Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: February 18 2020

Sidewalk Special Assessment District #60 from CA-7
Buckle up gentle readers, because tonight's #a2council meeting is going to be off the chain. Will there be animus? Yes. Raised voices? For sure. Yelling? Probably. Frustrated pen clicking? You betcha. Here's the agenda. In an effort to not bury the lead, the spiciest chili on tonight's agenda is DC-8, a motion to terminate the employment agreement with Administrator Howard Lazarus. This is sponsored by CMs Eaton and Lumm. The motion would fire Lazerus without cause, granting him one year of severance pay. It needs 6 votes to pass.

On to the consent agenda! There are only 16 items, but it'll probably take a while just to get through everything that gets pulled. CM Bannister indicated that she was going to pull the Barton sidewalk special assessments CA-6 and CA-7. Seems like building sidewalks near a school should be a no brainer, but here we are. It's hard because in the past Ann Arbor allowed people to build houses without sidewalks. My understanding is that most houses have sidewalks in the city from when they were built. Thus, the cost of the sidewalk was factored into the original construction of the building. Because of this, the way we pay for new sidewalks is by assessing property owners for the footage of sidewalk being constructed on their easements. These special assessments can be spread out over several years so as not to hit a property owner with a single giant payment. Sidewalks are important, especially if we want to make it easier and safer for people to not drive.

There are two public hearings on tonight's docket. PH-1/B-1 is on an ordinance to change how commissioners are appointed to boards. PH-2/DB-1 is on a township island annexation on Newport Road. Recently township island annexation has become a little spicy, so we will see how this goes.

In old business, we have DC-1 and DC-2. The first is the resolution to establish the city mobility committee. The second directs the "City Administrator to review existing policies and procedures on communications between City staff and Councilmembers, recommend improvements as needed to support City Council’s goal of improved communications through collaboration, transparency, and accuracy of information, and report to City Council any improved policies or procedures by March 31, 2020."

DC-5 is a resolution to support the Washtenaw Housing Alliance's Affordable Housing Pledge. Another interesting item is F-2, the Transportation Commission's recommendation for a statewide crosswalk ordinance.

Well gentle reader, what do you think about the plan to fire Administrator Lazarus? What agenda items are you most interested in? Make sure you tune into the action tonight at 7 on CTN. As always, you can follow the #a2council hashtag on twitter too.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Apple Season Review

William Faulkner famously wrote: The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

Those words ring true throughout theater Nova’s production of E.M. Lewis’ Apple Season. The central idea—a woman returns to the home where she grew up after the death of her father—is not original to this play but the fabulous direction by David Wolber on a heartbreakingly idyllic set (designed by Monica Spencer) make it fresh and interesting. Apple Season finds Lissie Fogerty (played by Alysia Kolascz) back in the orchard during the titular season, hours after the conclusion of the funeral for her father. As she picks the Northern Spies and the Mountain Roses, high school classmate Billy (played by Jeremy Kucharek) arrives, asking how she has been doing in the decades since she abruptly left town and ultimately inquiring about purchasing the orchard from her.

The action soon flashes back to the past, which finds Lissie and older brother Roger (played by Matthew Swift) as kids in the apple trees, hiding from shots being fired from a .22. It quickly becomes apparent that this tranquil apple orchard produced a horrific past for the Fogerty siblings.

The play swings back and forth between past and present, from a playful scene from outside the high school, to an emotionally wrenching conversation at a water tower, to the funeral that happened earlier that day. All three actors breathe brilliant life into what could have been cliché characters in the hands of lesser actors. Audience members feel the incredible grit tinged with vulnerability in Lissie, the warmth of the kindhearted, earnest Billy, and the pain of the selfless, stoic but hurting Roger. Ultimately, Lissie must decide how to reckon with a past that isn’t, as Faulkner said, past. Taking those steps with these characters is an emotional, beautiful, haunting journey that is hard to forget.

Apple Season runs through February 23 at Theater Nova.

Patti Smith is a teacher, writer and historian who lives in Ann Arbor.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: February 3, 2020

Gentle readers, it's time for you #a2council preview. Here's the agenda.

We start the evening off with a small, 13 item consent agenda. There are three street closings: one for the National Training Institute Opening Ceremony, July 26; one for Take Back the Night, April 2; and one for Artober fest, October 16.

There are two Public Hearings. PH-1/B-1 is for an ordinance that would create spaces for voting youth members on the Environment Commission. Here youth is defined as 16-25. I like this, but let's have youth members be 14-18 and be on all our commissions. PH-2 is for a routine township island annexation. At the Council Caucus meeting last night a CM mentioned that this was not opposed, so this will likely not have any discussion at tonight's meeting and pass easily. There has been a plan for Annex township islands for over two decades. There is really no good reason for an #a2councilmember to oppose the township island annexation plan.

C-2 is the first reading of an ordinance that would give boards and commissions a greater role in sourcing new members. DC-2 is a resolution supporting the EPA designating the Gelman Plume a superfund site. This was postponed at the last meeting. DC-3 would establish a new City Council Committee, the Mobility Committee. DC-4 is a vaguely worded rule resolving "That Council strive to improve its effectiveness by focusing on three components of excellent governmental communications:" Collaboration, INformation that is accurate, complete and timely, and Transparency.

And there you have it gentle readers. Make sure you tune into CTN tonight at 7pm to check out the action. And as always, you can follow the blow by blow action on the #a2council hashtag.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: January 21, 2019

Gentle readers, tonight is a special Tuesday edition of #a2council. Here's the agenda for your perusal.

The evening kicks off with a moderate, 19 item consent agenda. It's street closing season: CA-2 through CA-6 are all street closings for various races and festivals.

There are no public hearings tonight. There are several pieces of old business. C-1 is the historic entertainment sound district. My understanding is that this is like a noise overlay for most of downtown in order to ensure music venues and clubs can avoid noise complaints. C-2 would create two youth voting members (aged 14 to 25) for the environment commission. It would be cool to see this on all commissions. DC-1 is a resolution form last October that supporting the EPA's active intent to make the Gelman Plume a Superfund Site.

A particularly spicy chili on tonight's agenda is DS-1, a resolution to eliminate on-street parking on Barton Drive from Longshore to Pontiac Trail. The pavement on the road is in poor condition and the city is going to be resurfacing the street and installing larger water mains. The street is currently too narrow to support parking, vehicular traffic, and dedicated bike lane. There is little street parking on Barton between the 14 onramp and Pontiac Trail. This resolution would eliminate a few on street parking spaces and allow for dedicated bike lanes on a fairly popular bike route, at least based on the Strava Heat Map. In the picture below Barton is the most popular east-west path for cyclists between the Border to Border trail and Joy Road.

Given, the city's vision zero goals and the recent decoration of a climate emergency, you would think that eliminating a few on street parking spaces in order to improve the ease and safeness of cycling would be a no brainer. Nevertheless, there is some opposition from the people that oppose the loss of parking spaces. 20 people from 17 addresses, mostly along the 600 and 700 blocks of Barton, have signed a petition opposing the loss of on street parking. In contrast, 56% of 32 participants at a city sponsored meeting for residents supported losing the parking spots to make bike lanes as well as 75% of the 204 respondents to a city wide survey. Finally, nearly 150 people signed a change.org petition supporting the construction of the bike lanes. The scuttlenbut from Council Caucus on Sunday is that this might not have the votes needed to pass.

And there you have it gentle readers. Make sure you tune into CTN tonight at 7pm to check out the action.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Ypsilanti is Getting a Film Festival

Exciting news this morning. Ypsi is getting its own film fest. Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (IFFY) will be at the Riverside Arts Center April 16 through April 18th. Local filmmakers Donald Harrison, and Martin Thoburn are co-founding/co-directing IFFY. They are teaming up with Juliet Hinely and Hafsah Mijinyawa who will each curate a program of short films and artists. The festival will announce its schedule in March and will feature local filmmakers. When asked about why they were starting the festival, Harrison had this to say "Ypsi's a dynamic city with a strong cultural tradition. We're starting IFFY to reflect that, respond to it, and we're excited to see how it might grow in our community."

Personally, I am very excited about IFFY. Stay tuned for more updates.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: January 6, 2020

Gentle readers, tonight is the first #a2council of the new decade. Yay. Here's the agenda. The evening kicks off with a respectable 20 item consent agenda. CA-16 is a contract to purchase multi-factor authentication software from local software firm Duo Security. CA-20 would add a police lutienient to the Ann Arbor Police Department's roster.

Diving further in, there are, gasp, no public hearings on the docket tonight. DC-1 is a resolution supporting the EPA becoming involved with the Gelman Plume and encouraging its designation as a Superfund site. DC-2 authorizes appeals of the city's denied petitions for township island annexation.

I think that's mostly it, a relatively light agenda to ease us into the decade. Gentle readers, what agenda items are you most interested in? Make sure you tune in to the action tonight 7:00 on CTN and follow along with the #a2council hashtag on twitter.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: December 16, 2019

Seasons greetings gentle readers! Tonight is a magical night, the final night of #a2coiuncil for the decade. Here's the agenda.

There is a deep consent agenda with 23 items. Of note: CA-8, the contact for Community Visioning and Master Land Use Plan Services. This is the outreach of the master plan update. At last night's caucus meeting, there was talk of delaying this. So expect it to be pulled. There is also CA-17, which would prepare plans for the Jackson Ave sidewalk gap elimination project.

There are 3 public hearings on the agenda this evening. PH-2/DB-1. This is a resolution to approve the Project Site Plan a project on Hideaway Lane.

DC-1 is a resolution to support center of the city interim use and long term planning. So that could be contentious.

DC-3 is a resolution to endorse HB 4738, which would create a statewide crosswalk law. While this may sound good, it would supersede and weaken Ann Arbor's Crosswalk Ordinance. HB 4738 would make it so that cars must yield to pedestrians within crosswalks. Ann Arbor's Ordinance makes it so cars need to yield to pedestrians waiting to cross at crosswalks. To make cars yield the right-of-way, HB 4738 would make a pedestrian enter a crosswalk. This may seem minor for able-bodied people, but imagine someone who uses a wheelchair, or a parent pushing a stroller to have to put the stroller into the intersection before cars would have to yield. Ann Arbor's Crosswalk Ordinance is about changing behavior, and HB 4738 would weaken it.

Gentle readers, what agenda items are you most interested in? Make sure you tune in to the action tonight 7:00 on CTN and follow along with the #a2council hashtag on twitter.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

How can the Y Lot and the Old County Road Commission Building be used to help housing affordability in Ann Arbor?

Gentle readers, as you know, Ann Arbor is in the process of deciding what to do with several city-owned properties. Two of those properties are the Y Lot on William between 4th Ave and 5th Ave and the Old County Road Commission Building at 415 W. Washington, across from the current YMCA. Right now Ann Arbor is collecting input on how these properties can best be used to support housing and affordability. You can find more about these projects here. In addition to a survey on the project page, there are also 5 community discussion sessions on housing and affordability today and running through December 9th. Here are the session dates:

Thursday, Dec. 5 at the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, 150 S. 5th Ave., Suite 301, 5-9 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 6 at the Ann Arbor District Library Downtown Branch, third floor freespace, noon-4 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 7 at the Ann Arbor YMCA, Michigan Room, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 8 at Cirq, 210 S. 1st St., noon-4 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 9 at the Ann Arbor District Library Downtown Branch, third floor freespace, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
There is a housing shortage in Ann Arbor. There is insufficient affordable (subsidized) and market-rate housing. Please at the least take the survey and let the city know what you think. If you have the time, please go to one or more of the conversations and make sure your voice is heard.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: December 2, 2019

Gentle readers, it's the most wonderful time of year. That's right, it's time for the first December meeting of #a2council. Here's the agenda.

The evening kicks off with a reasonable 11 item consent agenda. The biggest item here is probably CA-7, a contract with Emterra Services for Recycling.

There are three public hearings tonight. PH-1/B-1 is on an ordinance to amend the city's fees around going out of Business Permits. The hearings for PH-2/DB-1 and PH-3/DB-2 are probably the most interesting. These are to approve the site plans for 212 S. State and 616 E Washington, together which would approve a 19-story building behind the Michigan Theater. This building uses an affordable housing premium to exceed the normal height limit in the D1 zone. I hope this project goes through.

Elsewhere in the agenda, there is DC-5, a resolution regarding the future of the Center of the City/Library Lot. Interestingly, this directs the Administrator to undertake several specific actions, even though the Center of the City Task Force is still compiling their report regarding their outreach efforts. This will likely unearth strong feelings about the Center of The City/Library Lot.

Gentle readers, what agenda items are you most interested in? Make sure you tune in to the action tonight 7:00 on CTN and follow along with the #a2council hashtag on twitter.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

David Erik Nelson: In Michigan: a Primer, a Travelogue

Gentle reader, I am going to hop on the bandwagon and recommend you read local author, David Erik Nelson's In Michigan: a Primer, a Travelogue. The essay is a reflection on Michigan Thanksgiving and Michigan culture from an outsider's perspective. In it, Nelson describes traveling to visit his wife's family in Michigan's northern Hinterlands. It covers a variety of Michigan experiences: eating deer hearts, up north bars, and ofcourse, driving:
It's a lot of driving, but not by Michigan standards. In Michigan, no amount of driving is too much driving, nor any distance too short to drive. In Michigan, nothing is close enough to walk to, even when it is within eye shot. In Michigan you might drive to the place you already are, in order to pick up the car and go back to where you never left. You can do that, in Michigan, even though the roads are crap and the legislature refuses to pay to fix them, because Michigan.
Nelson's perspective on Thanksgiving in Michigan is a wonderful lense through which to view our state and our culture. If you have a few moments to yourself this holiday, read In Michigan: a Primer, a Travelogue, you will not regret it.