Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: Dog Parks

18. June 2007 • Juliew
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Monday, June 18 at 7:00 pm.
Ann Arbor City HallCity Council Agenda


  • Comment on Rail Service North of Ann Arbor (Mayor Hieftje and Northfield Township Supervisor Michael Cicchella)
  • Resolution on Dog Parks
  • Avery House/Elks Lodge Planned Project Site Plan and Development Agreement
  • Resolutions on Water, Sewer, and Stormwater Rates
  • Resolutions to approve Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2) Committee recommendations on Parking, Zoning, Historic Districts, and Urban Design
  • Resolution to Establish an Economic Development Fund, Amend the Ann Arbor City Budget for FY07 to Transfer Funds to the Economic Development Fund, Amend the Ann Arbor Budget for FY08 to Appropriate Funds for the Economic Development Fund, and Approve a Purchase Order in the amount of $49,837.50 Using Economic Development Fund Funds for Google Employee Parking.

  1. The Elks Lodge project failed unanimously. All Council members said it was too big, would cause too much negative impact to the neighborhood, and there was very little benefit to the city. Lowenstein said the impact on the neighborhood was too great: “you can not save one community (the Elks) by destroying another (the neighborhood).” Easthope said Council has a charge to “do no harm to the neighborhoods.” Greden: “Density belongs downtown. Single-family neighborhoods should remain single-family neighborhoods.” Woods even voted against her own husband (who spoke in favor of the project). Hieftje said there was lots of development that could go on here, but not this one. Need “overwhelming reasons and community benefit to overrule neighbors.” Suarez attempted to call into question the process that would have the Elks working on this project for months/years, the Planning Commission approve the plan, and then Council reject it. Greden and Woods said they thought the process was fine. Hieftje said he had been trying to fix the process for years.

    On a good note, the Burton Commons project passed after much working among the neighbors and developers and most parties are relatively happy about the outcome, which includes both public and neighborhood benefit. The development will provide approximately 200 units at 55% of the median income.

    Turns out the dog parks were a non-issue. Only one person showed up and Council passed it unanimously.

    Ann Arbor received an award from Frommer’s Cities Ranked and Rated as the 5th Best City to Live In for 2007. It was the only city in the top six from 2004 to remain in the top ratings.

       —Juliew    Jun. 19 '07 - 07:47AM    #
  2. I think it’s pretty funny that the Council shot down, unanimously, a project that got staff signoff as complying with regulations and also received PC approval.

    “Funny” because I gather that, later in the meeting , Council approved various recommendations from the A2D2 process. Some of those recommendations, appearing under agenda item DB-1, Resolution to Approve Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown Development Process Advisory Committee Recommendations (pdf), include,

    * Provide opportunity for early review of projects by Planning Commission [because that way we can ignore the Planning Commission that much earlier in the process?]

    * Hold staff accountable for decisions, recommendations and project management [apparently by throwing out their decisions and recommendations entirely?]

    * Predictability at Council [ha. ha ha. ha.]

    Please, guys. Fix this. I didn’t realize how broken the process was until spending a while in a planning consultancy and watching how a dozen other communities do it, but Ann Arbor’s process is seriously broken. If Council really believes that the decisions they are making are the right ones, and the decisions that staff and Planning Commission are making (based on the zoning ordinance, master plan, etc) are wrong, they need to change the zoning ordinance and the master plan.

    Otherwise, I can offer a suggestion for trimming the budget: if you’re not using your planning staff and planning commission, just get rid of them. Quit pretending – as a planner, I feel a little insulted on behalf of all the planners stuck in the charade but too polite to speak up. (Though it looks like Rampson couldn’t resist expressing a little frustration recently… ) Either fix the process – tell people what you want and stick to it – or get rid of it.

    (And, yes, for those keeping score, I would prefer “a set of regulations and procedures that limited building heights downtown to four stories, but were clear and consistent in doing so” to “a set of regulations that really don’t mean a darn thing.” The latter just doesn’t do anything for creating a good sense of place. For all the talk about “quality of life”, Ann Arbor is just kind of lost right now when it comes to making itself what it wants to be.)


       —Murph    Jun. 19 '07 - 08:32PM    #
  3. It’s too late for this town, Murph. The simple suggestions that you made will never happen. The noisy minority will never give up their power over individual projects. The City will never finish a Master Plan, and they will certainly not decide to work off of the Plan or use the Planning Dept. in the proper manner. They are too set in their ways, and they don’t understand they they are costing citizens millions of $$ in lost revenue and jobs.

    To top it off, we still have a bunch of citizens who think that restricting the supply of commercial and residential units available with constant demand because of the University will magically have no effect on affordability.

    The annoying thing is that there’s an entire thread about the fact that the school district can’t come up with $$ for cafeteria staff, the entire State is in an economic funk, and here we have Council waiting until the last minute to shut down millions of dollars in tax revenue, and all the jobs that come with building and operating a new project. Sweet. Naaaah, we don’t need the money or jobs here in Michigan. We’re all set. Things couldn’t be better. My friends from other States laugh their asses off at this stupidity. “What do you mean a Michigan city is turning down new development?” Yep. It’s true. Even after the Pfizer loss.

    And, of course, the problem isn’t the rejection of the project. The problem is WHEN the project was rejected in the approval process.

    The fact that Council could sit through all the Calthorpe exercises and lectures (and that process wasn’t free, mind you) and STILL don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the process tells me that the system will never get fixed.

    And at this point, I don’t give a shit if Cahill gets his way, and all the buildings are 4 stories or less. Put it in the Goddamn Master Plan, and then execute the Plan. It’s not that hard. City Council could then spend their time listening to Blaine instead of screwing around with zoning exemptions (oh, joy!)

    Other cities that are half our size manage to do it, and yet this supposedly forward thinking and innovative City doesn’t even manage to execute the simplest of all Urban Planning tasks….... It’s just after “have functioning phones and a few good filing cabinets” on this list of things a City is supposed to have.

       —todd    Jun. 19 '07 - 09:22PM    #
  4. Wasn’t there some talk about how well council members are detabating issues these days because they are all Dems?

    This is a terrible vote, a bad decision. AA is screwed. This city is trapped in amber, and will eventually contribute to all the things it hates—sprawl, traffic, etc—because the council won’t listen to the planners or follow its own plan for development.

    Plus, nice way to stick it to the Elks.

       —Cooler Heads    Jun. 20 '07 - 12:52AM    #
  5. At least the doggie park plan passed! Talk about a small, vocal minority trying to ruin things (by this I mean the anti-dog park people).

    And, sorry to ask a stupid question, but who is this “Blaine” folks keep referencing? I tried to Google it, and got some photographer named Blaine, who I somehow don’t think is the person you all are referencing….

       —TeacherPatti    Jun. 20 '07 - 01:12AM    #
  6. 1. I wound up in the MLive wasteland following the link above to Wendy Rampson’s expression of frustration. But I think this is what Murph is referencing:

    After the meeting, Rampson walked by Hieftje and said, “So you don’t like 25 stories, aye?”

    She stopped and held her hands apart by about two feet, trying to get an idea of how tall a building the mayor would find suitable.

    “So it is less than, greater than?” Rampson asked.

    “We’ll figure it out,” Hieftje said.

    2. To me, the least persuasive argument presented against Avery House was that you’d be able to SEE it … from the Huron River … from downtown … from wherever. The Hunt Park area, this argument continues, is a place from where you’re supposed to look AT downtown, not a place to be looked at from downtown, of which this neighborhood is soooo not a part.

    For my part, I think the fact that you could have picked it out as a orienting feature on the bluff would have been pretty cool and would have added value to the Ann Arbor landscape … in the same way that it’s pretty cool that I can now pick out some friends’ house on Summit Street when standing on the Broadway Street Bridge—because they’ve painted the house bright blue.

    3. A question for planners. The way I understood this was that because Avery House was brought as a ‘planned project’, Council had considerable discretion to evaluate whether the community benefit outweighed zoning variances. And it’s that discretion that provides the legal basis for rejecting the project. After all, Council can’t reject a project for just any old reason (e.g., Zaragon could not be voted against based on interior bedrooms with no windows, because it met relevant codes). Let’s suppose that nothing is done to change the zoning of the parcel (which was described by several people at the table last night as a ‘mistake’ made back in 1963). So what happens when the Elks sell the property to a developer who eventually brings a project WITHOUT ‘planned project’ status that is even BIGGER than Avery House, that requires no variances in the zoning? Are neighborhood objections alone an adequate legal basis for Council rejecting a project?

       —HD    Jun. 20 '07 - 02:18AM    #
  7. TeacherPatti: Blaine is the gentleman who can frequently be found at City Council meetings with posterboards declaring “Council = Genocide” or similar, and urging divestment from Israel. There have been times in this site’s history when Blaine has offered us a constant reminder of context – that whatever it may be that we’re discussing, we could be discussing the plight of the Palestinians instead.

       —Murph.    Jun. 20 '07 - 02:19AM    #
  8. It’s hard to make the argument that the City needs more condos or other housing, what with the Pfizer employees departing, the collapse of the housing construction industry locally, and falling housing prices.

    We’ll be lucky to stay even on population the next time SEMCOG does its estimate.

       —David Cahill    Jun. 20 '07 - 03:50AM    #
  9. As in so many discussions of buildings in Ann Arbor, the Elks Lodge site isn’t a question of “should something be built here” but more of a question of “what is appropriate to build here”? To me, the Elks Lodge site is quite possibly the best building site in town. I was actually thrilled when I first heard about this because it seemed like the builders were local and were part of a good company that would build something interesting and environmentally friendly. But then, I saw this proposal. It was a horrible use of this space! The neighbors would end up looking at huge parking lots. The condo building is just a random design that has nothing to do with the history of the site or the neighborhood or even the views. The Planning Commission didn’t do anything to help by advocating this huge setback for the building, which is part of why it ended up so tall. It is just another example of why the process in Ann Arbor is so flawed. If we end up with this suburban office park-type proposal on a site this fabulous, there is definitely something wrong.

       —Juliew    Jun. 20 '07 - 05:56AM    #
  10. “the council won’t listen to the planners or follow its own plan for development.”

    What is the zoning on that site?

       —John Q.    Jun. 20 '07 - 06:33AM    #
  11. “What is the zoning on that site?”


       —HD    Jun. 20 '07 - 07:13AM    #
  12. Thanks Murph for the explanation on Blaine. Now get back to discussing Palestine (just kidding :))

       —TeacherPatti    Jun. 20 '07 - 08:40AM    #
  13. “R4C”

    Why?!? The intent of that district is “The R4C Multiple-Family Dwelling District is intended to be located in the central area of the City, in close proximity to the central business district and The University of Michigan campus.”

    That hardly sounds like a fit for that site. Still, it has a height limit of 30 feet so it doesn’t sound like the underlying zoning would permit something even more obtrusive.

       —John Q.    Jun. 21 '07 - 12:00AM    #
  14. “... it doesn’t sound like the underlying zoning [of 30 feet] would permit something even more obtrusive.”

    Not TALLER than Avery House, I guess. But the Avery House proposal included a new Elks Lodge, and if the Elks sold off the property, then the whole site could be used for residential units. Without the requirement that a lodge be built, I wonder how many condo units could constructed on that site while still meeting the height limit of 30 feet?

       —HD    Jun. 21 '07 - 06:28PM    #
  15. I love the Chris Easthope line from a couple weeks back: If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say they supported density but not with this project, I could retire today.

       —Dale    Jun. 28 '07 - 02:01AM    #
  16. “I wonder how many condo units could constructed on that site while still meeting the height limit of 30 feet?”

    The site @ 2.5 acres would allow 50 units in traditional townhouse/parking lot style @ 20 units/acre in R4C (online zoning ordinance). ala your neighborhood apartment/condo plex. Do we really need more of these energy hogs? glaciers be gone . . . . i need my own house and 2 car garage, or I’m going to throw a fit!

       —oat    Jun. 28 '07 - 09:03AM    #
  17. “The site @ 2.5 acres would allow 50 units in traditional townhouse/parking lot style @ 20 units/acre in R4C (online zoning ordinance)”

    But can you realistically pack in that many units with the setback, parking and height requirements? I would guess not.

       —John Q.    Jun. 28 '07 - 07:41PM    #
  18. The video of this Council Meeting has been posted. The Avery House/Elks Club Public Hearing begins at 1:29:35 and the Council deliberation begins at 3:49:00.

       —Juliew    Jul. 2 '07 - 03:53AM    #
  19. —HD asked “Are neighborhood objections alone an adequate legal basis for Council rejecting a project?”

    I would say neighborhood objections would be a good enough reason for a CC member to vote for rejection on a development project! Richard Wickboldt
       —Richard Wickboldt    Jul. 5 '07 - 05:51PM    #
  20. Richard,

    So if a project met all of the requirements of the zoning ordinance and the city staff said there was no legal reasons why the project could be denied but the neighborhood opposed it, you would think it would be OK as a Councilmember to vote “no”?

       —John Q.    Jul. 5 '07 - 08:22PM    #
  21. Yeah, it would be OK for a Councilperson to vote against it, but if it didn’t pass, they would be named in the inevitable lawsuit. Council is very lawsuit shy. Ann Arbor’s ordinances don’t hold up in court so unless it is zoning or historic district-related, the developer will win a lawsuit every time. The zoning board and the historic district tend to have more clout in court. The neighbors really have no legal say at all other than to show that a development will be a nuisance and until it is built, that is a hard one to prove.

       —Juliew    Jul. 6 '07 - 09:27PM    #
  22. Ann Arbor getting a dog park? It’s a miracle! Dog owners have fought for this for at least ten years.

       —Kai    Jul. 19 '07 - 07:29PM    #