<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Second September newsletter 2013 sec

Sabra Briere

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

Coffee wakes some of us up

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

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,

So far, October has been unusually warm – and in many ways, this is a good thing.  If you’ve been wanting to plant bulbs or take a color tour, this might be the week to do so.  Although the forecasts indicate rain for the weekend, it’s supposed to be cool and dry most of next week.

One of our neighbors wrote about deer – and the devastating affect the deer have on her garden.  Another neighbor let me know that he and his wife are removing their flower beds to install turf grass – because the deer damage their ornamental plants so severely.  My hostas, of course, have been nibbled back to stems.  (And if you are planting bulbs this fall – look into switching to daffodils, since the deer eat most of the other kinds.) 

But there’s that difficulty about what we can do.

Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend putting food out for the deer – the deer seem to find quite a bit of food nibbling on apple trees and lily bulbs.  Some Michigan communities annually cull their deer herds – allowing bow hunting in town, for instance – and use the venison as supplemental food for shelter programs.  But would this be a good idea for Ann Arbor?

Capture and relocate programs don’t work well, I’m told – and the deer herds continue to grow.  In some neighborhoods, deer and fawns are bold, like domesticated animals, and are visible in the daytime.  I took the photo (above) during the middle of the day.

When I last checked, the Humane Society had very few ideas about effective ways to limit the deer.  While I’ve moved most of my garden to plants that are either deer resistant or deer-survivors, I continue to wonder what the best solution would be.

Updates on zoning

Over the past few weeks I’ve continued to work with residents on zoning evaluations. 

Reconsidering multi-family housing near downtown

The R4C Citizen Advisory Committee has completed its work and is preparing a report for the Planning Commission.  That document is still in draft, but there are a couple of important recommendations that might interest you. 

First, the Advisory Committee recommends setting a firm maximum lot size for any lots that result from ‘lot combinations’.  The goal of this recommendation isn’t to make big lots an issue, but to reduce the opportunity to combine lots near downtown to create ‘super lots’ that can hold massive apartment buildings.
Second, the Advisory Committee is supportive of developing character overlay districts that can be used to further refine R4C zoning to reflect local neighborhoods.  But it doesn’t support the option of creating a ‘group housing’ overlay district that would create a (potentially large) area where fraternities, sororities and co-operative housing could be encouraged. 

The recommendations from the R4C Citizen Advisory Committee will be presented to the Planning Commission; when the recommendations are complete, I will share them.

Reconsidering downtown zoning

The City Council approved a resolution last April that charged the Planning Commission with taking another look at zoning in the downtown.  The specific requests included looking at three discrete areas (Ann Street next to City Hall, a parking lot; East Huron between Division and State; the east side of South Main between William and Packard).  The other request was that Planning Commission review the ‘premiums’ that allow taller and denser building in the downtown.

The Planning Commission hired a local consulting firm.  The consultants held a series of small and large meetings, open and targeted.  That review process is highlighted here.  The draft report is now available – and I hope you will consider looking at it.

Significant recommendations include: no premiums at all unless the proposed structure complies with the design guidelines; change the zoning on the Ann Street parcel (and potentially, on Ann Street); set a different height limit (lower) for the block on East Huron between Division and State; and decrease the allowable height on S. Main.

The section of the report that includes the community feedback is interesting – at least, to me.

Please note: this report will be discussed at the Planning Commission meeting on October 8th at 7 pm in the First Floor (South) meeting room at City Hall.

Neighborhood updates

Residents living along Pontiac Trail and DhuVarren Road have been concerned about the intersection of DhuVarren and Nixon roads for years.  A recent proposal to build still more housing out Nixon Road triggered some significant responses – almost all of which were about the intersection and pedestrian safety, rather than about the housing itself.

The City will host a public meeting on Wednesday, October 9th at 6:30 in the Clague Media Center.  This meeting is “to gather feedback on the DhuVarren/Nixon/Green intersection.”  If this area concerns you in any way, I hope to see you there.

Residents living on Northside tried – in 2009 – to petition for traffic calming; the street finally qualified in 2012.  But – and this is the problem – in 2010 the City stopped accepting petitions for traffic calming and Council approved the cost-saving measure of only having one traffic calming project per year.  Now that the City is again accepting new petitions, the Council needs to re-establish a budget for traffic calming projects.  This item is on the agenda for Monday, October 7th.

The City didn’t plan effectively for the popularity of the Argo Cascades.  Although the City rented parking in an adjacent parking lot, it wasn’t sufficient.  This year, cars parked haphazardly along Longshore – often blocking the fire lane – and tried to park in or across residents’ driveways.  This problem led to the Parks staff to recommend allowing parking in Longshore Park – a decision that didn’t need Council approval.
Residents living in the neighborhood near Beckley Park, Longshore Park and Argo Park were clear that using Longshore for overflow parking was a very bad idea.  Such parking occurred on one weekend, only (Labor Day), but that was clearly one too many.

The City has tentatively set a date for a neighborhood meeting: November 21.  At this meeting (time and place remain to be fixed) the Parks staff want to present various options and receive feedback.  Please pencil in this meeting on November 21.

No date has yet been set, but sometime in November the City will host a meeting about the proposed sidewalk along Newport Road between Riverwood and Wines elementary school.  This month the City staff are meeting with property owners along this stretch of the road to try to finalize a design that meets the expectations of those property owners – and that is safe.  I also understand that there is a need to completely redesign a storm water drain; projects in areas like this, without flat shoulders, require quite a bit of engineering.  The Council approved the preliminary work last year; construction should take place in 2014.

Sometimes there’s good news about development.  Adjacent to Traverwood Library, Stapp Nature Area and Leslie Golf Course is a parcel that’s zoned for multi-family housing.  The owners of this parcel – which local residents have used as part of their running/walking/biking trail through the parks – intend to build apartments here, but have decided to donate the high-quality woodland section to the City Parks.  The Park Advisory Commission and the City Council must agree to this donation.  In the meantime, the proposed development is on hold while boundaries are determined.

On the Agenda

Public Hearings


The Council will hold a pair of public hearings to consider revising the PUD (Planned Unit Development) zoning of a parcel on the corner of Eisenhower and Ann Arbor/Saline Road.  The proposed rezoning allows a drive-in window for Tim Horton’s; this property was initially zoned PUD in 1995 (as a gas station/convenience store) and amended as a PUD (for Tim Horton’s) in 2012.  If Council approves the rezoning, it will then consider a revised site plan.


The Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed site plan for Bell Tire, on Ellsworth at State.
The Council will also hold a public hearing on the petition to annex a parcel – from Scio Township – on West Miller.  This parcel currently holds a single-family house; that use would continue after annexation.  Rezoning the parcel – to R1B – would occur only if the property is annexed.

Consent Agenda

The Consent Agenda generally contains items that the staff believes will be non-controversial.  I highlight two that interest me.

The Wheeler Center, adjacent to the (now closed) landfill, the Materials Recycling Facility and the Drop-Off Center, used to be a farm.  On the Consent Agenda is a resolution to pay for the demolition of several buildings, including a farmhouse and some barns.

The City has been considering a process to improve the way the City functions as an organization.  On the consent Agenda is a resolution to approve a contract to help provide “. . . facilitation and consulting services to help design and develop a comprehensive organizational strategic plan.  The consultant will assist the team with strategies and tactics to improve employee engagement, improve organizational alignment with the City's mission statement, and foster a cohesive organizational culture.”


In addition to the public hearings (above) the Council will consider several ordinances at First Reading.
In 2010, as the City was finishing up the planned sidewalk maintenance program (you remember this – the City made us pay to fix our sidewalks individually), some of our neighborhood residents were affected by an unanticipated problem.  Pedestrian walkways, built by the developer of their subdivisions and intended to be considered public paths, needed repair; the City decided that adjacent home owners (some places four individual homes flanked the walks, sometimes two) were financially responsible for fixing these walks.
Residents all over our community – including some on Cloverdale and Manor – were affected by this decision.  We spent over a year trying to get the City to accept that it is responsible for the repair of these walks.  Passage of the sidewalk millage in 2011 seemed to resolve the issue – until a few months ago, when staff recommended that the City accept these walks as ‘sidewalks’ and that adjacent neighbors would be responsible for winter snow removal and summer grass mowing.

Council members did not agree with the staff recommendation.  After a series of public and private meetings, the ordinance has been further refined.  If this ordinance is approved, the City will maintain the crosslot sidewalks – and adjacent property owners will not be responsible for winter or summer maintenance.
Also at this meeting, the Council will consider accepting 34 crosslot sidewalks for public use.

On July 1, the Council authorized issuing ‘re-funding’ (that is, funding again) bonds for the sewage disposal system.  The interest rate savings were anticipated at above 5%; interest rates have dropped, but not below the minimum 3% established in the City’s policies.  If these bonds are re-funded, the City will see savings of about $900,000 in expenditures.  The revised ordinance – which needs 8 votes to pass – would allow the issuance of these re-funding bonds at a lesser interest rate than 5%.


The Council will decide whether to increase the budget for traffic calming projects.  The resolution requests that the FY2014 budget be increased to allow for three (3) projects in three different wards.  At this time, there are 5 projects on the waiting list; making this change would allow three of them to be completed in 2014.  The resolution also requests that the City Administrator adjust the FY2015 budget in order to allow a further three to be completed in FY2015.  Council member Kailasapathy and I met with residents on Northside to discuss their need for traffic calming measures; speeding on Northside remains an issue.  The resolution is co-sponsored by Council members Kailasapathy, Lumm and Taylor; I drafted it.

At the last Council meeting, the Council (narrowly) approved confirmation of an appointment to the DDA board.  Since that meeting, questions have arisen in our community about whether the process that was followed was correctly done, and whether the appointment was legally confirmed.  The Council has received an advice memo from the City Attorney about the process; while advice memos are not the same as opinions, Council member Warpehoski and I agreed that the City Attorney ought to provide a written document for the public that includes the message in that advice memo.  We have placed a resolution on the agenda that waives attorney-client privilege and requires the City Attorney to prepare such a document and file it with the City Clerk.

Reports and communications

At the last Council meeting, the Council approved changes to the Council rules.  These changes include moving nominations and appointments to the beginning – rather than the end – of each meeting.  The Council meeting on Monday, October 7th is the first meeting where this change will be experienced.  The Council will decide whether to confirm these nominations made at the September 17 meeting; nominations for the October 7th meeting have not yet been released.

You might be interested in this report on street closures for football games.  The Council voted to approve such street closures in reaction to the statements from the Police Chief, the National Security Administration and the UM.


Of course, to me each item on the agenda is interesting.  I’ve tried to highlight those I think might interest you but the agenda always contains things I didn’t highlight.  For a complete look at the agenda and the included communications and reports, click here.

I’m also keeping track of the City Council’s priorities on each agenda.  By my count, this agenda includes 2 action items – 14 administrative acts, 8 infrastructure changes, 1 that address public safety needs, 0 investments in economic development and 0 that relate to affordable housing. 

On the Calendar

Tuesday, October 8th, Planning Commission will hold a working session that will focus on the recommendations for D1/D2 zoning in the downtown.  The report for Planning Commission is available; the meeting – at 7 pm – will be held in the First Floor (South) meeting room in City Hall.

Wednesday, October 9th the City will host a public meeting regarding the DhuVarren/Green/Nixon intersection.  Please come to the Clague Media Center at 6:30 pm.

The Council established a joint Council/DDA committee to discuss a compromise that affects DDA funding and satisfies all parties.  That committee will meet next on October 16th at 4 pm in the second floor Council workroom at City Hall.

On the Horizon

If planning and zoning interest you, please consider signing up for notifications from the City about new project proposals and changes to City ordinances.  You can do that here.

What am I reading?

Prompted by a recent set of talks I attended and the crosswalk issues on Plymouth Road, I’m re-reading Walkable City by Jeff Speck and Traffic: why we drive the way we do by Tom Vanderbilt.

Two of the talks were by Jeff Speck – and although I already own an electric copy of Walkable City, I bought a hardback copy.  Since I was at a meeting of municipal planners and planning commissioners, I showed that book to a member of the City’s planning staff – and it was immediately loaned out.  Someday, I’ll get the book back, and will be able to offer it to you.  Meanwhile, Traffic is in the Ann Arbor District Library.  Or it will be, when I’m done with it.