<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Second December newsletter 2012

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.  Lately I've met with neighborhood groups to talk about utility issues. 

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,

It seems unseasonably warm to me, but I’m enjoying that, all the same.  I suspect many of us are coming to the realization that we need to decorate or bake or sing or do something else to commemorate the holidays that occur right about now.  Chanukah is nearly over; Christmas and Kwanzaa are around the corner.  And then, we welcome the new year.
I’ve socks to finish, a sweater or two to complete, a hat on the needles – and more meetings than I think I have brains for.
It’s a good time of the year, at least for me.  I hope you and yours enjoy the season – with or without snow.Update

The Council retreat

The City Council met in retreat last Monday (December 10) to work toward setting new programmatic and budgetary goals for the City.  It was the best retreat I’ve attended, and helped the Council to agree that the primary focus for the next two years should be:

  1. To find ways to deliver the services people expect within the available budget;
  2. To properly assess safety service levels and service delivery – and this means, number of personnel, how they deliver the services, and service goals;
  3. To improve infrastructure maintenance and improvements – streets, storm sewers, bridges, sidewalks, etc.;
  4. economic development – diversifying the types of business activities in the city and retaining existing businesses (this does not mean recruiting businesses; it means continuing to work toward making Ann Arbor attractive to business improvements); and
  5. To address the need for housing that is affordable – in the downtown or not – and improving the maintenance plans for existing city-owned subsidized housing. 

Members of Council believe these five items should be addressed – and will continue to discuss how best that should occur during the next few months as the 2013-14 budget is developed.

Connecting William Street

Some of us think that the City Council spends far too much energy worrying about downtown, and not enough time thinking about the neighborhoods.  Of course, others might disagree.  Here’s how I interpret that position: the benefits of living in Ann Arbor are being diminished over time, as streets aren’t repaired quickly and easily, storms cause flooding damage the City hasn’t been able to eliminate, traffic ties up the streets that help us get to and from our homes, and the decisions Council makes about lots of things is making living here more difficult. 
Personally, I am just continually happy that the City staff and the Council’s agenda are not routinely addressing ways to change my neighborhood.
One of the ways the City has been looking more at downtown than at my neighborhood – or yours – is the focus on Connecting William Street

A tale of two resolutions

Over a year ago the Council passed two resolutions.  The first one had to do with ending the RFP process for the Library Lot.  This resolution included a statement that any future planning for the library lot would include a ‘robust public process.’  The second resolution requested that the DDA ‘facilitate the process of redeveloping’ five city-owned parcels.  This second resolution outlines a process that the DDA proposed to attempt a consensus on the development potential for each site.  But the second resolution didn’t call for a robust public process, and the Council didn’t question the process outlined in the resolution.  That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a public process, but it does mean that some of us have been dissatisfied with the way that process was conducted.

A brief digression into history

In the ‘70s, downtowns began to die.  Ann Arbor’s downtown lost many local stores.  In 1973, the downtown boasted 3 department stores, a drygoods store, a fabric & yarn store, a needlepoint store, a knitting store, two hardware stores, three toy stores, a Sears catalog outlet, a drug store, a costume store, an amazing kitchen store, a grocery store, a bunch of book stores, and several – not very good – restaurants.  Goodyear’s was the first to go, then Klines, then Jacobson’s.  Bertha Muehlig’s sold drygoods, and Faber's sold fabric and yarn.  The Needlepoint Tree and a yarn store in Kerrytown supplied craft goods; Ryder’s Hobbies provided everything from model planes to doll house furniture kits.  I can get nostalgic just thinking about it.  But by the mid 90s, most of these stores had left downtown, and some were simply gone forever.  Many of us – residents all – wanted a downtown that worked for us.  The City Council appointed a number of committees and task forces to look for ways to ‘revitalize’ downtown.
All of the various committees and task forces agreed on some basic desires.  Downtown should be a vital, interesting place to live or work or visit.  It should provide job opportunities but it should also include open space where casual encounters with others are common.  It should be a center of learning and cultural opportunities.  Increasing the tax base is desirable, but is not the goal in itself.  All ages and incomes should be present in the downtown, reflecting Ann Arbor’s embrace of diversity.
We get bogged down as we try to develop programs to achieve these desires.

Density or Open Space

One of the significant conflicts is about ‘density.’  For some, density is a catch phrase that indicates new construction in order to facilitate more folks living downtown.  This increase in the number of people living downtown has been something the City and its residents have talked about for decades.  At first, people talked about loft apartments.  Then, they built more condominiums.  Most recently, the increase in new residents has been due entirely to new student highrises – there are now nearly 5000 people living in downtown Ann Arbor, nearly 2000 more now than there were in the year 2000.  All of these new residential units are supposed to help provide the means for local businesses to remain open while making the street scene more active and the cultural life more varied.
But most of us don’t really want our downtown defined by student use.  That’s one of the messages I’ve heard in the meetings on Connecting William Street.  We want a downtown that’s a magnet for children and seniors, with places for folks to sit and read their – I almost wrote newspaper – electronic device, buy a pair of shoes, have lunch, sit and watch the world go by, drink our coffee and go to a meeting or a lecture.  We want a downtown that holds events and activities we might want to attend; that we might want to show our guests, that we might want to brag about. 
And for some, that means a respite from density – an offset, as it were, that’s cool and green and calm and refreshing.  Something that sounds like a park.
The discussion about open space isn’t helped when City staff and DDA consultants refer residents to nearby parks – non-urban parks that have trees and walking paths.  Because, really, those parks are too far for someone working in the downtown to get lunch, sit in, and get back to work.  And the discussion isn’t helped at all when we get lost in whether the Diag and the Arb count as downtown parks.  So right now, there are a lot of us with conflicting views who all want the same thing – a vital and diverse downtown experience that allows local businesses to thrive and residents to meet casually and informally – or just watch the world go by.

But what about open space? 

You may have heard that the DDA plan calls for Dense, Denser and Densest.  There’s some truth to that.  Please note: the task was not to define open space; it was to evaluate the development potential for each lot.  The DDA draft report proposes that certain lots should be built to include public open space.  They haven’t defined how this public open space could be used, what it would look like, or exactly how large it would be.  Those decisions would be left to the City Council, with appropriate opportunities for public input.
But the Parks Advisory Commission has already stated that they will play a role in defining the size, location and use for downtown public open space, and that they want to be certain the City won’t act too swiftly.  Their resolution includes a recommendation that the staff evaluate the locations and amenities desired for a downtown park, the costs of developing and maintaining a new park, and urges the Council to ‘refrain from adopting plans for the five City-owned lots prior to resolving the question of open space within the Connecting William Street area.'

What’s the timeline?

Somehow, when the Council approved the resolution that authorized the DDA to undertake ‘determining the development potential’ some of us got the idea that the Council was intent on selling all of the surface lots as fast as possible.  I haven’t heard anyone at the City talking about that, though.  At the Council meeting where we passed this resolution, members of Council were talking about taking years to sell pieces of land.  When Council members discussed the allocation of funds from any future land sales, they pointed to the fact that the City rarely considers selling land – perhaps once a decade or so.  Although members of Council are quite concerned that the City sell the Old Y lot – given the balloon payment due on the loan – most of the discussion I’ve heard is that the City not sell land in the downtown too quickly.  Surface lots are highly desired parking spaces, and the private sector may not be able to handle too many lots on the market at once.

Next steps

The Council expects to hear from the DDA at a working session on January 14th. 
Here’s a link to the draft final report, as presented to the DDA Board on December 5th.
The DDA is hosting another series of public input meetings:
Wednesday, December 19th, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at the Downtown Library (343 S. Fifth Ave) in the Multi-Purpose Room
Thursday, January 3rd, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at the DDA office (150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301)

To give me your feedback, just send me mail or call me (995-3518 at home; 277-6578 to my cell).

On the Agenda

Ordinances (Second Reading with Public Hearing)

Ordinances (First Reading)

The Council will consider whether to allow front-yard (off-street) parking for special events other than Art Fair and fall football games.


721 N. Main Street – and the North Main Vision Task Force

The report from the North Main Vision Task Force for the best use of 721 N. Main is due by December 31, 2012, but it’s already been presented to the public at a meeting in early December.  (The public presentation is most complete.)  721 N. Main used to be the City’s utility yard – where snowplows slept all summer and salt was stored for the winter – among other uses.  The City closed the yard several years ago when it opened the Wheeler Center off Ellsworth at Stone School Road.  The task force is charged with identifying the best ways to use this parcel as part of the Allen Creek Greenway path system.  But the task force isn’t presenting their report at this meeting; they’ve been asked to delay that report until January, as not all members of Council will attend the December 17th City Council meeting.
The staff is asking the Council to approve two grant applications for this site, however.  These grants, (from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and from the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Connecting Communities program) would help to pay for the construction of a water retention area with walking/biking paths in this no-longer used parcel.  (Please note: applying for a grant doesn’t ensure that the City will receive it; the process of approving the application doesn’t include approving a dollar amount.  Grants are determined by the granting agency, although the staff will determine the amount to request.)
Want to learn more about the North Main Vision Task Force?  Here’s a link to the City’s page on the task force, and another to the page on 721 N. Main.

415 W. Washington

The Council will consider increasing the budget for preliminary environmental work for the 415 W. Washington site from $50,000 (already approved) to $82,583.  As was the case with the initial $50,000, the additional $32,583 would come from General Fund Reserves – a source the City uses for one-time only expenditures. 

Biercamp on South State Street has requested a license to build a micro-brewery.

Other (reports and communications)

AATA on September and October financial, operational and performance reports; public input summary for proposed changes to AATA route 5.

There are always other items on the agenda – street closings (Ann Arbor/Dexter run; Shamrocks & Shenanigans 5K), contracts (one for digital plan submissions as well as others), and resolutions in support of adopting the climate action plan and a clean air resolution.

On the horizon

The DDA will host two additional public meetings before they present their report to Council.
Wednesday, December 19th, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at the Downtown Library (343 S. Fifth Ave) in the Multi-Purpose Room
Thursday, January 3rd, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at the DDA office (150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301)
(I know, this is the second time I’ve mentioned the meetings.  But I don’t want you to miss them by accident!)


A sad truth is, I’m not done evaluating the surveys.  But here’s a graph on public art that might get you thinking.

I offered a series of statements, to see whether those responding agreed or disagreed.  The responses here also interested me. 

public art survey response

(links to larger image)

What am I reading?

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been rather busier than I had planned.  But I’m reading a very approachable book right now: City Comforts – how to build an urban village, by David Sucher.


On the Horizon

The DDA will host two additional public meetings before they present their report to Council.
Wednesday, December 19th, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at the Downtown Library (343 S. Fifth Ave) in the Multi-Purpose Room
Thursday, January 3rd, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at the DDA office (150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301)
(I know, this is the second time I’ve mentioned the meetings.  But I don’t want you to miss them by accident!)

Changes with the new Council

Each December, after the Council elections, members of Council are assigned to a variety of committees, commissions and task forces. Most of the time, sitting members of Council retain their previous committee assignments, although there's always an opportunity for change.  This year my committee assignments have changed, so I'm updating you.

My committees include:

What am I reading?

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been rather busier than I had planned.  But I’m reading a very approachable book right now: City Comforts – how to build an urban village, by David Sucher.