Ann Arbor City Council Newsletter (February 18, 2024)

Feb 18, 2024 | Newsletter

Hello neighbors!

Welcome to my Ann Arbor City Council newsletter, where you can connect with primary sources to understand the work of your local government. My goal is to provide clear explanations of all the issues your elected representatives will be discussing at their next meeting and alert you to local policy and decisions that have been assigned to unelected Mayoral appointees.

This week, City Council meets on Tuesday, due to the Presidents Day holiday. The regular agenda this week is very short. There will be one public hearing, on an ordinance amendment that removes setback requirements between zoning districts. Council will also consider amendments to the Early Leasing ordinance and a resolution about City hiring practices. This week’s Consent Agenda includes an expenditure toward improving the Runnymede path in Ward 4. For more on that, see my Additional Thoughts below. 

Last week, City Council attended a work session to discuss economic development. They discussed specific strategies to increase and accelerate market rate development, eliminate public hearings, and promote “placemaking.” MLive reported on the meeting here:
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2024/02/ann-arbor-voters-may-decide-part-of-citys-new-development-strategy.html


Ann Arbor Democracy

In the 1970s, activists in Ann Arbor participated in a leftist, political alternative called the Human Rights Party or HRP. Locally and across the state of Michigan, the HRP fielded candidates and led ballot initiatives around progressive causes. During this period, the HRP met regularly to debate policy, craft platforms, and promote candidates. They successfully won three Ann Arbor City Council seats, two in 1972 and one in 1974. Many more HRP members were active behind the scenes and participated in other campaigns as candidates.

In 1973, Phil Carroll ran for City Council in Ward 4 as a member of HRP. In that race, a republican, Richard Hadler, won a plurality of the vote, beating both Carroll and democrat Ethel Lewis. In that race and the mayoral race of 1973, the HRP was widely seen as splitting the vote and causing republican victories. In our conversation, Phil and I talk about the work of organizing as a third party, his candidacy for US Congress, and the challenges of pushing back on the status quo.


In Case You Missed It…

On my YouTube channel, you can find recordings of public meetings that are open to attend live (online or in-person) but are not made available by the City to view later. Please reach out if you have suggestions about public meetings that should be recorded. Subscribe to my YouTube channel if you would like to be alerted to new content as it gets added.
https://www.youtube.com/@a2elnel

Council Administration Committee: February 13, 2024

This is a recording I made of a Zoom audio meeting held on Tuesday, February 13, 2024 by the Ann Arbor Council Administration Committee. Video was not made available. Note that the Zoom audio quality is poor.
https://a2council.com/council-administration-committee-february-13-2024/


Ann Arbor City Council Meeting Agenda

Below is my summary of issues on the City Council Agenda this week, with links to more information about each of them. If you have comments about any of these issues, you can email all of Council at CityCouncil@a2gov.org

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting
Tuesday February 20, 2024 7:00PM

Ann Arbor City Hall (2nd Floor)
301 E Huron St, Ann Arbor 48104

The full agenda (including a link to the latest published PDF agenda, and instructions for dialing into the meeting) is on the A2Gov Legistar website:
https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=1141232&GUID=16540AE6-CE61-473A-BA09-7A98513BFE03

City Council meetings are broadcast live by CTN on Comcast (channel 16) and AT&T (channel 99) and online at a2gov.org/watchCTN
Meetings are also streamed live on the CTN YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/user/ctnannarbor

How to reserve public comment

People that wish to comment at a City Council meeting must sign up with the City Clerk’s office in advance. Speakers are allotted 3 minutes, with the first 15 speakers allowed to speak in a 45 minute session near the beginning of the meeting. Remaining speakers will speak at the end of the Council meeting. Public comment can be made either in person or remotely via phone/Zoom audio.

To sign up for public comment, please go to or call the City Clerk’s Office at 734-794-6140 on the day of the meeting between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM. At 4:00 PM, all speakers that have signed up are randomly ordered in “priority groups”. After 4:00 PM, speakers are added to the end of the applicable priority group in the order received. No new speakers will be added to the list after 5:00 PM. For more information, visit the City Clerk’s webpage about electronic meetings, section “City Council Public Commentary Time”
https://www.a2gov.org/departments/city-clerk/Pages/Virtual-Meetings-.aspx

Questions to the Agenda

In preparation for a Council meeting, Council members can ask questions of staff about scheduled agenda items. Questions must be submitted by noon on the Wednesday before a Council Meeting, and answers are returned the next day (Thursday) by 5pm.

AC-1 (24-0209) Agenda Response Memo and eComments – February 20, 2024
This agenda item has a PDF attachment with all questions raised by Council Members, and the answers provided by staff. 

Communications from the Mayor

MC-1 (24-0169) Appointment – Confirmation
This appointment from the Mayor was presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.

  • Curt Zell – Board of Review

MC-2 (24-0237) Appointments and Nominations for February 20, 2024
This appointment from the Mayor is being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.

  • Robert Boley – Housing and Human Services Advisory Board

MC-3 (24-0239) Resolution to Appoint Sean Duval as a Non-resident Elector (7 Votes Required)
This appointment from the Mayor is being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting. Seven votes are required because the nominee is not a registered elector of the City of Ann Arbor.

  • Sean Duval – Economic Development Corporation Board

Consent Agenda

Below is the list of items included on the Consent Agenda. If no one on Council specifically requests that an item be pulled for discussion, the whole of this list will be approved in a single vote.

CA-1 (24-0109) Resolution to Appropriate Funds and Approve a Golf Cart Lease with Golf Cars Plus ($796,050.00) and Appropriate Funding for the Purchase of Two Groundsmaster Mowers for Parks and Recreation ($48,921.00) (8 Votes Required)

CA-2 (23-0710) Resolution Approving a Contract with the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County for the 2023 – 2024 Winter Emergency Shelter and Warming Center ($72,000.00)

CA-3 (24-0077) Resolution to Approve the 333 E. William Street Development Agreement (CPC Recommendation: Approval – 6 Yeas and 0 Nays)

CA-4 (24-0034) Resolution to Adopt the Ann Arbor Water Strategic Plan

CA-5 (23-2116) Resolution to Approve a Professional Services Agreement with OHM Advisors for Engineering Services for the Water Distribution Plan and Model Update ($604,797.00)

CA-6 (24-0093) Resolution to Approve the Appropriation of $140,000.00 from the General Fund Unobligated Fund Balance for the Design and Preparation of a Grant Application for the Pauline-Runnymede Path (8 Votes Required)

CA-7 (24-0078) Resolution to Approve Professional Services Agreements with DLZ Michigan, Inc. for $380,000.00; Intertek – Professional Service Industries, Inc. for $620,000.00; Materials Testing Consultants, Inc. for $830,000.00; and G2 Consulting Group, LLC for $300,000.00 for Construction Materials Testing Services

CA-8 (24-0101) Resolution to Approve a Cost Allocation Agreement with the Regents of the University of Michigan for the East Medical Center Drive Bridge Rehabilitation and Widening Project

CA-9 (24-0148) Resolution to Approve a Professional Services Agreement with Bodman, PLC for Legal Services to Support the City’s Participation in the 3M Company and DuPont PFAS Class Settlements and Appropriate Funds ($150,000.00)

CA-10 (24-0137) Resolution to Approve the Updated Stipulation and Settlement Agreement in Michigan Public Service Commission Case No. U-21376 Regarding DTE’s Distributed Generation Tariff Options

Public Hearings

Anyone wanting to comment on these issues may speak for 3 minutes, without having specifically reserved time. Issues subject to public hearing will also be up for a vote by Council later in the meeting.

PH-1/B-1 (23-1981) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.20.3, 5.20.4 and 5.20.6 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Conflicting Land Use Buffer) – CPC Recommendation: Approval (6 yes, 0 no) (ORD-24-02)
An amendment to the Unified Development Code will remove the requirement for a “conflicting land use buffer” (CLUB) between zoning districts. The UDC prescribes this buffer to be 15 feet of landscaping and “continuous screening” at least four feet high. The requirement has proven to be impractical in situations where two residential zoning districts meet and, for instance, might share a driveway. City staff further explain that the CLUB is an obstacle to “Planning efforts to increase mixed-use developments, increase density, and improve pedestrian friendliness in mixed-use zoning districts.” As amended, the CLUB requirement will not apply in situations where townhomes or multi-family (R3 and R4) abut other residential uses. After amendments, the CLUB will apply where Office (O), Research (RE), Office/Research/Limited Industrial (ORL), Commercial (C) or Industrial (M) parcels abut a public park or parcels zoned for residential purposes. Further amendments will combine and re-order CLUB requirements for vehicular use areas and solid waste/recycling containers.

Ordinances – Second Reading

In order to amend the city code, Council must vote to approve the change, via ordinance, at two Council meetings. The following proposed ordinances were approved at a previous Council meeting, and are also subject to a public hearing as listed above.

B-1 (23-1981) is the same as PH-1 above

Ordinances – First Reading

In order to amend the city code, Council must vote to approve the change, via ordinance, at two Council meetings. The following proposed ordinances are being introduced for “first reading”. If approved, the ordinance will be voted on at a subsequent Council meeting (“second reading”), where it will also be subject to a public hearing.

C-1 (24-0212) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 8:530 and 8:531 of Chapter 105 (Housing Code) of Title VII (Building Regulations) of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor
Amendments are proposed for what is sometimes referred to as the Early Leasing Ordinance. That ordinance also includes a right to renew for current tenants.

The original ordinance approved in 2021 aimed to address early pressure to commit to leases (and renew leases) nearly a full year in advance.
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5018056&GUID=E79E3457-BA68-4591-95B3-0F97B0710FFA

In 2022, further amendments granted current tenants a qualified “right to renew” (up until 150 days – five months – before the end of a lease). The 2022 amendments also established a right to relocation assistance (up to two months rent) in cases where landlords failed to make a good faith effort to renew a lease.
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5780260&GUID=3AD4E464-CB82-43BD-B2B4-09AFC37FA7CE

After the enactment of the original ordinance, some landlords continued to collect “reservation” deposits in advance of prescribed timelines. Tenants also reported that some landlords collected these “reservation” deposits for apartments that were ultimately unavailable, due to current tenants choosing to renew. This week, a staff memo refers to articles published in 2021 and 2022 that reported on these loopholes.

Proposed changes combine some sections and measure timelines slightly differently: instead of measuring 180 days before the end of the current lease period, the amended ordinance would refer to “210 days into the current lease.” Explanation is added, clarifying that the timeline for offering an apartment to a new tenant applies except where the landlord has “good cause” not to offer a renewal to a current tenant.

Motions and Resolutions

The following agenda items are motions and resolutions, which are approved or rejected in a single meeting. Agenda items marked “DC” are proposed by Council members, items marked “DB” are proposed by City boards and commissions, items marked “DS” are proposed by City staff.

DC-1 (24-0204) Resolution to Approve a Legal Services Agreement with Rosati, Schultz, Joppich & Amtsbeuchler, PC Relative to City Projects Requiring the Acquisition of Easements or Other Property Interests ($150,000.00)
A $150,000 professional agreement for legal services from Rosati, Schultz, Joppich & Amtsbeuchler, PC. Will support acquisition of easements and other property interests for public projects and condemnation litigation.

DC-2 (24-0226) Resolution in Support of Strengthening the City of Ann Arbor’s Fair Chance Hiring Practices
By resolution, Council re-iterates policies already in place for City hiring, while describing additional strategies. The City currently has a hiring policy, sometimes referred to as “ban the box,” to address discrimination against people with a history in the criminal justice system. In City job applications, candidate applications are reviewed and assessed without any inquiry about past criminal history. When a criminal background check is conducted, that information is considered on an “individualized assessment.” The whole of that policy can be found here:
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1745565&GUID=1D64AA0A-4199-42F9-A7EC-72DB1E797739

This week’s resolution recommends the use of Employability Certificates (issued by courts and parole boards), proposes an annual review/reporting on current policy, and urges partnerships to develop recruitment strategies.

DS-1 (24-0173) Resolution Authorizing Summary Publication of Ordinance 24-02 – An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.20.3, 5.20.4 and 5.20.6 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Conflicting Land Use Buffer)
In order to spare expense, the ordinance amendment in B-1 will be summarized for the purpose of meeting legal requirements for publication.


Additional Thoughts

I also published this on my website:
https://a2elnel.com/post/advocacy-and-facts-fixing-the-runnymede-path/

Advocacy and Facts: Fixing the Runnymede Path

NOTE: I wrote about this topic last month, when the Runnymede path was added to the City’s Capital Improvement Plan. See photos and diagrams, as well as link to an Mlive article here:
https://a2elnel.com/post/runnymede-path-on-capital-improvements-plan/

At their meeting this week (February 20, 2024), City Council will consider an expenditure that will hopefully lead to the repair of a pedestrian and cycling path in Ward 4, connecting the end of Runnymede Boulevard to Pauline Boulevard. 

CA-6 (24-0093) Resolution to Approve the Appropriation of $140,000.00 from the General Fund Unobligated Fund Balance for the Design and Preparation of a Grant Application for the Pauline-Runnymede Path (8 Votes Required)

Agenda item CA-6 will allocate $140,000 to cover the cost of preliminary design of an improved path, in anticipation of negotiating a City easement and receiving grant money toward funding repairs. I proposed the same plan in 2022 and it met significant opposition from Ward 4 Council Member Jen Eyer.

In 2019, I was told by City staff and attorneys that this path was on private property and the City had no leverage to force its repair. In 2022, when I learned that the condo association had offered the City an easement to facilitate its repair, I made inquiries and met with multiple City staff to craft a plan. That plan included the commitment of City funds and an application to receive TAP grants through SEMCOG.

This path is not a city right-of-way, but it appears on page 61 of the 2021 Moving Together Toward Vision Zero Comprehensive Transportation Plan as a proposed “all ages and abilities” route.
https://www.a2gov.org/departments/engineering/Documents/Ann%20Arbor%20Moving%20Together_Final%20Plan_June%202021.pdf

This transportation plan was approved by Council on June 7, 2021:
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4966626&GUID=6BCBF77F-9907-4F14-91D1-0AE06280AD85&FullText=1

In 2022, City staff helped me prepare a resolution to pursue a City easement, articulating the importance of this path as a City connector, used by families accessing Dicken Elementary School and Dicken residents accessing bus stops on Pauline. I wrote about it at the time:
https://a2elnel.com/post/runnymede-path-proposal-for-city-easement/

That resolution was added to the May 5, 2022 Council agenda. Unfortunately, it prompted a firestorm on social media— Council Member Jen Eyer led and encouraged attacks on the condo residents who can not afford to repair this path. When I learned that three members of Council – Mayor Taylor, Travis Radina, and Erica Briggs – planned to be absent for the May 5, 2022 Council meeting, I was advised to withdraw the resolution. I wrote about it here:
https://a2elnel.com/post/runnymede-path-listening-to-ward-4-residents/

Despite its removal from the May 5, 2022 Council agenda, CM Jen Eyer spoke at the meeting, continuing to argue against a City easement to improve the path:

“When Walden Village was developed, the city and the developer recognized the importance of maintaining this, what was already a public corridor. So it was written into the deed as part of the agreement that the Condo Association would pave and maintain the pathway going forward.”

This is not accurate. A 2022 staff memo (written at the request of CM Eyer) referred to meetings with the condo association and alluded to the truth: (link to staff memo)

“After a few meetings there appeared to be momentum toward getting the condo association to acknowledge their obligations regarding the path and to start considering capital investment strategies.”

Staff phrasing – using words like “momentum” and “considering” – is an admission that no legally enforceable obligation exists. A legally enforceable obligation is not dependent on convincing people to “acknowledge” it. Nothing in 50-year old development documents assigns responsibility for maintenance or improvement of this path. Without an easement or requirement for public access, the condo association could choose to fence off this path entirely. It is currently not a public right-of-way, though it functions as one.

In 2022, CM Eyer wildly mischaracterized the position of the condo association:

“In March, the board communicated that they had decided to commission a study to look at fixing the pathway among other things and develop a financial plan. The resolution that has now been withdrawn would have preempted further progress in this direction”

If Eyer had actually spoken to anyone from the condo association, they would have explained to her, as they have consistently told others: there are no funds available to repair a path that is primarily used by others. There was never any “progress” in the “direction” of foisting this cost on the condo residents. The community at Walden Hills is one of the few relatively affordable housing options in this part of Ward 4 and its residents are a reflection of that fact: many are older, on fixed incomes. Ironically, if this path existed in front of any one of the much more expensive single-family homes one block over, improvements to this path would be wholly covered by the City’s sidewalk millage.

In 2022, a staff memo suggested that a plan for an easement and TAP grant – the same strategy currently moving forward – was inconsistent with past practice and precedent:

“Staff believes that there are reasonable steps forward to improve the path in a timely manner without acquiring a full easement or expending city funds at this time.”

It’s unclear what has changed, if anything, in the last eighteen months. The TAP grant that is now expected to subsidize repair of this path has an application deadline in June. The staff memo from 2022 confirmed this deadline, while discouraging a plan to move forward:

“TAP grants are applied for and awarded on a rolling basis, with the next grant deadline being 6/22/22. While it is not impossible for the City to have a complete grant application by then it would be difficult given how extensive the application process is and the materials that would need to be prepared before then, some of which may require external design services.”

CM Eyer claimed in 2022:

“My goal is and has always been to get the pathway fixed as quickly as possible and do it in a way that is fair and follows precedent.”

Item CA-6 on this week’s agenda anticipates meeting TAP grant deadlines for 2024. It would appear that after obstructing plans in 2022, elected Ward 4 reps made no attempt to meet deadlines in 2023, despite their professed commitment to fix it “as quickly as possible.” 

The same plan that I proposed in 2022 appears to be moving forward, this time with both Ward 4 representatives aligned, repeating the same 2022 talking points. This weekend, CM Dharma Akmon sent a communication to residents, stating incorrectly: 

“The condo association is legally obligated to maintain the path and have committed funds to perform the repair work in 2025.”

No legal obligation attaches to this path and there is no commitment of funds from the condo association. This year, Ward 4 residents are in the unfortunate position of having to explain to both of their elected representatives that they deserve advocates, not talking points.


Thank you for taking the time to be informed about our local government!
Elizabeth Nelson