First Ward, City Council
Coffee wakes some of us up
I hold office hours 7:30 to 9 am on most Mondays at the Northside Grill.
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.
Caucus is held at 3:30 pm on the Sunday prior to each Council meeting.
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.
July. That season of raspberries, watermelon, when the responsibilities of winter are equally far behind and far ahead. Some seasons I cannot wait to have end (February may not be a season, but it’s the longest short month I know). Summer – long days and short nights – these I want to last forever.
Celebrating the Fourth of July – back in rural Indiana – meant a parade through town that ended up at the park. The raspberries were ripe along the railroad tracks, and we would pick them through the poison ivy, serving them over hand-cranked vanilla ice cream. In the evenings, kids would play with sparklers – sparklers and cherry bombs were all that was legal – and then families would drive about a mile out of town to watch the community fireworks. Sometimes a rocket would get away from the people managing the fireworks, but generally the most significant injury was a burn from a sparkler. And no matter how creative we were with sparklers, the Fourth was quiet and pretty safe.
Both Indiana and Michigan now allow much louder – and more dangerous – fireworks to be in the hands of small children. I’m convinced that’s not a good thing, but then, my childhood experiences are no way to measure our current concerns.
The Library Lot - and why it's being discussed
The City Council approved a resolution last year (in April) to hire a broker and place the development rights to the top of the Library Lot up for sale. The Council also placed some significant restrictions on any approval, including that the plan for the site needed to include a 12,000 square foot (minimum) public open space, and identified that space as the portion of the lot fronting S. Fifth Avenue. Additionally, the Council agreed that, if the development rights are sold, 50% of the proceeds will go toward affordable housing.
It’s been over a year, and the City has received nine responses to the offering.
At this time, the broker has reviewed the financial capacity, development capacity, and responsiveness to the RFP, and indicates that five of the proposals meet the requirements and have the ability to construct the building. The offers that are moving forward range from $2.5 to million $10 million. In addition to the public space required by each proposal, possible community benefits include two floors of work-force housing, managed by the Housing Commission. A mix of ground-floor uses – including dining and shopping – are also proposed.
5 proposals under consideration:
4 rejected proposals:
The City Administrator has recommended that further evaluation on the site proposals be conducted by members of the Planning, Park Advisory, Housing, and Environmental commissions – in an effort to establish some firm community input. After that, the Council might see two or three proposals rise to the top – and would then invite those developers to engage in the required public process to discuss design, public space use and management, and other public benefits.
After the public process, the Council would be likely to see a recommendation from the community to consider one development as meeting those community needs. Because this is public land, a minimum of eight Council members would need to agree in order for the development rights to be sold.
The Old Y Lot
In 2013, a similar process was followed that placed the Old Y lot on the market. This lot was eventually sold to Dahlmann Properties for $5.2 million, with the requirement that construction on the site be completed by April, 2018.
At this point, Dahlmann Properties have not been able to break ground, at least in part because they have not come to an understanding with AAATA about the future location of bus stops.
When this was used as a City parking lot, buses picked up passengers on William near the corner of Fourth – to take them to the airport. Now, busses discharge and embark passengers on Fifth, William and Fourth – essentially limiting the street use and access to the site, both during and after construction. Dahlmann Properties will need to discuss how those bus stops can be permanently relocated in order to complete the project.
If Dahlmann Properties is unable to complete construction by April, 2018, the City could decide to purchase the property back – it’s in the sales agreement – for $4.2 million. That’s $1 million less that the property sold for. If the Council agrees to this, it would likely put the site back on the market, but would tie up that $4.2 million until the land sold.
Downtown Zoning changes
At the last Council meeting, Council members postponed voting on possible changes to downtown zoning (for that section of town bounded by State Street, Huron, the alley between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, and Ann Street). This postponement occurred because some of the published information on the changes was incomplete. The public hearing was continued; the Council will consider the zoning changes on July 20th.
Why all this talk about zoning?
Most people expect zoning discussions to be simple. They aren’t. If all lots in the City were exactly the same, it might be easy to talk about how certain areas should have different requirements – or, for that matter, how all of the City should be zoned in similar ways. Since the City first started zoning, our efforts to simplify have created more complex layers of zoning that are hard to understand.
The City began this zoning effort between 2003 and 2005, when the majority of Council members, Planning Commission members, downtown business owners, and citizens engaged in reconsidering the downtown agreed that the City needed to provide significantly more housing opportunities in order to support a variety of businesses. The City Council approved the final version of the zoning in 2009.
The end result may be a flexible and yet predictable zoning system. That should be the goal – flexible enough to adjust to changing technology and needs; predictable enough that most of us can anticipate what types of changes will be proposed.
I hope we get there.
In May, the Council established a budget for deer management of $90,000. This budget covers the creation and implementation of a management plan. It doesn’t define what that management plan will look like, or how it will be implemented.
The Council will hold a working session on Monday, July 13th, which will include a presentation from a wild life biologist who works for the Humane Society of the United States. In addition, staff from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, a deer cull contractor, and Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance will be present at the meeting to answer specific questions from Council about deer management practices and options. The meeting is scheduled from 7 – 9 p.m. at Larcom City Hall, Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, 301 E. Huron St. and will include public comment. Working sessions – unlike regular Council action meetings – don’t require that you sign up to speak in advance; however, public comment time is at the end of the meeting. I hope you will come to learn more about this, um, growing issue.
You can read more about the deer management report on the City’s deer management page.
Not my petition, but . . .
Ann Arbor residents for non-lethal deer management are circulating a petition that they hope will result in a change to the City Charter. This petition would place an amendment to the City Charter on the November, 2015 ballot. The proposed amendment would prohibit hunting within Ann Arbor City limits, although it would allow for trapping nuisance animals, euthanizing injured animals, and tranquilizing animals to provide medical care, including sterilization.
For more information about this petition drive – any type of information – contact Robert McGee at 734-417-7541.
On the Agenda
City Council meets on Monday, July 6th; Planning Commission meets on Tuesday, July 7th. Both meetings begin at 7 pm in City Council Chambers at City Hall.
This may be one of the lightest Council agendas in recent times. Two Council members will be absent, as they are in Teubingen, Germany (our Sister City) commemorating 50 years of this relationship.
Special Working Session
Late last week the Clerk announced that there would be a special working session on Monday, July 6th at 6 pm. Public notice for this working session indicates it’s about the League of Women Voters.
I don’t have any information about this working session – the subject, rationale, or documents – that might help me tell you whether it’s important for you to pay attention. But I do have an idea.
At the last Council meeting, the two Second Ward council members each announced a possible amendment to the City Charter that residents could vote to approve (or reject) for the November ballot. The League of Women Voters held some panel discussions about amending the City Charter to change the election cycle and to remove partisan IDs.
One of these Charter amendments would establish 4-year terms for Council members (and the Mayor) and would eliminate odd-year elections but retain staggered terms. In effect, Council members would be elected either in Presidential or Gubernatorial election cycles.
The other amendment would remove partisan IDs from candidates for local office. In other words, Council candidates would no longer be listed as Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. Exactly how the election would be conducted would change, although I don’t yet know what those proposed changes look like.
The Council must decide in August whether to place any changes to the City Charter on the ballot for November. I look forward to the discussion on July 6th, whatever the topic, but particularly if it’s about these possible changes to the charter.
The Council will hold a public hearing and discuss proposed changes to the Ann Arbor Racquet Club. The Racquet Club is also seeking a waiver from the requirement that they install sidewalk along Geddes Rd. Initially, the Racquet Club requested a waiver from installing any sidewalk; the Planning Commission recommended that waiver be denied. The revised site plan includes a partial sidewalk, and the Racquet Club is requesting a waiver from the requirement that they construct the complete sidewalk required by City policies.
This item is likely to be postponed. Because three members of City Council are member/owners of the Racquet Club, there is a potential conflict of interest. If these three members are recused from voting, and with two members absent in Germany, the vote would need to be unanimous in order for the waiver and the site plan to be approved.
(I am not a member of the Racquet Club, for what that’s worth.)
There are some other issues on the agenda that might interest you.
Many of us have supported the concept of city-wide fiber networks. The FY16 budget includes funding to develop a plan for a fiber network. On the agenda is a contract with Merit to begin the process.
Most of us never want to think of snow in July. But back on the agenda is a change to the ordinance that governs snow-removal on sidewalks. This item is on the agenda for First Reading; if approved at First Reading, it will return to the agenda for a public hearing and final vote.
There are always other items on the agenda, from Dancing in the Streets to street tree planting contracts. If you see issues that I have not addressed about which you have questions or concerns, please give me a call or send me an email.
Beginning in August, 2015, there will be a number of changes to services provided by AAATA. There is a lot of information about those service changes at the AAATA website.
Now that the City has annexed the properties on Nixon Road at DhuVarren, zoning these properties soon appear on a Council agenda. Once zoning is established, the proposed Toll Brothers’ development will likely be on an upcoming Council agenda. At some point – before the site plan for these properties is discussed – the Council will need to approve plans to change the Nixon/DhuVarren/Green intersection. At this time, the proposed improvement is for a roundabout.
I regularly hear about people sleeping rough or camping out in our parks. Some community members want those people to be housed and safe; others simply want them out of the parks (and sometimes, out of the City). The Council has established and formalized a policy for removing campers from public and private land.
The City Administrator, as a member of a working group on the Continuum of Care, has provided a report and recommendations about additional services, and ways to best implement the Council’s policy. Council members will be considering the recommendations in the near future.
RIVER HOP 2015!
The homes and businesses near the Huron River by Broadway and Pontiac Trail comprise an eclectic neighborhood, and the River Hop is an eclectic celebration: the weekend of Aug. 29-30th will be chock full of a variety of fun events! Whether you’re into garage sales, home-grown music, area history, local artists, nature, gardening, boating or bicycling, there’s something for you.
If you live in the area and would like to offer an event, please sign up here: www.riverhop.org. Especially consider offering a garage sale Saturday August 29th! If you don't have enough stuff, consider going in with some neighbors, or your whole street even. The River Hop will publicize it for you! Go to www.riverhop.org to sign up.
Wednesday July 1st - Thursday July 30th from 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Sundays from 12:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Explore science all summer with special activities at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum! From science experiments to make-and-take projects to hands-on activities, there will be something for everyone. In July, learn about the wonders of water, and in August, experiment with color. The activities will change regularly, for more information, visit the website.
Sunday, July 5th, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival will finishe its annual program with events at the Power Center, the Power Center lawn, the South Ingalls mall and the North University stage.
Tuesday, July 7th at 7 pm, the Planning Commission will meet to consider a new hotel for State Street, new condos for N. First (near Felch) and will hold a public hearing on the Master Plan (no changes in that set of documents at this time). Following that, the Planning Commission will hold a working session on a proposed hotel/conference center for the site that runs between Catherine and Ann, fronting on Glen.
Thursday, July 9th, The Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force (PSATF) invites you to attend a meeting they are hosting at the downtown library branch. This meeting includes a presentation of the draft recommendations the task force has developed over the past 16 months. Following the presentation there will be an open house, with donated snacks, to gather community priorities regarding draft recommendations and to allow an opportunity for direct discussion with PSATF members. Details:a2gov.org/pedsafety. Contact person: Connie Pulcipher; firstname.lastname@example.org
July 9, 2015 to July 12, 2015
Thursday & Friday: 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Saturday: 8:00 AM - 10:00 PM
Location: Mill Pond Park, Saline, MI
The Saline Festival began as a result of the Sister City relationship between Saline, Michigan and Brecon Wales. It’s grown to be a multi-day event, and a great small getaway. Learn more by visiting the website.
Friday, July 10th, visit the Rolling Sculpture Car Show on Main Street.
Monday, July 13 from 5:00 – 9:30 p.m., the Townie Party celebrates all things local and is our way of thanking Ann Arbor residents for so graciously hosting the Ann Arbor Art Fair each year. The Townie Party offers a fun-filled evening for the whole family where visitors can enjoy terrific music by some of the area’s most well-known bands; grab a bite of Townie grub; enjoy a brew at the Townie Pub; or take a stroll through the Kids’ Art Fair, which showcases the work of young artists in grades 3 - 8. Community Central features cool things to do in Washtenaw County and the Art Activity Zone offers a chance to explore your artistic side. Adding to the festivities is the 2nd Annual Ann Arbor Mile - Dart for Art, a competitive fun run with divisions for elite runners and the general public. The Party takes place on N. University between Thayer and Fletcher and on south Ingalls Mall.
Wednesday, July 15 – Saturday, July 18
The Ann Arbor Art Fair
Leave the car at home, walk downtown and enjoy!
A Better Way to Zone, by Donald Elliot. I’m always interested in zoning. Heck, I read this stuff for fun. And this is a very clearly-written book on why we have zoning, and how things go wrong. Because it’s written by the expert who is working with the City to improve our zoning code (Zoning Ordinance ReOrganization [ZORO]), understanding how he sees things has helped me understand how he has suggested things change.