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

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. But when there's a holiday - like Labor Day - on Monday, I wait until Tuesday to hold office hours.

So, I hope to see you on Tuesday morning.

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,

Although the heat was oppressive this week, we all know that the seasons have turned.  UM students are back in town, and both UM and public school students begin classes next week.  I’ll never figure out why football games start before school does – but then, I won’t try too hard.

I purchased a peck of peaches at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday – ripe and ready to eat.  So ready, that in the few minutes I left them outside, some other creature decided to sample them.  We lost five peaches to small mammal teeth – but I guess they have to eat, too.  I’ll be making peach pie with the whole ones remaining.  Somehow, peach pie seems like the best thing to bring to a Labor Day picnic.

Developing Ann Arbor

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the review of zoning for downtown.  The City hired a consultant to help organize a public process, and the Planning Commission will be making recommendations about the use of premiums in the downtown, and whether three specific areas are zoned D1 – or should be zoned D2 or something else.

Do you hate all this talk about FAR and Premiums and D1?  Do you wish you understood where such ideas come from, and how they are expected to work?
If you have 60 minutes, I’ll walk you through the basics.  Since these things are all about working in three dimensions with a number of variables, I’ll let you see just what 400 FAR means, or 300 FAR in premiums, or 180 feet.  And ask you to build your own building for D1.
Join me – and a bunch of Lego blocks – to apply the principles of zoning.  Because this is hands-on as well as discussion, only small group activities will work.  I will set up groups of 5 or 6 – but as many groups as are interested.
Meeting dates: Thursday, September 12 (I know it’s Rosh Hashanah, but not everyone observes); Saturday, September 14, Wednesday, September 18, all at 7 pm.  Location to be announced.  Click here to get on the list.

10 story building built using 400 FAR


Plumbing problems

This is the press release about the waste water overflow at the Arboretum.

On Thursday late afternoon, Aug. 29, 2013, a sewer odor and some gray pooled water in the Nichols Arboretum was reported to the City of Ann Arbor.  Upon immediate investigation, it was determined that a sanitary sewer was clogged, and discharging grey water to the ground surface, flowing overland, ultimately entering the Huron River.

At approximately 5:45 p.m., Ann Arbor field crews began jetting the line from the downstream manhole from the flow. Within a few minutes, a blockage was relieved, and the water stopped flowing to the surface. Tree roots have been identified as the cause, as the line is quite shallow, and traverses woods.

The city has applied a surface application of lime to kill any remaining bacteria. This lime product appears as a white, powdery substance.

Because the sewage reached the Huron River, the City of Arbor took the immediate precaution of closing canoe livery trips in the vicinity, from Argo to Gallup, on Thursday and through Friday. Any body contact is not recommended for at least 24 hours after a known release of raw sewage to waterways. 

The City of Ann Arbor has completed testing and will evaluate water quality samples over the next 24 hours for presence of harmful bacteria in the Huron River. [Argo Canoe Livery allowed canoe rentals for trips to Gallup on Saturday, August 31st.]
In accordance with regulatory protocols, the City of Ann Arbor contacted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to inform them of this incident. Field staff is commended for immediate reaction and resolution of the incident.

Updates from the neighborhoods

Street maintenance on Barton Drive

The last couple of weeks have been very uncomfortable for some of our neighbors living on and near Barton Drive.  The resurfacing of Barton required closing Barton (between Pontiac Trail and Plymouth Road) to two-way traffic.  Traffic coming into town was able to use Barton – although travel was frequently delayed by construction.  Traffic going out of town on Barton was required to be routed around to Pontiac Trail.  Because the intersection has been closed from time to time with construction, many non-local drivers used local, neighborhood streets to get around the construction area.
The construction blockage will be lifted on September 3rd for the school week; construction resumes on September 8th.  The City hopes to have the entire project completed by September 10th – weather cooperating.
No one is happy about the traffic on Chandler or Northside.  Several folks are wondering whether there’s some traffic calming measure – similar to that on Starwick – that could be implemented as soon as the construction season is over.
I’ve added this issue to the Barton sidewalk issue as a topic to discuss at the upcoming neighborhood meeting.  (I don’t have a date for that meeting yet, but will let folks know as soon as I hear.)

Parking for Argo Park

Council member Kailasapathy and I met with Parks staff on July 26th.  At that meeting, parks staff described the parking impact due to the popularity of Argo Cascades.  We discussed the people whose cars have been towed because they parked illegally; the people who tried to park on Longshore Park, the significant impact on adjacent streets, and possible long-term solutions, including satellite parking.  An interim solution was to allow parking on a portion of Longshore Park; Council member Kailasapathy and I both told the staff that we would like this solution to be for this fall, only.  The staff will review the impact to the neighborhood and Longshore Park.
I met Friday, August 30th with neighbors to discuss what other options should be considered for a long-term solution to the parking problem.  On Saturday, August 31st, I met informally with neighbors to discuss the impact of parking – and of the parking solution, with Cheryl Saam, the livery supervisor.  These neighbors are not satisfied with the interim solution, and believe there must be a better idea.  I agree.
I’ll be meeting with Parks staff again this week to discuss holding a community meeting on the parking situation, discussing both short term and long term options, and seeing how any changes in parking and facilities could improve the North Main corridor.

The North Main Huron River Vision Task Force

The task force expected to make its written report to Council at the end of July; it has been delayed.  The report should be available on this page by Wednesday, September 4th.  Council members expect to get a copy of the report in their hands on Tuesday, September 3rd.
This report includes a lot of community input and several ideas about ways to get pedestrians, bike riders and drivers to the river.  There are no ideal solutions.  The Council should discuss the plan on Monday, September 16th.

Upcoming street maintenance and construction

The final decisions about which streets will be resurfaced in 2014 won’t be made until next spring.  Each year City staff inspect the streets and make a list of areas that need resurfacing.  Sometimes a resurfacing project becomes larger, as other infrastructure problems surface.  (Glen, for instance, was slated for resurfacing in 2011 until the City discovered a deteriorating water main which then broke.  The City rebuilt the infrastructure under the street.)
Next year, the City plans to resurface Dhu Varren (between Nixon and the railroad tracks) and reconstruct Pontiac Trail (between Skydale and M14).  The resurfacing will have to be coordinated with the reconstruction – and could be delayed, if some other streets deteriorate more rapidly than Dhu Varren.  The resurfacing for Depot, scheduled for this year, has been delayed at least one more year (until 2014) while the City looks at infrastructure issues that will impact the work.

Wheeler Park restoration

A series of water events – broken mains coupled with flooding from heavy rains – damaged the basketball court and the gardens at Wheeler Park.  Now that all the repairs to the water mains have been made, the City’s Parks and Natural Area Preservation staff will work with neighbors to restore the gardens, improve the turf and repair or rebuild the basketball court.  The work on the basketball court is scheduled for early next summer, but the restoration of the gardens and turf can be done this year.

On the Agenda




The Council will hold a public hearing, and later in the meeting consider approval of a Planned Project for a proposed hotel on Jackson Road.  The Planning Commission held up this petition until the site had been redesigned to meet future pedestrian needs, but approved it in July.

Ordinances, Second Reading

The Council held a public hearing on the proposed revisions to the DDA ordinance in April, but postponed further discussion until the first meeting in September in order to allow staff time to work with members of Council and the DDA in order to bring a final draft of the amendment to the floor.  At the Council meeting on July 1, a committee of Council members (Kunselman, Taylor, Lumm, Petersen) was appointed to work with staff and the DDA to bring those changes to Council.  That committee met for the first time on August 26th.
I do not know whether any changes will be proposed to the DDA ordinance on September 3rd.

Ordinances, First Reading

At First Reading, the Council will consider the request to revise the PUD (Planned Unit Development) plan for a parcel on the corner of Ellsworth and State Street.


From Council

The dioxane plume

The Council will consider a resolution urging the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to set new criteria for cleanup of the 1,4 dioxane plume that is slowly moving through the west side of Ann Arbor (roughly following Jackson / Huron).  This is an ongoing concern – and it’s been going on for more than 20 years.  A recent conversation with City staff resulted in this resolution.

City residents have been concerned about the 1,4 dioxane plume since 1,4 dioxane was first found in the Sister Lakes.  Before I was elected to Council, the City was unsuccessful in its efforts to be considered an ‘interested party’ in a lawsuit brought by the Michigan Attorney General.  A series of Council resolutions – between 1996 and 2006 – culminated in the creation of Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD).  The most recent map (2013) of the plume estimates its current location; other maps are available at the links below.

Because the City was not considered an ‘interested party’ by the court, advice from City staff has been that the City’s hands were tied.  That changed when the initial MDEQ deadline to address the EPAs cancer slope factor for 1,4 dioxane was extended to December, 2013 – and it seemed inevitable that the deadline would be missed, as the necessary steps have not been completed. 

(The term ‘cancer slope factor’ refers to estimates of the risk of cancer associated with exposure to a carcinogenic or potentially carcinogenic substance.  A slope factor is an upper bound, approximating a 95% confidence limit, on the increased cancer risk from a lifetime exposure to an agent by ingestion or inhalation.  This estimate is usually expressed in units of proportion of a population.  The EPAs revised cancer slope factor for 1,4 dioxane has changed from 85 parts per billion (below this would not need to be treated) to 3.5 parts per billion.  These two numbers reflect the expectation that 1 in 100,000 people would develop cancer from this level of long-term exposure.)

Council member Warpehoski and I are co-sponsoring this resolution.  As is true of every ordinance and resolution, other members of Council may join in co-sponsorship.

To read more about the history of the 1,4 dioxane plume, here’s an article in The Chronicle from April, 2011.  Today’s AnnArbor.com has another article with background information, too.
1,4 dioxane is just one of the chemical compounds that have been reviewed by the EPA and a new cancer slope Washtenaw County’s Environmental Health department maintains a web page on 1,4 dioxane, the history of the cleanup, and recent petitions and court cases.  Scio Residents for Safe Water (SRSW) also maintain a history of the remediation efforts and a series of maps of the plume.
defined.  Here are the current cleanup standards in Michigan (lots here, so scroll down).  And here’s a rather dense scientific paper from the EPA defining the new standards and the rationale behind those standards.

Council Rules

At the July 15th Council meeting, the Council voted to postpone making changes to the rules until the September 3rd, 2013 meeting.  This item will be on the agenda.

Significant changes affecting Council members still on the table include limiting the length of time a member of Council may speak (three minutes for the first turn, two minutes for the second turn) and requiring that those members who are using personal electronic devices – for personal reasons – remove themselves from the Council table.

Another significant change will be to allow public comment at work sessions, and to allow increased discussion during those work sessions.

From Boards and Commissions

The Energy Commission has recommended two policy changes.  The Commission requests that the Employees’ Retirement System divest (rather than invest) from the top 200 traded fossil fuel companies.  The Commission also recommends that the Council approve a pilot Community Solar project. Community Solar is an emerging practice allowing a group of people or businesses to purchase shares in a renewable energy system not located at the site of their electric meter. The participants receive a share of the value of the energy produced from the off-site renewable energy system as if the system were located at their home or business.  This resolution would direct City staff to work with DTE to develop a pilot Community Solar program that will result in an opportunity for private individuals and organizations to invest in Community Solar.  It also encourages the Michigan Legislature to pass legislation that allows Community Solar – not as a pilot project, but as part of public electric utilities mandated role.

From staff

The Greenbelt Millage provides funding for the purchase of new public land in the City – for parks purposes – as well as the purchase of land or development rights outside the City limits.  On the agenda are resolutions to acquire development rights in Webster Township ($82,067) and to help fund the purchase of land  in Ann Arbor Township ($32,200).

The Webster Township property is a 20-acre site located on Zeeb Road.  Itis adjacent to active farmland and to additional farmland that has been protected by the Greenbelt Program and Webster Township.  The property is in one of the areas designated by the Greenbelt Advisory Commission as a priority for farmland preservation in their Strategic Plan.

The Greenbelt commissioned an appraisal that was completed in March 2013.  The Fair Market Value for the Purchase of Development Rights was determined to be $54,000.00.  The Greenbelt Advisory Commission recommended moving forward with the purchase of development rights at its May 2, 2013 meeting, if 20% ($10,800.00) of the Fair Market Value was secured in matching funds.  The landowners are willing to make a donation of $6,500.00 toward the purchase price and Webster Township is contributing $2,000.00 toward the purchase price.  The Greenbelt program has received donations from Cherry Republic for farmland preservation. A portion of those contributions ($2,300.00) will be used to reach the 20% match requested by the Greenbelt Advisory Commission.
City Contribution:
Purchase Price = $43,200.00
Est. Due Diligence = $10,000.00
Est. Closing Costs = $  5,000.00
Endowment = $23,867.00
Total =  $82,067.00

The properties in Ann Arbor Township, currently owned by DF Land Development LLC, are appraised at $322,000; the portion the City will fund represents 10% of the appraised value.    
The two parcels of land - one 12-acre parcel and one 5-acre parcel - are currently vacant land.  The 12-acre parcel is adjacent to the Goodrich Preserve, owned by Washtenaw County Parks.  Both properties are located in a block of additional open space properties owned and managed by the County, the University of Michigan and the City of Ann Arbor. 

In addition to purchasing the 2 parcels noted in the location map, Washtenaw County Parks is also purchasing the 54-acre parcel, immediately to the west of Marshall Park (owned by the City of Ann Arbor), with grant funds from the Michigan Trust Fund.  The 5-acre parcel will provide connectivity from Marshall Park to Horner McLaughlin Woods, owned by University of Michigan and subsequently to the Goodrich Preserve. Collectively, these properties consist of more than 300 acres of contiguous, publicly accessible land.


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 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 14 action items – and none of them relate to significant infrastructure improvements, address public safety needs, provide obvious opportunities for economic development or reflect the commitment to affordable housing. 

Errors and Omissions

I write this newsletter by myself, although I have others read it to catch typos and grammatical errors.  But errors of fact – those times I don’t remember something, or don’t remember it correctly – those are my fault.  Things that I don’t mention – those events or meetings or surveys – may not seem significant to me, but could be valuable to you.  And those things that I'm working on, but haven't yet finished?  I'll try to keep those ideas fresh in this space.  I apologize for all errors in advance, and will list my (known) mistakes and pending projects here.

I haven't been able to provide an updated schedule for meetings on sidewalk gap projects for Barton and Newport roads.  I have added traffic calming concerns (for Chandler and Northside) to the agenda for the Barton neighborhood discussion - but I don't know when that will take place.
I should have provided a strong warning to residents living near Argo Pond that the City planned to use Longshore Park for temporary, overflow parking.  
I'll try not to let things slip through my fingers in the future.

On the Calendar

Argo Pond livery will be open seven (7) days a week this fall, but Gallup will only be open on weekends.  This schedule accommodates construction at the entrance to Gallup that will improve the service drive and pedestrian paths.

The 2013 Dog Swim is scheduled for Wednesday, September 4th at Buhr Pool.  And since we’re going to the dogs, there will be a Dog Park Community Meeting at Cobblestone Farm at 7 pm on Wednesday, September 11th.

Don't forget to come to the River Hop on Saturday, September 8th.

The R4C/R2A zoning committee will hold its third meeting on R4C zoning recommendation on Wednesday, September 11th at 7 pm.

On Saturday, September 14th at 12 noon, the City will hold an auction for used kayaks and canoes.  Come to Argo Canoe Livery to participate (and watch where you park, please!).

Sunday, September 15th, the Ann Arbor Commission on Disability Issues will host the dedication of the Ann Arbor Sensory Garden at Liberty Plaza.  Events begin at 1 pm.


On the Horizon

The Council requested that the Planning Commission provide recommendations for any changes to D1 zoning by October 1st.  The Planning Commission Ordinance Revisions Committee, working with a consultant, will hold additional public input opportunities in September, on dates yet to be determined.

What am I reading?

Summer's end means more opportunities to dig into my reading.  But for the past two weeks, much of what I've been paying attention to is - well - deeply scientific research on the effects of 1,4 dioxane.  I'm not going to offer any more links to that research.

I continue to think about urban design in many ways.  The current (figurative) pile of books still holds City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban FormBiophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Rethinking a Lot: the design and culture of parking.