City records show that Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers and his wife, Jayne Powers, have purchased a home inside the city limits of Ann Arbor. Powers started the job as city administrator nine months ago on Sept. 15, 2011 and has been renting an apartment until recently. Jayne Powers has now joined him in Ann Arbor, moving from Marquette County, Mich., where Steve Powers served as county administrator from 1996 until taking the Ann Arbor job.
Previous Ann Arbor city administrator Roger Fraser often drew criticism for the fact that he did not live in the city he served. [.pdf of October 23, 2006 Ann Arbor News article: "Fraser Again Shuns City Life"]
The Powers’ 1,936-square-foot home, built in 1936, …
A widely used forecast of population, employment and other community indicators – prepared by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) – is being revised through 2040. At a working session on Tuesday, Ann Arbor planning commissioners were briefed on the preliminary results of that work, which will likely be finalized and released in March.
The forecast is used as a planning tool by local governments and regional organizations, and is updated every five years. A preliminary forecast from 2010-2020 has been distributed to communities in southeast Michigan, including Ann Arbor, to get feedback that will be used in making the final forecast through 2040. At a public forum in Ann Arbor last month, SEMCOG staff also presented an overview from its preliminary 2040 forecast for Washtenaw County.
For the county, the initial forecast shows the population growing from 344,791 in 2010 to 352,616 in 2020 – a 2.2% increase. By 2040, the county’s population is expected to reach 384,735, an increase of about 40,000 people from 2010.
The population in Ann Arbor is projected to stay essentially flat, while some of the county’s townships – including the townships of Augusta, Lima, Manchester, Saline and Superior – are expected to see double-digit growth.
Total employment for the county is expected to grow 20.6% through 2040, from 236,677 jobs in 2010 to 285,659 jobs in 2040. About 50% of all jobs in the county are located in Ann Arbor.
The forecast has implications for policy and planning decisions, including decisions related to transportation funding. For example, the forecast will form the basis for SEMCOG’s 2040 long-range transportation plan, which is expected to be released in June of 2013.
The transportation issue was highlighted during Tuesday’s planning commission meeting. And in a follow-up interview with The Chronicle, Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, expressed concerns that the forecast might underestimate population and household figures.
Cooper said he’s trying to ensure that SEMCOG has all the data it needs to inform good decision-making. For example, a list of recent and pending developments that SEMCOG is using doesn’t include some major new residential projects, he said, such as The Varsity Ann Arbor. [.pdf of development list used in SEMCOG draft forecast]
This forecast comes in the context of several major transportation projects that are being discussed within the county. That includes a possible countywide transportation system and a potential high-capacity transit corridor in Ann Arbor that would run from Plymouth Road at US-23 through downtown Ann Arbor to State Street and southward to I-94.
The discussion at Tuesday’s working session centered primarily on SEMCOG’s draft forecast for Ann Arbor through 2020. The meeting covered other topics, including an update on the planning staff’s 2012 work plan. This report focuses on the SEMCOG forecast.
Pam Kisch has a vivid, and unpleasant, memory of what happened when a federal civil-rights suit was filed against the owners and managers of a south Ann Arbor apartment complex this past March.
“Channel 7 came in and did a story that had these sound bytes from residents,” says Kisch, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Southeast Michigan. ”People got on camera and said ‘No, there’s no discrimination here.’
“They might live there,” says Kisch, “but they don’t know.”
By then, Kisch was sure she did know.
Between 2006 and 2009, the Ann Arbor-based Fair Housing Center sent 18 men and women to the Ivanhoe Apartments to present themselves as prospective tenants. Some were African-American; some were white. The very different experiences they described prompted the U.S. Justice Department to file a race discrimination suit.
Although they deny any wrongdoing, the owners and operators of the apartment complex have now agreed to pay $82,500 to settle the case. The details of a settlement were announced this week by the Justice Department. The agreement must still be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Sean F. Cox.
University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (May 20, 2010): This month, regents met at the UM-Dearborn campus – this is their second month away from Ann Arbor, after holding their April meeting in Grand Rapids. They’ll be back at their regular location in the Fleming administration building next month, when they’ll be voting on the budget for 2010-11, including tuition rates.
During the May 20 meeting, regents approved a 3% average rate increase for room and board during the 2010-11 academic year in campus residence halls. A double room will increase from $8,924 to $9,192 – an increase of $268. The most expensive room – a single with a private bath – will cost $12,166, up $354. Rates for the Northwood apartment complex on UM’s north campus were also raised an average of 1%.
Three construction projects – including a $17.7 million expansion to the University Hospital emergency department and a new $2.5 million indoor golf practice facility – were approved, with no discussion.
A large part of the meeting consisted of presentations, including an update on how the university’s health system might be affected by recent national health care reform, and a report on the non-traditional education programs task force, which generated some comments from regents.
Several sporting achievements were highlighted at the start of the meeting, as has been the case in other recent months. Most prominently, the men’s gymnastics team attended and were congratulated for their recent NCAA championship win. The celebration included a cake, and regents were given caps – which some wore during the meeting – commemorating the achievement.
Sports-related news not mentioned during the May 20 meeting was the university’s response to allegations that its football program violated NCAA rules – the university announced that response a few days later.
Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 19, 2010) Part 2: In Part 1 of this meeting report, we focused on the city’s budget process, parking issues and the University of Michigan commencement exercises.
In Part 2, we wrap up other topics of the meeting. One common theme was capital investments in the community’s physical infrastructure of various kinds.
The council allocated a total of $313,000 for three different permanent affordable housing projects in Ann Arbor.
The city’s East Stadium bridge replacement project received discussion in the form of a resolution that authorized the city to go after state funding for the third time in the last three years. The anticipated construction start for fall of this year has been postponed until spring 2011 – the earlier date had been tied to the city’s application for federal funding, which was rejected this February.
The ongoing construction of the police/courts building, directly adjacent to city hall (the Larcom Building), received some tangential discussion in the form of an explanation from Roger Fraser about the recent closure of city hall due to elevated carbon monoxide levels. The police/courts building was also the subject of public commentary that prompted some extended remarks from the mayor – which were covered in Part 1 of this report.
Another construction project that will likely factor into the upcoming primary election campaigns is Fuller Road Station. The city-university collaboration to build a combined parking deck and bus station, which might eventually serve as a commuter rail station, was taken up during the council’s communications time. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and mayor John Hieftje both responded to some cautionary remarks made by Mike Anglin (Ward 5), which he made based on a recent park advisory commission meeting.
In business related to ethics and rules, the council voted on two occasions to excuse the participation of Taylor in a vote, because of a conflict of interest posed by his employment with the law firm Butzel Long. They also satisfied the requirement of a recent lawsuit settlement that they formally consider a rule about their use of government email accounts – by voting to remand consideration of the issue to council’s rules committee.
Monday afternoon’s public forum for Zaragon Place 2 – a proposed 14-story apartment building at the southeast corner of Thompson and William, next to Cottage Inn – was held by the developer and his team to comply with the city’s citizen participation ordinance.
But among those attending the two-hour open house at the Michigan Union were developers for both The Moravian and Heritage Row – two residential projects that have been vigorously opposed by some residents in the city’s near-south side.
There are significant differences among the three projects, but some connections as well, especially among the project teams. And all are at different stages of the process: plans for Zaragon Place 2 haven’t yet been submitted to the city’s planning department, while Heritage Row has been recommended by the planning commission and is expected to come before the city council in May. Meanwhile, in a grueling April 5 city council meeting that lasted well past 1 a.m., The Moravian failed to get the eight votes it needed for approval. Nearly 90 people – both supporters and opponents – spoke during a 3.5-hour public commentary on the project.
Based on reactions at Monday’s open house for Zaragon Place 2, it seems unlikely this latest project will arouse similar passions.
Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (March 16, 2010): A proposed residential project that’s been in the works for more than two years got approval on Tuesday night from a majority of planning commissioners, by a 6-2 vote.
Alex de Parry, the developer of Heritage Row – a project on the east side of Fifth Avenue, south of William – will now seek approval from city council, though he still faces opposition from neighbors and others in the community.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the commission continued a broad effort to rezone parcels of city-owned parkland as “public land” – including one known as the “squarest “park in Ann Arbor. Commissioners also addressed concerns raised by residents living near two of the properties being rezoned: Arbor Hills Nature Area and Kilburn Park. Action on those two parcels was postponed.
Also postponed was a proposed site plan for expansion at Glacier Hills retirement community, which plans to construct a new skilled nursing care building within its complex on the city’s east side. Planning staff had some unresolved issue with the proposal, including the need to increase the amount of required bicycle parking. It was noted that residents there might not have a high demand for bike spaces.
Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (Feb. 18, 2010): After a public hearing on the latest iteration of a controversial South Fifth Avenue housing project, planning commissioners voted to postpone action on a project now called Heritage Row.
Developer Alex de Parry is asking to rezone the seven-parcel site, with plans to restore the historic houses there and build three 3.5-story buildings behind them. Commissioners generally were favorable toward the project, citing benefits of restoring the older homes, among other things. A fair amount of their discussion involved what color of brick to use on those new buildings.
The public hearing drew several neighbors who raised concerns they’d voiced over de Parry’s previous project in the same location, called City Place. Several mentioned the new buildings as being too large for the neighborhood. Another concern: An historic district study committee hasn’t finished its report, which could affect the project.
But before they considered Heritage Row, commissioners discussed proposed changes to Plymouth Green Crossings, a mixed use complex off of Plymouth, west of Green Road. The developers, represented by David Kwan, are asking to alter their original agreement with the city.
Economic conditions, including the departure of Pfizer, have slowed plans to complete the project, which was to include a total of three buildings and a standalone restaurant. Two buildings have been constructed – tenants include Sweetwaters and Olga’s – but a perceived lack of parking has stymied attempts to fill the retail space, Kwan said. He and his partners hope to put in a temporary parking lot on the land that originally was slated for the restaurant.
One commissioner wasn’t too excited by Kwan’s idea. Concerns were also raised about payments to the city’s affordable housing fund, which are being spread out over several years.
Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Sept. 21, 2009): Ann Arbor’s city council approved both major development projects on its agenda, one of them enthusiastically, the other only reluctantly.
Although there was a smattering of opposition expressed to the Near North affordable housing development during the public hearing on the matter, the 39-unit project on North Main Street ultimately won the support of its closest neighbors. That support was reflected symbolically when developer Bill Godfrey and neighbor Tom Fitzsimmons stood side-by-side at the podium as they each addressed the council, which gave the project its unanimous approval.
The “matter of right” City Place project proposed for the block of South Fifth Avenue just south of William was also unanimously approved by the council, but councilmembers took turns criticizing both the project and the developer, Alex de Parry. The council had previously established a historic district study committee and enacted an associated moratorium on demolition and work in the area where the proposed project is located. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) compared de Parry’s decision to bring the project forward despite the moratorium to “stamping feet, being upset you didn’t get what you wanted.”
Many members of the audience held yellow 8×11 paper signs calling on councilmembers to support a resolution that would have released council emails sent during their meetings dating back to 2002. However, council rejected that resolution except for a resolved clause that would in the future provide the public with copies of electronic communications among councilmembers during its meetings – by appending them to the official minutes of the meeting that are eventually posted on the city’s website.
The council also put looming financial issues on the radar by passing a resolution that opposes a recent Michigan budget proposal that would cut state shared revenues to the city of Ann Arbor by about $1.2 million. At the council’s budget and labor committee meeting that was held Monday – before the regular council meeting – Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, floated some possible ideas for meeting that shortfall.
Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (March 4, 2009): County commissioners spent the bulk of their Wednesday night board meeting on two topics, both dealing with finances: 1) Details about $3 million in federal funds coming to Washtenaw County to rehab or demolish foreclosed properties in targeted areas, and 2) an update from county administrator Bob Guenzel about ongoing efforts to deal with a projected budget deficit.
Neither topic is new to commissioners or Chronicle readers: The federal foreclosure funds were discussed at last week’s administrative briefing, and the budget crisis has been on the table since the board’s Feb. 4 meeting. So commissioners were prepared to ask pointed questions on both issues, and they did.
Many of the 15 or so people gathered in the downtown Ann Arbor library on Tuesday night were clearly neighbors. There were handshakes, waves, nods of greetings and, in at least one case, the delivery of a Christmas gift. And as the meeting unfolded, it also became clear that these people had another common bond: Opposition, or at least strong skepticism, to a revived apartment project called The Madison.
Developer Jeff Helminski and Newcombe Clark of Bluestone Realty plan to resubmit a scaled-down version of The Madison to the city on Dec. 29, and were holding this meeting to tell neighbors about their new plans and to get feedback on the project. Located on East Madison between South Fourth and Fifth avenues, the original proposal called for a 14-story building with 161 units. This new one has four stories, with 60 units.
That’s still too large for some.
At a work session sometime in January 2009, city council is expected to discuss proposed zoning changes to downtown Ann Arbor, which have emerged from a process involving consultants, staff, and the public over more than two years. But before that, the A2D2 steering committee, which consists of Roger Hewitt (DDA), Marcia Higgins (city council) and Evan Pratt (planning commission), will meet in the Larcom Building’s sixth-floor conference room on Wednesday, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. to review comments and feedback accumulated to date. (That is a public meeting, but there is no public participation component.)