All on a golden afternoon
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.
Two weeks ago I sent an update on the agenda – but nothing else. And there are always so many other things going on. I’m sorry I was so brief – but I don’t intend to make this a long newsletter. In the past 17 days I’ve attended two 3-day long conferences about urban planning and cities – and how to plan for the best cities possible. I hope to digest all I heard and try to share with you – because what we hear affects the changes that might be considered.
I’ve recently met with groups of residents voicing their concerns about new development – and some of those concerns are things that the City can and should address. For instance, Water Hill is experiencing a growth spurt – old houses are being demolished and new, much larger houses are being constructed. Along with those larger-footprint houses is a resulting loss of permeable surface (known to the rest of us as space for a yard). Residents are not only concerned about the impact of very large houses in their neighborhoods of rather modest housing stock, they are also concerned that there could be an increased risk of damage to their properties and the City from storm water runoff.
Another area of runoff concern is reflected in our individual decisions about herbicides and pesticides. One of our neighbors was particularly concerned about existing vernal ponds (that form in the spring) and full wetlands adjacent to existing or proposed housing subdivisions. She pointed out to me that some areas, which used to be rich (before development) in amphibious life and that also served as migratory bird habitat are now silent in the spring and fall – because residents use herbicides and pesticides on their lawns. She asked for a way to address this in new developments, if not all across the City.
In the meantime, I’ve watched the maple tree in my yard once again turn an amazing color. I’ve bought the pie apples and prune plums, squash and all those cruciform vegetables (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower), onions and garlic. These will begin to fulfill my cold-weather food needs. If only there were more time and, well, longer falls and springs.
THE LIBRARY LOT
The City will hold two 2-hour meetings on October 22 at the downtown AADL branch to offer the community an opportunity to provide feedback on each of two proposals for a development on the Library Lot. These meetings are scheduled for two different times: 3 – 5 pm and 6:30 – 8:30 pm.
(I wrote the information below a month ago. It still seems pertinent.)
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.
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 City Council will determine whether to hold a public hearing on a resolution that would allow weapons to be fired in the City (see below).
The City has provided a brief update on efforts to manage the deer population. Among other efforts, the City has begun to provide information to the community about a variety of implementations.
DEER MANAGEMENT INFORMATION AND RESOURCES:
Staff has begun collecting information that will include:
1. Information about the Deer Feeding Ban Ordinance
2. Don’t Veer for Deer vehicle safety information: Link to www.michigandeercrash.com
3. Gardening with Deer Tips: Link to Michigan State information webpage http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/how_to_protect_your_yard_and_garden_from_deer_and_rabbits
4. Tick and Lyme Disease Prevention: Link to CDC tick & Lyme disease prevention brochure https://www.michigan.gov/documents/emergingdiseases/Tick_Lyme_Prevention_432371_7.pdf
5. Cull Information – Information to come once Council approves a sharp shooter contract. The City has a recommended vendor (USDA-APHIS) and expects to bring a resolution to City Council regarding the contract in November.
6. Humane Society of the United States Sterilization Program or research next steps. When available, information will be provided.
MONITORING THE IMPACTS OF DEER TO VEGETATION IN PARK NATURAL AREAS
The City does not currently have quantitative data to assess impacts of deer on vegetation in City natural areas. Staff is considering what a long-term monitoring program should look like, that could start during the 2016 growing season. In the short-term, in an effort to establish some level of baseline data on deer impacts prior to initiating a cull this winter, staff recommends contracting with a local researcher to conduct a browse damage evaluation in 4 wooded City parks beginning in November 2015. Also called “bioassays,” these consist of planting sentinel (or “sacrificial”) red oak tree seedlings at selected locations in the field and assessing them for deer browse damage over time. This method is referenced in Cornell University’s recent Deer Management Study. Staff is proceeding with contracting with Dr. Jacqueline Courteau, a local consulting ecologist, to begin conducting these bioassays. Dr. Courteau has extensive expertise and experience monitoring deer impacts in southeastern Michigan
Dr. Courteau conducted a preliminary study in Bird Hills in 2015.
On the Agenda
City Council meets on Monday, October 19; Planning Commission meets on Tuesday, October 20. Both meetings will be held in City Council Chambers.
Some things don’t get on the agenda, although everyone expects them to be placed there. One of those things is a resolution to postpone the Second Reading for the proposed zoning of the Woodbury Court apartments (which would be built on Nixon Road). The developer has requested the postponement – of both the zoning and site plan approval – to January 19th. The text of the resolution will be posted to the City’s Legistar agenda on Monday morning; all Council members received the text, but it needed a Council sponsor to place it on the agenda. (I agreed to sponsor.)
Also on the agenda are two ordinances that would establish the zoning for Nixon Farm North and Nixon Farm South. These ordinances have changed since the Council last saw them – specifically because the developer is now requesting conditional zoning (which imposes specific conditions to run with the land, not with the site plan, in the event a site plan is not approved or not built). These ordinances remain at First Reading. If they are approved at First Reading, both establishing the zoning (which needs eight votes) and the site plan will be on a future agenda.
ARGUS FARM STOP
Many of us enjoy the idea – and the reality – of local, neighborhood oriented shops. Argus Farm Stop, at the corner of Second and Liberty, is one such business, and Argus wants to expand its building (not its impervious surface) to provide more year-round seating. On the agenda is a resolution seeking Council approval for such an addition.
NIXON ROAD CORRIDOR TRAFFIC STUDY
The Council recently passed a resolution directing the City Administrator to prepare information on a possible corridor traffic study for Nixon Road (which would include DhuVarren, Green, Traver and a number of other streets that either intersect with Nixon or with one of those referenced streets). The staff response included a timeline and budget. On the agenda is a resolution to proceed with the traffic study and amend the FY2016 budget (increasing it by $200,000). This resolution, because it amends the budget, will require 8 votes.
AMENDING THE PEDESTRIAN CROSSWALK ORDINANCE
The Council has postponed discussing an amendment to the ordinance governing behavior at pedestrian crosswalks, primarily to first hear from the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force. That task force has recommended no changes in the ordinance at this time. This ordinance amendment is at First Reading. If it is approved at First Reading, it will go on to a public hearing and Second Reading.
ESTABLISHING LOWER SPEED LIMITS FOR RESIDENTIAL STREETS
Postponed from meetings in May and August is a resolution directing the City Administrator to phase in reduced speed limits in all residential neighborhoods – both local and major streets – so that the speed limit in such areas will be 25 miles per hour. The Council asked for more information about which streets would be affected, the cost of making these changes, any impacts and legal implications. The current agenda does not include this information, but does have the general staff response from August, 2015.
SALT AND ICE
As much as we wish we did not need to, even the City must prepare for winter. On the agenda is a resolution to purchase salt to control road ice. I hope we don’t need to use much.
ARTHUR MILLER HOUSE AND LIBERTY PLAZA
Sometimes ideas just seem to appear – ideas that could be solutions to multiple problems. In this case, one of our neighbors suggested to me that the City consider working with the University of Michigan to relocate the Arthur Miller House from its original site (next to ISR, although ISR was built later) to Liberty Plaza (next to Kempf House Center for Local History). On the agenda is a resolution directing the City staff to research that possibility – looking at the cost of the move, the cost of building a foundation under the house once moved, the opportunities presented by enlarging the Center for Local History, and the barriers and opportunities toward redesigning Liberty Plaza to include this possibility. This is not a resolution to take an action – only to look at whether that action might be considered as a good idea.
PUBLIC HEARING ABOUT PLACING A MORATORIUM ON THE PROHIBITION ON WEAPONS AND WEAPONS FIRE
The Council will discuss if it will hold a public hearing on whether to implement a temporary moratorium on the possession and discharge of weapons in public places. The Council will consider a resolution – currently planned for the November 5th Council meeting – on placing a moratorium on the ordinance that forbids the possession and discharge of weapons in public places. Resolutions don’t require public hearings – and some members of Council believe that the impact of allowing weapons to be discharged is sufficiently significant to require an opportunity for the community to present their views.
THE FLOODPLAIN ORDINANCE
The City Council postponed a resolution directing the staff to develop a proposed floodplain management overlay ordinance in order to give City staff sufficient time to evaluate what steps – and what resources – would need to be considered as part of the ordinance development. The staff report indicates that development of this ordinance (a draft is available, but not considered ready for implementation) will require a financial commitment and a time commitment. The Council will determine whether to place this project on the list of priorities.
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.
The City has still not received the final report about where a train station ought to be located (yes, we know it ought to be near the train tracks). As my beloved spouse would say, ‘continue to wait with Buddha-like patience.’
The failed development at Broadway and Maiden Lane has become a fascinating study in natural area plant succession. Over the course of the past seven years, pioneer trees have become established and thrived; deer and other animals have found their way through the fence to rest and eat; some wildflowers (initially planted and now reseeding) have spread while others have disappeared. Hawks and other flying predators have discovered the field mice and rabbits that call this area ‘home.’ I’ve even seen some wild turkeys and turkey buzzards there.
All of this could end in the (relatively) near future. The State Pension Fund has begun the process of talking about ways to develop the land. Earlier this week I met with representatives of the likely developer – who works for the pension fund – to discuss ideas about what might work there. I am hoping (since they aren’t putting the site on the market) for low-impact residential coupled with some local commercial (such as a greengrocer, restaurant, and other service type businesses to fill neighborhood needs.)
Another quote from my spouse: the Broadway Village Haiku.
Ann Arbor has trees
buildings four stories or less
let us see the sky.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24
POP-X, an innovative art exhibit at Liberty Plaza. You should see what people have been creating!
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20
DESIGN REVIEW BOARD, 3 PM, CITY HALL BASEMENT CONFERENCE ROOM
The Design Review Board will discuss the site plan and elevations for a proposed new building to house a community bath at 319-323 N. Main Street. This site is in the D2 zoning district, Kerrytown character district.
PLANNING COMMISSION, 7 PM, CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS
2250 Ann Arbor-Saline Road site plan and wetland permit: This project returns to the Planning Commission for another review. This parcel of land was, until recently, still in Pittsfield Township. It was annexed earlier this year, and the Planning Commission then recommended R4B (multi-family, large lot) to the Council as the appropriate zoning. The zoning has not yet been approved by City Council. The Planning Commission has postponed recommending approval or rejection for the site plan and wetland permit while attempting to work through issues surrounding a street / emergency access connection to an adjoining neighborhood. The site plan being reviewed has removed that access. The Planning Commission has not yet discussed the wetland permit.
Of particular importance for the site plan – if not for the discussion and resident impact statements delivered at previous public hearings – is the regional detention basin. A regional detention basin will provide much-needed storm-water control measures to this neighborhood that has already been impacted by heavy rains and poorly draining soils. Because the Planning Commission has not recommended the site plan for approval, the City and the developer have not begun work on the detention basin (which will be maintained by the City as a public asset). Another spring-and-summer storm season is coming; heavy rains will again have a significant impact on the residents in this area until regional work is completed.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22
The City will hold two public meetings (3 pm and 6:30 pm) at the downtown AADL branch on proposed development of the Library Lot.
Penny Stamps Speaker Series, Michigan Theatre, 5:10 pm: Sonya Clark addresses issues of race, identity and heritage.
7 pm in Council Chambers, the Environmental Commission will hold two public hearings on proposed ordinances that would be forwarded to City Council: (1) an ordinance to limit idling in downtown (delivery trucks) and adjacent to schools (affecting the rest of us) and (2) an ordinance that would prohibit the use of specific products as driveway sealants. I don’t want to encourage anyone to miss the public meetings on the Library Lot, but recommend that you also attend these public hearings to learn more about the proposed ordinances before they are sent to Council for action.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24
Hallowe’en at the Market: If you don’t have your pumpkins and corn stalks yet, this would be a good day to go.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 31
5 pm – 8 pm, Hallowe’en Trick or Treating – in a neighborhood near you. If you don’t want to see the furry creatures, astronauts, superheroes and scary candidates running for president, don’t leave the porch light on. (And if you know any furry creatures, astronauts, superheroes and scary candidates running for president, send them my way. My light will be on and my treat dish full!)
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3RD
7 am – 8 pm, at a polling place near you: Election Day in Ann Arbor. Please remember to vote!
If I sit and read, I don’t walk. And if I walk, I don’t have time to read. And if I read, I’m not listening to concerns from others. I just don’t have enough time to learn everything.
But I have goals. And sometimes the stars align. We’ve all heard about the value of green space in our community. If we had a book club, I’d recommend this for our next shared text: Places of the Heart, by Colin Ellard. It’s a deep dive into our relationship with nature in the context of anthropology and urban life. And it’s written in a positive and informative voice.
There are these dramatic moments in time that historians and dramatists never seem to find passé. For many reasons, one of those periods is the Second World War. Masterpiece Theatre is currently presenting Home Fires, a fictionalized history of the Women’s Institute in Britain and its members during the war. I found the history these stories are based on: Home Fires (Jambreakers), by Julie Summers. And I’ve only glanced at the first few pages, but expect to read Church of Spies: the Pope’s Secret War against Hitler. I’ve got the copy from the Ann Arbor District Library, but you should check it out.