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Caucus

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. 

The Caucus starts at 7 pm.

Scilla siberica in full glory

April 18, 2015


Dear neighbors,

It has been an outstanding week, with warm weather exceeding my expectations.  My early daffodils are in full bloom, the single bloodroot has opened (still waiting for the later bloom on the double bloodroot), and both Virginia bluebells and Lenten lilies are open.  For that matter, so is the Nanking cherry bush (let me know if you want a piece of this fruit-bearing bush).

Updates

 

Deer Management

I attended the third deer management project public meeting on April 16th.  The City staff presented a basic outline of information and the general recommendations.  (The recommendations are only general because the specific details have yet to be determined.) 

I wrote up my own synopsis of what I have learned by going through the deer management discussions and listening to residents.  You may read that on my blog, here.

If the City were to decide to reduce the deer population using lethal means, where, when and how remain to be discussed, although the budget impact would be $25 - $40 thousand the first year, and possibly $20 - $30 thousand every following year.  Lethal means would need to be used every year until the City was satisfied that the right number of deer had been determined, and then a smaller number of deer would need to be removed in order for that acceptable number to become stabilized.

The City could decide that non-lethal means would be as effective or would produce a more desirable outcome.  Non-lethal means include restrictions (and penalties) for feeding the deer, helping property owners to plant less-desirable garden plants, so the deer would not find private yards as attractive, and possibly the construction of deer (and people) exclosures in natural areas to protect the more ‘tasty’ plants, such as willow, hardwood and evergreen saplings, trillium, and prairie nesting plants.

A hybrid plan would include both – education on ways to make our yards less attractive to deer, exclosures in natural areas, and lethal means to quickly reduce deer population. 

One thing that you may not understand – the City will not be authorizing a hunt in your neighborhood.  It might in a nearby, publicly owned nature area.  And it is likely that you will not see an immediate benefit from a deer hunt, as the deer killed in that nature area may not be the deer wandering across your yard.

The deer population did not grow overnight; it grew gradually until it reached a point that forced some of us to notice.  It will not decrease overnight, either.

The City Administrator’s draft budget includes $40,000 for finalizing and implementing a deer management plan in 2016, and $20,000 for implementing the plan in 2017.

Wet Weather

This isn’t really about wet weather – it is bound to come, and predicted every day it seems.  I wanted to update you on the various wet weather studies that the City is concluding.

At the most recent Council working session, the Council heard about three wet weather studies.  The report (in the link) includes all three.

Of particular note: the study is recommending that the residential Footing Drain Disconnect (FDD) program be discontinued or very limited in scope.  The program area did not extend into the First Ward, so this news may not affect you.  However, the voluntary Developer Offset Mitigation (DOM) program may affect First Ward residents – and the study recommends that this program be altered, perhaps to include a payment to the sanitary sewer system in lieu of disconnecting footing drains from the sanitary sewers.

Zoning Survey

Between today and Monday April 20th, I hope you will take the time to offer your views on downtown zoning – and the use of premiums.  Working with Open City Hall (the survey instrument) is sometimes difficult, so please bear with me.  This link will take you to the main survey page.  At the bottom of the page is a section called “Your Response” and a button named “Post” – and you must click the button to get to the actual survey questions.  Because the survey allows only one response per visitor, you must be willing to accept cookies.

I really hope you will respond to this survey.

Transportation

The City has a significantly larger amount of funding this year for street maintenance, due particularly to the County’s decision to assess a one-year millage for road repair.  This means that, for the third year in a row, there will be a lot of construction around town, a lot of detours and many people feeling annoyed and inconvenienced.

Some projects – such as the construction on Pontiac Trail – will continue from last year; others will be new projects for this year.  You can stay aware of street closures and traffic issues by visiting the City’s web page on road and lane closures.

The final traffic study report on the DhuVarren / Nixon / Green intersection was released on March 11th, followed by a staff report on March 30th.


On the Agenda            

City Council meets on Monday, April 20th; Planning Commission meets on Tuesday, April 21st.  Both meetings begin at 7 pm in City Council Chambers at City Hall.

Parks and natural areas

At the last Council meeting the Council requested that the city administrator provide a cost estimate for the temporary re-establishment of outdoor natural ice rinks in Burns, Allmendinger and Northside parks.  That response is attached here.  During the Council’s discussion of the city administrator’s budget, this item may come up as a potential addition (amendment) to the budget.  Please let me know whether you would want natural outdoor ice rinks.

The City Council will hold a public hearing, followed by a vote, on a plan to restore Thurston Pond.  This natural pond is used by the City schools for research, and – while it is natural – it has increasingly been affected by silting and urban runoff.  The plan will help restore it to a better environment.

Infrastructure

The City Council amended the proposed changes to the snow removal ordinance and then postponed action until April 20th, because the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force had not yet worked with the Disabilities Commission to perfect the language.

The comments from the Disabilities Commission may be found here

The Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force has requested that the ordinance be postponed until a meeting in June in order for the comments and advice from the Disabilities Commission be incorporated into the proposed ordinance.
Although serious blight and neglected buildings are not major components of Ann Arbor’s street scene, there remain some abandoned and neglected properties.  On the agenda is an extension of contracts with qualified demolition contractors to remove those buildings as possible.

As spring came this year, I heard from several people about their desire that the City ‘do something’ about some buildings that have been cited before for neglect.  I understand that these situations involve community safety as well as private property rights.  These contracts at least provide the means, even if the permits are delayed by the actions of owners and the court.

Development

At the March 16 Council meeting, the Council agreed to postpone voting on whether to approve the Redevelopment Readiness Communities resolution, and to hold a public hearing.  That public hearing will be held on Monday, April 20th.

Several concerns about the State’s Redevelopment Readiness Community program include the recommendations that

At the most recent Planning Commission working session, planning commissioners discussed the possible benefits to the community from becoming ‘redevelopment ready’ as well as the possible barriers.  If the resolution passes, the planning staff and Planning Commission will propose changes to ordinances that outline the role of Council in the approval process.  Preliminary thinking is that small site plans would not need to come to Council – plans that do not require Citizen Participation meetings.  Other possible plans that could be included in needing Council approval are site plans in historic districts.  The MEDC, which recommends redevelopment readiness, asserts that removing the need for two public hearings could have significant cost savings for developers.  The City planning staff noted that their expectation is the locally owned businesses would benefit from one fewer public hearing, while out of town developers, more likely to be proposing a significant project, would still need to have one public hearing in front of the Planning Commission and one in front of City Council.

The Council also postponed discussion and voting on the Re-imagine Washtenaw Corridor Study.  The goal of the postponement was to ensure that business and property owners on Washtenaw would be able to meet with staff and discuss their concerns.  That meeting took place in March.

On the agenda is a resolution to postpone the vote on Re-imagine Washtenaw so that the Council may hold a public hearing.

Other

There are always other items on the agenda that might interest you.  This agenda includes resolutions about the purchase of vehicles as well as several street closings.  And as always, if there are items that interest you, please let me know.


On the calendar

Tuesday, April 21st, the Planning Commission meets at 7 pm in City Council chambers.  On that agenda area couple of items of interest, including the Davis Row site plan (a small housing unit on Davis) and a proposed amendment to the PUD development agreement for the property on the east corner of State Huron.

Redefining the downtown zoning:

Sunday, April 19, 3-4 p.m. Community Coffee Hour.  Zingerman's Deli, 422 Detroit Street.  Stop by any time during the hour to chat with staff.

Redefining the downtown zoning: Thursday, April 23, 7-8:30 p.m. Public Meeting Workantile Exchange, 118 South Main Street.  A formal presentation about the Evaluation project including the feedback gathered with an opportunity to share your comments. 


On the Horizon

The budget

The City Council will see the city administrator’s proposed budget on April 20th.  The oversight memo and additions to the budget as proposed are here.  The City Charter requires a balanced budget; the revenues – in general – must equal the expenditures in the budget.  From time to time, revenue estimates in April are less than those actually received by the end of the following June; equally sometimes revenue estimates can be overly optimistic.  The budget is a forecast, not an actual hard statement of available resources.  What this means is that, at the end of the year, the Council may see some additional funds or some unmet needs.

You can learn more about the budget process here; some of the supporting documents that will shape the budget are accessible in the materials provided to Council at the working session on February 9th, February 23rd, March 9th, March 23rd and March 30th.

In general, the City Council approves use of any fund balance for one-time expenditures (such as a deer management plan); it uses increases in revenue for ongoing expenditures (such as implementation of that plan).

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget – including any proposed changes to fees – on May 4th.  The Council must approve the budget at the second Council meeting in May; if they fail to do so, the budget as proposed by the city administrator will be in effect.


I continue to work my way through Deerland, America’s hunt for ecological balance and the essence of wilderness, by Al Cambronne, but find myself much less interested in reading and much more interested in being outside these days. 

Many people have contacted me with concerns about traffic – on Washtenaw, on Nixon, on Plymouth Road.  So I’m re-reading some books on development, traffic and traffic management, including Zoned Out, by Jonathan Levine (one of our neighbors) and Traffic, by Tom Vanderbilt.

I hope to see you as I walk through your neighborhood.