Stories indexed with the term ‘parking’

First Street

Open parking lot being resurfaced for full third day. Fleet of huge trucks and carriers and five special machines a dozen men working.

DDA Budgets for Transit, Housing, Parking

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (March 5, 2014): Three main business items were approved by the board: submission of its FY 2015 budget to the city council, award of a $50,000 management incentive to its parking management contractor, and a resolution pledging to maintain or increase DDA funding of transportation programs, if the May 6, 2014 AAATA transit millage is approved by voters.

Roger Hewitt, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority

Roger Hewitt, DDA board treasurer. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposed budget shows $19.3 million in revenues from the public parking system and $4.8 million in tax increment finance capture. Overall, it shows $24,237,186 in revenues against $26,531,972 in expenses. The use of fund balance to cover the difference leaves the DDA with an estimated fund balance at the end of FY 2015 of about $3.3 million. FY 2015 runs from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. [FY 2015 DDA budget breakdown]

The expenses include $353,344 in salaries and $245,894 in fringe benefits for four staff members, $7,075,571 in payments to Republic Parking for management of the public parking system, and $2.1 million for parking facility maintenance. Accounting for $3.19 million of the expenses is a payment made to the city of Ann Arbor, equal to 17% of the gross revenues to the public parking system.

Included in the budget is a $200,000 grant to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission – as part of a $600,000 request from AAHAC to support improvements to Baker Commons and Miller Manor.

The budget also includes $676,000 for support of the getDowntown program. The board also approved a resolution that pledged to work toward maintaining or increasing the DDA’s support for transportation programs. That resolution came in the context of an approaching May 6, 2014 transit millage ballot question. The 0.7 mill tax was placed on a May 6 ballot by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board on Feb. 20, 2014. The tax would be levied by the AAATA only if it wins a majority of support among voters across its three member jurisdictions: the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. The DDA board resolution came in part as a response to the fact that the DDA will be capturing a portion of the new millage under its tax increment finance (TIF) funding mechanism.

The board also approved the award to Republic Parking of the full $50,000 annual discretionary management incentive. Republic Parking’s contract with the Ann Arbor DDA covers just actual costs, but also includes a $200,000 annual management fee. Of the $200,000 management fee, $50,000 is awarded to Republic on a discretionary basis. It was last year, at the board’s March 6, 2013 meeting, when the DDA board decided for the first time in five years to award the full $50,000 of the incentive. The year before, at its Feb. 1, 2012 meeting, the board determined to award $45,000 of the discretionary amount. That matched the same figure awarded in 2011, 2010 and 2009.

The board also heard the usual range of reports from committees as well as public commentary. A highlight of announcements included the upcoming closure of the surface parking facility at the old Y lot, as the city-owned property is sold to hotelier Dennis Dahlmann. The closing is expected sometime between March 13-15. The lot is located on William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues, across from the downtown library and south of the Blake Transit Center. [Full Story]

DDA Mulls Role: Events, Marketing?

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Feb. 5, 2014): Highlights of the board’s hour and a quarter meeting were communications and transportation, on an agenda that featured no substantive voting items. The meeting consisted of various reports and discussion points.


A poster generated at the Jan. 30, 2014 Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board retreat. (Photos by the writer.)

A communications and marketing strategy for the downtown was the focus of Rishi Narayan’s report from the board’s partnerships committee, which had invited representatives from the four downtown area merchant associations to it most recent meeting. The message from those groups, Narayan reported, was a desire to see more events take place downtown.

A desire to see more signature events take place, especially during the winter, had been one of several items identified by board members at a recent retreat, held on Jan. 30, 2014 in the jury assembly room of the Justice Center, from noon to about 3:30 p.m. At its Feb. 5 monthly meeting, the follow-up discussion about the retreat also focused heavily on the idea of events and the possible role the DDA might play in facilitating more frequent events downtown. An initial reaction that appeared to be shared by several board members was this: The DDA should not necessarily be in the event-hosting business, but rather provide assistance to those organizations that are already hosting various events.

Board chair Sandi Smith also floated the idea of hiring an additional staff member to focus on marketing. City administrator Steve Powers stressed the importance of having a clear idea of the financial basis for the DDA’s capacity to undertake various projects on the list of its five-year plan. That five-year project plan, which Smith characterized as always in draft form, will be a focus of discussion when the board continues its retreat on Feb. 19. In addition to the five-year project plan, the board will focus on its 10-year financial projections at the Feb. 19 session. [Updated: The board has decided to continue its retreat on Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. at the DDA offices.]

Transportation was a topic addressed by the sole speaker during public commentary at the Feb. 5 monthly meeting, as Martha Valadez, an organizer with Partners for Transit, asked the DDA board to support a millage proposal that’s expected to be placed on the ballot by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. Late last month, the board’s operations committee had been briefed by AAATA staff on the five-year transit improvement plan – the set of service increases that are driving the likely request that voters approve an additional 0.7 mill tax.

Also related to transportation was a report from the board’s operations committee that included an update on the go!pass program, which the DDA has funded historically. Last year, the DDA granted the AAATA about $560,000 to pay for rides taken by downtown employees through the go!pass program. A request will be coming up soon for this next year’s funding.

In another transportation-related topic, the board also received an update on a possible part-time conversion of downtown on-street loading zones into taxi stands. Somewhat related to on-street right-of-way, the board was briefed on city council action to impose a fee on developers who cause the removal of on-street parking meters – unless the development has a more general public benefit. It will be up to the DDA to define what constitutes a public benefit – a task the board will now take up.

Related specifically to the public parking system, which the DDA manages under a contract with the city, the board reviewed the parking revenues for the second quarter of the fiscal year, compared to last year. It was the first full quarter for which the year-over-year comparison was for periods that did not include any parking rate increases. Revenue was essentially flat, showing just a 0.7% increase.

It’s not clear how much longer the former Y lot – located on William between Fourth and Fifth avenues – will continue to be used as a surface parking lot. Not mentioned at the Feb. 5 board meeting, but discussed at the Jan. 29 operations committee meeting, was a proposal from Dennis Dahlmann about leasing the lot back to the DDA after he completes the purchase of the city-owned land. The idea would be for the DDA to lease the property and continue to operate a surface parking lot on the parcel until Dahlmann is able to move a site plan forward. At the operations committee meeting, the idea was not warmly embraced.

Other updates included the regular report from the downtown area citizens advisory council. Chair of the group, Ray Detter, reported that the CAC was generally supportive of an effort now being made by Will and Mary Hathaway to work with some city councilmembers on a resolution about the future of the surface level of the Library Lane underground parking structure. The resolution would establish a significant part of that level – but not all of it – as an urban public space. [Full Story]

Street Parking Space Removal Fee: Delayed Again

Developers who plan an Ann Arbor project that requires removal of an on-street metered public parking space may need to pay the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority $45,000 per space. But that’s still not decided after a second postponement of the question by the Ann Arbor city council. The payment would go to the Ann Arbor DDA, because the DDA manages the public parking system under a contract with the city.

The setting of that fee was postponed by the Ann Arbor city council at its Dec. 16, 2013 meeting after previously postponing at its Dec. 2 meeting.

The council will eventually be acting on a four-year-old recommendation approved by the Ann Arbor DDA in 2009:
Thus it is recommended that when developments … [Full Story]

DDA Kicks Off Fall with $300K Grant

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Sept. 4, 2013): The board’s first meeting since early July was attended by the minimum seven members needed for a quorum on the 12-member group. In its one main business item, the group voted to approve a $300,000 grant to Washtenaw County, to support renovations to the county-owned building at 110 N. Fourth in Ann Arbor, which is known as the Annex.

Ward 3 councilmember Stephen Kunselman attended the Sept. 4, 2013, meeting of the DDA board.

Ward 3 councilmember Stephen Kunselman (left) attended the Sept. 4, 2013, meeting of the DDA board. He chatted with mayor John Hieftje before the meeting start. Hieftje is a member of the DDA board. (Photos by the writer.)

The renovation is part of the county’s overall space plan, approved by the board of commissioners at its July 10, 2013 meeting. The space plan calls for modifications to the Annex so that it can house the county’s Community Support & Treatment Services (CSTS) department. The cost of the renovations at the Annex, which would include a new lobby and “client interaction” space, would be about $1 million, according to the DDA board resolution. [.pdf of DDA resolution on the Annex] The Annex has housed the county’s office of community and economic development, office of infrastructure management, and the public defender’s office. Those offices are being moved to other leased and county-owned space.

Not described at the DDA’s board meeting was the backdrop of the grant award to the county, which evolved from a conversation between county administration and the DDA about ways the DDA could help the county address its budget deficit. A pitch from the county had been to re-open the agreement under which the county purchases monthly parking permits in the city’s public parking system, which the DDA manages. The alternative proposed by the DDA was to make a one-time $300,000 grant  – to help fund a project for which the county had already identified funding.

Also not mentioned among the several updates given during the Sept. 4 DDA board meeting was an Aug. 26 meeting of a joint DDA-council committee. That committee had been established by the Ann Arbor city council at its July 1, 2013 meeting to work out a recommendation on possible legislation to address an ongoing controversy about DDA tax increment finance revenue. Not much forward progress was made at that committee meeting.

The city council has already given initial approval of changes to the ordinance language that would clarify the amount of tax increment finance capture (TIF) revenue received by the DDA . The clarification currently under consideration does not work out in the DDA’s favor. A final vote of approval appeared on the council’s Sept. 3, 2013 agenda – the day before the DDA board met – but the council decided again to postpone a final vote.

At their Sept. 4 meeting, DDA board members also got a look at a draft five-year plan of projects that has now been generated, partly in response to pressure from the city council – dating back to April of this year – asking the DDA to explain what projects would not be undertaken if the DDA didn’t continue to receive TIF revenue based on its preferred interpretation of the city’s ordinance.

Highlights of other updates that were given at the Sept. 4 DDA board meeting included a review of the preliminary end-of-year figures for the public parking system and the rest of the DDA’s funds. Overall, the DDA’s financial picture was better than budgeted. That difference is due to the timing of various capital costs.

For the parking system, the year-end picture was consistent with the trend throughout the year. Revenue generated by the parking system was up by 11.9% ($19.09 million) compared to the previous fiscal year, while the number of hourly patrons was down by 1.96% (2,232,736).

Low attendance at the board’s meeting was partly a function of the fact that two of the seats are currently vacant. One of the seats could potentially have been filled by the city council through confirmation of Al McWilliams’ nomination at its Sept. 3, 2013 meeting. However, as the nine councilmembers present debated his confirmation, mayor John Hieftje withdrew it, at least for the time being.

McWilliams’ confirmation would have needed six votes on the 11-member council – and the outcome was dubious based on conversation among the nine attendees at the council table. Some councilmembers questioned whether McWilliams’ might have a recurring conflict of interest based on the work his advertising firm, Quack!Media, does for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority and the allocations that the DDA makes to the AAATA’s go!pass program. That allocation amounted to $479,000 this year, and was approved at the DDA board’s March 6, 2013 meeting.

The Sept. 4 DDA board meeting was somewhat unusual in that no one from the public chose to address the board during the session at either of the two points on the agenda for public commentary. [Full Story]

Concerns Raised Over Glendale Condos

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (July 16, 2013): More than 40 residents living near the proposed Glendale Condominiums showed up to voice concerns about the project, slated for a former orchard south of Jackson Avenue next to the Hillside Terrace retirement community.

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

Residents attended the July 16, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission to express concerns about the proposed Glendale Condominiums project. A public hearing on the project lasted about an hour. (Photos by the writer.)

In a public hearing that lasted about an hour, neighbors cited a range of issues, including concerns about increased flooding, the lack of pedestrian access, increased traffic and the loss of landmark trees. One resident told commissioners that she already has a sump pump “that could probably pump pudding to Ypsilanti, it’s so powerful.” She’s concerned it will need to run continuously if the project gets built.

The proposal for the 2.54-acre site at 312 Glendale Drive includes demolishing two single-family homes on the south end of the property and building eight two-bedroom duplexes. Each unit would include a one-car garage, with eight additional surface parking spaces on the site.

The project is located in Ward 5, and both city councilmembers representing that ward – Mike Anglin and Chuck Warpehoski – attended the July 16 meeting. Warpehoski was among the speakers at the public hearing, but was cut off by commissioner Diane Giannola, who cited the commission’s bylaws. The bylaws state: “A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission as a petitioner, representative of a petitioner or as a party interested in a petition during the Council member’s term of office.” Warpehoski, who had been unaware of that rule, stepped away from the podium but stayed for the remainder of the public hearing and the commission’s deliberations on this item.

After discussing the proposal, commissioners followed a staff recommendation and postponed action on the project, to allow for time to address unresolved issues related to the site plan.

In other action, commissioners recommended approval of a drive-thru addition for the Tim Hortons at the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline and Eisenhower, near the I-94 interchange. As a “public amenity,” the owner proposes putting in a 140-square-foot brick-paved area near the intersection, with two park benches and shrubbery. Some commissioners questioned whether anyone would use that spot, given its location next to heavy traffic. Wendy Woods, saying she had family nearby, indicated that there is a fair amount of pedestrian and bike traffic in that area. She also floated the idea of putting public art on that corner, given that it’s a “gateway” to the city. Sabra Briere indicated that the city wouldn’t fund public art on the privately owned site, but would “applaud” the owner if he chose to put artwork there.

Also gaining unanimous approval was a request by the Glacier Hills retirement community for adding 31 parking spaces to its property, near US-23 on the city’s east side. A representative from the nearby Earhart Village spoke against the project, saying that the parking is primarily for commercial uses, even though the area is residential. He argued that Glacier Hills is drawing customers to the property, who use the cafe there and other services, and that it negatively impacts the adjoining neighborhoods. He also complained about changes to the site that can be approved via administrative amendments, with no oversight by the planning commission. One such change – an addition to one of the Glacier Hills “villas” – is currently pending with the planning staff.

Commissioners also approved minor changes to their bylaws, and got updates on the R4C citizens advisory committee and the review of A2D2 zoning. Just prior to the July 16 regular commission meeting, the commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC) had met with Erin Perdu of ENP & Associates, the Ann Arbor consultant that’s been hired to handle the city council-mandated review of downtown zoning. The work includes a series of events aimed at seeking public input. Upcoming events include Thursday morning coffee hours with consultants that are open to the public from 8-10 a.m. at the new Zingerman’s Deli building, starting on July 25. And two focus groups are scheduled for next week: on Monday, July 29, 8-9:30 a.m. at Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave.; and on Tuesday, July 30, 7-8:30 p.m. at the lower level conference room in city hall, 301 E. Huron St. More events are listed on the city’s website. [Full Story]

Column: Rules, Parking, Transportation

At its July 1, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council will consider and likely adopt a new set of rules affecting meeting mechanics.

Flags flying over Pittsfield Township Hall on June 27, 2013: Political winds were also blowing – but indoors.

Flags flying over Pittsfield Township Hall on June 27, 2013. Political winds were also blowing (indoors, and not quite as hard) at a meeting also attended by representatives of Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Saline and Ypsilanti Township – on “urban core” transportation.

Easiest to quantify are rule changes affecting speaking time limits. For the public, the time per speaking turn will drop across the board – from three minutes to two minutes. For each councilmember, the total speaking time per item of debate will drop from eight minutes to five minutes.

Whether those quantitative changes will have a qualitative impact on the city council’s meetings is an open question. More likely to have a positive qualitative effect, I think, is a rules change that adds an opportunity for public commentary at the council’s work sessions.

The exchange of viewpoints among councilmembers during those work sessions is currently tentative and spare, often in the guise of merely asking a question. That’s because Michigan’s Open Meetings Act does not allow a gathering of councilmembers to include deliberations, unless an opportunity is provided for the public to address the council. By giving the public an opportunity to comment during those sessions, councilmembers will be free to engage in unfettered exchanges of viewpoint. And that will be a benefit to the public and to the city staff.

However, in this column I’d like to focus on a different proposed amendment to the rules – one that could potentially improve local governance, not just change what happens at city council meetings.

Among the rules changes is one that would move the mayor’s communications from a slot on the meeting agenda after all regular business to one that precedes all regular business. That’s important because the mayor’s communications include nominations to boards and commissions. That agenda slot also includes the council’s vote to confirm those appointments – typically at the following council meeting. This rule change will ensure that interested residents will not need to stay up until midnight or 3 a.m. – or whenever the council finishes its voting business – to find out who the mayor has nominated.

And that bit of extra spotlight on the nominations could lead to an interest on the part of the mayor – whoever might hold that position – in offering a better explanation of each nomination. It’s reasonable, I think, to get a better explanation than the kind we typically hear – generally a brief comment at the end of a meeting, when everyone is barely awake.

For example: What is it about the nominee’s philosophical orientation to the board’s subject matter that makes this person a good fit for the position? How was it that this person came to be chosen? Who is this person? To the extent that residents are given a clearer idea of how and why nominations are made to boards and commissions, that might increase the inclination of other qualified residents to offer their service.

In the near future, nominations to two significant boards will be made by mayor John Hieftje. One nomination is needed due to the expansion of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s board – from seven to nine members. Of the two additional seats, the city of Ypsilanti will make one appointment. For that seat, Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber will be nominating Gillian Ream at the Ypsilanti council’s July 2 meeting. Hieftje will be making the nomination for the other new AAATA seat. He will also need to make nominations to replace two departing members from the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – Leah Gunn and Newcombe Clark.

The public policy areas of the two boards overlap – not just because transportation is related to land use and development. The overlap also stems from the fact that the DDA manages the city’s public parking system, and the availability of parking is integral to the area’s transportation system.

So in this column, I’d like to sketch out some current policy issues to be faced by new appointees to the boards of these organizations. For the AAATA board, a pressing question will be: Should we ask voters to approve an additional transportation millage in November 2013? For the DDA board, an ongoing question will be: What’s an appropriate balance among users of the parking system – downtown residents, retail customers, and employees of downtown businesses?

But first, a little history. [Full Story]

Council OKs CIL Parking for The Varsity

A change to the development agreement between the city and The Varsity – a 13-story, 177,180-square-foot apartment building containing 181 dwelling units (415 bedrooms) – has been given approval by the Ann Arbor city council. The council’s action – to confirm an Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority decision to award the right to purchase a total of seven monthly permits, at a 20% premium cost – came at the council’s June 17, 2013 meeting.

The Varsity is located at 425 E. Washington St. in downtown Ann Arbor. Based on zoning requirements, 76 off-street parking spaces are required. Only 69 were provided onsite. The others were provided through the contribution in lieu (CIL) program. The seven spaces were approved by the Ann … [Full Story]

UM: Parking

The University of Michigan is exploring a possible public-private partnership to run the parking system for its Ann Arbor campus and the UM Health System. The University Record reports that UM has hired Greenhill & Co. to study possible options. [Source]

A2: Selma Cafe

Selma Cafe has posted information about parking for the weekly breakfast gathering, urging people to consider walking, biking, or taking the bus as a way to help manage traffic and parking. The post includes a map showing a “red zone” on certain streets in the neighborhood near Eberwhite Elementary, where parking for the cafe is prohibited. [Source]

PAC OKs Lease for Parking at Argo

A $3,000 lease to accommodate overflow parking for the Argo canoe livery was recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its Feb. 26, 2013 meeting. The lease of a parking lot at 416 Longshore Drive – with about 40 spaces – will cover Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from May 25 to Sept. 2, 2013, with an option to renew administratively for two successive one-year periods.

City parks staff reported that the overflow parking at this lot had been used during the 2012 season, and they recommended continuing the lease. According to city records, the land is owned by the Stewardship Network.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers of city hall at … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor: More Front-Yard Event Parking

A slightly more flexible local ordinance regulating the ability of residents to park cars in their front yards has been given final approval by the Ann Arbor city council. The vote came at the council’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting.

The change in local law allows the city council to establish “special event dates” for temporary front open space parking. The ordinance had already allowed people to use their front yards for parking for University of Michigan football games. The ordinance change includes a provision explicitly to include “scrimmages,” which will accommodate the UM’s annual intra-squad spring football game.

The ordinance change was motivated part by the possibility that University of Michigan football stadium events might in the future not necessarily be restricted … [Full Story]

Initial OK for More Front Yard Parking

A slightly more flexible local ordinance regulating the ability of residents to park cars in the front yards has been given initial approval by the Ann Arbor city council. The vote came at the council’s Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

The change in local law, if given final approval at a future council meeting, would allow the city council to establish “special event dates” for temporary front open space parking. The current ordinance allows people to use their front yards for parking for University of Michigan football games. The ordinance change includes a provision explicitly to include “scrimmages,” which will accommodate the annual spring game.

The ordinance change was motivated part by the possibility that University of Michigan football stadium events might in … [Full Story]

Action Postponed on New Retail Development

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Nov. 7, 2012): Planning commissioners took a range of actions at their most recent meeting, and said farewell to one member.

The Shoppes at 3600 Plymouth, retail, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of a proposed retail development on Plymouth Road west of US-23 – The Shoppes at 3600. The site is in the complex where the Holiday Inn North Campus is located, visible on the right side of this image. This document was included in the planning commission’s Nov. 7 meeting packet.

Citing concerns over placement of the building on the site, commissioners postponed making a recommendation for a proposed retail development at 3600 Plymouth Road, immediately west of US-23. Called The Shoppes at 3600, the building is oriented with its back facing Plymouth. Commissioner Bonnie Bona, acknowledging the difficulty of positioning the building on this parcel, suggested that “perhaps this development is not right for this site.”

Also during the meeting, the commission continued the city’s ongoing annexation of township property by recommending the annexation of a Pittsfield Township parcel at 2503 Victoria, east of Packard Road. The recommendation includes zoning it for single-family residential (R1C) – a house is already under construction there.

An amendment to the city’s off-street parking ordinance was also recommended for approval. The change would allow more flexibility for temporary off-street parking for special events, such as hockey games at Michigan Stadium. Planning manager Wendy Rampson noted that there was not as much urgency to this amendment now, in light of the recent cancellation of the NHL’s Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

The commission also passed a resolution retroactively enabling three commissioners to attend the Michigan Association of Planning’s annual meeting, held on Oct. 17-19. The action enables commissioners to be reimbursed for their expenses.

The meeting closed with remarks of appreciation about and from commissioners Tony Derezinski and Evan Pratt, who are ending their terms. Derezinski, the commission’s representative from Ann Arbor city council, is leaving council after being defeated in the August Ward 2 Democratic primary by Sally Petersen. [Derezinski was subsequently, on Nov. 8, appointed by the council to planning commission as a citizen representative. It's expected that Sabra Briere (Ward 1) will be joining the commission as the council's next representative.] Pratt, elected as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner in the Nov. 6 general election, will be required to attend Tuesday evening meetings of the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission, precluding membership on the planning commission, which also meets on Tuesdays. Pratt has served on the planning commission since 2004.

In the absence of chair Kirk Westphal, vice chair Wendy Woods led the Nov. 7 meeting. [Full Story]

Column: Pass Go, Collect Bus Pass – And More?

In my wallet I have a transit pass. By sliding this pass through the farebox card reader aboard any Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus, I get access to a public transportation system that served our community with 6.3 million rides this past fiscal year.


This go!pass, subsidized by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, lets its holder ride AATA buses an unlimited number of times.

If I rode the AATA buses to and from work every day and paid the full $1.50 fare each way, the cash value of that card would be about $750 per year. Of course if I were actually riding the bus that frequently, I’d be somewhat better off purchasing a 30-day pass for $58 a month, which would come out to just a bit under $700 annually.

What I actually paid for that card this year was $10 – just a bit over 1% of its potential cash value.

So what sort of dark magic subsidizes my potential rides on AATA buses? And why do I have access to this magical go!pass card, when you, dear Chronicle reader, likely do not?

Along the road to answering these questions, I’d also like to make a proposal. It’s a vision for broadening the program, getting more transit passes into the hands of Ann Arbor residents, and expanding the possible uses for the go!pass – including (shudder) the ability to use a transit pass to pay for parking. [Full Story]

Review of New Blake Transit Center Continues

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (July 17, 2012): Two projects – one public, one private – dominated discussion at the most recent planning commission meeting.

Kirk Westphal

Kirk Westphal oversees a vote at the July 17, 2012 Ann Arbor planning commission meeting. He was elected chair at the start of the meeting. In the foreground is commissioner Eleanore Adenekan. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners reviewed a site plan for the new Blake Transit Center (BTC), the main downtown hub for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. A new two-story transit center will be constructed on the same parcel as the existing center, midblock between Fourth and Fifth avenues, north of William and south of the federal building. But the new building will be located on the east side of that site – near Fifth Avenue, opposite its current location – and the direction of the current bus lane will be reversed. Buses will enter Fourth Avenue into an eastbound lane that exits onto Fifth.

Commissioners voiced a variety of concerns and feedback, centered on improving the pedestrian experience and the appearance of the building and landscaping. They elicited the fact that although zoning would allow for a structure up to 180 feet tall – about 16 stories – the foundation for the new BTC is planned to accommodate only four stories, with a two-story structure to be built initially.

Kirk Westphal said he’d been a bit surprised by news that the AATA is interested in buying the adjacent Fifth & William lot from the city. That possibility was mentioned as part of a design review committee report. He urged AATA’s CEO, Michael Ford, to talk with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority about the AATA’s plans for Fifth & William, and to see if the DDA might be interested in collaborating to increase the footings and allow for a taller structure in the future. He noted that the DDA’s Connecting William Street effort, focused on plans to possibly develop certain city-owned sites, includes the Fifth & William lot.

As a public entity, the AATA does not have to follow the process for site plan approval that is required of private-sector property owners. The process is being conducted for review and input only. However, the planning commission did take a vote, unanimously affirming that the project does meet city requirements for private development, except for interior landscaping and driveway width. It will next be reviewed by the city council.

Another project that drew discussion is a private development proposed by Tom Fitzsimmons, for a three-story townhouse with five housing units at 922-926 Catherine St. During public commentary, several neighbors – including residents of the adjacent Catherine Commons condominiums – spoke in support of the project. However, some of them raised concerns about backups in the stormwater system, which is already a problem along Catherine Street. Staff indicated that those issues are likely tied to design flaws on the site of Catherine Commons. Members of the development team for the new project told commissioners that an underground stormwater detention system on their site could improve the situation along the street, and at the least would not make it worse.

Also at the July 17 meeting, three projects that had previously been considered by commissioners were back for various reasons. A site plan for a Speedway gas station at the northeast corner of North Maple and Miller had been postponed at the commission’s June 5 meeting, but was approved on July 17. Also approved by commissioners was a revised site plan for 2161 W. Stadium Blvd., where a Noodles & Co. restaurant is planned. Commissioners had signed off on the original project at their March 6, 2012 meeting – the revision involves shifting the building’s location 21 feet to the north. The former Sze-Chuan West restaurant there has already been demolished.

And parking for the Chalmers Place retail center on Washtenaw Avenue emerged again at the July 17 meeting. Commissioners approved a plan to increase the number of parking spaces on the center’s site from 88 to 112. A different parking plan had been rejected by the planning commission on May 1, after several neighbors spoke against it. There was no opposition to the new proposal. [Full Story]

UM Wall Street Parking Moves Ahead

The schematic design for a six-story, 720-space parking structure on Wall Street, near the Kellogg Eye Center and the UM medical campus, was approved by University of Michigan regents at their July 19, 2012 meeting. [schematic of structure – view from Maiden Lane] [aerial schematic of proposed landscaping] [.pdf of map showing location of proposed structure]

The $34 million project had received board approval in April, following the university’s withdraw in February from the Fuller Road Station, a joint project with the city of Ann Arbor that would have included a large parking structure.

According to a staff memo, the plans call for an ”architecturally-detailed facade with open space at each end of the structure that will contain … [Full Story]

Modified Noodles & Co. Site Plan OK’d

A site plan for 2161 W. Stadium Blvd. – where a Noodles & Co. restaurant is planned – received approval from the Ann Arbor planning commission at its July 17, 2012 meeting.

A site plan for that location – site of the former Sze-Chuan West, adjacent to Bell’s Diner and Stadium Hardware – had been previously approved by commissioners at their March 6, 2012 meeting, and subsequently by city council in April. But the future tenant wanted to revise the site plan and shift the building 21 feet to the north. The new location provides space for one row of parking along the south side of the building, to be accessed from the Big M car wash site at 2151 W. Stadium.

The existing … [Full Story]

Chalmers Place Parking Project Approved

Ann Arbor planning commissioners have approved a site plan for the Chalmers Place employee parking lot, increasing the number of spaces there. The commissioners took the action at their July 17, 2012 meeting, when they also approved a landscaping modification for the project. The retail/office center is located at the intersection of Chalmers and Washtenaw Avenue, west of Arborland Mall.

The project does not require additional approval by the city council. However, it will need to go before the city’s zoning board of appeals.

A different parking plan had been rejected by the planning commission on May 1, after several neighbors spoke against it during public commentary. That plan had entailed building a new 43-space parking lot at the back of the … [Full Story]

DDA Renews Leases for First Martin Parking

At its June 6, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board voted unanimously to renew lease agreements for two surface parking lots in downtown Ann Arbor. One lot is known as the Brown Block, bounded by Huron, Ashley, Liberty Washington and First streets. The other is located on the southeast corner of Huron Street and South Fifth Avenue. The new leases extend for a period of three years.

The DDA manages the two lots as part of Ann Arbor’s public parking system. The leases, which have been in place for several years, are between the DDA and two limited liability companies owned by local real estate development firm First Martin Corp. Those two companies are Huron Ashley LLC … [Full Story]

Knight’s Market Plan Draws Neighbor Interest

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (May 15, 2012): At 3.5 hours, the most recent meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission reflected a trend that city staff say will likely continue: An uptick in projects coming through the city’s planning pipeline.

Sherry Knight Bedolla

Sherry Knight Bedolla speaks to the Ann Arbor planning commission at its May 15, 2012 meeting. Her father, Ray Knight, bought the former Ty's Market on the corner of Spring and Miller in 1952. Knight's Market is seeking to expand and add a bakery in the current single-family house. They are asking the city to rezone the property from residential to C1 commercial. (Photos by the writer.)

The city’s fiscal year ends June 30. Year to date, 10 zoning or planned unit development (PUD) applications have been received, compared to one in fiscal year 2011. Twenty-one site plans have been submitted this year, compared to 13 in FY 2011. And 494 zoning compliance reviews have been completed this year for building permits, up from 215 in FY 2011 – a 129% increase.

At the commission’s May 15 meeting, five projects were considered. The one drawing most interest from residents was a proposed expansion of Knight’s Market at the corner of Spring and Miller. The plan calls for an addition on the current market building, which has been run by the Knight family since 1952. Three parcels would be combined into one that would be rezoned as C1 (local business), allowing the Knights to turn one of two single-family homes next to the market into a bakery. The bakery wouldn’t have a retail space – it would be used to make products for the market and the family’s restaurants in Ann Arbor and Jackson.

Ten people spoke during a public hearing on the project,  mostly residents of the neighborhood. They expressed support and gratitude for the Knights and their business, but raised concerns about increased truck traffic and “commercial creep.” Residents were also cautious about the future of the site, if ownership changes hands after the property is rezoned for commercial uses.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Sherry Knight Bedolla assured commissioners that there are no plans to sell to a developer – the family simply needs to meet demand for its baked goods, she said. The bakery would also be used to repackage food from the restaurant into ready-to-eat meals that would be sold in the market. At the planning staff’s request, commissioners ultimately voted to postpone action on the project to allow time for additional review.

Also postponed was action on the site plan for DTE Energy’s Buckler electrical substation at 984 Broadway near Canal Street. DTE hopes to build the substation in the utility company’s Ann Arbor service center to provide an increase in electrical power to the downtown area, due to increased demand for electricity. The project is expected to be back on the planning commission’s June 5 agenda. A companion project – a site plan for remediation of the nearby MichCon property on Broadway – was unanimously approved, assuming that a list of contingencies are met.

Two other projects were also unanimously approved: (1) an expansion of parking for the Wintermeyer office complex on South State; and (2) a temporary retail sales special exception use for Phantom Fireworks, to sell fireworks in the parking lot of Colonial Lanes at 1950 South Industrial Highway. [Full Story]

City Council Expands North Main Task Force

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 21, 2012) Part 1: Although the council’s meeting did not conclude until around 1:30 a.m., the late hour was not attributable to the relatively heavy agenda. It was due to the extensive deliberations on the fiscal year 2013 budget, which the council finally approved over dissent from two of its members. A breakdown of amendments to the budget is included in The Chronicle’s report filed from the meeting. Deliberations on those budget amendments are covered in the forthcoming Part 2 of this meeting report.

Left is Sandi Smith (Ward 1). Right is Sabra Briere (Ward 1). The two had co-sponsored a resolution establishing a task force to study the North Main Street and Huron River corridor.

From left: Councilmembers Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1). The two had co-sponsored a resolution establishing a task force to study the North Main Street and Huron River corridor. (Photos by the writer.)

In addition to the budget, the council efficiently dispatched with a fairly packed agenda of regular items, which are covered in this part of the meeting report. The item generating the most discussion was a follow-up to action taken at the council’s previous meeting on May 7, to establish a task force to study the North Main Street and Huron River corridor.

That resolution had provided for nine task force members representing different constituencies. At the May 21 meeting, a resolution was brought forward to add three members. A debate unfolded about whether to add a fourth member – from the Ann Arbor public art commission – to the mix. Ultimately that addition was approved narrowly on a 6-5 vote on the 11-member council.

While the North Main task force is meant to develop a vision for future land use in the corridor, the council took action on several current land use items too. Winning easy approval were a site plan for Allen Creek Preschool on Miller Avenue, and a rezoning and site plan for Michigan AAA on South Main Street. The council also quickly approved six routine rezoning requests associated with annexation from a township into the city of Ann Arbor.  And councilmembers gave initial approval to revisions of the planned unit development regulations for a Shell service station on Ann Arbor-Saline and West Eisenhower Parkway.

Associated with these land use items were a total of 10 separate public hearings. However, no one addressed the council during any of those hearings.

The city’s park system made it onto the agenda in a few different ways. First, a consent agenda item was pulled out for separate consideration to highlight the fact that renovations to South University Park were being funded with a $50,000 gift that had been made by a couple – Leslie and Michael Morris – who previously lived next to the park. The council also approved the lease of a 40-space parking lot near Argo Canoe liveries to meet additional demand for river trips that has been generated by construction of the Argo Cascades bypass around the dam.

Related to open space outside the city were the reappointments of two members of the greenbelt advisory commission – Peter Allen and Catherine Riseng. The commission overseas a portion of the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage.

Financial issues considered by the council included initial approval to increase water, sewer and stormwater rates that will together generate an additional $1.7 million in annual revenue. The council also approved a tax abatement for Sakti3, a battery technology company in Ann Arbor that is looking to expand its operation here.

Other items on the agenda included receipt of a federal grant to develop a strategy for improved energy efficiency in rental housing, as well as a grant administered for laptop computers to be used as electronic pollbooks. The computers are used for election record-keeping, not for casting ballots. The council also gave initial approval to an ordinance revision that relieves homeowners of responsibility for maintaining sidewalks adjacent to their property for the duration of the sidewalk-repair millage, which voters approved in November 2011. [Full Story]

AAA Site Plan, Rezoning OK’d by City Council

At its May 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to a rezoning request from AAA Michigan and approved the site plans for two separate parcels that are part of the same project on South Main Street. The council had given initial approval to the rezoning request at its May 7 meeting.

The rezoning request was to change half of a parcel located at 1200 S. Main to the P (parking) zoning designation.

The rezoning to P (parking) is part of a two-parcel site plan proposal – for which the city planning commission provided a positive recommendation at its March 6, 2012 meeting. At that meeting, the commission took two votes on the 1200 S. Main parcel – … [Full Story]

No on Chalmers Parking, Maple Cove Delayed

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (May 1, 2012): A nearly 3.5-hour meeting was devoted in large part to public commentary – hearings on two projects drew two dozen speakers.

Len Nadolski, Tony Derezinski

Len Nadolski, left, talks with city councilmember Tony Derezinski before the start of the May 1, 2012 Ann Arbor planning commission meeting. Nadolski owns the Chalmers Place Retail Center on Washtenaw Avenue and hopes to add a parking lot behind the center. The proposal was rejected by the planning commission, on which Derezinski serves. (Photos by the writer.)

About half of those speakers came out to oppose a parking project for the Chalmers Place Retail Center on Washtenaw Avenue, located next to Paesano restaurant in the former Arbor Dodge lot. The owner – Len Nadolski of Howell – asked to rezone a vacant parcel behind the center to P (parking), from its current single-family residential zoning. He said the center has been unable to lease all of its stores because tenants are concerned about a lack of parking.

Commissioners expressed sympathy for the owner, but voted against recommending the rezoning. The majority of commissioners did not feel that the situation warranted overriding the master plan, which calls for that property to be zoned residential. Erica Briggs said the situation added urgency to plans to make the Washtenaw Avenue corridor more safe and amenable to walking and biking.

Eric Mahler cast the lone vote in favor of rezoning. He said he normally wouldn’t support a proposal that was essentially “spot zoning,” but in this case he voted for the plan because he didn’t see any viable alternatives for the owner.

Another project that drew public commentary had previously been recommended for approval by the commission: Maple Cove Apartments & Village development, located on North Maple near Miller Road. The commission had approved the project at its March 20, 2012 meeting. But that vote was rescinded when it was discovered that Scio Township residents on Calvin Street had not been included in an original public notice mailed out for the commission’s March meeting.

Nearby residents voiced several concerns about the project – including density, flooding, aesthetics, traffic and a lack of sidewalks from North Maple back to the seven houses. Those issues were echoed by some of the commissioners, who also complained about the lack of responsiveness from the property owner, Muayad Kasham of Dynasty Enterprises. He has not attended the commission’s meetings to address concerns.

But it was the two proposed entrances off of North Maple – separate entrances for the apartments and the single-family homes – that prompted the most discussion among commissioners, and ultimately the move to postpone. Wendy Woods pointed out that the city’s traffic engineer had advised that a single entrance would be preferable. The city code allows for two entrances, however, based on the property’s lineal frontage. The owner has indicated a commitment to two entrances in order to market the apartments and single-family homes separately, and the city code allows for two entrances based on the property’s lineal frontage.

No date has been set for when the project will next appear on the planning commission agenda.

The commission also approved the city’s 2013-2018 capital improvements plan (CIP), with only minor modifications from the previous year. But commissioners voted to postpone action on a master plan update – they’re expected to discuss it at a retreat set for Tuesday, May 29.

The final item of the meeting was dispatched quickly, as commissioners recommended rejecting a proposed revision to the city’s medical marijuana zoning ordinance. The proposal – recommended by the medical marijuana licensing board – was to strike one sentence from the zoning ordinance: “Medical marijuana dispensaries and medical marijuana cultivation facilities shall be operated in compliance with the MMMA (Michigan Medical Marijuana Act).” Commissioners expressed caution about the implications of eliminating the sentence, with Mahler stating that the change would authorize illegal uses, and would have severe consequences for the city. [Full Story]

Chalmers Place Parking Plan Rejected

At its May 1, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission recommended denial of three resolutions related to a  proposal for Chalmers Place, at 2090 Chalmers Drive near the intersection with Washtenaw Avenue: (1) rezoning a vacant lot from R1B (single-family residential) to P (parking); (2) authorizing the disturbance of a 25-foot natural features open space; and (3) a site plan for the parking lot. The site is west of Arborland Mall. All votes were 1-7, with support only from commission chair Eric Mahler. Bonnie Bona was absent.

The city’s planning staff had also recommended denial of the proposal because it did not conform to the city’s master plan for that area, and because a parking lot would cause greater disturbance to the … [Full Story]

Wall Street Redux: Residents Give Input

Many of the same residents who gathered at Kellogg Eye Center in late 2008 attended another meeting this month on a similar topic: The University of Michigan’s construction of a 700-space parking structure on Wall Street.

Neil Martin, Eliana Moya-Raggio

Wall Street resident Eliana Moya-Raggio, right, talks with architect Neil Martin after the April 26 meeting at the Kellogg Eye Center. The meeting focused on a University of Michigan parking structure to be built in that neighborhood. Moya-Raggio argued for the right of neighbors to be closely involved in the project's design. (Photos by the writer.)

On April 26, 2012 about 15 residents heard from UM representatives about plans for the $34 million structure, which university regents approved on April 19. The purpose of the meeting was to get input from neighbors that will inform the structure’s design. Roughly 2,000 people live in that general area.

They offered a lot of input, expressing concerns and giving specific suggestions related to noise pollution, traffic congestion, lighting and more. Ideas from residents included putting a green roof on the top of the structure, which will likely be at least 4-5 levels tall; placing the structure as far west on the site as possible, further away from residential buildings; making the structure pedestrian friendly; and encouraging the use of alternative transportation.

Tim Mortimer, president of the Riverside Park Place Condominium Association, criticized UM for a lack of leadership in its approach to parking. While UM officials like to refer to the university as the Harvard of the Midwest, he said, it’s actually more like the Southeast New Jersey Junior College of the Midwest, in terms of environmental sustainability and design. He urged the university to do more, and presented a letter from the condo association’s board that included 11 detailed suggestions for the project – ranging from architecture to entrance/exit configuration. [.pdf of Mortimer's letter]

Jim Kosteva, UM’s director of community relations, defended the university’s efforts in encouraging alternative transportation. And Tom Peterson, associate director of operations and support services for the UM Hospitals and Health Centers, provided details on a range of programs offered by UM in that regard – including vanpools, Zipcars, free bus service through MRide, and shuttle service from outlying parking lots.

But Peterson also presented the university’s case for needing more parking at the Wall Street location, pointing to employment growth at the nearby UM medical campus. Since 2009, employment at the UM medical school and hospital complex has grown from about 19,000 to nearly 21,000 employees. Even more staff will be added when a major renovation of the former Mott children’s hospital is completed, he said.

The Wall Street parking project was revived after the university pulled out of the proposed Fuller Road Station in February. The joint effort with the city of Ann Arbor would have included a 1,000-space parking structure and, some hoped, an eventual train depot. When asked about it at Thursday’s meeting, Kosteva said the university still shares the city’s vision for that Fuller Road site as a good location for intermodal transportation. When the city receives the federal support it needs for this project, he added, the university is prepared to be re-engaged about its potential role.

Kosteva was also asked about future plans for even more parking on Wall Street. He noted that the master plan for the medical center, including the Wall Street area, was approved by regents in 2005 and remains in place. The master plan anticipates adding 700,000 to 900,000 square feet of clinical and research space in the area, as well as two parking structures. That plan is guiding decision-making, he said. [.pdf of 2005 medical center master plan]

The bulk of the 90-minute meeting focused on design aspects of the Wall Street structure, in a discussion led by university planner Sue Gott. Several people pointed to the city’s Fourth & Washington parking structure as a model. Wall Street resident Elizabeth Colvin said she refers to it as the “Sue Gott parking structure,” because of Gott’s instrumental role in soliciting public input that helped shape the design. At the time, Gott worked for JJR and was a consultant on that project.

Gott, who grew up in Ann Arbor, replied by saying she knew UM had to deliver something that was worthy of this city, and something they can all be proud of. [Full Story]

UM Regents OK Wall Street Parking Structure

A new 500-space parking structure on Wall Street – estimated to cost $34 million and adding 500 spaces to the parking system – was approved by University of Michigan regents at their April 19, 2012 board meeting. The structure would be located between Wall Street and Maiden Lane, just east of the bridge over the Huron River leading to Fuller Road. [.pdf of map showing location of proposed structure]

The history of parking in that section of town – near the massive UM medical campus – was laid out in a cover memo provided to regents. A similar project had been previously approved by regents in September 2008 to address parking needs in that area. It had … [Full Story]

AAA Gets Initial OK for Parking Zoning

At its April 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to a proposal from AAA Michigan to rezone half of a parcel located at 1200 S. Main to P (parking). To take effect, the initial approval from the city council will need to be followed by a second and final approval following a public hearing at a subsequent meeting.

The rezoning to P (parking) is part of a two-parcel site plan proposal – for which the city planning commission provided a positive recommendation at its March 6, 2012 meeting. At that meeting, the commission took two votes on the 1200 S. Main parcel – the site plan and the rezoning proposal. And on both votes, the … [Full Story]

AAA Project Gets Planning Group OK

A site plan and rezoning for two Main Street parcels owned by the Automobile Club of Michigan – where an AAA branch is currently located – were recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its March 6, 2012 meeting.

The requests relate to 1100 and 1200 S. Main, across from Michigan Stadium. An AAA branch built in the 1950s is located there. The owner wants to build a new branch on a different part of the site, tear down the existing building, and reconfigure parking spaces.

The two parcels are part of a 1.5-acre site containing four parcels owned by AAA and all zoned O (office). Located on the 1200 S. Main parcel is the current one-story branch building with … [Full Story]