Ann Arbor City Council Newsletter (January 20, 2024)

Jan 20, 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’s City Council agenda includes four public hearings ahead of final approval for issues that were previously approved unanimously (first reading):

  • B-1 Rezoning of 45 parcels (127 acres) at Plymouth Road to “Transit Corridor” district.
  • B-2 Expanding permitted uses in “mixed use” zoning districts
  • B-3 Adjusting regulation of solar arrays in residential front and back yards
  • B-4 Amending the nondiscrimination ordinance to regulate hiring practices of City contractors.

Additionally, Council will vote on ordinance changes that eliminate “land use buffers” between zoning districts, a new director for the Downtown Development Authority, and a new sister city in Ukraine.

A2 SmartTours

As part of the City’s Bicentennial celebrations, residents have researched and organized a collection of fifteen ”SmartTours” encompassing 177 sites to be visited using your smartphone. Discover stories about distinctive landmarks, historic neighborhoods, iconic commercial areas, engaging Huron River hikes, plus an intriguing scavenger tour.
https://aadl.org/a2st


Sports Illustrated Resorts Update

I published a longer version of this update on my website:
https://a2elnel.com/post/sports-illustrated-resorts-will-bring-the-notoriety-that-ann-arbor-deserves/

This week, much has been written in regional and national publications about the collapse of Sports Illustrated as a publication and brand. In local news: the City has announced plans for a public meeting so that residents can learn about a proposed Sports Illustrated Resorts branded hotel and conference center at the Kline lot (William/Ashley). This City-owned parcel (currently a parking lot) was previously designated for the development of affordable housing.

Sports Illustrated Resorts Information Session
Monday January 29, 2024 7:00PM

City Council Chambers, Ann Arbor City Hall (2nd Floor)

The meeting will be broadcast live on CTN and Zoom. More information is available in the City’s press release.

City press release: https://www.a2gov.org/news/pages/article.aspx?i=1030

MLive story: https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2024/01/ann-arbor-calls-community-meeting-to-discuss-sports-illustrated-resort-proposal.html

Ahead of that meeting, there is an opportunity for residents to learn more, directly from the developers. This week, promoters of Sports Illustrated Resorts published this website:
https://sia2.siresorts.com

I encourage everyone to visit this site to read about how developers believe it will be “a significant game changer to continue to bring the notoriety that Ann Arbor deserves.” 

Some of the content posted on this website is surprising enough that I suspect it may be changed or edited. Read the original content and where it may contradict other available information:

Read more about this on my website:
https://a2elnel.com/post/sports-illustrated-resorts-will-bring-the-notoriety-that-ann-arbor-deserves/


Ann Arbor Democracy

In 1974, a Democrat named Colleen McGee narrowly beat a Human Rights Party candidate and a Republican to win the Ward 1 City Council seat previously held by Jerry DeGrieck (HRP). During her term (1974-1976), Colleen served first under Republican Mayor James Stephenson and – after the contested election of 1975 – then Democratic Mayor Al Wheeler. In Part 1 of our conversation, Colleen talks about gerrymandered ward boundaries, rent control, and political organizing.


Runnymede Path on Capital Improvements Plan

I also published this on my website:
https://a2elnel.com/post/runnymede-path-on-capital-improvements-plan/

In 2022, I worked with City staff on a plan for improvements to a path at the end of Runnymede. This path is a city connector used by residents accessing bus stops on Pauline as well as children attending Dicken School. My efforts faced strong opposition from a majority of Council, led most aggressively by Ward 4 Council Member Jen Eyer.

Runnymede Path Ann Arbor map April 2022

This week, Ryan Stanton of Mlive reported on the status of this crumbling path at Runnymede.
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2024/01/ann-arbor-planning-possible-750000-fix-for-condo-complexs-crumbling-path.html

Stanton’s article explains my efforts in 2022 to negotiate a City easement and get this path improved, at an estimated cost of $400,000. This year, the path has been added to the City’s Capital Improvements Plan at an estimated cost of $750,000.
https://www2.a2gov.org/gis/cipmaps/TR-AT-25-01.pdf

Runnymede Path in Ann Arbor Capital Improvements Plan January 2024

Consistent with what was proposed in 2022, work on this path will include a City easement. It will be funded primarily by state/federal grants ($485,000) and the City ($100,000). The resident owners of 53 condo units at Walden Village will be asked to pay the remaining $165,000 toward improvements.

This week, the president of the Walden Village condo association spoke to Mlive and “expressed concerns the complex has a number of older residents on fixed incomes.” He explained that asking these residents to cover $165,000 is not realistic.

In 2022, I wrote about why it was appropriate to get a City easement for this path and invest in improvements:

The City of Ann Arbor recognizes the value of public funding for infrastructure to support non-motorized transit. In 2011, voters in Ann Arbor approved a millage to fund the repair of sidewalks in the public right-of-way. In 2020, voters in Ann Arbor approved a millage to fund the construction of new sidewalks. The premise of both of these millages: the community benefit of safe pedestrian access should not depend on a property owner’s ability to pay a City assessment.

https://a2elnel.com/post/runnymede-path-proposal-for-city-easement/

Notably, if this path were located in front of any single family home in Dicken, residents would not be asked to shoulder the cost of improvements.

Council opposition to improving this path in 2022 was remarkable and I wrote about it:

In response to my resolution, one of my colleagues posted a string of claims on multiple platforms of social media: disputing the fact that I had worked with City staff, inflating the actual cost of the project, insisting that I had somehow interfered with a process that was close to success, and disparaging the Ward 4 condo residents I had been talking to. On social media, those messages prompted many more attacks on residents of Ward 4 and attacks on anyone outside of Ward 4 who supported the proposal. Ward 4 residents were vilified for simply seeking a solution to a problem.

https://a2elnel.com/post/runnymede-path-listening-to-ward-4-residents/

I am very curious to see how this project moves forward. Though it is now listed and included in the Capital Improvements Plan, funding for work would not be available before 2025/26. Additionally, residents of Walden Village condos have not agreed to (and cannot be forced to) cover the $165,000 in cost that has been assigned to them.


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
Monday January 22, 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=1147230&GUID=F5664319-5B18-4098-8D6E-2D30B9FEF8B8

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 (24-0091) Agenda Response Memo and eComments
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 (24-0104) Appointments and Nominations for January 22, 2024
This appointment from the Mayor is being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.

  • Lisa Campbell – Transportation Commission
  • Lorraine Buis – Commission on Disability Issues
  • Elizabeth Martin – Board of Review

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 (23-2123) Resolution to Approve Street Closings for the Shamrocks and Shenanigans 5K Run/Walk – Sunday, March 10, 2024

CA-2 (23-2128) Resolution to Approve Five-Year Professional Services Agreements for As-Needed Engineering Services for Parks & Recreation with SmithGroup, ROWE Professional Services Company, OHM Advisors, and Beckett & Raeder, Inc. (NTE Annual $300,000.00 Per Firm)

CA-3 (24-0011) Resolution to Vacate a Water Main Easement at 1300 S. Maple Road from Grace Bible Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan (8 Votes Required)

CA-4 (23-2134) Resolution to Approve the Tenth Amendment to Professional Services Agreement with Bodman, PLC, for Legal Services Relative to 1,4-Dioxane from Gelman Sciences, Inc., dba Pall Life Sciences ($200,000.00) (8 Votes Required)

CA-5 (23-2131) Resolution to Approve Amendment 1 to the Master Content Subscription Agreement with OpenSesame Inc., for Learning and Development Content integrated into the UKG Learning and Development module for FY2024 – FY2026 ($16,188.00)

CA-6 (23-2127) Resolution to Approve Purchase of Splash Pad and Playground Equipment for Bicentennial Park from Penchura, LLC and Appropriate Funds ($757,664.29) (8 Votes Required)

CA-7 (23-2010) Resolution to Approve the 121 Catherine Street Development Agreement (CPC Recommendation: Approval – 8 Yes, 0 No)

CA-8 (23-2110) Resolution to Award Construction Contracts for Galvanized Water Service Line Replacements to All Seasons Underground Construction Inc (Not-to-Exceed $1,117,640.00 per year) and D’Angelo Bros., Inc. (Not-to-Exceed $1,117,640.00 per year) for Two Years (ITB No. 4740)

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 (23-1973) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code), Rezoning of 45 Parcels in the Plymouth Road Area to TC1 (Transit Corridor District), City-Initiated Rezoning, (CPC Recommendation: Approval as Amended – 7 Yeas and 0 Nays) (ORD-23-36)
Forty-five (45) parcels at Plymouth Road (127 acres) are proposed to be rezoned to Transit Corridor district (TC-1), consistent with staff recommendation. On November 1, 2023, Mayoral appointees on the Planning Commission amended the zoning district to add eight parcels (70 acres). At first reading (December 18, 2023), by friendly amendment City Council removed those additional 70 acres from the zoning district, due to a failure to provide proper notice.

The City held a public engagement meeting about this rezoning on October 12, 2023: 
https://a2council.com/tc-1-plymouth-road-rezoning-public-meeting-of-october-12-2023/

The Planning Commission approved changes on November 1, 2023: 
https://a2council.com/ann-arbor-city-planning-commission-november-1-2023/

PH-2/B-2 (23-1983) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.15, 5.16 and 5.37 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Banquet Hall, Personal Services, Veterinary Uses) CPC Recommendation: Denial (5 yes, 0 no) (ORD-23-37)
Amendments to the Uniform Development Code call for adding “Banquet Hall” as a permitted use in all mixed-use zoning districts. Additional amendments will expand permitted uses in the Office (O) zoning district: all types of personal services, fraternity/sorority, student cooperative housing, club headquarters, community center, religious assembly, private [K-12] schools, indoor recreation as primary uses (rather than special exception), trade/industrial schools as primary uses. The amendment also separates kennels/animal boarding from veterinarian offices in the permitted use table.

This amendment was considered by the Planning Commission on June 6, 2023. 
https://a2council.com/ann-arbor-city-planning-commission-june-6-2023/

These amendments were requested by Oxford Properties (CEO is campaign donor Jeff Hauptman). When this issue was discussed at the City Planning Commission, then commissioner (and current chair of the Planning Commission) Wonwoo Lee had to recuse himself, due to his employment as Chief Real Estate Officer for Oxford Companies.

As stated in Legistar for this Council meeting: “Six of the nine members of the City Planning Commission were present at its June 6, 2023 meeting. One member recused himself on this agenda item, leaving five members to discuss and vote on the proposed amendments. Although all five of the remaining members voted to approve the motion, the motion failed to earn the requisite six affirmative votes in order to pass.”

PH-3/B-3 (23-1990) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.16 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Personal Scale SES) CPC Recommendation: Approval (8 yes, 0 no) (ORD-23-38)
An ordinance amendment will explicitly permit placement of solar panel arrays in front yard setbacks and removes the maximum rear setback lot coverage requirements (35%) that currently applies to all accessory structures.

Currently, solar arrays are considered an accessory structure subject to this term in the Uniform Development Code: 5.16.6.A.2.d: Accessory Buildings may occupy Rear Setback Areas provided that such Buildings do not occupy more than 35% of the required Rear Setback Area and are not closer than three feet to any Lot Line.

This amendment will permit the placement of personal scale solar arrays up to ten feet from the Lot Line, and allow unlimited coverage in the Rear Setback Area.

PH-4/B-4 (23-2034) An Ordinance to Amend Section 9:158 of Chapter 112 (Non-Discrimination) of Title IX of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor to Prohibit City Contractors’ Inquiry Into Job Applicants’ Criminal History Until After Conditional Offer of Employment; and Require City Contractors to Document Efforts to Employ Local Persons for City Construction Contracts (ORD-24-01)
Amendments to the City’s non-discrimination ordinance will prohibit city contractors from inquiring into a job applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. This applies only to the employees used to fulfill a City contract. It does not apply to hiring practices for employees who produce of provide goods and/or services unrelated to a City contract. Employment may be contingent on a criminal background check and the City may still conduct background checks for positions where there is a statutory duty to do so. Contractors will also be required to document efforts to employ local people.

This ordinance is an extension of City policy that was implemented in 2014 by a previous Council, commonly referred to as “ban the box”. (Legistar)
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2014/05/felons_no_longer_required_to_d.html

Since 2014, City job applications have not included an inquiry into criminal records except for the police and fire departments. The City conducts criminal background checks only after an applicant’s qualifications have already been determined. The significance of any criminal history is weighed in an individualized assessment.

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 (23-1973) is the same as PH-1 above
B-2 (23-1983) is the same as PH-2 above
B-3 (23-1990) is the same as PH-3 above
B-4 (23-2034is the same as PH-4 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 (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)
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.

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 (24-0085) Resolution to Approve the Hiring of Maura K. Thomson as the Executive Director of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA)
Maura K. Thomson will be hired as the new executive director of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). She will be the third director of the DDA since 2020.

In 2020, DDA director Susan Pollay retired after 24 years.
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2020/12/ann-arbor-dda-bids-farewell-to-susan-pollay-after-24-years-leading-downtown-authority.html

Susan Pollay’s replacement, Jeff Watson, left the position in 2022.
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2022/12/ann-arbor-dda-parts-ways-with-director-after-closed-session-performance-review.html

Maura Thomson previously served as director of the Main Street Area Association, communications manager for the DDA and most recently as interim executive director of the DDA.

You can read more about the DDA here:
https://www.a2dda.org/

DC-2 (24-0089) Resolution to Recognize the City of Lubny, Ukraine as a Sister City of the City of Ann Arbor
The City of Lubny, Ukraine will be recognized as a sister city to the City of Ann Arbor, with plans to “collaborate and share expertise in the areas of waste management, emergency management, and development strategy.”

The idea of this official connection to a sister City in Ukraine was first proposed in a meeting of the Council Administrative committee in November 2023. Find more information about that meeting as well as a recording here:
https://a2council.com/council-administration-committee-november-14-2023/

A story from Ryan Stanton of MLive:
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2023/11/ann-arbor-looks-to-forge-new-sister-city-relationship-in-war-torn-ukraine.html

DS-1 (23-2129) Resolution Authorizing Summary Publication of Ordinance 23-37 – An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.15, 5.16, and 5.37 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Banquet Hall, Personal Services, Veterinary Uses)
In order to spare expense, the ordinance amendment in B-2 will be summarized to meet legal requirements for publication.

DS-2 (23-2130) Resolution Authorizing Summary Publication of Ordinance 23-38 – An Ordinance to Amend Section 5.16 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Personal Scale SES)
In order to spare expense, the ordinance amendment in B-3 will be summarized to meet legal requirements for publication


Additional Thoughts

I also published this on my website:
https://a2elnel.com/post/staff-proposal-to-eliminate-citizen-participation-meetings/

Staff Proposal to Eliminate Citizen Participation Meetings

Communications this week include a report of “recommendations” as requested by resolution in June 2023.

Resolution Directing City Administrator to Identify Incentives that Would Support Voluntary Efforts to Increase Emissions Reductions
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=6235225&GUID=DF7BB50E-8D7E-4F5A-AAAF-9B0CA712430A

That resolution asked the City Administrator to consult with City staff to “identify incentives that would support voluntary efforts by residents and businesses to increase emissions reductions.” Additionally, the resolution asked for strategies to achieve these goals through the development review process. 

Incentives to Electrification – Response to R-23-192
https://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=12594824&GUID=5CE2F5BA-6590-4925-8E5D-90876EE7525C

The report in AC-2 telegraphs a plan to eliminate transparency and accountability to the public; it will not be voted on this week, but is listed on this week’s agenda among “Communications.”

The short report (slightly over two pages) recommends that “high energy efficient” developments with limited natural gas hookups — apart from commercial kitchens and backup power — should be relieved of current requirements to host a citizens engagement meeting. Staff recommends that such developments could also be exempted from review and approval by the City’s Planning Commission and could, instead, be approved by City staff. Specific fees for site plan review/entitlements could be waived. Staff suggests that proceeds from the Sustainability Millage could potentially support electrification and “any anticipated improvement costs that would be borne by the project.” 

These recommendations would wholly eliminate notification/information for near neighbors (within 1000 feet) that currently happens via citizens participation meetings. Also eliminated: transparency to the whole of our community that currently happens via public hearing/approval at the City’s Planning Commission. After removing every opportunity for the public to learn about and offer feedback/input re: a new development, staff suggests that the public could then pay to subsidize and support those new developments via the Sustainability Millage.

In the past, elected representatives have recognized community residents as both constituents and stakeholders. The Unified Development Code (UDC) explains the purpose of Citizens Participation meetings:

5.28.4. Citizen Participation Requirements
A. Purpose
Ensure that Applicants seeking approval of certain applications that require public hearings pursue early and effective citizen participation in conjunction with their proposed Developments, giving citizens an early opportunity to learn about, understand and comment upon proposals, and providing an opportunity for citizens to be involved in the Development of their neighborhood and community. 
Provide clear expectations and formal guidance for Applicants to gather citizen comments regarding their proposals so that they may respond and attempt to mitigate any real or perceived impacts their proposed Development may have on the community. 
Facilitate ongoing communications between Applicants and interested or potentially affected citizens throughout the application review process.

The policy ideas in AC-2 would be consistent with the current Council’s efforts to reduce public transparency and accountability to residents, while approving financial benefits and advantages to profit interests and campaign donors. For details on that, see:
https://a2elnel.com/post/one-full-year-of-unanimous-government/

If the recommendations in AC-2 move forward for consideration and a vote of City Council, they are likely to be approved unanimously.


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