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.
It’s a real luxury to have extra days to review and evaluate the agenda – although it’s encouraged me to procrastinate on my goal of writing this newsletter in a timely fashion. Because of the Tuesday, March 8 primary (and I hope you voted), the Council does not meet until Thursday. This extra time has allowed Council members to request additional detailed information and documents.
But it’s also allowed me to change my point of view. Instead of writing about snow and cold, as of Tuesday I can discuss early-blooming flowers. The winter aconite has joined snowdrops in blooming (the snow melted, the flowers bloomed!). The first crocus have invited the bees. I have buds on bushes and daffodils poking their heads – not just above the ground, but above the foliage. It’s a wonder to see things grow, seemingly overnight.
This weekend marks the beginning of both street-closure and construction season – although that seems a bit early to me.
There has been a slight change for the closure on M-14 in Ann Arbor.
- Westbound M-14 closed Friday, March 4, at 9 p.m.
- Eastbound M-14 closed Saturday, March 5, at 8 p.m.
In addition, the westbound M-14 entrance ramp from Barton Drive closed Saturday, March 5, at 9 p.m. and the eastbound M-14 entrance ramp from Maple Road closed Saturday, March 5, at 8 p.m.
Work is scheduled to last until the end of summer, road and bridge repairs will take place along M-14 between I-94 and the US- 23/M-14 interchange in Ann Arbor. Road repair work will include concrete pavement patching and joint repair work between I-94 and the Huron River, and resurfacing between the Huron River and the US-23/M-14 interchange. Bridge repair work will take place at the following locations:
• Miller Road over M-14,
• M-14 over Maple Road,
• Newport Road over M-14,
• M-14 over Beechwood Drive,
• M-14 over the Huron River, the railroad tracks and Bandemer Park.
Construction at the Miller Road, Maple Road and Newport Road bridges is expected to occur outside of the school year. For more information and updates, please visit MDOT's project website.
During construction, some bridge access (crossing M14) will be limited.
Sunday, March 13, 2016 from 8 to 11 a.m. the following streets will be closed for the Shamrocks and Shenanigans 5K Run/Walk:
• South Main from Washington to Stadium Blvd.
• Washington between South First and Main Street
• South First between West Washington and East William
• East William between South First and Main Street
• South Ashley between William and West Jefferson
• West Jefferson between South Ashley and South Main Street
Geddes Avenue: March 14 through November 1, 2016. Geddes Avenue will be closed to through traffic between Washtenaw and Huron Parkway for road reconstruction and utility work. Local residential access will be maintained.
Between Washtenaw and Huron Pkwy, eastbound through traffic will be detoured at Washtenaw to Huron Pkwy. Westbound through traffic will be detoured at Huron Pkwy to Washtenaw. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic should avoid using Geddes Avenue due to uneven terrain, construction vehicles, and deep utility trenches.
Please see the detour map (PDF) for alternative routes.
Now that the City’s deer cull is completed, I hope we all – especially City staff – turn our attention toward the non-lethal population control options that are currently not allowed in Michigan, but that could be, were the City to propose a plan. I understand individual residents and representatives from groups have begun meeting with City staff to discuss the development and potential implementation of non-lethal population control activities (sterilization or contraception). Designing a rigorous non-lethal program with metrics and evaluation tools seems reasonable to me; it could also provide an opportunity for those opposed to lethal measures to really address their concerns about deer management.
Of course, I anticipate that the City will engage in a very extensive data-gathering activity – looking at deer browse damage in our natural areas and evaluating evidence that deer management activities have (or will) affect that damage and gathering hard data in a variety of ways. Over the past two months, I’ve heard from people who have ideas about how the City could gather data that would support – or fail to support – a deer management program. I’ve heard from people who question whether an opinion survey is desirable and from those who want to write the opinion survey in order to get a better (or more accurate) result. I’ve heard from people concerned about the quality and quantity of information coming from the City on the deer management program. I’ve heard from those who expect a much more detailed population estimate, too. All of this input will prove valuable as I work with the City staff to address the problems we saw with the roll out of the deer cull.
During the next two months (the rest of March, all of April, some of May) the Council is in a position to discuss whether an amount for deer management ought to be included in the 2017 budget – and if funding is included, what that funding should cover. This is an opportunity that I hope each of you will take into consideration.
As I write this newsletter, the three-legged deer, a neighborhood favorite, is currently eating in my yard – along with her yearling. Others are in my back yard.
THE LIBRARY LOT
The City Administrator is in negotiation with CORE Spaces, the developer who seeks permission to build on the Library Lot.
I assume the developer has met with most of the members of Council; I know I’ve met with them. Because this property is so central to many discussions about how downtown ought to develop and change, I’ve urged the developer to meet with residents as well as with nearby property owners.
When CORE Spaces acquired the development rights to the parcel between Sloane Plaza and the Campus Inn (now the Graduate Hotel), their team met and worked closely with the adjacent neighborhood. They appeared twice in front of the Design Review Board and were able to demonstrate – to neighbors and the Design Review Board – that they could and would change the design plan to improve appearance and meet neighboring residential goals. So far, CORE has not met with residents and other interested parties to discuss the impact of their proposed design on the Library Lot. They have not held meetings about the public space (design and management) or about connectivity through the block – and these are both part of the expectations.
If CORE Spaces holds meetings with the public, I plan to attend. It is important to me to see whether and how they are able to consider community interests in their proposed project. But because they may schedule meetings quickly, please let me know if you want to be there, too. I’ll try to share the date, time, and place with you well in advance.
The motion to move toward an agreement with CORE passed with 7 votes. It will take 8 affirmative votes for the Council to agree to sell the property.
In several of the meetings I’ve recently attended, there have been comments and questions about the proposed use of buildings. This particularly came up at the most recent Planning Commission meeting, when the Planning Commission discussed whether to recommend for approval a proposed bath house on N. Main Street. There are some really good things to say about this building: it’s been designed to be the most sustainable building possible; it’s attractive; and it’s not too big for its site (so it doesn’t dominate the space). But a communal bath house – a concept that extends thousands of years into the past – is a very specific and not necessarily a very versatile building use. I was pleased to hear the architect and the owner address ways this building could be used – if and when the bath house use is no longer desired.
But that brings up the need to think, with each proposed building, whether it could be re-purposed in the future or would need to be torn down when its current use is no longer useful. We’ve seen car washes become eyesores, drive-in movie theaters become abandoned lots, and office buildings become empty hulks – in our fair city as well as in other communities. At the same time, we’ve seen old buildings be used in new ways – old factories become new offices and new housing and old stores become luxury condos. While the Planning Commission and the Council don’t approve the use of a building, it remains important that we think about whether the design is versatile. If you have ideas for ways the City could ensure versatile design, come talk with me.
There are other items of concern in our zoning. For instance, the differences between D1 and D2 zoning are, significantly, mostly about the size of a new building. Each D2 neighborhood is different; some have significant commercial uses; others are primarily residential. We ought to be considering the impact of commercial uses in residential neighborhoods at the same time we are thinking about the impact of residential uses on commercial neighborhoods. While most of us support the idea of mixed use – having local businesses within walking distance of homes, and having housing above and adjacent to a 24-hour downtown – we need to remember that too noisy or too busy a commercial use in a residential neighborhood will cause conflicts.
This – among other considerations – is something that the City ought to be looking at as it re-writes our land-use master plan.
MDOT AND NORTH MAIN STREET
North Main Street (as well as Washtenaw Ave./Huron/Jackson) is a State Trunk Line – what I think of as a ‘business loop’ – and its design and maintenance is controlled by the Michigan Department of Transportation. MDOT had scheduled N. Main to be repaved in 2007 – and that repaving continues to be postponed. In a recent meeting with MDOT staff, I clearly heard that the condition of the freeways was where they intend to focus. MDOT could not commit to even surface repairs on N. Main Street anytime in the next two years.
This is not some place the City ignores. There are conceptual plans for ways to improve access, traffic control, and non-motorized transit in the N. Main area; there are concepts, as well, for ways the area could be redeveloped to create a better near-the-river area. None of these plans can move forward without input, involvement and agreement from MDOT.
There are many huffy things I could say about this process – that it has taken over two years of regular meetings between MDEQ staff, representatives from the Governor’s office, and Washtenaw County elected officials and staff members is only part of the issue.
State Representative Jeff Irwin will be hosting a Town Hall meeting on 1,4 dioxane on Monday, April 18th at 6:30. Council meets that same night at 7 pm. If you can, please attend the Town Hall at Eberwhite Elementary School. By that date, MDEQ may release its new cleanup standards for 1,4 dioxane, and the City, County and State can begin seriously discussing next steps.
On the Agenda
CITY COUNCIL MEETS ON THURSDAY, MARCH 10 AT 7 PM. Planning Commission meets on Wednesday, March 9th at 7 pm in the Council Chambers. These meetings have been delayed to ensure that everyone can vote in the Presidential Primary on March 8th.
As part of its adopted rules (December, 2015) the Council waived the budgetary ceiling for which items could be placed in the consent agenda. The expected outcome was that the Staff would not be required to remain until the early morning hours only to have the Council approve without comment or question an infrastructure item, and that Council meetings would be easier to complete in a timely manner – with a focus of Council attention on those items that are particularly important or controversial. These staff-sponsored items don’t deal with development; Council members also continue to introduce their own items on the agenda.
Several of the items on the agenda have been in the works for a long time. Because the Council is considering approving contracts – and the scope of work for those contracts is actually available only by reading the Request for Proposal documents - I’ve copied some of the information from the RFPs into the paragraphs below. The agenda also includes links to the RFP responses from the selected vendor, to help us confirm that the work on the projects meets our needs.
Ordinances take two readings – and a public hearing – before the Council votes. Up for a public hearing and second reading is an ordinance amendment that changes a number of costs to individual property owners who add or change water services. It also makes changes to the way infrastructure improvement charges are calculated. This is a complex series of changes – I recommend those interested in the costs of development (both large-scale and individual new buildings) review them before the public hearing.
On the subject of water, a resolution to approve a professional service agreement with Burton and Associates for the Stormwater Rate and Level of Service Analysis is on the agenda. The project will: a) Review existing stormwater rates and the current stormwater system’s performance as a baseline for comparing recommended changes; b) Determine the current level of service for the City’s stormwater system in comparison to the 2007 Level of Service B in the City’s 2007 Stormwater Utility Update Report (you may want to review this document in order to determine what the level of service codes mean); c) Determine cost to achieve the 2007 Level of Service B in relation to the City’s current level of service. d) Review and analyze the historical and current maintenance and operation expense requirements, 6-year stormwater capital needs, current debt service obligations, current City policies, the 2015 Stormwater Model Calibration Report and Recommendations, and the Urban & Community Forestry Management Plan Recommendations; e) Determine and develop levels of service related to street tree management, as street trees were not included in any of the 2007 Levels of Service; f) Engage the community to assess the community’s willingness and desire to achieve the 2007 Level of Service B; g)Recommend rate adjustments required to support the Level of Service currently desired by the community for the stormwater system (based on the previously-defined Levels of Service A-D); and h) Provide projections and recommendations that reflect a 20-year schedule to address infrastructure needs (Operations and Maintenance, Capital Improvements, Rehabilitation and Replacement).
The City Council directed the City Administrator to conduct a traffic study of the Nixon Road corridor. The City is also moving forward on the engineering of intersection improvements for Nixon/DhuVarren/Green. On the agenda is a resolution to authorize a professional services agreement with Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment, Inc. (OHM) to both design the intersection and to conduct the traffic study. As part of the description of the desired outcomes, the City includes the following major intersections to be part of the operational analysis include: • Huron Parkway and Plymouth Road • Nixon Road and Plymouth Road • Nixon Road and Huron Parkway • Nixon Road and Aurora Street • Nixon Road and Bluett Road • Nixon Road and Traver Boulevard • Nixon Road and Dhu Varren Road/Green Road • Other intersections as deemed necessary, e.g. The Clague Middle School Driveway.
The primary goal of this task is to conduct a transportation study to be used as a planning guide for future capital improvements on this corridor that will result in a complete street that meets the community’s needs. This goal is to be met by:
• Improving pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular safety
• Creating a pedestrian-friendly, walkable environment
• Creating a bicycle-friendly corridor that can be used for commuting and recreation
• Providing accessibility for the sensitive user groups in the area
All recommended improvements shall be in accordance with applicable City of Ann Arbor, AASHTO, ITE, ADA, and other relevant guidelines and standards. An extensive public outreach campaign is included in this project.
During the budget deliberations last May, the Council approved an amendment that set aside$100,000 for the development of an organics management plan. On the agenda is a resolution that would award a contract for this plan and at the same time would increase the budget for that project (to $225,159) and appropriate the additional funds from the Solid Waste Fund fund balance. The work to be done in developing this plan includes: Yard waste, food waste, and urban wood/forestry waste from:
• Single- and two-family residential units within the City
• Multi-family residential units within the City;
• Food waste, food rescue potential and fats, oils and greases (FOG) from Commercial restaurant and other food businesses within the City and from institutions such as Ann Arbor Public Schools, private and charter schools, colleges, universities and hospitals within the City
• Other sources and generators of yard waste, food waste, FOG and urban wood/forestry waste within the City
The scope of work includes evaluating the potential for source reduction education and outreach to reduce the volume of food waste and food packaging, including an examination on the potential for bans on certain packaging and the opportunity to manage recyclable and/or compostable materials.
The City Council will hold three public hearings on two different proposed projects. After hearing from the community the Council will vote on the proposed projects – unless they postpone that decision.
A relatively simple issue is the resolution to approve Banyan Court, a small subdivision off S Maple Road (8 single-family homes). These market-rate homes would be built in an area that drains to both the Allens Creek and the Malletts Creek watersheds.
More complex is the request to zone property on the east side of N. Nixon to allow for the construction of Woodbury Club Apartments. The proposal is to zone this property R4A (multi-family, allowable maximum density of 10 dwelling units per acre, allowable height of 30 feet). The developer has indicated that he will give over 6 acres of the site to the City for public (park) use, will grant an easement for a pedestrian route to that land, and may sell an additional 26+ acres of land to the City for public (park) land – if the City and the developer can agree on a purchase price. If the project site is zoned R4A, the developer seeks approval of a planned project – which would allow for taller buildings to be constructed on the eastern lot (40 feet at the roof midline rather than 35).
Residents in the nearby Barclay Park and Arbor Hills, among others, have voiced concern for the impact this project would have on existing wetlands and future storm water detention.
Council members Lumm and Westphal are bringing forward a resolution to improve the pedestrian crosswalk on Huron Parkway near Huron High School. Because this is a budget amendment in order to get the improvements designed and built this fiscal year, it requires approval from 8 Council members.
Council members Kailasapathy, Kraypohl and Warpehoski are encouraging support for a resolution to accept the Human Rights Commission’s report advocating for a civilian police review process. If approved, the next steps would include developing a plan to implement the recommendations in that report.
Council members Ackerman, Grand, and Westphal would like the Council to extend the Bike Light giveaway program and to appropriate $2,800 to achieve that goal. Because this is a budget amendment, it requires approval from 8 Council members.
Council members Briere and Smith have prepared a resolution that asks the staff to estimate the cost for a pilot program to collect food waste within the DDA and from certain AAPS schools. This estimated budget – and the timeline to implement such a program – does not have an immediate impact on the budget.
Council members Briere and Eaton offer a resolution that directs the staff to work with Pittsfield Township, seeking to gain positive feedback for the proposed airport runway expansion. This resolution has been postponed multiple times, as the ability and desire to work together with Pittsfield Township is conflicted.
There are always other items on the agenda, including street closures, vehicle purchases and easements. If you have questions or concerns about any item, please let me know.
The Planning Commission did not have a quorum by the time the proposed 51-unit development on Kingsley / Felch (it runs between the streets) would have been discussed. As a result, the project will return to the Planning Commission agenda. I anticipate this item will be on the April 5 agenda.
The City will host a meeting on sump pump operation and maintenance on March 23rd at 6:30 in the cafeteria at Clague Middle School.
Wednesday, March 9
7 p.m., Planning Commission working session
The Planning Commission will be discussing Accessory Dwelling Units.
Monday, March 14
City Council working session on the budget. Highlighted: the city attorney's office, DDA, Housing Commission, LDFA and public services.
Tuesday, March 15
The Planning Commission will consider petitions for the following projects:
Liberty Flats Apartments Site Plan for City Council Approval - A proposed site plan for 68 apartment units in six three-story buildings and 136 vehicle parking spaces in garages, carports and surface lots at 2658 W. Liberty Street. The 4.7-acre site is currently vacant and zoned R4B (Multiple-Family Dwelling). (Ward 5)
New Life Church Special Exception Use and Parking Improvements - New Life Church is seeking special exception to convert a single-family residence at 1547 Washtenaw Avenue into church offices, meeting space, and a caretakers suite in association with the adjacent New Life Church at 1541 Washtenaw. The applicant proposes to add eight (8) parking spaces along the shared property line. The Site Plan approval is conditioned on Historic District Commission approval. (Ward 2)
Circle K Gas Station Site Plan for City Council Approval - A proposal to demolish the existing 2,360-square foot gas station/convenience store building, relocate the gas station pump island and construct a new 3,394-square foot retail building and pump island canopy on this 0.86 acre parcel. Two curb cuts are proposed to be removed: one on Packard and one on Stadium. A landscape modification is being requested. (Ward 4)
Zoller Building Site Plan for City Council Approval – A proposed development of a new 44,000 square foot building of office, warehouse, and garage uses on vacant site at 3900 and 3928 Research Park Drive. The site is adjacent to Mallets Creek and a portion of the site lies in the flood zone. (Ward 4) 305 Meadow Creek Annexation and Zoning for City Council Approval - A request to annex this 8.48 acre single-family parcel from Ann Arbor Township and zone it R1A (Single-Family Dwelling District). (Ward 2)
Controlled Burns Through May 27
The City of Ann Arbor Natural Area Preservation (NAP) will be conducting controlled ecological burns in local natural areas between Feb. 29 and May 27. Burns are only conducted on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., weather permitting. On the day of a controlled burn, signs will be posted around the park, and staff will be available onsite for questions. The fire will be under control at all times.
Where will we burn?
During the spring 2016 season, NAP has permits to burn at the following city-owned sites: Argo Nature Area, Bandemer Park, Barton Nature Area, Belize Park rain garden, Bird Hills Nature Area, Bluffs Nature Area, Briarcliff rain garden, Buhr Park wet meadows, Cedar Bend Nature Area, Dolph Nature Area, Glacier Highlands Park rain garden, Huron Hills Golf Course, Hunt Park rain garden, Kuebler Langford Nature Area, Marshall Nature Area, Miller Nature Area, Oakridge Nature Area, Olson Park, Ruthven Nature Area, Scarlett Mitchell Nature Area, South Pond Nature Area, Sugarbush Park and West Park.
I thought you might want to review the books (and some of the articles) I've read in the past year. It's too long to paste in here, but I've created a page for you. Just compiling it was interesting to me.