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.
Since I’ve been thinking about holidays and homemade goodies, I’ve also been thinking about reasons to be grateful. And the news out of France last night and this morning makes me even more grateful. I hope you can share your thoughts of gratitude with me.
The Farmer’s Market in the first weeks of winter-like weather is, well, cold. I am impressed with the commitment of the vendors to stay there for hours, all in the hope that you will come and talk – and walk away with some apples or soap, a new hat or some potatoes.
The Market just before the holidays has many items that are perfect for the season – evergreen baskets and wreaths, pumpkins and sweet potatoes, honey and gifts. But it’s cold – and that cold tends to drive away customers. I don’t linger to chat when I’m shivering.
The Market Commission has recommended that the Parks Advisory Commission and the City Council approve a building that will provide minimal shelter from winter weather. It won’t be warm (we wouldn’t want the lettuce to wilt or the fresh sausages to become less fresh), but it would be out of the worst of the weather. Here are links to their vision and the case they make for your support.
In January of this year the City Council provided further direction to the city administrator and the police department on the enforcement of the City’s prohibition on camping on public and private land. That resolution states, in part, that
RESOLVED, That humane displacement of homeless camps on private property is an appropriate response to complaints from private property owners;
RESOLVED, That humane displacement of homeless camps on public land is an appropriate response to citizen complaints;
RESOLVED, That human services organizations will continue to seek out those who are homeless when the temperatures are forecast to be below freezing and the danger of hypothermia is imminent;
RESOLVED, It is not the practice of the City of Ann Arbor to proactively seek out homeless camps for removal, nor to broadly deploy strategies to render areas used as campsites unusable;
The City and the County have been working together to achieve a goal of Zero by 2016 – no veterans without homes, no chronically homeless without homes. See the progress and the problems here.
THE CITY ADMINISTRATOR
Ann Arbor is a Council / Manager form of government. That means that the elected officials – the Mayor and the City Council – set policy and approve budget expenditures, but that they don’t manage the day to day operations of the City. For that role, the Council hires a city administrator. And the city administrator is responsible for both establishing the budget and for ensuring that the goals and plans set by the Council are accomplished.
The City is currently seeking a new city administrator. Steve Powers, who has served the City since 2011, is moving to a larger community with a larger budget – and maybe some smaller problems. The Council knows what the role of the city administrator is – but will benefit from your feedback on the personal qualities to seek, the possible improvements in services that the Council should consider when it discusses the future with candidate for the position. As the Council moves forward with the selection of the city administrator, I hope you will contact Council members to share your insights into both what works – and what needs to be improved – at the City.
On the Agenda
CITY COUNCIL MEETS ON MONDAY, NOVEMBER 15; PLANNING COMMISSION MEETS ON TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16. Both meetings will be held in City Council Chambers.
This is the first meeting for new Council members. Those Council members who ran for election in November, 2015 will be officially sworn in at the beginning of this meeting.
The City frequently discusses whether to open the budget and provide additional funds for a warming shelter during winter months. The Council will consider such a resolution, and will discuss whether to allocate 50% ($89,000) of the costs of expanding winter services for emergency shelter. If approved, the Council will join the County in this effort; the County will consider a similar resolution at the meeting on Wednesday, November 17.
The Council will consider a resolution to appoint a new police chief; the city administrator has recommended James White be selected. The Council has the authority to ratify the selection or to reject the recommendation.
The City conducted interviews and opportunities for the public to meet the candidates for police chief. Three candidates were selected as finalists.
James White, currently the assistant chief of police in Detroit. Among other responsibilities, he oversaw the office of administration, which implemented a body-cam program. He was instrumental in helping the Detroit Police Department come into compliance with a Federal consent judgement over policing practices.
The police department in 2003 agreed to federal monitoring and a long list of changes to avoid a massive civil rights lawsuit alleging suspects and witnesses were subjected to excessive force, false arrests, illegal detentions and unconstitutional conditions of confinement.
Rob Severance, the assistant city manager and police chief from Cleburne, Texas, oversees a staff of 54 sworn (civil service) officers, 30 reserve officers, and 19 civilian employees. The annual department budget is $7.5 million. Cleburne is a community of just over 30,000 people, located as a suburb of Dallas/Fort Worth.
James Baird has been employed by the Ann Arbor Police Department for 22 years, is an assistant police chief and is currently the acting police chief.
On a related note, the Human Rights Commission has released their recommendations on community policing and community oversight. This document will be important to consider going forward.
PARKS AND DEVELOPMENT ON NIXON ROAD
The City will hold two (2) public hearings on two proposed zoning changes for Nixon Farms North and Nixon Farms South. There will also be two (2) public hearings on the site plans for Nixon Farms North and Nixon Farms South. The City will also consider whether to purchase 10.1 acres of land from the Nixon Farms North site to be used as public park.
The difference between zoning and site plans
Zoning is a legislative act that alters the description of the City; as such, it requires a new ordinance for each newly zoned parcel or amended zoning. It identifies how a property may be used and the types of acceptable structures and the number of allowed structures that may be built on the property.
The City annexed the properties on Nixon, called Nixon Farms North and Nixon Farms South, earlier this year. Annexation requires state approval, and in this case is in keeping with the so-called Peace Treaty between Ann Arbor and surrounding townships. The City has two years after annexation to determine the zoning for the property. Generally speaking, zoning is done with the support of the property owner; zoning that affects the value of the property can become a significant issue with property rights. When a newly annexed parcel is considered for zoning, the desires of the property owner – or his/her agents – are considered. Another consideration is the identified vision for the City (using the Master Plan and other documents to define that vision).
In the case of Nixon Farms, the developer has, with the support of the property owner, requested the City establish R4A (multi-family) zoning on this site. In addition, the developer has requested conditions be placed on the zoning to guarantee his compliance with the City’s goals and vision. Those conditions include:
The owner of the property has agreed to these conditions and stated that, if the developer does not fulfill these conditions, the owner is not obligated to fulfill them. The owner will not promise to provide an easement to the City for the intersection, the owner will not promise to pay 50% of the cost of the intersection improvements.
Site Plans identify where structures will be placed on a parcel, what those structures look like, what the building material is, and provide information about infrastructure, including: internal roads and bridges, internal storm water management systems, the types and locations of natural features, the locations of sidewalks and streetlights, the types of signage, the location of public land and parks, and the amount and location for parking.
A site plan helps adjacent residents determine the impact of the new development or new construction on their property. Is a proposed building too close to the property line? Is a proposed building too tall? Is a proposed use too noisy?
In the case of Nixon Farms, residents have lobbied successfully to have the sidewalks on Nixon installed in a more attractive manner (winding, not straight), to have increased landscaping, and to alter the location and number of buildings. Some residents assert that the new housing units remain too close to their property and that the construction will impact the natural features and storm water systems, damaging both the landscape and the adjacent residential uses.
Traffic and intersection construction
Some residents have voiced concern that the conditional zoning places no conditions on the City. This is true. However, the Traffic Mitigation Agreement, which will be signed in the event the zoning and site plans are approved, does place conditions on the City. Among other items, the City agrees to complete the improvements to the intersection no later than January 1, 2018.
Owners of adjoining properties have petitioned the City, objecting to the zoning. This process requires that a super-majority of Council (8 Council members) rather than a plain majority (6 Council members) vote affirmatively in order for the zoning to change.
The public hearings
There will be four public hearings. Speakers do not need to live in adjacent neighborhoods, and are not required to live in Ann Arbor. Speakers must identify themselves – in order for the City to maintain a record of those who spoke. Each speaker may speak for three (3) minutes. Public hearings are most effective if speakers can separate their remarks into concerns about the zoning (for the hearings on zoning) and concerns about the site plans (for the hearings on site plans).
Issues that are effectively raised at the hearings on zoning include: overall density allowed under the zoning; whether the zoning is in compliance with the master plans (including the Parks, Recreation and Open Space plan, the Transportation plan, the Non-motorized plan, the Natural Features plan, and the Land Use plan); whether the zoning reflects the best needs of the community.
Issues that are effectively raised at the hearings on site plans include: the height and placement of buildings; the location and design of streets, sidewalks, entrances and streetlights; the storm water management plan; the location and type of landscaping; the protection afforded natural features during and after the project is completed; and the impact of the development on adjoining properties.
Results of the vote
The developer, when asked, has indicated that he will not return with a revised request for zoning if the zoning he seeks is rejected by Council. Because this property is privately owned, the property owner may choose to use the property in a different way, seek to sell it to another developer, or give it away. This is private property; the City will have no impact on the further disposition of the property unless another developer brings forward a different site plan.
The first time I mentioned proposed developments at Nixon Farms North and Nixon Farms South in a newsletter - well, the first mention I could find - was just after the Citizen Participation Meeting in July, 2014. Since then, I’ve included information about that development proposal and the concerns it has raised at least 20 times. I use a lot of links in the newsletters to the original documents, so feel free to follow these links to see the history.
On September 2, 2014, the Council authorized an engineering study of the DhuVarren/Nixon/Green intersection. In the newsletter leading up to that Council meeting, I reminded people of the size and location of the proposed developments. The first public meeting on the intersection was held on October 9th, a second one on December 11, and the report was submitted to the Council on March 11 of this year.
In the newsletter for September 14, 2014, I notified readers that the Planning Commission would likely be holding a public hearing for the Nixon Farms North, Nixon Farms South, and Woodbury Court proposals on October 21st.
In the newsletter for October 1, I recommended readers look at two recent blog posts I’d written: On Planning for Development in Ann Arbor and on How the City Spends the Greenbelt Millage. I also included a reminder that the Planning Commission would hold public hearings for the Nixon Farms North, Nixon Farms South, and Woodbury Court proposed developments.
The newsletter for October 18 included another reminder of the public hearings for these three proposed developments.
The November 3, 2014 newsletter provided an update on Planning Commission action, including the fact that the Commission postponed the Nixon Farms North and Nixon Farms South zoning and site plan recommendations.
The newsletter for November 16, 2014 includes a brief update on the projects – stating that they were likely to change and that additional public hearings would be held to review those changes. I included a similar notice in the December 2, 2014 newsletter. The newsletter for December 14 includes a reminder that the Planning Commission would hold another public hearing on these projects on December 16.
I returned to the discussion of the Nixon Farm properties on March 15 of this year. That was the night of the first public hearing at City Council. These zoning decisions were postponed, discussed again in May, and returned to City Council in July. This item was postponed again, and then returned to the Council agenda in August. The August public hearing was the first time members of the public had an opportunity to consider conditional zoning. After the Council postponed the items in August, the proposed developments returned for First Reading in September and then again in October are now on the November 16 agenda. The Council also approved a traffic study for the entire Nixon corridor, including DhuVarren, Green and other intersecting streets on October 19. This traffic study will be performed in the spring and summer of 2016.
Each of us may have as many questions about how something will be build as well as about whether the project ought to be built at all. One of the things I've learned about this process is that detailed drawings and documents are not available until after a project is approved. Documents available are in draft form, and provide a clear idea, but not clear details, of the proposed development.
This means that the documents accompanying a proposed development may indicate DRAFT. Once a project is approved, the developer must provide detailed engineering drawings to the City - and the City must approve those drawings before a permit to begin work is issued. For instance, a grading permit follows final engineering drawings of the grading to be performed. The State issues a wetland mitigation permit only after the project is approved (although it may indicate that the draft document meets standards).
Requests to see the final drawings are likely, therefore, to result in staff and developer both saying - 'these aren't available yet.'
The City received a report on the cost and feasibility of moving the Arthur Miller House from its original site on S. Division to Liberty Plaza.
The Council will hold a retreat to discuss its future goals and its budget on December 12.
10 am – 6 pm, you are invited to the Kerrytown Holiday Open House. Kerrytown’s Annual Holiday Open House kicks off the season with live music, art demonstrations, face painting, storytelling with Mother Goose, holiday treats and great pre-holiday sales from the merchants.
7 pm, Planning Commission, City Council Chambers
The Planning Commission will discuss a variety of proposed changes, including a revised (smaller) hotel for State Street and whether to approve the expansion of a work-out facility within a commercial building.
Thanksgiving, all day. Let me know if you are feeling alone.
If you insist, it’s Black Friday. But it’s also a great day to learn more about downtown merchants and the unique and local items they offer. Stores are open on Main Street, State Street, Nickels Arcade, South University, Fourth Avenue, Ann Street, Detroit Street and at Kerrytown.
Buy Local Saturday. ‘Nuff said.
‘Tis the season. (I can’t believe I’ve worn out my Joy of Cooking . . . )