Crab in full bloom
May 17, 2015
Anyone can have a challenging week. From complex issues that I need to think through to a fried computer mother board (with resulting temporary loss of access to my data) to having to learn a new operating system and new software – well, I have been challenged both intellectually and technologically this week.
The technological challenges have been particularly, um, challenging, as I have had to learn 4 new program versions . . . I can only thank my spouse for helping me cope, because I really want computers to function seamlessly. Challenge is a good thing, and change, while painful, can be rewarding. I’m still waiting for that reward, though.
On Wednesday, May 12, I attended the ‘leadership’ briefing for the Ann Arbor Station environmental review. At some point in the next month, the City expects to hold a public meeting on this. When I have that date, I will share.
To recap: For years, the City and the Federal Rail Administration have been discussing whether – and where – a new train station ought to be located. Local governments may seek financial support for the construction and management of a train station. And the FRA establishes the requirements for location, size, and impact on the community. That’s what the environmental assessment is for – to determine whether any site meets the requirements for location and size, and to assess the impact that location would have on the total community environment – traffic, residential buildings, parks and natural features, etc.
There are currently two locations and four possibilities under consideration: 1) the eastern portion of Fuller Park, adjacent to the railroad tracks and across Fuller Road from the soccer fields and swimming pool, and 2) along Depot Street, either using the current site making no changes, 3)using the current site and building a new train station, or 4)using the old train station (the Gandy Dancer building) and enlarging it.
The Depot Street site is close enough to downtown and Central Campus to make for a comfortable walk; it’s about ½ mile to the Medical Campus or North Campus (and farther to the North Campus Research Facility). The Depot Street site is not on the proposed route of the Connector (a conceptual transit system that would connect North Campus/NCRC to Central Campus and downtown to State Street and the Athletic Campus). The Depot Street site is not viable unless the City and DTE can effectively collaborate on the parking.
The Fuller Road site is close enough to the Medical Campus for pedestrian use. At this time, it is not very close to hotels, shops, restaurants or various activities that might be of interest to visitors, although that could change slightly if the Lowertown development site were, indeed, developed. Or if the proposal to build a hotel on Glen were to be realized.
Changes: Initially, AMTRAK indicated that it needed 2,200 new parking spaces for the expanded rail service. That created in my mind an enormous parking structure that dominated the site. However, AMTRAK admitted that it used the wrong information to calculate parking: in 20 years, when all the proposed trains are running, AMTRAK estimates that it would need about 870. And of course, a new train station would not need to have all that parking immediately.
The old train station: I love the charm of the old train station and remember fondly taking the train to Chicago from there in the mid-‘70s. (Yes, it was already the Gandy Dancer, but it was also the train station.) The old train station is privately owned property; neither the City nor AMTRAK owns the land. In order for it to be repurposed as a train station, the owner would need to agree to sell it.
The MichCon site: For years the City has eyed the MichCon site, now owned by DTE, as a possible riverside park. DTE recently finished some of the necessary environmental cleanup on that site, which makes its use as public space possible. But DTE would like to develop the site, establishing a restaurant and possibly other uses. For the City and the FRA to be able to use some of the MichCon site for parking, all three entities must agree. I don’t know where they are with those discussions. I met this week with a DTE representative to listen to their ideas, but they aren’t ready to decide before the FRA announces their preferred local site.
Opinion: the Depot Street site works well for inter-city travel – to Detroit and points east; to Chicago and points west. AMTRAK proposed increasing the number of trains through Ann Arbor from 3 each way, each day to 10 each way each day over the next 20 years. The Fuller Road site works well for commuter rail – for those people working at UM and coming from the east or the west. Neither site works well for the proposed North/South commuter line.
The City’s report on deer management was released last Tuesday, May 11. The document is quite large, but this is how I read the recommendations:
- The only mechanism for rapidly reducing the deer population – in Ann Arbor, in Washtenaw County, or in the State – is to kill deer.
- Other methods that address population – including sterilization and contraception – are not currently allowed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which manages all the deer in the state. Methods that relocate deer to other areas – also not allowed.
- The number of deer to be killed, the location where those deer will be killed, and the mechanism for killing the deer (rifle or hunting bow) are yet to be determined.
- The cost of killing deer – as recommended by the City staff – is about $30-35K each year.
- The City should also consider conducting annual helicopter-based counts of the deer, to assess how many deer likely remain after killing some and where those deer are located. The cost of doing this is about $3K each year.
- The City should also conduct some study of the damage the deer may cause on public land – parks and natural areas. The cost of doing this is about $20-$30K per year.
There are quite passionate viewpoints on whether to kill deer or coexist with deer. On Saturday, May 16, two people at the Farmers’ Market shared their positions with me. One was looking at native plants. I mentioned that one she was looking at was not considered ‘tasty’ by the deer – she informed me quite adamantly that she does not want the deer killed. Another, taking a break on a bench, told me that she cannot read about deer management because it breaks her heart to consider killing them. And of course, I’ve received multiple electronic communications from people who want the deer killed, because they see no alternative.
Whichever viewpoint you possess, you ought to know that the Humane Society of Huron Valley will host an ‘informational’ meeting on Wednesday, May 20th at 7pm at the Humane Society of Huron Valley, 3100 Cherry Hill Road to learn more about fertility control methods in deer.
Infrastructure projects for this summer and next summer
Still trying to figure out how to get from here to there without hitting traffic slowdowns? There’s a map for that.
City Council meets on Monday, May 18th; Planning Commission meets on Tuesday, May 19th. Both meetings begin at 7 pm in City Council Chambers at City Hall.
Things that aren’t about the budget
On the agenda are several items of interest that don’t affect the FY16 budget.
Related to the budget, but not part of the process:
The Council will hold a public hearing and then determine whether to amend the ordinance governing water, sewer and stormwater rates to reflect higher costs for consumers.
The Council will decide whether to adopt a revised fund balance policy. The revised fund balance policy reduces the required fund balance for the street millage, and increases the percentage of fund balance required in the General Fund.
The Council will discuss at first reading an amendment to the Downtown Character Overlay Zoning Districts standards. The Council will also discuss amendments to the zoning description for the East Huron2 and Midtown Character Overlay districts.
Character overlay districts define building massing (area, height and placement) more narrowly than the definitions of D1 and D2. As a result, they are intended to be site specific to a great extent. If the changes are approved – or amended and then approved – at first reading, the City Council will hold a public hearing on each ordinance at a later Council meeting, most likely in June. After the public hearing, the Council will determine whether to approve the amended ordinances.
The Council will discuss whether to direct the City Administrator to establish a maximum speed of 25 mph on downtown and near downtown residential streets.
Some sample changes:
- Decrease the fee for starting work on a project in an historic district before obtaining a certificate of appropriateness: from $250 to $200.
- Increase the fee to rent a golf cart at Huron Hills for 18 holes: from $14 to $16.
- Increase the fee to rent a single-person kayak to go from Argo to Gallup parks: from $18 to $20.
- Establish a fee for developer offset mitigation verification (with footing drain disconnect: $250; other mechanism: $140.
Fees are adjusted each year as new services are added. Fees are expected to reflect the actual cost of providing the service.
The Council adopts the budget during the second Council meeting in May each year, as required by the City Charter. The budget is drafted by the City Administrator and is expected to reflect the shared goals of the Council and, by extension, of the community.
The City Administrator evaluated the anticipated revenues, planned expenditures to continue prior-year activities and priorities, and possible uses of fund balance to achieve a specific goal.
The budget includes $200,000 to fund the development of a master plan for the Allen Creek Greenway. The budget increases funding for the Housing Commission by $100,000, bringing the amount for public housing up to $280,000 (most funding comes from Federal grants and programs). The City establishes a budget of $60,000 for initiatives and program changes arising out of the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force recommendations (pending). With an additional $25,000, the Planning staff will undertake a community discussion about Accessory Dwelling Units – as recommended by the City Council priority lists.
Amending the budget
Council members may offer amendments to the City Administrator’s budget. Amendments may either remove items from the budget or add them. Budget amendments must identify the source of funds needed (in the case of an addition) or the fund that receives the unallocated dollars. Budget amendments may defund or reduce funding in one or more programs in order to add funding to a new program, or they may use fund balance in order to achieve a one-time funding goal.
There are 15 budget amendments currently being considered by the Council as well as a final amendment which guarantees that funding for parks is not damaged by any budget amendments.
Any Council member may propose an amendment, and other Council members may agree to co-sponsor any amendments. Amendments must be prepared in advance in order for the City staff to determine the effect of the amendment on the budget and planned activities.
Council members may introduce all, some or none of the amendments; six (6) affirmative votes are necessary to amend the budget; seven (7) affirmative votes are necessary to approve the budget. If the Council does not approve the budget as amended, then the City Administrator’s proposed budget goes into effect.
Amending the budget later in the year – to increase funding, decrease funding, or add funding – takes eight (8) votes.
Update on the Living Wage
Attached to the Council Agenda is notice of the increase in the Living Wage. This increase will be applied to all contracts signed with the City, including those contracts with human services organizations.
Update on crime statistics
The City Council collectively asked many questions regarding the budget. Answers to those questions may be found on the City’s budget page, among many other documents that inform me (at least) about the budget process. Among the questions was one that related to current crime statistics. I’ve attached the charts here.
There are always other items on the agenda that might interest you. This agenda includes resolutions about significant street closings for a variety of events. And as always, if there are items that interest you, please let me know.
On the calendar
Tuesday, May 20th at 3 pm, the Design Review Board meets in the basement of City Hall.
The Design Review Board will be taking a second look at the design for a new residential project, the Madison at Main building (on the corner of Madison and Main Street). This is a voluntary meeting with the DRB; the developer held the required citizen participation meeting on Wednesday, May 14th.
Tuesday, May 20th the Planning Commission meets at 7 pm in City Council chambers.
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and discuss whether to recommend a new housing project on North First Street. This project, near the corner of First and Kingsley, would result in the demolition of two 19th century houses and the construction of a new, 25-unit condominium building with 36 parking spaces under the structure. The site is D2 – and the maximum height is 60 feet. The developer is not seeking any variances. Planning staff have recommended postponing this item, because there are outstanding questions regarding storm water management. The Planning Commission will also hold a public hearing and discuss whether to recommend for approval a new 6-story hotel for S. State Street near Ellsworth. The staff recommends postponement, in order for the developer to be able to address some staff concerns.
Monday, May 25 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. join your neighbors at the Glacier Highlands Annual Memorial Day Parade (there will still be time for that picnic)! These streets will be closed, so you will be able to watch the parade.
- Frederick Drive from Greenbrier Boulevard to Middleton
- Middleton to Bardstown Trail
- Bardstown Trail to Barrister Road ending before Larchmont
- Larchmont between MacGregor Lane and North Folkstone Court
Monday, May 25 at 3 pm, watch the AFC Ann Arbor vs. Michigan Sporting Memorial Day Game at Hollway Field in Ann Arbor.
Saturday, May 30, 2015 from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. attend LIVE on Washington, a teen arts festival sponsored by The Neutral Zone teen center on the 300 block of East Washington Street in downtown Ann Arbor.
Sunday, May 31, 2015 streets will close for the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run. And for those hearty souls who run, walk or bike – and for those of us who don’t – after the run you can enjoy the Taste of Ann Arbor and Taste of Ann Arbor Beer Garden on Main Street (with some overflow onto Washington and Liberty) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
All in June or later, but without firm dates:
It is likely that several proposed developments will be in front of City Council. These include Nixon Farm North and Nixon Farm South, Woodbury Club Apartments, and South Pond Village.
The Planning Commission will continue to work with the consultant to develop some recommended changes to the ‘premiums’ that are offered in downtown. The final recommendations are due to Council in the fall.
The City will hold a public meeting on the Ann Arbor Station. In the event that the City and the FRA select a preferred local alternative, Council members will discuss when to put the issue before the voters. The community must approve going forward with the station; the question will be whether to fully develop the plan before seeking that approval.
What am I reading?
The rain earlier this week brought down a snow of apple petals. Spring is a wonderful time to take a walk through town. I hope to see you as I walk through your neighborhood.