<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> First April newsletter 2013

Sabra Briere

First Ward, City Council
995-3518 (home)
277-6578 (cell)

Coffee wakes some of us up

I hold office hours 7:30 to 9 am on Mondays at the Northside Grill. 

While I'm there, I meet with neighbors from all over our community to discuss the issues that concern them.  

The folks at the Northside put up with political talk early in the morning.  If you see me there, please wave, and if you have time, please, join me for coffee and a chat.  


The City Council holds a caucus meeting each Sunday prior to a Council meeting.  This meeting is an opportunity for members of Council to discuss agenda items -- and pending issues -- with each other in public view.  Members of the public are welcome to attend to bring issues to the attention of Council members.  Caucus is held in Council Chambers and starts at 7 pm.
I go to almost all Caucus meetings.


Dear Neighbors,

Someone has been building a nest in my birdhouse.  The other day I watched a pair of crows gathering twigs, clearly for another nest.  All of this bird activity assures me that it really is getting warmer.  For me, that means it is time to prune the roses, uncover all the spring bulbs, and make a trip for compost.
If you are in the same mood, here are the important pieces of information:
Compost collection starts this week – for most of us in the First Ward, with Wednesday’s trash collection.  (Some folks who live in the downtown and North Central neighborhoods, compost collection starts Monday; others can put their carts out on Friday.)  Here’s a map of the trash collection days.
Starting on April 6th, you can go to the Drop Off Center and get already composted materials and wood chips.  The trees and limbs that came down in the ice storm, however, are being chipped to use in the parks – so what you’ll see out at the Drop Off Center is from other sources.
As for those limbs and trees – the City had planned to collect them all a while ago, but they hadn’t planned for how much material actually came down.  I still see brush piles on the lawn extensions in my neighborhood – and I’ve seen the same in many other neighborhoods.  Members of Council have been assured that the City is picking up the deadfall, but if you haven’t put yours out by the curb yet, I recommend that you begin to cut it up and place it in your compost cart.
If you don’t have a compost cart, you can get one here.  Each household can request compost cart or two; each cart currently costs $50, but the City is thinking about making them available for free once a year.
And if you don’t yet have a rain barrel you can buy one in lots of different sizes, shapes, colors – or you can buy one of these from the Huron River Watershed Council.

orange peels and egg shells

As for composting – above is a photo of a winter’s worth of kitchen compostables from my house. You can click on it to see the entire amount.

This is the second year we’ve saved all the kitchen compost outside in our compost cart.  Perhaps you can tell that it isn’t much – but we compost enough that we generally don’t have to put the true trash out more often than every three (3) weeks. I learned today that some of my neighbors have also begun composting their kitchen scraps over the winter.  Before you ask – no, the raccoons and other pests were not terribly interested in the compost carts this winter.  They do sometimes get into the true trash, unfortunately, but we don’t have a lot that is edible in there.  What would make this process better would be if the City accepted meat and fat food waste – and those special things our dogs and cats leave for us to clean up.  To compost these things, I’m told, the City needs to effectively heat the compost much hotter – breaking down anything that might be bad for our gardens and ourselves.  I’d love to have this service – our trash would go out less than once a month, and if we all could use the compost to hold food waste, the cost of throwing things in the landfill would decrease.

On the agenda

Public Hearings: Ordinances

The Council will hold a public hearing to revise the sign code as it applies to billboards, outdoor signs and animated signs.  The proposal reduces the maximum size of signs and sets requirements for signs with changeable copy.  Please note: a decision on this ordinance may be postponed.

Public Hearings: Resolutions

The public hearing on the 413 E. Huron Street site plan was continued to April 1.  As a result, those who wish to address the Council on this site plan – and who did not speak at the March 18th meeting on the site plan – should consider whether to come to the Council meeting on Monday.  However, the developer has written to the Council, requesting a further postponement to April 15.  If the Council postpones – and generally the Council respects such requests – this postponement will also postpone the public hearing.  There have been some changes to the building; whether those changes are significant improvements remains to be discussed.  One of the concerns I’ve heard a lot about is the amount of shade this building will cast on a large and old bur oak tree.  Here’s a link to the latest shadow study – and for those of us who don’t know, oak trees are late to leaf out and retain their leaves into the early winter.  They need spring sun to stimulate leaf budding and fall sun to store energy for the winter.

Ordinances, First Reading

The Council will consider changes to the DDA ordinance – changes that affect DDA Board membership, how the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) revenue is collected, and how the DDA can allocate funds.
I’m not going to take up too much of your time trying to explain DDA financing.  We make jokes about its complexity at my house.  But the effect of the changes is important.
This ordinance revision, sponsored by Councilmembers Kunselman and Kailasapathy, has been discussed effectively in The Chronicle on March 3rd and March 9th of this year.
The agenda includes a possible substitute ordinance, offered by Councilmembers Kunselman and Kailasapathy, which makes two amendments to the initial draft: the first change requires that the Council consent, annually, to the appointment of the mayor as a member of the DDA.  The second change inserts a new TIF calculation.  On March 30th I received a new document from the City’s chief financial officer, informing all of Council that the assessor had provided new financial projections that affect the amount of revenue captured by the DDA.  He apologized for the timing, but pointed out that a good TIF estimate can only come at the end of the assessing process.  One of the points in question is whether the TIF growth estimates should reflect annual or cumulative estimates.  With the annual percentage method, increases beyond those allowable by statute are refunded in the year they are recognized, but flow to the DDA thereafter.  With the cumulative method, the DDA revenue is permanently limited by the planned growth. 
I’m still puzzling my way through the financial impacts of making changes to the way the TIF capture functions.
Here’s a link to the current ordinance for the DDA, and another to the 2003 Development and Tax Increment Financing Plan that is referenced in this ordinance.


Brought by Council

The Council will consider whether to recognize the Ann Arbor Rowing Club as a civic non-profit organization so it may obtain a charitable gaming license.  I’m co-sponsoring this resolution.
At the last Council meeting, the Council directed the Planning Commission to review downtown (D1) zoning; a resolution I am co-sponsoring with Council members Higgins and Taylor provides more direction and sets a deadline by which the Planning Commission must report.

Brought by Boards, Commissions, Task Forces

At the December 3rd, 2012 Council meeting, 5 members of the Council were selected to form a task force and look at the current Public Art ordinance: Council members Teall, Taylor, Kunselman, Petersen and Briere.  This task force has been meeting several times a month, presented its preferred changes to the City Attorney’s office for review, and is now working with staff to finalize the language of the changes.  But the resolution that appointed the task force also placed a moratorium on spending decisions by the Public Art Commission.  This new resolution requests that  the moratorium on spending – which is currently expected to end on April 1 –be extended to May 31. (This resolution is currently co-sponsored by Council member Kunselman and myself, although other members of the task force may co-sponsor.)

Brought by Staff

On March 18 the staff placed before Council a resolution to lease a private parking lot (weekends and holidays, only) for overflow parking at Argo Canoe Livery.  This resolution was postponed, as there were questions about the quality of the parking lot’s storm water systems and current surfacing.  The resolution – without changes – has returned to the agenda.  Parking is at a premium in this residential neighborhood, especially with increased demand at Argo Cascades. 
Perhaps you remember that the City received a $300,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund for renovations of the Gallup Canoe Livery.  On the agenda is a contract to appropriate funds for the renovation project.  Here’s a link to the conceptual drawing of the renovations.  The grant covers just over ½ of the total contract for $563,398; the remainder comes from the Parks Capital Improvement and Maintenance millage.


There are always other items on the Agenda that might interest you.  The City may publish its intent to issue revenue bonds for the water supply system ($18.5 million); contracts for street resurfacing ($3.6 million) and sidewalk repair ($749 thousand).  Street closings for events are also a topic: the Greek Week Boxcar Race (April 7), the Burns Park Run and Cinco de Mayo at Tios (May 5); the 2013 Rolling Sculpture Car Show (July 12) and the NTI Block Party (July 31).  Communications that might be of interest include the AATA annual audit (its fiscal year ends September 30).

Click here to learn more about these and other items on the agenda.

On the Budget

The Council has held three working sessions on the budget.  After each working session the staff have revised their estimates for the budget.  The latest revision – a single page report – shows reductions in capital expenditures.  (Note: dollars in parentheses represent revenue; dollars with no parentheses represent expenses.  A representation of dollars in parentheses as the sum means that revenue exceeds expenditures.)

The DDA presented their 2014/15 and 2015/16 fiscal year budgets.  (Here’s the one-page budget handout, too.) These budgets are subject to change, dependent upon Council action.

A number of items remain to be discussed – how the City will address economic development, how the City will address affordable housing, and how the City will determine safety services organization and staffing numbers.  Here’s an update on the Fire Station Reorganization Plan – which seems to be pretty clearly not popular among Council members.
The City Administrator will present his budget to the Council – and to the public – at the second meeting in April.  The City Charter requires that the Council approve the budget as written or to make amendments to it before the end of May.

First Ward Town Hall

Council member Sumi Kailasapathy and I will host a Town Hall meeting on April 18 at the Northside Grill from 7 to 8:30 pm.

On the Horizon

Monday, April 1: Meet the artists being considered for the Stadium Bridges public art installation.  When the Council placed a moratorium on new spending for public art, it exempted certain projects.  The public art for the Stadium Bridges is one of those projects.  The Public Art Commission will host an open house to meet the selected finalists for the project on Monday, April 1 from 5 to 6:30 to provide feedback to the artists about the site and your concerns regarding the art.

The artist finalists are:
Volkan Alkanoglu, nominated in 2006 for the Young Architect of the Year Award in the UK and is a faculty member at Southern California Institute of Architecture.
Sheila Klein, a Pacific Northwest artist who designed Underground Girl, a subway station in Hollywood, in 2000, that continues to be recognized as an award winning artwork.
Rebar Group / Matt Passmore, a California firm, recognized as inventing PARK(ing) Day, a temporary event that transforms metered parking spaces into a park.
Catherine Widgery, a Massachusetts artist who has created several works with public infrastructure, including bridges, and has been recognized multiple times for creating an outstanding public artwork by the Americans for the Arts.

The Ann Arbor Public Art Commission selected the Ann Arbor Bridges reconstruction project and the adjacent Rose White Park as a location for public art. The location of the site and its diversity in terms of traffic patterns and usage made it an ideal backdrop for a highly visible public art project with the potential to become a landmark for the city and its residents. A selection panel, with membership that included residents of the nearby neighborhoods, reviewed over 35 submissions for the project and selected the four finalists. The artist finalists will be asked to develop a design proposal for the location. Their initial designs will be received by the selection panel in May 2013.

Sunday, April 14: 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Argo Canoe Livery Set-Up — This fun, annual spring set-up day is spent cleaning and preparing the facility for opening. Help paint paddle boats, organize supplies, etc. Contact the city’s Volunteer 365 program volunteer@a2gov.org / 734.794.6230, ext. 42510 / www.a2gov.org/volunteer

Sunday, April 21: 9 a.m.–noon Sunset Brooks Nature Area Earth Day Workday — Meet at the park entrance on Sunset Road and Brooks Street.  For the nature area workday: minors must either be accompanied by a guardian or have a signed release form in advance.  To get a release form, contact Natural Area Preservation (734.794.6627; NAP@a2gov.org). Please wear long pants and closed-toe shoes.

What am I reading?

What am I reading?

I continue to read Osha Gray Davidson’s book on alternative energy – Clean Break.  Several years ago I learned that adding solar power to your home means your taxes go up – and that there is no way for the City to implement a tax incentive for solar power.  There also isn’t an ordinance that prohibits some neighbor from building a structure that blocks the solar gain another neighbor currently experiences.  This book taught me, for instance, that installing solar panels is ½ as expensive in Europe as in the US – because of the fees municipalities charge for permits. “Permitting fees that can run into the thousands of dollars in the United States cost nothing, or close to it, in Germany.”

I’ve just begun Empowered Participation: Reinventing Urban Democracy, by Archon Fung.  It’s a case study of neighborhood engagement in Chicago – and not that I think Ann Arbor is like Chicago, but that neighborhoods everywhere probably need to be more engaged in civic life.