<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> First December 14 sec

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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.  Caucus is held in the basement at City Hall through December, 2014.

The Caucus starts at 7 pm.

December sunrise

December 14, 2014


Dear neighbors

It’s that time of year – the time when we all become overwhelmed with things to do, and when even the most jaded can long for a dusting (and maybe only a dusting) of the white stuff.

I’ve nearly finished baking for the holidays and spent much of the day cleaning and decorating.  Whether you celebrate the Winter Solstice (the moment of solstice is December 21 at 6:03 pm), Chanukah (light your chanukiah for the first night on Tuesday), Christmas (December 14 is the third Sunday of Advent), or Kwanzaa (which starts on December 26th) – or simply celebrate winter in all its myriad glories, I hope this season finds you healthy and surrounded by warmth.

And of course, I do hope there is snow – but not too much, and not too often.


On the calendar

Sunday, December 14th

Come to the 4th annual Homegrown at the Cobblestone show Sunday, December 14th from 10 am to 5 pm held in the big barn on the grounds of Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Rd in Ann Arbor. This holiday show offers a wonderful variety of quality, handcrafted gifts all made by local artists. The eclectic offerings include ceramic art tile, jewelry, edibles, glass work, textiles, paintings, photographs, ceramics, wood carvings, ornaments, and more.
FREE ADMISSION, FREE PARKING, FREE FUN and food on site for purchase.

Tuesday, December 16th

Planning Commission meets at 7 pm at the County building (220 N. Main Street)
The Planning Commission will hold public hearings and may vote on whether to recommend approval of a zoning change and site plan for the proposed new housing on Nixon Road (Nixon Farm North and Nixon Farm South).  If this area interests you, please note the traffic study may be found on the staff reports, and that there is specific information about parkland dedication for both the North (2.6 acres, minimum, to parks) and the South (3.3 acres) properties.  Also worthy of note, for those who are concerned about the Developer Offset Mitigation (DOM) program regarding sanitary sewers and footing drains, the development agreement includes standard language stating that the developer will disconnect footing drains OR provide an alternative method of mitigation.

The Reimagine Washtenaw Corridor Study may be moved forward to Council with a recommendation of approval.  If this area is interesting to you, please consider sharing your concerns with the planning commission.

The Capital Improvement Plan is also on the agenda for Planning Commission approval.  The City’s webpage breaks the plan down in many ways, so here is the link to that page.

Wednesday, December 17th

3:00 pm, the Design Review Board will discuss a proposed mixed-use development (ground floor retail with office, hospice, spa, bodywork space above) for the site at 321 N. Main Street.  This area is in D2 zoning.

5:00 pm, the Pedestrian Safety and Access task force will meet in the basement conference room at City Hall.

 


Updates

Deer

Deer!  Can you imagine that we need to talk about deer?  Well, we do, and part of that conversation will be generated by your responses to this survey, which will be open until January 2, 2015.

The City held its first community meeting on deer on Wednesday, December 10th.  A significant portion of the meeting was a recap of responses, to date, to the survey (see above).  And after a general ‘interview’ with a representative of MDNR, the remainder of the meeting was devoted to ‘impact statements’ from a variety of residents, primarily from the First and Second Wards.

 

Development on Nixon and Pontiac

The Planning Commission will discuss the proposed Nixon Farm North and Nixon Farm South projects on Tuesday, December 16th.  (See the links below.)  The proposed development for Pontiac Trail (North Sky) is not on the agenda.

The City held a meeting on December 11th to outline the most recent report on possible improvements to the Nixon/DhuVarren/Green intersection.  The presentation included two suggestions (no determination, yet on what to present to Council): (1) realign DhuVarren and install a traffic signal; or (2) realign DhuVarren and install a traffic circle with a bypass lane from DhuVarren south to Nixon.  Many in the audience were not satisfied with these suggestions – because they addressed only the intersection and not the design of the three streets, because they relied on the traffic studies prepared for developments rather than independently-formed traffic studies, because they didn’t address traffic coming into town from commuters . . . or any combination of these unaddressed concerns.

One of the issues I continue to hear about is whether the properties on Nixon should be annexed into the City.  I’ve been focused on finding a way to annex since I first came to Council.  The intersection at Nixon/DhuVarren/Green is already so bad, and the only way I’ve heard the City can address the intersection is to annex the land.

If the land is annexed, and if a development is approved, the developers will be required to commit funding for some or all of the project. 

A2 Fix-it

I heard back from folks that they were excited about A2-Fix-it as a mechanism for reporting non-emergency problems.  If you haven’t added this link to your smartphone and computer, I encourage you to.  It’s very useful for helping the City maintain a record of and respond to our concerns – whether it’s your neighbor’s trash containers sitting out all week, a poorly-installed pedestrian ramp, or a street light out.

Construction season never ends, does it?

Even with construction season ‘over’ there are still a lot of projects that didn’t quite finish, or are barely begun.  Some of these close streets and sidewalks, likely for the entire winter.  Some (like Pontiac Trail, Stone School and Jackson Roads) are just paused – with final work to be done next year.

Blocking the streets and sidewalks: North Ashley between Huron and Ann will be periodically reduced to a single lane, while the sidewalk along Huron and North Ashley will remain closed.  The west side of Fourth Avenue between Liberty and Washington remains blocked.  The north side of East Huron between Division and State Street will continue to be blocked through the winter.  Thompson Street and East Madison remain closed to traffic – and pedestrians.  The west side of Church Street between S. University and Hill will remain closed through the winter and into midsummer.  Other sidewalks will be blocked for (hopefully) short periods of time.  I’d like to include a listing of blocked sidewalks – especially now as winter starts – so would welcome any reports you have. 

Snow removal

Just a reminder:

Residents have 24 hours after the snowfall ends to remove snow from the public sidewalk in front of their home.  If they live on a corner or, in some neighborhoods, at a T-intersection, they are also responsible for removing snow from the curb cuts.  Some of us find this task a burden - due to age or infirmity.  Others don't think it is important.  But I hope you understand the value to the community - and the cost to all of us if we expect the City to perform this task.

The City is responsible for removing the snow on public land - including park paths, bridges and crosswalks.


On the Horizon

Meeting Relocations
City Council (Dec. 1 and Dec. 15) and City Planning Commission meetings (Dec. 2 and Dec. 16) will be held at the County Administration Building, 220 N. Main St., County Board of Commission public meeting room. Meetings will continue to be cablecast live on CTN Comcast Channel 16 and available live online and via video on demand. 

The following public meetings will be relocated to the basement conference room at Larcom City Hall. These meetings will not be cablecast live on CTN, but will be taped for later replay and available via video on demand. 

The Cable Communications Commission and Commission on Disability Issues will meet at CTN, 2805 S. Industrial, Suite 200.


Agenda highlights

City Council meets Monday, December 15.  Planning Commission meets Tuesday, December 16.  Both meetings will be held in the County Commission meeting room (220 N. Main, the old post office).  Council chambers are closed while the asbestos is being removed.

Various items

The Police Chief has requested that the City upgrade the in-car video systems for police cars and video storage systems as well as purchasing body cams for the front-line police officers.  This idea has been under discussion for months, but the desire for these initiatives became more urgent after the recent shooting death of Aura Rosser.

The City Council continues to wait for the release of the State Police investigation report.  The City has released the name of the officer involved (David Ried, a 15-year veteran of the police department who has been recognized several times for his life-saving actions).  There is no bright side to this shooting incident.

The Human Rights Commission (a voluntary citizen committee appointed by the Council) is – I’m told – working with the Chief of Police to review the policies regarding the use of force, including the use of firearms.

And while we are on the police, the Council will consider various revisions to union contracts with the Deputy Police Chiefs, the Police Command Officers, the Police Professional Assistants, the Police Civilian Supervisors, and the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association

The City Council approves the selection and hiring of certain City staff, including the Fire Chief (this requirement is specified in the City Charter).  On the agenda is a resolution to hire a new fire chief – which is something many members of Council have been anticipating.

There is a proposed change to the ordinance that allows chickens in the City – well, a couple of changes.  One change increases the maximum number of chickens allowed (from 4 to 6) and another removes the requirement that adjacent neighbors give permission for chickens.  In neighborhoods with small lots, the impact of some decisions can be disproportionately large – including the decision to raise chickens.  Do you have concerns about these changes?

City staff estimates that the community could save about $560,000 by refinancing (called re-funding) the bonds used to renovate several of the existing parking structures

The Council will discuss whether to extend the term of the LDFA by 15 years – and incorporate a satellite LDFA (Tecumseh) – by amending the SmartZone agreement with MEDC and the City of Ypsilanti.

Development

On the agenda for Monday, December 15th is an item that was postponed from a previous meeting – the rezoning of 425 S. Main from D1 to D2.  As the revision to the Main Street Character District ordinance is not yet ready for Council’s action, I hope this item will be postponed.

You may have been following along with the zoning issues downtown – but maybe not.  And everything you think you understand may be wrong.  Here’s what I know today:  D1 zoning is intended to be in the downtown core and be for high-density use (residential, office, commercial, mixed).  It is supposed to focus intense pedestrian use in a small area.  D2 zoning is intended to be in the downtown fringe – an interface zone between intense use and residential use.  (see section 5:10:19 of the zoning code) The zoning code defines these two uses not by height, but by the amount of allowable floor space (the floor-area ratio).  D1 is characterized by having 400 FAR (that’s 4 times the area of the lot) with a potential for 300 FAR additional through the use of premiums.  D2 is characterized by have 200 FAR (2 times the area of the lot) with a potential for 200 FAR additional through the use of premiums.

Many of us thought that height limits were built into the zoning code – 180 (or 150) feet maximum for D1 (depending on the location) and 60 feet maximum for D2.  While that is generally correct, the section of the zoning code that establishes height limits is the downtown character overlay zoning districts (5:10:20).  This means that height limits – and setbacks and other restrictions – are established by changing the overlay district, not by redefining D1 and D2.

The Council will have many discussions on downtown zoning in the next few months.

The Council will hold a public hearing and then decide whether to approve a project on Platt Road that would add new units to the City’s public housing.  The Ann Arbor Housing Commission has embarked on an aggressive effort to renovate its existing properties.  This multi-million dollar project – which results from years of neglect under previous leadership – involves several phases and types of activity.  One project on Platt Road is intended to replace the existing public housing with a larger, better designed project that includes a variety of housing options (from one bedroom to five bedrooms) and an on-site community building that will make it possible to provide better services to the tenants.  The project design is expected to be in compliance with all storm water and wetland ordinances.  This proposal’s approval will impact the City’s goals as well as the existing neighborhood.  The Council has identified affordable and diverse housing options as priorities for each of the past three years.

Streets

The Council will decide whether to accept additional funds from the State of Michigan for road maintenance.  By accepting these funds, the City is committing to about $672,000 in improvements to the street systems.  This budget amendment (requires 8 votes) would be in addition to the one-time funding from the increase in taxes for road maintenance imposed by a Board of (County) Commission vote earlier this year.

The staff are already finding ways to implement this budget amendment.  Also on the agenda is a further upgrade to the traffic signal control system (SCOOT) ($250,000).

Other

The City Administrator has prepared a memo to update the Council on the anticipated completion of the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force report.  That report should be final by the end of August, 2015.

There are always other items on the agenda that I haven’t highlighted.  To learn more about what the Council will discuss on Monday, December 1, please look at the general agenda information.


I gave myself Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change, by Peter Calthorpe.  I plan to start reading during year-end.

In my last newsletter I asked for recommendations for my reading list – and one of our neighbors suggested that I read Mindwise: How we understand what others think, believe, feel and want, by Nicholas Epley.  I love getting recommendations – so do you have suggestions for things I should add to my list?