On the river
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.
I may not be ready for Fall, but I am really ready for apples and pears. At the Farmer’s Market this week, I got two kinds of apples (eating and cooking), pears (ripe and ready) and peaches – the last of the season. There is nothing better than a ripe pear that melts in my mouth.
This time of year I find myself addressing those tasks I’ve been putting off all summer. Last winter we had a sudden influx of mice, and our cats found them entertaining, but not that exciting. One recourse was poison – which is not something I feel good about. I’d rather eliminate the ways into the house than kill those mice seeking shelter and food. So this week I’ve been fixing our foundation – the holes where the mice get in. That my house needs this maintenance shouldn’t shock anyone; it was built in the 1830s, and mortar wears out over time. Now that it seems fairly solid again, I will inspect once more to find any areas of deterioration, and tuck point them, too. 72 pounds of mortar later, I have learned that the best way to finish this job is to mortar over (or Portland cement over) the stones to provide a better weather seal.
The builder constructed a strong foundation in about 1834; keeping it strong is now my task.
Monday, September 7th, would have been my father’s 102nd birthday. He didn’t quite make it to 100, dying before his 98th birthday. I think about him often. Each year as a boy his birthday presents would be school clothes – brown slacks and brown sweaters, never the books or toys he wanted. He grew up hating brown, but his frugal parents thought that, since they had to buy school clothes, they would combine school and birthday. (I knew a girl once whose birthday was the day after Christmas; her family would give her combined presents, too.)
During his life, so many things changed and yet so many things failed to change.
He experienced the effect of Jim Crow laws and saw them challenged and removed in the 1960s and 70s, when he was already past middle aged. He lived long enough to vote for Barak Obama and see (and worry about) an African American in the White House. He never stopped mourning the first (and only, so far) Catholic president.
A man who knew how to garden and knit and sew and cook was, in his youth, considered less than a normal man – but he’s the one who taught me how to do those things. And he lived long enough to change his views (and my mother’s views) on whether only heterosexuals ought to be allowed to marry. As a Quaker, he found much to think about with regard to society’s biases about Catholics, Irish, African Americans, women, and politics.
Social and political situations aren’t all that altered over time. Transportation options changed, as well – from neighbors who rented entire trains to take a group to Chicago to shop, to the total loss of public transportation options in rural Indiana, to the deconstruction of the railway line through my home town altogether. The year he died, if you didn’t own a car, there was no way to get to work, go to the grocery, shop for clothes, or commute to college. But he was able to manage of those things in the 1930s without a car.
When changes come too quickly for me to adjust, and I confront new words, new technology, new expectations and new ideas, I think about how others have faced the same issues before. In my father’s childhood home, there was no running water in his house, no electricity, no central heating, no paved streets, no sidewalks. And cars traveled at 25, if they could go that fast.
The more things change, the more they stay the same (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose).
The County Board of Commissioners is confronting a significant lack of resources – a loss of about $7 million from the funds they use to provide mental health services. I hope you don’t need to use these services – and I hope I never do, either. Residents who do need these services are at risk of losing their jobs, their families, their housing – or they have already lost these and are struggling not to lose themselves. The County is considering eliminating jobs and services in order to address this budget shortfall. I plan to meet with my county commissioner to learn more about what this means for us, and what we can do about the shortfall in services.
When City Administrator Roger Fraser retired from the City, a committee of Council members was formed to draft an updated job description and establish some expectations for the next City Administrator. I knew that the average length of time a City Administrator stayed in a job was 5-7 years. I hoped the next administrator would stay longer than average.
Alas, my hopes have been dashed. After only four years, Steve Powers announced last week that he would be taking a job offer in Salem, Oregon – a city with a larger budget, more people, and a better climate (although I won’t say whether those are factors in his decision). The Council will now be seeking a new city administrator – as well as a new chief of police, planning manager and building official. All of this brings up succession planning.
If the City were still employee-heavy, it would have been possible to have several people who were ‘almost’ ready to step up and take on more responsibility. Our lean government, however, does not stretch as far as I’d like. The Council is likely to hire a firm to do a national search for a city administrator, just as the City has done to find a new chief of police and the Council may approve doing to find a new planning manager and building official.
One resident asked me about retirement benefits and these staff members. Chief John Seto worked for the City for over 25 years, rising through the ranks to become chief. Chief Seto is still young enough that he has taken a position with UM Housing, but clearly earned his retirement. Wendy Rampson has worked for the City for over 31 years, working in a variety of roles before becoming the planning manager about 6 years ago; she has also earned her retirement. Steve Powers waived any rights he might have had to a pension. Instead, the city agreed to contribute up to 15 percent of Powers' income in a defined contribution 401(a) plan as long as Mr. Powers set aside at least 7.5 percent of his income each year.
On the Agenda
City Council meets on Tuesday, September 8th; Planning Commission meets on Wednesday, September 9th. Both meetings, delayed due to Labor Day, begin at 7 pm in City Council Chambers at City Hall.
The City Council continues to address development – on previously developed sites as well as on recently annexed sites.
A number of documents lay out the details for any new development. The site plan documents include storm water systems, open space, vegetation, streets, exterior lighting, sidewalks, and building placement. Traffic studies are a separate but important source of information; they are required for any project likely to add a total of 500 or more cars to Ann Arbor streets. The development agreement specifies what the developer will do – financial contributions to the City, park dedication, construction noise, construction materials, infrastructure improvements, etc. The links below for each project will take your browser to a general page that has multiple links.
NIXON FARM NORTH AND SOUTH
At the last Council meeting, the Council amended the proposed ordinance on zoning because the developer offered conditional zoning. The conditions on the zoning include that the developer will
This amendment pushed the ordinance back to First Reading. Council then postponed the vote at First Reading to allow time for a thorough review of the impact (for the City) of these conditions.
On Thursday, the City received a letter from the developers asking that this ordinance be postponed again. The letter stated:
We would like to postpone the First Reading for Nixon Farms North & South to the October 19, 2015 Council meeting. There are two reasons for this. First, we are setting up meetings with some of the surrounding neighborhood associations and anticipate that there may be changes to the Site Plans to meet with some of their concerns. Second, because of the new conditional zoning amendment, we and the city attorney’s office need to coordinate some remaining issues with the current owner of the properties and, although we do not anticipate any problems, the logistics of this will take a little longer than we had expected.
Assistant Vice President
Toll Brothers, Inc.-MI Division
If the Council agrees to this postponement, the public hearings on the conditional zoning and the site plans would be held in November.
THE MADISON ON MAIN
The Council will consider whether to approve the site plan for The Madison on Main (Planned Project proposed for the corner of Main and Madison). This parcel is zoned D2 (maximum height, 60 feet). The developer is seeking a planned project, which would allow this developer to build on slightly more of the lot while increasing the setback from Main Street and providing more open space. The developer also seeks a 3-story- not 2-story street wall (which is the base of the building). The height would not be increased.
During the Planning Commission public hearing on this project, adjacent residents pointed out that construction of 618 S. Main (adjacent to this site and by the same developer) created problems for the neighborhood – trucks idling for hours on the street, construction debris not removed, construction noise outside the hours allowed by City ordinances, and congestion (both parking and traffic lane) from construction vehicles and private cars related to the development. The developer has made commitments to the City that these issues will be resolved and not repeated during the construction of this proposed development.
THE END OF THE PACKARD-BEAKES BYPASS
Urban planning in the 60s encouraged the demolition of older near-downtown neighborhoods and the construction of highways and throughways so people could get through town quickly. For all the people who wish the City would move quickly to implement its plans, some of us have been grateful that plans were designed, land acquired, funding organized – and then nothing happened. An example of this is the Packard-Beakes Bypass, a plan to demolish existing properties along Packard, Beakes, Main and Ashley to create a street that would bypass downtown. The City acquired property to create a public right-of-way (ROW), but never built the bypass street.
As part of the proposed development at 410 N. First Street, the City realized that it had retained the right of way through 412 N. First Street; on the agenda is a resolution to vacate this right-of-way. By vacating the ROW, the City allows development to occur on a more flexible portion of the parcel; it doesn't increase the allowable setbacks or density. This is one of the last parcels (if not the last parcel) for the proposed bypass to be ‘vacated.’ If the Council approves this resolution, the City will hold a public hearing on whether it should vacate the ROW. If you follow the link (above) you can see a map of the area in question.
NIXON CORRIDOR TRAFFIC STUDY
For most of the 20th Century, the City did not expect the north side of town to grow significantly, either within the City boundaries or outside of the City. The development pattern was primarily small subdivisions on former farmland with few connections between the subdivisions and a limited street grid. As a result, much of the area has been – or is proposed to be – developed while the street grid has not been improved and made more efficient.
On the agenda is a resolution to direct the City Administrator to advance the Nixon Corridor Traffic Study, so that it will be completed before June 30, 2016 rather than starting the study sometime after July 1, 2017. Because the design of the intersection of Nixon/DhuVarren/Green is already operating at a very low level of service (LOS), the City is hoping to finalize the design and fix the intersection by the end of October, 2017. The City’s efforts to fix the intersection will only address a portion of the traffic issues on Nixon. According to the traffic study conducted for the Nixon Farm developments, improving the intersection will still leave a number of areas operating at an E or F level of service (which is pretty bad). If the Council agrees to move the corridor study forward in time, the City may be able to develop a more comprehensive plan and address traffic more effectively. Improvements to the corridor could then be planned and built.
Returning to the agenda (originally postponed on October 6, 2014) is a proposed amendment to the pedestrian crosswalk ordinance. This item was postponed and referred to the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force for comment. That task force requested a further postponement in order that they might fully consider the implications and provide an evaluation as part of their report to Council. The report (page 13) recommends that the ordinance not be changed, and that pedestrian crossing laws be regularly enforced.
At the last Council meeting, Council members adopted the City’s deer management plan (which isn’t yet a plan). That plan includes a number of non-lethal management recommendations that could decrease the number of deer in neighborhoods. One of those recommendations is to implement a ban on intentional deer feeding. The City staff drafted such an ordinance based on other deer-feeding bans around the US. One of the sections of the ordinance that some have questioned prohibits placing bird seed within 5 feet of the ground unless that bird seed is contained within a bird feeder. Some have questioned whether they might be in violation of this ordinance if bird seed drops on the ground.
On the agenda is a resolution to have the City become a Compassionate Community and sign the Charter for Compassion. Unfortunately, the agenda doesn’t include the referenced documents. I believe this is the charter for compassion, though.
FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT OVERLAY ORDINANCE
Returning to the agenda is a resolution directing the Planning Commission to review and make recommendations regarding the adoption of a floodplain management overlay ordinance. This item was postponed on July 20th to allow staff time to consider what other communities are doing and to make recommendations. That information was to be provided prior to having the resolution return to the agenda, and the resolution was postponed to September 8th.
The Planning Manager, Wendy Rampson, has retired (see below). Until a new manager is hired, planning staff and the Planning Commission will be working toward completing a work plan that is already ambitious. Discussing whether different development regulations ought to be in place for specific areas as a floodplain management tool is important; it may not result in an ordinance within the allotted time.
When the City’s planning manager decided to retire, the planning and building areas were already being restructured. The building official left the City earlier this year and a search was on for a new staff position working with residents on inspections and permits. With the departure of the planning manager, hiring new staff has become a priority. On the agenda is a resolution to approve a contract with the Mercer Group to conduct executive searches to select candidates for Planning Manager and Building Official.
While the City waits for the outcome of these searches, work in the planning and building (and inspection) departments continues. Also on the agenda is a resolution to amend and increase the contract with Carlisle/Wortman, which has covered some of the needed responsibilities, and to increase the budget for that contract.
On the agenda is a resolution to approve a contract with Tad McKillop to cast the Coleman Jewett Memorial (bronze Adirondack Chair). The bulk of the funds for this piece of public art came through individual donations from those whose lives were touched by Mr. Jewett. When completed, the finished bronze will be installed at the Farmer’s Market.
BODY ARMOR FOR THE POLICE
Recently the City has been addressing police technology upgrades. On the agenda is a resolution to purchase concealable body armor, to wear under police uniforms. This body armor replaces some aging equipment.
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION ORDINANCE
The Council will hold a public hearing and discuss whether to amend that portion of the City Code that deals with the organization of boards and commissions to alter the organization and responsibilities of the Human Rights Commission.
There are always other items on the agenda, including street closures for events, such as these resolutions to close streets for the UM Homecoming Celebration (State Street / North University) on October 9, and for the Turkey Trot on November 26.
ZONING ORDINANCE REORGANIZATION (ZORO)
The Planning Commission will be discussing the Zoning Ordinance(s) Reorganization plan in September and October. This long-delayed plan has required more work than initially anticipated, as the City has many overlapping ordinances that have required review and coordination. Areas where the overlapping controls are in conflict have been highlighted, but no changes have been made (as amending ordinances is the role of City Council). There will be public meetings and public hearings on the recommendations; please stay tuned.
This process is separate from any changes to downtown zoning, and is also separate from the Master Planning efforts (both for the Allen Creek Greenway and for the City as a whole) that ought to begin this year and next year.
The City’s property broker (for the Library Lot) and a group of City staff in various fields has narrowed down the list of possible developments for the Library Lot to 2: CA Ventures and Core. Here’s a timeline of how we (the City) got to this point (from MLive):
June 23, 2015: 5 proposals make short list for the Library Lot
June 23, 2015: Download developers' proposals for Ann Arbor Library Lot
Jun 30, 2015: Updated drawings of developer plans
August 31, 2015: 2 development proposals in running for Ann Arbor's Library Lot
The City expects to invite the developers to Ann Arbor on Thursday, October 8 and Friday, October 9 to have them meet with the public and listen to both desires for the public space and concerns about the design. As soon as I have more information, I will share.
Saturday – Sunday, September 5-6
Get to the Old St. Patrick Labor Day Festival at 5671 Whitmore Lake Road from noon – 11 pm. Admission is free. Music, kids events, vendors – and you. A great mix.
Sunday, September 6
Dancing in the Streets (Main Street between William and Huron)
Monday, September 7
Labor Day Activities:
Argo Canoe Livery / Argo Cacades: Park your car at the (free!) UM parking lot on Broadway at Wall Street and enjoy the water! The canoe livery is open from 9 am to 8 pm (Gallup is open, too). Rent a kayak and enjoy the cascades; rent a canoe and paddle to Gallup (a van will bring you back to your car).
Head out to the Henry Ford Museum (get there any time between 9:30 am and 5 pm) – both parking and admission are free on Labor Day!
Tuesday, September 8
City Council meets at 7 pm in the Council Chambers.
Wednesday, September 9
Planning Commission meets at 7 pm in the Council Chambers. On the agenda for a recommendation to Council:
• The site plan for a proposed multi-family development at 2250 Ann Arbor-Saline Road
• An addition to the Argus Farm Market (for better year-round service)
• A temporary cell tower on wheels (COW) to provide coverage to UM home game fans
Saturday, September 12
6-10 pm, the Homegrown Festival at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market.
Sunday, September 13
11 am – 5 pm, the Kerrytown Bookfest at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market. Meet local authors, talk about books, reconnect with the well-written word. (Don't forget to stop by and talk with our neighbors, Norm and Ilene Tyler and Joan Zald about their books.
1 pm - 3 pm, the Monarch Migration Festival at the Leslie Science Center. Help tag the Monarch butterflies before they head south for the winter. This is part of the ongoing efforts to preserve and protect these butterflies.
Monday, September 14
7 pm. City Council will hold a working session with the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force to discuss the findings in the report and consider next steps.
I have two new books to read and think about. How to Study Public Life (Jan Gehl and Birgitte Savarre) provides more information about how public space is used, and what works best for making a great public space. Jan Gehl also wrote Cities for People and Life Between Buildings ( both of which I have already read, but could probably review). I’ve also picked up $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Schaffer. I bought my copy, but AADL has a copy which you can check out.