Dahlia season, 2016
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 will not hold office hours on September 5th in recognition of Labor Day.
Caucus for September 4th is cancelled.
Caucus for September 18th is cancelled.
There is just something magical about September. Every year, it seems, August is steamy and hot and unforgiving, right up to the end. While some days cool off sufficiently to convince people to buy clothes for winter, most are just hot. And then it’s September – the temperature drops, the humidity drops. We can sleep at night with the covers on. And the harvest comes in – the summer and autumn produce overlaps with cool-weather crops like lettuce and peas.
On Saturday I went to the market, coming home with peaches, raspberries, prune plums, tomatoes, peppers and corn. To celebrate Labor Day, I’ll be bringing a plum kuchen to share with neighbors. I may make one with an almond crust, or one with frangipani: So many good recipes out there!
The upcoming election in November – on November 8th – has altered how the City Clerk works, as that office focuses on training poll workers and ensuring ballots and machines are working properly. Starting on Friday, September 9th, the City Clerk’s office will be closed every Friday, except for internal activities. If you need a dog license or other service, please plan accordingly.
Pontiac Trail: Wednesday, September 7 through Friday, October 14, 2016. Beginning on Wednesday, Sept. 7, Pontiac Trail between John A. Woods Drive and Skydale Drive will be closed to traffic in the northbound direction for street resurfacing.
During this time, northbound traffic will be detoured east on Plymouth Road, north on Nixon Road and west on Dhu Varren Road. One-way traffic will be maintained on Pontiac Trail through the work zone with one lane operating in the southbound (inbound) direction of travel. During construction, pedestrian traffic will be maintained, and/or detoured as required.
Please see the detour map (PDF) for possible alternative routes.
East Ellsworth Road: Wednesday, August 10 through Monday, October 10, 2016. Beginning on Wednesday, August 10, East Ellsworth Road between Stone School Road and Platt will have intermittent closures of the eastbound traffic lane for sidewalk construction.
These closures will take place between 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., at which time the eastbound traffic will be shifted into the center left turn lane as required to accommodate the work. At all other times a shoulder closure along the south side of Ellsworth Road will be in place. These closures are expected to last through Monday, October 10, 2016, weather permitting.
During construction pedestrian traffic will be maintained, and detoured as required. Access for emergency vehicles, and to side streets and driveways, will also be maintained.
Geddes Avenue: March 14 through Nov. 1, 2016. Geddes Avenue will be closed to through traffic between Washtenaw and Huron Parkway for road reconstruction and utility work. Local residential access will be maintained.
Between Washtenaw and Huron Pkwy, eastbound through traffic will be detoured at Washtenaw to Huron Pkwy. Westbound through traffic will be detoured at Huron Pkwy to Washtenaw. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic should avoid using Geddes Avenue due to uneven terrain, construction vehicles, and deep utility trenches.
Please see the detour map (PDF) for alternative routes.
After several meetings with interested members of the public, the City plans to move forward with the effort to build a pedestrian bridge linking two neighborhoods on the south side of town. To learn more about the project and the timeline, click here.
Trains and stations
For more than a year, some of us have been waiting for the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) to release the report that would make a recommendation on where a new train station would be sited. The report came out at the end of August – but it does not provide that expected result. The report indicates that four different design options remain under consideration – one at Fuller Park on the parking lot at the eastern parcel (the Council approved a lease for this parking lot to UM at the last Council meeting) and three (3!) variant designs on Depot Street. Here’s the report for your review (part 1) (part 2).
The next step is the environmental assessment. And at some point in the future, the Council will place an item on the ballot for voters to decide whether to go forward with a new train station – where ever the train station will be. I count on you to provide your feedback about what you want.
Many of us expect the City to recycle as much of our waste (paper, metal, plastic, etc.) as possible. You can recycle electronics, paint, oil, furniture, and many other items in our community. And when the City ended its contract to sort the recycling that gets picked up at the curb, quite a few people were concerned that this indicated a decrease in the City’s commitment toward recycling.
The City has released a ‘quick turnaround’ RFP to find a new vendor to handle the recycling sorting. The Council authorized the purchase of a new baler (to bale the recycling) in July, and that should be available soon. But it turns out that the sorting line – which separates the recycling into different types of materials – is simply not functioning. As a result, our bulk recycling is being taken elsewhere to be sorted.
On the agenda is a resolution to approve a short-term operating agreement with Waste Management to receive, sort and sell recyclable materials. This, coupled with the RFP, should result in effective operation of the recycling process.
The sorting line equipment has been badly worn. There is damage to the equipment – removing guards and other protections that keep operators safe. Because of this, the sorting line cannot be used. The proposed short-term contract the City has with Waste Management would require that they assess the condition of the sorting line and evaluate the equipment – including an estimate of the cost to repair or replace the necessary parts. As soon as that evaluation is available, the City Council will be asked to authorize the cost so we can get the Materials Recovery Facility running again very quickly.
Recycling remains a priority at the City. Your curbside recycling will continue to be collected – and the recycling will continue to be removed from the waste stream.
I’ll keep you posted.
The Library Lot
At some point in the near future, the Council will be asked to approve a resolution to sell the development rights of the Library Lot. When that time comes, there are some important details that may be lost – so I want to record them here.
First – and unlike most developments that the Council must approve – the Council is not approve a building design. It’s approving a sale. That means that – whether or not the community likes the design – the issues the Council will be determine have to do with restrictions on where and what can be built, how the property must be used, and how much the City will receive for the development rights. The developer that the City is negotiating with (CORE Spaces) has offered $10 million for the right to build a structure up to 180 feet tall. In addition, the City was told to negotiate for the following community benefits: (1) a sustainable building design and construction plan, which will further the City’s sustainable (energy conserving) goals; (2) 10% of all residential units be made permanently available to individuals earning between 60% and 80% of the area median income – annually adjusted; and (3) a project that creates effective pedestrian linkages through this large block (bounded by Liberty, William, Fifth Avenue, and Division).
It takes eight affirmative votes for the sale of development rights to go forward. The last time the Council voted on this project – to continue negotiations with CORE – there were seven affirmative votes.
If the Council approves a sales agreement (it will take eight affirmative votes), CORE will have to go forward through a community participation meeting, design review board, planning staff review, other staff review, Planning Commission and City Council.
The last time the City sold property – the former Y lot – the City placed a number of requirements in the sales agreement. One of those requirements is that the project be completed and granted a certificate of occupancy by January 1, 2018. In the years since the agreement was finalized (it was approved by Council in November, 2013) the purchaser (Dahlmann) has decided to sell the property to a third party (Habitat, a Chicago-based developer). But that developer does not believe it can meet the requirements in the sales agreement.
In the next months, Habitat is likely to request that Council approves a revised sales agreement, with different requirements and different deadlines for construction. While Habitat has presented a concept drawing to several members of Council to discuss, the particulars of their proposed design remain open to negotiation, as well. If the Council approves a revision to the sales agreement (it will take eight affirmative votes), Habitat will have to go forward through a community participation meeting, design review board, planning staff review, other staff review, Planning Commission and City Council.
This is the process for all proposed developments.
For the last couple of years, the Planning Commission has been in the process of evaluating – and amending – the zoning regulations for downtown construction. (The downtown area is considered pretty much the same as the Downtown Development Authority area.)
After the new zoning was established (in 2009), the City waited several years to see whether the zoning (including the establishment of character districts) and the incentives (premiums) would give us what we wanted – better buildings. It became clear that that was not going to occur, so the Council and the Planning Commission took on the task of trying to improve the character districts and the premiums. That process continues.
Right now, the Planning Commission is continuing to discuss whether the proposed changes to the premiums (which would focus on sustainable buildings and new residential units for people earning less than 80% of the area median income) will encourage new development that helps reach the City’s goals.
There will be opportunities in the next few months for you to review the proposed changes and evaluate whether those changes will have desirable results. I hope you take advantage of those opportunities.
Nixon Farms (now called North Oaks)
During September and October, the road beds will be established and the streets paved. It won’t be quiet for a while. So far, the staff has indicated that the developer is following all applicable building practice requirements, including storm water management, wetlands protection, noise, and hours of construction.
The developer has provided a website that provides general updates to the construction schedule. I’ll be checking in sporadically, too.
This development will continue building in phases for two to five years, depending upon the demand for housing.
On the Agenda
CITY COUNCIL MEETS ON TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6TH AT 7 PM in the Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.
Planning Commission meets on Wednesday, September 7th at 7 pm.
The Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of both the zoning (proposed as R4C) and site plan (reduced by 5 residential units) to City Council. City Council will hold public hearings on the zoning and the site plan. Because the neighboring residents have objected to the zoning change, it will take a super-majority (8 votes) to approve the zoning change. It takes 6 affirmative votes to approve the site plan.
The developer seeks to cluster all the buildings on one portion of the site, but consider the entire area of the site to calculate density. In order to achieve the number of units the developer seeks while leaving more area undeveloped, he is also asking to be permitted to build the units not quite five (5) feet taller.
The developer and the City have a tentative agreement that would result in both a donation of park land and the purchase of the wetlands on the eastern side of the parcel. The resolution to purchase this land has already been passed by City Council; however, the developer’s site plan and proposed zoning have not. In the event that the site plan and zoning are not approved, the developer may choose to retain the land in his hands.
There continue to be questions about the impact of additional development in this area on storm water and the existing wetlands.
I’ve received quite a few communications about this proposed project. Click here to see the questions and answers.
City Council will also discuss South Pond Village, which is returning to the agenda. South Pond Village, a proposal for 73 single family homes behind Arborland and the Woodcreek subdivision (off Chalmers). This project would be constructed with one major (shared) access drive (Woodcreek Boulevard) and one (shared) secondary access (Algebe Way, which accesses only Woodcreek Boulevard to exit the subdivision). Residents of Woodcreek have raised questions about the safety of having only one major access drive into both neighborhoods. Residents of both Woodcreek and Chalmers have questioned whether they should be required to help fund improvements to Chalmers, as they see the primary rationale for paving this road is to facilitate development, and later, residents of South Pond Village.
At the last Council meeting, the developer agreed to fund some or all of the cost that residents on Chalmers might fact when the road is paved. That agreement is now reflected in the proposal the Council will consider.
Up for First Reading is an ordinance that would create ‘no idling’ areas – such as parts of downtown and areas near schools. This ordinance, if approved, would not affect the normal operation of a car (warming up in the driveway, for instance, or stopping at a stop light). It would discourage delivery vehicle operators from letting their vehicles idle for long periods of time. There are a number of defined situations where idling would be permitted, and others where idling could be discouraged. If this passes First Reading, it ought to be on the agenda at the first meeting in October (October 3) for a public hearing.
Many residents – in addition to Council members – have been voicing concern about driver behavior – speeding through neighborhoods, failing to yield to pedestrians, failing to stop at signals and signs. On the agenda is a resolution directing the City Administrator to review traffic calming, speed limits, and the design speed for road reconstructions.
Transportation remains the theme for September 6th. On the agenda is a resolution in support of the RTA Ballot Proposal.
The November election is in the thoughts of many this season. ONE is a non-profit organization that focuses on eliminating extreme poverty. On the agenda is a resolution to approve closing Washington Street between Thayer and Fletcher on Tuesday, September 13 from 9 am to 7 pm for the ONE Vote Caravan Stop – an opportunity for a bit of play coupled with serious discussion about extreme poverty in the world. The goal of this event is to seek support from presidential candidates for the goal of eliminating extreme poverty.
Not related to transportation, but to 1,4 dioxane, is a resolution that would authorize the Mayor and members of City Council submit comments and to address the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality with regard to the proposed revisions to chemical clean-up standards – particularly increasing those standards for cleaning up 1,4 dioxane. MDEQ is holding a public hearing on September 13 about the revisions.
There are several noteworthy opportunities to expand the greenbelt – Ann Arbor’s land conservation program that engages partners to both expand the park system and to keep farm land and open space undeveloped outside the city boundaries.
On the agenda is a resolution authorizing the City to submit a full proposal for a grant to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NCRS) that, if awarded, would contribute toward purchasing conservation easements along the upper Huron River. Other partners include the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, Six Rivers Land Conservancy, Huron River Watershed Council, Legacy Land Conservancy, and Ducks Unlimited. Supporting the application are the MDNR, Parks and Recreation Division, the Oakland County Parks and Recreation, and Pheasants Forever.
The Council will also consider whether to approve partnering with Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation to purchase land for the greenbelt in Scio Township.
The Council will vote on whether to approve a cooperative agreement with the United States of America Commodity Credit Corporation as part of the process of accepting grants totally $522,340 for the purchase of development rights in Lodi Township.
The Council will also decide whether to participate in a grant application with Ducks Unlimited to seek funds for the purchase of development rights in Northfield Township.
There are always other items on the agenda. If you have questions or concerns about any item, please let me know.
On the November ballot is a proposed charter amendment that would change the electoral terms for City Council and Mayor. Rather than holding elections every year, this amendment would establish that all Council and Mayoral elections are held in even-numbered years, and that Council and Mayoral terms are for four years.
Nearly 200 years. That’s how long the relationship between the UM and the City has existed – UM moved to Ann Arbor nearly 180 years ago, just 20 years after its founding in Detroit (in 1817). Watch for a variety of events, symposia, commemorations and parties celebrating the UM’s bicentennial in the next 18 months.
Planning Commission meets at 7:00 pm in Council Chambers. On the agenda:
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and determine whether to recommend a site plan for the Circle K gas station at the corner of Stadium and Packard.
The Planning Commission will also hold a public hearing on whether to recommend approval of a zoning change and area plan for a parcel at 2857 Packard. If approved by Council, this would create 56 single-family lots designated R1E (4000 square foot maximum). As presented to the Planning Commission, this petition does not designate the style, size, or absolute location of the proposed houses. It does demonstrate that R1E zoning would be possible for this site.
National Day of Service, Stapp Nature Area
Stapp Nature Area is one of our more pristine natural areas, with native plants composing nearly eighty percent of the total flora. The park’s mature oak-hickory forest is home to deer and several cavity-dwelling bird species, while a vernal pool draws frogs, toads, and salamanders. Volunteers and NAP staff have worked hard throughout the years to maintain the high environmental quality of this park, but invasive shrubs are threatening to undo these efforts! Join us to cut back invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn to make room for our native plants to flourish. Please meet us at the park entrance on the corner of Huron Parkway and Tuebingen Parkway. Please wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. All minors must present a completed release form and should be accompanied by a guardian. Tools, snacks and know-how are provided. Free.
All the recent national political discussion, the local election-reform discussions, and zoning discussions have concentrated my attention on self-segregation: the idea that we move to live near people who share our class and our values. And that this voluntary segregation results in some serious, involuntary economic segregation, and some equally serious political polarization. There’s a book for this, and you can imagine I’ve been reading it: The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded American is Tearing Us Apart, by Bill Bishop.