Tuesday, March 20, 2018

56th Ann Arbor Film Festival kicks off tonight

Gentle readers, the 56th Ann Arbor Film Festival opens tonight. What I really love about the Film Festival is that if you go, you are guaranteed to see films that you would not otherwise see. It's such a reminder of how wonderful and expressive film is as an art form. In honor of opening night, I reached out to two former directors of the Film Festival, Vicki Honeyman (1988 - 2002) and Donald Harrison (2009 - 2012), and they were kind enough to share some of their thoughts with me.

Honeyman curated a special program for the Film Fest this year. Vick's Picks is this Saturday at 9:15 pm in the Screening Room. "I’ve selected 14 films that were screened between 1977 and 2000, films that are strong stand-outs for me as great work and the epitome of what the AAFF is all about." she said. As for what makes the Film Festival special, here are Honeyman's thoughts:

"AAFF is the longest running festival of experimental and independent artist-made media work. Beginning in 1963, it ran as a strictly 16mm film festival until my departure in late 2002. The festival now accepts all types of moving visual media, i.e. digital, video, 35mm, 16mm, etc. It has always been the festival for makers to have their work included, especially world premieres. Because the festival is so highly regarded and recognized worldwide, it’s a big deal to be part of the festival week program of films in competition.

The AAFF does not screen strictly experimental/avant garde work. also included are documentaries, animation, and narrative works. The importance of film lovers attending this festival is the viewer is guaranteed to view work they won’t have an opportunity to see elsewhere, much less will they heard about the work or the maker. So, don’t judge the book by it’s cover! It’s a very unique event, showing works viewers will remember after the credits roll."

I have to agree. The films I have seen at the AAFF definitely stick with me much longer than mainstream films.

Harrison also shared his thought's on what makes the Film Festival special:

"The AAFF is one of the longest-running, most prestigious film festivals in N. America. I consider it the original independent film festival and since 1963 has provided a showcase for films outside of the studio/commercial system. The AAFF really presents film as an art form, exploring what's possible within the boundaries of a cinema setting, and sometimes beyond with events, installations and interactive programs. There's free events and parties every night and filmmakers, film-goers from around the world for a week, all centered around the Michigan Theater. There's plenty to see that will stimulate your thinking and provide lots to discuss among friends and strangers!"
Gentle reader, I strongly encourage you to check out at least one Film Festival screening. As Honeyman and Harrison point out, you will see things at AAFF that you will not see anywhere else. Tickets are just $12 or $8 for students and seniors.

Ypsilanti City Council Preview: March 20th, 2018

A map of the Bell Kramer area showing the location of the old dump.

Happy first day of spring! The City of Ypsilanti will be celebrating with a regularly scheduled City Council Meeting. You can watch the meeting in person at Ypsilanti City Hall at 7pm or follow live on Ypsi Live's facebook page. You can find the agenda here and the meeting packet here.

There's one public hearing at tonight's meeting. It is on "Approving submission of Michigan Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grant application for Rutherford Pool Renovations." Full disclosure, I am a member of the City of Ypsilanti Parks and Recreation Commission and voted in support of sending this to City Council. Essentially, this would authorize city staff to apply for a $300,000 LWCF grant for upcoming renovations at Ypsilanti's beloved Rutherford Pool. You can read more about it on page 4 of the meeting packet. I don't expect that this will be very controversial.

There are two first ordinance readings tonight concerning the rezoning of the Bell Kramer Neighborhood. By way of background, here's a the background from page 11 of the meeting packet:

The Bell-Kramer neighborhood is located north of I-94, east of Huron, and south of Spring/Factory Street. This neighborhood was part of the village of Clarkesville, and the core has been residential since the mid-1800s. In 2012-2013, testing was done on the former City landfill (599 S Huron) which indicated the presence of contaminants that had the potential to migrate to the north. At the time the City was undergoing the master plan update, and the future land use map was updated to exclude residential use, as further testing was not viable at the time. In 2014, when the zoning map was updated, the area was zoned a combination of GC (mixed commercial-industrial) and PMD (industrial), thus precluding development of anything without first having to perform environmental analysis, by permitting only commercial developments. This also had the effect of making existing residential uses in the neighborhood nonconforming. The residents and owners of the area requested a right-to-rebuild clause in the PMD zoning while additional testing was performed; this was executed in 2017, as well as additional testing. Test results support returning the area to a residential zoning classification for the existing residential properties. Staff has recommended a zoning to CN-Mid; under this classification all parcels and uses in the area are conforming, and new construction and additions are possible.
The two ordinances concerning Bell Kramer rezoning tonight, 1302 and 1303, would rezone occupied parcels from industrial (PMD) to mid-density residential (CN-Mid) and unoccupied parcels to Parkland.

The other two first ordinance readings, 1304 and 1305, concern Ypsilanti's decision to opt into the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA). You can read more on page 35 of the meeting packet. I haven't read much of this section of the meeting packet, but part of this would address in which zones dispensaries and provisioning centers would be allowed.

The is a second reading concerning the PILOT for Towne Centre (401 W. Michigan Avenue) and a light consent agenda with three items. Also, there is a resolution approving an application for a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone (NEZ)Rehabilitation Certificate for Lillie Covington, 406 S. Hamilton. All in all it looks like it will be an pretty average length meeting.

If you're interested here is some more information about the Bell Kramer Neighborhood and the pollution issues there:

Ypsilanti City Council Report: Ypsilanti on track to forbid municipal solicitation of immigration status
The Danger (re)Zone… the unsellable houses of Bell Street
The unsellable houses of Bell Street, part two
The Toxic Problems of the Clarkesville Neighborhood, Ypsilanti

Monday, March 19, 2018

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: March 19th, 2018

A rendering from the 1505 White Street Renovation

It looks like tonight's #a2council meeting will be a short one. You can check out the brief agenda here. Tonight's meeting might even be able to beat March 5th's meeting, which only lasted 37 minutes. Unlike that meeting, this one doesn't even have a deep consent agenda.

Of the 5 items on the consent agenda, the most interesting is probably CA-3, a resolution to support the Low Income Housing Tax Credit application for Hickory Way Apartments. There are also two street closures: March for our Lives (March 24th) and MUSIC Matters SpringFest (April 5th).

There is one pubic hearing on tonight's agenda. PH-1/DB-1 concerns the site plans for the proposed renovation of 1505 White Street. The proposed plan is to tear down the 1800 sq ft duplex on the southeast corner of White and Stadium and replace it with a 2500 sq ft single family dwelling with 6 bedrooms. Planning commission has unanimously recommended approval of this proposal, so barring anything unforeseen, this will probably be approved tonight.

Gentle reader, what items on tonight's #a2council agenda are you most excited about? Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream. Make sure you check out the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

News in Brief: The kids are alright

This morning several hundred people showed up to protest gun violence at Ypsilanti's Riverside Park as part of the National School Walkout. The crows was made up of mostly high school students, as well as parents, teachers and community members from across the county. I showed up a little late so my pics are not great. Still, it was inspiring to see some many people braving the cold to support a cause they believe in.

The crowd immediately after the rally ended

Participants head out of Riverside Park on Ypsilanti's iconic Tridge after the rally in Riverside Park.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Wasntenaw County neighborhood profiles

Change in property value in Ypsilanti's Historic Southside neighborhood between 2005 and 2017

Washtenaw County's Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) subcommittee has just released a report looking at how 12 Washtenaw County have changed over time. One of the biggest trends in the report is that State Equalized Values (SEV is approximately 1/2 market value) in 2017 are lower than SEVs in 2005 in all neighborhoods except for Ann Arbor's Water Hill. In two other neighborhoods, Ann Arbor's Packard & Platt neighborhood and Pittsfield Township's Carpenter & Packard, SEV is almost the same in 2017 as it was in 2005.

The report also looks at racial and employment demographics in neighborhoods over time. One of the trends that stands out in the demographics is the decrease in the percentage of African American or Black residents in the three Ann Arbor neighborhoods. In the majority of the 12 neighborhoods, there has been a shift from owner occupied homes to rental houses. There's a lot to digest in this report.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Ypsilanti City Council Preview: March 6th, 2018

A presentation about Washtenaw County's solid waste plan is one highlight on tonight's agenda.

Tonight is the first #YpsiCouncil meeting of March. You can check out the agenda here. There will be three important presentations at the meeting. Evan Pratt will be talking about the County's solid waste plan. AAATA Board Member Gillian Ream Gainsley will be presenting about the upcoming AAATA transit millage renewal. You can get a sneak peek at these presentations in this March 6th Council Packet. The solid waste plan starts on page 3 and the AAATA presentation starts on page 32.

Probably the most exciting item on the agenda is a discussion about a potential Community Benefits Ordinance, or CBO. A CBO would formalize the process for negotiating concessions that would benefit Ypsilanti with potential developers. A local group, Rising for Economic Democracy, Ypsilanti, or REDY has been working on developing CBO language. You can read more about REDY and their vision for a CBO in this recent article from Concentrate. I know a lot of people from REDY and citizens who support a strong CBO are planning on speaking at tonight's public commentary. There is some conflict between REDY's vision for a CBO and the proposed CBO that is being presented tonight. Here's an except from an email sent by a member of REDY obtained by Damn Arbor:

Tonight at City Hall the city council is going to discuss the Community Benefits Ordinance drafted by the city. As currently designed it sets up a city appointed ad hoc committee that makes recommendations to the city who then negotiates with the developer. By contrast [in REDY's] CBO framework an ad hoc committee, the majority chosen by the community, directly negotiates with a developer and reports back to a mass meeting of the community. Under the city’s draft there is no open meeting of the community.
Finally there is one last item that caught my interest on tonight's agenda. EMU is working on privatizing their parking services, and tonight, the Ypsilanti City Council is voting on a resolution to support EMU. To be honest, the whole thing seems a little convoluted and I don't know as much about it as I should. Mark Maynard has closer look at this agenda item over on his site.

You can follow the action live on the Ypsi Live facebook page.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Ann Arbor City Council Preview for March 5th, 2018

Braun Nature Area is on a township island. If C-1 passes, the parcels that make up the nature area will be annexed into the city and rezoned as Public Land.

UPDATE: This article was updated to include information about the use of masculine pronouns in the disorderly conduct ordinance.

Gentle readers, tonight is the first #a2council meeting of March. Are you excited? Tonight's meeting is hot on the heels of the February 19th City Council Meeting where Ann Arbor's courageous elected officials drew a bold line in the sand and voted to forbid front yard solar panels*. Everyone is wondering whether the council will take another brave, and not at all retrograde, stand against the forces of modernity.

Snarking aside, there are some important items on tonight's agenda. The Consent Agenda tonight is 20 items deep. It starts with 7 road closures for everything from the Monroe Street Fair (Saturday, April 7) to the Burns Park Fun Run (Sunday, May 6), and the 10th Annual Box Car Race/Soap Box Derby (Sunday, April 8). Other items on the Consent Agenda include relocation of voting precincts because of ongoing construction at the Michigan Union and a couple of easement approvals. There are also several purchase agreements in the CA items, including a quarter million dollar agreement with Yellowfin Business Intelligence for two years of data visualization and big data services.

There are two second readings of ordinance changes on tonight's agenda that have public hearings. PH-1/B-1, An Ordinance to Amend Section 9:61, 9:62 and 9:68 of Chapter 108, Disorderly Conduct, of Title IX of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Ordinance No. ORD-18-03), makes several updates to Ann Arbor's disorderly conduct ordinance. Among other things, the changes would strike language from the section of the ordinance that make it so that domestic violence rules do not apply between parents/guardians and their minor children. Interestingly this update to the disorderly conduct ordnance leaves in this language about the usage of masculine pronouns within the ordinance: "(4) 'Masculine pronouns”: Shall be construed to include both male and female persons.'" Seems like an interesting choice.

B-2/PH-2, An Ordinance to Amend Sections 10:69, 10:70, 10:71, 10:72, 10:73 and 10:75 of Chapter 126, Traffic, of Title X of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Ordinance No. ORD-18-04), makes some changes to the City's rules around parking meters. I haven't given this a close reading, but it looks like it updates the rules surrounding parking meters to reflect the use of the electronic marking meter system.

The last item on the agenda that I'll mention is C-1, An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Zoning), Zoning of 10.44 Acres from TWP (Township District) to PL (Public Land), 1200 and 1400 Chalmers Drive. This ordinance would annex the two parcels of land that make up the Braun Nature Area and zone them as Public Land. Braun Nature area is currently an Ann Arbor City Park that is located on Ann Arbor Township land.

Gentle reader, what items on tonight's #a2council agenda are you most excited about? Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream. Make sure you check out the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

* Ward 5 Councilmembers Chip Smith and Chuck Warpehoski voted against the ban on front yard solar panels. Ward 3 Councilmember Julie Grand was absent from the Feb. 19th meeting and thus did not vote for or against the front yard solar panel ban.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Local man wounded fighting Syria

The Chicago Tribune has a fascinating article about 23 year-old Pioneer grad, Caleb Stevens, who received medical care in Chicago recently after being wounded in Syria. Caleb was fighting as a volunteer with the Kurdish YPG Militia Deir ez-Zor, Syria. Stevens was shot in the calf by a sniper while trying to retrieve a rifle. He was initially treated in a hospital in Baghdad, followed by a hospital in Jordan, before he flew to Chicago O'Hare and eventually received treatment at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Stevens is currently recuperating at his home in Ann Arbor.

The Trib's article goes into great depth on Stevens' story and the phenomenon of international volunteers in the YPG. It's well worth your read.

Caleb I realize you have probably had a lot of media attention, but if this ends up finding its way to you, and you'd be interested in an interview with a local publication, drop me a line ben.connorbarrie @ gmail.com.