Arbor Update

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ArborUpdate Voter Guide: Ann Arbor Ward 2--Nelson vs Derezinski

30. July 2008 • Nancy Shore
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For the Ward 2 election, we only received a voter’s guide from Stewart Nelson. We exchanged phone calls and emails with Tony Derezinski, but he did not submit responses in time to include them in this voter’s guide.

Here are Nelson’s replies.

1. Do you support the proposed court-policy facility, as currently planned? What role do you see for Council now that it is underway? (Edited version of question from Eric)

Stewart Nelson: I did not support the police court renovation. I understand we need to remodel the police department. They deserve much better facilities. I also understand that we need to do something about the court as the lease with the county is expiring.

I am opposed to the process that council took to investigate reasonable alternatives. Washtenaw County has lost job 5 out of the last 6 years and combined with plunging property values I am worried that we will have a hard time balancing the budget.

A modest renovation could be made to satisfy the police needs and we might want to consider a satellite police station new Briarwood Mall to spread the force out over the City. Cost 10 to $15 million for both.

I also believe that we could lease space on a short term lease for 3 courts and the Magistrate at Pfizer or elsewhere while we search for a site that would accommodate all the courts including the District and juvenile courts permanently. In a few years when the property tax base starts to climb again we can revisit the construction of a permanent courthouse suitable for the County Courts also.

2. What will you do to ensure that Ann Arbor has sufficient affordable housing? (Question from Chuck Warpehoski)

Stewart Nelson: I would like to see all residential buildings in the D1 areas have a mandatory 20% of the units set aside for affordable work force housing. We must create living space for teachers, police, fire fighters, waiters, sales clerks and the like or we will place or business at a serious disadvantage as they stop applying here because the cost to commute in is too great with $4.00 gasoline and inadequate transportation.

3. What will you do to ensure a healthy community where people can live, work, shop and play without depending on their car? (Question from Chuck Warpehoski)

Stewart Nelson: We must insure that public transportation is greatly expanded. I fully support regionalizing the AATA to a county wide organization. Grand Rapids has been able to assemble a top notch system after the merged 6 agencies together.

I would work hard to establish East-West Rail at least to the Metro Airport. I do not believe that a North South rail makes much sense at this point.

I fully support “walkable urbanism” and the establishing building codes that remove barriers to achieving more walkable regions of the City. We need to implement the Down Town Design guidelines modified to reflect realistic building height restrictions that reflect the consensus of the citizens. The Calthorp study was flawed when they studied removal of building height restrictions.

4. How will you work within the local foodshed to ensure food security and affordability for our city? (Question from TeacherPatti)

Stewart Nelson: I have not given much thought to food security but one way to insure it is encourage multiple sources to enter our local food supply. Affordability is another important issue. As I mentioned in Question 2, we need work force housing to keep our schools and businesses competitive with other communities. One way to do this might be to establish a special housing zone or area of the City that has large property tax relief for Low to middle income housing.

5. What is your opinion of the performance of the Mayor and City council over the past 2 years? (Edited version of question from Mark Koroi)

Stewart Nelson: I have disagreed with the Mayor on numerous issues and I suspect I will continue to do so. The most notable disagreement was when the City wanted to sell part of Huron Hills Golf Course. Why sell a perfectly good greenbelt inside the City when we are spending millions to develop one outside. I also take exception to the way he represented that he was against the police-court renovation right up to the last vote and then he voted for it because he said we ran out of time and there were no alternative. Any businessman will tell you there are always alternatives.

That does not mean I cannot be a team player and get important proposals passed. Also, if we are only going to have one party sitting at the council table, then we better have people willing to challenge the status quo.

Note: This is posted by Chuck Warpehoski, so he, not Nancy Shore, get’s the blame for any misrepresentations or botched cut-and-paste jobs.

  1. Stewart Nelson obviously has a commitment to progressive policies such as affordable housing and transit, but I do wonder about the unintended consequences of his 20% low-income residential requirement for D1 development. I could see that working out, but I could also see it squelching development downtown, reducing the supply of housing, pushing up the cost of downtown housing, and moving more development out to the burbs (with the $4 gas to get in to the town).

    I think it’s the kind of idea we should have on the table, but I’d want to go over it a lot more before it was rolled out.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jul. 30 '08 - 05:44AM    #
  2. Currently the City relies on a very unpredictable and inconsistent policy of assessing “Extractions” on new development to help pay for municipal services, community betterment and affordable housing.

    These “Impact Fees” must be fair and consistent and based on criteria known in advance by businesses, entrepreneurs and developers. If you agree that we need work force housing in the City to keep our businesses, schools and City government competitive with communities with lower cost of living, what could be more equitable than an across the board flat percentage? It could even lead to higher property values in the long run?

       —Stewart Nelson    Jul. 30 '08 - 04:29PM    #
  3. I agree that the policies by which projects should be measured should be clear, predictable, and transparent, and that it is appropriate for the City to include civic good considerations.

    My question is, if you’re a developer and you want to build, here’s what you see going in: * A difficult process for permits and approvals (it’s a shame Todd Leopold isn’t here to comment on this); * An unpredictable City Council where you don’t know going in what to expect (especially if the trend of blocking projects like 1st and Washington over unrelated projects continued); * Steep design guidelines (as proposed in the A2D2 report);

    Then, if you add into to that that a residential building has to provide 20% affordable housing, many developers will look at this obstacles and decide not to build.

    Now, if you think that Ann Arbor should stay the way it is, that’s a good thing. The new development will either go out the the townships or out of state.

    Personally, I would like to see more mixed-use development downtown. That provides more of the vibrant downtown feel that attracts young professionals that will be part of the state’s revitalization (See Michigan Futures for details). It also provides a critical mass of workers and residents to keep our downtown businesses health. It also increases the supply of housing, which can be a factor in reducing price.

    So I’m glad your proposing real meaningful approaches to the question. I’m glad you’re serious about it. I honestly don’t know the answer here.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jul. 30 '08 - 08:06PM    #
  4. Chuck –

    What if the trade-off for that requirement was removing the “difficult process for permits and approvals” and the “unpredictable city council” (perhaps two birds with one stone, and put the Planning Commission back into the driver’s seat on, y’know, planning)? The 20% affordable housing would still be a pretty steep requirement, but it’d at least be predictable.

       —Murph    Jul. 31 '08 - 04:21AM    #
  5. Murph, how do you equate (if I read you correctly) the permit and approval process with “planning”?

    Our planning commission serves multiple functions. Your comment got me wondering about whether some of the difficulties that have come up might be due to the structure of the system as much as anything else. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the appropriateness of a non-elected body acting in the role of approving site plans (the primary non-“planning” role of the commission, as I see it after reading the relevant charter sections and commission bylaws.) I also wonder if our planning commissioners are asked to do more on behalf of the community than is appropriate for no pay.

    (I realize this is getting a bit off topic. I’m open to suggestions for how/where else to discuss it.)

       —Steve Bean    Jul. 31 '08 - 06:24AM    #
  6. The idea for having the Planning Commission review site plans is to reduce the politics involved in the approval process. This isn’t always the case and not every final approval is at the Planning Commission. But overall, the system makes sense. In theory, site plan approval should be a non-political decision. A project either meets the standards of the ordinances or it doesn’t. The Council should not need to review every site plan as it has already laid out the standards for review through the zoning ordinance. Of course, this isn’t always how it works in the real world. But it’s a system that most people find works most of the time.

       —John Q.    Jul. 31 '08 - 07:50AM    #
  7. J. Q. – If I may offer a friendly addition… the standards of the ordinance AND the spirit of the master plan.

       —abc    Jul. 31 '08 - 08:09AM    #
  8. Steve,

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on the appropriateness of a non-elected body acting in the role of approving site plans

    This is how it’s done in many (I want to say “almost all”) other communities. As John Q and abc note, site plan review is a generally administrative function, “Does this meet the zoning ordinance and master plan? (yes/no)”. In many communities, staff planners can review smaller site plans, and the Planning Commission has authority over larger ones.

    There is some quasi-judicial component, where a zoning ordinance can allow some limited trade-offs or waivers of requirements at the Commission’s discretion, as well as in the case of “special uses”, which require a public hearing, and consideration by the Commission of whether the particular details of the operation fit the particular site.

    Rarely is a site plan review a legislative activity – where it needs to be put before the City Council. PUDs (and Ann Arbor’s unique category of “Planned Projects”) are the exception. It would be my guess, actually, that Ann Arbor’s planning staff and commission do have the ability to approve some site plans, but the process’ reliance of PUDs and Planned Projects, rather than straightforward standards, kicks most site plans up to Council.

    For contrast, the City of Ypsilanti’s Planning Commission has reviewed 8 site plans so far this year; in all of those cases (and 3 staff-reviewed site plans), that was the final step – Council never got involved. This is much more “normal” as far as the State’s enabling legislation and typical practice goes.

    This is why I make the comment that adding standards, such as Mr. Nelson’s 20% affordable housing component, or the new downtown D1/D2 zoning districts, could/should accompany procedural changes – if we think that the existing standards aren’t doing what we want, such that we need to rely on the quasi-legislative PUD and Planned Project processes to get what we want, then at the point we’ve revised our standards to get what we want that way, we should be able to cut out the Council step.

       —Murph    Jul. 31 '08 - 03:43PM    #
  9. John Q., I wasn’t implying that council should review site plans. As Murph points out, it’s not a legislative activity. I agree that keeping politics out of the process is probably best, but is it really out of it in our current arrangement? And is the presence or absence of politics what makes it weak or strong, or is there something else that has a greater influence?

    What doesn’t “make sense” to me at this point in my thinking about this system is that the commission is responsible for review and approval, which seem to be a step beyond “planning”, e.g., master plan updating, recommendations to council on code modifications, etc. I’ll challenge your statement a bit and ask, if council shouldn’t need to review every site plan, why should the planning commission? Again, I’m not suggesting any particular alternative (though I can think of a couple), just trying to dig into what seems to be a less-than-optimal system to see if a structural change might be better than what’s been tried up ‘til now.

    Or maybe we need even more clarification in our code—we’ve been moving in that direction, but if we haven’t eliminated the need for site approval by a body (elected or not), might that mean that we aren’t ‘there’ yet?

    Murph, thanks for sharing your understanding/knowledge, but I’m still interested in what you think about all that.

       —Steve Bean    Jul. 31 '08 - 06:09PM    #
  10. Or maybe we need even more clarification in our code—we’ve been moving in that direction, but if we haven’t eliminated the need for site approval by a body (elected or not), might that mean that we aren’t ‘there’ yet?

    Just to make the connection, Murph said as much about council’s involvement in his last paragraph of #8. I’m wondering about the next level: planning commission involvement.

       —Steve Bean    Jul. 31 '08 - 06:14PM    #
  11. Under state law, the Planning Commission isn’t required to review most site plans. A community could write its ordinances to have an administrative review for all site plans except Special Land Uses and Planned Unit Developments, which by law, must be reviewed by the Planning Commission. I don’t think that approach would be wise but it is an option.

       —John Q.    Jul. 31 '08 - 07:09PM    #
  12. Yesterday Nelson was endorsed by the Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway.

       —David Cahill    Aug. 1 '08 - 06:10PM    #
  13. Here is the endorsement statement of Stewart Nelson by the Progressives of Washtenaw (POW!). The statement was written by Tim Colenback.

    When encountering Stewart Nelson on the campaign trail one is struck by the earnestness with which he is pursuing election in the Second Ward. More than any candidate running for council this year, Stew is committed to involving people and constituencies into the local political process. While he will most likely be in the moderate mainstream of his Second Ward district, POW! has been impressed with his desire to include a diverse set of voices in our political process in Ann Arbor.

    Stew set out to speak with 100 diverse leaders within our community as part of his campaign. He not only succeeded in meeting this goal, but indeed surpassed it. Stew hands out cards with his personal cell phone number as a demonstration of his commitment to accessibility.

    For many years Stewart Nelson was an airplane pilot. Its clear that this experience prepared to take on whatever tasks he will face as our Second Ward representative. We are especially impressed with Stew’s ability to effectively communicate his disagreements with the current council and City Administrator Roger Fraser. We need a Second Ward representative willing and able to work for change even when the mayor and prevailing council majority resists. Stew has the intellect and the courage to successfully lead on issues as diverse as implementing open government, tax fairness, efficiencies in the provision of governmental services, green initiatives and arts funding.

    Many in the Second Ward were quite upset when the city administrator and others sandbagged the community with a secret plan to sell the Huron Hills Golf Course to developers. One of the common complaints when this issue first came to the public’s attention concerned the lack of communication between council representatives and citizens affected by the proposed development of the golf course. Also, the lack of care, concern and connection the community experienced with their council representatives was clearly apparent. POW! feels strongly that these connections between councilmembers and citizens must be established throughout our community. Stewart Nelson will develop these connections in the Second Ward. That’s why POW! believes Stewart Nelson deserves the votes of Second Ward citizens in the Democratic Primary August 5.

    (You can find Tim Colenback at Knight’s Steakhouse when he’s not leading the revolution that will not be televised.)

       —David Cahill    Aug. 3 '08 - 01:41AM    #
  14. Stewart has lost in a landslide.

       —Mark Koroi    Aug. 6 '08 - 07:36PM    #