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

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. 

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,

These mornings I wake to birdsong.  By the middle of February, the sky is turning brighter by 7 am, and stays bright until after 6.  I can see that the equinox is coming, as every day is longer.  These little triumphs – over which I have no control – make the constant shifts in sun, precipitation and temperature bearable.  Ahh, early spring in Michigan.

Surveys and Meetings

For the past four years I’ve asked you to answer a survey on the budget.  I share the responses your give me with others on Council, and try to shape the budget accordingly.  Would you help again this year?

This survey focuses on the budget priority areas identified by the Council <click here>.

Want to know what previous surveys have shown?  Here’s a link to my web site with all the survey responses.

Because I expect this survey to help guide the budget process, I will leave it open until February 22nd.  I’ll have copies of the survey responses at the

Town Hall Meeting

Tuesday, February 26th
7 pm
At the Traverwood Branch Library
(Council member Kailasapathy and I will be there to take your questions and hear your concerns.)

Updates from meetings

The North Main Huron River Vision task force continues to meet.  Sub-groups are actively working to find solutions for the different problems set for them by Council – connecting North Main to the river and the Border to Border trail (over or under the railroad?); connecting Bandemer and Barton parks; offering solutions for the traffic at Main and Summit/Depot, and identifying appropriate uses for some or all of the MichCon site.  The task force expects to finish the discovery and preliminary problem solving phase in May, and hold public meetings in May and June before submitting its recommendations to the Council in July.  I’ll make certain you hear when those public meetings – to discuss and evaluate the proposals – are scheduled.

The Council’s Public Art task force was appointed last December to “recommend amendments to the Chapters 8 and 24 relevant to the public art program” and has been meeting regularly since.  Members of the task force – Council members Briere, Kunselman, Petersen, Taylor and Teall – have identified shared goals about the public art program.  These goals include altering the funding mechanism to limit public art from capital improvement budgets to those projects that include art or enhanced architectural features; establishing a mechanism that would allow private donations to a fund for art in public places; and using the art in public places fund to help defray costs for publicly placed permanent art, temporary art, and performance art. 

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

On the Agenda

The Council will hold a public hearing on the sustainability framework
The Council will hold a public hearing and (potentially) vote on whether to rezone certain lots on Geddes and Seneca Avenues to R1C from R1B.  This would not change the nature of the uses (still single family housing) but would alter the lot size, making smaller lots legal.  Some residents might, as a result, want to subdivide their lots.


First Reading
The Council postponed a vote on whether to amend the Living Wage ordinance to this February meeting, pending advice from the Housing and Human Services Board.  That Board has undertaken a longer study of the issue and the impact of the living wage requirements on non-profit human services organizations.  Council member Lumm brought forward the proposed amendment, and is likely to recommend a further postponement, based upon her remarks at a December Council meeting.
The Council will hear a proposal to rezone property adjacent to Plymouth Road at US23 from Hotel to Commercial use.  The Planning Commission asked for, and received, alternative plans for traffic and access, and recommended the rezoning.  The site plan is not yet on the agenda.


Brought by Council
At the last Council meeting, the Council agreed to postpone this resolution that would authorize the issuance of Clean Energy Bonds.  New members of Council were not yet familiar with the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program, and needed an opportunity to learn more before deciding their votes.  Here’s a link to the City’s page on the PACE program, authorized by the State and previously approved by Council.  I’d consider this an infrastructure item, as it involves improving energy efficiency.  Improving energy efficiency is also one of the sustainability framework goals.

The North Main Huron River Vision (NMHRV) task force has recommended that the City investigate ways to re-use the building at 721 N. Main (where the City hopes to create one of the key properties in the Allen Creek Greenway path system).  The City is currently studying the renovation of the City’s building at 415 W. Washington (this is also part of the Allen Creek Greenway); determining what environmental cleanup and renovation would be needed at this building on N. Main would allow the task force to make effective recommendations.  The budget for this project would be $30,000.  I’d consider this an infrastructure item, as it involves the opportunities to reuse – rather than remove – an existing structure.  I serve on the NMHRV task force, and am sponsoring this resolution.

Some days I think I could write a book about zoning and new construction in Ann Arbor.  I’ll spare you that.  But many of us spent several years working to fix downtown zoning – and I don’t think it’s been fixed yet.  Before 2009, zoning in downtown was a patchwork of use defined zoning – it specified the types of uses (commercial, campus commercial, local commercial) that applied to each lot.  The increased demand – from City residents as well as governmental types – to have mixed-uses in new construction meant each new building proposed didn’t fit the zoning, and needed to come in as a Planned Unit Development (PUD).  PUD projects tended to be controversial in the downtown, and were likely to be contentious.  As a result of a lot of community discussion, the Council amended the zoning in downtown to be a hybrid of use defined and form based zoning.  D1 on South University and the 400 block of East Huron is capped at 150 feet; the rest of E. Huron, E. Washington, E. Liberty, and the north side of E. William are capped at 180 feet.  D2 – the interface between core and adjacent neighborhoods, is capped at 60 feet.  Set backs and step backs vary according to ‘character districts’ and the Design Guidelines.  But the rezoning hasn’t completely improved the situation.  Developers can present a project that fits the zoning, but doesn’t fit any of the community values the Council and the Planning Commission attempted to build into the process.  I sit on the Planning Commission and hear members of Council, the Planning Commission and the community voice their concerns about whether the process is working as we wanted.  In response to these concerns, I’ve submitted a resolution to Direct the Ann Arbor Planning Commission to Review D1/D2 Zoning and make recommendations to amend the current D1/D2 Zoning regulations.  If passed as proposed, this resolution would also establish a moratorium on new Site Plan petitions in the downtown for six (6) months.  This short break in approving new developments should allow the Planning Commission time to consider whether the zoning truly reflects the goals our community has identified for downtown and the adjacent neighborhoods.

Brought by Boards and Commissions
The community worked on, and the planning commission supported a sustainability framework that can be used to help guide the staff and Council as they determine priorities and goals.

Brought by staff
Perhaps you have tried to find Bluffs Nature Area – or just to find a way to enter it.  The City has been working for the past few years to acquire land for entrances to the nature area; this resolution would add a third entrance – from a neighborhood – into the nature area.  Previously, the City acquired property at Huronview for an entrance, as well as on Sunset adjacent to the Elks Lodge.  With this resolution, the City would appropriate $128,000 from the Open Space and Parkland Preservation Millage (sometimes called the Greenbelt millage).

A couple of years ago the City Council approved a Planned Unit Development (PUD) on North Main Street that would have added workforce and subsidized affordable units to that area.  For various reasons, the developers were unable to acquire the funding to build this project.  In the meantime, the houses that are already on this property have continued to deteriorate; some months ago the Council approved a plan to demolish the houses.  This resolution would increase the amount of the MSHDA neighborhood stabilization grant to $946,000 and authorize the use of up to $96,000 from that grant to demolish six of the houses.  This demolition would remove a dangerous set of derelict houses – which have already been stripped of all resalable wiring, plumbing, and woodwork.

The Council will consider a resolution to approve a grant contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation to improve fencing and gates at the Ann Arbor airport.  The required matching funds ($3,948) come from the Airport’s operating budget; that budget is based on fees and charges to airport users.  The agenda also includes an agreement with URS Corporation to complete the work supported by this grant.
The public parking structure (part of a residential building being constructed on First and Washington) is nearly complete.  In order for it to begin operation, the Council needs to establish a budget (this allows the city to disburse the bond funds previously approved).  The bonds were issued in January – a total of $8,666,075 in Capital Improvement Bonds (of which $4,079,743 of taxable and $4,586,332 of non taxable).  The bonds have been sold; the next step is to establish the account, then disburse the bond dollars.

Of course, there are always other items on the agenda.  If you have questions or concerns about any item, please let me know.

On the Horizon

Council member Kailasapathy and I will host a Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, February 26th at the Traverwood Branch Library.  We'll be there from 7 pm on, and hope you will bring questions and ideas about the City's budget priorities.


Calendar and Events

Tuesday, February 26
Controlled Ecological Burn public meeting
Learn about the use of fire and the ecological benefits of burning, and hear about the specifics of effectively and safely using fire as a restoration tool. Burns are conducted in city nature areas throughout the spring and fall. If you plan on volunteering with the city's burn crew, attending this meeting is strongly recommended, in addition to the training. Open for all who are interested in learning why we burn. Details: www.a2gov.org/NAP

Thursday, February 28, 2013
The AARP, the City’s Planning staff, the Office of Services to the Aging and the Michigan Municipal League will host a symposium on AGE FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES: GREAT PLACES FOR ALL AGES on February 28th at Palmer Commons from 9 am to 4 pm.

The Allen Creek Railroad Berm Opening Study
The first public meeting for the Allen Creek Railroad Berm Opening Feasibility Study will be held on Wednesday, March 13th, 6:30-8:00 p.m. in the Larcom City Hall basement conference room.  View the press release.

Sustainable Ann Arbor
Thursday, March 21, 2013 - Diverse Housing, including how to meet the current and future needs of the community with changing housing demographics, such as older residents, a high rental population, and affordability 


What am I reading?

Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the age of Globalism, by Richard Longworth.
I heard about this book during a meeting, and made the extra effort to get it on my reading list. 

Clean Break: The Story of Germany's Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn from It by Osha Grey Davidson.
This short essay deals with Germany’s reduction in the use of fossil fuels.  They have already increased their use of alternative energy (wind and solar) to 25%.  Ann Arbor aspires to increase our use to a similar percentage – but Michigan voters rejected a policy that could have resulted in an increase to 25% by 2025.