Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: A2D2 Yet Again

5. October 2009 • Juliew
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City Council: Monday, October 5 at 7:00 pm.
Ann Arbor City HallAgenda


  • Public Hearing on A2D2 Downtown Design Guidelines
  • Resolution to Approve Agreement with Clarion Associates for Integration and Clarification of Zoning and Land Use Ordinances
  • Resolution to Establish a Sandwich Sign Board Task Force
  • Resolution to continue the Moratorium on the Installation of New Parking Meters
  • Resolution to Permit Home Football Game Parking in Frisinger Park

  1. I attended a meeting hosted by Sandi Smith and Carsten Hohnke (Mike Anglin was out of town) where the intrusion of parking meters into residential neighborhoods was being discussed. They are looking for alternative sources of revenue to balance out the budgetary line that these meters were supposed to fill. The sandwich sign task force is related to this. Currently the signs are placed outside downtown businesses at no charge, yet merchants have to pay rent for tables, etc. placed on the city sidewalks. Rather than simply imposing a fee, they are establishing a task force. Good work.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 5 '09 - 05:02PM    #
  2. I attended the end of the meeting Vivienne mentioned that was conducted by Council Members Smith and Hohnke, too. One of Council Member Smith’s concerns seems to be finding funding to replace the projected revenue from ill-consider plan to place parking meters in residential neighborhoods. I think the amount was about $90,000. Both Smith and Hohnke should be credited for their work to keep parking meters out of neighborhoods surrounding downtown.

    On the other hand, as they look desperately for that $90K, the Council agenda tonight includes an item which will spend $122,480 to hire an out of town consultant to study our zoning. This does not seem like the right time to spend scarce resources on another consultant.

    Similarly, right now the city has an outstanding RFP to hire a consultant to prepare a plan to tell the city how to manage our urban forest. The City has 2 management employees who are responsible for managing the city’s urban forest, but will add to that expense by hiring an outside consultant.

    We should stop spending on consultants and devote those resources to the essential services in the budget that are being cut for lack of general fund revenue. I’d rather have police and fire protection than consultant reports, right now.

       —Jack Eaton    Oct. 5 '09 - 07:44PM    #
  3. Yes, the message seems to be that every service and program important to residents of our city must find matching revenue, but there is a bottomless well for special projects like the FITS transportation center and consultants as mentioned here.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 5 '09 - 08:41PM    #
  4. “…the message seems to be that every service and program important to residents of our city must find matching revenue…”

    More accurate: …important to some residents of our city…

       —Marvin Face    Oct. 5 '09 - 11:37PM    #
  5. Will the zoning review help address issues like the City Place proposal where zoning does not agree with the master plan for the area?

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Oct. 6 '09 - 06:12PM    #
  6. A good question. It would be nice if that could happen, that zoning was reconciled with master plans. I suspect that would be difficult for established areas, since up- or down-zoning makes a difference in property use and therefore value. It has been the custom to leave existing zoning grandfathered in for parcels, and there are a number of cases where a parcel has inappropriate zoning for the area. For example, a former industrial area might still be zoned for those uses, while the area has become a mix of residential and retail. Usually zoning is changed only on request of the property owner. It is a big deal when it is done otherwise. Remember the Granger area downzoning?

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 6 '09 - 06:49PM    #
  7. Ms. Armentrout, I whole heartedly agree with your sentiment that it would be nice if zoning was reconciled with the master plan but I am not sure of your points beyond the first few sentences. Once you begin, “It has been the custom …” I no longer follow.

    For example, as far as I understand, a parcel’s zoning is not ‘grandfathered’, it simply is its zoning. The use may be grandfathered if the zoning changes while there is continuous use of a building, which was based on the old zoning.

    I am also lost on your example of ‘inappropriate zoning’. In your example you have residential and retail in an industrial zone. But I would think that to find residential and retail (new or renovated buildings) in that industrial zone, they were either an allowed use, or they were an accessory use, or they were a PUD. Somehow the municipality has to have allowed that use to be in that zone. If not they are illegal.

    Lastly, “Usually zoning is changed only on request of the property owner.” There certainly are examples on both sides of this, and I have no idea of the numbers, but there have been whole neighborhoods re-zoned here such that every lot is non-conforming causing owners to have to go to the Building Board of Appeals for the smallest change. In the early 80’s (I think) the city changed the minimum requirements of some of the zones (so technically they did not change your zone) such that the existing lots were all smaller than the new minimum required lot size; therefore non-conforming. The current use was allowed to continue but they could not be upgraded, or added on to, without going through an appeal process. I am certain that they were not re-zoned due to the request of the owners.

    The example is interesting because while this zone was for two-family houses, most were single-family. By just changing the minimum lot size the city essentially locked the neighborhood in as single-family while being also able to say that it really did not change the zoning; It is still an R2 zone.

       —abc    Oct. 8 '09 - 12:47AM    #
  8. Yes, I know whole neighborhoods have been changed. Please reread the last two sentences of my prior comment. But as I said, that is a big deal with plenty of discussion at council.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 8 '09 - 05:48PM    #
  9. My immediate neighborhood is almost entirely non-conforming in its existing zoning; every single time someone wants to rebuild one of their crumbling garages they need to go to the zoning board of appeals and get the neighbors to agree to the project, because the lots are so small compared to the current zoning regulations.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Oct. 8 '09 - 06:34PM    #
  10. Looking at the text of the zoning item on the City’s website, it would not appear to change the regulations affecting anybody’s property. Rather, the intent is to make the ordinance clearer and more user-friendly:

    The current zoning and development ordinances have many issues that make it difficult to use. The issues can be summarized as: 1) the overall organization structure is cumbersome and it can be challenging to find code sections; 2) related standards are often contained in different code sections and can be difficult to navigate; 3) a lack of clarity in code language makes the code difficult to interpret; 4) there are some ordinance gaps and provisions that are out-of-date or may have minor inconsistencies with state law, and 5) the use of terms is inconsistent. …

    Material changes to the code will not be addressed in this project. This effort will focus on the development of a solid framework so that future code changes – both technical and substantive – can be more easily incorporated. Material code changes will be undertaken as a rewrite of zoning standards following the development of the City of Ann Arbor Master Plan: Land Use Element, Phase II: Update Land Use Recommendations, a three-year process scheduled to begin in 2010. Material code changes that may surface as part of this effort will be collected in a “Suggestions for Future Changes” document for use as a part of the future zoning rewrite effort.

    All of the issues mentioned regarding zoning’s inelegance in existing neighborhoods are real, but not the subject of the current proposal. Rather, the intent here seems to be just making it easier for you to figure out how non-conforming your home is. :)

       —Murph    Oct. 10 '09 - 08:19PM    #
  11. A Sandwich Sign Board Task Force?

    What is that all about?

       —John Dory    Oct. 11 '09 - 11:17PM    #
  12. Look sharp, John Dory. Things move quickly in this town. You should pay attention now and again.

       —Marvin Face    Oct. 12 '09 - 04:42AM    #
  13. @John Dory:

    I found this from the Sign Board of Appeals minutes on sandwich sign boards:

    SBA Minutes – 12-09-08.pdf

    You, too, can find this, with the help of Legistar; start at

    “S. Schweer – Is enforcement going to be addressed? (M. Lloyd – Not as far as a ‘program’ per se, but it will be addressed.) If we don’t get some enforcement soon, there will be no need for the Board to be coming to meetings. It’s a floodgate of non-conformance, because business owners are convinced that it’s impossible to get a variance, and we feel that we don’t have the flexibility within the Chapter to deviate from those decisions. Sandwich boards? Those are illegal. Off premises sandwich boards? Those are advertising something on the other side of town! We’re going to be up to our ears in sandwich boards if we don’t put a lid on this. If you have to organize how you’re going to attack the problems in administering signage, you should start with enforcement. (M. Lloyd – stated that enforcement is a problem). Mr. Schweer suggested that one parking enforcement officer be dedicated to one day per month on sign enforcement. (The Board had lengthy discussion on filing a code issue – that they feel that even then, the issue is not enforced or followed up on and wonders if their time being a part of this Board is just a waste of time.)

       —Edward Vielmetti    Oct. 12 '09 - 05:23AM    #
  14. I haven’t followed the signboard issue carefully but here are a couple of points.

    1. It has been stated that signboards proliferating on sidewalks impedes easy access by disabled pedestrians (creates obstacles).

    2. Since the city sidewalks are not the property of businesses and rent has been charged and regulations for other uses of those thoroughfares, it is reasonable to impose fees for this use.

    3. The city needs additional sources of revenue and this has been proposed as an alternative to placing parking meters in residential neighborhoods.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 12 '09 - 06:00AM    #
  15. I rarely say this out loud, but — a Sandwich Sign Board Task Force? That’s bullshit. I know we don’t have many other problems, but really.

       —MattH    Oct. 12 '09 - 06:48AM    #
  16. Vivienne,

    Portable signs are already prohibited, except for real estate open house signs.

    5:508. Prohibited signs.
    (8) Portable Signs. Except as provided in Section 5:507(4), any freestanding exterior sign not permanently anchored or secured to either a building or the ground.

    (4) Portable real estate “open house” signs with an area not greater than 6 square feet. One such sign may be located on the premises being sold. No more than two additional such signs are permitted and may be placed in the public right-of-way, notwithstanding the prohibition in Section 5:508(12) provided, however, that a property owner shall have the right to remove and destroy or otherwise dispose of without notice to any person, signs which are placed without his or her permission on his or her property, including signs placed in that portion of the public right-of-way which is an easement across the property. All of the signs permitted by this Section 5:507(4) and pertaining to a single property may be displayed only for 6 hours during 1 day in any 7-day period. All such signs shall be located so as not to interfere with the free passage of vehicular and pedestrian traffic upon the public right-of-way, and so as not to constitute a hazard to public safety.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Oct. 12 '09 - 10:35AM    #
  17. The corresponding pro-sandwich-sign-board argument should run as follows:

    1. It’s already illegal to block a sidewalk; we don’t need a special law regarding sandwich sign boards to enforce clear pedestrian access to the sidewalks.

    2. Since city sidewalks and easements are owned maintained by property owners, it is reasonable to grant them the right to use that space for commercial purposes, without unduly burdening them with regulations; it should be no harder to put a sign in front of your business than it should be to keep a chicken in your back yard.

    3. Merchants need additional sources of revenue, and advertising your business on the street is traditionally one of the ways of encouraging foot and pedestrian traffic that is the hallmark of a walkable city.

    4. Historical photos clearly show that sandwich boards in Ann Arbor date back at least to the 1870s, e.g this from Nickels Meat Market

       —Edward Vielmetti    Oct. 12 '09 - 10:47AM    #
  18. RE: # 17. Ed is 100% correct. This over regulation is getting to be Kafka-like. Good lord!

    A Sandwich Sign Board Task Force?????? Maybe we can get the AAPAC to have a sub task force to make sure all the colors match too.

    These are the same fools who wanted to pull down the Big Ten Party Store sign because any ‘update’ was a violation of the current law.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Oct. 12 '09 - 03:21PM    #
  19. Sounds as though the first meeting should be lively. I’m not personally invested in any particular outcome except that I don’t want to see parking meters in residential neighborhoods and this was proposed as one source of revenue to prevent that. One could question whether the city should be budgeting so that such off-setting revenue is necessary to prevent a bad policy to begin with.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 12 '09 - 03:58PM    #
  20. There is an existing permit facility that allows merchants to block off a portion of a sidewalk for commercial purposes; it’s called a “sidewalk occupancy permit”. Here’s an example of one.

    Permit SOCC09-0169

    If it were my business, I’d argue that the sandwich board in front was covered by the sidewalk occupancy permit.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Oct. 12 '09 - 06:37PM    #
  21. We should appoint Blaine Coleman to the Sandwich Sign Task Force. He actually wears one.

       —Jerry Gilbert    Oct. 12 '09 - 07:33PM    #
  22. Ed, the link you provided takes one to the ETrackit home page – it is necessary to copy in the permit number in order to view the permit.

    I looked and that permit called for a $96 fee. I would assume that a similar fee would be charged for a sandwich board if it were placed under the terms of a similar permit.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 12 '09 - 09:51PM    #