Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: Graffiti Gone Wild

15. December 2008 • Juliew
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Monday, December 15 at 7:00 p.m.
Ann Arbor City HallAgenda


  • Graffiti ordinance amendment
  • “Germantown” historic district
  • Notice of intent to issue $9 million in bonds to fund the parking structure part of the First and Washington development proposal

  1. What is the graffiti ordinance amendment about?

       —Mark Koroi    Dec. 15 '08 - 09:37AM    #
  2. What is “Germantown”? Jackson & Zeeb road (where Metzger’s moved …) ?

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 15 '08 - 08:33PM    #
  3. Mark Koroi asks: “What is the graffiti ordinance amendment about?”

    It provides punishment for graffiti-er. It also provides punishment for the graffiti-ee if the graffiti is not cleaned up in a timely fashion. At caucus last night
    councilmember Sandi Smith pointed the discussion towards a business owner’s perspective.

       —HD    Dec. 15 '08 - 08:42PM    #
  4. Fred – check today’s Ann Arbor Chronicle for a description of “Germantown”.

       —Leah Gunn    Dec. 15 '08 - 08:48PM    #
  5. Leah — thanks for the reference. Good coverage by the Chronicle.

    I have to say this strikes me as a purely tactical use of the concept of historic district. I have no objection to preserving that area, the homes and churches are beautiful, but it would be nice if we had a mechanism to say “we want to preserve this area because it is old and pretty” without pretending that it is actually a “Germantown.”

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 15 '08 - 08:58PM    #
  6. Sandi Smith owns Trillium Realty. It has been the victim of graffiti?

       —Mark Koroi    Dec. 15 '08 - 10:37PM    #
  7. re: graffiti I’ve been seeing “duck” everywhere (with a little tilde over the u no less!). Before that was fresh and Chu (I think?). Duck is everywhere though…I even saw it on a gas pump near the scratched out face of the sheriff.

       —TeacherPatti    Dec. 15 '08 - 10:43PM    #
  8. Which brings up a good question. What will happen on January 1st when Jerry Clayton assumes office? Will his first line of business be to issue an executive order to deputies to go to local filling stattions with hammer and chisel in hand and begin removing Dan Minzey’s face from gasoline pumps? Clayton has already stated he has no plans to place his own mugs on the pumps.

       —Mark Koroi    Dec. 15 '08 - 10:50PM    #
  9. I think the voters have done a pretty good job of erasing Minzey! What you suggest would be a waste of taxpayers money, and Jerry Clayton would not countenance that, I am sure.

       —Leah Gunn    Dec. 15 '08 - 11:17PM    #
  10. I thought the Old West Side was Ann Arbor’s Germantown, Ann Arbor’s predominantly German neighborhood. As recently as the 1990 census, that area had the highest proportion of German ethnics in the city.

    Still, the German element in Ann Arbor’s history is under-appreciated today, and I suspect that many, perhaps most, of the houses in the district under consideration where built or occupied by German immigrants and their families.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 15 '08 - 11:21PM    #
  11. Larry, I agree that the German element in Ann Arbor’s history is noteworthy … what scratches at me is that as far as I know, no-one in a long time, if ever, has referred to any part of Ann Arbor as “Germantown.” I’m a lifelong resident and I’ve never heard the term.

    The problem is really the historic preservation laws which tie the perfectly sensible concept of preserving that which is old and pretty to the not necessarily related category of that which is historically significant. This drives people to exaggerate the “historicity” of the things they want to save.

    In my view, the simple fact that a set of buildings are beautiful or charming is enough to justify preserving them, completely aside from any historical justification.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 15 '08 - 11:31PM    #
  12. Fred, if you want to inspire people to appreciate or preserve something, frequently you have to come up with a label for it that didn’t exist before.

    For example, I grew up among many narrow, hip-roofed houses with a little dormer in front. I recognized them as a distinctive form, but I didn’t have a name for it.

    Then, somebody came up with the bright idea of calling them “American Foursquare”. Once there was a name, people came to appreciate them. Nowadays, you can find lots of material about the history and variety of Foursquares. People who live in these houses are more likely to take pride in them. But the original owners never heard the term.

    Similarly, a little longer ago, architect Vincent Scully invented the term “The Shingle Style” for some of the houses of the 1880s. That became the accepted name of that style, but again, the architects who designed them had no idea.

    The same principle applies to neighborhoods. City planning studies show that when a neighborhood gets a name, that alone changes the way decision-makers (banks, landlords, tenants, police, utilities, etc., etc.) treat the area. Once a place has a name, everyone takes it that much more seriously.

    Just for example, the area along the numbered streets west of downtown had existed for a long time before somebody named it “The Old West Side”.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 16 '08 - 12:04AM    #
  13. What are the checks on the historic commission’s power in deciding what a property owner can and cannot do?

    At the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, we’ve struggled financially at times with Historic Commission mandate, for example when replacing gutters. In fact, with copper prices what they are now, if we had to do the work now we couldn’t afford it, which could lead to even greater damage to the structure.

    I do think historic preservation is important, and I support a commission with the power to ensure preservation, but I’m not a fan of unchecked power at any level of government.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 16 '08 - 10:38PM    #
  14. The local Historic District Commission doesn’t have unchecked power. They use a set of standards put together by the US Secretary of the Interior.

    This past summer, the local HDC lost a big case in front of the State Historic Preservation Review Board. The state’s decision allowed replacement windows in some circumstances, instead of forcing people to repair their old ones. It turns out the local HDS was using the wrong Secretary of the Interior standards.

    This was a significant victory for property owners.

       —David Cahill    Dec. 17 '08 - 03:57AM    #
  15. The proposed ordinance amendment allows for equitable relief against a property owner or manager pursuant to a civil infraction finding. The District Court has no general equitable powers and only limited jurisdiction granted by constitutional or statuory authority, primarily the Revised Judicature Act. I believe it is a real issue as to whether a City Council can confer equitable powers upon a District Court for a civil infraction. I also see a problem with punishing a victim of vandalism who may not be in a financial position to repair or restore defaced property.

       —Mark Koroi    Dec. 17 '08 - 10:33AM    #
  16. Chuck –

    As David notes, a Historic District Commission is generally considered an administrative body that applies the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation , with some additional standards potentially mandated by the local government that creates the HDC. There is some amount of interpretation involved in this process, as the Standards are intended to cover a pretty broad range of potential situations. You’ll notice that the site linked includes various discussion/interpretation of the guidelines, but even those are at the point of “recommended” and “not recommended” – with the local and State bodies having the leeway to determine the specific interpretations for their situations.

    Nor is a local HDC “unchecked” in that their decisions are final. Any decision by a local HDC may be appealed to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), where it is heard by an administrative law judge for recommendation to the review board. Generally, SHPO is reluctant to overturn a local HDC’s decisions unless it finds procedural errors, but it is there as a “check”. (I believe that, after that, an action may be appealed to Circuit Court.)

       —Murph    Dec. 17 '08 - 08:48PM    #
  17. Thank you. Knowing that there is an appeals process to the state and then to the courts does address some of my concerns.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 18 '08 - 02:29AM    #
  18. As usual, the chronicle has meticulous coverage of the council meeting.

       —Bruce Fields    Dec. 18 '08 - 09:07AM    #