<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> First July 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,

I’ve spent much of the day thinking about water – and maybe you have, as well.  During Thursday’s rainstorm, I was trying to get to a meeting across town.  Everywhere I turned, I ran into deep water that I worried my little car wouldn’t be able to cross.  When visibility failed, I pulled into a parking lot to wait out the heaviest downpour.  And yesterday I went to look at Traver Creek, which runs near my home; it has decided to cut a new route – through an adjacent park.  I watched a blue heron look for fish in this new, shallow water, and admired the reflection of the playground in the water.
Short, flashy, heavy rains don’t quite make it to a ‘100 year rain,’ which is what we ask new developments to handle.  That’s a rain where about 4 ½ inches falls in a day, and Thursday’s was about 2 ½ inches in about four hours.  Our 70-year-old infrastructure cannot handle a lot of water in a short period of time.  And what type of infrastructure can we retrofit to handle these types of rains?  AnnArbor.com wrote a good report on the rain, with a nod to what the City is trying to do.  

Neighborhood News

I don’t often mention the things the City does that aren’t about spending money.  But a couple of events recently occurred, and thought I should share.
One of our neighbors turns 100 this year.  Her family asked for a special recognition of the event – and I’m trying to go further, and perpetuate her good deeds.  During past years, she has adopted the park across from her house and built an amazing perennial garden.  She’s won two Golden Trowel awards (we don’t give those out any more, but that could change) and she’s really given a gift to our community. 
One of our other neighbors is turning 90 on July 4th.  This weekend I’ll be circulating a petition to get the street closed so she can really have a blow-out party.  Not everyone gets a block party for their birthday, but maybe that should change.
Last year, one of our neighbors asked for and received a special recognition of his religious leader’s 100th birthday.  Some things are just important.
I’m sharing these stories because we all recognize the value our neighbors bring to our community.  The City recognizes those things, too – and if you have a special event, perhaps the City can be a small part of making it more special.

Inside surveys

Read the recommendations and take the non-motorized transportation (bicycle) survey to provide feedback to the City about bike-riders needs and wants.

The City is planning to install art work at Argo Park next year.  (Note: this is not part of the Percent for Art program!)  The input they receive from the public will help shape expectations for that art work.  Please take this survey and let the City hear from you.

Outside survey

The national Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) case study investigation program chose the Ann Arbor Municipal Center as a model of sustainable landscape design. This selection reflects the innovative features exhibited at Ann Arbor’s location including the rain gardens, permeable pavement, green roof, and overall public space design. Additional information on the LAF research project is posted online.
Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are conducting a brief, voluntary survey of adult visitors, employees, and developers/builders in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, Michigan about the landscaping at the Ann Arbor Municipal Center.  The online questions are posted here and will be active for three weeks, from July 1-19, 2013.

And on the landscape design, when I entered the Municipal Center for a meeting on Thursday, there were about 8 or 9 inches of standing water in the water garden.  When I came out, two hours later, all the water was gone.  That’s how a rain garden is supposed to function – it held the runoff from the roof of the Municipal building, cleaned it and slowly released it into holding tanks.  Those holding tanks are supposed to supply the water for the (storm water) sculpture.  Of course, not everything works as planned. 

On the Agenda

Public Hearings – Ordinances

Keeping up to date with national standards for fire protection is a never-ending challenge.  The Council will hold a public hearing on amending the City Code to meet 2009 International Fire Code standards.

The Council will hold a public hearing on whether to change the definition of ‘sidewalk’ so as to allow the City to use sidewalk millage dollars to repair existing cross-lot sidewalks. 

There are many of these cross-lot sidewalks.  Most were built as part of a subdivision, and many are labels ‘public walk’ on the original plats.  But the City never accepted these sidewalks as public land; the ordinance addresses that issue. 

A public meeting was held on June 27th to seek responses from owners of property that is adjacent to these cross-lot sidewalks.  A copy of the report from this meeting is here.  A memo from City staff represents the view that these sidewalks should be treated the same as those that front a property – as individual improvements to the adjoining properties.

related resolution would accept 33 of these cross-lot sidewalks as ‘public use’ sidewalks.  It’s worth looking at the location and the situations.

(Note, winter maintenance – snow and ice removal – is not uniformly performed now by the adjoining property owners.  In some cases no one maintains the walk; in some AAPS treats the walk as an extension of their property; in still others the City actually removes the snow.  Individual sites vary regarding who mows the lawn, for that matter.  The City is seeking to have all of this maintenance done by the owners of the two or four adjoining properties.)

Public Hearings – Resolutions

The Council will hold a public hearing on the State Street Corridor Planwhich was approved by the Planning Commission in June and is now before the City Council.  If adopted, it will become part of the land use element of the City’s master plan. 

Ordinance – First Reading

Back for First Reading is the Video Privacy Ordinance.  This ordinance would limit the circumstances and locations where the police could place un-staffed video surveillance.  This would not limit the current practice of having video cameras recording events from police cars, with police officers present.  It would, however, require that any video cameras in a residential area be located so they cannot see into someone’s home, and prevent the police department from keeping long-term video surveillance in a residential neighborhood secret.  Currently the police department does not conduct un-staffed video surveillance.  This ordinance would allow it, with restrictions.  The Video Privacy Ordinance has been in planning stages for over three years, and is sponsored by Council members Anglin and Warpehoski.
Key provisions within the proposed ordinance include:

The Council will also consider whether to re-fund (fund again) bonds for the sewage disposal system.  These revenue bonds (in the amount of $21,500,000) have already been issued; the issue is whether to re-fund them at a lower interest rate.  The City’s municipal finance advisors have calculated that, if this re-funding goes through, the City’s debt services will see savings exceeding $2,000,000 over the 11-year life of the bonds.  Payments for the bonds are made from revenue from users of the sewage disposal system (waste water on your water bill).  The Council will vote on this ordinance at First Reading; there will be no subsequent reading.  

Three properties are under consideration for rezoning.  Each rezoning requires an ordinance change, and each one approved at First Reading will come back in August for a public hearing before a final vote.  The three properties include one on State Street – rezoning from M1 (limited industrial) to M1A (limited light industrial).  The other two parcels are requesting a downzoning from PUD to D2 – this is the area between Fourth Ave. and Main Street where the Greek Orthodox Church used to stand.


On the Consent Agenda

In 2008, the Council approved a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) plan for Burton Commons, a proposed affordable housing development on Burton Road off Packard in the Third Ward.  This project has yet to be built because, in part, of the recent depression, but the Council will consider the developer’s petition to alter the PILOT in two ways – change the development partner and change the mix of units to serve very low income (30% of median income or less) and low income (31 – 60% of median income) tenants.

From Council

The Council is considering amending its rules to address several problems.  These problems were discussed at a work session in April (April 29), during which representatives from the Michigan Municipal League presented information and asked questions about the Open Meetings Act, Attorney-Client Privilege, agenda setting and public (and Council) speaking times.

First, Council members have requested a more open process for work session – they want to be able to discuss the ideas brought by staff, and they want to discuss those ideas freely.  To do this, Council must treat work sessions as opportunities for the public to address Council.  For some of us, this is a great idea – all work sessions should be compliant with the Open Meetings Act.  Another issue raised in the Council rules committee is the agenda.  Council members would like all agenda items to be complete and on the agenda by Friday at 5 pm – both for public review and to allow Council members an opportunity to review prior to the Monday meeting. 

A third significant issue is the length and frequency of speaking times – both for Council members and for the public.  Council members have been provided three different opportunities to address the Council as general comments; the rules would reduce that to two opportunities.  Council members may ask as many questions of staff as they need to clarify an issue, but the Council has been limited to speaking on an issue to two times – the first for 5 minutes; the second for 3 minutes.  The amendments in the rules would reduce those speaking times to 2 minutes each.  Public speaking time is divided into two categories – public commentary general and public commentary reserved.  Public commentary general would be scheduled at the end of each work session and at the end of each Council action meeting.  Public commentary reserved time would be limited – 10 speakers, 2 spaces reserved for non-agenda items and 8 spaces reserved for agenda action items that don’t have public hearings.  Speakers who had reserved time at the previous Council action meeting will not be able to reserve time for the current Council action meeting.  Of course, speakers could address Council at any public hearing – as long as their comments relate to the item of the public hearing.  And just as these revised rules limit the speaking time for Council members, they would limit the speaking time for each member of the public to 2 minutes.

These changes were recommended by the Michigan Municipal League presenters.  This resolution is sponsored by the members of the Council Rules Committee (Higgins, Hieftje, Kunselman, Taylor and me).

During the discussions in March, April and May about the DDA ordinance (Chapter 7 of the City Code), several members of Council suggested that the DDA administrative staff and the City administrative staff should be working together to resolve the budget and administrative concerns.  Council members also spoke about the need to work collaboratively with the DDA Board.  Because the timeline for having these discussions – at a Council level or at a staff level – is short, the Council will consider whether to appoint three Council members (Kunselman, Petersen, Taylor) to a ‘mutually beneficial committee’ to work with DDA Board members.  The resolution also directs the City staff to work directly with DDA staff, providing information, data and evaluation of possible outcomes.  The Council will consider ordinance amendments – if any are proposed – on September 2, 2013.  In an ideal world, the resolution would allow time for significant public input and collaboration with the other taxing authorities affected by the DDA tax increment financing process.  Because of that September deadline, time is very short – although the ‘mutually beneficial committee’ could request a change in timeline in order to have a more complete process.  Mayor Hieftje and I have co-sponsored this resolution.

The Council will consider whether to re-empanel the R2A/R4C Advisory Committee.  During the weeks since the R4C draft report was heard at the Planning Commission, several residents have voiced concern about some of the recommendations.  Members of the R2A/R4C Advisory Committee have met with Council members about their desire to continue to meet in an effort to address residents’ concerns.  Although the Planning Commission recommended the Council approve the draft report, there remain some areas where the Advisory Committee made one recommendation and the Planning Commission made another.  Reconciling these two pieces of advice will provide a better report for the Council to consider.  Council member Higgins and I are co-sponsoring this item.

From Boards and Commissions

(See the public hearing on the State Street Corridor Plan.)

From Staff

The Council will consider whether to publish an ‘intent to issue General Obligation Capital Improvement Bonds’ to fund the construction of new airport hangers (not to exceed $900,000).  These bonds would be used to refinance the costs of acquiring and building six box hangers at the Ann Arbor Airport.  These costs were previously funded through an advance from the City’s pooled investment fun.  This funding mechanism resulted in a perceived deficit in the Airport fund; the bonds would eliminate that perceived deficit.  The publication of an ‘intent to issue’ General Obligation Bonds allows the public to review and respond.  General Obligation Bonds increase the City’s debt limit.

The bonds would be repaid from Ann Arbor Airport revenues.

Additional work on the Miller Avenue improvements requires a special assessment for sidewalks, curbs and gutters.  This resolution covers the final list of affected properties.

The Council will consider awarding a contract for a series of rain gardens in Arbor Oaks Park ($149,925).  This project involves re-grading a portion of Arbor Oaks Park to accommodate the installation of a series of rain gardens which are designed to detain and infiltrate bank-full rain events.  In addition, to ensure positive drainage to the rain gardens from a large open area within the park, and to make this area usable for neighborhood residents, soil will be placed to raise the elevation of the open area. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is financing this project through the USEPA Surface Water Revolving Fund and the project is eligible for up to 50% loan principal forgiveness for water quality improvements construction costs.  Arbor Oaks Park is near the Bryant Community Center and Bryant Elementary School, near Stone School and Ellsworth roads.


Of course, to me each item on the agenda holds an interest.  But some are more compelling than others.  I’ve tried to highlight those I think might interest you.  If you have any questions, concerns or comments about agenda items, please send me email or call me.

I’m also keeping track of the City Council’s priorities on each agenda.  By my count, this agenda includes 1 item that deals with Affordable Housing, 5 items that address infrastructure, 1 item that addresses safety services, and 12 items that are more general, from administrative decisions to accepting a Fair Food Network Grant for the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market.

On the Horizon

OK.  I cannot ignore July 4th.  And everybody loves a parade.  Bring the kids, the dogs (not cats, they don’t like crowds!), the noise makers and your good humor, and come to the JayCees parade in downtown Ann Arbor.  Parking is free, but come early and avoid the barricades.  The parade route is from William to State to Liberty, to Main and back to William.  The parade starts at 10 am.

If you need fireworks to feel patriotic, don’t spend your own money – go to the Hudson Mills Fireworks display on June 29th from 7 – 11, or go to Whitmore Lake on the 29th.  Both displays are expected to happen at 10 pm.
You can wait until the 3rd of July, and go to the Manchester Fireworks Display at Carr Park, too. 

There is no fireworks display in Ann Arbor, but some folks will want to host their own event.  If you are planning to fire off some rockets or set off loud booms on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, here are Ann Arbor’s rules to follow.

Development in the downtown seems to occupy a lot of our conversations.  The Citizen Participation Meetings for two different projects will be held on July 10th at the downtown Library.  From 6-7:10 is the meeting about changes to the Running Fit building (corner of Liberty and Fourth Ave.).  From 7:10 – 8:30 is the meeting about changes to the Towne Center building, next door on Fourth Ave.

Huron River Day is just around the corner – July 14th (that’s Bastille Day to some of us!).  Please come spend the day on the river.  Science projects, physical activities, and fun abound along the river.

We will ignore the Art Fair for now

What am I reading?

Game theory mixed with Jane Austen – what could be better?  Nothing, according to Michael Suk-Young Chwe, and economist and avid Austen fan.  Take a chance, and take it out of the library (when I’ve finished it, of course!).  Jane Austen, Game Theorist.
The EPA handbook on Green Streets has joined my pile of things to read as we talk about storm water.