Welcome to everyone who is new to this newsletter! Before every Ann Arbor City Council meeting, I write up my own summary of each agenda item and try to pull details that I think are most relevant to understanding them. My hope is that these summaries can help residents keep track of what City Council is doing. For issues that matter to you, I encourage you to follow links (next to each agenda item) to the City’s Legistar website, where you can find all the background information.
This week’s agenda is relatively short and includes two public hearings, one of which relates to a scheduled increase to our water rates. I have received a number of emails and phone calls from residents letting me know that our water rates are quite high and that this increase is unacceptable. Council has received a lot of information internally about the need for this increase. I appreciate everyone who has reached out to me to share your perspective.
This weekend, many of us are beginning a winter break from school or work. My own family is staying home, skipping all the gatherings and family celebrations we would typically enjoy this time of year. I am anticipating a very quiet couple of weeks! For anyone else who is like me, looking for things to do at home, I made a puzzle: “Ward 4 from A to Z“. You can find it at the link below:
I will be updating the post with the answers on Dec 25th at Noon.
In other Ward 4 news, the LoBuPa park previously called Rose White is now officially called Graydon Park. A sign was installed this week, honoring former Council Member from Ward 4, Graydon Krapohl. An official naming ceremony/celebration is planned to happen in the spring.
Residents in need of financial help during this crisis (e.g. to avoid eviction, pay utility bills, cover emergency medical expenses) can find resources at this link:
Virtual Coffee Hours
Sunday Dec 20th 3:00pm
During the COVID-19 crisis I have been holding “virtual” coffee hours with Zoom on Sunday afternoons before scheduled City Council meetings. Please email me for a link:
Sunday Dec 20th 6:00pm (note new start time)
We have been holding Council Caucus on Sunday nights before Council meetings since March 2019. All Council Members are invited to participate. During the COVID-19 crisis, we are holding Caucus via Zoom. Please check the Legistar link below for the latest information
Monday Dec 21st 7:00pm
Council is meeting again using the Zoom application. The video feed will be broadcast on CTN and YouTube. Public comment is audio only using dial-in numbers. Please check the Legistar link below for the latest information.
A2ELNEL.com Website Updates
In addition to writing this newsletter, I post updates to my website with my perspectives on how issues were resolved at City Council and details on how Council voted at each meeting. I also post information about meetings and issues that affect Ward 4 residents, along with news that affects all city residents.
You can see a listing of all my posts here: https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/
City Council Voting Chart for Dec 7, 2020
COVID-19 Vaccine Information from Washtenaw County and the State of Michigan
Washtenaw County and the State of Michigan have new web pages with information about the COVID-19 vaccine and the plans for distribution. I have also put these links on the front page of my website.
Ann Arbor City Hall building closure extended to Jan 15th
To comply with new State orders, City Hall will be closed through Jan 15, 2021.
Sidewalk Snow/Ice Removal Reminder from the City
The City is sending out postcards to remind residents, businesses and property owners to clear snow and ice from sidewalks.
Ward 4 from A to Z
This map puzzle is for Ward 4 SUPER FANS! Can you match a list of 57 locations to the Ward 4 map?
A2COUNCIL Updates (A2COUNCIL.com)
For anyone interested in understanding and analyzing the recent work of Council, I have created a resource at A2COUNCIL.com with summaries of issues and direct links to City documents. For each City Council meeting since November 2018, you can find links to the City’s Legistar website, CTN’s YouTube video, and links to my newsletters and voting charts. I have listed agenda items of interest from each meeting, along with articles I’ve written and articles published on MLive.
Ann Arbor City Council Meeting Agenda
Below is my summary of some 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, feel free to email me.
The full agenda (including a link to the latest published PDF agenda) can be found on the A2Gov Legistar website:
Ann Arbor City Council
Monday Dec 21, 2020 (7:00pm)
City Council meetings are broadcast live by CTN on Comcast (channel 16) and AT&T (channel 99). They are also streamed live on YouTube and Viebit:
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-4 (20-2024) Agenda Response Memo and eComments – December 21, 2020
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 (20-1914) 12/21/2020 Appointments and Nominations
These nominations from the Mayor are being introduced at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.
- Jonathan Massey – Downtown Development Authority
- Jordan Schreier – Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees
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. I encourage you to look at this list and offer suggestions to me about anything you would like to see pulled for discussion.
CA-1 (20-1866) Resolution Recognizing the Book Industry Charitable Foundation as a Civic Nonprofit Organization Operating in Ann Arbor for the Purpose of Obtaining a Charitable Gaming License
CA-2 (20-1734) Resolution to Approve a Construction Contract with Lanzo Companies, Inc. for the Southside Interceptor Sewer Lining Project – Phase VI ($1,924,770.00)
CA-3 (20-1735) Resolution to Award a Construction Contract to Lanzo Companies, Inc. ($2,338,237.00, Bid No. ITB-4643) for the 2020 Sewer Lining Project
CA-4 (20-1762) Resolution to Appropriate Fund Balance to the Special Assistance Fund to Provide Aid to the Barrier Busters Program ($12,000.00) (8 Votes Required)
CA-5 (20-1811) Resolution Requesting $50,000 in Additional Funds for Barrier Busters Unmet Needs Fund for Direct Assistance to City of Ann Arbor Residents (8 Votes Required)
CA-6 (20-1770) Resolution to Ratify an Emergency Purchase Order to Schindler Elevator for the Water Treatment Plant High Capacity Elevator ($35,000.00)
CA-7 (20-1782) Resolution to Approve Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan for the Hubbard Road/Huron Parkway Stormwater Outlet Repair Project ($210,000.00)
CA-8 (20-1773) Resolution to Approve the Purchase of Two Vehicles from Gorno Ford (MiDeal Bid – $93,926.00)
CA-9 (20-1795) Resolution to Approve a Purchase Order with Axon Enterprise, Inc for FY21 In-Car Equipment Project Fund ($69,848.00 in FY21) for Axon Fleet Dashboard Cameras, Evidence.com Cloud Storage and Wi-Fi Offload Hardware Used in all Police Patrol Vehicles and related six-year quote ($348,308.00 Total)
CA-10 (20-1797) Resolution to Approve a Purchase Order with Dell Marketing L.P. for FY2021 PC Replacement Program and Appropriate Necessary Funding for a Computer Tablet, Modem and Antenna ($5,647.00) (8 Votes Required)
CA-11 (20-1801) Resolution to Adopt the Board of Review Guidelines for Poverty Exemptions from Property Taxation of Principal Residence Pursuant to MCL 211.7u
CA-12 (20-1808) Resolution Approving a Contract with the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County for the 2020 – 2021 Winter Emergency Shelter and Warming Center ($72,000.00)
CA-13 (20-1911) Resolution to Approve Amendment Number 1 to the Professional Services Agreement with Rosati, Schultz, Joppich, & Amtsbuechler P.C., for Legal Services Relative ($180,000.00) to Hahn Litigation (8 Votes Required)
CA-14 (20-1913) Resolution to Approve Amendment Number 1 to the Professional Services Agreement with Rivenoak Law Group, P.C. for Legal Services Relative to Sustainability Initiatives ($20,000.00). (6 Votes Required)
CA-15 (20-1854) Resolution to Approve the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the City of Ann Arbor and Police Service Specialists, effective January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2023
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 (20-1309) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.16.6 and 5.18.4 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Solar Energy Systems; Exceptions to Height Limits)
Two amendments to City Code will change policies around Solar Energy Systems. Currently, freestanding solar panel installations are considered accessory structures, subject to the requirement for a site plan review if larger than 240 square feet. The proposed amendment will permit solar panel installation in Multi-family, Mixed Use, Non-residential and Special Purpose districts (up to 10,000 square feet) under certain conditions without a Site Plan Review. (This amendment is prompted by a specific development proposal to expand a parking cover and create a larger surface for solar collection.) A second amendment will allow up to a 12-foot exception to district height maximums for the purpose of mounting rooftop solar.
PH-2/B-2 (20-1677) An Ordinance to Amend Section 2:63 of Chapter 29 (Water Rates) of Title II of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (ORD-20-32)
Water rates would increase by 7% (starting January 1, 2021) and increase again by 6.5% (starting July 1, 2021). These changes are projected to increase revenues to the Water Supply System by $1.47 million (more than FY2020). These rate changes take into account financial projections for revenue/usage decline in the non-residential customer class and increases in the residential customer class.
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 (20-1309) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.16.6 and 5.18.4 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Solar Energy Systems; Exceptions to Height Limits)
This is the same as PH-1 above.
B-2 (20-1677) An Ordinance to Amend Section 2:63 of Chapter 29 (Water Rates) of Title II of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (ORD-20-32)
This is the same as PH-2 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 approval. If approved, the ordinance will be voted on at a subsequent Council meeting, where it will also be subject to a public hearing.
C-1 (20-1431) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.16.6.D, 5.17.4, 5.17.6.C, 5.26.2.A, and 5.28.8, and Tables 5.15-1, 5.15-2, and 5.15-3 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Marijuana Processor, ADU, Security, Building Materials, FAR Determination, Fence Graphic, Use Tables)
The local Unified Development Code would be amended to clarify, correct, and modify content in sections related to the Marijuana Processor, ADU, Security, Building Materials, FAR Determination, Fence Graphic, and Use Tables. Right-of-ways for public sidewalks will be included in the lot area for the purpose of calculating FAR. Use of fiber cement board on primary and secondary streets will be restricted. The City’s Planning Manager will have more discretion to allow temporary certificates of occupancy for buildings and developments not yet completed. Marijuana processing will be permitted in M-2 zoning districts. Use tables for Accessory Dwelling Units will be added, to clarify standards for required lot areas and building size.
C-2 (20-1631) An Ordinance to Add a New Section to 5.19, Amend Sections 5.19.1, Table 5.19-1, in Section 5.19.2, Section 5.19.3, and Section 5.37.2.E, and to Add a New Section 5.19.11 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of The City of Ann Arbor (Electric Vehicle Parking)
This new section of city code would establish new parking standards for site plans requiring City Council approval. Parking requirements would define apportionment (by percentage) of spaces equipped in three categories for electric vehicle chargers (EVC): EVC “capable,” EVC “ready”, and EVC “installed.” Members of the Energy Commission and the department of Sustainability prepared these new standards.
C-3 (20-1777) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Zoning), Rezoning of 7.23 Acres from R1C (Single-Family Residential District) to PUD (Planned Unit Development District), Lockwood of Ann Arbor PUD Zoning and Supplemental Regulations, 2195 East Ellsworth (CPC Recommendation: Approval – 7 Yeas and 0 Nays)
A 7.92-acre vacant site at 2195 East Ellsworth would be re-zoned from R1C (Single-Family Residential District) to PUD (Planned Unit Development) to construct a three-story, 168,130 square foot residential building and a 154-space surface parking lot (“Lockwood”). The PUD will include 154 independent senior residential apartments – 89 one-bedroom units and 65 two-bedroom units – in a single building. The building will also contain a commercial kitchen and dining area, small barber shop, activity room, movie room, fitness room and small clinic.
C-4 (20-1779) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code), Zoning of 0.9 Acre from P (Parking) to C3 (Fringe Commercial), 2111 Packard Street (CPC Recommendation: Approval – 7 Yeas and 0 Nays)
A 0.9 acre portion of a 1.69 acre parcel at 2111 Packard would be re-zoned from P (Parking) to C3 (Fringe Commercial) to allow for development of a mixed use development: a 72 unit, 3-story apartment building. The project will include 118 bedrooms, 84 surface parking spaces, and 3,642 square feet of retail space at each corner of the building that fronts Packard Street. (This commercial location is currently a BGreen Restaurant Supply and Mathnasium.) The proposed zoning is consistent with the adjacent zoning, the surrounding land uses, and the City’s Master Plan.
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 (20-1862) Resolution to Direct Amendments to City Code to Prospectively Apply Locational Restrictions to Short Term Rentals
This resolution asks Staff and Planning Commission to consider amendments to an ordinance passed 9/8/20, regulating the location of short-term-rentals in the City. If approved, amendments will be drafted to preserve businesses already located in residentially zoned districts. See my “Additional Thoughts” section below.
DC-2 (20-1905) Resolution to Adopt City Council Rules Following the 2020 General Election
City Council is required to review and adopt the Council Rules following each general election. The Council Administration Committee is considering changes for 2021 but has adopted the existing Rules in accordance with Council Rule 1.
DC-3 (20-2023) Resolution to Endorse HB 241, The Water Shutoff Protection Act
This resolution would endorse state HB 241, the Water Shutoff Protection Act. This legislation would protect seniors, families with children, people who are seriously ill or disabled, and pregnant women from shutoffs, and specifies information required to be in water shutoff notices and timelines for shutoff notices to be communicated. The City Administrator is directed to communicate this resolution to Ann Arbor area legislators.
DC-4 (20-1999) Resolution to Appoint 3 At-Large Members to the Council of the Commons, and Confirm the PAC Appointment to the Council of the Commons
This resolution will appoint three at-large members and confirm appointment of a representative from the Parks Advisory Commission to the Council of the Commons.
This week, the agenda item most concerning to me is DC-1, asking staff and the Planning Commission to offer amendments that would weaken our Short Term Rental ordinance. On 9/8/20, Council passed an ordinance to license short term rentals, requiring operators to register with and pay fees to the city. The ordinance would permit owner-occupied short-term rentals, but prohibit dedicated, full-time short term rental units in neighborhoods of the city that are not zoned for commercial activities. Toward the end of discussion, this ordinance was amended to delay implementation until March 1, 2021, in order for “current investors to get their house in order.” Agenda item DC-1 is an effort to amend the ordinance before it is implemented.
Staff tell us that the majority of the approximately 1400 short term rentals in Ann Arbor are in single family residential districts. Most of those STR’s are likely the homes of year-round residents: individuals and families who have found that renting their homes for a few weekends a year is a way of earning extra income and paying for some of the high cost of living in our community. All of those owner-occupied short term rentals are perfectly allowable under the current ordinance, with the caveat that the city will now require registration and maintain records of where they exist.
The STR’s that are impacted by the current ordinance are owned primarily by investors, people who have purchased an extra home to be rented for thirty days or less on AirBnB or a similar online platform. Some investors have built and developed properties specifically for the purpose of rental on a short term basis in areas that are not zoned for commercial businesses. Under the ordinance passed on 9/8/20, such short-term rental arrangements will only be permitted in those areas of the city that are zoned for mixed use or commercial.
We have been talking about this issue since March 2019. A consultant conducted multiple public engagement meetings. The topic was on the agenda of three additional Council meetings (8/5/19, 1/6/20, 8/6/20) before Council finally approved the language recommended by staff on 9/8/20. At every point in this long process there was significant pushback from investors in our community, people who have structured businesses that depend on the ability to rent furnished homes for a few nights at a time, in residential neighborhoods.
In 2019, professional STR managers estimated that there might be upwards of 200 full-time, non-owner occupied STR’s in the city of Ann Arbor. One of my former colleagues estimated that these investor-owned STR’s represented “well over 100 units of housing… 300 bedrooms that are no longer available to community members and potential community members… By expanding our deficit of housing by removing 300 beds, that has a real human toll on 300 potential community members who could live here long-term” (CM Ackerman 9/8/20). Another one of my colleagues understood regulation of STR’s as a housing issue: “we often are battling for small numbers of [housing] units at a time, so I don’t think this is very different than one where we are advocating for ten units in a high rise” (CM Grand, 1/6/20).
Council has discussed how the value of short-term rentals to visitors does not outweigh the value of families being able to live in a house, or the value of someone not living next to a commercial enterprise. The value of residential neighborhoods is for people who will be able to live in our City, walk to work and school and enjoy the amenities of our community day to day. To quote one of my colleagues:
Folks that avail themselves of AirBnB’s or short term rentals, they do not become part of our community and people who move into residential districts have an expectation that they’re moving into a neighborhood, that they’re moving into a community. The proliferation of short term rentals in residential neighborhoods frustrates that expectation… the absence of community is unanswerable and of particular importance. (Mayor Taylor, 1/6/20)
It has been argued that this is a “fairness” issue, that investors have some right to conduct the business of short term rentals in the houses that they own. In the course of discussion, my colleagues have clearly articulated the distinction between a dedicated short term rental and other permitted uses in a residential neighborhood. There is a difference between a resident who teaches cello lessons out of the home they live in, and a property investor who does not live in a home but facilitates tourism in and out of a neighborhood, like a hotel. Council has acknowledged many reasons why this is not an issue of fairness and why the interests of the broader community outweigh the interests of a small number of investors.
In the course of discussion around investment and loss, Council did contemplate the possibility of “grandfathering” those businesses already in existence. One of my former colleagues stated plainly that grandfathering would be “awarding a great reward to the folks that are here now, giving them quite a bit of a monopoly” (CM Smith, 9/8/20). I agree.
Two of my colleagues have previously suggested that “grandfathering” STR businesses might be similar to what was done when medicinal marijuana businesses were legalized and the City implemented procedures for licensing and a cap on the number of businesses. Staff clarified, however, that for the marijuana businesses, “you had uses that were in the zoning districts they were supposed to be in from the beginning” and the licensing caps allowed for “discretionary review of them within the zoning district that staff and everybody agreed was appropriate for those facilities. The difference for us, in the instance of Short term rentals… We are recommending that rentals for less than 30 days, where you don’t create a resident – in that facility, in the home, in that structure – is not an appropriate use for a residential zoning district. We see a difference in that comparison” (Derek Delacourt, 9/8/20)
Agenda item DC-1 is notable in acknowledging that “Short term rentals are an emergent industry in Ann Arbor,” as if we accept this growth as a positive, economic stimulus (“industry”). The resolution specifically asks staff or the Planning Commission to consider amendments to the STR ordinance that will “enable the continued operation of preexisting short term rentals.” In other words, we are asking staff to craft exceptions that will protect the investments of people who are already in this market, grant them a monopoly, and simply accept the loss of those housing units in our residential districts.
I hope that my colleagues will not support DC-1 and that after two years of study, public engagement, and Council discussion we can move forward with implementation of the ordinance recommended by staff.
Thank you for helping me represent Ward 4!