July, going door to door
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.
The last couple of weeks have been crammed with meetings and activities, and these next weeks look just as busy.
My beloved and I went to the Art Fair – our annual foray – and managed to stay dry and come home with more art. All the rain, though, has brought more standing water and more opportunities for lush, summer growth. My dahlias – those left uneaten by rabbits – are beginning to bloom. And the fish aren’t eating enough mosquitos.
This week in July is supposed to be hot and sticky. It is living up to my expectations. When my son in California missed thunderstorms, I told him to come visit during Art Fair. And when my beloved and I married (29 years ago on the 19th), the cake, the bride and most of the guests melted.
The days are noticeably shorter than just two weeks ago. I keep hearing this whisper: Summer’s ending. Summer’s ending.
I hope you are enjoying your summer and filling it with memories!
15TH DISTRICT COURT
As I’ve gone door-to-door (yes, it’s campaign season) over the past week, I’ve been asked several times about the 15th District Court and the FOIA’d text messages between an attorney and a judge. There are a couple of points worth sharing.
The attorney’s text messages were collected from his phone by the police as part of an investigation into an accusation of criminal behavior. The text messages then became part of the information used in a judicial tenure hearing for Judge Simpson, the judge tasked with determining whether the attorney ought to stand trial. The public does not have access to Judge Easthope’s messages with others; the released messages were part of a larger set (I understand 80,000 messages) between the attorney and a variety of other people.
When rumors spread that there was some interesting information that affected Judge Easthope, MLIVE.com FOIA’d the messages. Judge Easthope announced his resignation, effective December 31, citing family and personal reasons. When the text messages were printed, he added that he had not behaved well, embarrassing himself and damaging the credibility of his elected position.
That Judge Easthope’s text conversations became part of two different investigations indicates to me that we all ought to remember that our phones and computers leave fingerprints everywhere, and that these fingerprints can be innocent to us, but paint us guilty when others see them. Something jocular between friends (“I’ll kill him when I get home!”) can quickly seem unfunny and threatening. I keep trying to learn this.
The good news, from my point of view, is that Chief Judge Elizabeth Pollard Hines determined that – at least for now – Judge Easthope will not be hearing any more legal cases. In the event you wondered, though, I want to be certain I share what options confronted the City Council and the Chief Judge. The City Council cannot reassign a judge, move his office, or fail to pay his salary. City funds are used to pay staff and provide support to the courts; the Council has no authority over an elected official representing a different (judicial) branch of government. The chief judge may reassign cases. Because the staff works for the court, any changes in staff assignments are also in her power. Any reprimand, removal from office or decision about pay and power will be made by the judicial tenure commission or by the Supreme Court.
I’ve been through this before with FOIA’d emails between Council members. Most of the time, most of us act like adults.
DEER. DAGNABBIT, DEER!
The City’s deer management plan – which is woefully short of details – recommends that the Council
• Implement a series of annual culls on City property in Wards 1 and 2 beginning in 2016
• Implement a city wide deer feeding ban as soon as possible
• Conduct annual flyovers to provide an indication of the number of deer in and close to the city
• Conduct an annual survey via A2 Open City Hall
• Provide deer management material and resources (via the website or at City Hall)
• Develop a process to measure environmental impact of the deer on the City’s natural areas
No one has suggested that deer are not a problem – but some of us have opinions about how to define the problem, what caused the problem, and what to do about it. Several residents have contacted City Council opposing that first recommendation – to begin annual culls. Others have indicated that, in their view, the only solution for too many deer is, well, fewer deer. And the only way to achieve that is to kill deer.
Whether you call it a cull or a slaughter (yes, I get both terms offered to me) there are some points that I needed to understand, and then share.
WILL A DEER CULL MEAN THAT THERE WON’T BE DEER IN MY GARDEN NEXT YEAR?
Well, no. Simply put, the deer in your garden – whether they are wandering visitors or long-term residents – could easily be there next spring and summer. It depends on where you live, not where the deer live. It seems there are deer all over, but not everywhere is appropriate for a cull.
The City hasn’t developed a conceptual plan – much less a detailed plan – that indicates where a cull would take place, and how close that would be to where you live. The City hasn’t yet determined how many does would be killed in a cull, either.
COULD WE USE CONTRACEPTION INSTEAD OF KILLING DEER?
Maybe. Giving does contraception might work to slowly decrease the deer herd. If some resident researchers are right, new migrant deer won’t come into Ann Arbor quickly, and in some areas deer might be shot with contraceptive darts rather than bullets. Contraception, if it is effective, would result in fewer fawns and a gradual decrease in the number of deer – perhaps a visible change in 3-5 years. Effective contraception requires repeat treatments and an ability to find and treat previous years’ does.
CAN WE CULL DEER IN PARKS, AND USE CONTRACEPTION ELSEWHERE?
This is also ‘maybe.’ There are so many details left to be determined that it’s difficult for me to say where a cull would take place, and whether or not using contraception anywhere makes sense.
One barrier we face to a successful deer cull – and deer contraception, for that matter – is that deer have followed all our connected parks and dispersed out into neighborhoods. Deer may travel in family herds, but in Ann Arbor, they aren’t concentrated. In order to conduct a cull or use contraceptive darts, we will have to try to concentrate them.
And maybe there’s too much focus on whether to hire sharpshooters or biologists. Let’s look at that list of recommendations again: a feeding ban (Please don’t feed the deer! Seriously!); provide informational material about deer, their effect on the environment in general, and ways to manage the damage they can do; get an accurate and objective count of deer each year; measure deer damage in natural areas; ask residents about deer sightings and deer damage, to track where deer are concentrated. We can do all those things without difficulty.
On August 17, the Council will consider a resolution that will provide clear direction to the staff. The City Council will – unusually – hold a public hearing on this resolution (resolutions generally don’t include public hearings). If you want to provide feedback, comments, recommendations, or advice – come to the Council meeting or write to everyone on Council. If you only want to tell me what you think, send me a message.
By the end of that meeting, the Council will have determined whether to cull, use contraception, try both, or try neither. Once the decision is made, the Council – and its members! – will follow through. The Council has allocated $90,000 for deer management, including staff support and non-lethal measures.
The sharpshooter/contractor at the working session indicated a general cost to kill, dress and remove one deer is $300; the City has not established the number of deer that ought to be killed. For that matter, the wildlife biologist indicated that the cost to provide contraception to one deer is about $300. It costs about the same to kill a deer as it does to let a deer live but (hopefully) prevent many deer from being born.
Whatever decision the Council reaches, it’s a long-term commitment – at least 5 years under all circumstances, with additional ‘treatments’ every time the deer herd increases.
You can read more about the deer management report on the City’s deer management page.
INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS FOR THIS SUMMER AND NEXT SUMMER
A few weeks ago, someone asked what was going on at the train station, and I learned that MichCon was testing the soil. No big deal.
This week I heard from another person asking – and the answer is, Amtrak is installing a new platform that meets ADA requirements and is fully accessible.
There are many big and small infrastructure projects going on. The bridges over the river and the railroad (Fuller, Maiden Lane, and Hospital Drive) are all being repaired. Newport (from Sunset to Miller) is being repaved. The sidewalk gaps on Barton, Scio Church and Nixon have been filled – with landscaping to follow.
East Summit and Wheeler Park are disrupted to install a new water main. Depot resurfacing (from Main to Fuller) is slated to begin this month. Note to my friends concerned about Wheeler Park – the work to replace the sewer began July 6th; the basketball court will be rebuilt this summer.
Coming soon: Geddes Road – a series of changes (see below).
Still trying to figure out how to get from here to there without hitting traffic slowdowns? Finding problems getting around town because of construction? There’s a map for that. Check back frequently to learn about upcoming, scheduled and emergency street closings.
On the Agenda
City Council meets on Monday, July 20th; Planning Commission meets on Tuesday, July 21th. Both meetings begin at 7 pm in City Council Chambers at City Hall.
Recently, many issues on the agenda were not quite ready for resolution. These issues are now – most likely – ready for us to resolve. This makes for a long agenda – below are just the highlights. If you have questions, give me a call.
City Council directed the Planning Commission and Planning staff to review the zoning downtown, specifically looking at whether the zoning boundaries were drawn appropriately near residential areas. One area has already been rezoned to D2, with a height limit of 100 feet established for that area. The Council will hold a public hearing and then decide whether to approve changes to the boundaries of the East Huron Character Overlay District and whether to make changes to the definition of how big/how tall/ where any new construction may be within that East Huron Character overlay district.
There are many details. However, the highlights of these changes include: no new building taller than 120 feet, facing Huron. No new building taller than 60 feet facing Ann. Any building constructed between Huron, Ann, Fifth Ave. and the alleyway just east of Fourth Ave. must be no taller than 3 stories facing Ann.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on whether to approve rezoning a parcel to allow construction of a new hotel with a retail outlet at State Street and Research Park Drive. The Council does not get to approve the use of any new building, only to determine whether the proposed zoning and site plan meet the requirements of the City’s zoning code and master plan.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on whether to establish zoning for a new apartment complex at Nixon near M14 and whether to approve the site plan for this apartment complex. Also on the agenda – but not for a public hearing – are ordinances to rezone properties on the other side of Nixon (Nixon Farm North and Nixon Farm South). Now that the City has annexed the properties on Nixon Road at DhuVarren, zoning is the next step in the process. These zoning ordinances will be back for second reading and a public hearing in August; the resolution recommending approval of the proposed Toll Brothers’ development will likely be on the same Council agenda. At some point the Council will need to approve plans to change the Nixon/DhuVarren/Green intersection. At this time, the proposed improvement is for a roundabout.
The Council will hold a public hearing and discuss proposed changes to the Ann Arbor Racquet Club. The Racquet Club is also seeking a waiver from the requirement that they install sidewalk along Geddes Rd. Initially, the Racquet Club requested a waiver from installing any sidewalk; the Planning Commission recommended that waiver be denied. The revised site plan includes a partial sidewalk, and the Racquet Club is requesting a waiver from the requirement that they construct the complete sidewalk required by City policies.
This item was postponed from the last Council meeting. Because three members of City Council are member/owners of the Racquet Club, there is a potential conflict of interest for them; it is possible they will be recused from voting. (I am not a member of the Racquet Club, for what that’s worth.)
Back on the agenda is a resolution that directs the City Administrator to work with Pittsfield Township to gain approval of the proposed airport runway extension before seeking funding from the FAA. The Chair of the Airport Advisory Commission has requested a postponement, to consider whether a redesign of the runway would satisfy concerns about safety and reduce concerns about an extended runway creating an incentive for larger planes.
The City is reconstructing Geddes Road – creating new storm water management systems, new sidewalks, new curbs and gutters, and repaving. It’s a lot of work on a relatively narrow and steep street that sees quite a bit of traffic. The Council will discuss awarding contracts for the work and establishing special assessment districts.
Sometimes, the rain falls so hard and so fast that it reminds us we live in a river valley with many creeks. Although we’ve buried some of the creeks and built over them, the water still tries to find a route through town that follows those old creeks. On the agenda is a resolution directing the Planning Commission to create a Floodplain Management Overlay District. This resolution encourages the Planning Commission to refer to a completed study and consider draft ordinance language.
NEW REQUIREMENTS FOR CITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS
Every so often, Council members are encouraged to change the way the City handles elections. Mostly, those decisions aren’t up to the Council – because they require a change in the City Charter, they need active approval from voters. Two Council members have proposed changes to the Charter for elections; each has identified the same goals (better voter turnout; cost savings for the City).
First, the Council will consider whether to place a referendum on the ballot that would establish all future Council races (starting 2016) would be non-partisan.
The Council will also consider whether to place a referendum on the ballot that establishes all Council terms, including the Mayor, are for four years. And if this is approved by the voters, the Council would then enact a companion resolution that eliminates odd-numbered year elections, retaining staggered terms.
On this issue, as on many others, I look for answers to these questions:
I would be pleased to hear your advice.
There are always other items on the agenda, including a contract with the Sheriff’s office to perform drug screening tests for the Sobriety Court. If you see issues that I have not addressed about which you have questions or concerns, please give me a call or send 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.
PUBLIC HEARING ON DEER MANAGEMENT
August 17, 7 pm, City Council Chambers. The Council will be considering a resolution that directs the city staff to implement specific aspects of the deer management plan. Before the Council finalizes the language, Council members have indicated they want final input from the community. The initial resolution directing the staff to develop a plan indicated that it needed to be supported by the community.
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.
Wednesday July 1st - Thursday July 30th from 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Sundays from 12:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Explore science all summer with special activities at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum! From science experiments to make-and-take projects to hands-on activities, there will be something for everyone. In July, learn about the wonders of water, and in August, experiment with color. The activities will change regularly, for more information, visit the website.
Tuesday, July 21st at 7 pm in Council Chambers at City Hall, the Planning Commission will discuss and recommend to Council whether to approve or reject two projects.
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and then discuss the White/State/Henry redevelopment project, which requires rezoning a parcel from PL (public land) to R4C (multi-family) and demolishing and rebuilding public housing – increasing the number of public housing units on this site by 4, from28 to 32.
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and then discuss the proposed annexation, rezoning and development of 75 new condos at 2250 Ann Arbor Saline Road. This project was divided into two pieces the last time it appeared on the Planning Commission agenda. Planning Commissioners recommended that the property be annexed. Planning commission members expressed unhappiness at the proposed internal circulation pattern, which included general access to an adjoining neighborhood and locking gates to prevent non-residents from using the Ann Arbor Saline Road site. The revised proposal included more interior sidewalks and a locked gate on the adjoining street that is only accessible to emergency vehicles.
Wednesday, July 22 – Saturday, July 26: 50 years of the Ark. Events, activities, performances. Learn more here.
Friday, July 24, 6 pm at the Ann Arbor Art Association: opening reception for Tech & Art exhibit.
Tuesday, August 4, 7 am – 8 pm. Primary Election Day in Ann Arbor for City Council candidates in wards 1, 3, 4, and 5. Please don’t forget to vote!
I spent some time this week re-reading Deerland.
On the bookshelf, waiting its turn, is Zoning Rules, by William Fischel. With Wendy Rampson's decision to retire from the City's Planning Department, the more I understand the better.