Stories indexed with the term ‘stormwater management’

Concerns Lead to Delay for Glendale Condos

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (July 1, 2014): Four projects appeared on the July 1 planning commission agenda, but the meeting was dominated by public commentary and discussion of one in particular: A proposed condominium development at 312 Glendale, the site of a former orchard just south of Jackson Avenue.

Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Residents who live near the proposed Glendale Condos development turned out to oppose the project, which was postponed by planning commissioners. (Photos by the writer.)

Nearly two dozen residents spoke during a public hearing to oppose the project at 312 Glendale, citing concerns about increased flooding and other stormwater problems, dangers of a proposed retention/detention pond, increased traffic, and a loss of landmark tress and green space.

The project had been previously postponed a year ago, at the planning commission’s July 16, 2013 meeting. That meeting had drawn about an hour of commentary from residents who opposed it then as well.

The current proposal has been scaled back – but still drew considerably opposition. The plan now calls for six duplexes, each with two two-bedroom condos. (The original proposal had been for eight duplexes.) Based on the size of the parcel and the site’s zoning, up to 39 units would be allowed by right.

It was a retention/detention pond that drew most concern from commissioners. Wendy Woods said the potential danger it posed would prevent her from supporting the project. Ken Clein questioned the contention of the architect, Scott Bowers, that the pond had been mandated by the office of the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner. Clein and other commissioners asked planning staff to get more information from the water resources commissioner about whether there are other options to handle all of the site’s water detention – such as additional underground systems.

The water resources commissioner is Evan Pratt, who formerly served on the Ann Arbor planning commission.

Also prompting some concerns – but ultimately gaining a recommendation of approval from commissioners – was a proposal for new condominiums on West Liberty Street, called The Mark. The proposal from developer Alex de Parry is to demolish an existing car wash at 318 W. Liberty and build an 11,910-square-foot structure with seven residential condominiums – five two-bedroom and two three-bedroom units. Each condo would have its own two-car tandem garage for a total of 14 parking spaces, although no parking is required.

The lot, on the north side of Liberty, is east of the historic Peter Brehme house at 326 W. Liberty and located in the Old West Side historic district. Concerns raised during a public hearing focused on the fact that a small portion of the site’s corner lies within the floodplain, as well as a general objection to high-end development in the downtown core. One woman also criticized the aesthetics and height of the project. The project’s architect, Brad Moore, responded to concerns about the floodplain by saying that none of the building is within the floodplain. The garages are out of the floodplain, and the living space is located above the garages, he noted.

Two other projects were recommended for approval during the 4.5-hour meeting. Delta Chi plans to tear down its existing fraternity house at the corner of Hill and Oxford and build a much larger structure in its place. The current occupancy of 23 residents would increase to 34 people, including a resident manager. A fraternity representative fielded questions about the decision not to make a voluntary parks contribution. Some commissioners expressed skepticism at the contention that fraternity members didn’t use city parks, and asked that the contribution be reconsidered.

Finally, a $10.5 million expansion of the Gift of Life Michigan facility on Research Park Drive is moving forward to city council, after planning commissioners recommended approval of a site plan and rezoning. The nonprofit wants to build a three-story, 40,786-square-foot addition to connect two existing buildings at 3161 and 3169 Research Park Drive. The additional space will accommodate offices, a special events auditorium and “organ procurement suites.” The nonprofit’s website states that the Gift of Life is Michigan’s only federally designated organ and tissue recovery program. [Full Story]

Alexandra & Newport

Sixty-five years in the making, a proper drainage approach. Let’s hope it eliminates the crazy network of trenches created on Alexandria every time it rains. [photo] [photo]

Urban Forestry Plan Moves to Council

The city’s first comprehensive plan for managing Ann Arbor’s urban forest has been recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its April 15, 2014 meeting. [.pdf of Urban & Community Forest Management Plan]

An urban forest is defined as all the trees, shrubs and woody vegetation growing along city streets, in public parks and on institutional and private property. In Ann Arbor, about 25% is on public property, with 75% on private property. Based on a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service i-Tree Eco Analysis done in 2012, Ann Arbor’s urban forest has an estimated 1.45 million trees. It creates a 33% tree canopy – the layer of leaves, branches and stems of trees that cover the ground when … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Adopts Green Streets Policy

Infiltration standards for stormwater management will now need to be followed whenever an Ann Arbor city street is reconstructed. The adoption of the “green streets” standards came in action taken at the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 18, 2014 meeting. The “green streets” policy initiative came at the direction of the city council in a July 2, 2012 resolution.

The infiltration standards are here: [.pdf of green streets infiltration policy]

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

Backups: Lawyers, Sewers, Pumps

As part of a city study of Ann Arbor’s sanitary sewer system, a citizens advisory committee met on Jan. 9, 2014. The meeting was about backups – in several different senses.

Johanna Nader teaches a material science class at Slauson Middle School. The class projects were on display at the Slauson media center, where the most recent meeting of the city of Ann Arbor's citizens advisory committee

“Do not touch” reflects the attitude of some Ann Arbor homeowners toward their houses in the context of the city’s footing drain disconnection program. These class projects from Johanna Nader’s material science class at Slauson Middle School were on display at the Slauson media center. That’s where the most recent meeting took place for the city of Ann Arbor’s citizens committee that is advising the city’s sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation study. (Photos by the writer.)

The group’s charge includes making recommendations to the city council about the best way to manage the impact of rainfall on the city’s sanitary sewer system. Flows in the sanitary system are related to wet weather, even though the city has separate pipes for its sanitary and stormwater systems. That’s due to a variety of factors, including cracks in sanitary system pipes. Cracks can allow rainwater to soak into the pipes from above, and groundwater can come in from below.

But the factors that can increase the amount of water in the sanitary system during wet weather also include direct connections from stormwater systems into sanitary pipes. An example is a connection between a footing drain – part of a homeowner’s stormwater system running around the perimeter of basement foundations – and a sanitary sewer pipe. That’s a connection now prohibited by current building code, but still present in an estimated 16,000 houses in Ann Arbor.

If a deluge of water flowing into the sanitary system during a heavy rain becomes large enough, that can lead to two problems: (1) the extra volume can come up through the sanitary pipes in a homeowner’s basement, flooding the basement with a mixture of raw sewage and stormwater; and (2) the extra volume can overwhelm the city’s wastewater treatment facility, leading to the discharge of untreated sewage into the Huron River.

Over a decade ago, the city’s legislative response to this issue was to enact an ordinance that created a program requiring the systematic disconnection of property owners’ footing drains from the sanitary system. The city also created a way to pay for the work that uses funds from two sources – the city’s utility funds, or contributions from the owners of new developments. New developments help pay for the work because the city also created a program requiring that the developer of any new building in the city compensate for the additional load that the new building places on the sanitary sewer system. And the main way that developers choose to mitigate a new building’s added load on the sanitary system is to pay for footing drain disconnections.

So literal backups – of raw sewage in people’s basement, in the past and possibly in the future – were part of the basis for the committee’s work. But the group’s Jan. 9 meeting was devoted to “backups” in other ways as well. Assistant city attorney Abigail Elias presented the group with a couple of different assurances: (1) that the city would back the committee up if a lawsuit were to be filed against its members as a result of their recommendation; and (2) that she felt the city’s footing drain disconnect program had an adequate legal backup.

Meanwhile, rumblings that a lawsuit over the program could be filed continue to percolate to the surface. [Full Story]

Action on Germain Expansion Postponed

A proposal to expand two buildings and the parking area for Germain Motors – the former Howard Cooper dealership on South State Street – was postponed by Ann Arbor planning commissioners at their Nov. 19, 2013 meeting. Planning staff had recommended postponement, to allow the owners to address staff feedback on the project.

Germain Motors, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of Germain Motors site, outlined in green. South State Street is on the left (west) side of this property. Expansion is proposed for the two smaller buildings on the north and center of the site that fronts South State.

The proposal calls for a 4,877-square-foot … [Full Story]

Downtown Park Proposal Moves to Council

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Oct. 15, 2013): Commissioners who’ve been evaluating possibilities for downtown parks and open space delivered their recommendations at this month’s meeting, wrapping up an effort that traces back over a year.

Bill Higgins, Harry Sheehan, Mike Anglin, Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Bill Higgins, Harry Sheehan and Mike Anglin, a Ward 5 Ann Arbor city councilmember. Sheehan is environmental manager with the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, and gave an update on the Upper Malletts Creek stormwater management project. Higgins lives in the neighborhood that’s the focus of the project. (Photos by the writer.)

The report of the downtown parks subcommittee includes several broad recommendations based on feedback gathered over the past few months, with an emphasis on “placemaking” principles that include active use, visibility and safety. The most specific recommendation calls for developing a park or open space on top of the city-owned Library Lot underground parking structure, adjacent to the downtown library.

A park at that location should exceed 5,000 square feet, according to the report, and connect to Library Lane, a small mid-block cut-through that runs north of the library between Fifth and Division. That connection offers flexibility, because the lane can be closed off for events to temporarily increase the size of a park or open space at that location.

Commissioners discussed and made some minor amendments to the subcommittee’s recommendations, which they then unanimously voted to approve. Most of the discussion focused on the Library Lot site. The recommendations will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Also on Oct. 15, Harry Sheehan briefed PAC about how a stormwater management project for Upper Malletts Creek might impact three city parks: Eisenhower, Churchill Downs and Lawton. The project, overseen by the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, is still in the planning phase. It’s intended to help control flooding in a neighborhood that’s roughly bounded by I-94, Scio Church Road and Ann Arbor-Saline Road, on the city’s southwest side.

Park planner Amy Kuras updated commissioners on capital projects throughout the parks system, highlighting projects that were completed this summer as well as work that’s ongoing, like construction of the Ann Arbor skatepark.

Missy Stults, PAC’s representative on the city’s environmental commission, reported that the commission has developed a work plan with strategies that are mostly tied to the city’s sustainability framework and climate action plan. For example, the plan includes work to promote re-useable water bottles and to discourage the use of plastic water bottles. One idea is to develop an app that would show people where to get public water, including water fountains in city parks. Tying in with that work plan item, Colin Smith – the city’s parks and recreation manager – reported said the city is looking to replace several water fountains at parks and recreation facilities with fountains that indicate how many plastic bottles have been saved by people using the water fountains. He noted that similar fountains are used at the University of Michigan.

Oct. 15 was the final meeting for Julie Grand, who is term limited after serving six years on PAC. Grand, who served on the downtown parks subcommittee, thanked commissioners for passing the recommendations, saying “it’s a great way to go out.” [Full Story]

Park Commission Updated on Stormwater Project

Three Ann Arbor parks – Eisenhower, Churchill Downs and Lawton – will likely be part of a broad stormwater management project for Upper Malletts Creek. Members of the city’s park advisory commission were briefed on project at their Oct. 15, 2013 meeting.

The Upper Malletts Stormwater Conveyance Study, which is overseen by the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, has identified three major projects to help manage stormwater and control flooding on the city’s southwest side. Two of those projects would affect local parks:

  • Building two stormwater detention basins along the north and south ends of Eisenhower and Churchill Downs parks, which are connected. These basins – covering about 2.5 acres – would help manage the stormwater flow from … [Full Story]

Sidewalks: Repair, Build, Shovel

Local government doesn’t get more pedestrian than sidewalks.


Top: Example of a cross-lot walkway, leading from street to school. Middle: Sidewalk that was cut flush funded by the city’s sidewalk repair millage. Bottom: Recommended detention ponds in Eisenhower Park near the proposed Scio Church sidewalk.

Yet these existing and future slabs of concrete are themselves a constant topic of confusion and controversy: Who’s responsible for repairing the busted slab in front my house? Who’s supposed to shovel snow off the sidewalk in the winter?

Sidewalks also connect up to other equally important if also dull components of local governance – like stormwater management and public art.

So here’s a quick rundown of some specific sidewalk-related issues that the Ann Arbor city council will be considering.

The council’s agenda for Monday, Oct. 7, includes an item on the definition of sidewalks. If an existing walkway meets the definition of a “sidewalk,” then the city bears responsibility for its repair for the duration of the sidewalk repair millage. All other things being equal, the adjacent property owner would be responsible for snow removal in the winter.

The Oct. 7 agenda item focuses on walkways that aren’t really on the “side” of anything – walkways that connect a street to a park or school, or that connect two parallel streets. The city calls them “cross-lot” walkways. If such walkways were added into the definition of “sidewalk” – as the city council is contemplating – then the city would be responsible for repair. That’s a result welcomed by property owners. But it would put the burden for snow removal on those property owners – a less welcome result. That was the sentiment that led the council to postpone final consideration of a change to the definition of “sidewalk” three months ago, on July 1, 2013.

So on Oct. 7, the council will be asked to consider a different approach to that definitional change – one that would allow the so-called “cross-lot” paved pathways to qualify as sidewalks under the city’s ordinance, but not trigger a winter maintenance requirement for adjacent property owners.

The fresh look would mean that the council’s possible action on Oct. 7 would be considered only an initial approval of the ordinance change. Final enactment of the change would require a second vote at a subsequent council meeting. If approved, the ordinance would allow cross-lot paths to be repaired under the city’s sidewalk repair program – funded through the five-year millage approved by Ann Arbor voters in November 2011. That program is noticeable to residents in the form of pink markings that appear on sidewalk slabs – an “R” for replace and a “C” for cutting an out-of-alignment section so that it lines up flush with the next slab.

The millage can pay for repair or replacement of existing slabs of sidewalks, but not for the construction of new sidewalks. So that millage money isn’t available to build a new stretch of sidewalk along the south side of Scio Church Road (or to fill in a smaller gap on the north side) – a section of sidewalk that residents have petitioned the city to build. The petition for a sidewalk there is based on several considerations, including a desire to connect to amenities west of I-94, like the Ice Cube, Wide World of Sports and the Ann Arbor District Library’s Pittsfield branch. It’s also seen as a pedestrian safety issue, because the lack of a sidewalk on one side of the road could induce pedestrians to cross the road at places where motorists don’t expect pedestrians to cross.

The city council authorized $15,000 of general fund money for the study of alternatives along that stretch – alternatives that were presented at a meeting held on Sept. 18 at Lawton Elementary School and attended by about two dozen people. Next up for the city council, likely on Oct. 21, will be a request for a design budget, so that costs of the project can be estimated with more precision.

Among the alternatives that were considered, but not pursued in much detail, was construction of a pathway through Eisenhower Park. That’s where the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner is now recommending that a pair of detention ponds be constructed – to help mitigate overland flooding in the area. That recommendation was presented to a group of about 80 neighbors on Sept. 30 – also held at Lawton Elementary School.

And a fence that that might need to be constructed along the proposed Scio Church sidewalk – to prevent people from falling down the steep incline – received a glancing mention at a recent meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission. A proposal to fund a public art project that would be integrated into the fence was tabled by the commission at its Sept. 25, 2013 meeting. [Full Story]

Drain Projects Approved for Ann Arbor

Backing for up to $3.3 million in bonds to pay for five drain-related projects in Ann Arbor was approved by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners on Aug. 7, 2013.

The projects will be managed by the county’s office of the water resources commissioner, Evan Pratt. Three projects relate to stormwater control along the Allen Creek, with the goal of reduced flooding downstream and decreased e. coli and phosphorous entering the Huron River. They include: (1) up to $435,000 for stormwater control along South Fourth Avenue between Huron and Liberty streets; (2) up to $1.155 million for stormwater control along Madison Avenue between South Seventh and Main streets; and (3) up to $575,000 for stormwater control along South Forest from South … [Full Story]

Council OKs Enviro Protection Contracts

The Ann Arbor city council has approved three different contracts related to protection of the local environment.

Two of the contracts include an educational component – one related to the city’s materials recovery facility (MRF), and the other to stormwater management. The third concerned monitoring of the city’s now-closed landfill at Platt and Ellsworth. Action by the council came at its July 15, 2013 meeting.

On the council’s consent agenda was a $43,788 annual contract with the Ecology Center to give tours of the material recovery facility (MRF). The facility sees 4,000 visitors a year. The cost of the contract is split 60-40 between the solid waste fund and the drinking water fund. The drinking water funding is related to … [Full Story]

Park Updates: Roof, Rain Garden, Parking Lot

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (May 21, 2013): The meeting featured a briefing on a project to install rain gardens at Arbor Oaks Park, part of a broader effort to address drainage and flooding problems in the Bryant neighborhood in southeast Ann Arbor.

Bob Galardi, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Bob Galardi was elected chair of the budget & finance committee for the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at PAC’s May 21, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Jerry Hancock, the city’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, described the project, which is being paid for out of the city’s stormwater utility fund – not the parks and recreation budget. It will involve regrading the perimeter of the park in the fall, then putting in native plants next spring. Soil excavated to create the rain gardens will be used to elevate the park’s central lawn area, which often has standing water following heavy rains. The work will be done prior to improvements planned for the park’s playground next year.

Later in the meeting, commissioners voted to recommend awarding a contract for roof replacement at the Mack indoor pool, located within the Ann Arbor Open school near the corner of Miller and Brooks. The recommendation is to select Pranam GlobalTech Inc., which put in the low bid of $193,000. A 10% construction contingency brings the project’s budget to $212,300, with a portion of that amount to be paid for by the public schools.

Also recommended was using $8,280 from the public market fund to upgrade a surface parking lot – known as the “sand lot” – on the Fourth Avenue side of the farmers market. The paving is viewed as a short-term solution, pending longer-term improvements expected at the market in a few years.

Commissioners also elected Bob Galardi as chair of PAC’s budget & finance committee. He replaces Tim Doyle as committee chair, following the end of Doyle’s term on PAC earlier this month. Jen Geer – Doyle’s replacement on PAC – was confirmed by the city council the previous evening but did not attend PAC’s May 21 meeting. Geer has worked with Galardi and councilmember Christopher Taylor – an ex-officio member of PAC – in another capacity, in the performing arts. Most recently, she was executive producer for the Ann Arbor in Concert production of Ragtime, performed at Michigan Theater on May 18. Both Taylor and Galardi were lead performers in that show.

Updates during PAC’s May 21 meeting covered a range of topics, including news that bids for construction of the new skatepark came in a little higher than anticipated. Parks staff and skatepark designer Wally Hollyday will be reviewing the bids to see what options are available. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith reported that at PAC’s June 18 meeting, commissioners will be presented with a resolution to award a construction contract, as well as an agreement between the city and the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark related to operating the skatepark.

Other updates from Smith included the fact that parks staff is gearing up for Memorial Day weekend, with the opening of the city’s outdoor pools. He also highlighted the completed renovations of ball fields at Veterans Memorial Park, West Park and Southeast Area Park, and improvements made at Liberty Plaza. In addition to removing some bushes there, he said, “we also removed all sorts of things that were in the bushes, which are no longer there – and I’m glad they’re not.”

Other brief reports were given regarding work of PAC’s dog park and downtown park subcommittees, and public forums for the North Main-Huron River task force. Public commentary focused on input from the Library Green Conservancy, which is advocating for a park or public space atop the city’s Library Lane parking structure. [Full Story]

County Gets Info on Flooding, Shares Options

A meeting last week at Lawton Elementary School, in southwest Ann Arbor, fell the day before the one-year anniversary of significant overland flooding in the neighborhood. The flooding resulted from heavy rains last year on March 15, 2012. Last week’s meeting followed an earlier one held on Jan. 29, 2013.

Ann Arbor city storm drain in action. (Chronicle file photo)

Ann Arbor city storm drain in action. (Chronicle file photo)

The meetings are part of a study of the Upper Malletts Creek watershed, being conducted by the office of the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner under an agreement with the city of Ann Arbor. The year-long study is supposed to culminate in a final report due to the Ann Arbor city council in February 2014. Water resources commissioner Evan Pratt was on hand at the meeting, along with other members of the project team.

In response to direction from a citizens advisory group that’s been formed for the project, the team used the March 14 meeting to introduce residents to the basic toolkit for stormwater management techniques. The general stormwater management practices described at the meeting – without trying to analyze which solutions might be appropriate for specific locations in the area – ranged from increasing the number of catch basins in streets to the construction of underground detention facilities.

At least 60 residents attended the meeting, and seemed generally receptive to the idea that some money might actually be spent on infrastructure projects to reduce flooding in their neighborhood: “If you want me to sign up for you breaking up my street and putting [stormwater management infrastructure] in there, just give me a consent form and I will sign it tonight!”

The project team is also still in a phase of gathering information about specific experiences that residents have had with past flooding problems. And the same technology platform – an online mapping tool – can be used by residents for logging future flooding events. For help in using a smart-phone app, one attendee volunteered her grandson “for rent” to other residents. Members of the project team also indicated they welcomed information submitted in any format – including letters, face-to-face conversation and phone calls.

But it was a missing follow-up phone call – expected from one resident who’d attended the first meeting on Jan. 29 – that indicated some continuing frustration about the city’s footing drain disconnection (FDD) program. The frustrated resident’s experience had been that after an FDD program sump pump was installed in his basement, he’d started having problems with a wet basement – problems he hadn’t experienced before. Project manager Harry Sheehan, with the county water resources commissioner’s office, extended an apology for the missed communication and an offer to arrange a site visit.

The FDD program removes a building’s footing drain connection to the sanitary sewer system and redirects that stormwater flow to the system designed to handle it – the stormwater system. The FDD program, which has been somewhat controversial, is not the focus of the Upper Malletts Creek study. But residents got an assurance that the additional volume of rainwater that goes into the stormwater system – as a result of the FDD program – would be accounted for in all the modeling that’s done as part of this study. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Another Stormwater Petition

A request of the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner to apply for $1.45 million in state revolving fund loans has been made by the Ann Arbor city council at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting. It’s part of a street reconstruction project in the Springwater subdivision – with an overall project cost of $5.17 million.

The general location of the area is Platt and Packard roads. Streets that are part of the project include Nordman Road, Butternut Street, Springbrook Avenue, and Redwood Avenue.

The street reconstruction will use a traditional asphalt surface, but the management of stormwater will be achieved through oversized stormwater pipes. Construction is expected to start in late 2013 and will last three years. Sanitary sewer issues will also be … [Full Story]

City Council Acts on Public Art, Golf Budget

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 3, 2012): One significant action taken by the council was to wrap up some unfinished business from its previous meeting – by passing a resolution that temporarily suspends paying for any new art out of public funds that have accumulated for that purpose.

Councilmembers wanted apples-to-apples comparisons between the golf courses and other recreational activities. They also wanted apples-to-apples comparisons for changes to the Packard Square elevations. Close watchers of the council might identify the councilmember by the bite marks on this apple. (Photo by the writer)

At their Dec. 3, 2012 meeting, councilmembers spoke of apples-to-apples comparisons between the golf courses and other recreational activities. They also wanted apples-to-apples comparisons for changes to the Packard Square facade drawings. Planting of fruit trees also came up in the course of the meeting. Close watchers of the council might be able to identify the councilmember by the bite marks on this apple. (Photos by the writer.)

The resolution had been postponed from the council’s Nov. 19, 2012 meeting, when councilmembers also decided to table two competing proposals to change the city’s Percent for Art ordinance. One of the proposals would have repealed the ordinance, while the other would have narrowed the scope of qualifying projects. Currently the city’s Percent for Art program requires that all capital improvement project budgets include a 1% set-aside for public art.

While the moratorium on new spending is in effect – until April 1, 2013 – a council committee will study the issue. Charged with making a recommendation to the council by Feb. 15, 2013, the committee consists of Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). The group’s first meeting is set for Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. in the south first floor conference room at city hall.

The council also finished off two works in progress started at its previous meeting, when councilmembers gave initial approval to amendments to two local laws – the noise ordinance and the towing ordinance. At the council’s Dec. 3 meeting, councilmembers gave final approval to both sets of amendments. The noise ordinance was strengthened to include prohibitions of construction on legal holidays and to make supervisors responsible for infractions, in addition to those who are operating equipment. The towing ordinance clarifies the definition of inoperative vehicles so that the city can take action to prevent the storage of such vehicles on city streets.

The council also took action on an administrative decision to move the assets and liabilities of the city’s golf courses enterprise fund to the city general fund – to comply with a state treasurer’s requirement that the city have a deficit elimination plan for the golf fund. The city’s 2008 deficit elimination plan had a clearly positive effect, but did not erase the golf fund’s deficit completely. The majority of councilmembers saw a benefit to moving the accounting for golf operations into the general fund, so that the golf courses wouldn’t be singled out for different scrutiny than other recreational activities.

The council approved three separate petitions to the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, to apply for loans connected with a bit over $1 million in stormwater projects. One of those projects was a tree planting effort that would see as many as 1,000 trees planted in the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014. It generated some council conversation about tree species and how the city is planning for climate change in its selection of suitable trees.

Councilmembers also engaged in a fair amount of discussion of the color palette proposed for changes in the facade of the already-approved Packard Square project – which is to replace the derelict Georgetown Mall. Margie Teall’s view reflected that of many other councilmembers: “I just don’t like it.” They voted to postpone action on the facade changes until Jan. 7, 2013.

The council approved the purchase of additional waste carts, and designated Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, as the city’s street administrator for purposes of signing contracts with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation. The designation of Hupy in that role – instead of Homayoon Pirooz, the former head of project management with the city – highlighted the fact that Pirooz has retired to take a job with the city of Evanston, Ill.

It was the second meeting of the new edition of the council, following the Nov. 6 elections. So the council was presented with assignments to various internal committees – as well as the council’s appointments to other bodies. The departure of Tony Derezinski, Sandi Smith and Carsten Hohnke from the council meant that some changes to committee assignments had to be made. Some of changes were straight-up replacements, while others reflected some shuffling. [Google Spreadsheet with 2012 and 2013 committee appointments]

The council heard its usual range of commentary from the public – highlighted by two students from Skyline High School who spoke in support of public transportation.

Public transportation will also be the focus of a special council meeting called for Monday, Dec. 10 to discuss a possible position on state legislation regarding a regional transit authority. A proposed resolution that councilmembers will consider asks Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to veto legislation that would establish the four-county RTA, which would include Washtenaw County. [Full Story]

Council Moves on Miller Stormwater Project

A $300,000 stormwater improvements proposal for Miller Avenue – between Maple Road on the west and Newport Road on the east – was moved forward by the Ann Arbor city council at its Oct. 1, 2012 meeting. The stormwater improvements are part of a larger road reconstruction project, which will cost about $6.505 million.

The stormwater improvements will consist of  rain gardens and infiltration basins within the right-of-way. The pavement will not be porous, however, so it will be a traditional road surface.

The goal of the improvements is to reduce the amount of stormwater entering the stormwater pipes that flow directly to the Huron River. The idea is that if water is processed through rain gardens and infiltration basins, it will contain fewer contaminants that … [Full Story]

Burrowing Under Railroad Berm: Feasible?

On Wednesday, Ann Arbor city staff led a tour of property starting from the city-owned 721 N. Main site, northwards to the entrance ramp of M-14. On the tour were some members of a recently established North Main-Huron River corridor task force.

BirdsEye view of railroad berm

View of Depot Street from the south. The railroad track curves northward as it passes by Argo Dam, visible at the top of this image.

They were briefed on the status of the 721 N. Main property’s status with respect to potential environmental contamination – which is apparently less certain than what’s been portrayed recently by elected officials.

Task force members were also briefed on a related project that’s in its initial stages: a feasibility study for opening up the railroad berm separating the area south of Depot Street (including 721 N. Main) from the Huron River. The railroad tracks run along the top of the berm. The idea is to study the possible impact of replacing the solid berm – which acts as a dam for stormwater flow from the Allen Creek creekshed – with a culvert or a trestled system for suspending the tracks.

The primary impetus behind the berm project is stormwater management and flood mitigation. That’s reflected by the fact that the source of funds for the roughly $50,000 feasibility study would be from the city’s stormwater utility. The feasibility study would move ahead only if it’s approved by the city council, which will likely have the item on its agenda in about two months.

But the railroad berm study also has implications for pedestrian connections and riverside access – which the task force is supposed to study. The task force is asked to create a vision that, among other things, improves pedestrian and bicycle connections to Bandemer Park and increases public access to riverside parks.

So the railroad berm feasibility study has been coordinated with the goal of pedestrian accessibility. The RFP (request for proposals) for the study includes among its tasks a study of the potential for non-motorized access through the railroad berm.

The problematic character of pedestrian movement on the North Main corridor was evident during the July 25 tour. As the tour group made its way northward toward the M-14 entrance ramp, it repeated a pattern of fracturing into smaller clusters and re-grouping. That was partly a function of the size of the group (about 10 people), but also the corridor itself.

The relatively narrow walkable space – between the road to the left, and fences, buildings or vegetation on the right – features sidewalk slabs in need of repair and sections of dirt path that require single-file passage. Noise from rush hour traffic made conversation difficult along the way.

A year from now, on July 31, 2013, the task force is supposed to deliver its report on a vision for the corridor. Earlier than that, by the end of 2012, the task force has been asked to provide a recommendation on the use of 721 N. Main.

For task force members and members of the public, the same tour will be repeated on Aug. 1, starting at 5 p.m. from 721 N. Main. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Wants Green Streets Policy

At its July 2, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council directed city staff from a range of different departments to work with the environmental commission to develop a “green streets” policy.

The policy would formalize an approach to stormwater management that would allow street projects to incorporate an “array of products, technologies, and practices that use natural systems – or engineered systems that mimic natural processes – to enhance overall environmental quality and provide utility services …” The goals of developing and implementing the policy include a reduction in the amount of untreated stormwater flowing from streets directly to the city’s stormwater system and into the Huron River. By implementing systems like bioswales, for example, a portion of the stormwater runoff … [Full Story]

County Environmental Planner Hire OK’d

Approval to hire a senior environmental planner at an annual salary of $77,000 was given at the March 21, 2012 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The position required board approval because the salary is above a midpoint of $66,634 for that non-union job classification.

According to a staff memo, the $77,000 base salary is $2,659 less than what the previous person in that position was paid, and is within the authorized salary range of $53,732 to $79,537 for that job. The memo also notes that because of mandatory unpaid furlough days, the $77,000 salary would be adjusted down by 3.846% to $74,034.

Heather Rice is being hired to fill this position, which is part of the office of the water resources commissioner, an … [Full Story]

Creek Project Ramps Up at Leslie Park Golf

Ann Arbor park advisory commission (Dec. 20, 2011): Park commissioners were briefed about a project on the section of Traver Creek running through the city’s Leslie Park golf course, addressing erosion and stormwater issues along the streambank.

Jen Lawson, Doug Kelly

Jen Lawson, the city's water quality manager, talks with Doug Kelly, the city's director of golf, prior to the start of the Dec. 20, 2011 park advisory commission meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Jen Lawson, the city of Ann Arbor’s water quality manager, said the city hopes to hire a design consultant in January, with preliminary designs for the project ready by April. Final designs and construction plans would be done by July, and construction is projected to start in November of 2012.

The project would be completed by the spring of 2013, Lawson said, although an additional two growing seasons would be needed for plants to take hold. The intent is to minimize the impact on golfers during construction – parks and recreation manager Colin Smith noted that the project team is sensitive to the need for revenues from the course.

During the December meeting, commissioners also got an update on the city’s natural area preservation program, which has increased the number of volunteers who help with tasks like invasive species control and animal/plant monitoring.

Communications from staff included an update on the Argo Dam bypass, where work has stopped for the season. Additional work, including paving of a footpath, will occur in the spring. And in communications from commissioners, Sam Offen reminded his colleagues of the upcoming sustainability forums. The first forum is on Thursday, Jan. 12, focusing on resource management. All forums, held once a month, will be at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building, 343 S. Fifth Ave. starting at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Planning Group Gets Stormwater Tutorial

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (May 3, 2011): Tuesday’s meeting featured a presentation on stormwater management by the city’s new water quality manager, Jennifer Lawson.

Jennifer Lawson

Jennifer Lawson, Ann Arbor's new water quality manager, gave a presentation to planning commissioners about the city's stormwater management issues. (Photos by the writer.)

Lawson described the city’s efforts to reduce or eliminate pollutants from entering the Huron River because of stormwater runoff, and fielded a range of questions from commissioners. Her presentation was likely the only time that the term “poo water” and a quote by the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle have occurred during the same public meeting.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners approved minor revisions to the city’s master plan, as part of a process that occurs each May. No one spoke during a public hearing on the revisions.

Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, told commissioners that efforts to seek a consultant for a South State Street corridor study have been put on hold, following concerns raised by some city councilmembers over the project’s cost.

In other business, a public hearing was announced for the commission’s May 17 meeting regarding a request by Summers-Knoll School for a special exception use. If granted, the special exception would allow an office building at 2203 Platt Road to be converted into a private school. [Full Story]

Heritage Row Likely to Need Super-Majority

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (June 7, 2010): Speculation that the vote on the Heritage Row project would be delayed was borne out on Monday night. Without discussion, the council postponed votes on the development’s rezoning and site plan until June 21.


Left in the frame, scanning through the protest petition documents, is Scott Munzel, legal counsel for Alex de Parry, developer of the Heritage Row project. De Parry is seated in the row behind with his arms resting on the bench back. In the foreground is Bradley Moore, architect for Heritage Row. (Photos by the writer.)

Councilmembers were also informed that a protest petition had been filed on Heritage Row Monday afternoon, which – once validated – would bump the requirement for approval from a simple six-vote majority to eight out of 11 council votes. Petition filers have calculated that they’ve collected signatures from 51% of adjoining property owners, weighted by land area. That exceeds the 20% required for a successful petition, but as of late Wednesday, the city had not completed its verification process for the signatures. [Update: Early Thursday afternoon, the city confirmed the 20% threshold had been met.]

In other business, the council approved increases in water and sewer rates and gave initial approval to changes in the city code language on the placement of recycling carts.

A wording change in the list of permissible uses for public land was also given initial approval, but not without discussion. Thematically related to land use was a presentation during the meeting’s concluding public commentary in response to a request for proposals (RFP) for the privatization of the city-owned Huron Hills golf course.

Also receiving discussion was an item pulled out of the consent agenda that authorized $75,000 for Ann Arbor SPARK, for economic development.

Criticism during public commentary on the appointment and nomination process used by the mayor to fill seats on boards and commissions stirred mayor John Hieftje to defend shielding individual members of those bodies from public demands.

Public commentary also elicited from Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 1) an update on the development of the Library Lot – he chairs the committee charged with overseeing the RFP process. [Full Story]