Ann Arbor City Council Newsletter (March 31, 2024)

Mar 31, 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.

The City Council agenda this week includes two ordinance amendments at first reading: a rezoning at Church Street (C-1) and changes to how new developments are assessed regarding transportation access and traffic impacts (C-2). Additionally, there will be a public hearing and second reading (final approval) of ordinance amendments around Greenbelt conservation purchases.

On Friday, four resolutions (DC-1, DC-2, DC-3, and DC-4) were added to the agenda late, just ahead of this holiday weekend. Council Members Lisa Disch (Ward 1), Jen Eyer (Ward 4), Erica Briggs (Ward 5), and Jen Cornell (Ward 5) sponsored four late additions to the agenda that direct the establishment of a new office of “Economic Development” in order to accelerate and facilitate development in the City of Ann Arbor. For more on that, see my “Additional Thoughts” section below.

The Consent Agenda this week includes three multi-million dollar construction contracts: sidewalk construction/repair (CA-11), improvements at Seventh/Greenview (CA-12), and utility work (CA-13). Council will also vote on a budget amendment: $729,104 to hire a consultant for an “Asset Management Plan” in the City Parks department (CA-4)


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 April 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=1141235&GUID=FDFFDD45-951C-49DA-B04C-A636AC6B08D5

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 (24-0503) Agenda Response Memo and eComments – April 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 (24-0417) Appointments – Confirmations
This appointment from the Mayor was presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting. Note that this appointment was added on the day of the Council meeting (March 18th) and therefore not included in time for my previous newsletter.

  • Kim Mayes – Downtown Development Authority

MC-2 (24-0449) Appointments and Nominations for April 1, 2024\
This appointment from the Mayor is being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.

  • Elisabeth Berry – Downtown Development Authority

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 (24-0429) Resolution to Approve Street Closings for the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run on Sunday, June 2, 2024

CA-2 (24-0431) Resolution to Approve Street Closing for The Event on Main – Wednesday, June 12 through Friday, June 14, 2024

CA-3 (24-0430) Resolution to Approve Street Closures for the A2 Artoberfest from 7:00 AM on Friday, October 11, 2024 through 9:00 PM on Sunday, October 13, 2024

CA-4 (24-0349) Resolution to Recommend Approval of a Professional Services Agreement with OHM Advisors to provide Parks with an Asset Management Plan and Appropriate Necessary Funds ($729,104.00) (8 Votes Required)

CA-5 (24-0309) Resolution to Approve Purchase of Palo Alto Firewalls from AmeriNet of Michigan, Inc. ($289,509.48) (GSA Schedule IT 70 – GS-35F-0511T)

CA-6 (24-0437) Resolution to Approve a Purchase Order to AmeriNet of Michigan, Inc. for a Three-Year Network Equipment Hardware and Software Support Agreement for FY2024-FY2027 ($327,950.64) (GSA Schedule IT 70 – GS-35F-0511T)

CA-7 (24-0348) Resolution Authorizing Water and Sanitary Sewer Capital Recovery Charges for 6 Maple Village Cir.

CA-8 (23-1787) Resolution to Approve a One (1) Year General Services Contract with RNA Michigan Holdings, LLC for Right-of-Way Mowing and Landscaping Services, ITB-4727 ($171,655.00)

CA-9 (24-0279) Resolution to Accept a Hazard Mitigation Grant and Appropriate Funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the Purchase and Demolition of 124 Felch Street and 112 E Summit Street ($731,702.82) (8 Votes Required)

CA-10 (24-0198) Resolution to Approve a Construction Contract with CLI-Concrete Leveling Inc. for the 2024 Sidewalk Repair Project ($110,800.00)

CA-11 (24-0293) Resolution to Approve a Construction Contract with Cadillac Asphalt, LLC (RFP No. 24-04, $7,299,000) for the 2024 Street Resurfacing Project, and to Appropriate $6,995,000 from the Street, Bridge, and Sidewalk Millage; $660,000 from the Sidewalk Construction Millage; $675,000 from the Stormwater Fund; $55,000 from the Sewage Disposal Fund; and $55,000 from the Water Supply System Fund (8 Votes Required)

CA-12 (24-0321) Resolution to Approve a Construction Contract with Miller Bros. Const., Inc. for the South Seventh Street and Greenview Drive Improvements Project (RFP 24-08; $6,672,524.00) and to Appropriate $2,285,000.00 from the Stormwater Fund; $2,075,000.00 from the Street, Bridge and Sidewalk Millage Fund; and $1,356,000.00 from the Major Streets Fund (8 Votes Required)

CA-13 (24-0350) Resolution to Approve a Construction Contract with Fonson Company, Inc. for the 2024 Miscellaneous Utilities Project (RFP 24-10; $3,636,326.75) and to Appropriate $565,000.00 from the Stormwater Fund and $625,000.00 from the Street, Bridge and Sidewalk Millage Fund (8 Votes Required)

CA-14 (24-0267) Resolution to Grant $275,000 in FY24 and $200,000 in FY25 for Sustainable Affordable Housing Improvements in Community Climate Action Millage Funds to the Ann Arbor Housing Development Corporation

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 (24-0219) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 42 (Open Space and Parkland Preservation) of Title III of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (ORD-24-04)
Ordinance amendments will change City policy around purchases and sales within the City’s “Greenbelt.”

Amendments to Greenbelt conservation policy will expand the boundaries of eligible properties. A portion of Ypsilanti township is added as well as a “Sourcewater Protection Overlay District” described as “All land that affects the City’s sourcewaters or drinking water supply, as determined by the City Administrator.” A map of current boundaries of the Greenbelt district can be found here:
https://www.a2gov.org/greenbelt/Documents/Greenbelt%20Regional%20Map.pdf

Amendments will lift the current 6% cap on administrative spending and grant the City administrator discretion to waive requirements for no more than 2% impervious surface in a conservation easement.

The Open Space and Parkland Preservation millage funds City purchases of either development rights under a term agreement or conservation easements in perpetuity. In the first twenty years of this millage, the City has not purchased development rights under term agreements. Since 2003, millage funds have been used to purchase conservation easements in perpetuity, only, in collaboration with neighboring townships and the County.

The original ordinance included explanation of process for a property owner to re-purchase development rights that they had previously sold to the City. Amendments eliminate the option for repurchase of development rights by the original property owner: “Development Rights agreements shall not provide for repurchase of the Development Rights by an Owner of land from which Development Rights have been purchased by the City”

Amendments clarify that in exchanging land rights back and forth, any prior City investment will be restored as millage funds, rather than used at the discretion of Council: “When land or land rights that have been purchased entirely or partly with OSPP Millage funds are subsequently sold, any money received by the City for the sale shall be returned to the OSPP Fund and used for OSPP Millage purposes in equal proportion to the amount of OSPP Millage funds used for the purchase.”

This will be the second public hearing for these ordinance amendments. For more information about what was previously approved (and substituted with changes) see:
https://a2council.com/ann-arbor-city-council-march-18-2024/

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 (24-0219) 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 (24-0362) An Ordinance to Amend the Zoning Map, Being a Part of Section 5.10.2 of Chapter 55 of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor, Rezoning of 1.06 Acres from R4C (Multiple-Family Residential District) to PUD (Planned Unit Development), 711 Church PUD Zoning and Supplemental Regulations (CPC Recommendation: Denial – 2 Yeas and 5 Nays)
A parcel of 1.06 acres at 711 Church would be rezoned to Planned Unit Development. Six lots would be combined and rezoned to allow the building of a high-rise building (17 stories) with 273 apartments and storage for 400 bicycles. It is currently zoned R4C and the proposed PUD requests a dwelling unit density ten times greater than what is permitted in R4C in exchange for providing 15% affordable units. The staff report explains that the terms requested by the developer most closely conform to (but actually exceed) D1/D2 zoning. From the staff report:

The applicant has failed to offer sufficient justification as to why an area that is currently outside of the downtown core and zoned R4C should skip over the downtown interface zone (D2) and exceed the downtown core (D1) established parameters managing height and setbacks.

Staff recommend denial because (from their report):

The proposal fails to meet the standards of approval for beneficial effects and does not provide unique benefits which could not be achieved through other zoning classifications. Additionally, inadequate justification is given for inconsistency with the Comprehensive Plan.

In a split vote, the Planning Commission also recommended denial of the project.

C-2 (24-0280) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.28.1.B, 5.29.8.A, 5.29.6 and 5.29.8 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Multimodal Transportation Impact Analysis [MTIA]) CPC Recommendation: Approval (6 yes, 0 no)
Ordinance amendments will change the criteria for assessing the impact of new developments, removing a requirement to provide traffic studies and substituting a “multimodal transportation Impact assessment” that includes transit, pedestrian, and bicycle.

A version of these amendments were originally proposed by the City’s Transportation department. In June 2023, the City’s Planning Staff issued a memo reviewing them.
https://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=12775293&GUID=CA0A625F-90EE-432C-B184-FA20E75B0AA8
From that memo:

Planning staff find the conceptual amendments inadequate to address how multimodal transportation impact analyses should be reviewed…neither the current nor the proposed criteria for review offer meaningful measures to assess a MTIA. Ideally, the review criteria should outline how to determine the effects of a proposed development on the transportation system, along with requesting and evaluating adequacy of mitigation measures.

and

The standard could be formatted similarly to the current standard for disturbance to natural features, and might read as follows:
The Development shall maintain or improve the safety of the transportation system and maintain or reduce vehicle miles traveled, applying the criteria for reviewing a multimodal transportation impact analysis as provided in Section ______.

This week’s amendments include this language:

Site plans that propose to generate more than three trips per unit per peak hour or 50 trips per peak hour shall provide a multimodal transportation impact analysis following the methodology of the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Multimodal Transportation Impact Analyses for Site Development, or the latest revision thereof

and

Area plans that propose to generate more than three trips per unit per peak hour or 50 trips per peak hour shall provide information on trip generation, trip distribution, modal split, and areas of impact so the magnitude of the rezoning or proposed development can be understood.

More information about the new methodology can be found here:
https://ecommerce.ite.org/imis/ItemDetail?iProductCode=RP-020G-E&Category=PUB&WebsiteKey=d5326f96-5db7-43ca-89dc-c6ef0daae20e

The ordinance will amend the term “traffic study” to “transportation studies.”

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 (24-0511) Resolution to Direct the Establishment of an Office of Economic Development and Directing the City Administration to Prioritize Housing Development at all Income Levels to Support Housing Affordability, Sustainability, Tax Base Development, and Placemaking as the City’s Strategic Priorities for Land Development
By resolution, Council directs the City Administrator to establish an Office of Economic Development. This office will report directly to the City Administrator and will:

  • Formulate a plan for strategic property acquisition
  • Work directly with property owners to support development
  • Engage with SPARK and others toward business expansion opportunities
  • Provide small business support

DC-2 (24-0512) Resolution to Direct the City Administrator to Implement New Processes and Programs for Housing Development at all Income Levels to Support Housing Affordability
By resolution, Council directs the City Administrator to alleviate
undue burden on land developments by addressing “City inefficiencies” with procedural changes and ordinance amendments that will: 

  • Direct planning staff to “significantly lower” the amount of engineering plans required for site plan approval. Planning commission is directed to approve site plans with conditions instead of denying or delaying them.
  • Eliminate public hearings at the Design Review Board and Planning Commission
  • Eliminate site plan review for more categories of development and eliminate corresponding requirements for improvements (e.g. traffic safety, stormwater system, solid waste standards)
  • Delegate more site plan approval to staff rather than the Planning Commission
  • Eliminate the requirement that new developments pay for the cost of installing water infrastructure
  • Remove Planning Commission review of single family annexations and neighborhood notifications for land divisions

The City Administrator is directed to consider hiring a consultant to implement these changes.

DC-3 (24-0513) Resolution to Direct the City Administrator to Implement New Processes and Programs to Support Sustainability in the Built Environment
By resolution, Council directs the City Administrator to to alleviate
undue burden on land developments by addressing “City inefficiencies” with procedural changes and ordinance amendments to:

  • Create and define terms in the Unified Development Code: Fully Electrified Development” and “Energy Efficient Development.” These categories of development will be fast-tracked for approval and no longer reviewed at public meetings of the City Planning Commission.
  • Eliminate a requirement to measure “traditional level of service” in terms of transportation; instead, proposed new development will be assessed and scored on “multi-modal value”
  • Lobby for State law changes so that the City can offer more tax abatements to private development that is electrified or carbon neutral.

The City Administrator is directed to consider hiring a consultant to implement these changes.

DC-4 (24-0514) Resolution to Direct the City Administrator to Implement New Processes and Programs to Support Placemaking and Tax Base Improvements
By resolution, Council directs the City Administrator to preserve tax base by pursuing property acquisition and disposition of property for development. A fund or funding strategy will be established specifically for this purpose. Additionally, a sub-quorum of Council will meet to discuss a charter amendment that would lift the requirement for an 8-vote supermajority vote on the sale, purchase, or leasing of City property.

The City Administrator is directed to consider hiring a consultant to implement these changes.


Additional Thoughts

I also published this on my website:
https://a2elnel.com/post/april-fools-day-gift-to-developers-office-of-economic-development/

April Fools Day Gift To Developers: Office of Economic Development

Four resolutions on the April 1, 2024 agenda will direct the City Administrator to establish a “fully resourced and staffed” Office of Economic Development to accelerate and promote development in the City (DC-1) and adopt other policies to accelerate and promote development in the City. Lifting the “burden” of administrative process is framed as a time and cost savings to private developers that will eventually result in affordable housing. Open public meetings — including public hearings for the benefit of residents —are framed as “inefficiencies.” New policy also anticipates more direct public subsidy: lifting requirements that developers pay for the cost of improvements to community water infrastructure, traffic safety, stormwater systems, and solid waste (DC-2). Additionally, Council hopes for changes in State law so that more tax abatements can be offered for market-rate development that is all electric or carbon neutral (DC-3). These resolutions are consistent with the approach of the current City Council: requiring and expecting less of the profit-driven investors who build in our community. A fourth resolution will establish a Council committee to prepare a charter amendment that would make it much easier for the City to sell, lease, or purchase real estate (DC-4). 

DC-1 (24-0511) Resolution to Direct the Establishment of an Office of Economic Development and Directing the City Administration to Prioritize Housing Development at all Income Levels to Support Housing Affordability, Sustainability, Tax Base Development, and Placemaking as the City’s Strategic Priorities for Land Development

DC-2 (24-0512) Resolution to Direct the City Administrator to Implement New Processes and Programs for Housing Development at all Income Levels to Support Housing Affordability

DC-3 (24-0513) Resolution to Direct the City Administrator to Implement New Processes and Programs to Support Sustainability in the Built Environment

DC-4 (24-0514) Resolution to Direct the City Administrator to Implement New Processes and Programs to Support Placemaking and Tax Base Improvements

The four resolutions are late additions to the agenda. Sponsors Lisa Disch (Ward 1), Jen Eyer (Ward 4), Erica Briggs (Ward 5), and Jen Cornell (Ward 5) added all four resolutions to the agenda on the afternoon of Good Friday, right before the Easter holiday weekend. Council member Dharma Akmon (Ward 4) has since added herself as a cosponsor of DC-3. The resolutions are meant to be considered together, as part of a broader policy of deregulation for the benefit of market rate development and serving private developers as “customers.” From DC-1:

The city shall support housing development at all income levels in an effort to support housing affordability, and in the review of land development proposals shall lean toward solutions and review standards that expedite approval of projects, demonstrate flexibility and creativity in an effort to provide good customer service for land development applicants, and are permissive for the development of housing as much as is feasible under adopted zoning and land development regulations;

BACKGROUND

The four resolutions are explained as being consistent with a written report and Council discussion that occurred at two previous meetings: December 11, 2023 and February 12, 2024. Relevant slideshow presentations shared during these meetings:

December 11, 2023 City Council Planning Session
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=6439132&GUID=2308D3CD-BA4F-42DE-B6DF-FF41F6538345

February 12, 2024 City Council Work Session
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=6506097&GUID=8E8C29BF-DDFB-497B-8057-E87D172FD436

Public information about the first of these meetings is limited, as it was not recorded. From the City description of the December meeting:

City Council Planning Session This meeting will not be broadcast on CTN or Zoom. Public commentary can be made in person only.

https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=1062201&GUID=B98A229C-43CC-440E-9FCC-F722C6BEE0E7

You can read Ryan Stanton’s MLive report on the December meeting here:
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2023/12/ann-arbor-may-start-fast-tracking-developments-as-part-of-new-city-strategy.html

According to posted minutes, both Mayor Taylor and Council Member Harrison were absent on 12/11/23. The presentation from that meeting anticipated “Individual meetings with Councilmembers” and “Work sessions in the beginning of 2024 to further discuss the Report.”

Only one work session occurred (2/12/24). No meeting minutes have been posted, but the recording indicates that Council Members Watson, Ghazi Edwin, and Cornell were absent. You can watch the CTN broadcast of the 2/12/24 meeting here:
https://www.youtube.com/live/kBR_MM1rOOU

NEW POLICY

The whole of a written report, called “ A New Approach to Economic Development “ can be found at this link (referred to in this essay as the “Report”):
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=6455353&GUID=9953264D-8091-454D-8178-7E569BF0A22C

By resolution this week, City Council endorses the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the Report, which articulates four priorities:

  • Housing development at all income levels, promoting development of all kinds
  • “Placemaking” initiatives through the “disposition and acquisition” of real property
  • Protection of the tax base through acquisition of property
  • Redevelopment and transformation of “inefficient structures”

Specific recommendations from that Report can be found in the four resolutions on this week’s agenda:

DC-1

  • Funding and staffing a new City department around “Economic Development”
  • Establishing a fund specifically for the purpose of acquiring real estate and potentially ‘flipping’ it or doing land swaps.

DC-2

  • Delaying public engagement until after site plans are complete
  • Eliminating public review of site plans at the Design Review Board
  • Eliminating public hearings for site plans at the Planning Commission

DC-3

  • Lobbying for changes in State law to allow more local tax abatements for private development 

DC-4

  • Eliminating the 8-vote supermajority requirement for approval of land sales/leases/acquisitions

REDUCED TRANSPARENCY

The City’s current planning process includes multiple points of review at open public meetings of the Design Review Board, City Planning Commission, and (sometimes) City Council. For larger developments, a “Citizen Engagement Meeting” is also required. That engagement meeting occurs early in the process and is advertised to the surrounding neighborhood, so that residents can offer feedback to the developer before the completion of a site plan. The site plan is then considered by the Design Review Board, which may recommend changes or revisions in advance of a public hearing and approval at the City Planning Commission. (Where there is a rezoning, these site plans are also subject to a public hearing and final approval at City Council.) 

Site plan revisions are currently discussed at open, public meetings of the Design Review Board. The report recommends eliminating these meetings of the Design Review Board, so that staff will no longer have to “notice and advertise them, prepare agendas and packets, attend them, compile minutes from them, and document the comments of the board members into cohesive feedback for applicants.” The Report argues that by delaying public engagement until after the site plan is complete, community input is more likely to be incorporated in site plan revisions. In short, the report claims that delaying public engagement will offer a benefit: allowing feedback to be incorporated into the process of site plan revision. At the same time, the Report recommends that the process of site plan revision should no longer happen in open, public meetings, but rather behind the scenes among staff.

In January 2022, a majority of Council delegated final approval of most site plans to the Planning Commission and staff.

New recommendations acknowledge that change and go further; the report proposes eliminating Council approval for development agreements between the City and private developers. These agreements are contracts between the City and property owners, stipulating conditions and requirements. The Report recommends that these could be approved by City staff and the Planning Commission (Mayoral appointees), in order to make these transactions “more efficient and strategic.” 

Public hearings are dismissed as “merely performative measures that frustrate community members and favor the status quo.” The Report recommends eliminating public hearings. E.g. For land divisions, City ordinances require notification of neighbors as well as a hearing before the Planning Commission. The report recommends for land divisions that this notification to neighbors and public hearings at the Planning Commission be eliminated. For single family annexations and rezoning, the report recommends eliminating review and public hearing at the Planning Commission, because “Council is capable of deciding this issue.”

FINANCIAL BENEFIT TO DEVELOPERS

The first of this week’s four resolutions explains: 

Whereas, This requires the City of Ann Arbor to maintain its strong commitment to subsidizing affordable housing development, but also to create an environment where market rate housing development becomes more permissive and less burdened by city administrative processes;”

Recent decisions contradict Council’s reassurance that it will “maintain its strong commitment to subsidizing affordable housing development.” In the last two years, that “strong commitment” has included:

Waiving a requirement for the inclusion of affordable housing in order to award an additional $5 million in tax breaks to a private developer:

Repealing a 2019 ordinance that required the development of (or financial support for) affordable housing downtown:

The immediate consequence to repealing that ordinance: the loss of affordable housing units. In February 2024, Council unanimously approved a new development at 333 E. William Street. A staff report on that development explains:

This project was originally designed to utilize the premium floor area options provided in Section 5.18.6, which are eliminated by Ordinance ORD-23-32… Without premiums, the project will be physically identical, but the developer has chosen to no longer include affordable housing units.

https://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=12531673&GUID=3F586420-5619-498F-8EFC-28D5F22000BB

“DEAL MAKING”

Some of this week’s new proposed policy will require a public vote and charter amendment. Ryan Stanton of Mlive reported on the 2/12/24 presentation given by City staffer John Fournier:

Fournier suggested the city should pursue ordinance changes to eliminate regulatory hurdles and amend the city charter to allow the city to more easily engage in real estate transaction

and

The charter amendment Fournier recommended would repeal a section that says the city can’t buy, sell or lease property without an eight-vote supermajority approval by council.

and

“We can’t really take seriously a commitment to get housing prices under control or to develop TC1 districts or anything like that as long as this provision of the charter is still in effect,” he said. “We need more flexibility to engage in the acquisition and the disposition of property.”

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2024/02/ann-arbor-voters-may-decide-part-of-citys-new-development-strategy.html

Recent events show us what could happen by removing this eight vote requirement. In 2023 and early 2024, the City quietly negotiated with private developers to build a Sports Illustrated Resorts themed conference center and million dollar time-share condos on a City-owned property sometimes called the Kline Lot. 

In 2019, the Kline lot was designated by a previous Council as a location for the development of affordable housing. The public learned about the SI Resorts idea only after several months of private meetings had already taken place behind the scenes. 
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2023/09/sports-illustrated-resorts-eyeing-ann-arbor-for-hotel-and-conference-center.html

In response to public outcry, three Council members (all up for re-election this year) sponsored a resolution requesting more process and discussion about disposition of the Kline lot. The three sponsors failed to persuade a single colleague to vote with them, which signaled that a supermajority (eight votes) was still likely to approve the project. 
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2023/10/ann-arbor-officials-divided-on-next-steps-with-sports-illustrated-resorts-idea.html

Negotiations with promoters of the SI Resorts conference center continued for another three months before a fourth council member finally relented and expressed opposition. 
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2024/01/a-hard-no-ann-arbor-officials-ready-to-vote-down-sports-illustrated-resort-proposal.html

In the months of private deliberation around this poorly-conceived idea, the City spent over $30,000 on lawyers in addition to hours and hours of staff time. 

A previous City Council quite intentionally set aside City-owned properties (both 350 S. Fifth and the Kline Lot) for use as affordable housing, referring to how such a policy would spare the Housing Commission the cost of land acquisition. In August 2023, Council reversed that policy by “selling” the City-owned property at 350 S. Fifth to the City’s Housing commission at full market value. I.e. Council forced the Housing Commission to assume the full cost of land acquisition, shifting $6 million in affordable housing budget back into the general fund. For the months that it considered the SI Resorts proposal, Council came close to reversing prior policy to develop affordable housing on the Kline Lot. The current eight-vote requirement for purchase, sale or lease of City property is what ultimately ended the SI Resorts deal.

This week, Council considers approving and adopting a report that casually re-writes the history of affordable housing initiatives around City-owned assets. The Economic Development report declares that a previous Council did not “bind any of these parcels to a specific type of development or level of affordability” and argues that flexibility is more important for the purpose of “deal making.” Moreover, Council may ask the community to amend the City charter, removing the eight vote requirement that prevented the SI Resorts project from moving forward.

CONCLUSION

Ongoing work on updating the comprehensive land use plan theoretically centers community members and residents (current and future) and is not yet complete. This week’s resolutions advance sweeping changes that prioritize private developers: deregulating land use to serve developers as ‘customers.’ In advance of determining land use regulation that benefits residents and community, Council plans to move forward with new policies that benefit investors and developers. Proposed new policy will promote more public subsidy of private ventures, add a whole new department to the City budget in order to fund “deal making,” and reduce transparency and accountability to the public. Potential changes to the City charter would make it significantly easier for public, City-owned assets to be bought and sold, without an 8-vote supermajority approval of Council.

The implementation date on these resolutions is December 31, 2025. In four resolutions, Council directs nearly two years of staff work. Approval of these resolutions will direct the City Administrator and staff to move forward immediately and include necessary budget amendments in the upcoming FY2025 budget process. 


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