Ann Arbor City Council Newsletter (June 30, 2024)

Jun 30, 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, Ann Arbor City Council considers a very short agenda. In DC-2, Council will direct the sale of the City-owned property at Ashley and William through a private broker and in DC-3, it will change the allocation of federal money (American Rescue Plan Act – ARPA – funds) that were previously committed to the development of an unarmed safety response program.

MORE VOTERS, MORE CANDIDATES, LESS MONEY

If you believe in increasing voter participation, join efforts to put a question on the ballot to allow more voters to choose Ann Arbor’s elected Council Members and Mayor! For more information:

A2NonPartisan.com

If you believe that candidates should find support from more local residents rather than relying on big donors, join efforts to put a question on the ballot that would address the influence of big money and PACs on our local elections for City Council and Mayor. For more information:

A2Future.com

Visit 310 S. Ashley on weekdays from 3 – 7 p.m. to sign petitions to put these election reforms on the ballot!


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 July 1, 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=1141277&GUID=914AAFC9-65C9-4E9B-8CE0-C2B441CB71F5

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 (24-1285) Agenda Response Memo and eComments – July 1, 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 (24-1219) Appointments – Confirmations
This appointment from the Mayor was presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.

  • Richard Norton – City Planning Commission

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 (24-1216) Resolution to Approve Closing Maynard Street between East Liberty and East William Streets for the Firefighter Spray Park in the District on Thursday, July 4, 2024

CA-2 (24-1217) Resolution to Approve Closure of East Liberty between South Division and South Fifth for Sonic Lunch Performances for the Remaining Events on July 11, July 25, August 1, August 8 and August 15, 2024 from 7:00 A.M. until 3:00 P.M.

CA-3 (24-1240) Resolution to Approve Changes to Traffic Patterns and Parking on Certain City Streets for the 2024 University of Michigan Student Move-In Program from August 21 – August 25, 2024

CA-4 (24-1244) Resolution to Approve Street Closures for University of Michigan Football Games for the 2024 Season

CA-5 (24-0963) Resolution to Approve a Contract with Duke Roofing Inc. for the Fire Station #1 Roof Installation Project (PI RFP# 24-21) ($186,900.00)

CA-6 (24-1208) Resolution to Approve the Second Amendment to the Service Contract between CompOne Administrators, Inc. and the City, dated July 1, 2019, to Continue Services for an Additional Three Years ($89,274.00)

CA-7 (24-1218) Resolution to Approve and Appropriate FY 24 Budget and Allocations for 1-Year Mini-Grants as Part of the New Human Service Partnership – $144,904.00 of the $1,207,529.00 Budgeted (General Fund)

CA-8 (24-0795) Resolution to Approve Amendment Number 1 with the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County for the 2023 – 2024 Winter Emergency Shelter and Warming Center ($100,000.00)


CA-9 (24-1014) Resolution to Approve a Community-Based Crisis Response Pilot Grant Contract with the Michigan State Police and to Accept a Grant in the Amount of $483,000.00 (8 Votes Required)
This item was pulled from the agenda on 6/26/24

CA-10 (24-0140) Resolution to Sell 1510 E. Stadium Blvd. to the Ann Arbor Housing Development Corporation ($35,000.00) (8 Votes Required)

CA-11 (23-0425) Resolution to Approve a Grant of Easement to the Benz Creek Drainage District at Huron Hills Golf Course (8 Votes Required)

CA-12 (23-0426) Resolution to Approve a Grant of Easement to the Traver Creek Drainage District at Leslie Park Golf Course (8 Votes Required)

CA-13 (23-0427) Resolution to Approve a Grant of Easement to the Millers Creek Drainage District at Glazier Hills Park (8 Votes Required)

CA-14 (23-0729) Resolution to Approve a Grant of Easement to the Malletts Creek Drainage District at Churchill Downs Park and Eisenhower Park (8 Votes Required)

CA-15 (24-1212) Resolution to Approve Participation in the Purchase of a Conservation Easement on the DeForest Salem property in Salem Township, Approve a Participation Agreement with the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, and Appropriate $214,000.00 (8 Votes Required)

CA-16 (24-1213) Resolution to Accept a $338,100.00 Grant and Approve a Parcel Contract with USDA-NRCS for a Conservation Easement on the St. John’s Property in Northfield Township (8 Votes Required)

CA-17 (24-1214) Resolution to Accept a $257,250.00 Grant and Approve a Parcel Contract with USDA-NRCS for a Conservation Easement on the Ehnis Trust Property in Northfield Township (8 Votes Required)

CA-18 (24-1215) Resolution to Accept a $245,000.00 Grant and Approve a Parcel Contract with USDA-NRCS for a Conservation Easement on the Fishbeck III Property in Superior Township (8 Votes Required)

CA-19 (24-1110) Resolution in Support of City’s Revised Public Street Stormwater Management Guidelines Policy

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.

There are no public hearings on the agenda

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.

There are no second readings on the agenda

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.

There are no first readings on the agenda

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 (24-1070) Resolution to Appoint Bentley Johnson to the Greenbelt Advisory Commission
This appointment is from CM Radina, who serves on the Greenbelt Advisory Commission. This was presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.

  • Bentley Johnson – Greenbelt Advisory Commission

DC-2 (24-1246) Resolution to Endorse the Use of a Broker for the Sale and Development of the Kline’s Lot
By resolution, City Council will direct the sale of the City-owned surface lot at William and Ashley, sometimes called the Kline lot. If approved, Council will direct that sale of the lot be managed by a private broker, rather than through a public RFP (“request for proposals”) process. 

For more information, see my “Additional Thoughts” section below.

DC-3 (24-1274) Resolution to Approve the Reallocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funds
If approved, $3.5 million of federal ARPA funds previously allocated for an unarmed safety response program will be re-allocated to the following purposes:

  • $2,000,000 Barton Dam Embankment Project    
  • $500,000 Emergency Operations Center
  • $395,082 Second Ambulance Acquisition
  • $400,000 Bicentennial Park Improvements
  • $100,000 Safe House – Domestic Violence Support

These funds must be reallocated because the terms of federal ARPA funds require that money be obligated before December 31, 2024 and fully spent before December 31, 2026. The City has failed to establish an unarmed response program in time to meet these federal deadlines.

A brief timeline of events related to an unarmed response program:

April 2021: City Council first directed the development of an unarmed response program, asking the City Administrator to include it in the FY 2022 budget.
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4874520&GUID=84A3D90E-7AF3-46C9-98B8-FE4789A7DAB1

April 2022: Federal ARPA funds were allocated to unarmed response.
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5534294&GUID=E5B3011D-DF6A-474F-A18E-AC754BA50E6E

When considering ARPA fund allocations, a majority of Council rejected an amendment that would have directed the use of Marijuana Excise Tax revenue to support unarmed response. Marijuana excise tax revenue is received from the state of Michigan and enters the City’s general fund without restrictions or deadlines for use. At the 4/4/22 meeting, Council Member Song argued most emphatically that unarmed response should be funded entirely from federally regulated ARPA funds:

“This is an opportunity to decide tonight to go back to community and hopefully welcome public comments at the end of this meeting and saying this came through the ARPA process, it came through community engagement ARPA process, this is ARPA money. I don’t see why this is not just a straight shot of ARPA, ARPA, ARPA.”

October 2022: Consultants collected public input on the creation of an unarmed response program. 
https://a2elnel.com/post/unarmed-response-survey/

March 2023: Consultants shared a report on public engagement for an unarmed response program.
https://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=11936315&GUID=B2B18927-8747-4820-91BB-FBBCA2382044

June 2023: The City issued a “request for proposals” for implementation of an unarmed response program.
https://www.a2gov.org/departments/finance-admin-services/purchasing/Documents/RFP_23-42_Document.pdf

The City received a single bid, from Care Based Safety. 
https://www.a2gov.org/departments/finance-admin-services/purchasing/Documents/RFP_23-42_ProposalTab.pdf

December 2023: City staff cancelled the RFP, rejecting the proposal from Care Based Safety, without a vote of Council. For more complete background leading up to the cancellation of that RFP, see:
https://a2council.com/ann-arbor-city-council-january-11-2024/

April 2024: An amended “request for proposals” for implementation of an unarmed response program failed to generate any responses.
https://www.a2gov.org/departments/finance-admin-services/purchasing/Documents/RFP_24-16_Document.pdf


Additional Thoughts

I also published this on my website
https://a2elnel.com/post/from-public-process-to-private-broker-selling-and-developing-the-kline-lot/

From Public Process to Private Broker: Selling and Developing the Kline Lot

On the July 1, 2024 agenda, Council considers a resolution directing the sale of the City-owned property at William and Ashley. This parcel is currently a surface parking lot, sometimes referred to as the Kline lot. By resolution, Council directs that the City will engage the services of a private broker, instead of an open bidding process or request for proposals (RFP).

DC-2 (24-1246) Resolution to Endorse the Use of a Broker for the Sale and Development of the Kline’s Lot

HIDING THE BALL

The staff memo in the resolution describes the role of the private broker:

“[The private broker] would advise on the drafting of the scope or vision for a development that best reflects the community’s values without overburdening the scope to the point where it is infeasible for development.”

This determination of “scope or vision” has already occurred. In 2019, this property was designated for development as affordable housing; a previous Council approved a process of public engagement to identify community goals and priorities for the Kline lot. A comprehensive report on the public engagement (including specific options for redevelopment and public support for each) was presented to Council in 2021 and can be found here (see slides 80 through 97):
https://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9448604&GUID=03BA75F5-C897-4942-AB5C-FF5DADC2DA3D

That report could have led to a pre-entitlement process and public Request for Proposals (RFP). In an open RFP process, developers would be invited to submit proposals with City staff as the point of contact. All questions, communication and details of submitted proposals would become public records.

The terms of DC-2 describe a very different process: a private broker will receive and assess all proposals and choose or reject specific proposals. City staff will receive the broker’s recommendation, only. The staff memo explains:

“[The private broker] would then work to cultivate interested development companies and work directly with them to sharpen their proposals so they best meet the City’s needs.”

“Once a firm is identified as the best fit, they would bring the proposal forward to staff for evaluation and then eventually to Council for consideration and hopefully approval.”

Only the “best fit” proposal communicated to staff would enter the public record.

The staff memo asserts:

“The only difference between this and a formal RFP is that an RFP is time-limited in that bids must be received by a certain date, opened concurrently, and scored against each other.”

That is one difference but it is not the only difference. An RFP process led by the City is transparent and open because bids are received and assessed by City staff. When Council votes for or against a staff recommendation, the competing bids are part of the public record. General information about each bid is listed in Legistar and details are available via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. 

This week’s staff memo refers to the possibility of an RFP process, but only under circumstances where the private broker manages and directs all competing offers:

“An RFP could be incorporated if it did not have a date certain for developers to submit a final proposal, if it was clear that the broker was receiving contact from interested developers, and if it was clear that the broker would be working with interested developers to sharpen proposals and determine an ultimate recommendation or recommendations for the City to consider.”

This clarification highlights the primary goal of using a private broker: submitted proposals will be considered in private and only the broker’s recommendation(s) will be made public.

THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM

If approved, this will be the third time in just the last year that a majority of Council has supported the sale of a City asset outside of an open, public bidding process. It will be the second attempt to negotiate the sale of this specific property behind the scenes, without the benefit of competition and transparency.

In 2023, the City engaged in months of private negotiations to sell the Kline Lot. Early meetings were intentionally located off-site and away from City Hall. City staff and consulting attorneys (hired by the City) spent months assessing and refining a proposal from “Sports Illustrated Resorts.” The SI Resorts proposal would have built a sports-themed hotel and conference center on the property at William and Ashley that was previously designated for the development of affordable housing. A majority of Council supported ongoing negotiations with SI Resorts until public pressure forced the developer to withdraw the plan. To learn more about that, see:
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2024/01/sports-illustrated-resorts-withdraws-proposal-for-downtown-ann-arbor-lot.html

In April 2023, City Council rezoned the City-owned property at 415 W. Washington to Planned Unit Development (PUD). Council approved a conceptual plan for the property that would permit residential and mixed use while requiring public open space and affordable housing.
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=6054963&GUID=41B151CE-10DE-4380-811B-79A5ADFADB3E&FullText=1

That PUD zoning and conceptual plan could have formed the basis of a public RFP, open to any developer interested in building on the site. Instead, earlier this month (6/3/24), Council directed staff to negotiate the sale of 415 W. Washington to a single developer (4M LLC). Council approved a plan to give 4M LLC up to 18 months of exclusive negotiation rights without the benefit of an open, public RFP process. To learn more about that, see:
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=6702495&GUID=3D3CACBD-3295-476D-9A9A-6FC3EB058FAE

https://a2elnel.com/post/415-w-washington-a-unique-opportunity-for-a-campaign-donor

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2024/06/sale-of-blighted-property-could-lead-to-new-housing-in-ann-arbor.html

PLACEMAKING INSTEAD OF HOUSING

This week, in answer to questions to the agenda, staff acknowledge the possibility that the Kline lot at William and Ashley could be sold and developed without any affordable housing at all:

“If the property were sold to a private developer and the site is developed without any housing that is affordable to households at 60% AMI or less, then it would make sense for the developer to contribute funding to the City’s affordable housing fund and/or the City to contribute sales proceeds to the affordable housing fund to meet the City’s affordable housing goals.”

Staff also emphasize that subjective ideas around “placemaking” will guide decisions around use of this site.

“The goal would be to pursue a development that substantially achieves housing development in pursuit of affordability, sustainability, placemaking, and tax base improvements as much as is feasible, with each being a co-equal priority. Placemaking is an important part of the City’s interests. However, placemaking is about more than just the aesthetic qualities of the building—which are subjective and can vary from person to person. Whether a building is architecturally interesting, or a good stylistic contribution to the built environment in the downtown, is often times in the eye of the beholder. Placemaking is, however, more about the use of the property than its visual aesthetic, though these concepts are not completely unrelated. Making a place means building something that people are likely to use, to use in diverse ways that encourage activation of the sidewalk and street space and is considered a destination for individuals looking for a downtown experience. Activation is the key, and design aesthetics should be viewed in that context.”

https://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=13061839&GUID=4386498C-C454-4DDF-AC6C-11F9DF4BFC96

The new goal of “placemaking” for a “downtown experience” opens the door for proposals similar to the Sports Illustrated Resorts conference center. The City would rely on the recommendations of a private broker; strong public support for housing (especially affordable units) could be set aside entirely.

COMMITMENT TO HOUSING

As recently as five years ago, City leaders actively promoted public investment in affordable housing, In 2019, City Council directed the use of City-owned properties – including the Kline Lot – for the development of affordable housing units. In 2020, City Council asked the community to approve a millage to fund the construction of affordable housing units on those properties. 

The Kline Lot illustrates the current Council’s pivot away from direct public investment and intentional development of affordable housing in our community. Despite clear public support for it, the Kline lot might not be developed with affordable housing, particularly if there is an opportunity for “placemaking.” The terms of its sale may or may not result in any funds to support affordable housing though staff acknowledge that “it would make sense.” 

This week’s resolution signals a more remarkable shift: Council aims to greatly reduce public transparency around redevelopment and disposition of large City assets. 

In 2023, details about the Sports Illustrated Resort proposal were made public through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The FOIA requests revealed months of communication between City staff and attorneys working to negotiate a deal with a single developer. In approving DC-3, Council guarantees that the next plan for sale of that property will be negotiated outside of public view and without a paper trail of public records. 

To learn more about past policy to commit and assess this property for affordable housing, public opposition to the Sports Illustrated Resorts proposal, and information that was revealed in FOIA requests, see:


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