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, the City Council agenda includes one rezoning (Briarwood mall, C-2) and an amendment to previous zoning (Lockwood on Ellsworth, C-1). Council will also vote to eliminate incentives to build affordable housing downtown (C-3) and add setback requirements for the Transit Corridor district zoning (C-4). In my Additional Thoughts below, I’ve written about a new policy to promote lane reductions on all multi-lane roads in town – the resolution in DC-4 explicitly rejects the consideration of traffic data in decision making.
ANN ARBOR DEMOCRACY
I have released the third and final part of my conversation with Ed Pear, who served as City Attorney for Ann Arbor from 1973 to 1975. In part three, Ed talks more about about the people, the controversies, and partisan politics at the local level during that time.
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.
228 Packard Apartments Public Engagement Meeting of October 26, 2023
This is my Zoom recording of a citizen participation meeting held on October 26, 2023 for a proposed apartment building at 228 Packard Ave, Ann Arbor.
From the meeting announcement:
The property owner is proposing to construct a seven and twelve-story apartment building (with attendant parking) containing approximately 450 dwellings in a mixture of studios, 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 bedroom units – under conditional PUD zoning.
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 November 6, 2023 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:
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:
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”
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 (23-1838) Agenda Response Memo and eComments – November 6, 2023
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 (23-1704) Appointments – Confirmations
These appointments from the Mayor were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.
- Samuel Rosewig – Elizabeth Dean Fund Committee
- Praveena Ramaswami – Transportation Commission
MC-2 (23-1789) Nominations and Appointments for November 6, 2023
These appointments from the Mayor are being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.
- Anthony J. DiGiovanni – Retirement System Board
- Jordan Schreier – Retirement System Board
- Emma Hardy – Public Market Advisory Commission
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 (23-1211) Resolution to Approve a Professional Services Agreement with TetraTech, Inc to complete a Feasibility Analysis of a Selection of Stormwater Projects that have been included in the City’s Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), RFP No. 23-21 ($160,450.00)
CA-2 (23-1654) Resolution to Approve a Professional Services Agreement with Hubbell, Roth & Clark, Inc. to complete a Citywide Drainage Analysis for Gravel Roads, RFP No. 23-40 ($1,000,000.00)
CA-3 (23-1655) Resolution to Approve Change Order No. 1 with Anglin Civil, LLC for the Wheeler Facility Pond Dredging Project (ITB #4665) ($303,473.88 Increase; Total Contract Amount $1,262,267.87)
CA-4 (23-1643) Resolution to Approve a Sole Source Purchase Order to Service Electric Supply, Inc. for Large Electric Motor Soft Starters ($40,067.00)
CA-5 (23-1678) Resolution to Approve a Purchase Order to Justice AV Solutions, Inc. for Courtroom Technology, Software, and Professional Services for the 15th District Court ($261,951.79)
CA-6 (23-1680) Resolution to Approve a Purchase Order to Thalner Electronic Laboratories, Inc. for the Purchase of Audio/Video Technology for the City of Ann Arbor Council Chambers ($164,633.21)
CA-7 (23-1784) Resolution to Accept a Storm Sewer Easement at 1113 Bydding Road and 1111 Miner Street from Peter Woolf (8 Votes Required)
CA-8 (23-1728) Resolution to Approve Amendment Number 2 to the Professional Services Agreement with CDM Smith Michigan Inc. for Consulting and Expert Witness Services Relative to Platt Convenience, Inc. v. City of Ann Arbor ($50,000.00 amendment; $125,000.00 total contract) and to Appropriate Funds (8 Votes Required)
CA-9 (23-1729) Resolution to Approve Amendment Number 3 to the Professional Services Agreement with Rosati, Schultz, Joppich, & Amtsbuechler P.C., for Legal Services Relative to Platt Convenience, Inc. v. City of Ann Arbor ($315,000.00 amendment; $1,125,000.00 total contract)
CA-10 (23-1775) Resolution to Approve Amendment Number 4 to the Agreement with Monaghan, P.C. for Legal Services Relative to City Projects Requiring the Acquisition of Easements or Other Property Interests
CA-11 (23-1786) Resolution to Approve the Stipulation and Settlement Agreement in Michigan Public Service Commission Case No. U-21376 Regarding DTE’s Distributed Generation Tariff Options
CA-12 (23-1740) Resolution to Approve Street Closure of Detroit Street between Catherine and Fifth Streets on Friday, December 1, 2023 from 8:00 AM until 11:00 PM for KindleFest 2023
CA-13 (23-1777) Resolution to Approve a Grant Application to USDA-NRCS ACEP for the Purchase of a Conservation Easement on the Hamilton Property
CA-14 (23-1778) Resolution to Approve a Grant Application to USDA-NRCS ACEP for the Purchase of a Conservation Easement on the St. Johns Property
CA-15 (23-1779) Resolution to Approve a Grant Application to USDA-NRCS ACEP for the Purchase of a Conservation Easement on the Fishbeck III Property
CA-16 (23-1780) Resolution to Approve a Grant Application to USDA-NRCS ACEP for the Purchase of a Conservation Easement on the Ehnis Trust Property
CA-17 (23-1781) Resolution to Accept a Donation of Park Land at 1420 South Maple Road from Midtown Ann Arbor, LLC (8 Votes Required)
CA-18 (23-1676) Resolution to Approve a Contract Not to Exceed $500,000.00 with THRONE Labs, Inc for Installation of Public Restrooms In and Near Downtown Ann Arbor and appropriate up to $300,000 to the General Fund (8 Votes Required)
CA-19 (23-1534) Resolution to Approve a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for Courthouse Square Apartments – 100 S. Fourth Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
CA-20 (23-1797) Resolution to Approve a Subrecipient Agreement with Community Action Network to Lead Community Engagement as Part of the U.S. Department of Energy District Geothermal Grant in the Bryant Neighborhood ($94,000)
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 ordinance 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.
C-1 (23-1609) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Zoning), Amendment to the approved PUD (Planned Unit Development District), Lockwood of Ann Arbor PUD Zoning and Supplemental Regulations, 2195 East Ellsworth (CPC Recommendation: Approval – 6 Yeas and 0 Nays)
The PUD zoning and site plan for the Lockwood development (2195 E. Ellsworth) would be amended to reflect how a newly constructed foundation was mis-placed. The PUD zoning and site plan for Lockwood was originally approved in December 2020. The development is currently under construction and a foundation was built four feet too far into the east and south side setbacks. The requested amendment would reduce both of these setbacks by four feet, to match the foundation built by the developer: 144 feet reduced to 140 feet (east side) and 68 feet reduced to 64 feet (south side). To the south, this places the building four feet closer to Ellsworth. To the east, this places the building four feet closer to homes on Shadowood Drive.
C-2 (23-1720) 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 8.3 Acres from P (Parking District) to C2B (Business Service District), 900 Briarwood Circle (CPC Recommendation: Approval – 8 Yeas and 0 Nays)
The rezoning of 8.29 acres at Briarwood mall will permit redevelopment of the empty Sears department store and some of the surrounding parking lot. Current zoning is P (parking) and new zoning would be C2B (commercial). The redevelopment plan includes demolition of the Sears store and construction of a four story residential building (354 units) with a two level grocery store, retail store, and adjacent athletic field. A four level parking garage will include 301 spaces.
Note that the developers held a public engagement meeting about this project in February:
C-3 (23-1631) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.17.4 and 5.18.6 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Premiums, D1 and D2 Floor Area Ratio) CPC Recommendation: Approval (7 Yeas, 0 Nays)
Amendments to the UDC will rescind a policy of premiums to developers to incentivize the building of affordable housing units or payments to the affordable housing fund as part of new developments downtown. Prior to changes in 2019, premiums to developers more generally incentivized the building of residential units in D1 and D2 zoning districts (downtown). Changes made in 2019 were based on ten years of data starting in 2009 and can be found here:
2019 Affordable Housing Premiums (D1/D2 districts)
The staff memo for this week’s amendments explains: “Because of these changes, some downtown buildings (those that previously used premiums) will no longer achieve a minimum of two particular LEED points. There is also expected to be fewer buildings with on-site affordable housing units or providing payments in lieu.” Consultants hired to analyze these amendments explain: “The proposed amendments will make it easier for petitioners to reach maximum height, since they would no longer need to navigate the premiums process.”
When these amendments were considered (and approved) by Mayoral appointees on the Planning Commission, Commissioner Lisa Sauve was recused due to her “active participation of a petition in the D1 Zoning District.” According to LinkedIn, Lisa Sauve is the Principal/CEO and Co-founder of the Synecdoche architecture firm, which also actively participated in the recently approved rezoning for Southtown.
C-4 (23-1635) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.10.2 and 5.17 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (TC1 Front Setback) (CPC Recommendation: Denial, 5 Yes, 3 No)
Amendments to the UDC will establish a minimum front setback in the TC1 zoning district of 18 feet, as measured from the street curb; the amendment includes a maximum setback of 28 feet. City staff recommended amendments establishing minimum/maximums of 20 feet/40 feet but this was changed to 18 feet/28 feet by mayoral appointees on the Planning Commission.
When these amendments were discussed and approved at the City’s Planning Commission, the current chair – Wonwoo Lee – was recused due to conflicts of interest, as he is Chief Real Estate Officer for Oxford Companies. In past discussions of TC1 zoning districts, Commissioner Lisa Sauve has recused herself due to owning property in the TC1 district (meeting minutes reflect her participation in discussion of these amendments).
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 (23-1706) Resolution to Appoint Anya Ganger to the Health and Human Services Advisory Board(7 Votes Required)
This appointment from the Mayor was presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting. Seven votes are required because the nominee is not a registered elector of the City of Ann Arbor.
- Anya Ganger – Health and Human Services Advisory Board
DC-2 (23-1799) Resolution to Approve a Subrecipient Agreement with IMEG Consultants Corp. for Technical Leadership in the Bryant District Geothermal Project as Awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy ($246,250)
A subrecipient agreement will pay $246,250 to IMEG Consultant Corp for “Technical Leadership” related to a geothermal district in the Bryant neighborhood. A grant from the US Department of Energy will fund the work of IMEG on the Bryant Geothermal Project, including “participation in the Steering Committee, leading the analysis team, supporting public engagement, developing models and geothermal designs, field testing, verification and refinement, and support for workforce development roundtables.”
This week’s Consent Agenda (CA-20), includes a $94,000 service agreement with the Community Action Network (CAN) to also work on “community engagement” for the Bryant Geothermal Project. Summary of agenda item CA-20 explains that CAN will be responsible for “hiring and managing two community engagement specialists.” The director of Community Action Network was included in a City delegation to Tubingen, Germany earlier this year. (This trip is sometimes referred to as a “geothermal” trip.)
DC-3 (23-1659) Resolution to Permanently Relocate Precinct 2-20 from the First United Method Church at 1001 Green Road to King Elementary School at 3800 Waldenwood Lane Beginning with the 2024 Presidential Primary Election
In anticipation of the 2024 Presidential Primaries, this resolution will relocate the polling location for precinct 2-20. Currently, precinct 2-20 votes at the First United Methodist Church on Green road. This polling location will move to King Elementary School, which is also the rolling location precinct 2-19.
DC-4 (23-1851) Resolution to Accelerate Safety Improvements on Multilane Roads
By resolution, Council directs staff to “develop a plan for evaluation of reconfiguring all existing multilane roads under the City’s jurisdiction by 2030.” This resolution explicitly repeals previous policy requiring that “city staff shall provide council current traffic volume data” and “projections for safety improvements and traffic delays.” City staff is asked to prioritize reconfiguration of all multilane roads in the City, narrowing and reducing traffic lanes, and Council no longer wants traffic data for specific locations or projections for safety improvements and traffic delays.
I also published this on my website:
Traffic Reconfigurations Without Data
This week’s agenda item DC-4 is a stunning departure from past city policy regarding data-driven decisions. City staff is asked to prioritize reconfiguring all existing multilane roads under the City’s jurisdiction, narrowing and reducing traffic lanes. Council no longer wants traffic data for specific locations or projections for safety improvements and traffic delays.
DC-4 (23-1851) Resolution to Accelerate Safety Improvements on Multilane Roads
This resolution explicitly repeals previous policy:
RESOLVED, City Council repeals the following resolved clause from R-18-275 which requires that “in conjunction with any proposed lane reduction proposals, city staff shall provide council current traffic volume data including peak hour volumes and volume-to-capacity ratios as well as projections for safety improvements and traffic delays.”
LESSONS FROM 2020
At the beginning of the pandemic (2020), parks and other indoor public gathering places were closed in the interest of public health. In response to a neighborhood need for outdoor activity space, I co-sponsored a program called “Healthy Streets” that called for a large number of street closures— the City accepted requests to temporarily close 26 residential side streets to through traffic and downtown street closures were instituted to expand outdoor space available for local restaurants. Temporary traffic reconfigurations were also made on South Main, East Packard, and Broadway/Swift. The vast majority of these changes were successful and residents appreciated them. However, lane closures on South Main, East Packard, and Broadway/Swift prompted significant negative feedback, most especially complaints about safety hazards and traffic spilling over onto low-traffic neighborhood side streets.
For anyone unfamiliar with the city street closure program of 2020, I wrote a brief summary at the time:
In 2020, the Healthy Streets program specifically included data collection to better understand both benefits and unintended consequences (e.g. hazards observed by residents). Pedestrians, cyclists, and families living on (previously) quiet side streets offered some very detailed feedback about how road and lane closures actually functioned, as compared to how we had HOPED they would function. Elected leaders attempted to develop policy based on data.
Anyone who lives in proximity to a major corridor understands the concept of spillover traffic and how the disabling of a larger street impacts smaller streets nearby. The development of way-finding apps makes these local ‘shortcuts’ available to everyone with a phone— drivers now regularly use these apps to avoid traffic jams and traffic delays. You can read an article about the problem here:
It would be an extreme position to oppose all road reconfigurations that promote safety for cyclists and pedestrians. Conversely, demanding that these changes happen as quickly as possible — without considering facts on the ground or location-specific concerns — is also an extreme position. Neither of these extremes will lead to the best solutions.
This is why data matters.
In an educated community like Ann Arbor, the people we elect to represent us should care about measurable data, not purposefully and explicitly reject it, as is happening in DC-4. In the past, elected leaders have recognized that the observations and day-to-day experiences of residents are also helpful data. That idea, also, has been rejected by current elected leaders. In September 2023, Council unanimously rescinded a policy that at least 50% of residents on local, neighborhood side streets support traffic calming changes before implementation. You can learn about that here:
From that video: in a public meeting, a Mayoral appointee on the Transportation commission discounted local neighborhood perspective because “those people” will always show less support for improvements. An elected member of Council described a requirement for 50% neighborhood support as a ‘veto’ worth eliminating. This approach to local democracy should alarm anyone and everyone who cares about the community we share and the issues that might impact us in the future. Council has voted unanimously that your concerns about the street where you live do not matter, even if your position is shared by a majority of neighbors. This week, Council explicitly states that objective, measurable data does not matter, either.
Data – both measured and observed – is key to anticipating and identifying unintended consequences.
For anyone who does not know: this is an issue that I care a lot about because I am a cyclist. This year, I started a project to bike to every street in Ann Arbor in alphabetical order — since May, my son and I have biked to 345 streets and over 1300 miles, discovering locations that I had no reason to visit before. I am learning a lot about the best, safest routes on my bike in all parts of town and also identifying hazards and dangers. I am certain that local residents in those neighborhoods could educate me about a whole lot more.
I want our transportation network to be as safe as possible for all users and I believe a majority of residents want this, too. In a democracy, local neighborhood residents are not “those people” who should be ignored. In a democracy, over 50% is a majority, not a veto. This week, Council will vote to explicitly ignore measurable data in order to make the quickest, most uninformed decisions. A community as educated as Ann Arbor should expect better.
Thank you for taking the time to be informed about our local government!