Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: The Postponed Edition

18. August 2006 • Juliew
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Monday, August 21, 7:00 pm
Ann Arbor City Hall
Eight items on Monday’s City Council agenda were postponed from previous meetings.

Highlights:

  • Approval of the Metro 202 plan (large .pdf here). This will be on the docket for the fourth time.
  • Approval of additional funds to look into the new/renovated City Hall and Police Station.
  • Several facets of the Easy Street sidewalk assessments.
  • Approval of a $400,000 one-year agreement to provide “parking citation processing, collection and record management services.”
  • Approval of a “Park Maintenance and Capital Improvements Millage” and an “Administration of Park Maintenance and Capital Improvements Millage” for the November ballot.

Don’t forget, the “Democratic” Caucus meeting (since all Council members are Democrats, this meeting is primarily a pre-Council meeting with no camera and no time limits on speaking) is held on the Sunday prior to each Council Meeting at 7:00 pm in the Council Chambers. Caucus meetings are open to the public and are an opportunity for anyone to speak informally with Council about agenda items. Speakers sign up on a first-come, first-served basis.



  1. Ron Suarez, if you are out there, I think a great start to having a more open Council and to being more accessible to people would be to podcast the Caucus meetings. Are you up for it? Oh, and congrats on the win!


       —Juliew    Aug. 18 '06 - 03:47PM    #
  2. The whole council can meet together to discuss city business, and there’s no TV broadcast??? That’s amazing.

    I understand, I think from reading it here, that there often aren’t any people in attendance other than them and sometimes highly interested parties, and I’ve never seen a report on one of these meetings in the paper. Isn’t it kind of likely that they’ll do whatever they do to make decisions in what is essentially a closed-door session of council? Keep all the things they don’t want public to this session?

    I sure hope Ron podcasts. And why stop there? Shouldn’t he and any councel member who cares at all about a government that’s democratic want this caucus session to be on television? The stuff that runs on the city’s cable channel now is certainly not this important.

    Is Ron actually on Council now? Or does he have to wait for some time—like November or January to start serving?

    Even if he’s not, he could offer to record and podcast the meetings. What would be a good reason why they should reject this offer from even a citizen who is not a council member? If they did it, this would imply that they don’t have anything to hide.


       —AK    Aug. 18 '06 - 05:24PM    #
  3. Yup AK, you got it. The Caucus meeting is essentially a Council meeting for insiders. Officially it is open to the public (hence, should be podcastable, right?), but in reality, the public rarely, if ever, knows about it. Developers and lawyers, however, know all about it. When my neighborhood was involved in the Greene Street development no one mentioned anything about Caucus, including our Ward 4 Council members who knew we were interested in the issue. It wasn’t until later that we found out that the developer of the project and his lawyer had discussed the project for several hours with Council at the Caucus meeting the night before. This little talk included all the legal steps they would take against the City should the project not be approved. It was obvious at the Council meeting that the issue had been decided before we even got there, which was tremendously frustrating. I would say that many Council issues are decided at Caucus rather than during the Council meetings.


       —Juliew    Aug. 18 '06 - 07:10PM    #
  4. You’re right about Caucus, Juliew, and the situation is even worse than you think.

    Often at Caucus, Council members will wait until the members of the public leave, and will then discuss issues they would prefer that the public not hear about. I don’t know what would happen if some citizen staged a “sit-in” at Caucus and refused to leave.)

    Plus, Council members frequently go to the /aut/ bar after Caucus and/or Council and make decisions there.

    Ron Suarez takes office a couple of weeks after the November general election. I hope he podcasts Caucus meetings. I also hope he tells Council that there will be no more gatherings at the /aut/ bar.

    It only takes one Council member to make a significant change in the atmosphere and customs of Council.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 18 '06 - 08:53PM    #
  5. I suggest we ban all conversation between Council members whatsoever outside of Council meetings. Making eye contact and waving during chance encounters on the street may be tolerated, but we just can’t put up with the kind of secret back room socializing (Tom Gantert in attendance, and discussion at least occasionally appearing in the paper) that has become the norm!

    In fact, we should make it a condition of all liquor licenses in the city that no Councilmember may be served when more than one Councilmember is within the establishment. Doesn’t matter if they’re at different tables – they may be conducting business by sign language!

    We should also request the NSA wiretap Councilmember’s phones/e-mail, so that we can ensure they don’t contact each other in those fashions. (Oops, wait, we’re probably too late on the whole NSA wiretap thing; I expect that’s the status quo…)

    ...

    As I understand it, any time a certain number of Councilmembers (or CPC members, or HDC members, or Greenway Task Force members) are together, they have to abide by all open meeting requirements. David can probably elaborate exactly what those requirements are? I hardly think, though, that Caucus constitutes nefarious / corrupt activity, nor that a couple of Councilmembers going out to unwind after meetings does. I’d encourage Suarez not to scream and fuss about his Councilmates’ activities (unless he finds actual evidence of wrongdoing); other suggestions, such as podcasting Caucus (and Council Meetings proper!) are good ones.


       —Murph    Aug. 18 '06 - 09:18PM    #
  6. I’m not concerned about “a couple of Council members”, Murph. In recent years it has become the custom for the vast majority of Council members to go to the /aut/ bar.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 18 '06 - 09:54PM    #
  7. I don’t know how it would play out in a smaller setting like Ann Arbor, but I know that at the federal level, the introduction of cameras into legislative chambers can be a real problem. Rather than give the public a convenient way to keep tabs on their elected officials, broadcasting sessions often leads to a lot of grandstanding and electioneering in front of the camera, to the detriment of the substantive agenda.

    David: So long as the end result is voted on per proper procedures, what’s the issue here? As Murph noted, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything corrupt about city council members going to the bar and talking shop. And so far as I’m aware, legislative decisions at every level of government are often made outside of formal sessions.


       —Daniel adams    Aug. 19 '06 - 12:22AM    #
  8. Daniel, check out the Open Meetings Act. Council members are not supposed to discuss policy in any group where a quorum is present unless the meeting is posted. That’s what’s wrong with the /aut/ bar gatherings.

    Kim Groome, of lamented memory, refused to go to the /aut/ bar. This secret decision-making was one reason she quit Council in disgust last summer.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 19 '06 - 12:56AM    #
  9. I thought the reason she quit council was she moved to another state where her husband worked.


       —Dale    Aug. 19 '06 - 01:20AM    #
  10. David:

    Thanks for the correction!

    -Dan


       —Daniel adams    Aug. 19 '06 - 02:07AM    #
  11. There’s an irony worth noting in the claim that secret decision-making has been going on in a place with the name /aut/.

    David Cahill, you are, of course, correct about how the rules of the Open Meetings Act apply. So if you want to press the claim that there was a violation of the Open Meetings Act committed by Councilmembers at the /aut/ bar, you’ve outlined exactly what it would take to make the case: (1) specify a date on which the alleged violation occurred (2) establish that a quorum was present at the bar by naming Councilmembers present who constituted the quorum (3) establish that the gathering was not ‘social’ in nature as covered by OMA [but see below for why you probably don’t have to]

    I think you’ll find an AU readership more receptive to claims of untoward Council behavior, if you address 1,2,3 specifically. If (3) is a matter of, Well I just can’t imagine that if you put those people in a room together and add alcohol that they wouldn’t engage in a discussion that counts as a violation of OMA, then I would be a little underwhelmed.

    I have to say ceteris paribus that I’d prefer that my representative drinks a few pints with colleagues than not.

    From the text of the Open Meetings Act

    – - – - – -

    “Meeting” means the convening of a public body at which a quorum is present for the purpose of deliberating toward or rendering a decision on a public policy.

    “Decision” means a determination, action, vote or disposition upon a motion, proposal, recommendation, resolution, order, ordinance, bill or measure on which a vote by members of a public body is required and by which a public body effectuates or formulates public policy.

    (10) This act does not apply to a meeting which is a social or chance gathering or conference not designed to avoid this act.

    – - – - – -

    In light of that, I wonder if drinking some pints at the /aut/ bar counts as a meeting even if policy gets mentioned or even vigorously discussed. And given this definition of decision, I doubt any ‘decisions’ got made at the /aut/ bar. Really doubt it. But, if someone wants to suggest that some decision got made, then a starting point would be a specific claim.

    The good news for anyone who might want to press a case against Council on this is that Council would have to show why their /aut/ bar pints DON’T fall under the Open Meetings Act as opposed to someone having to show why the gathering DID fall under the Act:

    Detroit News v Detroit, 185 Mich App 296 (1990), lv den
    Burden of establishing that a meeting of a public body is exempt from the Open Meetings Act is on the public body.

    I would start with the claim that it wasn’t a meeting, but a social gathering. Exhibit A: the bar tab.


       —HD    Aug. 19 '06 - 03:07AM    #
  12. Kim was clear about what was happening before she quit. Sorry I don’t have exact dates, nor have I been following Council around after its meetings.

    Hm. Now there’s an idea for an idle evening or two… 8-)


       —David Cahill    Aug. 19 '06 - 12:36PM    #
  13. As I mentioned, I know am told that Gantert often follows the Councilmembers around after their meetings. (Corrected because I, like David, do not typically do so.)

    I don’t mean to say that there is no reason to be concerned; like Juliew, I’ve often been disappointed in how cursory Council meeting discussion can seem to be. I’ve always preferred Planning Commission and DDA meetings, where the members seem much more careful to spell out their opinions – even if they may all have made their minds up beforehand, and I can’t say one way or the other that this is the case for any of these groups, they’re at least much better at including all of the information into the meeting record.

    Of course, over here in Ypsi, Council meetings are not telecast; our contract with Comcast isn’t quite as leverageable as A2’s. Councilmember-elect Brian Robb has proposed, for budgetary reasons, reducing the written minutes to a simple record of votes (as required by statute) but podcasting the full audio of the council meetings. Perhaps he and Ron should get together to discuss implementation…


       —Murph.    Aug. 19 '06 - 01:09PM    #
  14. “Council members are not supposed to discuss policy in any group where a quorum is present unless the meeting is posted.”

    “The good news for anyone who might want to press a case against Council on this is that Council would have to show why their /aut/ bar pints DON’T fall under the Open Meetings Act….”

    ”...nor have I been following Council around after its meetings.
    Hm. Now there’s an idea for an idle evening or two…”

    However the specifics of the Open Meetings Act might play out in this case, let’s just go ahead and dispense with the question of whether the post-Council meeting table talk at the bar is primarily social or policy-oriented in nature. Let’s assume meaningful shop talk may arise at some point in the late evening, whether spontaneously or by intent. The law aside, an appropriate ethical stance would be to take the risk of “erring” on the side of the good-government openness.

    Sure, it’s silly if two or three Council members meet at a coffee shop and have to post advance public notice at City Hall. If, however, most of the Gang of Eleven troop off together to hang out following a regular meeting, then the citizenry may as well have a default invitation to attend the afterglow. If these elected officials won’t go their separate ways post-adjournment — then they should have to let us join ‘em.

    “Erring” in favor of openness also creates a new opportunity for civic-natured good times. By local common law, reaching a quorum at the /aut/ bar ought to require that hors d’oeuvres and the first round of drinks for everyone are on Council. The drinks, save for porter and stout, should lean towards transparent appearance. Ask the owners, Keith and Martin, to rearrange tables & chairs as a civic favor to facilitate public attendance around the councilmembers’ table. Ron can fire up his podcast equipment; hopefully nothing spills on it. Todd Mundt might still be around to arrange a quick interview or two. Or place a totter near the outdoor seating.

    In her day, Kim should have joined the rest of the Gang and brought along a quorum’s worth of her neighbors & best friends for an extra public input & listening session. And while it may be true that /aut/ earned a tiny bit of notoriety as the site of a (different) ex-WUOM employee’s illegal secret free lunches, the bar need not build an unfair reputation as a den of secrecy for public officialdom. Using concern over possible Council policy discussions under dimmed lights and background music as a starting point, we can energize and transform such gatherings into an open, all-inclusive, weekly democratic Party. Turn these suspicious-looking interludes into a source of community entertainment. What better civics lesson can there be than doing the “Council Drinking Game” with the Council? LIVE, from the /aut/ bar — It’s Monday Night!

    If, under the glare of this public attention and adulation, the Quorum tries to sneak off to another venue, just follow ‘em. Keep an eye on Gantert if they do get away. An evening that began with a dry, formal meeting at Fifth & Huron ends with bar hopping in the public interest. Politics behind open doors, as long as you’re over 21.


       —hale    Aug. 19 '06 - 02:35PM    #
  15. When I was on the county commission there was extensive discussion and concern about the Open Meetings Act, especially with a view to how we could have informal discussions among ourselves. Our corporation counsel (the equivalent of the city attorney) was consulted and his advice was that when a quorum of board members were present, and county business was being deliberated (this means discussed with opinions being traded, positions stated, etc., anything that could lead to a decision being made), the provisions of the Act should be followed. Therefore we ceased having caucuses in bars and restaurants (though members still gather for dinner after the commission meeting is over, but it truly is social), and when we did have caucuses, we followed the provisions of the Act. This included posting, agendas, and minutes. Similar cautions were observed for agenda meetings and leadership meetings (convened by the county administrator). Care was taken to be sure that the door was open should a member of the public choose to attend. Admittedly, this happened infrequently. The posting was only one place in the county building, so a person would have had to understand the system to attend, and there was no provision for public comment.

    The council caucuses are part of a long tradition, but the truth is that they do not conform to the Open Meetings Act. They are open to the public but no agenda and minutes are provided, so that if you do not attend the caucus in person, you cannot determine what was discussed or who was present.

    Why is it important to know what discussions are taking place in private? Because if meaningful deliberations do not occur in public, the public does not understand the basis for decisions. It is probably impossible to prevent elected officials from making deals out of sight. I certainly made my share of phone calls to count votes. Many times measures are dropped if it is apparent that the votes don’t exist. Murph’s tongue in cheek comments notwithstanding, unless you prevent all communication out of public view, this is going to happen. But a public debate and public decisionmaking is a worthwhile ideal to strive for, even though human nature and the nature of politics will dilute it.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Aug. 19 '06 - 02:58PM    #
  16. I have a question. Have any of you who have problems with the meetings at the aut bar (I love that place) or the Caucuses complained about it?

    Called the City Attorney? Complained to the Council members in question?

    If this is an actual violation of law, by all means, pull the plug. If it isn’t…...


       —todd    Aug. 19 '06 - 06:08PM    #
  17. The city council has been going out for drinks after the council meetings for what, at least 50 years? The caucus meetings have also been held for as long as I can remember. The Aut Bar is hardly a back room and I too doubt the council members make any decisions there. Kim Groom’s obvious paranoia (about nearly everything) aside. Besides, if you want to know what they are talking about, just go and sit at a nearby table. Reporters have for years dropped in on these social gatherings in order to fill out their needed quota of quotes, sometimes lifting a glass. As I recall caucus was created in order for residents to address the council members that show up, quite often only 5 or 6 will come, in shorts and tee shirts in the summer, in a less formal setting. A few years ago they started limiting it to 2 hours, 7 to 9 PM. Anyone can go. Last two times I was there a couple of people stayed the whole time. Jim Mogenson and Eppie Potts. I think they go to almost all of the caucus meetings. If you are curious, just go and see what is talked about. Then you can go to the meeting on Monday night and out to the bar afterward. Might give everyone a good idea of what it is like to have your Sunday and Monday nights eaten up.


       —Dustin    Aug. 20 '06 - 06:17PM    #
  18. I don’t have a problem with Council members going to the \aut\ bar after Council meetings. I actually think that it is a good thing to be able to discuss topics that went on during a meeting. Council members shouldn’t be islands, of course they have to talk to each other. (And as an aside, I also think it is pretty cool that we live in a city where people get upset over the idea of Council members “clandestinely” meeting after Council, but no one is upset that they meet in a gay bar.)

    Caucus though, is another matter. Yes, it is open to the public. But honestly, how are people supposed to know that? I didn’t know anything about it until well after our neighborhood issue was over and done with (which took several months), and I know others have the same problem. There is little to no information about it unless you happen to go to the city web site and click on the “caucus meeting” link. The “little guy” is at a huge disadvantage becasue no one ever mentions Caucus, but agenda items are discussed there at length with only one side present. People come to the Council meetings having prepared their three-minute speech, thinking that they are going to have an effect on the outcome and often the outcome has already been decided based on Caucus the night before. That isn’t the way it is supposed to be. While there certainly is a burden on an individual to find out as much about City government as possible, there is also a burden on the City to make that information accessible. So, for example, in the letters that go out regarding Council actions, why not mention that if someone wants to talk to Council more in-depth before a decision, they can attend Caucus? That seems reasonable to me. If the intention of Caucus is to be an open forum for people, that information should be disseminated. Right now it is only known to the usual suspects.


       —Juliew    Aug. 20 '06 - 07:34PM    #
  19. ”...why not mention that if someone wants to talk to Council more in-depth before a decision, they can attend Caucus? That seems reasonable to me.”

    Seems reasonable to me too, Julie.

    The aut bar post-Council meeting meetups sounds harmless, though. It also sounds like fun.


       —todd    Aug. 20 '06 - 08:06PM    #
  20. Good points about making the meeting more visible but it is an officially “posted” meeting meaning there are physical notices put up at city hall as well as on the web site. So far as I can tell from the posts regarding the open meetings act, every legal duty to notify is being satisfied. Given that it has been going on forever it seems like people who are interested in council business would have known about it by now. But then again only 13% of the voters particpated in the election for mayor and council. Maybe we have all become too lazy in making our democracy work, depending on everything being on television or the web when all we have to do is make the walk down to city hall for a two hour meeting if we are really interested…


       —Dustin    Aug. 21 '06 - 02:16AM    #
  21. So it sounds like it’s time to schedule the Arbor Update caucus at the same time and bar as the Council post-caucus libations – should be a good time.


       —Edward Vielmetti    Aug. 21 '06 - 02:09PM    #
  22. Can I get away with creating a summary based on the above discussion?
    Here’s an attempt:

    **** RESOLVED:

    The Dem Caucus meetings are largely acceptable in their current format. Visitors give some input, and may sit through meetings in their entirety.

    A strong but not unanimous opinion is that publicity and promotion need notable improvement. The City could give Caucus info more prominence on its web site, at Council meetings, in the Snooze, or elsewhere. AU may wish to list the Caucus under “Local Events” if you don’t already do so. Lastly, as a humble side suggestion: AU, Ron S. or someone else may consider providing the Caucus meeting an unofficial ‘home page’ as a useful web reference tool; feel free to overindulge in Flash animation to highlight upcoming meetings.

    **** RESOLVED, SORT OF:

    The majority of AU commenters give Council permission to hang out together at a social following a formal meeting. City residents have permission to chaperone.

    It’s conceivable a legitimate legal question might be raised under some circumstances, but no one here seems aware of any actual legal opinion or recommendation specific to Council’s post-game drinking tradition. Some of us are fine with the occasion and happy to see them gather in relaxed situations where they don’t need anything like Robert’s Rules to mediate full-group interaction. Others of us are o.k. with it, too, if we can tag along, hang out, get a few words in, and possibly ask Gantert for an autograph. Where there exists uneasiness about Council conversations outside official settings, maybe Ron can help by observing what goes on when he begins his term. Part of this concern may arise due to overly limited discussion by Council members at the formal Monday meetings.

    **** POINT OF INFORMATION:

    Those of us who wrote it as /aut/ should have written \’aůt\. (Only Juliew got the slashes in the proper direction. The dot over the ů should ideally be filled in.)

    **** A PROPOSAL TO BE PUT FORWARD SO THAT IT CAN BE POSTPONED REGULARLY AT TWO MONDAY MEETINGS EVERY MONTH:

    I still think when the Council reaches quorum at the \’aůt\, they should at least buy a round of hors d’oeuvres for anyone else at or near their table(s) who claims to be attending for civic reasons. Will now acknowledge that additionally asking for a free round of drinks may be a bit much in these financially difficult times. Maybe a city attorney could be asked (while one of you has them on the line in regard to the Open Meetings Act) if the municipal budget should cover such expense or if Council members must handle it out-of-pocket.


       —hale    Aug. 21 '06 - 04:27PM    #
  23. Heh, good one Hale!

    So I’m watching the meeting and they are going on about this and that with Metro 202 and suddenly the vote is called and it fails. Whoa! So what do they do now? And frankly, why is there a Planning Commission? Planning approved this project 9-0. Johnson didn’t like how tall it was (9 stories downtown), several Councilmembers didn’t like the idea of brick paneling rather than stucco (the developer said it was more like the Collegian than Corner House Lofts, but the mere mention of brick panels sent half the room into a swoon), and then the Mayor took the designer and staff to task for not doing this as a PUD. So they approve two taller buildings in residential areas at the edge of downtown, but not a nine-story building right downtown? I don’t get it.


       —Juliew    Aug. 22 '06 - 01:45AM    #
  24. Juliew, do you know off the top of your head what the exact tally was? Anybody vote FOR it?


       —HD    Aug. 22 '06 - 11:41AM    #
  25. That is indeed a mysterious outcome! Maybe today’s AA News article will tell us the real reason for the project’s failure, assuming Tom Gantert’s reporting is up to its usual quality.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 22 '06 - 12:45PM    #
  26. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should (the disadvantage of watching from home) when the 202 vote was called so I can’t give an exact accounting. I think it was five against and four for. Higgins and Woods were gone so I think that skewed the votes.

    Same thing happened with the Easy Street sidewalk special assessment which needed eight votes and got seven. That one was interesting because basically they said they shouldn’t burden this lower-income neighborhood if they don’t want it. Now, I originally thought the city should put in the sidewalks and not make homeowners pay for it, but the City worked to get the payments down to $120/year for ten years, which I thought was pretty fair. I thought Council’s rationale was pretty weak: the people don’t want it so we shouldn’t make them do it, even though it is a public good. Well a lot of things happen in our neighborhood that we don’t want, but we have to “pay for” in some way. So now I’m thinking “hey, I live in a lower-income neighborhood and we don’t really want to have to replace our broken sidewalks (which at my house alone is about $1800 cash up-front), so maybe we will protest since they don’t have to do it on Easy Street.” Which of course, isn’t the way to think because we are part of a community and need to do our part. What I don’t know is if Easy Street is still going to get sidewalks, just that the homeowners won’t have to pay for it, or if the defeat of the special assessment means there won’t be sidewalks at all. They did have to adjust the numbers of the subsequent agenda item (Easy Street road replacement) and I don’t know what exactly that entailed.


       —Juliew    Aug. 22 '06 - 01:45PM    #
  27. This is the WEMU summary of the 202 vote.


       —tom    Aug. 22 '06 - 01:53PM    #
  28. Thanks Tom. I forgot that Greden was abstaining from that vote. So it was five for and three against, but that wasn’t enough of a majority. The whole thing was just weird. Seems to me like a really bad time to tell a developer they should have had a PUD: six months after it passed unanimously at the Planning Commission.


       —Juliew    Aug. 22 '06 - 02:55PM    #
  29. From watching an earlier meeting, I recall the PUD message was communicated at one of the postponements. The big problem for the developer was the absense of two development at-whatever-cost, council members.


       —Dustin    Aug. 22 '06 - 03:07PM    #
  30. Anyone with a good calculator want to do the math on how much tax money was pissed away by what will eventually be a year’s worth of pointless delays on this project?

    Gee, I wonder if the new proposal will include slightly higher rent for new tenants? Remember to act surprised when this happens.

    Sorry for the repetitive comments, folks, but this is getting a little old.

    I mean: stucco?


       —todd    Aug. 22 '06 - 03:45PM    #
  31. Here is Gantert’s story from today’s AA News.

    Strange as it seems, it appears that this decision was actually made on the floor of Council without being orchestrated in advance!


       —David Cahill    Aug. 22 '06 - 03:52PM    #
  32. Hurray – my first successful link!

    The Council members in favor of the project were not thinking fast enough. One of the 5 in favor should have voted “no” when it looked like the project would have vote deficiency anemia. Then that person, having been on the prevailing side, could have moved to reconsider. But that won’t work now.

    This result is especially odd since McKinley is one of Council’s favorite developers.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 22 '06 - 04:01PM    #
  33. I cannot believe Metro 202 failed. First of all, it’s exactly in a part of town that everyone (downtown area plan, calthorpe plan, those who don’t want development near neighborhoods, etc.) says is the perfect spot for more residential density. It’s a mixed-use project. It’s going to be rental units, so likely more affordable than some of the luxury units for sale in other parts of town. Furthermore, both the Downtown Residential Task Force and Calthorpe both recommend getting rid of PUDs … so it’s absurd to me that council will now vote against the project because it’s not a PUD. If I remember correctly, it was a planned project site plan … which gives variances for things like setbacks (to get the building closer to the lot lines, in this case, I think) and asks for some public benefits in return … not affordable housing, but streetscape amenities, etc. I’m not sure what a PUD would have accomplished here???

    In my time on Planning Commisssion (in case you all didn’t know, my term expired in June and I asked not to be reappointed … and for full disclosure, I was appointed to the DDA in July) ... anyway, in my time on Planning Commission, I can’t think of one downtown project that got a unanimous vote from the Commission … except Metro 202. And that unanimous vote was 9-0 … no one was absent that night. And I don’t even think it got tabled before the vote. We liked it. We liked where it was. We like the mixed-use. We liked that McKinley promised the neighbors that they’d do some things to address their concerns about construction near historic houses. If it sounds like I’m ranting … I am! I can’t believe this one failed.


       —Jennifer Hall    Aug. 22 '06 - 04:19PM    #
  34. David’s right – one of the supporters should have counted the votes and switched sides so that it could be reconsidered. However, depending on the rules, that’s often limited to a vote in the same meeting. An alternative is a motion to rescind at the next meeting. Does Ann Arbor’s Council rules allow that?


       —John Q.    Aug. 22 '06 - 04:40PM    #
  35. Then that person, having been on the prevailing side, could have moved to reconsider.

    David, and you call my version of “the Council game” to be not in the spirit of democracy? (Okay, okay – so Robert posed this version much earlier on…)


       —Murph    Aug. 22 '06 - 04:44PM    #
  36. What a joke.

    The most hilarious part was Rapundalo’s “some time ago I challenged you to do something about the height.” I was impressed by his firm grasp of economics and structural engineering. I was also moved by his concern for what this project would do for parking. If we replaced a barren parking lot with a mixed-use building and ground floor retail, 2nd ward council members and their outlying neighbors wouldn’t find it as convenient to drive into downtown and park exactly where they want. God, where would the Main Street restaurants be then?

    Enjoy your parking lot, Ann Arbor.


       —Dale    Aug. 22 '06 - 05:51PM    #
  37. Rapundalo has turned out worse on these kinds of issues than anyone could have expected.


       —ann arbor is overrated    Aug. 22 '06 - 07:13PM    #
  38. I love this guy!! 8-)


       —David Cahill    Aug. 22 '06 - 08:49PM    #
  39. I can’t wait until McKinley comes back with 3 extra stories to pay for the affordable housing payment and carrying costs that putting together a PUD will require. I guess some people still have to learn the law of perverse outcomes—they won’t get what they want, they’ll get what they deserve.


       —Dale    Aug. 22 '06 - 08:50PM    #
  40. AAiO –
    I endorsed him . Sorry, everybody.


       —Murph    Aug. 22 '06 - 09:06PM    #
  41. Yeah, I was about to go on a tirade about the absent councilmembers (who still shouldn’t have been absent on a vote like this, regardless of how they were going to vote) but I was surprised that they tried to get away with paneling. I’m not sure that “stucco” (? whatever that means nowadays) is the best alternative, but I thought that the project was sent back months ago specifically to avoid paneling. I hate paneling, too, so I symphathize with council on this one—is it really the only way to get anything built nowadays? That sounds incredible to me, but maybe it’s true. Corner House Lofts isn’t a bad building, but it does irritate me that it’s paneling. (Does the Collegian really use paneling? I have a hard time believing that, too.) I am somewhat surprised that they insisted on low-income here, after rejecting Washington Commons (though City Apartments do include a few low-income units, so I guess they are being consistent).


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 22 '06 - 09:41PM    #
  42. With two Council members absent, this project (and the Easy Street sidewalks) should not have been scheduled for votes. Neither were emergencies.

    Who decides what is scheduled? An obscure committee with Roger Fraser and John Hieftje as the leading players. So, since Roger and John knew or should have known who was going to be out of town, these votes were scheduled with the deliberate intent that they would fail.

    This proceeding was a major insult to McKinley. Now, mind, you, I like insulting McKinley. But nonetheless it was strange indeed.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 22 '06 - 11:29PM    #
  43. Having now watched the replay of the meeting on CTN, I’d say most of the discussion of building materials was undertaken to pre-empt objections, not to cite reasons for opposing the project. It was Easthope who took great pains to have the developer explain that the kind of brick ‘panels’ proposed were not the same kind of panels in the Corner Lofts, but rather the kind of panels that are a part of the new Liberty Parking Structure and the Collegian. One kind uses real brick material and real mortar material that is ‘panelized’ in a prefabrication process, which is still thinner than a wall built brick-by-brick, but thicker and more substantial than the purely synthetic fake brick and mortar panels of Corner Lofts. A representative on the developer side had a sample slab of the stuff and from the effort it appeared to take to sling it around, it has a great deal of heft.

    So while Juliew’s comment might be accurate (“several Councilmembers didn’t like the idea of brick paneling rather than stucco”), to me the discussion last night did not seem to indicate that the No votes were based on the panels vs. stucco issue. Johnson’s critique was based mostly on the notion of what a ‘planned’ development is supposed to be as well as the height, and an easement that he felt should have been acknowledged somewhere. Rapundalo raised multiple concerns (why no underground parking?, what are the ‘sustainable’ features of the building?, why can’t you use the same construction technique as in the Gallery?) but I didn’t have him down as super-concerned about paneling. Hieftje explicitly stated that he did not have a problem with the height of the building. He also did not cite materials as a reason for voting No. His comments were, as Juliew mentioned, focused on the question of whether there should have been a PUD process in this case. In a comment that remains opaque to me, he said the developer is taking advantage of a loophole.

    Carlberg, for her part, offered a spirited defense of the project against Hieftje’s and Johnson’s criticism that it should have been a PUD.


       —HD    Aug. 22 '06 - 11:40PM    #
  44. YUA –
    Is there anything inherently wrong with brick paneling? Or is it just that you’ve seen examples that were badly done? If it weren’t for Corner House, which isn’t really the best example of anything but how to get rid of a worse eyesore, would you have problems with paneling?

    Is there an architect in the house? Is brick paneling like a thin slice of brick, or is it a full brick thick? And, I’ll repeat for said architect, is there anything inherently wrong with brick paneling?

    To Hieftje, Johnson, and Rapundalo – is this another case of right building, wrong place? (Sounds like Rapundalo’s answer – build nothing anywhere near anything, because we need every scrap of parking!) Or is this here the right place but the wrong building?

    Or maybe this is the right building in the right place at the right time – but you just didn’t feel like approving it? Because, what, there was a concern that they didn’t exercise the proper rites from your favorite obscure section of the zoning ordinance? To single out the Mayor as a particular target of astonishment, you’ve known this project was coming for a year! (I was at those DDA meetings!) I’m with Todd and Jennifer – this is exactly the wrong point in the process to bring up the concern with the difference between planned project and planned unit development. This was clearly the wrong vote at the wrong time.

    p.s. Jennifer – congratulations! Not only are you now on a body that has a few pursestrings and can’t have quite all of its carefully considered decisions overturned at the whim of a few Councilmembers, but you’ll now be sitting at the same table as the Mayor, and have the ability to throw things at him when he’s nodding off in the middle of discussion of a major development.


       —Murph.    Aug. 22 '06 - 11:43PM    #
  45. (Note: I still think the Mayor’s pretty kewl, but that doesn’t make him immune from criticism. He is, after all, the Mayor, and I am, after all, some punk with a blog.)


       —Murph.    Aug. 22 '06 - 11:46PM    #
  46. From the sound of it, I guess the style of paneling they were talking about isn’t so bad. (And I didn’t realize it was so prevalent, either.) I was just objecting to the plastic-grid-style paneling that you see on a lot of mall architecture—Kroger also uses it for their remodeling (I think, if we’re talking about the same thing here.)

    It does seem odd that this vote should fail just when it could, but the objections don’t sound too nefarious (though they do sound a little bizarre). Seems like it might honestly just be a “Whoops” moment all around. On the other hand, councilmembers didn’t seem too surprised that the vote failed, but this could just be the distortion I’m getting from the reports. I at least agree this was a bizarre time to be scheduling a vote like this if the absences were known ahead of time. (Remember that there could be good unexpected reasons for two councilmembers to be absent.)

    At least the mayor seemed honestly interested in working with the developers to bring it back.


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 23 '06 - 02:16AM    #
  47. I did not see the early web -site version of the agenda but the Easy Street sidewalk issue was postponed from last time and needed to be addressed Monday night for one reason or another, the contract was expiring or the construction season was growing short. They are doing over a millon in work on the street and sewers. The development would have been on the agenda for at least a week. It seems highly unlikely that the council members would have given that much notice that they were going to miss the meeting. As for Metro 202, why can’t they just do what was suggested, make the “significant” change of coming back as a PUD, include some affordable housing or $ in place of it and move on? They make a little less but still have a project. This does not seem like the end of the world.


       —Dustin    Aug. 23 '06 - 02:37AM    #
  48. If I understand the process, it’s not just a matter of changing the designation, throwing some affordable housing units into the mix and moving on. The planners indicated that any “substantial change” would require that the project be re-run through the entire review process. Which makes sense from a planning perspective but probably doesn’t sound very appealing to the developers unless they don’t have any other options.


       —John Q.    Aug. 23 '06 - 03:36AM    #
  49. “As for Metro 202, why can’t they just do what was suggested, make the “significant” change of coming back as a PUD, include some affordable housing or $ in place of it and move on? They make a little less but still have a project. This does not seem like the end of the world.”

    Dustin, did you miss post #30?


       —todd    Aug. 23 '06 - 03:50AM    #
  50. On the Easy Street Sidewalk, I disagree with Lowenstein’s description of the anti-sidewalk residents as “selfish and not forward thinking”. Yes, they are not willing to contribute to a pedestrian system that they benefit from in many other parts of the city. However, the special assessment approval process is set up to accommodate just such selfishness and they are hardly the first neighborhood group to oppose such projects.

    But if someone deserves the label of “not forward-thinking” on this issue, it is Greden, Johnson, and Teall, who excused Easy Street from contributing to a city-wide pedestrian resource because the neighbors didn’t want it. From the neighborhood’s perspective, it makes sense to oppose the special assessment. But it is clearly the role of a council member to consider the greater impact to the city when faced with NIMFY opposition. These three council members have erred in viewing the sidewalk as a neighborhood resource instead of a piece of a community-wide network.

    That said, I’m leaning on the caveat that I didn’t (can’t) see the council meetings and am assuming their reasoning was as reported by second-hand sources. Perhaps they have a more nuanced theory behind their votes. If so, I’d like to hear them as I see nothing unique about Easy Street to warrant a sidewalk exception.

    Also, do the surrounding streets (Carmel, Towner, Cranbrook, Dorchester, etc) have sidewalks? I know that the other construction plays into the call for sidewalks here, but if these other streets have walkways already, the no-votes are even more short-sighted than I thought.


       —Scott TenBrink    Aug. 23 '06 - 04:05AM    #
  51. There are a number of different types of brick paneling—few buildings of any height erected in the last 20 years have load-bearing brick or masonry (masons are crazy expensive). The Perry Bldg expansion, for example, has a steel skeleton and prefab panels of brick/masonry. I’m sure the Collegian has the same basic setup, as does CH apartments. What distinguishes one type from another is the material. For Metro 202, there would be actual brick (not a full brick, like you might think would weigh 15 pounds, but a thin slice of brick) and, as the representative noted, there would be an actual mortar joint between the brick (pieces). I think you would be unable to discern what the structure was from the outside, though panelization leaves some evidence, like a vertical “mortar joint” every 50 feet that goes all the way up the building. You’re never going to get the three-brick-thick walls (like you see in ERC on State with doors punched in them) anymore.


       —Dale    Aug. 23 '06 - 06:52AM    #
  52. I got the sense from the Metro 202 vote that the Council members who voted against it (and some of the others too) were just generally annoyed with McKinley and the project manager from McKinley also seemed annoyed with Council. It wasn’t just the change to brick panels, or the height, or the lack of PUD, or the lack of any green building techniques, or the parking, or the lack of affordable units, but all of that together. I didn’t see the previous meetings, but my sense is that McKinley didn’t make some of the requested changes or just barely complied. My guess is that they will apply for a PUD, throw in a greener roof or some other environmental amenity, add a few affordable units and come back to Council, where it will be approved.


       —Juliew    Aug. 23 '06 - 01:44PM    #
  53. resident architect checking in:

    The Corner House Apartments was built entirely with thin-brick, which is usually 1/4” thick brick glued to gypsum board or rigid insulation. It is an inexpensive way to get the look of brick without the weight. Less weight means less steel or concrete which means less money.

    The Collegian has a true brick facade facing Maynard up to three stories, but the masonry is not load-bearing. It has a steel structure that supports the brick face. The rest of the facades (south and east) are thin brick panels. The key is to use real brick and real stone where people can touch it (on the street) and see it (3 stories up), and less expensive materials elsewhere.

    The “stucco” that they wanted to use on Metro202 is probably the same stuff they use on fast food restaurants (EIFS). It is the cheapest of cheap materials, and frankly I wouldn’t want to see buildings downtown use it as the majority of the facade because it simply won’t last nor look good for long. Smaller amounts are understandable, though, especialy where the public won’t see it. For example, the Collegian uses it on the north facade facing the Maynard parking structure.


       —KGS    Aug. 23 '06 - 02:24PM    #
  54. How very odd if true. Why would Councilmembers prefer EIFS, which as KGS notes is junk, over some brick-based alternative? EIFS is the crap that peels off buildings in hurricane zones when it gets saturated with water. Why would we want a crappy material like that downtown?


       —John Q.    Aug. 23 '06 - 04:01PM    #
  55. The concept that the project manager and Council would be annoyed with each other is also odd. The manager is Frances Todoro-Hargreaves, who was the mayor’s executive assistant for years, and who knows everyone on Council well.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 23 '06 - 04:16PM    #
  56. I think it sounds like KGS might have been a little unclear; my understanding was, when he said they “wanted” to use this EIFS stuff, what he meant was they originally wanted to use it, way back when, several months ago. At the council meeting, however, it sounds as though they then said they wanted—i.e. they now want—to use the thin brick panels—held together with real mortar—that the Collegian (mostly) uses on its upper floors, which sounds like it satisfied most councilmembers.


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 23 '06 - 04:36PM    #
  57. I don’t think anyone on Council really wanted to see the stucco on 202, but they seemed a bit startled at the change to brick paneling. Everyone is really jumpy about the changes that were made to Corner House Lofts after it was approved so they want everything written in detail so they have some recourse should the developer do something different. The brick sample that was passed around looked nice. Supposedly there is a sample of it and all the window details somewhere at McKinley Center.

    As an aside, the 828 Greene Street building surprisingly used real brick (not load-bearing, but it is actual full brick). The masons/bricklayers were amazing. To do the second and third floors, they had one person stand on the ground and one on scaffolding at the second floor (and then another on the third floor when they got up there) and the guy on the ground tossed bricks up to the second guy three or four at a time. Then he would take a scoop of mortar on a shovel and backhand it up so second-floor guy could construct the wall. It was crazy since they had no hard hats or any safety equipment, but it was like a perfectly choreographed dance. Since they were working nights and weekends with barebones equipment, my guess is that it was all under the table, but it was still cool to watch. Unfortunately, rumor has it that they didn’t actually put in any of the pieces that actually attach the brick outer wall to the frame of the building so that might cause problems down the road, but it is a real brick wall.


       —Juliew    Aug. 23 '06 - 06:53PM    #
  58. Juliew wrote: “Then he would take a scoop of mortar on a shovel and backhand it up so second-floor guy could construct the wall.”

    So the guy was flinging the mortar through the air??
    How was the guy on the second floor catching it?


       —HD    Aug. 23 '06 - 06:59PM    #
  59. They flung the bricks (if you know what you are doing, 3 or 4 will hold together in one chunk, but the guy at the top really had to make sure he caught them just right or they could fall and hit the thrower), but the mortar they would scoop up in a shovel and then lift over their heads to the scaffold platform on the second floor and then when they were working on the third floor, the guy on the second floor scooped it up again to the third floor. We all wanted to get together and buy them a conveyer belt, but they seemed to be OK with it. I bet they were sore when they went home.


       —Juliew    Aug. 23 '06 - 07:59PM    #
  60. Back to meetings-after-meetings issue?

    Is this widely known? Has it ever been reported?
    I ask because I live in Ann Arbor and I work as editor of a newspaper in a small town 40 minute from Ann Arbor, and we just ran a major story about it and ruffled a lot of feathers in the process …
    Personally, I think it’s an afront to the OMA ..
    I don’t mind Christmas parties or birthdays or whatever … But after every meeting?
    For some reason, I highly doubt lawmakers had that in mind when they crafted the OMA.


       —Newsguyone    Aug. 23 '06 - 10:37PM    #
  61. Newsguyone –
    As far as I know, it is widely known, and has been reported. As mentioned previously, Tom Gantert, the reporter for the Ann Arbor News who covers City Council meetings, is known to join in the after-meeting wind-downs, and harvests quotes for his stories there. I can recall stories in the News specifically stating that some of the quotes were gleaned from conversations at the \aut\ bar with Councilmembers.

    I’ve never gone out for a drink with Councilmembers after the meeting, but I’ve known that they go out for quite some time. Honestly, I’ve been tempted to tag along, but always felt it more considerate to leave them the heck alone after presenting my piece at the meetings. I still don’t understand why this is seen as some kind of scandal.


       —Murph.    Aug. 24 '06 - 01:20AM    #
  62. McKinley is walking away from Metro 202, according to this squib in the AA News.


       —tom    Aug. 24 '06 - 01:22PM    #
  63. As far as I know, it is widely known, and has been reported.

    I’d have to disagree with this. I’ve been following City Council relatively closely for the last few years now and I’d never heard anything about them meeting after Council meetings until this thread. It obviously isn’t exactly a secret, but unless you know the right question to ask, it doesn’t come up.

    Very unfortunate about Metro 202, although we’ll see what actually happens. This might be one of those situations where each side is trying to psych the other one out. Also, what is the status of Washington Terrace? It was approved by City Council, but I haven’t seen any work on it yet.


       —Juliew    Aug. 24 '06 - 01:53PM    #
  64. I can see McKinley backing out; they view the council as inconsistent (schizophrenic). If they come back with a PUD, which council member who supported the project originally will feel the need to vote against it because they feel that this is not the proper application of a PUD? Likewise, which council member will disagree with whether the project has met its vague requirement for ‘substantial change’? McKinley sure felt like they had things in order and your first shot is usually your best. This city amazes me. They should have been happy that the developer found a way to do this with little variance under the existing code. PUD’s are a pain over time. If we have a downtown full of PUD’s we will have a headache trying to improve things 20, 30 or 40 years from now. PUD’s don’t wear off, you have to go back to the city to remove them. They do not evolve with changing times and can become quite confining.


       —abc    Aug. 24 '06 - 02:14PM    #
  65. There’s probably an element of gamesmanship involved. But the real estate market in general is soft and McKinley might have decided that it’s better to put this idea on the shelf for a few months and see how things sort out on Council and in the market. On the other hand, there may be no better time than now to get projects approved if the make-up of Council is going to change (Suarez) in a way that might make such projects more difficult to get approved in the future.


       —John Q.    Aug. 24 '06 - 02:38PM    #
  66. (Sigh)


       —todd    Aug. 24 '06 - 02:45PM    #
  67. Yeah, typical. The developer did everything right. The one legitimate problem I can come up with was Council’s interest in holding the developer to their word about what they were going to build and how—this was an issue with Corner House. Was that what the PUD insistence was for? However, I know that at least one councilperson who is concerned about that kind of thing voted for the proposal, so…I don’t get it.


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 24 '06 - 03:37PM    #
  68. John Q. – I have no doubt McKinley’ll be back eventually. I’m guessing it’ll be shelved for something closer to five years than a few months, unless there’s some significant groveling by the City. They’ve got better things to concentrate on than ramming their head against a brick wall again right away.

    I do think that this is a significant setback for trying to activate that area of downtown and make Division less of a river of traffic and more of a people-oriented area. Ground floor retail at the sidewalk, and residential above? Nah, we like the private parking lot, thanks.

    Oops.


       —Murph    Aug. 24 '06 - 03:44PM    #
  69. Here is the complete epitaph.

    A story for which the world was not prepared.

    I’m glad that Mayor Hieftje stuck to his guns on a legitimate planning issue.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 24 '06 - 03:46PM    #
  70. “I thought it was a done deal,’’ she [Lowenstein] said.

    Seriously? I didn’t think anything was ever a “done deal” in A2.


       —John Q.    Aug. 24 '06 - 04:06PM    #
  71. “The zoning change would have allowed for waiving 25-foot setbacks for the building, a change supported by city planners. Berriz said downtown building footprints are so small that if setbacks are included, the project couldn’t be built. (Ironically, the zoning change was approved unanimously by the council just prior to the vote that derailed the specific project.)”

    Why is anything downtown required to have 25’ setbacks? That makes absolutely no sense and if the current zoning requires it, there’s something seriously wrong with the zoning standards, not with the proposed project.


       —John Q.    Aug. 24 '06 - 04:09PM    #
  72. John Q. It will then make less sense that some lots downtown have 40 foot setbacks.


       —abc    Aug. 24 '06 - 04:38PM    #
  73. Why should the dissenters insist on a PUD in exchange for the zoning change, if they approved the zoning change anyway without reservation? I guess the only explanation could be that they like the project, but wanted something extra. It seems like the PUD and affordable housing/parks funding seem tied closely together, but I’m just guessing here.

    I certainly don’t think the Calthorpe plan needs to be implemented in every detail, but it does at least sound like Council needs to have a conversation about PUDs that they apparently have not had (for some inexplicable reason). When a councilmember says “We want to avoid PUDs” and the mayor says “I think it should be a PUD”, that is a pretty blatant misunderstanding that seriously needs to be cleared up.

    At least we learned that some councilmembers were surprised by the outcome. (And of course, there could always be something else going on.)

    I should point out that Corner House came back after a similar ultimatum.


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 24 '06 - 05:16PM    #
  74. The discussion on Monday made it SO clear what nonsense the non-approval was. McKinley could have built a crappier building with huge setbacks and a slamdunk lawsuit in their back pockets. Instead Rapundalo harps on the “height” (OMG 9 stories and the top two are set back), Johnson tries to make hay about public benefit (and Carlberg smacked him down so hard I think Johnson should be embarassed for trying to pull this tomfoolery) and Hieftje asked “why not a PUD?” defense when clearly it was not appropriate.

    I’d say this vote was letting the perfect being the enemy of the good, but I don’t think Johnson or Rapundalo are motivated by a vision of downtown improvement.


       —Dale    Aug. 24 '06 - 05:18PM    #
  75. “it does at least sound like Council needs to have a conversation about PUDs that they apparently have not had (for some inexplicable reason)”

    Cleary this calls for more time at the \’aůt\.


       —Bruce Fields    Aug. 24 '06 - 07:04PM    #
  76. Murph —
    It isn’t a scanda unless they’re talking shop. If they’re doing any politicking around the table, then the public has the right to hear it.
    The idea of the OMA was to take the politics out of the good old boy’s smokey back rooms and into the light …


       —Newsguyone    Aug. 24 '06 - 09:45PM    #
  77. I wasn’t lucky enough to watch the council debate on Metro 202 (and I’m a bit disappointed because I would have loved to hear what they had to say firsthand … maybe there will be another replay?) Anyway … what hasn’t been talked about in this thread, in the A2 News, or it seems, by council … is that this project wasn’t a straight site plan approval process. McKinley submitted a planned project site plan (I couldn’t actually get this link to work, but this link will take you to the city’s code, then type “planned project” in the search box and you’ll get Article 5 of Chapter 55, the City’s Zoning Code.)

    The code allowing Planned Project Site Plans says: “the Planning Commission may recommend approval, and City Council may approve modifications of the area, height and placement regulations of the zoning chapter in the form of a planned project site plan”, if the developer “provides one or more of the following” things. The list includes excess open space, preservation of historic or architectural features, preservation of natural features, affordable housing, energy conservation design, and a few others including “an arrangement of buildings which provides a public benefit, such as transit access, pedestrian orientation, or a reduced need for infrastructure or impervious surface”.

    What this all means in reference to Metro 202 is that they violated their setbacks (regardless of the change in zoning that Gantert mentions in his article, I still think they violated some of the setbacks) ... and they gave the city a design that was pedestrian friendly (because it was closer to the sidewalk) and accessible to transit because it was in the downtown. I’m pretty sure this is the part of the approval standards that Planning Commission talked about. Not to disparage council too much here … but Planning Commission actually debated the merits of the plan according to the approval standards required by our code. The reasons stated for denial by council don’t really relate to how a project should/shouldn’t be approved. I have always respected Heiftje and Johnson, but I just don’t know how their reasons for denial would stand up in court.

    The planning staff and planning commission have often encouraged developers to use planned projects because it’s kinda like a PUD, but most (except for area, height, and building placement) of the underlying zoning and other requirements (like natural features preservation) still apply. With a PUD, everything single thing is up for negotiation.


       —Jennifer Hall    Aug. 24 '06 - 11:55PM    #
  78. Jennifer,

    Re-broadcast at 7:30pm on Friday. If you miss that one, you can call up CTN (734-769-7422) and request additional showings. It’s takes them something like a week to provide a tape all your own, if you want to have it for your archives.

    What you’ll see in the discussion is that CM Johnson seems to have been swayed at caucus the night before by a presentation from someone (who?) that enumerated exactly the points on the planned project site plan public benefits that you cite above. He ticked them off, concluding after each one, “which this project doesn’t do”. In the end he concluded that Metro 202 was, according to the ordinance, not a ‘planned project’.

    Carlberg’s spirited refutation to Johnson was explicitly based on exactly the point you cite above: “an arrangement of buildings which provides a public benefit, such as transit access, pedestrian orientation, or a reduced need for infrastructure or impervious surface”. [In Dale’s words above [74] she ‘smacked him down hard’]

    Easthope introduced the point that Planning Commission had approved it unanimously, with all members in attendance, so 9-0.

    I think all the relevant points in defense of the project were introduced. It’d be interesting to me if, after watching, you think there was anything anyone might have said at the table to have convinced one of the no votes to vote yes instead?


       —HD    Aug. 25 '06 - 12:39AM    #
  79. It sounds like affordable units and/or green design might have put them over the edge…or at least, those are the only two elements on that list which the project could possibly have met that it hadn’t already.


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 25 '06 - 01:15AM    #
  80. “they gave the city a design that was pedestrian friendly (because it was closer to the sidewalk) and accessible to transit because it was in the downtown.”

    Call me unimpressed. Are you really arguing that this project provided a public benefit because it met these two “standards”? Every project located downtown is “accessible to transit” and it would be difficult to build a project downtown that isn’t pedestrian-friendly.

    Now that you’ve explained the details of the approval process, I’m less inclined to be sympathetic to the developer. It sounds like they only sought the lowest hanging fruit and the PC signed off on that. In defense of both, it sounds like that’s all that was required by the language of the ordinance. But I could see Councilmembers viewing this as the developer making the minimum effort to get the benefits of altering the zoning ordinance requirements. I know, those are the standards and if the Council doesn’t like them, they should change them. But perhaps the Mayor and some Councilmembers were making a statement about the standards being too easy to meet with little effort by the developer. Let’s face it, in this case, the developer got all of the benefit from reduced setbacks and what did the city get in return in terms of a tangible public benefit?


       —John Q.    Aug. 25 '06 - 03:35AM    #
  81. ”...it would be difficult to build [name?] a project downtown that isn’t pedestrian-friendly.”

    Hey, I’ll take that challenge and nominate the bank on the corner of Main and Washington, the AA News building, the Post Office, One North Main, and the Chamber of Commerce.

    Also, I agree that a pedestrian-friendly building is not a ‘public benefit’ in the sense that the zoning code is using the expression.


       —abc    Aug. 25 '06 - 12:58PM    #
  82. A new building…


       —John Q.    Aug. 25 '06 - 01:33PM    #
  83. Yes, I realize. My point is that not only is it possible to build a pedestrian-unfriendly building, it has been done… many times.


       —abc    Aug. 25 '06 - 01:42PM    #
  84. Always frustrating to have to make decisions based on code that you might not like, but it’s totally unfair, in my opinion, to turn down a project because you don’t like the code … especially when you are the Council (vs. planning commission). The downtown zoning districts have setbacks … so if a developer wants to maximize the footprint of the building (to be more urban), they can do so through a planned project site plan process … and simply offer the fact that they are downtown and this benefits pedestrians and transit. I also remember that they were going to do some exterior landscaping to improve the sidewalk environment for pedestrians.

    Unfortunately, our code doesn’t give any help as to how someone should interpret or quantify these “benefits”. Additionally, the code is pretty clear that petitioner doesn’t have to offer all of the things on the list (it says “one or more”). It always helps a developer to have more than one thing to hang their hat on, so to say. One reason Calthorpe recommended getting rid of PUDs is for this very reason … very ambiguous standards that are hard to apply and make decisions with. Calthorpe does recommend using bonuses in our zoning code (do this and you get something else) ... and I think everyone would agree that these bonuses need to be more clearly defined than our current code.

    HD, thanks for more specifics on the discussion. I’m glad to know that CM Johnson went through the list and at least tied his no vote to the code (it didn’t seem that way in the other accounts of the discussion).


       —Jennifer Hall    Aug. 25 '06 - 06:58PM    #
  85. I don’t really have an opinion about the Metro 202 project’s specifics; I haven’t studied it closely. I do generally support high-density housing for the downtown as part of the reduce- sprawl strategy.

    I do have serious concerns about the process that took place here, and the lack of leadership shown, particularly by Mayor Hieftje. To have a project like this, which has general support in the city government, fail because there are only 8 councilmembers present and voting makes no sense. (This assumes that one of the absent members would have supported it.) Apparently, there is an effort to have council reconsider the project as submitted. This would require one of the members who voted against it to move for reconsideration. I think that this is only fair. The project should succeed or fail on its merits, not because it was voted on in peak-vacation-time August.

    Hieftje’s performance in all this has been really disappointing. His comment in The News that its “not his job” to say how he’s going to vote on a project is an attempt to sidestep his responsibility. As the leader of the council, it is his job to manage council’s business and agenda. He should be counting votes on important matters, so apparently unexpected outcomes like this one are avoided. It’s not just the developer that has invested significant resources in this project; the city has invested signifiant resources, as well, in reviewing and evaluating it. All those resources shouldn’t be wasted, because of a scheduling fluke. Again, assuming that voting with a full council would make the difference, Hieftje should have had a pretty good idea about this and have influenced things accordingly.

    Hieftje’s excuse that he had let it be known during the process that he preferred that a PUD be used doesn’t cut it. If that was enough to make him vote “no,” he should have made that clear to the developer, and there should have been clear communication about whether it could be approved as submitted.

    This is the second high-profile downtown project that Hieftje has voted against in recent weeks, projects that seem to fit his stated goal of combining the Greenbelt and downtown density. With The Gallery, there were plenty of “yes” votes without Hieftje’s, so it passed anyway.

    Which raises an interesting question. If Hieftje was really opposed to The Gallery, why is he so ineffective as a leader of the council that almost everyone else voted for it? Or, was this a way to get what he actually wanted without taking any political heat from the project’s opponents? Perhaps, the same strategy was at work on Metro 202, but councilmember vacations thwarted it.


       —Tom Wieder    Aug. 26 '06 - 03:31PM    #
  86. Oh, to have been a fly on the \’aůt\ wall following this past Monday’s meeting!

    Did the Council Eight dare to go out together afterwards? If so, was there a heart-to-heart exchange and post-game breakdown about what went wrong during this meeting? Did anyone acknowledge that they failed to box out and play defense in the post? Anyone fess up to swinging at a curve, thinking it was a fastball? Could the Metro 202 portion have actually been a sly, successful attempt to “throw” a game, a la the 1919 White Sox? Or maybe the group did go out but no one could bear to bring up the just-concluded meeting, and instead they shared lots of light talk about what the missing Council Three were doing with their vacation time. Do only Gantert and/or the \’aůt\ waitstaff know for sure? Enquiring minds are asking!


       —hale    Aug. 26 '06 - 04:57PM    #
  87. Here is the expected whiny editorial from this morning’s AA News. It is grumpier than usual; maybe the editorial board needs a meds adjustment. 8-)

    The most prominent feature of today’s opinion page is not the prose editorial; it is the big political cartoon. And I do mean big – the thing measures 8” x 7”. While it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, and nothing can do justice to the cartoon, let me spend a few words trying.

    The headline is “DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT”. There is a bold drawing of Hieftje by Tammie Graves of the News. There are two balloons coming out of Hieftje’s mouth, one on each side. (Get it?)

    One balloon says ’(Metro 202) will certainly add some people, some business to the downtown area, it provides a rental situation, and it helps to redevelop this particular part of the core of downtown and get things moving in that direction.’

    The other balloon says ‘No!’

    The caption beneath all of this says “Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje: Which side of his mouth sounds better to you?”

    Hm. After careful consideration, I pick the side that says “No!”


       —David Cahill    Aug. 27 '06 - 02:48PM    #
  88. David – I don’t think that The News editorial was “whiny” at all. Whether one liked or didn’t like this project, you should be appalled at how it was handled. As Democrat, you should be appalled at Hieftje’s performance. Just because you like the outcome of his vote this time shouldn’t get you to overlook his manner of doing business, which you’ve so often critized in the past. The News got it right this time (it’s so rare!).


       —Tom Wieder    Aug. 27 '06 - 07:38PM    #
  89. Come now, Tom. Surely you are not going to join those who say that the mayor is only supposed to vote “no” on a project when there are enough votes to approve it without his vote. I am pleased that he voted against both the Gallery and Metro 202.

    For once, the decision on Metro 202 was not made in secret. Unpredictable outcomes like this one are good for democracy.

    As for the tangle of planning policies, let us remember that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, little politicians, and divines.”


       —David Cahill    Aug. 27 '06 - 11:25PM    #
  90. “Johnson also raised concerns that the project contained no provisions for affordable housing, a requirement the council has often sought from other developers in the last several years.”

    A concern is not the same as an objection. From what I’ve read here and in the News coverage, I don’t see any legitimate objections worthy of a “no” vote. I agree with Tom about the uncomfortable truth of the News editorial.

    A motion to reconsider, if possible, by one of the majority would be respectable as an act of humility on behalf of the community. I would hope that people would see it that way.

    Jennifer, if you’re in the 1st ward, I suggest you give Bob a call and encourage him to reconsider his vote.


       —Steve Bean    Aug. 28 '06 - 08:00PM    #
  91. An act of “humility” on behalf of which community, Steve? The McKinley community? The developer community? The Ann Arbor News community?

    As a First Warder, I’m proud that Bob voted against Metro 202.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 28 '06 - 08:43PM    #
  92. On behalf of the broader community whose interests they were elected to represent, David. The same community the nine planning commissioners come from and devote so much of their time to represent. The building itself isn’t the important factor in this situation, it’s the role and actions of our government representatives.

    The basis of your pride seems to be spite. I don’t believe that spite is good for democracy. Happily, I don’t see that as a motivation for any of the “no” votes. (By “majority” in my previous post I meant those who voted “no”. Obviously, three of eight isn’t a majority.) I believe (and there seems to be evidence to support) that each of them had good intentions. It’s understandable (to me, at least) that in the many factors that must be considered, some might have been overlooked or not weighed as well as they might have been. Whether it’s called a mistake or a fluke or whatever, it’s not irreparable.

    Bob, Stephen, and John: please do what you can to repair it. This is an unusual case. No precedent would be set other than sound government. Letting the vote stand will further reinforce perceptions (and misperceptions) about our city that don’t benefit the broader community you were chosen to represent. Even good leaders have to double back sometimes. It’s the bad ones that continue down the wrong path after they realize it. If you really wouldn’t change your vote at least give your other two colleagues an opportunity to weigh in.

    I’m curious: did anyone speak out against the building or were the concerns only raised by the council members?


       —Steve Bean    Aug. 28 '06 - 09:39PM    #
  93. Steve, everyone has his/her particular constituencies and duties. A mere recommendation by the Planning Commission doesn’t bind Council. Council has a free hand to accept or reject such recommendations; its role its purely discretionary.

    The mayor, plus Johnson and Rapundalo, each had good reasons for voting “no” in the interests of the citizens of AA as a whole. Those interests are not served by the approval of Metro 202.

    The interests of a narrow clique of developers and their allies – yes. The rest of us, who have no interest in the Southfieldization of Ann Arbor – no.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 28 '06 - 11:22PM    #
  94. Wait, so being opposed to the Cantonization of Ann Arbor is now defined as being for the Southfieldization? I don’t buy it. (In all fairness, the bones of downtown Ann Arbor are good enough that it will never be either Southfield or Canton. State/Eisenhower -> Southfield, Steven Rapundalo’s ‘hood -> Canton, but not downtown. (But maybe Grosse Pointe?))

    I agree with Tom and Steve that the way this was handled is hardly the way it should have – and I know Steve well enough that trying to place him in the box of “the Ann Arbor News community” is fallacious, let alone “the narrow clique of developers and their allies”. And, if Steve Bean isn’t enough of a canary in the process mine, I’d hardly tag Jean Carlberg as a cog in some dasterdly growth machine. And she voted for this at least twice. And, really, Eppie Potts?! Honestly. David, this doesn’t fit in your simple little box.

    I’m with Tom – Mayor Hieftje, as the community-wide member of Council, ought to call for a reconsideration at an upcoming meeting that the entire Council can be at. I’m not asking that he vote “yes”, even – just that he acknowledge the result of this vote was a fluke of procedure (I don’t care about Frances Todoro – was anybody not surprised by the outcome? Even the Mayor?), and offer it up to the full Council.

    I’m tempted to go back and give this post the Boldfaced Names treatment, but I’ll restrain myself…


       —Murph.    Aug. 29 '06 - 12:13AM    #
  95. I just saw the replay of the discussion and vote. It was simply bizarre how the mayor spoke of how he’d prefer this sort of proposal to be submitted by developers “in the future” and then voted “no” in the present. I can imagine that he thought there were enough “yes” votes that it had passed and his “no” was a safe ‘message vote’. Regardless, I agree with Murph’s reasoning that the mayor would be the appropriate person to open it back up. And my current confusion would revert to respect.

    David, the interests of Ann Arbor as a whole are not served by the dis approval of this project, either. (That would be your cue, Todd, but I’ll understand if you’ve expended enough on this already.) A desire to extract more from the developer is understandable. It also appears to be unreasonable in this case, if not, as Jennifer put it, “totally unfair.”


       —Steve Bean    Aug. 29 '06 - 02:22AM    #
  96. Downtown Ann Arbor is basically Birmingham, though a glimmer of what Royal Oak used to be still hangs on.

    (Identity crisis, anybody?)


       —Jeff Dean    Aug. 29 '06 - 12:23PM    #
  97. Jean Carlberg is hardly the voice of reason. She will always have some facile argument to support almost any project.

    With regard to Hieftje, Johnson, and Rapundalo, I expect each saw the reality behind the buzzwords and didn’t care for it. Good for them!


       —David Cahill    Aug. 29 '06 - 12:41PM    #
  98. David- Have you taken leave of your senses? Are you so giddy about seeing a development project turned down that it has sanitized your view of Hieftje? The biggest issue here isn’t Metro 202, or even development in general; it’s how the Mayor does business. You’ve had nothing good to say about that before, and now you’re portraying him as wise, insightful and straightforward. You sound like you’re arguing to a jury, but we’re not buying any of it! And you’re hurting your own credibility. You just seem to want “no” votes on all development, no matter the particulars of the project or the fairness of the process. When you next criticize Hieftje’s tactics, as I’m sure you will, no one will take you seriously.


       —Tom Wieder    Aug. 29 '06 - 01:11PM    #
  99. “And you’re hurting your own credibility.”

    Tom, thanks for the laugh. I know you’re new to AU so you’re probably not aware that David shredded his credibility here so long ago that it’s become a bit of a parlor game to see how long you can put up with his ridiculousness before you give in and respond to his postings as if they are made by someone who still responds to logic. Todd must be out of town as he’s usually can never hold out this long.


       —John Q.    Aug. 29 '06 - 01:52PM    #
  100. Wise, insightful, and straightforward? No. For all I know, the major may make decisions using a random number generator.

    For whatever reasons, though, he made the correct decisions on two big developments in a row – the Gallery and Metro 202. I think he should be praised for doing this.

    I have supported projects in the past (and will do so again) as long as they don’t look like they are buildings on steroids. My position can be succinctly summed up by the Broadway Village Haiku – which I wish I had written, but I didn’t:

    Ann Arbor has trees
    Buildings four stories or less
    Let us see the sky


       —David Cahill    Aug. 29 '06 - 02:29PM    #
  101. Oop! That should be “mayor” in the first line of #100, of course…


       —David Cahill    Aug. 29 '06 - 02:31PM    #
  102. John- And many thanks for the laugh you gave me this morning. I’ve actually known David for probably longer than any of you – over 30 years – and we work together in an organization where he displays rationality on a regular basis, so I was hoping…


       —Tom Wieder    Aug. 29 '06 - 04:06PM    #
  103. His “rationality” might become evident if he weren’t so coy about it. We might even learn something. Instead, he seems to prefer the attention of being contrarian/obtuse/whatever.

    David, if you truly care about the well-being of the larger community (of which all of us here are a part), please go beyond being succinct and spell out your vision for downtown and the city so that we can understand it and possibly find common ground. You’ve been asked for clarification in the past and haven’t offered much. Please do us this favor. You may well represent a perspective held by many people in Ann Arbor, one which many of us here are having difficulty understanding.

    TIA.


       —Steve Bean    Aug. 29 '06 - 04:34PM    #
  104. I think the city (and downtown) should stay basically as it is now. I like the human-scale atmosphere and the lack of gigantic structures (with a few well-known exceptions, such as University Towers). Any new construction should be similar in size to nearby buildings, so as to preserve the “look and feel” of AA.

    The population of the city has remained remarkably constant over the past 30 years, and has even dropped over the past few years, according to SEMCOG estimates. I think that’s fine. The recent deflation of the local real estate bubble shows that all the talk about hordes of new people about to arrive in AA was just that: talk. Neither Michigan nor Ann Arbor will be a high-growth area any time soon.

    I do not favor public subsidy of new construction, either by removing costs presently borne by developers (such as parking) or by direct subsidies (Broadway Village).

    Those who propose a radical reshaping of the city do not have the moral high ground – especially when many of the proposers have a financial or personal interest in new construction.

    I was intrigued by an article in a recent New York Times about development fights that are occurring across the country. The Times said these were typically neighborhoods vs. a coalition of developers and business-friendly politicians. No surprise that the same thing is happening here.

    I believe in fighting vertical sprawl.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 29 '06 - 05:04PM    #
  105. David-You’re being cute again. Sprawl, either as part of the phrase “urban sprawl” or as a stand alone word, inherently means horizontal. If you believe that there isn’t enough growth coming to Ann Arbor to require new housing, then all of these vertical projects in town will remain empty, and these developers are really stupid about making money (I doubt that). If, on the other hand, people are coming, they will go up (“vertical sprawl”) or out “urban sprawl.” Perhaps, we could keep downtown at 4 stories or less, but there are likely consequences. Either we will have more countryside gobbled up by subdivisions, or we will have 2 or 3 times as many sites of existing low-rise houses and other buildings leveled for 2 or 3 times as many condo and apartment buildings of smaller scale than the vertical ones you don’t like. Is that really better?


       —Tom Wieder    Aug. 29 '06 - 05:40PM    #
  106. Let me chime in from Ajijic, Mexico. This town of about 10k is more walkable and more vibrant than Ann Arbor, with block after block of shops, artisans, mixing of uses, and friendliness, and few buildings taller than 2 stories. I will jump on Cahill´s bandwagon of no new buildings taller than x stories (I prefer 6) with religious zeal the second he starts earnestly working to build a constituency for density and 4-story buildings outside the downtown. He won´´t and I won´t have to.

    PS—this town knows how to calm traffic AND deal with impervious surface. with cobblestones. I saw a dog sleeping in the street yesterday while children played around him. Cars drove around the dog so as not to disturb him.


       —Dale    Aug. 29 '06 - 06:05PM    #
  107. ann arbor population (from the census bureau):

    2000: 114,024
    2003: 114,469
    2004: 114,498
    2005: 113,271


       —peter honeyman    Aug. 29 '06 - 06:17PM    #
  108. Word on the street is that Metro 202 will be brought back to Council.

    I think they should review it again. I rarely agree with AA News editorials but this time they’re right, the mayor’s lack of leadership is appalling! We want to discourage sprawl, but not build anything downtown? it makes no sense. The fact that he wouldn’t give his reason for saying No is even more suspect. It is absolutely his job to explain himself, and everyone who votes against the project should do so.

    The idea of ‘vertical sprawl’ in this town is nonsense. The suburban sprawl of the townships receive much more in the way of welfare than downtown developments do. How about the streets that go out to those McMansions? the new storm pipes, the new electric lines, the additional water sewage pipes? all the sidewalk and paving they have to put in because every house is so far away from everything else? the tax benefits and support for singe-family housing on a federal level by way of tax credits? there is much more to this than a single 9-story building in Ann Arbor.


       —KGS    Aug. 29 '06 - 06:19PM    #
  109. “…all the talk about hordes of new people about to arrive in AA was just that: talk. Neither Michigan nor Ann Arbor will be a high-growth area any time soon.”

    David

    Once again you are just making noise. Over the 10 years from 1990 to 2000 the Ann Arbor PMSA grew 18%, the county grew 14% and the city grew 4%. I have a job and cannot get the township stats so fast but I will show later that in fact the surrounding townships (excepting AATwp) have been well outpacing the city’s growth, which disproves your comment above.

    http://www.semcog.org/Products/pdfs/DetroitMetrosPop1900_2030.pdf

    Statistics don’t lie, liars lie.

    p.s. Peter H. I was writing while you posted but I am not surprised that the city has begun to decline, I know developers who have washed their hands of A2.


       —abc    Aug. 29 '06 - 06:23PM    #
  110. The slight decline in the city’s population has little to do with its treatment of developers. There’s very little undeveloped land in the city, and there hasn’t been much for years. New housing units have been added, but they have been offset by a decline in average family size in town and a lower average number of people in each housing unit. Most of the growth for years has been outside the city, and that will continue to be the case. All of the proposed downtown projects wouldn’t affect those numbers much; there aren’t enough units involved. Spread over McMansion-like subdividions, they could, however, gobble up a lot of land.


       —Tom Wieder    Aug. 29 '06 - 06:55PM    #
  111. Tom and KGS, “vertical sprawl” was the term used by the New York Times. I can hardly do better than that for a source! 8-)

    Mike Garfield of the Ecology Center neatly stilettoed the argument that there is a link between “sprawl” in the townships and development downtown. He said they are different markets. I agree.

    With regard to population, as I said, I am only concerned with AA City, not the county or the metropolitan statistical area.

    Are developers in AA stupid? You bet. Del Dunbar, a lobbyist for Broadway Village who is on McKinley’s Board of Directors, told a committee meeting in 2003 that all the large commercial projects built within the city in the past 30 years had gone insolvent at least once, and he listed them. He said the basic reason for all these projects going belly up was that developers wanted a prestige project in AA, but that the rents wouldn’t sustain them.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 29 '06 - 07:16PM    #
  112. A mere recommendation by the Planning Commission doesn’t bind Council. Council has a free hand to accept or reject such recommendations; its role its purely discretionary.

    I find this comment laughable. Planning Commission is intended to be an advisory body to Council … and although Dave is technically correct that CPC recommendations aren’t binding on Council … I can’t even begin to describe the outrage of some planning commissions and community members when Council ignores a DENIAL recommendation from CPC.

    I have an easy time understanding why Council would go against a denial recommendation. In many instances, the final project that Council votes on is better than what CPC voted on … in part because the objections to the project raised by CPC were either addressed by the developers before their submittal to Council or addressed directly by Council. (Remember, CPC is only advisory, but Council is the final shot … so they have more leverage in their requests.)

    I don’t understand Council going against an affirmative recommendation, especially a 9-0 vote from CPC.


       —Jennifer Hall    Aug. 29 '06 - 07:21PM    #
  113. And to answer Steve’s question is post 92: did anyone speak out against the building or were the concerns only raised by the council members. Two people spoke out against the project to planning commission (don’t know about for council). One property owner near the project was concerned about the possible disturbance from construction on the foundation of his historic building … McKinley agreed to photograph the structure so that possible disturbance could be documented and also to fix any problems that might occur (planning commission included this language in our approval). Another adjacent property objected to the entire project, mainly because they were concerned about the traffic impacts on a shared access easement to the rear of the property. Planning Commission felt that the traffic problems were arising from the nearby furniture store and that the Metro 202 problem would not cause any additional problems. City staff said they would look into the issue with the furniture store and issue citations is they were in violation of parking/loading rules. McKinley said that the problems caused by the furniture store would impact their project as well, so had a shared interest with the neighbor in making sure the problem was fixed. That was all I remember. You could always look up the minutes from the CPC meeting on the city’s website.

    The interesting thing to me is that there was neighborhood opposition to McKinley’s other project, Washington Terrace, which would be caddy-corner to Metro 202 (on the NE corner of Washington and Division). That project had a recommendation of approval from planning commission (but on a 6-1 vote). Council approved this 11 story building on June 5th. Council minutes don’t record their votes … only if something was approved, I don’t think mlive.com keeps their articles online that far back, and I can’t find any reference to the vote on this blog … so all I can say is that a bigger building, with less planning commission support, and neighborhood opposition was approved … and Metro 202 was not.


       —Jennifer Hall    Aug. 29 '06 - 07:33PM    #
  114. David- It’s fine that you’re “only concerned” about AA city population, but some of us know that AA city can’t ignore the population growth outside and its effects on the city. We ignore that at our peril. Your citation of Del Dunbar is misleading. As you quote him, he was referring to “large commerical projects.” That does not include residential or primarily residential projects or “not large” commercial ones. Neither Del’s comment, nor recent city population figures supports the claim that there isn’t demand for the high-rise residential projects being proposed.


       —Tom Wieder    Aug. 29 '06 - 08:10PM    #
  115. Tsk. Jennifer, I’m surprised that first you say my comment was laughable, and then turn right around and agree with it! Your brain must be draining – and at such a young age, too. 8-)

    People are perfectly free to be outraged at whatever Council does or doesn’t do. But the reduction of Planning Commission’s authority, by gutting the Planning Department staff, was part of Roger Fraser’s over-all plan (so to speak). It should not be surprising that Council often overturns both kinds of Commission recommendations.

    Does it matter much, when both the Commission and the Council are stuffed with pro-development hot dogs? Probably not.

    Remember that if a developer is legally entitled to build a project under the current rules, the developer just goes to the Building Department and there is no fuss.

    If a project has to go before Planning Commission/Council, that is because someone wants to change the rules, whether by a PUD, a rezoning, or whatnot.

    There is never a presumption in favor of changing the rules.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 29 '06 - 08:45PM    #
  116. Aha – I just realized that the Democratic Party might be willing to take a position on this development at its September 9 meeting – assuming, of course, that Council hasn’t changed its collective mind by that point. How about this:

    RESOLUTION CONCERNING METRO 202

    Whereas, property should not be rezoned merely on demand, but only where a rezoning is clearly in the public interest; and

    Whereas, the Metro 202 rezoning was recently rejected by Council because of the concerns of Mayor Hieftje and Councilmembers Johnson and Rapundalo about the method being used to move this project forward, and about height and parking;

    Now, therefore be it resolved by the Ann Arbor City Democratic Party that the Party commends Mayor Hieftje and Councilmembers Johnson and Rapundalo for their principled stand in opposing the rezoning for Metro 202.

    (Submitted by David Cahill)


       —David Cahill    Aug. 29 '06 - 10:02PM    #
  117. Remember that if a developer is legally entitled to build a project under the current rules, the developer just goes to the Building Department and there is no fuss.

    David, this is entirely untrue. There are very few things that a developer can do without going through planning commission and council. Chapter 57 states that a site plan is required for “any for of construction or removal or disturbance of any natural features” except: single/two family houses built on properly zoned parcels; removal or disturbance of natural features on residential lots; construction on the interior of a building that does not increase usable floor area; and construction of signs, walls, fences, sidewalks, etc. if under a certain size.

    Chapter 57 gives huge latitude to residential homeowners, even for the disturbance of natural features. Everything else must go through the site planning process … which includes a visit to planning commission and city council. Chapter 57 does list a number of “site plan amendments” that can be approved by the planning and development services manager (in other words, not by planning commission or council), but if you take a close look at these things, they are actually pretty minor (like the addition of carports over parking spaces).

    The “rules” are very subject to individual interpretation (by each planning commissioner and city councilmember). The rules are fairly easy to apply when it comes to things like setbacks (must be X number of feet) or number of parking spaces. Our code is actually pretty specific related to building height (X number of stories are allowed) ... but the subjective interpretation comes from the more subjective rules: like “the development would not cause a public or private nuisance and would not have a detrimental effect on the public health, safety or welfare.” For example, some people think tall buildings are a public or private nuisance. These clear rules and subjective rules must all be considered together to issue a decision.

    I only heard Councilmember Johnson actually linking his “no” vote to actual “rules”.


       —Jennifer Hall    Aug. 29 '06 - 11:27PM    #
  118. I agree that the city landscape and culture should be preserved. I agree that construction and development can sometimes radically change or eliminate these things. However, I’m not sure I see how that’s necessarily the case. Lots of cities with flat or declining populations have lost their old “look and feel” altogether, and lots of growing cities with new tall buildings have maintained or even encouraged a human-scale environment. (And of course, the opposite is also the case sometimes). So I’m just not sure whether it has to do with growth or no growth: it has to do with how it’s managed. But I do personally see fewer options for successfully managing a sustained decline in population. (Some short-term decline, sure, maybe.)

    It is possible that the city could maintain its character with some loss in population. The worry I have is about how it maintains other goals like affordability and diversity of local economy, if that was paralelled by growth in the surrounding townships and counties (which it appears will only continue in the future). My sense is that this would be difficult—am I wrong?

    I have no idea who has been talking about “hordes of people” arriving in Ann Arbor. The real question is, what should be done in reaction to the sustained and continuing population increase of the county? The population of that area has grown well more than twice as fact as the city since 1970, and has gained another 20,000 residents during the last 5 years, at the same time that the city has lost 1-2,000. Those aren’t hypothetical figures; those are real. Hordes or no, they are moving into the area, but choosing not to live in the city. Surely they will have an effect on us whether we like it or not?

    Another number to look at are city household sizes. If household size remained constant, then a slightly declining city population might not be anything to worry about. However, household sizes are declining as well. That means more people would need to move into the city even to sustain that already-lower figure. I’m not a demographer so I can’t tell you for sure what this means, but it’s at least a concern. (I am already worried that the city is trying too hard to attract childless workers to the exclusion of families.)

    What percentage increase (per decade, let’s say) would you say counts as “high-growth”, Dave? (Or anyone else.)

    Even aside from public investment in private projects, what about zoning laws? Zoning is just a fact of life—and it is imposed by the government. So even without subsidies, governmental decisions have a direct effect on the city’s economy and real estate.

    I don’t think anyone has proposed a radical reshaping of the city—certainly nothing more radical than the kinds of changes it has already seen over the last thirty years or so. Do I have a personal interest in new construction? I guess I do—I have a personal interest in the health of the city. I want to preserve its character, and am skeptical that slapping city-wide limits on growth is a good way to do that. Are there any examples where this has been an effective strategy? If I knew of any, I might reconsider.

    Of course neighborhoods and developers are often at odds. This is a natural part of the process. The end result is a compromise that everyone has an interest in. I see nothing wrong with this. I am (mostly) not afraid of the development process, I guess because I believe the city is being careful with it, and will know when to say “stop”. (Or at least, they better.) Meanwhile, the citizens will keep an eye on them :)


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 29 '06 - 11:29PM    #
  119. And Dale: what would you say made Ajijic’s downtown more walkable and vibrant? Money, culture, families, narrower streets, climate, etc.? (Actually most of downtown Ann Arbor’s buildings are 2 stories or fewer as well.)

    I am interested in the idea of limiting “horizontal” sprawl by encouraging density, but I agree there is effectively no movement to do this. I guess we could try to force the issue by making the city so expensive that people would have to create their own urban areas in the outlying townships, but it seems like that could result in several bad outcomes. I could be wrong.

    On Metro202: Possible that the absent councilmembers may try to get it revived but I don’t even know if they can procedure-wise. (Does anybody know?) It might not even be desirable at this point—for all we know, there are better ideas out there.

    I am a little confused, though, that the other building got approval (didn’t it?) when this one didn’t. It seems obviously like the less attractive, more obtrusive building, and is just sort of a twin of the one on Ashley. Did it have a PUD? I don’t think it did. Can’t remember about affordable units.

    (Also, something I said earlier about The Gallery implied I thought the architecture was crummy. Looking at it closely, I guess it’s not so bad, and the developer at least put in some small stepbacks on the neighborhood side. It still irks me a bit, but as I understand it they did at least work with the neighborhood to determine a satisfactory footprint and height.)


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 29 '06 - 11:44PM    #
  120. Jennifer, site plans are not what drive people crazy in the development process. The problematic situations involve developers who want to change the zoning or other rules – as McKinley wanted to do on Metro 202.

    Young Urban Amateur, City Council follows Robert’s Rules of Order. Here is what Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, says on pp 304-305:

    To provide both usefulness and protection against abuse, the motion to Reconsider has the following unique characteristics:

    a) It can be made only by a member who voted with the prevailing side. In other words, a reconsideration can be moved only by one who voted aye if the motion involved was adopted, or no if the motion was lost. (In standing and special committees, the motion to Reconsider can be made by any member whodid not vote on the losing side – including one who did not vote at all.)

    * * * * *

    b) The making of this motion is subject to time limits, as follows: In a session of one day – such as an ordinary meeting of a club or a one-day convention – the motion to Reconsider can be made only on the same day the vote to be reconsidered was taken. In a convention or session of more than one day, a reconsideration can be moved only on the same day the original vote was taken or one the next succeeding day within the session on which a business meeting is held.

    Wow – a surprising answer! Under a) only Hieftje, Johnson, or Rapundalo can move for reconsideration; the folks who were not present can’t. Under b), I think that the motion would have had to have been made the evening that the motion to approve the project was denied.

    (Jennifer, this is the Gold Book. What does your shorter version say?)


       —David Cahill    Aug. 30 '06 - 12:17AM    #
  121. “The recent deflation of the local real estate bubble shows that all the talk about hordes of new people about to arrive in AA was just that: talk. Neither Michigan nor Ann Arbor will be a high-growth area any time soon.”

    I have a question for you and the floor. I’ve asked this question before at Arbor Update, and no one answered it:

    The population in Ann Arbor has remained the same over the past five years. However, if you total the increase in UMich’s students, staff (both regular and supplemental), teaching faculty (including the hospitals), and hospital staff over these very same five years, you get an increase of 6,847 people.

    Now we know from reading our Cahill that not a single one of these UMich people want to live in Ann Arbor, so my question is:

    Where did these 6,000+ people go? The population of Ann Arbor is the same. What happened?


       —todd    Aug. 30 '06 - 03:06AM    #
  122. In answer to Todd: Many do live in Ann Arbor. As I said in a previous post, average household sizes are smaller, either because of lower birth rates or aging of the population. That four-bedroom home in Lansdowne may have had two adults and two kids in it five years ago, but the kids have left. These changes can offset the addition of new people in new housing. But I suspect many of the new people live in the county, but outside the city. There isn’t really any great mystery here. The population in the surrounding townships continues to grow, and a number of these people commute in from Livingston county and other places.


       —Tom Wieder    Aug. 30 '06 - 10:58AM    #
  123. From the Ann Arbor News newsflash-

    Metro 202 project may get second vote
    The Metro 202 downtown apartment project appears to be headed back before the Ann Arbor City Council after failing to win enough votes for passage during a surprise turn of events at last week’s council meeting.

    Stephen Rapundalo, one of three council members who voted against the proposed nine-story apartment complex, on Tuesday e-mailed his council colleagues, telling them he planned to bring the project back at the Sept. 5 meeting for a second vote as a matter of fairness.

    The project, a mix of 44 apartments and first-floor retail space on the southwest corner of Division and Washington streets, failed to win approval on a 5-3 vote because it needed six votes under council rules to pass. At least one of the two council members who were absent for that meeting says she will vote for the project, giving it the needed six votes.

    Read the complete story in today’s Ann Arbor News.


       —Tom Jensen    Aug. 30 '06 - 01:08PM    #
  124. I just bought a copy of Council’s rules. Only $6.00 – what a bargain!

    Council has a special rule on reconsideration, which takes priority over Robert’s “default” rule.

    Council Rule 33, “Reconsideration of Questions”, states as follows:

    “When a question has been taken, it shall be in order for any member voting with the prevailing side to move a reconsideration thereof at the same or the next regular meeting; but, no question shall a second time be reconsidered.”

    So it seems that Rapundalo’s motion to reconsider will be in order.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 30 '06 - 02:57PM    #
  125. The full article reports that Wendy Woods will vote yes so I guess that’s that.


       —Tom Jensen    Aug. 30 '06 - 03:00PM    #
  126. This is the article to which Tom J is referring.

    (Tom, are you Steve and Peggie’s son?)


       —tom    Aug. 30 '06 - 03:16PM    #
  127. Yeah, I’m not sure what to think. I guess it’s fair…wonder how the turnaround came about. I figured people would just move on and something new would come down the road a couple years from now. (And who knows, maybe it will be voted down again! Admittedly this is unlikely.)

    I do feel for the proptery owners next door, though I can’t imagine anything being built that wouldn’t cast a shadow on their back yards. I do sort of wonder what, in their opinion, could be put there instead (assuming it wouldn’t stay a somewhat rundown private parking lot forever, which I think is a reasonable assumption.)


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 30 '06 - 05:47PM    #
  128. Stephen Rapundalo deserves thanks for acting in the interest of good government.


       —Steve Bean    Aug. 30 '06 - 06:04PM    #
  129. The problematic situations involve developers who want to change the zoning or other rules – as McKinley wanted to do on Metro 202.

    Requests to change zoning or other rules, as the McKinley project requested, are actually all part of city code. There are specific procedures for handling these requests and standards for their approval or disapproval. How are developers being unfair to the community?

    Where did these 6,000+ people go. The population of Ann Arbor is the same. What happened

    The Calthorpe study included a series of census maps showing the sprawling population growth outside of A2 from some years back and projected into the future. It was quite startling. I’m not sure these maps ended up in the final report … but they were part of one of their presentations … so I’m sure someone at city hall has them.

    I’m glad Councilmember Rapundalo has brought this back to Council. It’s very admirable.


       —Jennifer Hall    Aug. 30 '06 - 07:00PM    #
  130. Jennifer, as you so cogently pointed out in #117, “the ‘rules’ are very subject to individual interpretation (by each planning commissioner and city councilmember”.

    So, the present zoning provides no safety for anyone, since any huge project can be slimed through the Commission and Council.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 30 '06 - 08:08PM    #
  131. David, I’m not sure what you mean? The present zoning is just that … present zoning. I think zoning is incredibly important, but it’s also subject to change. Each petition evaluated on its own merits and according to the standards in code. How is this unfair?


       —Jennifer Hall    Aug. 30 '06 - 09:10PM    #
  132. Jennifer, what I mean is that the zoning is illusory – consider it “rubber zoning”. And, as you have said, the standards in the Code are subject to interpretation.

    So the zoning really doesn’t mean much at all, especially with a Commission/Council which doesn’t respect it and just uses it as a starting point to make deals with developers.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 30 '06 - 11:24PM    #
  133. That’s a pretty vague accusation, David. Any specific examples to support it?


       —Steve Bean    Aug. 31 '06 - 12:40AM    #
  134. Well, Steve, ask yourself if there are – say – three large projects which developers have proposed in the past year which have been rejected by the Commission/Council because the projects would have violated the present zoning.

    In fact, ask yourself if there is even one.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 31 '06 - 01:06AM    #
  135. “So the zoning really doesn’t mean much at all, especially with a Commission/Council which doesn’t respect it and just uses it as a starting point to make deals with developers.”

    Dave, you were thrilled with this Metro 202 decision and the way that Council handled this development just a couple of days ago. Why, I wonder what happened to your praise?

    Steve, Dave’s been using the chaos of the Approval process to his advantage for years. He’s now amazed that this same chaos is working to his disadvantage.

    Dave has demonstrated time and again that he has no interest in process. All Dave cares about is if the end result is a short building.

    If a big project is defeated, well, the process is flawless and it’s ‘democracy in action’. If a big project is approved, everyone is corrupt, incompetent, or both.

    Back here in reality, even if this 202 building is approved (or defeated, for that matter), we have are still stuck with some serious problems.

    The Mayor and several Councilpersons are not on the same page as the Planning Commission and staff is. We are back to square one in terms of what is expected out of a developer operating in Ann Arbor.

    It is irrelevant whether they (to pick two extremes) choose to follow Cahill’s ‘no growth’ plan, or my ‘if you’re going to build, build up’ plan. They need to pick a damn path, stick to this path, and communicate what this path is to citizens, gov. officials, and petitioners.

    The fact that the Mayor can sit through hours and hours of Urban Planning lectures, and come away with the comment that it’s not his job to give a petitioner an idea as to where his project stands is just depressing. Transparency in government? Fairness? Clear, and easy to understand rules? Hello?

    Pick a path. Put it in writing.

    Surprises in the approval process benefit no one.


       —todd    Aug. 31 '06 - 01:20AM    #
  136. I’m with you on that, Todd. I’ll try to be patient with the greenway process (the prerequisite component of which should be wrapping up soon) and be glad when the next step toward improving the development process/downtown zoning begins. The resulting acrimony from the current process is unnecessary. We can have a better process, a better downtown, a better city… and we can all (yes, all) be happier about it.


       —Steve Bean    Aug. 31 '06 - 02:13AM    #
  137. I was thrilled with the original Metro 202 results because it seemed that Council members were casting real “no” votes. Once again, though, at least Rapundalo’s vote was a phony “no” vote, which I have criticized before as bad for democracy.

    Right now there are so many ways that developers can escape the constraints of our zoning map (with the approval of Commission/Council) that property owners can’t rely on what the map says. So we have a system in which no property owner in a commercially-zoned area can be sure that a project on steroids won’t be built next door.

    Todd, you and I agree that Council should pick a path and stick to it, and that surprises benefit no one. We disagree on what the path should look like.

    Right now, there is no path. And while chaos on Council can be entertaining, it is indeed no way to run a city.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 31 '06 - 12:41PM    #
  138. This is a rare moment of agreement here: Todd and David Cahill (and many more of us, I suspect) all agree that a clear plan for future development in the City needs to be laid out. More importantly, the Council needs to follow that plan and not find new ways to play games with development. Rules or not, zoning and development are still political matters, and will follow the tides of the City Council.

    A better set of guidelines makes it more difficult to object to a project for spurious reasons, but it can still happen. Everyone thought they were playing by the rules on Metro 202: the Planning Commission was 9-0 in favor of the project, the developer had worked with city staff to make the project acceptable, but the Council ended up denying it. Whether you agree with the result or not, I think any reasonable person would agree that that kind of capriciousness doesn’t do anyone any good.

    Not only did the developer spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to work on this, but there was also the city staff time working with the developer (“Your Tax Dollars” for the fiscal buzzword crowd). Development should not be a game of “Gotcha.” With a clear plan, developers will have a better idea of what the City wants, and can bring appropriate projects to the community. Ideally, the development process should be supported by the City (to the extent that it meets the stated goals of the City; I am by no means advocating an anything-goes approach), rather than being an obstacle course.

    Bad development comes about when the system is so twisted that only those with the deepest pockets can afford to play the game, and then they have to try to extract the greatest value from what they have built in order to pay back their expenses.


       —archipunk    Aug. 31 '06 - 03:21PM    #
  139. Very well put, archipunk. A moment of true harmonic convergence!


       —David Cahill    Aug. 31 '06 - 04:56PM    #
  140. Let’s not overstate the significance of the “zoning nap.” Zoing is set by ordinance, and an ordinance can be changed with just 6 votes (unless the change is properly challenged by sufficient adjacent property owners). No one can rely on the zoning map to stay as it is.


       —Tom Wieder    Aug. 31 '06 - 07:03PM    #
  141. While it is true that the zoning map can be amended by ordinance, it is a document that is always available. But it doesn’t mean much.

    I would prefer a zoning and planning system in which the zoning map is solid and developers can’t use tricky methods to circumvent it.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 31 '06 - 07:07PM    #
  142. ask yourself if there is even one – yes, there is at least one. The William Street Station project approved for the old YMCA site applied under existing zoning. This project includes a 12 story tower and a 14 story tower.

    And I think it’s important to understand the changes in zoning that have been approved for other projects … because it’s not really true that the expectations of the surrounding property owners were violated by the changes. Ashley Terraces was approved for a rezone from C2B/R to C2A. Metro 202 was approved for a rezone from C2B/R to C2A/R. Under the existing zoning, the almost the same exact buildings could have been approved – but would have had to contain only office/commercial uses. (It’s a bit more complex than this … too complex for me to write here).

    The change in zoning basically allowed the buildings to have smaller (or no) setbacks (which is appropriate in a downtown) and allowed them to have residential uses instead of commercial ones. I’ll preempt any arguements about tall commercial buildings being non-viable from an economic point of view by saying it’s irrelevant … the zoning code allows the buildings and neighboring property owners should have the expectation that it COULD happen. Obviously, when the zoning code was written, it was thought that a lot more big office buildings would be or should be built in our downtown.


       —Jennifer Hall    Aug. 31 '06 - 08:43PM    #
  143. Thanks, Jennifer! This is very helpful.


       —David Cahill    Aug. 31 '06 - 09:41PM    #
  144. “Once again, though, at least Rapundalo’s vote was a phony ‘no’ vote, which I have criticized before as bad for democracy.”

    i’m guessing he will reiterate his opposition. i see his motion to reconsider as a gesture favoring principle over process.


       —peter honeyman    Aug. 31 '06 - 11:28PM    #
  145. What principle? What process?


       —David Cahill    Sep. 1 '06 - 01:10AM    #
  146. the principle is majority rule, the process is the necessity to garner eight votes, which was broken because two council members were on vacation.

    as you well know.


       —peter honeyman    Sep. 1 '06 - 01:46AM    #
  147. The principle of majority rule was upheld because the project failed to get the required six (not eight) votes when a quorum was present.


       —David Cahill    Sep. 1 '06 - 12:39PM    #
  148. well, dave, if you don’t see how process interfered with principle in this instance, i’m not the one to explain it to you (due to my unfortunate tendency toward an intense and barely shielded epithet flux).

    maybe todd can help \(^_^)/

    thanks for the correction, btw.


       —peter honeyman    Sep. 1 '06 - 03:57PM    #
  149. I happened to be talking with Eppie Potts, who is on Planning Commission, just now. She said that she had gone to this evening’s Council Caucus.

    She and Rapundalo were the only ones there!

    Rapundalo said that there was supposed to be a caucus, and he had things he wanted to talk about. He and Eppie waited until 7:20, and then they both left.

    Now that’s funny!


       —David Cahill    Sep. 4 '06 - 12:49AM    #
  150. I called the Mayor’s office on Friday and they said there was no caucus due to the holiday. Good to know communication is alive and well between the Mayor’s office, the City Council, and the Planning Commission. Sigh.


       —Juliew    Sep. 4 '06 - 02:36AM    #
  151. Full communication postponed.


       —hale    Sep. 4 '06 - 07:15PM    #