Stories indexed with the term ‘sustainability’

Sustainability Action Plan Takes Shape

Ann Arbor planning commission and energy commission joint working session (April 8, 2014): Continuing a process that began more than four years ago, members of the city’s planning and energy commissions received an overview of the draft sustainability action plan and gave feedback toward finalizing the document.

Jamie Kidwell, Wayne Appleyard, Ann Arbor energy commission, sustainability, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jamie Kidwell, the city’s sustainability associate, and Wayne Appleyard, chair of the Ann Arbor energy commission. (Photos by the writer.)

The action plan identifies steps to implement 16 broad goals in a sustainability framework that was added to the city’s master plan last year. The goals are organized into four categories – resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community – that were culled from existing city plans and reorganized into this new framework.

The intent is to track efforts toward achieving the 16 goals, which cover a wide range of issues – from increasing renewable energy use and developing a resilient local economy to eliminating pollutants and maintaining Ann Arbor’s unique sense of place. The action plan includes specific indicators that measure progress in each area.

Jamie Kidwell, the city’s sustainability associate, is taking the lead on this project, and fielded questions from commissioners. Part of the goal is for each of the city’s commissions to incorporate these sustainability efforts into their own work plans, she noted. But the action plan is primarily to guide staff efforts. The action plan is also coordinated with the city’s budget process, tying in to the city council’s budget priorities.

Commissioners expressed interest in more collaboration – both among the city’s various commissions, and with other jurisdictions. One start will be to share their work plans, though not all commissions have those.

Commissioners also discussed the idea of holding an annual joint meeting of multiple commissions, possibly in September. Planning manager Wendy Rampson noted that the kick-off for developing the sustainability framework had begun with a joint meeting – with the planning, energy and environmental commissions – in April 2010. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Acts on Energy Issues

Two energy policy items on the Ann Arbor city council’s March 17, 2014 agenda received action at the council’s meeting.

First, the council directed the city’s energy office to draft a commercial building energy benchmarking and disclosure ordinance. It’s an effort to help achieve goals in the city’s climate action plan. That succeeded on a 7-3 vote. Dissenting were Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Sally Petersen (Ward 2) was absent.

Second, the council directed the city administrator to “report back to council by May 5, 2014 with a plan to make significant progress on creating and implementing additional community energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy programs that further the Climate Action Plan’s adopted targets, reduce … [Full Story]

Planning Commission Reviews 2014 Priorities

Ann Arbor planning commission working session (Jan. 7, 2014): At a thinly attended working session – the first of the year – planning commissioners reviewed the status of their 2013-2014 work plan, and discussed priorities for the next six months of the fiscal year.

Wendy Rampson, Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

City planning manager Wendy Rampson and Kirk Westphal, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission, at a Jan. 7, 2014 working session in the basement of city hall. (Photos by the writer.)

Planning manager Wendy Rampson gave the mid-year update, reporting on items that were moving ahead, delayed or stalled. Some projects – like the downtown zoning review – had taken more time than anticipated, she reported. That meant some other projects didn’t get as much attention. [.pdf of work plan status report]

Two projects on the work plan have been completed: (1) an update to the city’s non-motorized transportation plan, and (2) the second-year update to the capital improvements plan (CIP). Other work – like the years-long effort to reorganize the city’s zoning ordinances, known as ZORO, continues to languish. That project is being overseen by the city attorney’s office, with support from planning staff.

Based on feedback from the four commissioners at the working session, as well as input from other commissioners via email, some items on the work plan will be tweaked.

City staff have drafted an action plan to implement goals of the city’s sustainability framework, which was approved last year. Planning commissioners are interested in moving that forward.

Commissioners also expressed interested in forming a new committee to explore the impact of pending changes to mandated floodplain insurance, with a cross-section of representatives from planning, the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner’s office, the city’s historic district commission and local creekshed groups.

In addition, Rampson was asked to explore the possibility of forming a joint planning commission with representatives from the four jurisdictions along the Washtenaw Avenue corridor – the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township. A right-of-way report for that corridor will be completed soon, which will be reviewed by the commission.

Commissioners also directed Rampson to develop a list of pros and cons for eliminating drive-thrus as a by-right option in certain zoning districts, and instead requiring developers to seek a special exception from the planning commission in order to build one. Some commissioners think that drive-thrus – especially for fast food restaurants – make an area less pedestrian-friendly. Also of concern are the emissions generated from idling vehicles.

More immediately, the commission’s ordinance revisions committee will be reviewing recommendations from an advisory committee on R4C/R2A residential zoning. There will also likely be work on ordinance revisions for downtown zoning, depending on what direction is given by the city council. A set of recommendations already approved by planning commissioners is on the council’s Jan. 21 agenda. [Full Story]

Sustainability Added to Ann Arbor Master Plan

A sustainability framework has now been formally adopted by both the Ann Arbor city council and the city planning commission, making it a part of the city’s master plan. The council’s vote came at its Feb. 19, 2013 meeting, while the planning commission had taken action at its Jan. 3, 2013 meeting. The vote by the planning commissioners was unanimous, as was that of the city council.

The item had originally been on the planning commission’s Dec. 4, 2012 agenda. Action was postponed at that time, after some commissioners raised concerns regarding a goal for high-performance buildings.

The city has been developing this framework for nearly two years. In June of 2012, the planning commission had recommended approval of the … [Full Story]

Ypsi: Community Values

The Shape Ypsilanti website is soliciting input on community values to help guide development of the city’s master plan. From one of the responses: “City SUSTAINABILITY* is the priority in economic, energy, transportation and other matters. … Sustainability is NOT the ability to carry out endless growth & development.” [Source]

UM: Sustainability

The University of Michigan has released its 2012 Sustainability Progress Report in an interactive online format, with information related to academics, research and operations on sustainability. The report includes video interviews, a photo gallery and a wide range of data on UM’s efforts. [Source]

Two More Residential Projects Move Forward

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Jan. 3, 2013): In action that somewhat paralleled their last meeting of 2012, planning commissioners approved two more residential projects – one relatively small building near downtown, and one larger townhome development on the city’s outskirts. Both projects had been previously postponed by the commission.

515 N. Fifth, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

This current house at 515 N. Fifth, just south of Beakes, will be demolished to make way for a new four-unit residential development. (Photos by the writer.)

The site plan for 515 N. Fifth calls for demolishing the current house – which has three apartments – and building a three-story structure with four two-bedroom units. Two of those units will be condos, with the other two rented out as apartments. Although the building’s design had previously received harsh criticism from Christine Crockett, president of the Old Fourth Ward Association, and Ray Detter of the downtown citizens advisory council, no one spoke against the project on Jan. 3 and the commission’s discussion was brief.

Also moving forward was a site plan for Summit Townhomes, a residential project at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road, between Stone School and Platt roads. That project proposes 24 attached residential units in four separate buildings. The planning commission and city council have already approved annexation of the site from Pittsfield Township, although that process still awaits authorization at the state level.

In other action, commissioners took steps on two major planning projects that have been years in the making. They recommended that the city council distribute a draft of the South State Street corridor plan to neighboring jurisdictions and other stakeholders, including the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. It’s the next step toward adopting the corridor plan’s recommendations into the city’s master plan.

Commissioners also voted to adopt a sustainability framework as an element of city’s master plan, and recommended that the city council take the same action. The sustainability framework will become the seventh element in the master plan, which is used to guide decision-making in a variety of ways. Other elements are: (1) land use; (2) downtown plan; (3) transportation plan; (4) non-motorized plan; (5) parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan; and (6) natural features master plan.

Related to that effort, planning manager Wendy Rampson highlighted a series of sustainability forums hosted by the city. The first one is on Wednesday, Jan. 9 and focuses on “sustainable systems,” looking at how weather changes might impact the community and the city’s infrastructure. All forums, held monthly through April, begin at 7 p.m. at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

The hour-long Jan. 3 meeting was relatively short, but commissioners are anticipating a much longer session on Jan. 15. That’s when two major residential projects will be on the agenda: a 14-story building on the northeast corner of Huron and Division, with 216 apartments; and a 13-story addition to the Pizza House building on Church Street, with 76 apartments. Both projects, especially the controversial proposal at 413 E. Huron, are expected to draw significant public commentary. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Master Plan to Add Sustainability

In a unanimous vote, Ann Arbor planning commissioners adopted an ambitious sustainability framework as an element of city’s master plan. In a separate vote taken at the commission’s Jan. 3, 2013 meeting, they recommended that the Ann Arbor city council also adopt the framework.

The item had been on the commission’s Dec. 4, 2012 agenda. Action was postponed at that time after some commissioners raised concerns regarding a goal for high-performance buildings. On Jan. 3, the goal was amended to this: “Sustainable Buildings – Reduce new and existing buildings’ energy use, carbon impact and construction waste, while respecting community context.” Planning staff had worked with commissioner Ken Clein, an architect with Quinn Evans, to revise the language so that it … [Full Story]

Planning Group Postpones Vote on Sustainability

The Ann Arbor planning commission voted to postpone adoption of a new sustainability framework – including a set of 16 goals – into the city’s master plan. The postponement will allow the staff to work with commissioners on fine-tuning language related to the energy efficiency of existing buildings. The action was taken at the commission’s Dec. 4, 2012 meeting. The commission will take up the item in January of 2013, when it will also vote on recommending that the city council also approve adopting the goals into the master plan.

The city has been developing this framework for nearly two years. In June, the commission had recommended approval of the 16 overarching sustainability goals, which are organized into four … [Full Story]

Sustainability Goals Shape Corridor Study

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Sept. 18, 2012): Two projects converged at the most recent planning commission meeting: A draft report of a South State Street corridor study, and next steps toward incorporating the city’s new sustainability goals into its master plan.

Ann Arbor planning commission work session

The Sept. 18, 2012  Ann Arbor planning commission work session focused on South State Street – an aerial map of the corridor is spread out on the table. To the right is Kristin Baja, who provided staff support for the project. She’ll be leaving the city to take a job in Baltimore, and was praised by commissioners for her work. (Photos by the writer.)

Eric Mahler recalled that both projects had been highlighted at a planning commission retreat two years ago, and that in some ways their completion marked a new era in city planning. The corridor study is the first project that incorporates the sustainability goals. The study’s recommendations are organized into the four main sustainability categories: resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community.

The recommendations themselves cover a wide spectrum of issues, from traffic and walkability to public art and zoning. [.pdf of draft report] Planning commissioners spent nearly two hours reviewing the recommendations in a working session immediately following their regular Sept. 18 meeting. They’ll likely address the project again before it’s forwarded to city council.

Also during the Sept. 18 meeting, planning manager Wendy Rampson reviewed highlights from an annual report of planning activities for the fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, 2012. The report reflected an increase in development activity within the city. As one example, there were 28 site plans submitted during the year, up from 13 in FY 2011.

Several University of Michigan students attended the commission’s regular meeting on Sept. 18. Responding to a query from Tony Derezinski, they reported that they are graduate students in urban planning, taking a class from professor Dick Norton. Coming to this meeting had been part of a class requirement. [Norton had also been a speaker on some of the panel discussions related to the city's sustainability efforts.] [Full Story]

City’s Sustainability Framework Disseminated

Ann Arbor’s sustainability framework – an ambitious project that began in early 2011 – will be distributed to neighboring jurisdictions as the next step toward incorporating these goals into the city’s master plan. At its Sept. 18, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission recommended that the city council take this action. The commission had previously recommended approval of the 16 overarching sustainability goals, which are organized into four categories: resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. [.pdf of sustainability document]

State law requires that changes to a community’s master plan must be communicated to adjacent jurisdications and other stakeholders to allow the opportunity for feedback. The sustainability framework will be distributed to these entities: the … [Full Story]

Sustainability Permeates Council Meeting

Ann Arbor city council meeting (July 2, 2012): The council’s agenda was relatively light, consisting of several apparently unrelated items. But for some agenda items, “sustainability” was a common theme.

Eunice Burns, former city councilmember and DDA board member, introduces herself to city administrator Steve Powers before the council meeting started. Burns was on hand to receive a proclamation for Huron River Day, which falls on July 15 this year. Burns, along with Shirley Axon, is cofounder of the event.

Eunice Burns, former Ann Arbor city councilmember and Downtown Development Authority board member, introduces herself to city administrator Steve Powers before the July 2 council meeting started. Burns was on hand to receive a proclamation for Huron River Day, which falls on July 15 this year. Burns, along with Shirley Axon, is co-founder of the event. (Photos by the writer.)

Most obviously fitting that theme was a resolution passed by the council directing the city’s planning commission to incorporate 16 sustainability goals into the city’s master plan. The 16 goals, which were compiled from existing planning documents, had worked their way through a community engagement process and were adopted by several city commissions before arriving before the city council. The goals fall into four categories: climate and energy; community; land use and access; and resource management.

Clearly related to land use and access (the goal of “preserve our natural systems”), as well as resource management (“eliminate pollutants in our air and water systems”) was a resolution directing city staff to develop a “green streets” policy. The policy would formalize an approach to stormwater management that would allow city street projects to incorporate various technologies to mimic natural processes, to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that goes directly into the city’s stormwater pipes and on into the Huron River. Features like bioswales, for example, would filter stormwater through natural systems so that pollutants from street surfaces would not flow directly to the river.

The river itself was part of the meeting’s sustainability theme as it was highlighted with a mayoral proclamation in honor of Huron River Day, which falls on July 15 this year.

Among the specific sustainability goals in the category of “community” is one that addresses economic sustainability: “Develop a prosperous, resilient local economy that provides opportunity by … rewarding investment in our community …” In that spirit, the council took the first step toward awarding a tax abatement to Barracuda Networks, a company that recently announced it’s moving from its Depot Street location into downtown Ann Arbor as part of a planned expansion of its workforce.

Another agenda item could be analyzed as part of the “integrated land use” and “economic vitality” sustainability goals: final approval of a rezoning request for the Shell station on the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline and West Eisenhower Parkway.

Fitting into the “community” sustainability category was a resolution that made Ann Arbor a member of the Washtenaw Health Initiative (WHI) by authorizing a $10,000 annual membership fee. The goal of the WHI is to help local health care providers handle an influx of an estimated 50,000 newly insured patients when federal health care reforms take effect in 2014. The specific sustainability goal is to “provide services that meet basic human needs of impoverished and disenfranchised residents to maximize the health and well-being of the community.”

The council also approved appointments to three city commissions that are connected thematically to the sustainability goals – environmental, greenbelt advisory, and planning.

Making the city of Ann Arbor more financially sustainable is not an explicit part of the sustainability goals adopted by the city council. Yet financial sustainability could be seen as an outcome of the council’s ratification of three different union contracts. All three contracts increase the retirement benefit vesting period for new hires from five to 10 years, and increase the period for the final average compensation calculation to five years from three. The three labor groups that had their contracts ratified were the police professional assistants, civilian supervisors, and the deputy police chiefs.

Some of the public commentary also featured a sustainability theme – as former Allied Bendix engineer Kermit Schlansker outlined the energy efficiency benefits of cisterns. Also weighing in during public commentary were opponents of the new “smart meters” that are being installed by DTE Energy in Ann Arbor and other Michigan communities.

In other business, the council approved a weapons screening contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office – for the 15th District Court, located inside the new justice center along with the Ann Arbor police department.

During communications time, city attorney Stephen Postema updated the council on legal action related to the Dream Nite Club, which had its liquor license revoked earlier this year. He said four significant court rulings on lawsuits filed by the club’s owners against the city had gone the city’s way.

The council’s communications also included mention of two ballot questions that voters might have to decide in November. One is a renewal of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage. The council is almost certain to place that millage renewal on the Nov. 6 ballot. Another question is less certain – one that would change the city charter to require a voter referendum, if the city were to lease parkland. The charter already prohibits the sale of parkland without a referendum. [Full Story]

Council: Sustainability Goes in Master Plan

At its July 2, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to direct the city planning commission to start a process to adopt 16 sustainability goals as part of the city’s master plan. While that master plan review process is underway, the council’s resolution directs the city administrator to apply the 16 goals in staff work. [.pdf of 16 sustainability goals] [File was updated after initial publication to replace an earlier draft of the goals]

The sustainability goals are divided into four categories: resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. By way of illustration, from the land use and access category, one of the goals is: “Establish a physical and cultural environment that supports and … [Full Story]

DTE Project Prompts Questions on Energy Use

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (June 5, 2012): Planning commissioners acted on two items at their recent meeting that have implications for the city’s future energy use: A proposal for a new DTE Energy substation, and recommendations for a set of sustainability goals.

Erica Briggs

Erica Briggs is ending her term on the Ann Arbor planning commission at the end of June, and is not seeking reappointment. At the June 5 meeting, she lobbied unsuccessfully to postpone a DTE Energy project, arguing that the community needs a broader discussion about whether providing unlimited energy fits the city’s long-term goals of energy reduction.

The estimated $10 million project by DTE to build a new electrical substation was met with caution by commissioner Erica Briggs, who urged her colleagues to postpone the proposal. DTE is building the substation to meet increased energy demands in the city.

The project – called the Buckler substation – had previously been discussed at the commission’s May 15, 2012 meeting, which Briggs did not attend. When the item came up again at the June 5 meeting, she argued that a broader conversation about the community’s energy needs is needed. It’s a rare opportunity for that, she noted, given that projects like this don’t occur frequently – the last Ann Arbor substation was built in the 1960s. She used an analogy to transportation: If a proposal came in to widen all the roads in the community, that idea wouldn’t automatically move forward – because people would stop to discuss whether this is what they want for the city. The DTE project will essentially widen the energy capacity for the city, she said, at a time when the community is talking about the need to reduce its energy use.

As examples, Briggs noted that the city is moving forward with sustainability goals, as well as with a climate action plan. Later in the meeting, the commission unanimously recommended approval of 16 sustainability goals, including three that relate to climate and energy. One of the goals calls for the city to “reduce energy consumption and eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions in our community.”

Briggs made a motion to postpone the substation proposal, but it died for lack of a second as none of the other commissioners at the meeting were supportive of another postponement. A possible ally on the issue – commissioner Bonnie Bona, who works for the nonprofit Clean Energy Coalition – did not attend the June 5 meeting. The project was approved on a 5-1 vote, with Briggs dissenting and three commissioners absent. It does not require further approval by city council.

Another proposal that had been postponed from an earlier meeting in May – Maple Cove Apartments & Village development – was taken up again on June 5. The two apartment buildings and seven single-family homes are proposed at 1649 N. Maple, north of Miller Road between North Maple and Calvin Street on the city’s west side. Safety concerns over two planned entrances off of North Maple had caused the previous postponement, but planning staff reported that the entrances conform to city code.

Two residents of Calvin Street spoke during a public hearing, both of them objecting to the project. Several commissioners also expressed disappointment in the project, as they had at earlier meetings. But they noted that because it conforms to the city’s ordinances, they had no choice but to approve it. Briggs said it pointed to the need to reexamine some problems in the city code that led to this situation. The commission’s unanimous recommendation of approval will be forwarded to city council for consideration.

The vote on a project located near Maple Cove – a proposed Speedway gas station at the northeast corner of Maple and Miller – was postponed by commissioners. City planning staff had recommended postponement, to allow the owner to make requested revisions in a landscaping plan and traffic impact statement.

Two other requests were approved, both related to rezoning of land acquired by the city: (1) two parcels for an expansion of the Bluffs Nature Area, and (2) a site adjacent to the Bryant Community Center. In both cases, commissioners recommended that city council rezone the sites to PL (public land). [Full Story]

Planning Group OKs Sustainability Goals

A set of 16 sustainability goals could be incorporated into the city’s master plan, if the Ann Arbor city council follows a recommendation made unanimously by the planning commission at its June 5, 2012 meeting.

The commission voted to recommend sustainability goals in four categories: resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. The goals were culled from more than 200 already found in existing city planning documents, as part of a project that began in early 2011. It’s been funded by the Home Depot Foundation grant. [.pdf of sustainability goals]

This work by city staff was initially guided by volunteers who serve on four city advisory commissions: park, planning, energy and environmental. Members from those groups met at … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Accepts Sustainability Grant

At its May 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized receipt of $256,000 to create a community-scale energy strategy to increase energy efficiency improvements in rental housing.

The rationale for the project, according to a staff memo, is to address energy costs that are regressive, because renters often pay more on utilities due to the condition of rental housing stock. That is, higher energy costs affect poorer renters more. The grant will be used to develop a strategy to address inefficiencies in rental housing and thereby increase the affordability of rental housing stock.

The money was awarded to the city as part of a larger $3 million grant given last year to Washtenaw County through the U.S. Housing and … [Full Story]

Parks Group OKs Sustainability Goals

At its May 15, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission recommended that the city council move ahead to incorporate 16 sustainability goals into the city’s master plan. [.pdf of sustainability goals]

PAC is one of several Ann Arbor advisory groups that have been working with city staff to develop a focused set of sustainability goals, drawing from more than 200 existing goals in city planning documents. The project began more than a year ago, after the city received a $95,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation to fund a formal sustainability project.

The grant funded the job of a sustainability associate, a position held by Jamie Kidwell, who’s been the point person for this effort. Originally the effort involved four advisory commissions: park, … [Full Story]

Final Forum: What Sustains Community?

The fourth and final forum in a series on sustainability in Ann Arbor focused on community, touching on topics that contribute to a stronger social fabric – quality of life, public safety, housing, and parks.

John Seto, Eunice Burns

Interim Ann Arbor police chief John Seto talks with Eunice Burns, a longtime activist who attended an April 12 sustainability forum at the Ann Arbor District Library. Seto was a panelist at the forum, which focused on building a sustainable community. (Photos by the writer.)

Community is one of four categories in a framework that’s been developed over the past year, with the intent of setting sustainability goals for the city. Other categories – which have been the focus of three previous forums this year – are resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community.

At the April 12 forum on community, Wendy Rampson – the city’s planning manager, who moderated the discussion – told the audience that 15 draft goals have been selected from more than 200 already found in existing city planning documents. The hope is to reach consensus on these sustainability goals, then present them to the city council as possible amendments to the city’s master plan. The goals are fairly general – if approved, they would be fleshed out with more detailed objectives and action items. [.pdf of draft sustainability goals]

Rampson said that although this would be the final forum in this year’s series, there seems to be interest in having an annual sustainability event – so this would likely not be the last gathering.

The forum was held at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building, and attended by about 50 people. Panelists were Dick Norton, chair of the University of Michigan urban and regional planning program; Cheryl Elliott, president of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation; John Seto, Ann Arbor’s interim chief of police; Jennifer L. Hall, executive director of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission; Julie Grand, chair of the city’s park advisory commission; and Cheryl Saam, facility supervisor for the Ann Arbor canoe liveries.

Several comments during the Q & A session centered on the issue of housing density within the city. Eunice Burns, a long-time local activist and former Ann Arbor city councilmember, advocated for more flexibility in accessory apartments.

Doug Kelbaugh, a UM professor of architecture and urban planning, supported her view and wondered whether the city put too high a priority on parks, when what Ann Arbor really needs is more people living downtown. He said a previous attempt to revise zoning and allow for more flexibility in accessory units was shot down by a “relatively small, relatively wealthy, relatively politically-connected group. I don’t think it was a fair measure of community sentiment.”

Also during the Q & A period, Pete Wangwongwiroj – a board member of UM’s student sustainability initiative – advocated for the concept of gross national happiness to be a main consideration in public policy decisions.

The April forum was videotaped by AADL staff and will be posted on the library’s website – videos of the three previous sessions are already posted: on resource management (Jan. 12); land use and access (Feb. 9); and climate and energy (March 8). Additional background on the Ann Arbor sustainability initiative is on the city’s website. See also Chronicle coverage: “Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor,” “Sustaining Ann Arbor’s Environmental Quality” and “Land Use, Transit Factor Into Sustainability.[Full Story]

Land Use, Transit Factor Into Sustainability

How do Ann Arbor’s land use policies affect where people live and work, and the way they get from one place to another? What is the city doing to support sustainable approaches?

Joe Grengs Ginny Trocchio

Joe Grengs, a University of Michigan associate professor of urban and regional planning, and Ginny Trocchio, who manages the city's greenbelt program, were among the speakers at a Feb. 9 sustainability forum.

Issues of land use and accessibility were the topic of a sustainability forum on Feb. 9, the second in a series that’s part of a broader city sustainability initiative. During the forum, city staff also unveiled a set of draft goals for Ann Arbor related to four general sustainability themes: Resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community.

Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, told the audience that the 15 draft goals were extracted from more than 200 that had been identified in existing city planning documents. The hope is to reach consensus on these sustainability goals, then present them to the city council as possible amendments to the city’s master plan.

Speakers at the Feb. 9 forum included Joe Grengs, a University of Michigan associate professor of urban and regional planning; Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority; Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager and member of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board; Jeff Kahan of the city’s planning staff; Ginny Trocchio, who manages the city’s greenbelt program; and Evan Pratt of the city’s planning commission.

A Q&A followed presentations by the speakers and covered a wide range of topics, including thoughts on the proposed Fuller Road Station. The following day, Feb. 10, the city and University of Michigan announced plans to halt the initial phase of that controversial project – a large parking structure near the UM medical campus.

The topics of the series of forums reflect four general sustainability themes: Resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. The first forum, held in January, focused on resource management, including water, solid waste, the urban forest and natural areas.

All forums are held at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library and are being videotaped by AADL staff. The videos will be posted on the library’s website. Additional background on the Ann Arbor sustainability initiative is on the city’s website. See also Chronicle coverage: “Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor,” and an update on the project given at the November 2011 park advisory commission meeting. [Full Story]

Sustaining Ann Arbor’s Environmental Quality

Ann Arbor city staff and others involved in resource management – water, solid waste, the urban forest and natural areas – spoke to a crowd of about 100 people on Jan. 12 to highlight work being done to make the region more environmentally sustainable.

Matt Naud

Matt Naud, Ann Arbor's environmental coordinator, moderated a panel discussion on resource management – the topic of the first in a series of four sustainability forums, all to be held at the Ann Arbor District Library. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the first of four public forums, and part of a broader sustainability initiative that started informally nearly two years ago, with a joint meeting of the city’s planning, environmental and energy commissions. The idea is to help shape decisions by looking at a triple bottom line: environmental quality, economic vitality, and social equity.

In early 2011, the city received a $95,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation to fund a formal sustainability project. The project’s main goal is to review the city’s existing plans and organize them into a framework of goals, objectives and indicators that can guide future planning and policy. Other goals include improving access to the city’s plans and to the sustainability components of each plan, and to incorporate the concept of sustainability into city planning and future city plans.

In addition to city staff, this work has been guided by volunteers who serve on four city advisory commissions: Park, planning, energy and environmental. Many of those members attended the Jan. 12 forum, which was held at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library.

The topics of the forums reflect four general themes that have been identified to shape the sustainability framework: Resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. The Jan. 12 panel on resource management was moderated by Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator. Panelists included Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council (and a member of the city’s greenbelt advisory commission); Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forest and natural resource planning coordinator; Jason Tallant of the city’s natural area preservation program; Tom McMurtrie, Ann Arbor’s solid waste coordinator, who oversees the city’s recycling program; and Chris Graham, chair of the city’s environmental commission.

Dick Norton, chair of the University of Michigan urban and regional planning program, also participated by giving an overview of sustainability issues and challenges that local governments face. [The university has its own sustainability initiative, including broad goals announced by president Mary Sue Coleman last fall.]

The Jan. 12 forum also included opportunities for questions and comments from the audience. That commentary covered a wide range of topics, from concerns over Fuller Road Station and potential uses for the Library Lot, to suggestions for improving the city’s recycling and composting programs. Even the issue of Argo Dam was raised. The controversy over whether to remove the dam spiked in 2010, but abated after the city council didn’t vote on the question, thereby making a de facto decision to keep the dam in place.

Naud said he’s often joked that the only sure way to get 100 people to come to a meeting is to say the topic is a dam – but this forum had proven him wrong. The city is interested in hearing from residents, he said: What sustainability issues are important? How would people like to be engaged in these community discussions?

The forum was videotaped by AADL staff and will be posted on the library’s website. Additional background on the Ann Arbor sustainability initiative is on the city’s website. See also Chronicle coverage: “Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor,” and an update on the project given at the November 2011 park advisory commission meeting. [Full Story]

Traver Village Site Plan Approved

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Dec. 20, 2011): With four of the city’s nine planning commissioners absent, the last meeting of the year was brief, with only one action item: site plan approval for changes at Traver Village.

Earl Ophoff, Jeff Kahan

From left: Earl Ophoff of Midwestern Consulting talks with Jeff Kahan of the city's planning staff about proposed changes at Traver Village. (Photos by the writer.)

The owner, First Martin Corp., plans to reconfigure retail space that the Blockbuster video store previously occupied, at the southern part of the complex near Plymouth Road, converting it into three smaller retail spaces.

Plans call for adding a new 25-space parking lot to serve that location, between the south side of the building and Plymouth. Elsewhere within the complex, 128 parking spaces will be removed – primarily in the northwest area behind the Kroger grocery. More bike spaces and landscaping are part of the plan as well, which was approved unanimously by commissioners after brief discussion. It will now be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Communications during the 30-minute meeting included a reminder of a series of public forums on sustainability starting early next year. The first one, on Thursday, Jan. 12, will feature a panel of city staff on the topic of resource management. All forums will be held at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building, 343 S. Fifth Ave., beginning at 7 p.m. It’s part of a broader sustainability initiative that began earlier this year, funded by a Home Depot Foundation grant. [Full Story]

More Concerns Aired on Fuller Road Station

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Nov. 15, 2011): With no action items on the agenda, PAC’s November meeting was filled with updates and honors, farewells and a few pointed comments regarding Fuller Road Station.

Lynn Bowen, Julie Grand, Colin Smith

At left: Lynn Bowen, an administrative assistant with the city who provides staff support for the park advisory commission, is retiring and was honored at PAC's November meeting. She has worked at the city for 26 years, including the last six years with parks and recreation. To the right are PAC chair Julie Grand and Colin Smith, the city's parks and recreation manager. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners were briefed by city staff about annual finances related to the land acquisition for parks and greenbelt programs, which are funded by a 30-year millage. They also got an update on the city’s marketing efforts for parks and recreation, and heard a report on the status of a sustainability project – several PAC commissioners had attended a September joint work session to help prioritize city goals related to environmental quality, economic vitality, and social equity.

Updates were also given about a sediment removal project in the Ruthven Nature Area, and about two parking-related projects at Riverside Park and Veterans Memorial Park.

In his manager’s report, Colin Smith noted that he’d taken a canoe run through the under-construction Argo Dam bypass pools – the new channel was a ”bit sportier” than he had expected, and is still being tweaked. He also told commissioners he’d received word that two state grant applications made by the city of Ann Arbor – $300,000 for the proposed Ann Arbor skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park, and $300,000 for improvements at the Gallup Park canoe livery – had ranked in the top 12 out of 100 applications statewide for funding from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. That bodes well for the possibility that the grants will be awarded – a decision from the state is expected in December.

During the meeting commissioners also honored two volunteers with the city’s natural area preservation program – Sarah Newman and Drew Lathin – and said farewell to Lynn Bowen, the administrative assistant who works with PAC. The meeting was her last before retiring from the city.

An item not on the agenda – the proposed Fuller Road Station – drew focus from public commentary as well as some questions from commissioners later in the meeting.  [Full Story]

UM Regents Get Donor, Sustainability Updates

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Sept. 15, 2011): At a meeting where regents awarded UM president Mary Sue Coleman a 2.75% raise – adding $15,678 to her salary of $570,105 – the board also heard from members of the nurses union who are angry over proposed cuts to their benefits.

Michigan Nurses Association banner

Members of the Michigan Nurses Association union held banners during the Sept. 15 regents meeting, showing signatures from their supporters. (Photos by the writer.)

The Michigan Nurses Association, which represents about 4,000 UM nurses, is negotiating a new contract. Members brought large banners with signatures from their supporters, and three people spoke about the issue during public commentary – including Brit Satchwell, head of the Ann Arbor teachers union. The nurses are concerned that weaker benefits will affect patient care by hurting the UM health system’s ability to retain and recruit high-quality nurses.

Ora Pescovitz – UM’s executive vice president for medical affairs – read a statement to the board, asserting her respect for the nurses but saying the health system needs an agreement that’s market- and cost-competitive.

Also during the meeting, regents got an overview of UM’s annual development report for fiscal 2011, which ended June 30. The university received $273.14 million in contributions during the year, up from $254.08 million the previous year – an increase of 7.5%. The previous two years had shown declines from the $342.05 million raised in FY 2008, which marked the end of the multi-year $3.2 billion Michigan Difference fundraising campaign.

As part of that report, a couple who’ve given considerable financial support to UM – Bill and Dee Brehm – spoke to the regents about the motivation for their donations. They provide support for UM’s Brehm Center for Diabetes Research and Brehm Scholars program, among other initiatives.

Regents also heard from students and staff about work toward environmental sustainability on campus and in coursework. More is in the works: On Sept. 27, Coleman is scheduled to make an address to campus, expanding UM’s sustainability goals for both academics and operations. Her remarks will be shown via a webcast, starting at 11 a.m.

A range of action items during the meeting received little discussion and were all passed unanimously. They included several construction-related projects, the creation of two medical school departments, and authorization to buy a parcel at 716 Oakland Ave. in Ann Arbor, between Monroe and Hill streets near the law school campus. This is the fourth Ann Arbor property that UM has purchased within the past year with an apartment building on the lot. [Full Story]

Action on Argo Headrace, Trails Near Fuller

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Aug. 16, 2011): During a three-hour meeting on Tuesday, park commissioners walked down several topical trails in what PAC chair Julie Grand aptly described as a “super-packed” agenda.

Argo headrace

The view looking east down the dewatered Argo headrace, with the embankment on the right. The trail along the embankment to Broadway is closed, as the city prepares for major reconstruction of the headrace. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners approved a resolution recommending a change to the scope of work at the Argo headrace – a change that will add a new entrance to the soon-to-be-reconstructed waterway from Argo Pond to the Huron River. The modification to the project was linked to an offer from DTE to pay for a whitewater section that’s part of the overall project, which freed up city funds for the new entrance. A state permit needed to start the reconstruction is expected to be received by Aug. 23.

A second resolution introduced at Tuesday’s meeting urged the city council to incorporate design of a trail system – including the county’s Border to Border (B2B) trail – into the Fuller Road area in advance of building the proposed Fuller Road Station. Two members of the Washtenaw Bicycling & Walking Coalition were on hand with suggestions for where trails might be located to bypass the busy intersection of Fuller Road, Maiden Lane and East Medical Center Drive.

The topic of trails also emerged tangentially during a presentation by PAC vice chair John Lawter on dog parks. Some people walk their dogs off leash on park trails and in other park areas, violating Ann Arbor’s ordinance requiring dogs to be leashed. The exception is in the city’s two dog parks, on the north and south edges of town.

Lawter suggested that Ann Arbor might find other ways to let dogs off leash, either by creating another traditional dog park that’s more centrally located, or designating certain hours for dogs to be off leash in specific parks. PAC might form a subcommittee to explore options for a new dog park, and for how to increase enforcement of existing dog-control ordinances. Such an effort might uncover more data points like those Lawter provided in his presentation, which included the pounds of poo collected annually at Swift Run dog park.

Data collection has also been part of developing the city’s first urban forest management plan. Oliver Kiley of JJR, the consultant leading this project, updated the commission on the effort. Possible outcomes include a recommended maintenance plan, protections for mature trees, targets for new tree plantings, and proposals for relevant ordinances and zoning. The discussion among commissioners led to concerns over whether the city is prepared for something similar to the emerald ash borer – which decimated thousands of trees in the city over the past decade and chewed up the city’s forestry budget for several years.

The urban forest management plan will be among the 26 city plans in a sustainability framework being developed, focused on “triple-bottom line” goals of economic vitality, environmental quality and social equity. The commission was briefed on this project in preparation for a Sept. 27 joint meeting of the park, planning, energy and environmental commissions. The goal of that meeting is to start prioritizing goals from these existing city plans. [Full Story]

State Street Corridor Study Planned

Ann Arbor planning commission working session (April 12, 2011): Moving ahead on a project they’ve discussed for more than a year, planning commissioners gave feedback on a draft request for proposals (RFP) for a South State Street corridor study.

state street corridor

State Street runs north-south. Ellsworth, which runs east-west, is at the bottom of the frame. The large paved area northwest of the I-94/State Street interchange is Briarwood Mall. The proposed area of study extends farther north to Stimson. (Image links to Bing Map.)

The RFP, which will likely be issued next week, will solicit a consultant to develop a comprehensive plan for the 2.15-mile section between Stimson Street to the north – near a railroad crossing and the Produce Station – and Ellsworth to the south.

The corridor is the city’s main gateway from the south – the stretch includes an I-94 interchange, entrances to Briarwood Mall, and other retail, commercial and office complexes. Although there is one large apartment complex along that road, it is not a densely residential area.

Also at Tuesday’s working session, commissioners and staff discussed plans for an April 26 retreat that will focus on another major corridor: Washtenaw Avenue. [Full Story]

Marijuana Issue Lingers; DDA-City Deal Stalls

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Jan. 18, 2011): At its most recent meeting, scheduled a day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the council was due to consider, for a second time, a first-reading of a licensing scheme for medical marijuana businesses that has been put forward by city attorney Stephen Postema.

Stephen Kunselman, Roger Fraser

In deliberations on a resolution that would have authorized the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to start designing a plan to develop city-owned surface parking lots, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who's speaking here, said he did not want to tie the city administrator's hands. The hands in question are visible in the right of the frame, clearly still untied. (Photos by the writer.)

After amending the licensing proposal heavily at its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the council had decided to postpone the measure until Tuesday’s meeting. After a relatively brief attempt to undertake further amendments, the council decided to postpone consideration again – until its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting. They also voted to extend the moratorium on opening additional marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities through March 31, 2011.

Not relatively brief were Christopher Taylor’s (Ward 3) opening remarks about a resolution that would have authorized the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to design a plan to develop city-owned downtown parking lots.

In the end, the council decided to postpone consideration of the DDA parcel-by-parcel proposal – on a 6-4 vote, with some of those voting against postponement looking to vote it down. The effect of the postponement was likely similar to what outright rejection would have been. The clear message was this: Substantial revision to the proposal would be required to gain the kind of overwhelming support the measure will likely need to persuade DDA board members that the council is in agreement with the proposal.

Another piece of major business, which passed quietly, was approval of an overhaul of the ordinance language defining the city’s retirement system. An additional tax abatement for Edwards Brothers received a lot of discussion, but was ultimately approved.

The city also accepted a grant from the Home Depot Foundation for sustainability work, that earned praise for the city’s environmental coordinator, Matt Naud. In other city environmental action, David Stead was reappointed to the city’s environmental commission, and Steve Bean’s decision was announced that he had not sought reappointment to that commission, after a long tenure.

Th site plan for Lake Trust Credit Union at the southeast corner of West Liberty and West Stadium Boulevard was approved. And two additional parcels were added to the land that is protected by the city’s greenbelt program.

As budget season looms, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who serves on both the city council’s budget committee and the labor and administration committee, gave a status update on the city’s negotiations with its unions. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Pursues Sustainability Grant

In early September, the city of Ann Arbor was one of four finalists for a $1 million, three-year sustainability project funded by the Home Depot Foundation. Ann Arbor didn’t make the final cut – Charleston, South Carolina and Fayetteville, Arkansas were selected – but city staff are now pursuing a grant of up to $100,000 from Home Depot that could fund a shorter-term initiative, building on existing sustainability efforts.

The grant was discussed at a working session of the Ann Arbor planning commission earlier this month. Matt Naud – the city’s environmental coordinator – told The Chronicle that the city will likely file the grant application in early December. [Full Story]

UM Regents OK Endowment Policy Change

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (July 15, 2010): Pete Arbour and his 12-year-old daughter Lilly are on a mission to meet all of their elected officials – local, state and national. They carry a list of the 115 people, and mark off those they meet by putting a smiley face next to their names. (All of the city councilmembers in their Rochester Hills hometown are checked off, but president Barack Obama is not.)

UM regents and guests get their photo taken

Pete Arbour and his daughter Lilly, who live in Rochester Hills, are on a mission to meet with all of their elected officials – including University of Michigan regents. A UM photographer took a photo of them with regents after the July 15 meeting. From left: Julia Darlow, Andrea Fischer Newman, Pete Arbour, Lilly Arbor, Mary Sue Coleman, Denise Ilitch. (Photos by the writer.)

The pair added five more names to the “met” category on Thursday, when they attended the UM regents meeting. They got their photo taken with regents and president Mary Sue Coleman after the meeting. During the meeting, they had a chance to see presentations, some rare public disagreement among board members, and votes on a range of items.

The disagreement stemmed from a proposal to lower the distribution rate on the university’s endowment from 5% to 4.5%. Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, made the case that the change will help protect the core of the endowment’s value. Julia Darlow, the board’s new chair, argued that they shouldn’t spend less at a time when families are struggling, noting that much of the payout goes toward financial aid and instruction. Other regents disagreed with her and the change was approved, with Darlow and Denise Ilitch dissenting.

Regents also voted – in each case, unanimously – to approve designs for three construction projects: at Crisler Arena, a golf indoor practice facility, and the Institute for Social Research, which is building an addition. Architects for each project gave presentations of the schematic designs before the votes.

Also unanimous was a vote to approve a $1.25 million purchase of assets of the Michigan Information Technology Center Foundation (MITC), located in the South State Commons on Oakbrook Drive. As a result of the sale – a voluntary turnover foreclosure – the university will be taking over MITC’s computing resources. Regents approved two conflict-of-interest disclosures as part of the deal, with regent Katherine White recusing herself from the votes.

Leaders of the Clements Library and the UM Film Office both gave presentations to the board, featuring celebrities past (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln) and present (Pierce Brosnan, Rob Reiner). Regents also heard a report from the chair of the Committee on the Economic Status of the Faculty, who in general indicated that the overall status was good, but could be better. Specific recommendations to improve conditions were outlined.

Finally, the meeting’s only speaker during public commentary, a board member of the UM Student Sustainability Initiative, described for regents a vision of “zero waste” sporting events. They tried it at a football tailgate last fall, and will aim for a zero waste men’s basketball game against Harvard in December. The ultimate goal: An entire campus that doesn’t send any material to the landfill or incinerator. [Full Story]

Moving Ahead on Zaragon Place 2

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (June 15, 2010): With only minor suggestions from planning commissioners, the 14-story Zaragon Place 2 apartment complex was unanimously approved by the commission, and will next be considered by the city council, likely at one of their August meetings.

Bonnie Bona

Bonnie Bona, chair of Ann Arbor's city planning commission, listens to a presentation about Zaragon Place 2. A rendering of the proposed project is on the screen in the background, viewed from the William Street perspective. (Photos by the writer.)

The project – to be located at the southeast corner of William and Thompson, next to Cottage Inn restaurant – drew support from two representatives of neighboring businesses, who said they were eager for new residents to arrive as potential customers. The site has been vacant and considered blighted for more than a decade.

Unlike recent proposals for two other residential developments – Heritage Row and The Moravian – Zaragon Place 2 does not require special zoning and has not faced opposition from neighborhood groups.

Some of the discussion by commissioners centered on the 40 parking spaces to be provided within the structure, as well as 40 spaces for bikes in a secured storage room. The ground level will include retail space fronting William. Also as part of the project, the city’s parks unit is asking the developer for $48,000 to help pay for new parks in the area, or to enhance existing parks.

In other business, the commission approved a special exemption use for Big Shot Fireworks to set up a tent in front of the Quarter Bistro, in the Westgate Shopping Center. Commissioners were schooled in fireworks-related legislation – anything that spins, explodes or leaves the ground can’t be sold in Michigan to the general public.

And a rezoning of a previously unzoned parcel on Jackson Avenue – site of the former Barnard Plating factory, next to Hillside Terrace Retirement Center – passed without discussion.

Finally, the commission discussed and passed a resolution that more formally outlines their plan to work with the city’s environmental and energy commissions toward the goal of building a sustainable Ann Arbor. It’s the outgrowth of a joint meeting the three commissions held in April, and was characterized by planning commission chair Bonnie Bona as the beginning of a community conversation about sustainability. [Full Story]

Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor

About two dozen members of three Ann Arbor commissions gathered last week for a rare joint meeting, a two-hour, wide-ranging discussion focused on the issue of sustainability. Bonnie Bona, chair of the city’s planning commission, said the working session was meant to start a conversation, with the goal of moving the city toward a sustainable future.

David Stead, Jean Carlberg, Fulter Hong

From left: David Stead, Jean Carlberg, and Fulter Hong at an April 13 working session on sustainability. They are members of the environmental, planning and energy commissions, respectively. (Photos by the writer.)

The discussion touched on the conceptual as well as the concrete, with some commissioners urging the group to tackle practical considerations as well. The chairs of each commission – Bona, the energy commission’s Wayne Appleyard, and Steve Bean of the environmental commission – set the stage by talking about the roles of their appointed public bodies, and how sustainability might be incorporated into their work.

Specific ideas discussed during the session included financing energy improvements in households through a special self-assessment on property tax bills, and tapping expertise at the University of Michigan.

More than midway through the meeting they were joined by Terry Alexander, executive director of UM’s Office of Campus Sustainability. He described UM’s efforts at implementing sustainable practices on campus as well as creating a living/learning environment for students, teaching them what it means to be a “green citizen.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Bona noted that the issue extended far beyond the three commissions gathered around the table. Housing, parks and other areas need to be involved as well, she said, if they were truly to tackle the three elements of sustainability: environmental quality, social equity, and economic vitality. Bean said he and the other chairs would be meeting again and come up with some specific examples for what steps might be taken next. “You’ll be hearing from us,” he said. [Full Story]