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.
At the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, I looked for prune plums and pie apples. But this is a late year, mostly warm, and these fruits need colder nights (more than I do, anyway). I’ll be baking the last of my sweet plums and late peaches this weekend. I’m certain I can find someone to eat what I make.
One of the best things about these late September days is the odor – the wet leaf and wood smoke aroma. I inhale deeply every time I go outside, just to capture that. Later this year there will be golden days when the sugar maples turn an amazing, rich gold touched with red and the sky is cloudless and blue. Makes me want to put on a sweater and take a walk, just thinking about it.
The autumnal equinox – that moment when day and night are equal in length – is upon us. Wednesday, September 23rd (late, this year) is the equinox. Each day right now is visibly shorter. The time change (when we turn the clocks back an hour) won’t be until November 1st, though. For those of us up early, and for those of us walking to school or work – please travel safely. The most dangerous season is autumn, when Ann Arbor has many new residents and drivers’ skills are tested – by shorter days, by cloudy mornings and afternoons, and most especially by inattention.
Ann Arbor collects fallen leaves each year through the last week of November. The City does not collect loose leaves, though. If you have space and opportunity, please compost your leaves. If you rake them, please place them in paper lawn bags and compost containers.
You may need assistance removing the leaves from your yard. If so – and you want to hire a crew to do this work – the many landscaping companies around the community perform this service. If you don’t have the ability to rake or hire a professional, many service organizations have, in the past, offered to help. I’m looking for those organizations to again offer help to those with limited incomes and capacity to manage leaf raking. (With any luck, I’ll also learn about organizations that offer help with snow removal.) I’ll keep you posted.
The September 21st agenda is unusually light. This newsletter provides a rather more thorough set of updates than usual.
CHANGES TO THE SKYLINE
You might have noticed some proposed new construction in the press. You may also have ideas about what ought to be where.
The Library Lot: When the underground parking structure was designed, the design included supports to hold a building over 180 feet tall. At the time the structure was designed, there was no height limit in downtown. Some of the structure can hold that big a building, but some cannot. About 1200 square feet of the surface lot – an area facing Fifth Avenue – is not designed to hold a tall building. Some of that area cannot hold a building at all; some could support a shorter building (probably no taller than six stories).
When the Council voted to place the lot in the hands of a broker to determine whether it could be sold, one limitation was that the successful bidder would be required to establish a public space on the Library Lot of about 1200 square feet; the area defined was that portion fronting Fifth Avenue.
The broker developed the Offering Memorandum. Some of the statements included in the document highlight the opportunities and desired results of a successful project. These include
A modern and well managed hotel located at the Property could be an attractive alternative for many travelers to Ann Arbor, particularly those visiting the University. AirRide airport service to DTW is located across the street. Based on market trends and our recent market study in the Ann Arbor market, performed by PFK Consulting USA, a CBRE company, we believe that a hotel development is a viable option, coupled with retail space on the first floor and some mix of apartments or condominiums and perhaps office space.
The Ann Arbor City Council has made the commitment to the community to reserve 12,000 sq. ft. fronting the site for a civic plaza or other public space. The City is open to creative proposals including incorporating such public use space into a development. The City hopes the selected developer will create something special for the community and partner with the City on a visionary, place-making space in Ann Arbor’s downtown.
Other uses for the Property include (and may be a combination of two or more): • Office • Retail • Residential (market rate and/or affordable housing and not targeting only one market segment) • Place-making elements/smart growth and new urbanism • LEED Certified/Green Building
The City is entitled to exclusively transfer up to 200 parking permits in the underground garage for the exclusive use of a developer. Other garage spaces may be procured by individuals on a monthly or daily basis. In addition, there is also parking in nearby public garages and surface lots that may be independently secured by a developer, company and/ or employees or residents.
Nine (9) developers responded to the Offering Memorandum. The proposals were evaluated by the broker and by a group of staff members, and the City recommends that the community consider two proposals: CORE Spaces and CA Ventures. The public process, as outlined by the City Administrator, includes community meetings on October 22 (the first at 3 pm; the second at 6:30 pm) at the downtown library multi-purpose room. (This is a change from the previously announced October 8 and 9 meetings, so please mark your calendars.)
After this date, the community engagement will continue. The meetings will be recorded and televised. The City will use A2OpenCityHall to gather responses to the proposals. And the City will also hold a public meeting at City Hall where residents can talk one-on-one with the development teams about their proposals.
The developers will then be asked to create a best and final offer, including any revisions to design, pricing, uses and other project component changes – and hopefully, those changes will be based on community feedback. The City anticipates that the responses will be reviewed and a recommendation made to City Council by the end of this calendar year.
The Council has not committed to selling the lot for development and has the right to reject all proposals.
A brief timeline
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 Campus Inn and the Old Y Lot: This week we learned that the Campus Inn had been sold. That meant that the likelihood the new owners would want to redevelop the hotel or build a second structure on the property increased. And that makes this part of East Huron worth thinking about.
In July of this year, the City amended the zoning for East Huron street. The following changes were approved:
For the lot next to the Campus Inn, the maximum height could be 120 feet; the building could have a diagonal measurement of no longer than 130 feet (this ensures that a building is not as massive as it might otherwise be); the building would be placed no closer to adjacent residentially-zoned properties than 30 feet; the building could be built close to Huron Street (no large setback from the street is required). Neither Sloan Plaza nor the Campus Inn is zoned residential, so that 30-foot setback applies only to the properties at the rear of the lot.
The Old Y lot: The City sold the Old Y lot for development in 2014. At that time, the terms of the sale required that a building – at least 5 stories tall – be built and receive a certificate of occupancy by April, 2018. The property owner has not yet begun the design approval process; this process can take more than six (6) months to complete.
The Glen (was Glen-Ann Place):
The new developer has proposed a 9-story mixed use, retail plus hotel with 4 floors of underground parking. This proposal will be presented to the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission for consideration on October 8th. If the proposal wins approval at the HDC, it will continue to Planning Commission and ultimately to City Council.
The Historic District Commission uses two resources to evaluate new development in historic districts: the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic districts and the Ann Arbor Historic District Design Guidelines.
CHANGES AT THE CITY
In the next few weeks the City Council will establish the procedure for hiring a new City Administrator. The City, in turn, will begin the process of hiring a new Community Services Administrator, a new Planning Manager, and a new Building Official. Work toward hiring a new Police Chief is already underway.
THE DEAR DEER
In consideration of the decision to retire by the Community Services Administrator, Sumedh Bahl, the deer management implementation plan has been assigned to Dave Borneman. Mr. Borneman has extensive experience managing natural resources and working with the community.
I anticipate an update on the management plan by mid-October.
REPORTING STREET AND TRAFFIC CONCERNS
If you let me know that your neighborhood streets ought to be safer, that traffic backs up at a stop light, or that you see people running stop signs and ignoring pedestrians, I’ll pass that information along to the City Administrator and the Chief of Police.
But you can play a role in this, too. Please report problems with traffic and parking enforcement to the police department by filling out a form here. Problems with ongoing maintenance by the City (such as pot holes, park mowing, broken sidewalks, streetlights that are not working) should be reported to A2FixIt. A2FixIt is not going to provide general updates on work in progress the way you might want, though, so if there is a complex problem or long-standing issue, please share that with me. I’ll ask for an update.
On the Agenda
City Council meets on Monday, September 21; there is no Planning Commission on Tuesday, September 22. There may be a meeting on Tuesday, September 29.
I recently spoke with someone who asked that Council stop postponing issues. I understand where that’s coming from, but if postponing means the proposal might come back improved – especially after more community input – I am supportive of a postponement.
On the agenda are public hearings for an ordinance change and a site plan for the Woodbury Club Apartments on Nixon Road at M-14. These items were postponed at the July 20th and August 17th Council meetings. There have been two changes:
First, the developer has requested that these proposals be considered at the same Council meeting as the Nixon Farms North and South proposals. Those two projects were postponed to October 19th, for First Reading (of the ordinance); Second Reading would be likely to occur on November 16. If the Council agrees to the postponement, all three projects will be discussed (and perhaps decided) on that night.
Second, the residents adjacent to the proposed Woodbury Club Apartment site have objected to the proposed zoning. Approval for the zoning will require eight (8) affirmative votes. While adjacent residents have also objected to the site plan, this protest does not trigger an 8-vote requirement.
On the agenda are public hearings on the proposed rezoning of property on S. State Street from M1 (limited industrial) to C3 (fringe commercial) and site plan for a proposed new hotel just south of I94.
Also on the agenda are public hearings on the proposed rezoning and site plan approval for the White/State/Henry Apartments, a project of the Public Housing Commission that will demolish an old public housing complex and build a new one on the same site. This project is part of an ongoing effort to maintain and improve Ann Arbor’s public housing.
Postponed from earlier meetings is a resolution directing the City Administrator to work with Pittsfield Township on a proposed airport runway extension. The Airport Advisory Committee will hold a working session with City Council in December or January (not yet scheduled) to discuss possible changes to the airport design and function. The Council is likely to postpone this item until after that working session.
From time to time, the City establishes residential permit parking districts. In some neighborhoods, these all residents in the neighborhood are eligible to apply for a parking permit because each resident lives adjacent to a street with restricted parking. The Old Fourth Ward – a neighborhood just north and east of downtown – contains a number of different zoning categories and a variety of residential units. On the agenda is a resolution to expand the parking district by adding three (3) houses that front on N. Fifth Avenue between Ann and Catherine streets. Residents living in these rental properties would not be able to park directly in front of their homes (on-street parking is metered in that area) but would be able to park on any of a number of nearby streets.
The City Council has postponed (several times) revisions to the ordinance governing snow and ice removal from sidewalks. The Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force recommended that residents and property owners remove all snow from sidewalks immediately after the accumulation of ice or snow, and definitely by 12 hours after the end of each accumulation. The Council amended the ordinance at First Reading, and then referred it to the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force for further review and to solicit input from the Commission on Disabilities. The Task Force is encouraging the Council to revert to the original ordinance language rather than the amended language.
Council members also requested that the Environmental Commission provide a recommendation to the Council about that section of the ordinance that would require salt or other ice treatment to melt the ice. That recommendation will be taken into consideration as part of the discussion at First Reading.
If the Council passes any version of this ordinance at First Reading, it will return to the agenda for a public hearing and discussion.
There are always other items on the agenda. Please let me know if you have questions about any item I didn’t cover, or concerns about any item at all.
During the last few years, the City has seen a lot of street repair and street reconstruction – with the inevitable traffic disruption. The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners recently extended the 0.5 mill assessment on property owners for road and street repair; the funds collected from property owners in Ann Arbor will be used to fund street repair in our community. At this time, the proposed streets to be repaired and reconstructed – using this additional $2.4 million – are
• Ellsworth Road (State to Platt) — $600,000 (2 miles)
• Eisenhower (Ann Arbor-Saline to Boardwalk) — $580,000 (1.4 miles)
• State Street (Eisenhower to I-94) — $350,000 (0.3 miles)
• Packard (State to Stadium) — $360,000 (0.9 miles)
• Newport (Miller to Sunset) — $200,000 (0.6 miles)
• Huron River Drive (city limits to Bird Road)) — $120,000 (0.7 miles)
• Huron Parkway (Plymouth to Hubbard) — $280,000 (0.5 miles)
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 21
N. Main Street: Monday, September 21 through Wednesday, September 23, 2015. MDOT will close a single outbound lane of traffic on N. Main Street between Beakes and Summit beginning on Sept. 21, 2015 for repairs to a failing stormwater catch basin. MDOT plans to have work completed and the lane reopened by Sept. 23, 2015. Drivers should expect delays and plan on finding alternative routes.
5 pm: The Ordinance Revisions Committee of the Planning Commission will meet in the basement meeting room at City Hall to continue discussion of premiums.
7 pm: City Council meeting at City Council Chambers.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22 (SUNDOWN)
Yom Kippur – the day of atonement.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23 (SUNDOWN)
Eid al Adha – the feast of sacrifice.
I have not been reading that much recently, so my pile of reading material is unchanged. I’m working on How to Study Public Life (Jan Gehl and Birgitte Savarre), which 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.
I was recently reminded of The Modern Dilemma, by Loren Eisley (well, really, I was reminded of Loren Eisley and have a copy of The Modern Dilemma).