Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: President's Day Edition

19. February 2007 • Juliew
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Tuesday, February 20 at 7:00 pm. (One day later due to President’s Day holiday)
Ann Arbor City HallCity Council Agenda

Highlights:

  • Plymouth Road Plaza Planned Project Site Plan
  • 200 South Ashley Street Site Plan
  • Resolution to Approve a Professional Services Agreement with Quinn Evans Architects for the Planning and Design of the Ann Arbor Municipal Center ($962,600.00) and Establish a Project Budget for the Police/Courts Building ($1,011,000.00)
  • Resolution to Approve an Option to Purchase Agreement with Village Green Residential Properties LLC for the Sale and Redevelopment of City-Owned Property Located at First and Washington
  • Resolution to Approve Street Closing for The Arena’s NCAA Basketball Tournament Celebration on March 17, 2007
  • Monthly parking permit price hike

Planning Commission (Moved to Thursday due to President’s Day Holiday)
Thursday, February 22 at 7:00 pm.
Planning Commission Agenda

Highlights:

  • The February 22 agenda has not been posted as of 2/19/07.



  1. Expect an interesting and fairly long Council meeting this week.

    The Plymouth Road Plaza plan pits the owner of the Plymouth Road Mall against one (maybe more) of his tenants. The proposal is to build a two-story building in the parking lot in front of Bella Vino. Bella Vino has been handing out flyers asking people to come and protest the proposed plan.

    The 200 South Ashley Street Site Plan is one of the most exciting proposals to come to Council in a long time. It is an eight-story, truly environmental, mixed-use building downtown next to Downtown Home and Gardens. Planning Commission approved it unanimously and there was no public opposition to it (actually the only people speaking approved of the plan). If all goes true to form, Council will vote it down. Hopefully that will not happen on this proposal.

    Expect some questioning from Council and the audience on the million dollar planning budget for the new police/courts/municipal facility.

    The Village Green purchase agreement is one of the sites in the former three-site plan. Lukewarm reaction to this site from developers is most likely the reason the Klines lot RFP was pulled.

    The Arena Street Closing is likely to generate some conversation among the various constituencies.

    And of course, monthly parking permit rate hikes are always fun at a party.


       —Juliew    Feb. 19 '07 - 11:25PM    #
  2. The 200 South Ashley items have been deleted from the agenda.

    I have received a February 8 memo from Tom Crawford, the City’s CFO, on paying for the proposed new court/police facility. I am extremely disappointed at the lack of answers. More later on this.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 19 '07 - 11:57PM    #
  3. I haven’t read much of the “debate” on the closing of the street, but isn’t this just like the Oktoberfest closing in the fall? (A good time, IMHO). Is there any rumbling about disallowing the Oktoberfest street party too??


       —TeacherPatti    Feb. 19 '07 - 11:57PM    #
  4. David, the South Ashley site still appears under the “Public Hearing” section, although it was deleted from the “New Business” section. I’m not sure what that means.

    TeacherPatti, I agree with you that the Arena street closing is similar to the Oktoberfest street closing. However, not everyone feels the same way. The arguments I have heard are that Oktoberfest is “multiple businesses, sanctioned by the Main Street Area Association, and more of an ethnic festival than a drinking ritual.” Not very persuasive if you ask me. I think if the city does not allow the Arena to close the street, they potentially could get themselves into trouble if they do allow the Oktoberfest to continue. Hopefully some compromise can be reached so everyone feels fairly treated.


       —Juliew    Feb. 20 '07 - 12:46AM    #
  5. Crawford’s memo addresses a variety of concerns about funding the “Municipal Center” – the rebranded police/court facility.

    He concedes that operating costs were not included, but says “they can be significantly impacted by the design of the bulding via trade-offs on insulation, windows, square footage, etc. to achieve affordable levels.” He doesn’t say what those levels are.

    With regard to the need for additional staffing, since the City would need to operate a secured facility for the police/courts, he says: “Additional staffing may or may not be required. Management has consistently delivered more with less over the past few years and intends to approach this issue like any other.”

    Since the is in serious budget trouble, is now the time to construct a large new facility? Crawford replies: “Successful organizations find a way to cointinue investing during bad financial times, which makes them even stronger when times improve.” I would point out that successful organizations also avoid gilding the lily when they are faced with laying off staff.

    In a section called “Future Revenue Sources”, Crawford suggests the following “additional opportunities for revenue”: consolidation of the City and Ann Arbor Schools recreation activities ($150K), increase tax collection fee from 0.8% to 1.0% max. ($475K), establish special assessment lighting districts (up to $1.8 mil.), and establish accident fee for fire runs ($60K).

    To pay the estimated $31,560,000 cost of the police/court facility, Crawford would raise $13,150,600 by taking money from existing City funds, as follows:

    Municipal Facility Fund. . . . . . . $7,500,000
    General Fund. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3,000,000
    Annual Operations over next 2 yrs
    (or Risk Fund). . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,619,400
    Other Funds. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .959,200

    Crawford is also relying on getting a $5,000,000 cash contribution from the DDA [in your dreams, Tom], getting $2,000,000 from the sale of the First & Washington property, and borrowing the remaining 11,410,000.

    Not a pretty picture.

    I am sending Crawfords’s 4-page memo to Juliew as a .pdf file in the hope that she can post it here.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 20 '07 - 02:15AM    #
  6. Juliew,

    re – Kline’s lot, you’ll recall that the DDA commissioned a market absorption study last year, and found that a moderate absorption rate of the downtown housing already in the pipeline (incl. 1st/Washington) would meet expected demand until 2012. The “aggressive” absorption scenario that the consultants appeared to find more likely had a Kline’s lot project coming in 2009 to help meet 2010 demand – but I think that, a year later, we can safely back off from the “agressive” estimate.

    I don’t think developers’ poor response to 1st/Washington had as much influence on the Kline’s lot decision as the enthusiasm developers had shown in the previous year or two to submit site plans. The DDA wanted to wait and see what actually got built and what sold before they decided what they wanted to R in their RFP. There was a lot in the works at the time: Liberty Lofts; LoFT 322; Ashley Place/Commons/whatever; Glen Ann Place; McKinley’s Washington & Division mini-empire; William Street Station. The pipeline is starting to calm down a bit – LibLofts and 322 are done; Glen Ann Place is out of play for at least a while; William Street Station, you noted, appears to have swapped some housing for hotel rooms – but it’s probably not the right time to introduce another new option yet. Still plenty happening.


       —Murph    Feb. 20 '07 - 06:30PM    #
  7. Just a thought….
    After reading Tom Gantert’s article last week regarding the dismal state of the City’s budget (police/fire lay-off’s etc), does anyone really think that the Council will still move forward with plans for the new “Munincipal Facility”. Just seems like a bad time to try and push the idea. Just thought maybe the folks at Arborupdate would have some insight into this issue.

    Ann Arbor


       —annarbor1us    Feb. 20 '07 - 10:44PM    #
  8. Here is the Crawford Memo referred to above.

    As for the questions about this being the “right time” to create a new Municipal Facility, I do think that Crawford is right when he says: “Successful organizations find a way to continue investing during bad financial times, which makes them even stronger when times improve.” I don’t think any time is ever right for these sorts of projects. The longer you defer, the more trouble you get in to. I assume 20 years ago when faced with the prospect of the leaking City Hall and substandard police facility, someone said “now just isn’t the right time to spend the money.” Well, here we are. I think it is very unfair to ask that the same people who literally put their lives on the line for the citizens of Ann Arbor have to deal with the crappiest facilities. We are having a hard time hiring and keeping good people because the facilities are so bad. That is unacceptable. We aren’t talking here about gold-plated toilets, we are talking about providing adequate facilities for the Police and Courts.


       —Juliew    Feb. 20 '07 - 11:15PM    #
  9. Remember that the City is planning to reduce the number of police/fire staff, Juliew. Doing this reduces the stress on the police station. I favor repairing the roof and remodeling the police station. But feathering people’s nests by building a hugely expensive court/police facility, in an era of falling crime, is poor planning indeed.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 20 '07 - 11:56PM    #
  10. David,
    I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time in City Hall and recall the many attempts to repair the leaks, only to have them reappear in several other places. There’s also the issue of asbestos still lingering in the ceilings on many of the floors and it would require completely relocating most of the PD to sufficiently remove it. I’m not sure that much more can be done to the existing infrastructure to keep it together, outdated electrical is an issue as well. I’m just wondering if a more “down-scaled”, less costly plan would/could be considered. And I agree with Julie as well. A few years ago a top-notch police candidate came in for an interview and he really wanted to work for Ann Arbor. It had rained pretty heavily that weekend and as he walked down the hallway during his tour of our fine facility, one of the ceiling tiles dropped right on his head along with some unidentifiable grey liquid….needless to say, he now works for Lansing PD.

    Ann Arbor


       —annarbor1us    Feb. 21 '07 - 02:22AM    #
  11. I will just bet that this town has a long memory when it comes to basketball and the NCAA and drinking outdoors –

    MICHIGAN FANS A REAL RIOT

    Source: Daily News Wire Services
    In Ann Arbor, Mich., at least one car was overturned, several others damaged and department store windows were smashed. In South Orange, N.J., fans quietly prepared for parades. Maybe losing wasn’t so bad, after all. Ann Arbor police sealed off an area on and near the 35,000-student University of Michigan campus in an effort to control the throngs celebrating the Wolverines’ 80-79 overtime win over Seton Hall last night in Seattle.

    Published on April 4, 1989, Page 72, Philadelphia Daily News (PA)


       —Edward Vielmetti    Feb. 21 '07 - 07:08AM    #
  12. Hooray! The contract for the architects for the courts/police facility failed on a 7-4 vote last night. It required 8 votes. Noes were Hieftje, Suarez, Johnson, and Kunselman.

    Film at eleven. 8-)


       —David Cahill    Feb. 21 '07 - 02:21PM    #
  13. The Plymouth Road Planned Project passed. It was an ugly situation though with Council Members Lowenstein and Rapundalo glaring and tossing heads at each other and threats to Bello Vino from one of the owners of the new development.

    As David Cahill pointed out, the Municipal Facility contract did not pass. Not sure what the next step is for this. Something has to be done about the Police and Courts so we will see what happens. I’m quite sure Barnett Jones has a “new facility” clause in his contract. If the process doesn’t start soon, he may leave. I thought it was ironic that several of the Council members who voted against it did so in light of the upcoming cuts to police and Emergency Services, even though the contract would be funded out of existing funds in the Building Department and therefore not available to the General Fund. So by voting against the contract, they did nothing to change the Emergency Services budget, but doomed the remaining employees to a moldy, asbestos-ridden, leaking, insufficient facility. Hmmm. Hopefully a new contract will be proposed that is less expensive so we can at least get some sort of information on a new building. Or maybe the police will move out to the Pfizer facility.

    The Arena street closing passed. Ed, you are quite right that the subject came up about rioting in the streets. One of the Council members made the comment that they were glad Michigan basketball wasn’t going to go far in the tournament because that would prevent some bad behavior. The Council members all agreed that they need to have some sort of policy about closing streets for drinking parties, but they didn’t yet have one and so did not feel they could single out the Arena. No one was swayed by Lowenstein’s assertion that the Arena situation was somehow different than Oktoberfest.


       —Juliew    Feb. 21 '07 - 03:36PM    #
  14. Julie, fund transfers are routine. Cash is cash.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 21 '07 - 05:48PM    #
  15. Hmm, March 17 is also the anti-war march to mark the 4th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Maybe Arena should partner with Michigan Peaceworks and others to have a combined anti-war march, St. Patty’s day drink fest. That way it’s more like the Octoberfest community event, less like a single-business closing, and there’s more civic engagement.

    I’d go.

    Okay, on 2nd thought, maybe that’s not a good idea.

    On a serious note, didn’t the Performance Network get 4th Ave closed between Huron and Washington for an event about 3 years ago? There is a precedent for private groups getting the street closed.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Feb. 21 '07 - 06:35PM    #
  16. Yay for the Arena/street closing! That day is my birthday, and I usually hide away from the crazy crowds but a street party is always a good time….

    Thanks for the updates, Juliew and all!

    Patti :)


       —TeacherPatti    Feb. 22 '07 - 02:48AM    #
  17. What a bizzare turn of events. Seems the new Munincipal Center may go up for vote again!

    Thursday, February 22, 2007/Ann Arbor Breaking News

    Oops! City hall project didn’t need 8 votes

    “Like some B-movie monster, the debate over building a new police and courts building next to Ann Arbor’s existing city hall will not die.

    City Administrator Roger Fraser e-mailed city officials late Wednesday afternoon that he mistakenly thought a resolution to hire an architect to design the $34 million project needed eight votes to pass when all was needed was a simple majority. The measure failed to win approval Tuesday night on a 7-4 City Council vote on the assumption that eight “yes” votes were need to approve spending the $1 million to hire the architect.

    Among those voting against hiring the architect was Mayor John Hieftje, who questioned the wisdom of proceeding with the multimillion-dollar expansion of city hall at a time when the council is discussing possible employee layoffs as part of ongoing budget talks.

    Fraser told the council members in his email that a new resolution will be brought for vote at the March 5 meeting.

    “I’m confident there are at least six votes to improve this important and necessary project,” Council Member Leigh Greden, D-3rd Ward, said”.

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

    Print | Send To A Friend | Permalink (Learn More)


       —annarbor1us    Feb. 22 '07 - 02:35PM    #
  18. And if that vote doesn’t work, they’ll probably discover that ‘only a simple minority’ (or insert here whatever interpretation of the rules you see fit) is needed to hire the architect.

    I’m sure we’ll see this project hashed and re-hashed until the pro-build side gets the outcome they want.

    Construction of a new municipal facility on one’s watch is a nice resume-builder for council members with loftier political aspirations.


       —kena    Feb. 22 '07 - 06:22PM    #
  19. until the pro-build side gets the outcome they want.

    So far, the only alternative I’ve heard is the pro-“The police are tough guys who should just suck it up and just deal with mold and asbestos, and we should play chicken with the County and dare them to leave the Court homeless, because they won’t. Really. David said so.”

    kena, if you know of a third way out there that doesn’t involve building a new facility but does involve addressing the problems, I’m certainly eager to hear about it.


       —Murph.    Feb. 22 '07 - 06:49PM    #
  20. I expect the City Attorney to issue a formal opinion on how many votes are needed. The question does not have a simple answer, and that’s why we pay Stephen Postema the big bucks.

    Also, in a time of budget crisis, being pro-build is not necessarily a nice resume-builder. Council knows that the public will not support an additional tax for this project, which is why staff has been proposing convoluted funding mechanisms.

    If someone on Council votes for building a new police/court facility in the middle of staff layoffs and program cuts, doing so could be an issue in the August primaries.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 22 '07 - 09:08PM    #
  21. I have been supportive of renovations and maintenance until revenue streams are more stable.

    Unfortunately it sucks for all governmental units right now, but we all need to maintain and use what we currently have. The funding situation probably isn’t going to improve for local units of government anytime soon. I’ll be amazed if state revenue sharing isn’t cut in some way under the upcoming budget. It’s time to begin raising taxes.

    I’ve been very curious of how the city hall got into the condition that it’s in now…lack of space is one thing, but falling roof tiles, water leaks, etc. are very different matters.


       —kena    Feb. 22 '07 - 10:39PM    #
  22. I’m with kena on this.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 22 '07 - 11:31PM    #
  23. Wow, stop the presses – I actually agree with Tom Gantert on something he published recently: Builders still being stalled

    “Despite pledges, council continues to second-guess planners. A year after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours in a highly publicized campaign to improve its development process, the Ann Arbor City Council isn’t living up to its public statements of being more transparent with builders.”

    If we really want to shorten the planning process, make it more transparent and predictable, we should take council’s review out of the equation altogether!


       —KGS    Feb. 27 '07 - 06:03PM    #
  24. “I don’t know how to fix it,’‘ Lowenstein said.

    Here’s a concept: For projects requiring Council approval, give developers the opportunity to come before Council before they even start the review process with a concept plan. Allow the Council to review and pick apart the plan and add their little touches. With that input and if the developer still wants to go forward, have the developer draft a “policy” for the project that outlines what they and the Council agree will be acceptable. It doesn’t have to be every last detail but the framework of what works for everyone. Then have Council adopt the policy and allow the developer to move through the process. While that won’t address every concern, at least everyone knows up front what to expect at the end of the process or what everyone is willing to accept as part of the process. It won’t solve every problem but it may be a way to lay out the ground rules at the beginning of the process, not at the end as it apparently operates today.


       —John Q.    Feb. 27 '07 - 06:15PM    #
  25. That’s a great idea, John Q!

    Hm. Does anyone here know what changes, if any, would have to be made to city ordinances to make this idea fly?


       —David Cahill    Feb. 27 '07 - 06:48PM    #
  26. I’m with KGS on this one. Why is Council reviewing any of these projects? Or, conversely, why is the Planning Commission reviewing any of them. Council pays no attention to what the Planning Commission has approved or disapproved. If you follow a project through the two or three Planning Commission meetings and then to the Council meetings, the same things are discussed and hashed over. The developer/neighbors/owners/staff have to go through the same gyrations over and over. Much of the time, Planning asks a petitioner to do one thing and then after doing it, Council asks for the opposite. It is absolutely ridiculous.

    When I went to the Design Guidelines lecture where city planners from Boulder, Kalamazoo, and Birmingham (MI) spoke, what was most notable is that none of those cities have building projects approved by their City Councils. It is all done at the Planning Commission (or staff) level. In Boulder and Birmingham, the City Councils are a second-level resource on problematic projects, but in both of those places, that amounted to only a few a year. The Council members were well versed in the details of the project when it came to them (because there were so few) and the same questions weren’t gone over ad nauseum. Their Planning Commissions are more formalized than in Ann Arbor: there are certain requirements of the members that we don’t have, but these Commissions make the decisions.

    In Boulder, they are doing something similar to what John Q suggested, although instead of going before Council with a preview of a project, they are required to go before the neighbors prior to doing any work on a project. They said this has helped both developers and neighbors create better projects with fewer snags. Usually what happens here is that a developer works on a project with staff for as much as a year, then gets to the first public meeting with Planning and is shocked to hear that people don’t like aspects of it. But by that time, they are too far in to it to do many changes, so everyone is unhappy.

    Not surprisingly, all of these places are getting far better proposals than we are getting in Ann Arbor.


       —Juliew    Feb. 27 '07 - 09:18PM    #
  27. Shouldn’t someone chuckle and give an aw-shucks response about how Ann Arbor loves its citizen input and responsive government?


       —Dale    Feb. 28 '07 - 06:56AM    #
  28. Democratic Presidential Straw Poll Announced

    At its meeting on Saturday, March 10, the AA Democratic Party will conduct a straw poll for the presidential election. Come out and vote for your candidate!

    The Party meeting will be from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon at the Michigan Union, Pond Room ABC.

    I decided to hijack this article because it’s dead, and the straw poll is about presidents. 8-)


       —David Cahill    Mar. 4 '07 - 02:49PM    #
  29. Obama won the AA Dems presdiential straw poll. The votes were:

    Barack Obama 17
    John Edwards 10
    Hillary Clinton 9
    Al Gore 5
    Bill Richardson 4
    Dennis Kuchinich 3
    Joe Biden 1
    Wesley Clark 1
    Undecided 1
    Chris Dodd 0
    Mike Gravel 0
    Russell Feingold 0
    Al Sharpton 0
    ____________________________

    Total 51

    Obama received 33 percent of the votes. He got the same 33 percent (and a victory) at a January 25 straw poll among the Western Washtenaw Dems.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 10 '07 - 08:42PM    #
  30. Missed opportunity.


       —Instant Runoff Voting    Mar. 11 '07 - 03:24AM    #
  31. There’s good coverage of Obama’s victory in a story by Art Aisner in today’s AA News.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 11 '07 - 01:32PM    #