Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: Reconsiderations

7. April 2008 • Juliew
Email this article

Monday, April 7 at 7:00 pm.
Ann Arbor City HallCity Council Agenda


  • Living wage ordinance amendment—the Summer Festival clause.
  • Resolutions to establish the 1001-1013 Broadway Historic District and the Broadway Historic District.
  • Changes to compost pickups including extending pickups through November and changes in how the city provides compostable carts. (City would deliver one cart per household for a $25 charge—additional carts would be at cost.)
  • Reconsideration of the Village Green (First and Washington) decision.
  • Courthouse and police facility resolutions.
  • Resolution to approve funding for Art in Public Places.

  1. There is a last-minute addition to the Council agenda tomorrow: a resolution to grant the closure of one lane of South Main Street to the U of M from May 1, 2008 thru mid July 2009 for work on the Stadium. It will come with the following requirements for the University: follow the City’s noise ordinance, pay all costs for traffic rerouting and calming, repair Main and Stadium, re-routing of trunks off of Main north and south traffic, and a parks contribution to Allmendinger Park. It could be contentious depending on who gets the notification.

    The Village Green and the Courthouse resolutions should also get a lot of discussion. Village Green’s extension was turned down because some of the council members didn’t approve of how the city would be spending the money the city was requiring Village Green to pay (yeah, it does seem, well, crazy). The chairman of Village Green submitted a very nice letter asking exactly why the project had been turned down since they have been working on it for two years with lots of support from the city and other stakeholders.

       —Juliew    Apr. 7 '08 - 07:33AM    #
  2. Another important agenda item would have the city join the Urban County. This would complete the merger of the city and county community development operations.

    There are several important implications, spelled out in the cover memo. One is that authority for spending block grant and housing funds (CDBG and HOME) will move from the City Council to the Urban County executive committee. The only representative for the city will be the mayor or his/her designee. Another is that these funds could potentially be spent outside the city.

    The city will also lose ability to designate some of these funds to human services. Here is a clip:

    “Unless HUD provides a waiver to the City, the portion of CDBG funds spent on human services will be reduced from the City’s current grandfathered
    $396,000 (equal to 38% of the CDBG allocation this year) to a possible 15% (... approximately $196,000), the current human services cap required by HUD.
    This change would mean that the City would need to spend the approximately $200,000 in CDBG funds, that in the past would have been spent on human services, on another activity that is CDBG eligible. In 1989, the City of Ann Arbor was granted permission to devote $396,000 of CDBG funds to human services, thereby exceeding the 15% cap in place for other entitlement communities.”

    This item was included under the Administrator’s report on the March 17 agenda, so that the public would have notice prior to the public hearing that is scheduled on this item tonight.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 7 '08 - 06:08PM    #
  3. juliew wrote: “because some of the council members didn’t approve of how the city would be spending the money”

    So how would the City be spending the money?

       —HD    Apr. 7 '08 - 07:00PM    #
  4. According to the information provided at the Council working session of 3/10/08, $3 million proceeds from the sale of First and Washington would make up part of the $47.4 M total initial funding for the Court/PD Facility (aka city hall).

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 7 '08 - 07:09PM    #
  5. Thanks, Vivienne.

    I failed to connect the dots between the name “Village Green” and what I think of as only “First and Washington”.

       —HD    Apr. 7 '08 - 07:14PM    #
  6. I’m disgusted by the council holding a project hostage for political maneuvering. Vote the Village Green project up or down on its merits. I think it’s reprehensible to punish Village Green this way over a fight about city hall that Village Green has nothing to do with.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Apr. 7 '08 - 07:27PM    #
  7. The City Administrator/City CFO originally linked First and Washington to the Courts/Police Facility.

    If they are un-linked, then First and Washington’s option may be extended.

    Chuck, things are linked all the time in politics. In Lansing, this is called a “tie bar”. If you have ever watched Congress, you will see that things are also held hostage for other things all the time. Linking and hostage-taking are part of the process.

       —David Cahill    Apr. 7 '08 - 09:47PM    #
  8. If you have ever watched Congress, you will see that things are also held hostage for other things all the time.

    Just because it happens in Congress, doesn’t mean it is something to aspire to. Frankly, it is embarrassing and a huge part of the reason the City is getting such crappy proposals and crappy buildings, not to mention lawsuits (which we almost always lose). If developers actually felt like Ann Arbor would treat them fairly, we might actually see some decent buildings. The City has directed the developer to pay this sum, the developer is planning to pay it. What happens with the money is an internal City and Council decision, but should have nothing to do with the developer. I try to be a big City supporter, but this sort of thing makes me think AAIO is right.

       —Juliew    Apr. 7 '08 - 10:17PM    #
  9. Juliew, the City has not “directed the developer” to pay anything. The parties have a voluntary agreement. The developer wants its option to purchase extended. Whether or not to extend it is discretionary with the City. One good reason not to extend it is that the City Administration will use the money for purposes Council does not want.

    Remember what Bismarck said about laws and sausages.

       —David Cahill    Apr. 7 '08 - 10:52PM    #
  10. Post 8, exactly what lawsuits are you referring to has the City lost on development issues?

       —sometimes reader    Apr. 8 '08 - 02:56AM    #
  11. Here is what I said at yesterday evening’s debate on the issuance of the bonds:

    I would have liked to address my remarks to my fellow council members, but I’ve learned to my regret that many of them aren’t listening. On this issue, I’ve discovered that discourse and debate are unwelcome. Instead, I’m addressing my remarks to the public, here tonight and watching this at any time in the future.

    I will be voting against the issuance of bonds for the construction of the Courts/Police facility. Not because I don’t believe we need to repair our existing City Hall. We do. Not because I don’t believe our police department’s space is poorly designed and has been sadly neglected. It is and it has. But because this project as a whole is not the project we’ve been led to believe.

    I say “as a whole” because a very small fraction of the total cost would go to remodel the police department. That remodeling is long overdue. However, the vast majority of the project would go toward building an immense and unnecessary home for the city’s district court.

    There are so many things wrong with the COURT aspect of this project that I have a difficult time focusing on one thing.
    I don’t want to talk about the need for the building. We have heard about the inadequate facilities at the existing court house – facilities that you and I paid significant dollars to upgrade just a few years ago. We have heard that the city has an obligation to provide space for the District Court – although we’ve never heard that we have an obligation to build our own court house. Some have said that the Circuit Judges won’t allow the 15th District Judges to continue to work in the County Court House – but of course, we all know that the judges don’t make that decision. The County Commissioners do, just as we on the City Council do. And the City Council, before I was elected, decided to build its own courthouse – a plan I consider fiscally unsound. The Chair of the County Commissioners, Jeff Irwin, told me last November and reiterated only three weeks ago that city council members had come to the County Commission and asked for a two-year lease, saying the city would build its own building. A longer lease there – or somewhere else – is clearly an option.

    I don’t want to talk about the design of the project, because then I’ll have to spend too much time questioning why we have designed a state of the art secure building to protect our court officers from violent criminals. Our district court doesn’t handle violent crime. The district courts in Ypsilanti City, Ypsilanti Township, and Chelsea don’t require citizens to empty out their pockets onto an airport-style conveyor belt while being scrutinized by armed guards. There is a reason for this security at the circuit court, which handles serious offenses. Such a forbidding environment isn’t required, however, in our user-friendly district court which handles traffic tickets, minor offenses, and evictions. Please note that this is not a complaint about the designer of the building, but about the parameters given for that design, which have added exponentially to the cost we are presented with here today.

    What I really want to talk about is the cost of the project – the cost today, and into the future.

    Right now, you and I are building a new courthouse on Hogback Road – state of the art, full security, three court rooms, jury room, records storage, all the frills. This court actually deals with violent criminals and needs the security facilities; it is also adjacent to the County’s new jail. You and I are also building a new court facility in Saline; one that doesn’t need high-tech security features, and costs accordingly.

    Just a few years ago you and I paid real money to update our County Courthouse to provide security features, including armed guards and metal detectors. We closed access to the Courthouse at all doors but one; it seems these features are needed for the Circuit Court, which handles felony cases. Perhaps these features are inadequate. If they are, how long will it be before we are asked to build a new courthouse to meet the needs of the Circuit Court? And if that happens – you and I will be paying for it.

    Maybe you don’t know about these projects. They are real. The County is building them with our tax dollars. The County invested in the County Court House with our tax dollars – from a variety of sources. The County did all of this without a millage, without asking you to vote. And maybe that’s why you didn’t notice – but we are all paying for the improvements to our County’s courts. And we’ll be paying for years to come.

    During the course of the discussions, many of us on Council have used homeownership metaphors to describe our views of this project. I have been guilty of this, myself. I have described the need to fix the roof before putting on an addition – but in all fairness, an improvident homeowner might take out a home equity loan to do both at once. One wonders, though, at the homeowner who would build an addition that is as large as the original house, re-landscape – and still not fix the roof. At the March meeting of the Main Street merchants’ association, our City Administrator, Roger Fraser, acknowledged that fixing the roof wasn’t part of this project.

    However, these homeownership terms aren’t really adequate.
    Some have stated that owning buildings is more valuable than paying rent. I’ve heard other members of Council refer to this project as the city ‘building equity’. Building equity? Isn’t that what you do when you plan to sell your house? We are a city, not a homeowner. And we’re not selling, so we – the taxpayers – just aren’t going to reap a benefit from that ‘equity’. When we pay rent in the community, we’re actually helping the community. Private landlords benefit, and so does the tax base. The rent we pay to private landlords won’t necessarily be easy to replace. We’ve all seen how many offices are empty. The rent we pay to the County also benefits the County – a benefit the County is beginning to recognize. The consolidation of services some of you may have heard proposed for the County Courthouse might actually cost us all money – and right now, we don’t have all that much to spare. Please remember – we all pay County taxes, too, and Ann Arbor tax payers provide a significant portion of the tax support to the County – and often reap the smallest amount of benefits.

    I’d love to build a new city hall. It’s a project that’s long overdue. But I’m really caught, because this project goes both too far and not far enough. What we build today will last for 40 years, at least. And what we are building with $47 million — $31 million that we propose authorizing to borrow – is totally wrong for our needs. We’re using every possible dollar to build a golden courthouse. We heard today that, to our surprise, we won’t be in the red for FY09. That’s good, but it shows how closely we are already watching every penny. If we borrow this money, the bond payments will be far more than any savings from consolidating our employees in one location. Right now, for instance, the city charges about $350K per year for cell tower fees. For the next 30 years, these fees are slated to pay off the bond. Does that mean these fees won’t be raised for 30 years? What do these fees support now? The DDA is expected to provide about $520K per year for the next 30 years to pay off the bond. This is money that won’t be available for the downtown. It’s money that has to come from somewhere, as well. And it has to keep coming for the next 30 years.

    But if we build this court facility, what do we get? We don’t have more space for services for you. We don’t have significantly better working conditions in the long run for many of our employees. We even lose spaces for you to put your car when you have business at the city, because all that parking goes away. And we gain a long-overdue improvement to the police department – which wouldn’t cost very much by itself – and a large, secure court facility with private elevators to protect judges from violent traffic offenders.

       —Sabra Briere    Apr. 8 '08 - 05:18PM    #
  12. Just as an update, the council did vote to give Village Green/1st and Washington an extension and voted to take the next step on the courts building project by notifying the public about their intent to issue bonds.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Apr. 8 '08 - 05:55PM    #
  13. In other decisions, the City sort of agreed to allow the University to close the east lane of Main Street for Stadium construction until July of 2009. However, there were so many strings attached, that the University is unlikely to agree to the stipulations (although they fortunately did strike the totally random parks contribution).

    Council said the U could not work on Sunday, could not work Memorial Day weekend, Independence Day weekend, before 7:00am, or after 8:00pm. Well, OK, they didn’t say they couldn’t work, they said that they couldn’t make noise, which amounts to essentially the same thing. I’m not sure what the solution will be. It is very possible that the University will pull rank and go over the City to the State since they are a State entity and Main Street is a State Business Route (I think) and do this anyway. Or they could remove the easement rights they gave to the City for the lane in the first place. Or they may say something like “OK, this is how you want it? We have to have the Stadium in safe condition for the start of the football season and the City prevented us from doing that by adding 30+ days of non-working time to the schedule so we will hold our first few games at away venues until the Stadium is ready.” Sure that would lose the University some money, but it would lose all the money for those games for the City and merchants. Or it could all work out just fine. I don’t think the University is necessarily 100% in the right and certainly could have picked other options, but they didn’t and I’m not sure getting pissy with this project is the right way for the City to approach this at this point.

    I find it interesting that the Councilmembers are perfectly happy to approve projects in neighborhoods that will negatively affect them for months of construction plus years of other problems, but suddenly get all sanctimonious about the University. The University has met with neighbors several times about this issue, and has been quite communicative. Which is in stark contrast to many of the City and private ventures which have happened in the area. Personally I think getting this project done as soon as possible is better than stretching it out.

    The Village Green/First & Washington project passed unanimously so obviously there were some shenanigans on that one since people were so adamantly opposed the last Council Meeting. The money was earmarked to the General Fund this go-around.

       —Juliew    Apr. 9 '08 - 02:06AM    #
  14. I’d love to build a new city hall. It’s a project that’s long overdue. But I’m really caught, because this project goes both too far and not far enough. What we build today will last for 40 years, at least. And what we are building with $47 million — $31 million that we propose authorizing to borrow – is totally wrong for our needs.

    Sabra, thank you for posting your comments. So what do you think we need? And who is pushing this particular configuration and why? I have been in the current Courthouse and it is definitely not working well for the many purposes being asked of it. There was also a general air of lack of upkeep with broken windows, leaks, dirt, just general maintenance problems, plus scary run-ins with felons, weird courtroom switching, and so on. We know that the police need new facilities. If we don’t build something or fix something for them, how are they supposed to take that? We have lost several police chiefs already. What about City employees? We know that the current City Hall needs to be repaired at a minimum and people are just making do in awkward situations. From many accounts, morale is at an absolute low. Sure, part of that is leadership, job duties, and so on, but recent studies have shown that office space is actually the number one reason for job satisfaction. So if we don’t build a new Courts facility or a new City Hall, how do we make what we have better? Or do we just say “times are tough, if it is so bad, they will leave.” Because that is a sure way to lose good people. Plus it looks bad to see how dysfunctional Ann Arbor’s spaces are. Most other cities seem to be able to make this work. Why can’t Ann Arbor? This has been on the books for something like 35 years. What is going on? If this proposal isn’t the solution, what is? And how do we get there? There is a lot of complaining from a lot of people about this proposal, and they may be right, but I haven’t seen any alternate solutions.

       —Juliew    Apr. 9 '08 - 02:27AM    #
  15. I have been in the current Courthouse and it is definitely not working well for the many purposes being asked of it. There was also a general air of lack of upkeep with broken windows, leaks, dirt, just general maintenance problems

    What??? This is a slur on the County. Please point out where there are broken windows or other maintenance problems in the Courthouse, and I will have them attended to by the next business day.

    Given the very heavy use of the building, it’s never going to be spotlessly pristine, but the county Facilities people are pretty diligent, in my experience.

    plus scary run-ins with felons, weird courtroom switching, and so on

    If someone is in custody, the deputies keep them secure. If they are not in custody, they are part of the public, and entitled to use the public hallways. Courtroom switching is sometimes necessary to make best use of what facilities we have.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 9 '08 - 06:01AM    #
  16. I’m confused – is the University not allowed to make noise in the lane closure area, or at the project as a whole? The holiday no-work times are standard across the country, so that’s nothing too odd. However, the noise prohibition seems tough to determine.

       —Paul    Apr. 9 '08 - 07:19AM    #
  17. Sorry Larry, not meant as a slur on the County, just a statement. We were there two times a year or so ago for an easement case about three months apart. When we went in, it was very confusing and kind of scary at the entrance with the security off to one side and people kind of brusquely motioning you to enter even though you don’t know where you are going. Then they confiscated my husband’s pocket knife that he had forgotten about, but didn’t confiscate my Swiss Army knife that I carry in my purse (I had forgotten about it until he said his knife had been taken—he did get it back), so right off the bat we were a little underwhelmed.

    The first time we were there, once we found where we were supposed to be (which was darn confusing in its own right because there weren’t many signs and people weren’t very helpful), there wasn’t a room available and the lawyers ended up seeing the mediator/judge in a small office somewhere (we never got to see him/her although we had been required to show up at the courthouse in person. I guess the room was too small for the number of people we had.). Eventually the lawyers sat the other party on a bench in the hallway at one end and us in chairs at the other end and talked in the middle of the hallway and then went down to the office at the other end of the hallway to converse with the mediator. It was awkward, to say the least. While it was interesting to hear all the conversations around because everyone was meeting with their lawyers in the chairs at our end of the hallway and we were privy to quite a few conversations, it was uncomfortable (I had no idea just how many young men go to court for criminal sexual conduct!), but there wasn’t any other space to use. Since we had to sit there for some time while the lawyers ran back and forth, we noticed that there was an area right in front of us where the window had been leaking and someone had put buckets out. We also noticed that there was a lot of wear and tear on the surfaces and in the bathrooms and that it looked like there had been some deferred maintenance. When we came back the next time a few months later, the formerly leaking window had plywood over it, the chairs had all been moved around and piled on top of eachother so that there was hardly any seating (people were sitting on the floor), and it was just kind of disordered looking. On our way out of the courtroom (which was very nice), there was some confusion because they had been bringing a prisoner in to another courtroom and we had gotten out earlier than expected so several armed guards and the handcuffed prisoner had to retreat into the stairwell as we came out. So they were all staring at us from about two feet away through the glass of the stairway window, which was uncomfortable.

    I wouldn’t have given the cleanliness and upkeep much thought (figuring it was just that it was an old building) but then just a month ago, I was talking to our custodian at work and he had recently been on a trial there and he said “I hate to say it, but you know, that building isn’t very nice. It seems sort of run down and dirty to me.” I figure he knows what he is talking about since he is a custodian. So maybe it is just that people are almost always there for tense situations and so it has kind of an uncomfortable feeling, or maybe it is that we had a lot of time to look at the walls and ceilings and floors and upholstery and were nitpicking. Maybe it gets a lot of traffic and this is what any building would be like. Maybe if I went back for a casual visit, I wouldn’t see the same sort of things. But no, I don’t think it is a great building for what we had to do there. Maybe it works if you are there a lot, but for someone coming in for the first time, it doesn’t make the best impression.

       —Juliew    Apr. 9 '08 - 07:13PM    #
  18. I hate blogging because so many people express opinions, and I prefer facts. Here are the facts, as I see them — because Julie asked for them.

    We really need to renovate City Hall or better yet, to replace it. The plans that the Council as a whole has approved do neither. These plans provide funds for refurbishing the ground (basement), 1st and 6th floors. The office space for the police will move to the new addition, while their locker rooms and storage areas will remain in the existing building.

    The city also plans to move many more employees into the Larcom building, so the office space won’t get any larger.

    If you haven’t been up to the 6th floor recently, you might not have realized that it’s already being refurbished, with new partitions and a newly designed layout. Other floors in Larcom are getting a redesign at the same time, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t solve the problems with the building’s structure. But I wonder at at having the 6th floor renovation added to the project specs — why are we doing this work twice? Be that as it may, we are adding more staff, not fixing the major design flaws at Larcom, and — in my opinion — spending money to build a redundant court house.

    I’ve been in the Court House. I’ve also heard the reports of how bad the situation is for the District Judges. I’ve seen the various court rooms, and recognize that the Court House was never designed for so many court rooms, that the jury room is part of one judge’s court, and that, frankly, every judge there has cause to complain. However, the building itself is not badly maintained, the County takes care of its staff very well, and although things are, to say the least, inconvenient for the District Court, they are not impossible. However, if the County Court House is really as bad as many report, aren’t we all going to have to spend money to re-do that, too? and how much more money are we going to have to spend on that? and isn’t that also our money?

    Sorry. I lapsed into opinion.

       —Sabra Briere    Apr. 9 '08 - 07:40PM    #
  19. ­“I’m confused – is the University not allowed to make noise in the lane closure area, or at the project as a whole?”

    Council is asking the University not to have any noise come from the project (so no sound beyond the property lines) before 7:00am, greatly reduced after 8:00pm, and quiet again at 10:00pm and on Sundays. The full text of the city’s noise ordinance is in Title IX, Chapter 119 of the City Code (sorry, I don’t seem to be able to link to it) and other than the reduction in noise after 8:00pm, the Council’s recommendation mirrors the City’s noise ordinance. So yes, it would be ideal if the construction followed City code. As a State entity, however, I guess the University is not technically required to follow City Code and considers this a special situation. This is an enormous project with a really tight schedule, and there are only so many hours in a day. I’m not sure it can be done in the number of hours allowed now. They are essentially building a small city in two years and it has to be in safe and working condition for players and visitors by this August, and completely finished by August of 2009. The numbers are pretty staggering: over a million bricks (the largest single order ever), a 400,000 square foot addition, infrastructure to accommodate well over a 100,000 visitors at a time, and so on.

    Also interesting with the Stadium site is how noise carries. I live two blocks away from the Stadium and we literally don’t hear anything from the construction because of the Stadium’s height and position. But people over on Packard can hear the Stadium construction, as can the neighbors to the west of the Stadium.

       —Juliew    Apr. 9 '08 - 10:44PM    #
  20. Today at the AA Democratic Party meeting a petition drive was announced. If successful, the petitioners will force a vote on the City’s plan to borrow $31 in bonds for the courts/police facility.

    Signatures will be collected starting tomorrow. The group – Ask Voters First – needs about 9300 signatures, and has 45 days to collect them.

    Film at eleven. 8-)

       —David Cahill    Apr. 13 '08 - 05:10AM    #
  21. Lets just hope for all our sakes that this radical fringe group fails miserably at their misguided effort.

       —imjustsayin    Apr. 13 '08 - 06:39AM    #
  22. Radical fringe group. Heh. I love it. This particular radical fringe group is being supported by a wide variety of Democrats and even some Republicans!

       —David Cahill    Apr. 13 '08 - 04:39PM    #
  23. Where can I sign up David? I am sure there are many others that want to know.

       — Kerry D.    Apr. 14 '08 - 05:14AM    #
  24. I don’t care if it’s the frickin’ rainbow coalition. It’s still a whiny bunch of folks who find themselves on the wrong side of the issue and want to undermine the representatives they elected to make these sorts of decisions.

       —imjustsayin    Apr. 14 '08 - 06:24AM    #
  25. That all may be true but what’s your point? If Cahill and Company’s view isn’t that of the majority of voters it will be reflected in the petition drive or the ballot box. If the majority of voters side with Cahill and Co. then the views of the representatives need to get in line with those that they represent. I think the city can survive a little direct democracy every once in a while.

       —John Q.    Apr. 14 '08 - 08:36AM    #
  26. Kerry (and others), for right now the best way to reach the campaign is by sending e-mail to They had an organizing meeting yesterday which I was unable to attend. I know the goal is to have petition drive managers in each ward, and possibly in most precincts.

       —David Cahill    Apr. 14 '08 - 04:53PM    #
  27. My problem with direct democracy in Ann Arbor is that people in Ann Arbor will sign ANY petition that is presented to them. So I’m going to assume it gets on a ballot. When the election comes around, only those motivated to vote for this thing will bother to show up at the polls so a very small minority of people will end up deciding this important issue. You can see this phenomenon at work in the last city council election.

    I’d rather let a group of people who have studied this for several years and whom I have elected to do just such a thing, make the decision since neither I, Cahill, or anyone else has the full picture that these folks have.

    I don’t care what they decide either for or against the borrowing of $ to fund the city hall project. They are reasonable and intellegent people (ok, so the newly ellected are somewhat less so of each) who can come to a solution I know I can live with.

       —imjustsayin    Apr. 14 '08 - 09:38PM    #
  28. This explains why public petitioning, and public comment, are actually undemocratic. Unless there are responsible, experienced professionals in firm control of the decision-making process, one crackpot could convince hundreds to sign for a very bad piece of public policy.

    This is why there should be professional, trusted gatekeepers on duty to prevent such aberrant views from swinging public policy in dangerous directions. You may do all the speaking you like on election day; elect a Prohibition Party member to City Council if you like. And for the next few years, you may continue to provide all the input you like; there is a plainly marked suggestion box for that purpose.

    But irresponsible petitioning and public commentary can only harm the public interest.

       —True Democracy    Apr. 14 '08 - 10:58PM    #
  29. Here is a statement from the petition drive campaign which I received yesterday evening:

    ASK VOTERS FIRST, an organization seeking a referendum vote on additional Ann Arbor city debt, today announced the start of their petition drive to force a referendum vote on the new $31 Million of bond debt approved at the April 7th meeting of the Ann Arbor City Council.

    If issued, these new bonds will increase the City’s “Government Activities” debt by 55%, to a total of approximately $87 Million. Repayment of principal and interest will require $2,000,000 annually from the City’s general funds for the next thirty years. Although $700,000 each year will be saved on lease costs for the 15th District Court and other offices, an equal amount of new expenses for building utilities, maintenance and security will offset these savings. This means that the entire $2,000,000 will need to be paid each year with some combination of higher taxes, higher fees, and reduced services for our citizens.

    ASK VOTERS FIRST was formed by a group of citizens who believe this significant long term decision requires a referendum vote. To collect the petition signatures and promote a referendum vote, ASK VOTERS FIRST is now engaged in a petition drive to obtain the required signatures (approximately 9,400) necessary to put this question to Ann Arbor’s electorate later this year. This vote would be placed on the ballot of one of the already scheduled elections, and will not result in any additional cost to the city.

    ASK VOTERS FIRST urges all Ann Arbor registered voters to support its petition drive to allow taxpayers to decide if they wish to assume $31 Million in new City debt obligations at a time when the economic outlook is grim on every level ‐
    national and state and city. The people of Ann Arbor are ultimately responsible for paying all city debt even if federal and state funding decreases. ASK VOTERS FIRST believes the democratic process of a referendum vote is needed to allow all
    voters a chance to decide on Ann Arbor’s spending priorities.

    To obtain more information, sign the petition, or help with the petition drive to mandate a referendum vote on issuing $31 Million in new debt, please visit

    Paid for by Ask Voters First, 100 Longman Lane, Ann Arbor, MI 48103

       —David Cahill    Apr. 16 '08 - 05:22PM    #
  30. This vote … will not result in any additional cost to the city.

    Can this claim be substantiated?

    I’m curious to hear the specifics of AVF’s assessment of the city’s financial outlook that could be termed “grim”.

    ASK VOTERS FIRST believes the democratic process of a referendum vote is needed to allow all voters a chance to decide on Ann Arbor’s spending priorities.

    This is somewhat misleading in that the proposed referendum will be on a single question, not on “priorities”, which would require the consideration of multiple questions.

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 17 '08 - 12:53AM    #
  31. David Cahill: This vote … will not result in any additional cost to the city.

    Steve Bean: Can this claim be substantiated?

    Yes. In Washtenaw County, we do all our ballot programming in-house, and we don’t charge local units for this. Unless there are ballot space issues that make it necessary to print a longer ballot or a second physical ballot, an additional ballot question in an already-scheduled election is almost cost free.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 17 '08 - 06:28AM    #
  32. Thanks, Larry. I was thinking that this was a question for you, but didn’t want to bring it up and put you on the spot in any way.

    I was just made aware that the referendum issue would join the August primary schedule. This will change the calculations for the 3 primaries that I am aware of. So much for low turn-out elections.

    The point was made tonight at a meeting hosted by the Planning & Development staff that AU is an important forum for civic bulletins. So it is very good to have the county clerk giving us the straight stuff.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 17 '08 - 07:24AM    #
  33. One thing which tends to mitigate ballot space issues is that, no matter how little is at issue, an optical scan ballot needs alignment marks on both sides. We pay for printing the “back” of the ballot even if it is “blank” (no issues on that side).

    Hence, adding “side 2” to a ballot (if the first side fills up) adds no cost to the election. Arguably it’s a little more ink, but the printer charges us per page, not per drop of ink.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 17 '08 - 06:22PM    #
  34. When it comes to the “Will of the People” in Ann Arbor, remember that less than 10% of voters participate in the August Primary which effectively determines the outcome. Why do we have an August Primary? Oh ya, the students aren’t around and no-one is paying attention! I lost faith that the Council represents the “Will of the People” a long time ago!

       —Chuck L.    Apr. 17 '08 - 11:01PM    #
  35. City council elections used to be held annually in April, with primaries in February. Even though everybody was in town, turnout was usually pretty poor. Democrats and the Human Rights Party in those days used to try to goose up student turnout with hot-button ballot proposals. After a while, that became a joke. Republicans usually won anyway.

    Eventually, the Voter Initiative for November Elections (VINE) was circulated and passed by Democrats who didn’t like Republican dominance of the April elections. That effort was led by Tom Wieder, and did not involve anyone on city council at the time.

    But even if VINE had never happened, city elections would have moved to November by now, due to the state’s election consolidation law. April elections have been abolished.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 18 '08 - 12:37AM    #
  36. The district court race has received a lot of publicity, however are there any declared candidates for the county clerk, county sheriff,circuit court, and prosecutor positions as of yet beside the incumbents?

       —Kerry D.    Apr. 18 '08 - 05:46AM    #
  37. See the list of candidates for the August primary. In addition to those listed, we have heard about challengers running for drain commissioner and prosecuting attorney.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 18 '08 - 05:47PM    #
  38. I should add that the filing deadline is May 13, at 4:00 pm.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 18 '08 - 05:48PM    #
  39. Larry,

    Am I correct in assuming that for all the countywide and state candidates shown, candidates may take out petitions or even informally announce without being on your official list? Ann Arbor takes the names down of people requesting petitions but I recall that the county does not, so that until candidates turn in petitions or pay a fee, they will not appear as candidates or even on the radar.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 18 '08 - 08:18PM    #
  40. That is correct.

    Nothwithstanding Ann Arbor’s practice, I do not believe that we or any clerk could lawfully refuse to accept a candidacy filing from someone who did not “take out petitions”.

    East Lansing used to do that, until Zolton Ferency (famed activist and head of the Human Rights Party) arranged a test case. He obtained standard form petitions from elsewhere, and filed them, expecting the city clerk to reject them. Instead, the clerk accepted his filing, and he was elected to city council. He was still a city council member at the time of his death.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 18 '08 - 08:25PM    #
  41. Hey folks! Check here:
    for latest cost data on building courthouses/police stations in major US cities. It looks like Ann Arbor will be joining the ranks of high cost cities at $355/sq ft ($36.3 Mil/102,000 sq ft). The highest costs are about $250/sq ft for a Police Station in New York City. So what gives? Why is Ann Arbor spending about 40% more on construction costs than anywhere else?

       —Chuck L.    Apr. 19 '08 - 06:16AM    #
  42. Maybe because they are also remodeling Larcom, connecting the buildings, building a pad for future expansion, etc.

       —LauraB    Apr. 19 '08 - 06:52AM    #
  43. Chuck L., the more accurate figures are $47 million construction cost for 103,000 square feet for the proposed courts/police facility. The cost is, therefore, $456 per square foot.

       —David Cahill    Apr. 19 '08 - 05:08PM    #
  44. Just so everyone understands, David’s numbers are more correct. To build a modern building the average cost (project cost, not construction cost) is between $400-500 per SF. You couldn’t even build a concrete bunker for $200/SF these days. These are not outrageous numbers and are not even on the high end of the scale. I think these costs are what would be expected for this type of project.

       —imjustsayin    Apr. 19 '08 - 08:45PM    #
  45. Can someone tell me where these numbers are coming from; they do not jive with the August 24, 2007 report prepared by the desging team.

       —abc    Apr. 20 '08 - 05:31PM    #
  46. That would be ‘design’ team

       —abc    Apr. 20 '08 - 05:33PM    #
  47. imjustsayin,

    Maybe you can’t build a concrete bunker, but you can build a new high school for around $200/sq ft ( So, back to my original question, what gives?
       —Chuck L.    Apr. 20 '08 - 07:04PM    #
  48. What gives is easy, the above calculations are wrong. In round numbers, very round, the NEW building is 100,000 sf and the EXISTING building is 80,000 sf and the total project is $50 million. That is roundly $275 per sf. You cannot ignore the renovated areas.

       —abc    Apr. 20 '08 - 07:23PM    #
  49. imjustsayin,

    Another point, at $400-$500/sq ft, the average home in Ann Arbor would cost $800k-1000k for 2000 sq ft. Also, the rent on a 700 sq-ft, one bedroom apartment would have to be in excess of $2240-$2800/month in order to cover the landlord’s mortgage payment. Why are you arguing that public spaces need to be so much more expensive than anything ordinary citizens would pay just to live?
       —Chuck L.    Apr. 20 '08 - 07:31PM    #
  50. abc,

    Your grasping at straws! The $36.3 Million and 102,000 sq-ft were for the new construction. Adding in the square footage of an existing structure speaks truth to the old adage, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”
       —Chuck L.    Apr. 20 '08 - 07:42PM    #
  51. Ugh! Project costs. PROJECT COSTS. Not construction costs. Nevermind. When comparing costs you find from some random Google search, please make sure you are know exactly what is included and what is not.

    HEY! Better yet, leave it up to people who A)do this for a living, or B)have studied the numbers inside and out for a couple of years.

    That wouldn’t quite fit with the whole “cranky citizen” deal though would it.

       —imjustsayin    Apr. 21 '08 - 05:55AM    #
  52. imjustsayin,

    These project costs seem to be running about $100/sq-ft over construction costs; a bit excessive, no? Your distinction between project costs and construction costs would not fly in the housing market! Try selling a 2000 sq-ft house for $1 million in Ann Arbor! Or try renting a one bedroom, 700 sq-ft apartment for $2800/month when most apartments that size go for around $900/month. The $2800/month rent number translates into $48/year/sq-ft vs. about $30/year/sq-ft for rents at businesses on Main street in Ann Arbor. Anyways, since you’re the expert, why don’t you tell us what is typically included in the difference between Project and Construction costs?
       —Chuck L.    Apr. 21 '08 - 06:43AM    #
  53. The $47m project cost includes renovating much of City Hall, not just the new 111,000 sf building. David Cahill’s numbers are therefore wrong.

    In reality, the cost per square foot of the new building is about $350/sf. As pointed out by imjustsayin, that’s project costs, which includes furniture, architectural design, contingencies, etc. That is not outrageous at all.

       —Bill T.    Apr. 21 '08 - 06:48AM    #
  54. Based specifically on the design team’s report dated August 24th 2007 the new construction (new floor area) of phase 1 is 122,200 sf.. This report also says that floors B, 1, 2 & 5 of the existing building are to be renovated in phase 1. Now this report could be clearer but what we do know is that each floor of the existing building is roughly 10,000 sf. Assuming that only half of these floors are renovated, that adds 20,000 sf to bring us to 144,200 sf involved in the first phase of the project. Depending on what you want to say this phase is worth 36.3 million = $251/sf and 47 million = $325/sf. Now I have read, and have heard, that the $47 million is associated with both phases of the project and that is what the August 24th ,2007 report also seems to say.

    Nevertheless these costs are no where near Mr. Cahill’s $456/sf. Also Chuck L(iar’)s $355 sf has the wrong square footage so he is off by about $100/sf.

    I have nothing pithy to say about liars. I am simply working with the limited information I have. But I do think that you must be a moron to not know the report filled by the people pitching the project, especially when you are about to regurgitate that information wrongly. There is no proposed addition that is 102,000 sf.

       —abc    Apr. 21 '08 - 07:59AM    #
  55. Chuck L, project costs add typically 30-40% on top of costruction costs in commercial/academic/public projects.

    Please don’t try to compare residential construction with this type. It is really two totally different animals.

       —imjustsayin    Apr. 21 '08 - 04:31PM    #
  56. The August 24, 2007 report is not the current one. Check out the February 7, 2008 report for more up-to-date info.

       —David Cahill    Apr. 21 '08 - 04:41PM    #
  57. This is an interesting discussion, but while you are debating the cost per square foot, be aware that the $47 M (plus) figure is not the only project cost basis. I took the $47.4 M stated at the council working session to mean construction costs, but it was not clear that funds already expended on the architectural contract approved last fall were included, nor the construction manager cost. Council approved the construction manager contract on April 8 as well as the bond resolution. This contract is for $2.37 M. The city is using the construction manager device in order to speed up the timeline, compared to the standard design-bid-build process (I am quoting loosely from the document). Clark Construction won the bid for this contract and will assist the architect in preparing bid packages.

    By September, 2008 it is anticipated that bids, etc. will permit the establishment of the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP). This is the real price; the $47.4 M is only an estimate.

    Also note that the project is to be funded by the Capital Improvement Plan, on the agenda for council tonight.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 21 '08 - 06:29PM    #
  58. The 47 (plus) million is the total project cost. It includes the soft costs but it’s unclear if it includes furnishings.

    The construction manager contract is a departure from the method used for the Wheeler center. When the city did the Wheeler center, they got bids on the whole building from several firms and picked the low bid. The bids were based on construction drawings.

    For the city hall annex, they will hire Clark Construction to do the building for a fee which is a percentage of the cost of the building. I can see the advantage of hiring a construction manager to make recommendations on how to remove costs during the design process but I don’t see the advantage of giving the CM the building construction contract instead of sending that out for bid like they did for the Wheeler center. Can anyone shed any light on this?

       —karen sidney    Apr. 23 '08 - 02:33AM    #
  59. Karen, there are pros and cons to each way. The theory for getting a CM on board early is that they get so familiar with the project that they can give much more accurate cost information and know exactly what they are building. They can set up subcontractors to bid on the project who are best for the various jobs, work with the city in setting up the construction schedule to push it along faster and, as you say, remove cost overruns before they happen. They essentially become partners with the city. They still bid the project but the CM bids it in smaller subcontractor chunks rather than the project as a whole.

    The theory of the standard bidding process (send out construction documents and open it up to open or selected general contractors) is that the price will be lower but this is often not the case. What happens many times is that contractors are given two weeks to estimate costs on a project that the city and design consultants have worked on for years and they invariably miss things. Another thing that happens is that they sometimes intentionally miss things to lower the overall price and then ask for extras throughout the project to make up costs. In my opinion, you take the low bid and you get what you pay for. An exception being the Wheeler cener which from all accounts sounds pretty successful although I have not toured it myself.

    Neither is foolproof but I think the CM process is a good one and have seen more successful projects using this method that the other.

       —imjustsayin    Apr. 23 '08 - 06:10PM    #
  60. Who is planning to challenge Brian Mackie?

       —Kerry D.    Apr. 24 '08 - 04:52AM    #
  61. “The August 24, 2007 report is not the current one. Check out the February 7, 2008 report for more up-to-date info.”

    After checking the Feb 7th report I note no major change in my take on the square foot cost. This report says that the total project size (area affected by construction; both new and renovation) is just under 153,000 sf. There is 112k in new floor area and 41k existing floor area to be renovated. The project cost is still about $50 million. This divides to be about $325 per sf. And yes there are many ways to calculate square footage but based on this report, as well as the last one, there is no way to get over $400 per sf unless you leave something out.

       —abc    Apr. 28 '08 - 09:51PM    #