<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> First June 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 thought that getting through the budget was a sufficiently challenging task, and took a few days off to visit our son.  That put me out of phone contact, but not email.  And it put me in a better frame of mind.  There’s nothing like walking in a redwood forest to put things into perspective.
While I was gone, unfortunately, Michigan grew.  It grew warm, it grew cold, it grew warm again – and it grew wet.  I have tall grass where I should have garden plants, and each day since we came back I’ve been trying to pull more weeds – in between rain showers.

The no-grass lawn I put in last year survived the drought and the winter – although I have to weed it, just as if it were a flower bed.  The peonies, iris and roses are all coming into bloom at the same time.  Down the street, my neighbor’s garden is aglow with double orange poppies, and the honeysuckle really is blooming on the honeysuckle vine.
Welcome to June!

On the Agenda

The agenda consists of several items, taken in turn.  First on the agenda is the Consent Agenda, followed by Ordinances Second Reading, Ordinances First Reading, Resolutions by Council, Resolutions by Boards and Commissions, Resolutions by Staff, and Nominations and Appointments.

On the consent agenda:

I don’t always highlight items on the consent agenda, but want to point out the agreement to establish the 2013 Rain Garden Program: This agreement would result in a Rain Garden Assistance Program for the community, funded by the City and the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commission.  The program includes both assisting landowners with the installation of their own rain gardens, and a Master Rain Gardener Certification Program which will train and support individuals to design and install rain gardens.

Rain gardens installed upstream in the headwaters of a watershed are a very effective "best management practice" for stormwater management.  They capture runoff from surfaces such as roofs and driveways and allow it to gradually enter into the ground and be used by plants rather than having it all drain into the City's storm sewer system and move directly to the river. The City's Stormwater Utility encourages residents to install rain gardens on their property to obtain a credit in their utility fee.

Public Hearings and Ordinances, Second Reading

There are two public hearings on rezoning.  The first is to rezone a parcel of land along Huron Parkway from R3 (townhouse) to R1 (single family).  The Planning Commission did not recommend this rezoning; with six members present, the vote was 5-1.  It takes six votes to recommend approval.  One of the major discussion points for this project was that the zoning request is in conflict with the master plan (which calls for multi-family housing on this site).  The second rezoning concerns South State Street.  The Council will decide whether to approve a change from O (office) to C3 (fringe commercial) for a parcel that is adjacent to other parcels zoned C3.  This request is in conformance with the master plan and the draft State Street Corridor Plan.

The Council will consider whether to alter the mechanism for assessing ‘improvement charges’ – those costs associated with building new houses on previously vacant land (that is, land without utilities).  The result of the proposed changes decreases the cost to a property owner to build within the City limits.  Council member Kailasapathy and I co-sponsor this amendment.

Last November voters rejected a millage to fund the selection, acquisition, installation and maintenance of art in public places.  The Council, in response, established a task force to see what other changes could be recommended to the Public Art Ordinance.  The original language of that ordinance dealt primarily with the use of a budget based on one percent of many capital improvement projects.  The Council task force, working with staff and listening to those members of the public who came to meetings, wrote to members of Council, or responded to a survey (now closed).  The final survey report is interesting, although only 42 members of the public participated.  The public hearing on this ordinance could be interesting; there are many changes to the way the City would fund – and make decisions about – public art.  Task Force members are Council members Petersen (2nd Ward), Taylor, Kunselman (both 3rd Ward), Teall (4th Ward) and myself.

Related to this ordinance are two resolutions to amend the budget to remove the pooled dollars for public art.  The task force recommended retaining the pooled dollars from previous years to provide some bridge funding while eliminating all future percent for art allocation; Council members Kailasapathy and Lumm offer a resolution that would return the pooled funds to their various source funds completely, and eliminate that bridge funding.  Because the ordinance has not yet been amended to allow the return of any funds, the task force resolution is not yet on the agenda.  Either resolution, if passed, would require 8 votes to amend the budget.

Ordinances, First Reading

On the agenda is an amendment to the ordinance governing sidewalks.  This amendment would alter the definition of ‘sidewalk’ to include off-road shared paths.

Not on the agenda yet is an amendment to the ordinance governing fireworks.  Last year the State of Michigan altered its fireworks law and made the use an expanded range of consumer fireworks legal – on the day before, the day of, and the day after a national holiday.  The 4th of July last year was loud.  Many residents complained to me about firework debris left in their yards, fireworks set off in the middle of the street, and the overall lack of control by local police.  Many all over the state also complained to their State legislators.  On Wednesday, May 29th, the State House approved a bill that would return some authority to limit the hours for legal consumer fireworks to between 8 am and midnight.  Staff worked with me to draft an ordinance amendment so that the first reading could be June 3 and the second reading be June 17.  If the State Senate and the Governor approve the bill as expected, it will become law prior to July 4 this year.

Resolutions from Council

In a continued effort to find funds to hire more police officers, the Council will consider a resolution to request that the DDA provide funds to the City to hire three (3) police officers.  While this resolution does not completely reflect the stated strategies and action items in the draft work plan for safety services, it does reflect a voiced concern that the staffing for police is insufficient.  However, because it’s a request to the DDA for this funding, it’s not a budget item and does not have immediate budget implications – for either the DDA or the City – at this time.  It could be some time before the DDA acts on the request, if it does at all.  Here’s a column in The Chronicle on the resolution and the City Council’s budget discussions.

Ypsilanti has requested to join AATA as a voting member.  On the agenda is a resolution to alter the AATA Articles of Incorporation to allow Ypsilanti a seat at the table.  The amendment would add two voting members to the AATA Board (2, because odd numbers are generally better for voting purposes; only 1 seat would be held by someone nominated and approved by the Ypsilanti City Council).  I have co-sponsored this resolution.

Resolutions from Boards and Commissions

The non-motorized plan has been the topic of several recent discussions in our neighborhood.  On the agenda is a resolution to distribute that plan for review to other, adjacent jurisdictions.

The Housing Commission

There are five (5) resolutions on the agenda that address Housing Commission issues.  One of the priorities identified by the Council at the December retreat was ‘affordable housing’.  The City owns 20 separate public housing sites, plus five (5) vacant parcels that could be used for public housing – and one property that is ‘lease to own’.  Although the Housing Commission receives Federal funding (through Housing and Urban Development) to manage public housing, the funds are not sufficient to maintain existing properties, much less expand the number of available units.  Three years ago the City commissioned Schumacher & Company to assess the condition of the City’s public housing, and identify the funding needed to bring that condition up to par.  The resulting report indicated that the City’s public housing stock needed over $40 million to respond to years of deferred maintenance.  There were also many operational improvements suggested.

To that end, the Housing Commission has been trying to find solutions – and those solutions require significant investments by the City.  While all of this could have been part of the budget discussions over the past several months, the Commission only recently heard from HUD about whether the changes they propose will be approved.

The first change is to transfer ownership of the parcels from the City to the Housing Commission (for a nominal $1.00 per parcel cost).  The proposal to convert the public housing to Rental Assistance Demonstration housing (RAD) is included in this resolution, although the resolution does not require the Council to take action toward the conversion at this time.  The National Low-Income Housing Coalition has also prepared a paper on this conversion.  This resolution would require 8 votes.

Next is a bit of housekeeping.  The Council will consider guaranteeing that the current Housing Commission employee slots remain, and that the folks in those slots continue as employees of the City of Ann Arbor.
The third resolution allows for PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) for specific properties that would be converted to RAD housing – on conversion, these properties could lose their tax-exempt status.

The Council will also consider whether to allocate $200,000 from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to rehabilitate two properties in preparation for RAD conversion.  This allocation was approved by the Housing and Human Services Administration Board (HHSAB), as required by Council resolution.

The final resolution would allocate $124,000 from the General Fund fund balance, and commit a further $461,000 from the fund balance in order to cover the costs of the RAD conversion.  This resolution would require 8 votes.  If I read the resolution correctly (and I hope I do, as Council member Teall and I are co-sponsors), approving this expenditure implies ongoing Council approval of the RAD conversion.

Communications from Boards and Commissions

The Human Rights Commission had advised Council that the Non-Discrimination Ordinance should be revised, and offered an update on this process. 


As always, there are other items on the agenda – including contracts for continuing work on West Madison’s street reconstruction project, and to install a new roof over Mack Pool.  While I’ve linked to a lot of supporting documents, you can find the entire agenda and discussion materials on line.


On Sunday, June 2nd, the Allen Creek Greenway Consortium will host the Greenway Picnic at the corner of William and First.  Also on Sunday, June 2nd, Main Street will be closed for the Taste of Ann Arbor, which follows the Dexter/Ann Arbor Run.
The annual Historic Preservation Awards will be given to local residents and businesses on Monday, June 3 at the City Council meeting.  A reception for recipients of these awards will follow at a private residence on Division.

The Planning Commission will meet at 7 pm on Tuesday, June 4th at 7:00 pm in City Council Chambers.  At that meeting, the Commission will discuss the proposed work program for FY14.  Included in this work program: finishing the R2A/R4C zoning study recommendations, the Zoning Reorganization (ZoRo), and the review of D1/D2 zoning.

The City will hold a public meeting on Thursday, June 6th at 7 pm at Northside Elementary School to discuss the plans for reconstructing Pontiac Trail from Skydale to the M14/US23 bridge.  This discussion should address road surface condition, bike lanes, pedestrian safety and lighting issues along this stretch.  Work on the reconstruction is planned for summer, 2014.

The Public Art Commission will hold a public meeting in Council Chambers from 2 pm to 6 pm on Friday, June 7th for presentations from artists who would like to be commissioned to provide the art for the Stadium Bridge areas.

Many streets will be closed for a variety of times during the Ann Arbor Marathon on June 9th.  Please note the maps and street closings.

On Wednesday, June 12, the North Main Huron River Vision Task Force will host its second public meeting on the Task Force findings – this one, to present draft recommendations based, in part, on the feedback the task force received through the survey on Open City Hall (now closed) and on the audience responses at the first public meeting, May 22nd.  Your engagement at this meeting will help the task force provide the best possible recommendations to City Council.  Please come to the Ann Arbor Community Center at 6:30 pm.

What am I reading?

I took some time to relax and read non-Council related materials – some mysteries, some science fiction.  But I also took along some less mindless materials.  I continue to offer to lend Walkable City, Visualizing Density and Made for Walking: Density and Neighborhood Form.