Ypsilanti Township’s membership in the AAATA – was postponed until Nov. 18. That will be the first meeting of the new, post-election composition of the council.

First, here’s a rundown of the main outcomes from the meeting.

Transportation was a main theme on the agenda. The postponement on admitting Ypsilanti Township as a member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority was the clear majority consensus, as it succeeded on an 8-3 vote. After that, the council voted unanimously to approve a contract with URS Corporation Inc. (URS) to conduct the Ann Arbor Station project environmental review. The total approved for the Ann Arbor Station contract – which will cover public engagement, site selection and conceptual design – was $824,875, an amount that includes a $63,083 contingency.

The city would pay 20% of that, or about $165,000. The remainder will be covered by a federal grant. The council’s unanimous support was based on two factors: (1) the fact that there was to be no presupposed preferred alternative location for the station, and (2) that the public engagement process outlined in the project tasks was thorough.

The council also voted unanimously to give final approval to a change in the city’s sidewalk ordinance. As a result, cross-lot walkways in Ann Arbor will now be treated as “sidewalks” from the perspective of the city’s sidewalk repair millage. Even though the millage funds can now be used to repair the walkways, owners of property adjacent to cross-lot walkways will not bear responsibility for snow removal in the winter. Cross-lot walkways include those that connect streets to parks or school property, or connect two parallel streets.

The Ann Arbor DDA figured in other agenda items beyond the postponed vote on TIF capture. The council voted just 7-4 to approve a new budget allocation of $280,000 from the general fund to pay for a portion of a Main Street light pole replacement project. That didn’t meet the eight-vote majority requirement for the budget allocation to pass. The failed vote was the result of political wrangling between the council and the DDA board and staff over whether the DDA would not be able, or simply was unwilling, to fund the total cost of the $580,000 light pole replacement project. The poles are rusting out and pose some level of safety threat, although those deemed to be in immediate danger of falling have already been replaced.

The Ann Arbor DDA was also the topic of another agenda item – when the council voted 8-3 to reconsider its Sept. 16 vote on the appointment of Al McWilliams to the board of the DDA. On the 8-3 vote, the question of the appointment was again in front of the council. Councilmembers took 20 minutes to discuss the item before voting again 6-5 – along the same split as on Sept. 16 – to appoint McWilliams to the board. The 8-3 split on reconsideration was the same 8-3 split as on the postponement of the Ypsilanti Township membership in the AAATA – with mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) declining to join the majority on both occasions.

The other nomination on which the council voted was Wayne Appleyard’s reappointment to the city’s energy commission – with a tally of 8-3. That was enough to satisfy the city charter’s non-city resident requirement of seven votes. Dissenters were Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2). Kailasapathy and Lumm had concerns about Appleyard’s long term of service (since 2002). So they’ll be bringing forward an ordinance revision at a future meeting to establish term limits for all boards and commissions. The city charter already imposes term limits on a specific category of boards and commissions.

The council had another significant item on its agenda related to the energy commission – a resolution on divestment from fossil fuel companies that the commission had recommended the council approve. It was the third time the council had seen the question, after first voting it down, then reconsidering and postponing it. At the Oct. 21 meeting, the council amended the resolution to soften it further, which gave it a 9-2 tally when the council voted. Ward 2 councilmembers Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm dissented.

Besides the unfinished business from the Oct. 21 meeting, future meetings of the council will include the Lumm-Kailasapathy initiative to amend the city’s ordinance on boards and commissions to include term limits. Other initiatives announced at the Oct. 21 meeting included an outdoor smoking ordinance that Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) reported he’s been working on with city staff – with an eye toward establishing non-smoking areas in city parks.

Petersen announced that she’ll be putting forward a resolution stemming from frequent mention by community members of the need for a council ethics policy. Among other direction, Petersen’s resolution would ask the city attorney to provide guidance on a state statute. Warpehoski announced that he and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) were working on a framework to establish a pedestrian safety citizens advisory committee – possibly to be seated at the Nov. 18 council meeting. The effort is not designed to determine or preempt the outcome of an effort to repeal the pedestrian crosswalk ordinance, Warpehoski stated.

And Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) announced that he and Margie Teall (Ward 4) would be bringing forth a resolution asking the University of Michigan to decommission the large digital billboard it has constructed on East Stadium Boulevard next to the football stadium. The fallback position of the resolution will be to ask that the university restrict the time of the billboard’s operation, Taylor said.

Some items considered by the council but not included in this report are reflected in the live updates filed from the Oct. 21 meeting. [Full Story]

Appleyard OK’d for Energy Commission

Wayne Appleyard has been appointed to another three-year term on the city of Ann Arbor’s energy commission, a body on which he’s served since 2002.

Wayne Appleyard (Chronicle file photo, uncertain date or context. Also at the table is Ann Arbor city planning commissioner Bonnie Bona.)

Wayne Appleyard at an April 2010 joint meeting of the city’s energy, environmental and planning commissions. Next to Appleyard is Bonnie Bona, who at that time chaired the planning commission. (Chronicle file photo.)

The confirmation vote took place at the city council’s Oct. 21, 2013 meeting. The 8-3 vote gave Appleyard the seven votes needed for a non-city resident … [Full Story]

Oct. 21, 2013 Ann Arbor Council: Final

The Oct. 21, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council is the last one before the Nov. 5 election. After the election, the current group of councilmembers will have just one more meeting, on Nov. 7, before the new council is seated. The agenda the current council faces on Oct. 21 is relatively heavy.

New sign on door to Ann Arbor city council chamber

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

It’s possible that the council might be briefed at the meeting on proposals received by the Oct. 18 deadline for the purchase of the city-owned parcel on William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues (the former Y lot), but that’s not yet clear. The property had been listed for $4.2 million.

Many of the Oct. 21 items already on the agenda can be divided into three main categories: transportation, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and the city’s energy commission.

The council held a work session about transportation on Oct. 14, 2013. Transportation-related items on the Oct. 21 agenda include a resolution that would admit Ypsilanti Township as a member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. The specific question to be considered is a revision to the AAATA’s articles of incorporation – which would also expand the number of board members from nine to 10.

A second transportation-related agenda item is a city-led initiative to develop a new train station, with the location to be determined. The existing location, as well as one on Fuller Road near the University of Michigan medical campus, would be among the possibilities. On the council’s agenda is a contract with URS Corp. to conduct an environmental review that would include public engagement, site selection and conceptual design. The council’s authorization would be $824,875, an amount that includes a $63,083 contingency. The city would pay 20% of that, or about $165,000, with the rest covered by a federal grant that has already been awarded by the Federal Rail Authority.

To the extent that pedestrian infrastructure is also part of the city’s transportation system, a transportation-related pair of items would alter the definition of “sidewalk” to include cross-lot walkways. Affected by the change, for example, would be walkways that connect streets with parks or school property. The change would allow for use of sidewalk repair millage funds to repair cross-lot walkways, without triggering the winter maintenance requirement for adjacent property owners.

Finally, the city council will be asked to approve an annual resolution related to wintertime transportation – the purchase of ice control salt for city streets.

Related to the Ann Arbor DDA are three items: (1) reconsideration of the appointment of Al McWilliams to the board of that authority – likely to be confirmed on a re-vote, if reconsideration is approved; (2) final consideration of a change to the city ordinance regulating the DDA’s TIF (tax increment financing) capture – likely to be postponed yet again; and (3) a budget allocation of $280,000 to cover costs associated with replacement of downtown ornamental, pedestrian-scale light poles. The DDA is contributing $300,000 to the cost of the $580,000 project. Some councilmembers think the DDA should pay for the full amount, so the eight-vote majority required for the budget amendment might not be achieved.

The specific size of the majority vote required could also be a factor in one of two agenda items related to the city’s energy commission – the re-appointment of Wayne Appleyard to the commission. The confirmation will need a seven-vote majority under the city charter, because he’s not a city resident. The other energy-related item is an energy commission-recommended resolution – which was previously rejected, reconsidered and postponed by the city council. The resolution would call upon the city’s employee retirement board to divest from fossil fuel companies.

This article includes a more detailed preview of each of these agenda items. More details on other meeting agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. Readers can also follow the live meeting proceedings Monday evening on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article below the preview material. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Council Focus: Nominations, Neighborhoods

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Oct. 7, 2013): The council’s meeting was bookended with the topic of mayoral appointments to boards and commissions – beginning with a confirmation vote that was not taken at all, and ending with a motion to reconsider a confirmation vote the council had taken at its previous meeting.

Mayor John Hieftje

Mayor John Hieftje. There are 26 more regular city council meetings left in Hieftje’s mayoral tenure. He announced on Oct. 11 that he’s not planning to run for re-election in 2014. In an email sent to The Chronicle, he said the decision was made much earlier: “I made the decision over the summer on a kayak trip on the north east coast of Lake Superior.” (Photos by the writer.)

The confirmation vote that did not take place was on the appointment of Wayne Appleyard to the city’s energy commission. Although his nomination had been announced at the council’s Sept. 16 meeting, mayor John Hieftje did not move his name forward for a vote on Oct. 7. Appleyard’s appointment would have required a 7-vote majority under the city charter – because he’s not a city resident. With only eight councilmembers in attendance, his confirmation might not have received seven votes. A recent change to the council’s rules put the routine appointments – which the council approved unanimously – near the start of the meeting.

The confirmation vote that was moved for reconsideration at the end of the Oct. 7 meeting was that of Al McWilliams to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Midway through the meeting, the council had voted to direct the city attorney to write an opinion on the legal issues surrounding McWilliams’ appointment, which was made on a 6-5 vote at the council’s Sept. 16 meeting.

Under the council’s rules, McWilliams’ appointment appears to have required an 8-vote majority, because his nomination and confirmation came on the same night. That analysis relies on Hieftje’s statement at the council’s Sept. 3 meeting that on that occasion he was withdrawing McWilliams’ nomination. But because no objection to the apparent violation of the council’s rules was raised on Sept. 3, the city attorney’s opinion will likely just establish that a court challenge to the appointment could not be made.

A portion of the minutes of the council’s Sept. 16 meeting – relating to McWilliams’ appointment – was the topic of considerable back and forth, with approval of the minutes coming only after an amendment had been made to change the way some remarks made by Hieftje had been characterized.

The frustration of councilmembers on the losing side of the Sept. 16 vote was evident during deliberations – reflected in Mike Anglin’s (Ward 5) sole vote of dissent against the resolution directing the city attorney to write an opinion. Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) also indicated dissatisfaction that the opinion resolution would not address the public’s interest in due process.

So a few minutes past midnight, after the council’s other business had been dispatched, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) convinced his council colleagues to re-open the agenda for a motion to reconsider the vote on the appointment. Warpehoski had been on the prevailing side of the McWilliams’ confirmation vote. He then moved immediately for postponement until the Oct. 21 meeting and councilmembers supported that motion – so the council will take up the question of reconsideration at that time.

In other business, the council adopted an update to its solid waste plan, but not before amending the plan to remove mention of exploring the possibility of every-other-week trash pickup and pay-as-you-throw options in the future.

The council also considered two items related to hyper-local neighborhood infrastructure issues – cross-lot walkways and traffic calming projects.

Councilmembers gave initial approval to a change in the city’s sidewalk ordinance that would define certain walkways as “sidewalks.” The change will affect cross-lot walkways that connect streets with schools or parks, or streets with other streets. Defining these walkways as  “sidewalks” allows them to be eligible for funds from the sidewalk repair millage, but does not trigger winter maintenance responsibility for adjacent property owners.

The council also approved a budget allocation of $55,000 to fund an additional two traffic calming (speed bump) projects this year. The same resolution directed the funding of three traffic calming projects next year.

Two site plans were approved by the council – one for a Tim Hortons drive-thru on Ann Arbor-Saline road, and another for a Belle Tire on Ellsworth.

A new schedule of liquor license fees was approved by the council. In some cases fees were lowered or eliminated, and in other cases they were raised – to reflect actual city costs in processing. For example, on-premise liquor license annual renewal fees were set at $90, an increase from $50, while fees for new liquor licenses were set at $600, a reduction from $2,500.

The council also approved a grant application to the Rockefeller Foundation for designating Ann Arbor as one of 100 Resilient Cities. While the total amount of funding for the program is identified as $100 million, according to the Rockefeller Foundation, that does not mean that each of the 100 cities would receive $1 million of support if selected. [Full Story]