Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

ArborUpdate Voter Guide: Ann Arbor Ward 5--Vivienne Armentrout vs. Carsten Hohnke

29. July 2008 • Chuck Warpehoski
Email this article

Here’s the third installment of the ArborUpdate Voter’s Guide, this one featuring the Ward 5 race of Vivienne Armentrout vs. Carsten Hohnke.

Coming tomorrow are the responses we’ve received for Ann Arbor’s 2nd Ward, 15th District Court Judge, and County Sheriff.

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)

Vivienne Armentrout: I have already commented on this issue extensively on Arbor Update (especially see #238 on

I have opposed this solution to the need for the 15th District court relocation since late 2007 and especially since March 2008 when the scheme for making the bond payments was revealed. I do not consider it to be realistic. To explain why would take too much space. Council will not be able to stop the project now though it could make other important ancillary decisions, such as whether to add on bells and whistles and parking structures.

Carsten Hohnke: Now that construction of the municipal center is moving forward, we should be proactive about ensuring that it becomes an environmentally friendly, inviting public space that we can be proud of, and doesn’t incur cost overruns. Council should provide vigilant oversight and ensure that construction happens in a timely manner and within budget. Just as importantly, Council should actively engage citizen participation in the remainder of the design process and in conversations about how to maximize public use of the space. For example, Council should ensure that space is available for public meetings and activities, and consider the inclusion of space for informational and cultural displays and performances.

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

Vivienne Armentrout: “Affordable housing” means many things to many people, from supportive housing for the homeless to “my kids can’t afford to live here”. I support both the ongoing efforts to provide housing for the most needy (with a special salute to Avalon Housing) and also a restraint on increasing fees for basic services; this last makes Ann Arbor less affordable for many lower to mid-income people, including homeowners.

Carsten Hohnke: I support the recommendations of the Blueprint to End Homelessness and will work collaboratively with the county, non-profit organizations, and the private sector to bring 500 additional units of supportive, affordable (<= 30% of Area Median Income) housing to our community. To that end, I agree with the majority decision of the Council to provide $250,000 to the Joint Integrated Funding project in the current fiscal year, and I will support the establishment of a local voucher program that can quickly provide an initial, diverse stock of existing, renovated, and newly constructed units. Additionally, I believe we must replace the 100 units of very low-income, single-adult residences formerly provided by the YMCA. Finally, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that affordable housing is one component of affordable living. I’ll work to expand low-cost, sustainable transportation options for our community, as well as the carefully considered economic development that will strengthen our base of independent, local jobs.

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)

Vivienne Armentrout: I support promotion of nonmotorized transportation and maintenance or expansion of our current bus service. See my website,, for my vision of this.

Carsten Hohnke: I’ll support a three-pronged effort to expand our non-motorized transportation infrastructure, pursue new rail and alternative transportation options, and promote an increase in residential density. Non-motorized transportation should be a growing portion of the mix of transportation, as it adds significant value to a community through increased health and safety, decreased air and noise pollution, and relieving pressure on land use for parking. I’ll support the expansion of “complete streets” that provide for pleasant and safe bicycling and walking, and partnering with the DDA to support go!passes and the downtown infrastructure necessary to promote bicycling (bike lockers, for example). I’ll also support efforts for Ann Arbor to take a leading regional role in securing the capital and operating funds for a north-south commuter rail, as well as cooperate with SEMCOG to support an east-west rail. Finally, I’ll support careful, but steady steps towards increasing the residential density that ultimately reduces the vehicle miles traveled required to live, work, shop and play in our community.

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

Vivienne Armentrout: This is a special concern of mine. I was recently involved in the successful effort to restore some funds to Project Grow. I also serve on the Food System Economic Partnership Leadership Team, a 5-county effort to bring producers and consumers together. On that group, I have been advocating for encouragement of food crops for local consumption rather than only commodity crops that go into international markets. I support full funding and assistance to our community gardens (Project Grow) and the new focus on the Greenbelt Advisory Board on “emerging farms” (they have been buying mostly farmland devoted to commodity crops).

Carsten Hohnke: As a community we should recognize that locally grown food has numerous benefits over importing food through mass distribution networks. Locally grown food ensures that a greater portion of food dollars remains within the community, tends to taste better, requires less transportation energy, generally contain less pesticides and herbicides, and is less vulnerable to disruption. I’ll support maximizing the resources of the Open Space and Parkland Preservation Millage for preserving agricultural land, finding opportunities to strengthen the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market’s infrastructure and programming, and exploring the use of suitable, underutilized city-owned property for community gardening. Finally, I would advocate for the DDA to support, potentially through collaboration with Think Local First, an educational initiative aimed at promoting locally grown food to downtown visitors, residents and businesses.

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)

Vivienne Armentrout: I assume that all people serving on council are doing the best that they can according to their own views. I know that they work hard. I don’t agree with many of the decisions they have made, including the city hall plan, and I am running to help set a new direction for Ann Arbor. Again, see my website for more detail.

Carsten Hohnke: Mixed. I believe the Council mishandled the roll-out and implementation of the sidewalk replacement program, and failed to provide sensible building height limits that would have provided clarity around a shared vision for our downtown. However, I applaud the Council for moving forward with important capital improvements to our water and wastewater systems, providing $250,000 in additional human services funding for supportive, affordable housing, and for invigorating arts and culture by passing the Percent for Art Ordinance. More importantly, if elected, I would work during the next two years to actively engage citizens in conversations about Ann Arbor’s future, to improve delivery of affordable, high-quality services to our neighborhoods, to build consensus toward expanding our sustainable transportation infrastructure, and to put ourselves on a more environmentally sustainable footing for the future.

  1. You can watch the League of Women Voters’ Ward 5 debate on Google Video.

       —Matt Hampel    Jul. 29 '08 - 07:40AM    #
  2. A question for all candidates: how do you stand on the issue of Accessory Dwelling Units, a.k.a. ADUs or granny flats? it was an issue that came up several years ago and was shot down by Council before it was even given a public hearing.

    Personally I think there is no easier way to allow for baby boomers to age in place, and for younger homeowners to have the possibility of buying a home with a rental property attached or on the same property. The proposal was reasonable and guaranteed that ADUs were spread out over the entire city. It would cost the city virtually nothing, give the homeowner more leeway to improve their home, and could reap great benefits for affordability and diversity in our city.

       —KGS    Jul. 30 '08 - 02:20AM    #
  3. KGS. Didn’t the original ADU language have what I think may have been a fatal flaw in it that contributed to its being canned? I thought that the language included something that precluded you from building an ADU within some distance from another such that if I built one before my neighbor then my neighbor couldn’t have one. The way I understood it was that it resulted in a competitive situation that pitted neighbor against neighbor. I am absolutely for ADU’s but think that the language should not result in a cat fight to get there first.

       —abc    Jul. 30 '08 - 03:51AM    #
  4. This is my ward and I have my favorite in this race, I do have to say I’m impressed with both candidates here. They know their facts, they’re committed to the city, and they both have a track record of involvement.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jul. 30 '08 - 05:40AM    #
  5. abc – the language requiring that ADUs be no closer than 200’ (IIRC) was put in to try and calm the uproar against the proposal. At the time, there was alarmist talk that this constituted an “upzoning” of the entire city to R2, that good solid neighborhoods would be ‘invaded’ by ‘those people’ or even worse, students. No kidding, this was the language used at the time. It was embarrassing.

    If only there had been a clamor of people who thought it was a great idea and wanted to install one! but no, the vast majority of the public speakers who came to the Planning Commission that fateful night were against it because of the density scare, not because of theoretical competition to install them. I’m sure it’s covered that way in archival copies of the A2News.

       —KGS    Jul. 30 '08 - 10:57PM    #
  6. Aw, KGS, aren’t you being a wee bit judgmental? Imagine for a moment where they’re coming from:

    It would be really difficult to write a resident only restrictive parking ordinance that excluded people in ADU’s. Really difficult.

    One also couldn’t be sufficiently certain that the market would price those units high enough to put them out of range of people who aren’t white or the right kind of Asian.

    And then, heaven forfend, what if they subscribed to the Wall Street Journal but never ever picked the papers up off the lawn?

    I think you can see that we would have been opening up a can of worms. Things are really best just as they are.

       —Parking Structure Dude!    Jul. 30 '08 - 11:18PM    #
  7. KGS wrote: “I’m sure it’s covered that way in archival copies of the A2News.”

    The Ann Arbor District Library’s online archives of the Ann Arbor News (accessible via the web with a quick and easy registration) have been extended now to include articles from July 2003 forward.

    A quick search yielded yielded a piece from late 2003:

    “But this is Ann Arbor, and an attempt to change the city code to allow so-called granny flats was shouted down about two years ago. Residents who opposed the idea – many seeing it as carte blanche for landlords to bring student rentals into neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes – raised such a stink that the proposal didn’t make it past the city’s planning commission.”

    Which puts the time frame of the proposal at around 2001—for those interested in rummaging around in archives and finding a copy of the proposed language (I, for one, would like to see a copy). AADL’s clipping file covers that time period, so there could well be pertinent material there.

    A few Sundays ago at caucus I floated the idea of re-exploring the notion of accessory dwelling units. Based on response from CM Briere, I think KGS’s characterization is accurate for the likely frame of any renewed conversation on the topic, namely: does an ADU proposal amount to ‘stealth rezoning’ of the entire City?

    So I’ve been reflecting since that caucus on strategies to reject that as a conversational frame.

       —HD    Jul. 31 '08 - 12:18AM    #
  8. A quick search yielded yielded a piece from late 2003:

    Heh. So, HD, how’s that garage holding up?

    This Lassiter-coauthored opinion piece from Nov. 03 gives a target date:

    First, City Council should promptly authorize the accessory apartment proposal that members unanimously rejected in February 2002. Accessory apartments provide additional housing opportunities for renters (usually graduate students, single professionals and the elderly), as well as supplementary income for middle-class homeowners. In this unfortunate episode, elected officials retreated from a modest plan in response to a misinformed anti-student campaign by neighborhood groups.

       —Murph    Jul. 31 '08 - 02:05AM    #
  9. “Heh. So, HD, how’s that garage holding up?”

    Let’s just say I didn’t hear any complaints from Julia about the space for the whole time she lived there.

       —HD    Jul. 31 '08 - 02:27AM    #
  10. Well played, sir!

    To your comment on concerns of a stealth rezoning, and rejecting that conversational frame, I support the response of, “Well, no – it’s really just a plain rezoning.”

    And what, you may ask, is the problem with that? We want mass transit, well, ADUs can help provide the critical mass of riders to sustain a healthy system. We want to preserve farmland, open space, and the Huron River watershed, well, ADUs can help provide for the demand for small, single-person housing units that otherwise drives crappy apartment complexes on the fringe. We want to provide opportunities for entry-level home ownership and for aging-in-place, well, ADUs can help provide an income stream to offset the first few years’ tax payments or buffer the effects of rising costs on fixed incomes. Yes, I know you have concerns, and here are the mechanisms in place to address those concerns.

    All right, so, it still may not carry the day, but I think “yes, it’s a rezoning, and…” approach is more likely to get the issues out in the open than is pandering to the myth of the single-family detached home. And, once the issues are out in the open, people can’t hide behind, “This is a stealth rezoning!”, but have to actually say, “No, I’m against protecting the river, aging-in-place, and mass transit,” to object.

       —Murph    Jul. 31 '08 - 04:08AM    #
  11. KGS (and others) – maybe rather than using a distance to quell the upzoning worry it could (should?) be based on a percentage of the size of the primary residence. If, for example, you could only have an ADU if it is limited to say less than 33% of the primary residence, then a 500 sf house with a two car garage would have a difficult time trying to get a second story on the garage as an ADU. I’m just trying to counter the R1 to R2 upzoning argument; R2 is basically two equal dwellings.

       —abc    Jul. 31 '08 - 07:40AM    #
  12. abc, the ADU proposal was scaled to the primary residence, and had a minimum and maximum size I think as well. I have the original proposal language somewhere in my office at home; I think I can find it if people are interested.

    Here is the city council minutes where our so-called ‘green’ mayor caved to neighbors and stopped the public process before it had even begun. The resolution is on pg. 63; also see speakers before and after the meeting who spoke on it.

       —KGS    Jul. 31 '08 - 04:28PM    #
  13. Thanks, KGS, for tracking down the minutes of that meeting, where Council passed a resolution requesting that Planning Commission not use any additional staff time or resources exploring the ADU issue. [Why bother to have a City Administrator, when you’ve got a Council that can manage City Staff time.]

    The resolution on the one hand claims that basically there won’t be enough ADU’s to have an impact on affordable housing:

    “... Whereas, The proposed ordinance is likely to have a negligible impact on the number of affordable dwelling units in Ann Arbor; ...”

    But, oh, wait, just to be clear, those few that will appear will be enough to affect EVERY SINGLE-FAMILY HOMEOWNER:

    “Whereas, The proposed ADU requirements will have an impact on all residents living in R1 zoning districts in the city of Ann Arbor; and … “

    Leaving the specifics of the ADU issue aside, it would be of interest to me to hear candidates for Council weigh in on how they see Council’s role with respect to management of City Staff time.

    Specifically: Do you think Council overstepped its responsibility and undermined the democratic process in passing the resolution in 2002 to request that Planning Commission cease work on the ADU ordinance? Or do you think that this was simply a justified practical move to save resources when the ordinance had no chance of being passed?

       —HD    Jul. 31 '08 - 05:28PM    #
  14. Yesterday Armentrout was endorsed by the Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway.

       —David Cahill    Aug. 1 '08 - 06:11PM    #
  15. In the OWS Newsletter just delivered to my door, there’s a piece in which Vivienne and Carsten respond to four different questions. Among them is this one:

    What do you believe is the 5th Ward’s most pressing issue?

    Carsten Hohnke:

    “Floodplain management with respect to the Allen Creek watershed and the opportunity to integrate floodplain planning policy with the creation of a greenway, is one of the most important issues, and exciting opportunities, for the 5th Ward. We should continue to work towards the mitigation of hazards associated with a base (100-year) flood in Allen Creek, and should use the opportunity to incorporate a plan for urban greenspace on the periphery of our downtown.”

    Vivienne Armentrout:

    “The 5th Ward is quite diverse, contextually, topographically, and demographically. It is difficult to identify a single issue as ‘the most pressing’. Here are a just a few context-specific issues: development pressure near downtown (the A2D2 zoning creates and interface zone); flooding in some areas and the issue of Allen’s Creek management; fate of 415 W. Washington; future of the ‘greenway’; impact of a new zoning rules (Chap. 55/59) in areas near commercial locations in Stadium area; activities related to the Pall/Gelman problem, possible loss of historic buildings S. 5th Ave. City-wide issues that affect residents of the 5th Ward are city finances, their effect on service delivery and cost of living, and the management of downtown development.”

    Any typos are likely mine.

       —HD    Aug. 1 '08 - 07:26PM    #
  16. Here is the endorsement of Armentrout by the Progressives of Washtenaw (POW!), written by Charles Lewis:

    Vivienne Armentrout clearly cares about Ann Arbor. In this regard she is hardly unique, but she is unusual in that her affection for the City, her positive vision for its future, and her progressive values are complemented by extensive experience in government, sound practical knowledge of how government functions, and a proven ability to define issues, discover the facts, get down to work, and transform values and vision into policy and reality.

    Vivienne shares POW!’s commitment to social equity, affordable housing, diversity, human-scale development, neighborhood viability, historic preservation, and the arts. She believes deeply in governmental transparency, citizen participation, and thoughtful planning. She is pledged to help our local businesses thrive, to promote our local food system, to fight irresponsible spending on the part of city government, and to stop the erosion of our city services. She has long supported environment protection, clean water, green spaces, and flood control. And a review of her record reveals that she practices what she preaches.

    Vivienne served on the City’s Solid Waste Commission from 1992 to 1997 and on the Ann Arbor Budget Review Committee in 1995. She served as the County Commissioner for northwest Ann Arbor from 1997 to 2004. During this period, she was a member of the Planning Commission, the Board of Public Works, and the Agricultural and Open Space Task Force. In recognition of her efforts toward farmland preservation, the Huron Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club named her an Environmental Steward of the Year in both 1998 and 1999. Having organized the Planning Advisory Board, she served as its first chair and helped produce the County’s first Comprehensive Plan in over twenty years.

    Vivienne Armentrout is a true public servant. Self-advancement does not motivate her. She cares about is Ann Arbor. POW! enthusiastically endorses her for the Fifth Ward City Council seat.

    (Charles Lewis enjoys traveling abroad and playing classical music in his own mind when he’s not doing political organizing for POW!.)

       —David Cahill    Aug. 4 '08 - 09:27PM    #
  17. When the results of the Ward 5 race are counted they’ll be here (nothing at 10pm)

       —Edward Vielmetti    Aug. 6 '08 - 06:03AM    #
  18. Ann Arbor News is reporting Carsten H. in the 5th, Tony D. in the 2nd and Sandi S. in the 1st: Here

       —HD    Aug. 6 '08 - 06:08AM    #
  19. Sorry, that link goes to the older of the two postings. Here’s the latest of what A2 News is reporting

       —HD    Aug. 6 '08 - 06:12AM    #
  20. Carsten won by 59 votes. Armentrout conceded.

       —Leah Gunn    Aug. 6 '08 - 08:42AM    #