front porch weather
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 don’t directly benefit much from sitting on Council, but there are these moments . . .
On Saturday I attended an event at Cinetopia (and if you don’t go to at least one event, you should take time to do so). The Legacies Project has worked with students at Skyline High Schools’ Communication, Media, and Public Policy (CMPP) magnet program for five years, and this year earned proper recognition for the short films that students produced, interviewing Ann Arbor senior residents about their experiences and their lives.
I’ve been honored to serve on the advisory board for the CMPP magnet for several years, and remain truly inspired by the students’ work on this and on other projects. I expect the students to take their ideas and experiences on in life, demonstrating how to ask good questions, research information, and advocate for a position.
I found the event particularly special, as I greeted proud parents of the students and proud families of the seniors. I watched as one woman described her experiences in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, and as a man described his experiences in Burma during that same period. I heard poignant stories about difficult family life and what the individuals had done to be healthy and happy. And I thought about my own parents, now gone. Wouldn’t we all want to leave such a legacy?
The Ann Arbor Station
Sometime this month the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) should release the final environmental assessment of a proposed train station.
I understand that there are two primary location options: at the current location on Depot, and at Fuller Road. Considerations that I am thinking about include:
• Who rides the train? Where are they coming from, and where are they going to? This is an interesting question because, right now (anecdotally) most of the riders are leaving Ann Arbor to go somewhere else. If that trend continues, a location that is convenient for the majority of Ann Arbor area residents is perhaps more important than a location that is convenient for employment.
• How is the train station funded? This is interesting, because the City could partner with the UM to build a train station or partner with DTE to build a train station. (This partnership assumes that 80% of the cost of a new train station would be provided by the Federal Rail Administration; the City would not finance or contribute more than 20%.)
• What is the impact on local uses? One staff member noted that the existing train station is adjacent to an historic district (it isn’t, but I don’t expect everyone to know everything). That residential neighborhood would be impacted by a busier train station; traffic patterns on Depot and on Fuller will be affected.
Before final funding for a train station is approved by the FRA, the issue of whether to build a new station will be on the ballot for the voters to determine. I hope you will remember to vote.
The Library Lot
Last year the Council agreed to direct the City Administrator to place the Library Lot (the top of the parking structure next to the library) on the market. Over the months since, the City hired a broker who wrote up a request for proposals and sent it out to various local and distant development groups.
The City received nine responses. All the information contained in those responses is not yet public, but there is a very brief summary here. Proposed buildings range from 8 stories to 18 stories, from purely residential through mixed residential/office/commercial to hotel. Each response contains a concept for public open space.
Over the next few months, these nine concepts will be winnowed down – although I don’t yet know the mechanism for that. When there are just two or three, I expect the public process to begin in earnest – looking at the public space and how it could be designed as well as looking at the building design and its impact on that block.
As I receive more information, I will share it.
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 and an organized cull of deer. 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, not just those that bite deer and humans.
At the same time, the Council is planning to 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. Although I had been told (and the media had shared) that this working session would be held on June 22, that information was wrong. Several members of Council will be absent from the Council meeting on June 22; it wouldn’t be right to hold such a meeting when all members could not attend.
Right now, it appears as if this working session will be held in July. As soon as I have a date and information about which deer management professionals will attend, I will share this.
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.
Not my petitions, 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.
The City sometimes responds quickly to Council member requests (like collecting trash, plowing snow, trimming grass in parks). But not so much on infrastructure changes, as there are many issue (budget, priorities, traffic engineering) that take some time to resolve.
Residents living near Barton needed to petition to get the City staff to begin the process of considering a sidewalk on Barton, despite many years of requests from Council members. Residents living on Northside Avenue had to petition to get the City staff to begin the process of considering traffic calming measures for that street (although Council members did play a role in that process). And now, residents near Barton are seeking a safe crosswalk from one side of Barton to the other.
If you agree that a crosswalk – a safe crosswalk, properly designed and with adequate signage – should be established between Pontiac Trail and Argo to link both neighborhoods, please sign the petition here.
And if you are attempting to circulate this petition, please note: so far, zero petitions have been received by the City Council. You might want to check your settings.
On the Agenda
City Council meets on Monday, June 15th; Planning Commission meets on Tuesday, June 16th. Both meetings begin at 7 pm in City Council Chambers at City Hall.
Not on the agenda
Late last week I learned that, when the Supreme Court makes its decision in the DeBoer v. Snyder case (which has prompted the Supreme Court to examine the legal rights of same sex couples to marry), the plaintiffs and their attorneys will be in Ann Arbor – and will hold a press conference at Braun Court. The date of that decision is not yet known, but the Jim Toy Community Center (where the plaintiffs will be) recognized that Fourth Avenue will be likely to be congested with press trucks. They have asked for a street closing; I have added this item to the agenda for discussion.
Traffic calming, sidewalks and other transportation issues
Postponed from previous meetings:
The Council will determine whether to direct the City Administrator to include planning for the central section of the Border-to-Border (B2B) Trail between Fuller and Riverside Parks in the design of intersection improvements for Fuller Road / Maiden Lane. Council postponed this resolution to conform language from several offered amendments.
Traffic calming was once an unpopular idea. Recently, the reports of drivers speeding heedlessly through neighborhood streets have increased, and residents of those streets want a solution. The Council will consider whether to approve traffic calming devices for S. Forest Ave. This is an amendment to the 2016 (next year) budget, and requires 8 affirmative votes.
The Council may approve a contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to install pedestrian crosswalks on Ann Arbor-Saline Road and S. Main Street.
Also involving MDOT, the Council may grant an easement so that the repair of the bridge over the Huron River, Bandemer and Barton Parks can be completed. This request for an easement does not include any offers of improved pedestrian and bike access in this area, although it has sparked quite a bit of conversation. Also discussed by many of the nearby residents: how to decrease the amount of noise generated by M14. Repairs on the bridge are scheduled for 2016.
Many in the community would like to see more enforcement of existing speed limits and – truly – lower speed limits altogether. On the agenda is a resolution directing the City Administrator to establish speed limits no greater than 25 mph through near-downtown residential neighborhoods. Those neighborhood streets have not been identified, and whether this establishment can be legally and effectively done remains in question. But I’d like to see fewer needs for traffic calming and safer crosswalks because drivers are aware of and responsive to neighborhood issues. One of the residents on Pontiac Trail wrote that she intends to get a ‘Drive as if YOUR Children Lived Here’ sign – and that’s what we all ought to do. (Not get a sign, but drive responsibly.)
Some of us are fans of Football Saturdays. Some are not. But the City needs to plan ahead to ensure that all of us can get to the game or some other destination safely. On the agenda is a resolution to approve closing streets for football games.
Postponed from a previous meeting:
At the last Council meeting, the Council held a public hearing on the South Pond Village Site Plan – and then postponed the item. This site plan is back on the agenda, with a continuation of the public hearing. The postponement was positive (although not pleasing to the developer) because the Council would likely not have addressed the issues in the site plan until quite late in the meeting – and might not have been able to effectively discuss the issues. (The public hearing on another issue involved many speakers; the Council spent over an hour on that issue, alone.)
As part of the ongoing effort to amend the downtown zoning and provide a buffer between residential zoning (not residential use) and the dense development in downtown, the Council will hold public hearings and then discuss rezoning 336 E. Ann Street, expanding the boundaries of the East Huron 1 Character District, and then amending the description of that district to include lower maximum heights on both Huron and Ann.
But sometimes the humans at the City make mistakes. When the City notified nearby residents of this public hearing (which is part of the public notice process) they included an inaccurate map. The Council has been notified that the staff requests a postponement of the decision until the public hearing can be properly noticed. The public hearing will be held on Monday, June 15, but most likely will be continued to a later meeting.
A new, long-stay hotel is proposed for Research Park Drive; this requires a change in zoning, and that item is up for First Reading.
Also on the agenda for First Reading is an ordinance to establish zoning for the Woodbury Club Apartment (proposed) location on Nixon Road. This is not the public hearing; if Council approves this change at First Reading, it will be back on the agenda (most likely in July) for a public hearing.
There are a number of varied issues on the agenda that might interest you.
Postponed from a previous meeting:
Up for a public hearing and discussion is an amendment to the ordinance that governs vegetation (that is, how tall the plants can grow on your yard and on the area between the sidewalk and the street, and how much you might need to prune trees and bushes). Although this ordinance deals only with vegetation, members of the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force have discussed vegetation as an aspect of ensuring best possible visibility for drivers to see pedestrians, bike riders, toddlers and those in wheelchairs. At my request, the City Administrator has reviewed the task force discussion and has recommended postponing this ordinance (again) to allow time for the task force to offer ideas on ensuring sight lines – both with vegetation and with other potential barriers, such as utility boxes.
The contract with SPARK to provide economic development services may result in some discussion at the Council meeting. The contract ($75,000) includes the following expectations:
It is agreed by the parties that the specific deliverables under this Agreement, the manner of rendition of services, the duties of responsible individuals, the keeping of accounts and records for the receipt and expenditure of funds and accounting shall be in accordance with the Ann Arbor SPARK Operating Procedures, unless otherwise specified in writing by the City.
The Developer Offset Mitigation (DOM) program currently requires that new developments offset their waste water usage by creating reductions in waste water demand in the larger community. Developers – or the companies they hire – may approach residents to determine whether they would like to disconnect their footing drains from the waste water system and have a sump pump installed at no (installation) cost to them; no resident is required to agree. The modifications proposed in the resolution up for discussion on Monday night don’t change that. And it’s important to note that sump pumps and footing drain disconnections are not the only way for a developer to mitigate waste water usage. The proposed changes include allowing a larger section of City residents to participate in the voluntary program, to establish different requirements for developments proposed upstream of impacted areas than for those downstream, and to allow developments to mitigate only the absolute impact the development would have on the waste water system, rather than requiring them to mitigate 20% more.
At the last Council meeting, members of Council and the public learned about a proposal to allow tiny houses to be built at 415 W. Washington Street (on City owned land across from the Y). This interesting idea was also discussed in an MLive opinion piece. The Council will discuss a resolution to direct the City Administrator to draft a plan for establishing a tiny home community at this location. Whether or not this resolution is approved, there are a lot of ideas for ways to create more affordable (supportive) housing – and to increase options for people working in Ann Arbor to live in Ann Arbor. This is not a local and unique problem for our community – cities large and small are seeking ways to address income disparity and housing options. I look forward to more of this discussion.
There are always other items on the agenda, from street closures to chemicals to treat waste water. If you see issues that I have not addressed about which you have questions or concerns, please give me a call or shoot 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.
Keep your eyes and your calendar open for a variety of events at the River Hop in August. Bike tours, historic tours, picnics, skill-learning – two days of interesting things. I’ll keep you posted, and hope to see you there.
Sunday, June 14 is the last day of Cinetopia. And it’s supposed to rain all day, so it’s a perfect day for the movies.
Through July 5th, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival will continue with events at the Power Center, the Power Center lawn, the South Ingalls mall and the North University stage.
Tuesday, June 16 at 7 pm, the Planning Commission will meet at the City Hall basement conference room in a working session to discuss the Downtown Street Manual.
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
Wednesday, June 24 at 8 pm in the West Park bandshell, the Civic Band will perform. This is one in a series of concerts held every Wednesday night during the summer.
July 4, 10 am - noon, come to the Jaycees Fourth of July parade. Wear your colors and be part of the parade!
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.