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.
Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market on the last Saturday in May was predictably busy – at 7:30 am it was filled with people who seemed to have faith that any cold front would not be too cold for the tomatoes. The year has been slow to start, so there are few fruits and vegetables yet in anyone’s yard. I look forward to strawberries, raspberries and peaches.
For many people the traditional start of the summer season is Memorial Day; for me, it’s June 1. The Tall Bearded Iris bloom alongside the Siberian and Japanese Iris. Early rose blossoms open. Tender annuals are in the first flush of growth and peonies and poppies punctuate the garden. (August, now . . . August is heat and sun and sudden storms, peaches and early apples, with golden grass and drooping, leggy begonias. Embrace June while we can, I say.)
One of the vendors had late-blooming lilac flowers for sale at the Market; those lilacs added even more perfume to the air. And a neighbor greeted me with a reminder that the Council meeting on June 1 is full of issues, and may last entirely too long.
I recently attended a day-long exchange of ideas and concerns in Dayton, Ohio, with people from the US and Canada – talking about what local governments can do to increase involvement and engagement in civic life. I returned to Ann Arbor quite energized.
Most of the time, when the City reaches out (with a postcard or a press announcement of an event, or even with a survey) very few people respond. Significant meetings about a new zoning plan, a street reconstruction, or park improvement, or proposed development will be held; a dedicated few will appear. As several participants in this conference pointed out – many people will not engage in the issue until the discussion has turned to decision time. That frustrates everyone.
Each of the participants agreed that, if the community is involved in the process that leads to a decision, then the eventual recommendation – for a project or a policy or a new development – is generally improved. And if the community is involved, and the outcome is better, then few feel blindsided by a decision that the local government makes.
Some communities have found ways to engage more residents, more effectively. They’ve worked with residents to determine ways to engage the community – and ways for the community to be involved. One such community is Alexandria, VA. Now, I’m not comparing Ann Arbor and Alexandria, but I thought you might be interested in the Civic Engagement handbook. You might also want to see other ways they are bringing the community into the process earlier and more effectively.
I have found many other resources. I’ll be sharing those with you over time.
I’ve been gardening here on Broadway for 29 summers. I’ve worked hard to eliminate as much grass as I could, and planted – and replanted, and planted again – eventually finding the plants that like this location. During those years, I’ve seen deer as sometime visitors that come through, munch on my yard, and return to the woods behind my house.
I’ve tried to convince the deer that they are welcome to eat certain things; I’ve accepted that I won’t win every discussion. For years, for instance, I’ve encouraged the deer to eat the rosa rugosa, which tends to get out of control. I’ve applauded as a doe would stand on her hind legs and eat some of the crabapple. And I’ve suggested that, maybe, some of the Nanking cherry volunteers, or redbud, walnut and catalpa seedlings would taste good.
I bought a new rose – a lovely Julia Child, in bloom and in bud. I haven’t got it in the ground yet, but some entity came through last night and carefully deadheaded all the spent bloom, leaving the buds intact. I hope it was a deer. A talented and sensitive deer who will continue to help prune and deadhead . . .
At the last Council meeting, the Council agreed to establish a budget for the upcoming fiscal year to create and implement a deer management plan. That $90,000 may be spent on a number of things, including data collection on deer in natural areas. The City may also compile recommended plant lists and materials that address concerns such as avoiding deer-car crashes (a limited though useful thing to know) and how to deal with the increasing population of ticks – all kinds of ticks. This month – on June 22nd – the Council will hold a special working session to learn more about deer management from deer management professionals – those who kill deer to control the population and those who are trying other means. The working sessions are open to the public and televised. 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.
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.
On the Agenda
City Council meets on Monday, June 1st; Planning Commission meets on Tuesday, May 2nd. Both meetings begin at 7 pm in City Council Chambers at City Hall.
Introductions and recognitions
The Council often acknowledges important community events and recognizes important relationships at the beginning of the meeting. This agenda includes three such recognitions: the introduction of the delegates from our Sister City, Tubingen, Germany (celebrating the 50th Anniversary of this relationship), the recognition of the Ann Arbor Branch of the Women’s National Farm and Garden Association, and the Annual Historic District Commission Preservation Awards.
Carried over from earlier meetings
The Council postponed several issues until the budget had been approved. Now that we know what our resources for the coming year may be, several items that I’ve mentioned before are back on the agenda.
The Council will hold a public hearing on whether to approve a resolution in support of the ReImagine Washtenaw Corridor Improvement Study.
This particular resolution has generated a significant amount of input from the community, from those living near Washtenaw. Of course, most of us travel along Washtenaw – or try to find ways to avoid using this very busy street.
ReImagine Washtenaw is a multi-jurisdictional planning document that has grown out of a series of efforts to find ways to increase the number of people using Washtenaw as a transit and shopping corridor. Washtenaw County, Ypsilanti City, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township have each adopted the Corridor Improvement Study as a planning document. The study includes recommendations that, if implemented, would ensure proper building setbacks, dedicate additional public access, or right-of-way, as properties are proposed for redevelopment, fill in sidewalk gaps, improve bus stops, optimize the traffic signals, and other improvements.
Pittsfield Township has gone further, adopting its own planning document that focuses on the Golfside / Washtenaw area. Other background documents – in current use for planning in Ann Arbor – include the Washtenaw County Access Management Plan (2008), and the Washtenaw Avenue Corridor Redevelopment Strategy (2010).
Each of these studies is recommending the same tools be used to solve the problem of the increasing number of people using Washtenaw. They recommend more housing construction near Washtenaw, so residents are close to transit lines or within walking distance of their destinations. Other recommendations include: reducing the number of potential accidents by designing for more control over left turns; increasing the safety of pedestrians; increasing access to transit by creating safer transit stops; increasing the safety of bike riders by either creating buffered bike lanes or shared bike/pedestrian paths; placing parking behind/beside any new construction, so transit riders and pedestrians do not need to cross parking lots to get to their destinations, and moving new construction closer to the (future) right of way to increase safe access from the street.
These studies deal with congestion, but congestion is clearly not the primary problem they are trying to solve. By optimizing traffic signals and introducing Michigan left turns, the studies assert that traffic flow will be smoother and faster.
The Council will address vegetation and the City’s right of way by discussing a revision to the ordinance that governs a variety of things – planting in the right of way, visibility for vehicular travel, and plantings that intrude into the sidewalk or street. Ordinances require two readings – this is on the agenda for First Reading. When it passes First Reading, it will return to the agenda at a later meeting for a public hearing and a vote.
None of us are really thinking about snow and ice this time of year. But the Council will discuss, at First Reading, amendments to the ordinance that governs clearing snow and ice from sidewalks.
The Council postponed this item to allow the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force to discuss the provisions with the Disabilities Commission.
Both the Task Force and the Disabilities Commission recommend that all snow and ice be cleared after every snowfall, within 12 hours. The Council will consider whether to further amend the ordinance to meet this recommendation.
Related – by propinquity, if not by anything else – to the ReImagine Washtenaw discussion is a proposed development behind Arborland that would use Chalmers as the connecting street to either Washtenaw or East Huron River Drive.
South Pond Village would be a new subdivision, accessible through the Woodcreek subdivision, which would contain 73 single-family homes with public streets, storm water controls and landscape buffers. The subdivision would include a one-acre public park.
The development agreement includes a requirement that the subdivision – a condominium – would be assessed for any future improvements required for Chalmers.
The Planning Commission voted not to recommend this project because neither the City nor the developer addressed the increased congestion that adding new residential units will cause for the already existing residents. Because Chalmers is primarily a dirt road maintained by the County, and because Washtenaw itself is sufficiently congested that residents seeking to turn east on Washtenaw can have a significantly long delay exiting Chalmers, members of the Planning Commission expressed frustration that neither the City nor the developer addressed this known issue.
The developer has, however, proposed a project that meets the stormwater requirements, that sets aside land as a public park, and that meets the design requirements in the Master Plan and all the zoning requirements established in City Code.
There are always other items on the agenda that might interest you. This agenda includes resolutions that address some important street closings. One of those resolutions recommends approval of street closings for the 2016 Street Art Fair. Note that this is for next year and involves moving the dates of the Art Fair from Wednesday-to-Saturday to Thursday-to-Sunday.
Another resolution would result in closing State Street from Packard to Monroe for Slide the City, a charitable event that includes a water slide 1000 feet long (July 5). If I still had a small child, I know where I would be on the 5th of July! And as always, if there are items that interest you, please let me know.
A neighbor recently wrote to all of Council about a meeting he had not attended, but to which he wanted to contribute – on developing a new Master Plan. While I don’t know when or if that meeting occurred (certainly, I never heard about it) I am aware that the City will be working on two studies during the next year – one, a master plan for the Allen Creek Greenway and the other – likely not until late 2016 – on re-evaluating the City’s Master Plan. These documents, once approved by the City Council, will form the basis of changes in our community. I’d like to get them right.
So, if you are one of the many who finds attending meetings boring and participating in on-line discussions and surveys unappealing, I hope you will change your mind. I want your voice at the table.
June 2nd, the Planning Commission will discuss whether to grant a special exception use permit to allow a fitness center to operate on Eisenhower Parkway. After this discussion – which may be brief – the Planning Commission will meet in a working session to discuss a petition to amend a Planned Unit Development at the request of the Jewish Resource Center at 1335 Hill Street.
June 3, C-Span will be in town to present an award to Skyline students for their national-award-winning short film on school funding. Somehow, this topic seems particularly poignant this year. Congratulations to Eli Kirshner, Ricardo Moreno and Arden Siegel.
June 5 - June 14: CINETOPIA, an international film festival that puts Ann Arbor on the map (well, more on the map or on more maps).
June 5, 6 (11 am - midnight) and 7 (noon - 6 pm), join the community at the Ya'ssoo Greek Festival. Find parking at the Knox Presbyterian Church on Wagner Road.
June 6, 11 am - 2 pm, come to the Safety Services Community Open House at City Hall. The event will include fire trucks and equipment; police motorcycles; SWAT displays; K–9 unit, vehicle extrication and smoke house demonstrations; Safety Town; refreshments; and much more.
June 6, 9 am - 9 pm, come to The African American Festival on Fourth Ave. at Ann, in the historic African American business district.
June 12, 6 pm - 9 pm, come to the Mayor's Green Fair on Main Street. Come learn more about climate change, energy efficiency, natural areas and, well, how we and our descendants can live long and prosper on this planet.
June 12 - July 5, enjoy the many activities and events at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.
June 13, 10 am, the Ann Arbor Democratic Party will host its second Council forum at the Ann Arbor Community Center on North Main Street.
June 17 - 20, 8 am - 3 pm, come to the Ann Arbor Book Festival. Rejoice in being a city of book-readers.
June 20th, until dark, join the community at the Juneteenth event at Wheeler Park. Ann Arbor NAACP's observance of the announcement of the end of slavery in Texas and the Southwest on June 19, 1865. Performances by local talent, games, health and nonprofit information, food concessions, vendors, cake walk and a children's area. firstname.lastname@example.org, a2naacp.org
July 4, 10 am - noon, come to the Jaycees Fourth of July parade. Wear your colors and be part of the parade!
I have my own doubts about grammar; although I know about dependent clauses and passive voice, some things I have to look up – and some things I just don’t quite get right. That’s why I’ve been really enjoying Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris. I need a copy editor as well as a spell checker some days. I’m reading the copy from the Ann Arbor District Library; you should check it out.
One of our neighbors tried to send me a book anonymously. It’s not her fault that Amazon delivered it with the bill of lading carefully tucked inside. But what a find! The Edge Becomes the Center: an Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century, by DW Gibson.
Because I was the guest of the Kettering Foundation for the conference in Dayton – and please forgive my ignorance, but I had to look them up – and learning from others working to increase civic engagement, I spent some time looking into Kettering Foundation publications. I’ve been spreading around Democracy Beyond the Ballot Box: A Role for Elected Officials, City Managers and Citizens, by Victoria Lemme. I keep reading paragraphs there that I want to share.