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.
There’s something about August. The nights get cooler; we sleep with our windows open. The days remain hot. And we want time to stand still, now when twilight still stretches out, and dawn still breaks early.
Some years August is also dry – the grass turns golden and stops growing; the trees begin to drop yellow leaves; chicory and Queen Ann’s Lace dominate the roadside.
Not this year. The heavy rain that landed on Ann Arbor’s north side on Tuesday, August 11th, created some unusual areas of damage: rushing down Detroit Street toward Depot; pouring into basements near construction sites; overflowing storm water detention areas.
I cannot promise that storms won’t continue to be heavy. Real gully-washers used to be pretty rare, back in the dark ages of the ‘70s. Our storm water infrastructure was built to manage more routine storms; I never imagined these short, heavy rains would become routine, did you?
In the interest of maybe improving things for all of us, here are a couple of recommendations:
ZONING, DEVELOPMENT, HISTORIC DISTRICTS AND US
The City does not have a pro-active policy regarding zoning, that is, zoning and rezoning tend to be done at the request of the property owner. Recently, the City rezoned all of downtown as either D1 or D2 (downtown zoning and downtown interface zoning). And the City has considered redefining zoning – for example, requests to redefine R4C zoning are pending. But in general, the City establishes new zoning on a property only when the property owner requests that.
One type of zoning remains controversial in all situations – and that’s zoning that is discretionary, such as a Planned Unit Development (PUD). Planned Unit Development zoning was used quite frequently prior to 2007 to encourage creative and mixed-use developments that did not fit tightly into one or another pre-existing zoning category. In several cases, the zoning was changed to accommodate a specific site plan; the development was not built and the zoning remains in place.
The result can be that developers, seeking to now develop the site, believe they must design and build a project similar to the original proposal. This brings me to the purpose of this digression.
I recently attended a series of meetings about a proposed hotel on a site within the Old Fourth Ward Historic District.
A LITTLE HISTORY
The site selected for the hotel was once proposed (2003) for Glen-Ann Place, a mixed use development with 3 stories of underground parking, 1 commercial and 9 residential floors. The developer took his site plan through the standard approval process (Planning Commission, City Council) before seeking approval from the Historic District Commission to demolish two buildings and build a new building. The HDC rejected the demolition request. The developer sued the City (2005). The City won (2007); the decision of the HDC to deny a demolition permit and to deny the site plan were upheld by the Court. The developer and the Council re-evaluated the proposed site plan (2007), removed one floor, and encouraged the HDC to approve this new site plan. The HDC, with several new members, did so. The project was never built.
THE NEW PROPOSAL FOR A HOTEL
The new developer originally proposed a 9-story, flat-roofed hotel with 4 floors of underground parking in an effort to offer a design as close as practical to the original Glen-Ann Place building; this was an effort to make approval of the plan easy for the HDC, the Planning Commission and the City Council. Over a series of meetings with neighborhood residents, the Historic District Commission, the Planning Commission and others, the developer solicited feedback on the design. The developer then took that feedback and created a revised design that, while still 9 stories tall, has a varied roof line and more design features.
This design is, of course, still in the preliminary phase. The developer will submit revised plans to the planning department; City staff will evaluate the plans with an eye toward compliance with traffic, safety, storm water, waste water, fire suppression and other ordinance requirements. The Historic District Commission will determine how and whether this proposal is in keeping with the state and national historic district requirements. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing; the City Council will hold a public hearing; the City Council will determine whether to approve the project.
But if nothing else, this development process demonstrates the benefit of required citizen participation, and how listening to members of the community can improve a design.
POSSIBLE CONSIDERATIONS FOR OTHER PREVIOUSLY-ZONED SITES
Looking forward, the City must determine what to do about projects that developers fail to build, and the zoning approved for those projects.
On the Agenda
City Council meets on Monday, August 17th; Planning Commission meets on Tuesday, August 18th. Both meetings begin at 7 pm in City Council Chambers at City Hall.
The Agenda is development-heavy, with multiple projects and many public hearings.
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 ROAD DEVELOPMENTS
Most of the time, when property owners seek a new zoning designation, it’s because they plan to build something – something different from whatever is already there. Sometimes zoning is sought as part of a request to annex into Ann Arbor. Property owners seeking to annex must first request annexation (which must be approved by the City Council and then by the State Boundary Commission); once annexation has been approved, the property owner seeks appropriate zoning. For small, single-family parcels, these requests tend to be non-controversial. For larger parcels that can be subdivided and used for larger developments, zoning can be an issue people want to discuss.
Council members decide to approve annexation for a variety of reasons, including a desire to ensure that property owners in the City are helping to fund ongoing City services (parks, streets, police, fire, etc.). Each of the parcels for Nixon Farm North, Nixon Farm South, and Woodbury Club has already been annexed into the City. The City has two years to determine the zoning of each parcel.
When the City considers petitions for zoning and petitions for site plan approval on the same parcel, at the same Council meeting, the zoning determines the broad-strokes information (where buildings may be placed, how tall those buildings may be, how much land can be built upon and how much must be left open, etc.) while the site plan determines the absolute details of a prospective project (where buildings will be built, how many will be built, where parking and streets will be placed, where any public space will be created, etc.).
NIXON FARM NORTH AND SOUTH
The City considers zoning and rezoning to be significant decisions. As a result, it provides a mechanism for the public to ensure that approval of the zoning requires unusually strong support by Council members. If owners of 20% or more of the adjoining properties (by area, not by number) oppose the change, the zoning or rezoning will require support from a super-majority of City Council members (8 votes). This process has been followed; both Nixon Farm North and Nixon Farm South zoning approval will require affirmative votes by at least 8 Council members. Two (2) Council members will not be in attendance on August 17th; the vote on zoning may, as a result, be postponed. (When the necessary number of Council members for approval are not at the table, postponement is automatic. When approval would require unanimous affirmative voting, Council frequently postpones to allow all Council members to consider the project.)
In another twist, the developer has offered conditional zoning; the conditions on the zoning include that the developer will:
The City anticipates that, if the conditional zoning is approved, the intersection can be completely reconfigured and reconstructed 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). To try to remedy this, the City Council established a budget ($200,000) for a traffic study in this corridor; the study would likely be completed between October, 2017 (when the intersection is completed) and June, 2018. Improvements to the corridor could then be planned and built.
The City Council will hold a continued public hearing on the zoning and the site plan for Woodbury Club, a proposed apartment community on Nixon Road, just south of M14. This rezoning and site plan were on the last Council agenda, and, after the public hearings on zoning and site plan approval, the Council agreed to postpone because the details outlining the disposition of about 25 acres of land had not been clarified. The developer asserts that they have been in contact with the City, seeking to have the City purchase the land and add it to existing parks. At this time, the Council’s agenda does not include an agreement to donate or purchase the land.
This is a significant point for some members of Council, as the developer is seeking a Planned Project zoning. Planned Project zoning is not as flexible as Planned Unit Development zoning, but does allow a developer to build taller, or closer to the lot line, or with less parking, in exchange for public benefits. For Woodbury Club, the developer would like to exceed R4A zoning requirements by building certain buildings 39 feet tall instead of no taller than 35 feet. The developer indicates that, by doing this, the development will leave more open space as a public benefit.
The developer is donating a 12.5 acre portion of the site as a public park, and is providing a 50-foot wide easement to allow for a publicly accessible path through the project site to the adjoining park land.
ANNEXATION FOR 2250 ANN ARBOR-SALINE ROAD
The City Council will hold a public hearing and then vote on whether to seek annexation for a parcel on Ann Arbor-Saline Road. This parcel on Ann Arbor-Saline Road is the subject of some significant neighborhood concern, as the developer proposes a multi-unit building with a roadway having an emergency access connection into the residential neighborhood behind. Annexing this property does not guarantee the developer will be able to win approval for the site plan proposed. It does place this property firmly under the City’s oversight for any future development.
542-548 N. MAIN CONDOMINIUMS
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the site plan for a proposed 4-unit building on North Main Street near the Felch street intersection. This development proposal includes demolishing two existing houses and constructing a single building with ground floor garages, reducing curb cuts (one entrance), and improving the adjacent North Main Park.
CHANGES FOR COUNCIL APPROVAL
The Council will discuss whether to provide a partial (50%) waiver of development review fees for the public housing redevelopment project at White/State/Henry.
The Council will consider whether to ‘loan’ footing drain disconnections (FDDs) (already completed) to the project at 618 S. Main Street. This project was required to complete a set number of FDDs or the equivalent amount of mitigation for the waste water system prior to receiving certificates of occupancy for the building. For various reasons, the developer did not complete the mitigation in a timely manner; while the developer continues to work with contractors to disconnect footing drains, the City Council will decide whether to allow the building to be occupied.
The Council will decide whether the revised plan from the Racquet Club of Ann Arbor for a partial sidewalk meets current and anticipated sidewalk needs, and if so, whether to grant the club a waiver. This resolution was sent back to Planning Commission for review and recommendation; the revised waiver request with a partial sidewalk was recommended for Council approval. No members of the Planning Commission are Racquet Club members; three members of City Council are, and they have previously requested that they be recused from this discussion and approval process.
DOWNTOWN NEIGHBORHOOD SPEED LIMITS
The City Council will consider a resolution to establish speed limits no greater than 25 miles per hour on all streets through the near downtown residential neighborhoods. This resolution was postponed from the May 15th Council meeting.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on deer management; this public hearing is focused on a resolution that would direct staff to create a detailed plan to manage deer. The resolution has been drafted to allow the Council – and the public – the opportunity to discuss various approaches to deer population control while ensuring that the plan will include key elements. Those key elements are:
The choices (these are pick-one choices, so the decision would be which choice is the best one) the Council will discuss are whether to direct the staff to:
The City Council will also consider – at First Reading – an ordinance that would ban the intentional feeding of deer except for the purpose of an authorized cull.
I helped author the resolution on deer management and am co-sponsor on both.
FACTS IN DISPUTE
THE SIZE AND IMPACT OF DEER POPULATION
The City conducted two efforts to count the deer – a helicopter flyover in February and another in March. The largest number of deer were counted in March (168). Deer have been sighted most frequently in the neighborhoods near the river and near the edges of the City with large areas of township land (First and Second Wards); deer have been sighted in the Fourth and Third Wards, along busy streets, and in city parks.
How many deer do we have? There is no agreement on the number or even the general size of the population. Estimates range from 200 to 3000.
How many deer can we live with (that is, what is the target population for deer)? This has not been determined.
Will removing 100 deer in 2016 significantly affect the population numbers or decrease the damage deer do to privately-owned vegetation? This is unknown.
DEER MIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Advocates for killing deer have stated that decreasing the number of deer in the City will not invite more deer to come in. Called the ‘vacuum effect,’ this assertion includes the fact that deer are territorial, and generally remain within a 1-mile radius.
Advocates for killing deer rather than using contraception or sterilization (not necessarily the same people) have pointed out that deer migrate, and have asserted that deer sterilization or deer contraception will not prevent population growth, since more deer will enter the City regularly.
Advocates for using contraception or sterilization have asserted that deer are territorial; using sterilization or contraception to control the deer population will provide deer herd stability, as the does will return to and guard their territory, discouraging migration.
Advocates for using contraception or sterilization have also pointed out that deer territoriality is passed down from the lead doe to her offspring; those offspring, also sterilized or given contraception, will continue to protect that territory even as their numbers decrease.
RISK FROM DEER
Residents have voiced concern about several risks they (might or do) face because of the deer population.
Deer-car accidents: Deer cross the street without concern for cars or crosswalks. In some locations – wooded on both sides – prime deer habitat is split by a busy road. Accidents involving deer are not always reported to the police: in 2014, 51 accidents involving deer were reported (just over 1% of all accidents in the City).
Deer ticks and tick-borne illnesses: Michigan has not always been a haven for ticks of any type. Winters and summers have not been that hospitable; ticks were much more common in the southern states and along the eastern seaboard. Climate change or some other factor has resulted in more ticks surviving the winters and the summers. There are a variety of tick—borne illnesses, most of which do not involve deer as a vector. And Lyme Disease, while associated with black-legged ticks, does not require deer in order to spread. (Black-legged ticks have other host animals, many of which are smaller and therefore less visible). The State of Michigan has produced a number of documents that address tick-risk and tick-bite treatments.
Deer aggression: Some residents have reported aggressive deer: deer challenging or not shying away from humans, deer challenging or attacking dogs, deer seeming to peep in windows.
The absolute risk each individual faces from these situations – accidents, aggression and/or ticks – is unclear. Some individuals see little or no risk; others anticipate significant risk. The effect of deer population reduction on black-legged tick infestations and deer-car accident risks has not been quantified.
COST OF DEER MANAGEMENT
The City Council has allocated $90,000 from General Funds for the development and implementation of a comprehensive deer management program. This program includes better data collection on the impact of deer on native vegetation, recommendations for residents on ways to interact with deer as well as limit their exposure to deer and ticks, recommendations for managing privately-owned vegetation, and a variety of other mechanisms (including helicopter fly-over counts) to determine the location and number of deer in the community.
An organization – that provides deer culling services to other communities – has indicated that the basic cost for killing a doe, skinning and butchering the meat, transporting it and donating it to a food pantry will cost the City about $300 per doe.
An organization – that could provide sterilization or contraception services to treat does – has indicated that treating a doe to prevent future pregnancies would cost the City about $300 per doe per treatment (sterilization is permanent; contraception must be renewed every 2-3 years).
Advocates for killing deer doubt that contraception services would cost the City the same dollar amount as hiring sharpshooters.
In all cases, the City will have to determine what the ‘maintenance’ level for the deer population in Ann Arbor might be, and what mechanism will be used to achieve maintenance.
PUBLIC ACCESS TO HISTORICAL COUNCIL RECORDS
You might not be fascinated by having access to historical records, but some of us are. The Council will consider whether to allow the public to access digitized records of Council meetings that are currently not available; these records are stored in the Hathi Trust Digital Library at the University of Michigan. A significant number of very early Council minutes are already digitized and available at the Ann Arbor District Library, but more recent minutes have not yet been digitized by the Library or the City. The Hathi Trust Digital Library has digitized these records, but lacks City permission to make them public. This resolution would resolve that barrier.
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION ORDINANCE
The Council will discuss, at First Reading, 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. If approved at First Reading, there will be a public hearing and discussion of the changes at a meeting in September.
There are always other items on the agenda, including reports of some interest. The City Council directed the staff to review the water and wastewater capital cost recovery (and the connection charges for new construction). This report may form the basis of future changes in fees.
ZONING ORDINANCE REORGANIZATION (ZORO)
The Planning Commission will be discussing the Zoning Ordinance(s) Reorganization plan in August and September. 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 will begin this year and next year.
Residents living near Argo Park and Argo Cascades have experienced significant impacts from visitors – blocking driveways, sitting on their lawns drinking, sitting on their lawns to change into swim wear, blowing up inflatables, having a picnic on their lawn . . . you get the idea. While it’s true that Argo is a major amenity for the community, it hasn’t been without problems for the adjacent neighborhoods. Parks staff have been discussing possible solutions; Council member Kailasapathy and I met with them on Thursday to exchange ideas. The City will hold public meetings to present possible ideas and receive feedback this fall.
Residents living on and near Wall Street have been challenged – by UM parking structure construction, by UM Kellogg construction, and by the re-installation of parking meters on Wall Street. City staff have been discussing the circumstances under which the City could place parking restrictions on Wall Street while making that parking available for residents.
Residents living adjacent to Barton Road and Pontiac Trail have experienced increased traffic from people using residential neighborhood streets as ways to bypass the stop light at Barton and Plymouth. Traffic calming – and traffic limitations to discourage traffic volume – have been installed in some locations but are still in discussion at others. If you drive through this or any other busy area, please consider the impact of your speed on the safety of those living in the neighborhoods. Damaged cars, damaged yards – we can live with those, although they make us angry. Damaged children, dogs and cats – not so much. Please drive as if your children lived on that street.
Monday, August 17
5 pm: The Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force will meet in the basement conference room at City Hall. This is the penultimate meeting of the task force.
7 pm: City Council meeting in Council Chambers at City Hall.
Tuesday, August 18
7 pm: The Planning Commission will meet in City Council Chambers.
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and then make a recommendation to City Council about whether to approve a new development at 303/307 W. Davis; this development would demolish two single family houses and replace them with a 4-unit townhome building. The zoning is R4C; the location is in the Fifth Ward.
The Planning Commission will also hold a public hearing and then make a recommendation to City Council about whether to approve a new, multi-unit residential development for 410 N. First Street. This development would demolish two single family houses and replace them with a 25-unit apartment building; parking would be on-site. The zoning is D2 (downtown interface district); the location is in the First Ward.
Wednesday, August 26
5 pm: The Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force will meet in the basement conference room at City Hall. This is the final meeting of the task force. The recommendations of the task force will be submitted to Council in September, according to the plan.
ON 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.
Sometimes I manage some heavy reading. Sometimes it is good just to sit down with books for pleasure. I’ve been distracted by reading one of the most interesting biographies of one of the most obscure 20th Century thinkers: The Ingenious Mr. Pyke, by Henry Hemming.