Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Outdoor furniture ordinance re-postponed

16. August 2004 • Murph
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The Council’s discussion of proposed Ordinance 22-04 (better known as the Porch Couch Ban) at this evening’s meeting lasted approximately 2 minutes. Councilmember Greden opened and closed the discussion by commenting that he himself was ready to support the ordinance this evening, but that he knew other councilmembers to have concerns, so he moved to postpone discussion. The motion carried unanimously.

The meeting was not a complete disappointment for fans of somewhat dank upholstery, however, as four of the nine Reserved public commentary slots were used for discussion of the ordinance.

5th Ward resident Catherine Glorie spoke of recently helping her daughter search for housing near campus, and mentioned torn screens, peeling paint, crumbling garages, sagging balconies and fire escapes, deteriorating sidewalks, and various other offenses to both safety and good taste. She then caustically thanked the Council for “coming to our rescue” with this proposed ordinance to spare the city of the horrors of outdoor couches, and sparing citizens of the sight of students having fun. She noted that couches “have not yet been known to spontaneously burst into flame,” inquired about the number of couches and mattresses (firetraps, all!) to be found within homes, and finished with a call to enforce existing safety codes before implementing new ones.

Bob Snyder, speaking for the South University Neighborhood Group, was relatively bland by comparison to Glorie—he commented that, when it came to house fires, “even one is one two many” and justification for the ordinance, called for the council to listen to the professional advice of Fire Chief Gorman, and repeated Councilmember Greden’s past claim that outdoor grade furniture can be purchased inexpensively. His most original contribution to the discourse was an assertion that aesthetic ordinances are well established in the city, pointing to an ordinance requiring residents to remove their recycling bins from the curb within 24 hours of pickup as an example of something far more aesthetic than this couch ban.

The Old Fourth Ward was not to be outdone by such upstarts as South University, of course, and sent Jeff Crockett, a “charter member” of the OFW and husband to association President Christine Crockett, reminisced of his time as a Boy Scout, explaining that, as a Scout you “leave a place in better condition than you found it”. He used this to explain his participation in the OFW, which he sees as a tool to leave Ann Arbor better than he found it, and specifically decried students for lacking this instinct. He scolded students for being more interested in their own individual interests than in the good of the community, and for failing to consider the impacts of their actions. (Estimated time to AAiO picking that up: about 20 seconds. [UPDATE: nope. Two hours – Scott]) He scoffed at the idea of outdoor couches building a sense of community, and called on students to introduce themselves to their neighbors, to shovel their sidewalks, to shovel their neighbors sidewalks, etc, as better means of community-building.

Finally, engineering senior and MSA member Anita Leung brought a concern that the second reading (and public hearing) was scheduled for the first day of UMich classes and at the same time as the first MSA meeting of the year, both of which could limit students’ ability to attend the hearing. She said that she was personally in favor of banning couches in yards, but enjoyed couches on porches, and claimed that both the statistics and public opinion were against the ordinance. Of recent Ann Arbor house fires, she said, only 0.17% were caused by outdoor couches, assuming all fires originating near outdoor couches could be assumed to be caused by outdoor couches. A poll of students by MSA showed 97% to be against the ordinance, and a poll by WAAM showed 82% of their listeners to be against the ordinance. [UPDATE 8/17/04: as per Leung’s comment below, I’d like to clarify that the 0.17% figure is “percent of fires involving couches on porches” and not merely “involving outdoor couches”—that number is 4.4%. -RM]

The postponement means that, barring further postponements, the first reading will occur on Tuesday, September 7th, and that the public hearing and second reading will occur at the Monday, September 20, council meeting. If you wish to speak at the September 7th meeting, you will need to have a Reserved comment slot—speak to the City Clerk during business hours on that day. At the public hearing, any attendee will be able to speak for three minutes without a reservation. [UPDATE 8/17/04: Councilmember Greden has pointed out that the proposal will not automatically be on the 7 Sept. agenda. The proposal will return to the Council’s agenda only when a majority of Councilmembers vote to return it. ArborUpdate will keep an eye out for this to happen. -RM]

If you think I could have possibly written this much and left anything out, tonight’s meeting will be re-broadcast on CTN (cable channel 16) on Friday, August 20, at 7:30 pm.



  1. I gotta learn what you look like, Murph, as I was there too…
    js
       —js    Aug. 16 '04 - 06:47PM    #
  2. I would like to correct your entry from the evening of 8/16/04 regarding the proposed couch ordinance. As you correctly pointed out, I moved to table the “first reading.” The matter will not, however, return to Council on September 7. It will not return to Council until a majority of Council votes to remove it from the table. I do not expect that any member of the Council will seek to remove it from the table at the Sept. 7 meeting.
    – Leigh Greden, Ann Arbor City Council
       —Leigh R. Greden    Aug. 16 '04 - 07:07PM    #
  3. So, the matter will not be brought back to City Council until a Council member brings it back up as business, which means that the public hearing date is unknown (until 2 weeks prior)? Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

    Also, as a soon-to-be constituent in Mr. Greden’s ward, I would appreciate it if he would at least consider student opinion prior to providing a definitive stance on an issue that will primarily only affect students. It is difficult for me to understand why the youngest member of City Council is so disconnected from the students, when he was one a mere 4 years ago. If you are reading this, Mr. Greden – your City Council email address is bouncing.

    One correction to Richard Murphy’s commentary – the 0.17% is the number of couch-ON-PORCH fires vs the total number of fires. The number of couch fires/total fires hovers around 4.4%.
       —Anita Leung    Aug. 17 '04 - 05:54AM    #
  4. Leigh and Anita: thanks for your clarifications—I’ve updated the post to reflect them.
       —Murph    Aug. 17 '04 - 07:29AM    #
  5. I am also a former Boy Scout—and an Eagle Scout to boot. I was a Senior Patrol Leader, Den Chief, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. I earned over 35 merit badges, including Emergency Preparedness, First Aid, and Safety.

    And yet I never remember porch couches coming up any time.

    Perhaps the Scouts run a different program in the People’s Republic of Ann Arbor.
       —Dan    Aug. 18 '04 - 05:28PM    #
  6. Eagle Scout here, too. Sounds like the scout at the meeting was out of line, or at least interpreting the laws of boy scouts to his own end. The idea of leaving a place better than you found it is absurd, because who gets to define what is better? If democratic consensus proves that couches on the porches are better, then that’s how the people should “leave” it (if they choose).

    Leaving a place better than you found it applies well to campgrounds and trash-collecting, but it’s sort of a deranged stretch to use it to forward an aesthetic agenda.
       —Eric Goldberg    Aug. 19 '04 - 01:51PM    #