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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.

Spring is coming!

February 14, 2015


Dear neighbors,

As I was writing the last newsletter, the weather forecast indicated that the really heavy snow would miss us.  I hoped for the open winter to continue.

My mistake. 

After the snow cleared, it took us all several days to dig out.  Once again I learned things about the snow and snow removal.  Some of the things I've heard:

'The City should plow the streets faster.'
'The City should be responsible for plowing all the sidewalks.'
'The City should not let plow drivers drive so fast that they cover the sidewalks with snow/fill in driveways/fill in corners.'
'The City should clear all the paths in parks.'

While the City can address some of these concerns by changing current practices without significantly increasing costs, the City doesn't have the resources today to plow all the sidewalks and clear all the corners.

Some of us (regular residents and business owners) already pay a private contractor to shovel our walks and plow our driveways.  Should we all pay more taxes to have the sidewalks plowed? 

I've heard that Rochester, NY residents pay more - and get their sidewalks plowed.

Rochester, NY is about 37 square miles in size (Ann Arbor is about 28 square miles), and has about twice as many residents as Ann Arbor (Census records for Rochester indicate about 210,000 residents in 2010 compared to Ann Arbor's about 114,000 in 2010).  It clears almost 900 miles of sidewalk at a cost of $1.1 million - and it clears that sidewalk only after 4 (four) inches of snow falls in a single storm.  Residents and property owners remain responsible for clearing the sidewalks if the snowfall is lighter (1 - 3 inches).  Even if there are multiple small storms, the residents and property owners are responsible. 

The average annual amount of snow in Ann Arbor is 40 inches, although there can be significant variance (last winter Ann Arbor got over 90 inches).  The average annual amount of snow in Rochester is about 100 inches; last year that city received about 113 inches.

I estimate that clearing Ann Arbor's nearly 500 miles of sidewalk after a 4-inch snow would add about $900,000 to the budget - because even if there are fewer miles, the City will still need to either hire more staff and buy/maintain more equipment or contract this service privately.  To cover this cost, the voters would have agree to increase taxes by about $22 per year.

And of course, these are only my estimates, based on Rochester, NY's published costs.

What do you think?

Take this brief survey!


On the Agenda

City Council meets on TUESDAY, February 17th; Planning Commission meets on WEDNESDAY, February 18th.  Both meetings begin at 7 pm in City Council Chambers at City Hall.
There are no proposed changes to City ordinances on the agenda.  There are no public hearings.

Affordable housing and housing affordability

Two items regarding affordable housing and housing affordability show up on the agenda this week.  For the past two years the Council has placed affordable housing as a high priority; defining affordable housing and then finding ways to maintain what we have and create more remains a challenge.

In 2009, the Council agreed to help support affordable housing on North Main (Near North).  That project was never built, but the Council had established a budget that would decrease the costs borne by the development for sanitary sewer connection expenses.  On the agenda is a resolution to return those funds to the sanitary sewer fund balance and allocate those funds to the expansion of the North Maple Estates (public housing) project.

The County, the City, the DDA and other partners recently funded a Housing Needs Assessment, which looked at the cost of housing in the urban core of Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Pittsfield and Ypsilanti townships).  The report, now complete, was presented to the Council at a working session in January.  On the agenda is a resolution to accept this report.

I want to highlight a couple of things in the report.  It does not focus on housing needs for those with little or no income, although housing for those individuals remains a concern.  Instead, it focuses on two equity issues: the number of people working in our community who pay a very high percentage of their take-home pay for housing, and the cost of excellent public services and community amenities.

The report encourages the City of Ann Arbor to do more to increase the amount of housing available for people with incomes below $42,000 (for a couple) or below $36,000 (for a single person).  It particularly excludes student housing and student incomes from the mix - because students are frequently supported, at least in part, from unearned income (scholarships, parents, etc.). 

At the same time, the report addresses the high number of people living below the poverty level in Ypsilanti - and the resulting loss of revenue for City-funded services, which negatively impacts quality of life issues, such as repaired sidewalks, adequate street lighting, and rapid responses to safety concerns.  (Most people living below the poverty level pay a significantly reduced amount of property and sales tax, resulting in an absolute decrease in municipal revenue.) 

If the Council accepts this report, City staff and boards and commissions will seek ways to implement solutions to the problems it identifies.

Street Lights

Several people have noted that some areas of the City have lots of street lights and that other areas don't have enough.  Street lights, especially at intersections and crosswalks, increase public safety.  Street lights in neighborhoods can be intrusive, though, shining into bedrooms all night.  Most of the street lights in Ann Arbor are owned by DTE; about 2000 are owned directly by the City.

Before I was elected, the Council approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on new street lights as part of the budget discussion.  The purpose of this moratorium was related to cost-savings at the City, not improved visibility, improved privacy, or safety and security.

For several years, Council members have been asking about this moratorium, seeking to understand why it is still in effect.  Council member Kunselman has drafted a resolution that would overturn the moratorium.

Unfortunately, the text of that resolution is not yet on the City's website, so I cannot share a link.  Here's what I hope to see: a resolution that lifts the moratorium and directs the City Administrator to add additional street lights as necessary, with focus on areas that currently have insufficient lighting for safety, particularly at bus stops, mid-block crosswalks and intersections.  I also would like to see the direction include a decrease in the amount of required lighting in residential neighborhoods with an emphasis on directing lighting toward streets and sidewalks and away from residences.

Development

One of the tasks assigned to the Planning Commission by the Council was to participate in a study of the Washtenaw Avenue Corridor; the study area included Ypsilanti, Pittsfield Township, Superior Township and Ann Arbor and was funded by a grant from Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  The Planning Commission reviewed the report and recommended that the Council approve it as a planning document.

Much of the corridor study is truly a document that plans for changes to Washtenaw itself; recommending ways to improve traffic flow, mass transit, and pedestrian safety.  As such, it is intended to be used as a planning document that crosses political boundaries, from the Washtenaw/Stadium intersection to the Washtenaw/Cross Street intersection in Ypsilanti.

Washtenaw through Ann Arbor is an MDOT route (Business 23); MDOT has requested that all four jurisdictions approve resolutions of support for the plan so that they can design seamless improvements to Washtenaw.

Traffic on Washtenaw is already quite heavy; this plan addresses ways to affect development – through redesign and redevelopment – that could decrease the impact of future area growth.

Other

As always, there are other items on the agenda, including a number of street closings for events.


Updates

Homeless update

The Point In Time (PIT) Count report was postponed from February 2nd to February 9th.  The PIT is not intended to be a comprehensive count of all people who lack permanent housing; it counts only those who spent the previous night in emergency and temporary shelters or with no shelter (this group includes those living outside in tents or those living in vehicles).  People who are paying for their own stay in a hotel or motel and those living with friends or relatives temporarily are not counted.

MLive reported on the data; please note that although each unique individual was counted only once, each individual could fall into multiple categories.  Also included in the report is VI SPDAT (Vulnerability Index Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool) information, which took a broader and longer view of homelessness, still focused on unique individuals but looking for multiple pieces of information that will help the County develop policies regarding services.

The basic information seems to be that the County’s focus on a variety of best practices, including rehousing people rapidly after they have lost their housing, reduces homelessness.  The number of veterans who are homeless has been reduced as well, through focused efforts at both the County and the Veterans’ Administration, and Federal funding directed toward finding homes for the chronically homeless has also stabilized that population.

Oh, Deer

The City presented their current finding (the survey results) at a community meeting on Thursday, February 5th.  They also allowed time for two presentations – one from Rochester Hills staff on their ‘no-kill’ deer management program, and the other from Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance (WC4EB).  The presentation from Rochester Hills, although it addressed the decisions surrounding ‘no-kill’ outcomes, made it clear that the residents of Rochester Hills were most concerned about car/deer accidents, and not particularly concerned about deer impact on park and private property landscapes.  The presentation from WC4EB, in turn, focused primarily on the damage deer do by over-browsing vegetation – both garden plants and those in natural areas.  WC4EB is encouraging a local deer cull.

Generally speaking, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County do not have as many car/deer accidents as some other communities; therefore, our community might define the problem solely as ‘over-browsing’ and determine solutions based on that criterion.  However, at this time the community has not agreed on the problem or on possible solutions.

On Tuesday, February 10th, the City conducted an aerial deer count using helicopters.  The data from that count are not yet available.  One way the City could use this data would be to establish a base count and then observe – in subsequent years – what effect City policy has on where – and how many – deer are in our community.  Another way to use this data is to determine where to use a specific solution to best solve the problem of too many deer.

Dog Parks

Up on the City’s A2OpenCityHall is a survey about dog parks.  Got a viewpoint?  Please share it via the survey.  (And yes, you must be willing to accept cookies.  That ensures that you are counted.)

Downtown Ambassador Program (concept)

The DDA Board met on Wednesday, February 4th and agreed that public comments had encouraged them to rethink whether an ambassador program for downtown would be a community benefit.  At this time, further discussion of the program will continue, but there will be no vote on whether to move forward at the March DDA Board meeting.


On the calendar

Monday, February 16

City Hall will be closed in honor of Presidents Day.  Trash collections will occur as usual, though.  And for those of us who slept through Third Grade, Presidents  Day replaced the national celebration of both Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12) and George Washington’s Birthday (February 22).  So, we take a day to celebrate all presidents.

Tuesday, February 17

7 pm – City Council meeting, City Council chambers at City Hall

Wednesday, February 18

7 pm – Planning Commission meeting, City Council chambers at City Hall
The Planning Commission will hold public hearings on whether to approve a special exception use permit for a drive through (Flagstar Bank), and whether to recommend approval for a site plan modification at Concordia University’s athletic fields (paved parking lot, new building, permanent bleachers).  The Agenda also contains a (potential) recommendation that the Council approve a project on Washtenaw between Pittsfield Blvd. and Yost Blvd, uniting four separate commercial buildings into one building.

Thursday, February 26th

5 pm – The City/School Committee will meet at City Hall in the First Floor (south) meeting room
This will be the second meeting of this committee since I was appointed in December.  Before that, the committee had not met in several years.  Council member Grand and I – both new to the committee – have worked with our counterparts on the School Board (Trustees Stead, Baskett, Lasinski) to identify shared concerns and solutions.  I am particularly concerned about areas involving transit and infrastructure (parking and drop-off concerns at Northside STEAM, improvements to the sidewalk at Community High and other schools; crosswalk and street lights at elementary and middle schools, bus stop maintenance . . .)


On the Horizon

At some point, but not yet, two projects for Nixon Road near DhuVarren will be on the Council’s agenda.  These projects (one is Nixon Farm North & Nixon Farm South; the other is Woodbury Club Apartments) would add about 800 new residential units to this area. 

Also at a future point, the proposed development at South Pond (which is currently for 77 single family homes) could return to the Planning Commission’s agenda.  This project has not yet been approved; major concerns with the project included the effect of more traffic on this already difficult area.

Several projects at a smaller scale are under consideration.  One of these projects would include the demolition of houses on North Main (this is not the site of Near North) near the intersection with Felch Street and the construction new dwelling units; the other would require the demolition of two houses on Davis and the construction of a multi-family housing unit.  Because neither of these projects requires citizen participation, I have limited information.  I understand that there was a meeting on February 12th with neighbors of the W. Davis project.

 


I’ve indulged myself with a couple of books about medieval Europe.  Because these books are set 100 years apart, I’m particularly enjoying reading them at the same time.

The Norman Conquest: the battle of Hastings and the fall of Anglo-Saxon England, by Marc Morris, covers a period roughly from the end of the 10th Century CE through the end of the 11th Century CE.  The focus – clearly from the title – is on how William the Conqueror came to be King of England.  I am reading this on my Kindle – borrowed from Amazon.

The Greatest Knight: the remarkable life of William Marshal, the power behind five English thrones, by Thomas Asbridge, takes up where The Norman Conquest ended and continues through the 12th Century CE.  I borrowed this from the Ann Arbor District Library, and waited my turn to read it.

Both are really good for someone like me who enjoys a well written history.