Monday, June 1, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: June 1, 2020

It's #a2council night gentle readers. Here's the agenda.

The evening kicks off with a moderate 14 item consent agenda. Of note, we have the Farmers Market getting a $35,000 grant (CA-2). Also, it looks like the city will continue their interem agreement with Spin Scooters (CA-7). There's also CA-8 which approves language for a street, sidewalk, and bridge millage. CA-9 is for filling a sidewalk gap on Boardwalk. It will be interesting to see if this gets pulled. CA-14 is probably the spiciest item on the consent agenda. This approves the new contract for Ann Arbor's police force. Given current events, I am hearing some calls to postpone this so that more people can read it. [ED: CM Nelson just tweeted that CA-14 is being removed from tonight's agenda.]

There are 2 public hearings at tonight's meeting. PH-1/B-1 is the second reading of the water rate increase. This squeaked by in the first reading. Some CMs are upset about the 4 tiered water rate structure and have been saying that because they don't like the rate structure, they don't want to increase rates. For an indepth look at Ann Arbor's water rates, check out Erich Z.'s article here. PH-2/DS-2 may be the evening's spiciest chili. This is the resolution to adopt the A2Zero Carbon Neutrality Plan. A2Zero outlines a plan to get to net zero emissions for Ann Arbor by 2030. Back in November, the council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring a climate emergency and calling for the creation of a plan to get to zero emissions by 2030. Now some CMs are balking because one component of the plan calls for allowing duplexes, triplexes, quads, and ADUs in residential zoned areas. Earlier today, I wrote about why allowing more people in Ann Arbor is good for equity and CO2 emissions. You can read that here. Gentle reader, I don't know what the outcome of this resolution will be, but I do feel confident that we will see a hear of public commentary and a lot of speechifying on this from the CMs.

Elsewhere we have C-2, a resolution introduced by CMs Hayner and Bannister that would increase the vegetation height allowed in yards from 12" to 18". This resolution would also exempt planned natural vegetation and garden beds from any height limit. I like this resolution and I am glad to see it come forward.

DC-1 is a resolution delaying the water rate increase to January. It also directs city staff to again look at the previous consultant reports on our water rate structure with an eye towards reducing the gap between the difference between what people in the top tier and bottom tier pay. I feel like we have been here before. Some CMs are unhappy that people who have very high water usage are having to pay more for that.

DS-2 is a resolution to approve downtown street closures to allow for safe walking and dining. This seems like a pretty low risk/low cost way of trying to help our downtown restaurants. DC-3 would allow the outdoor sale and consumption of alcohol during the pandemic. Seems pretty reasonable.

Gentle reader, what agenda items are you most looking forward to seeing. I am guessing that tonight will be another late night around the virtual council table. Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2council hashtag.

Ann Arbor for the many, not the few

Ann Arbor should eliminate exclusionary zoning. By exclusionary zoning I mean residential zoning that prohibits duplexes, triplexes, quads, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Also, I am including large setbacks and parking minimums in my definition of exclusionary zoning. There are two primary reasons I think Ann Arbor should abandon exclusionary zoning. The first reason is because exclusionary zoning is bad for equity. Exclusionary zoning is a policy born out of the desire for racial segregation. There is ample evidence that exclusionary zoning continues to perpetuate racial and economic segregation today. The second reason I support an end to exclusionary zoning is because it increases our CO2 emissions.

I am going to go into more detail below about the equity and CO2 emissions issues but before I do I want to talk about something important. We are in the midst of a housing crisis. There are two parts to this housing crisis. There is a lack of housing generally in cities with strong job markets like Ann Arbor, and there is also a lack of affordable housing. Here I am going to use the term affordable housing as an umbrella term for housing that is subsidized to cost below market rate, or housing that is subsidized to be affordable for people making less than the area median income, or AMI. Ending exclusionary zoning is not a panacea for our housing crisis. Nevertheless, it is an important part of making the city more affordable. There is a lot of research that shows more market rate housing does help to prevent displacement of vulnerable people (Zuck and Chapple 2016, Mast 2019). So while we must change zoning laws to allow significantly more market rate housing, policy experts agree that more market rate construction alone won’t be sufficient to ensure housing for individuals and families who make below the area median income. Housing insecure people in Ann Arbor are suffering right now and we cannot rely solely on new market rate construction to stabilize the housing prices. An important part of ensuring housing for all residents in Ann Arbor is increasing the amount of money dedicated to affordable housing in the city’s budget. We will not fix Ann Arbor’s affordable housing crisis with zoning alone, but we also can’t fix any of our housing issues if we don’t address zoning.

Exclusionary zoning leads to inequitable outcomes

Exclusionary zoning has its origins in the early 1900s. At the start of the 20th century, racial housing covenants would prevent properties from ever being sold to someone from a specified minority. These covenants were used to exclude African Americans and other minorities from ever living in new developments. When racial housing covenants were struck down in Shelley v. Kraemer, exclusionary zoning (large lot requirements, banning multi-family units) became a way for municipalities to keep “undesirables” out of wealthy areas (Hirt 2013). Many scholars trace exclusionary zoning back to a desire to perpetuate de facto racial housing segregation. Though, Fischel 2004 argues that the desire for class segregation was the primary cause for exclusionary zoning with racial segregation a second order effect. Regardless, the origins of exclusive zoning are not noble.

We can look beyond the origins of exclusionary zoning and look at its impacts today. Exclusionary zoning causes income segregation and increases interjurisdictional inequity (Rothwell and Massey 2010). A study in the Greater Boston Area found that restricting multi-family housing disproportionately excluded black and hispanic households (Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston n.d.). In Ann Arbor, 70% of residential land excludes multi-family housing. There is also a large amount of the remaining land that requires massive amounts of parking spaces (think of the shopping centers and drive-throughs around town); this in turn prevents multifamily housing. Is it any wonder our metro area is the 8th most economically segregated in the country? Abandoning exclusionary zoning will not fix this alone, but it does play an important piece (in addition to increased dedicated funding for affordable housing). New market-rate housing tends to put downward price pressure on units in the immediate vicinity (Mast 2019). Preventing duplexes, triplexes, quads, and ADUs in most of Ann Arbor greatly reduces the ability to develop new housing in the city, which keeps housing prices high. Ann Arbor has not built much housing in recent decades (Tobias 2019, Point2Homes n.d.). This, in addition to the strong job market, is one of the reasons we have soaring rents and home prices.

Exclusionary Zoning and Carbon Emissions

Another reason to end exclusionary zoning is to reduce CO2 emissions from commuting. On an average, pre-COVID workday, about 80,000 people commute into Ann Arbor for work. The average distance they travel is about 20 miles and their primary method of transportation is driving. Allowing more of the people who work in Ann Arbor to live in Ann Arbor will greatly reduce these emissions. Work by Gately et. al (2015) looked at on-road CO2 emissions in cities across the US from 1980 to 2010. Their work suggests a city like Ann Arbor could double in population while not seeing a net increase in total on-road CO2 emissions. This is due to a precipitous decrease in per capita on-road CO2 emissions as more people live in cities. Gudipudi et al. (2016) looked beyond on-road emissions and found that increasing population density in cities also reduced residential and commercial building energy use, though the magnitude of this effect was lower than that of the on-road emission reduction.

Other benefits of inclusive zoning

There are other benefits of inclusive zoning. One is more municipal revenue. New construction increases property values. In Michigan, property taxes can only increase at the rate of inflation except when there are property sales or new construction. Allowing the construction of new duplexes, triplexes, and ADUs would increase property tax revenue. The city should commit a large portion of new property tax revenue from new residential construction to the Affordable Housing Fund. This money can be leveraged many times over with state and federal funds to build more affordable dwellings. Beyond bringing in new property tax revenue, having more people sharing the cost of city infrastructure reduces their per capita costs. For example, if you allowed more people who commute into the city live here instead—whether by renting rooms in existing homes or permitting apartment buildings where you see mostly parking lots around town—the cost of “serving” them as residents is negligible but they all then pay into the costs of our roads, sewers, and water systems.

Cars are not just a source of CO2 emissions. They are also a major source of air pollution and water pollution in urban areas. More housing in the city means that the residents living in that housing will not only drive less to work and other needs, they are also much more likely to use active or public transportation themselves. . Less pollution is good. Fewer vehicle miles traveled also makes Ann Arbor safer for other right-of-way users: pedestrians, cyclists, and scooter users.


Ann Arbor should adopt an inclusive zoning code that allows for duplexes, triplexes, and ADUs in all residentially zoned areas. This will play an important role in helping the city to become more equitable. It will also help the city to reduce its CO2 emissions.

Work Cited

Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, n.d.. Historical shift from explicit to implicit policies affecting housing segregation in Eastern Massachusetts.

Fischel, W., 2004. An Economic History of Zoning and a Cure for its Exclusionary Effects. Urban Studies, 41(2), 317-340. Retrieved May 29, 2020, from

Gately, C.K., Hutyra, L.R. and Wing, I.S., 2015. Cities, traffic, and CO2: A multidecadal assessment of trends, drivers, and scaling relationships. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(16), pp.4999-5004.

Gudipudi, R., Fluschnik, T., Ros, A.G.C., Walther, C. and Kropp, J.P., 2016. City density and CO2 efficiency. Energy Policy, 91, pp.352-361.

Hirt, S., 2013. Home, sweet home: American residential zoning in comparative perspective. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 33(3), pp.292-309.

Mast, E., 2019. The effect of new market-rate housing construction on the low-income housing market. Upjohn Institute WP, pp.19-307., n.d.. Ann Arbor Population and Demographics.

Rothwell, J. T., and Massey, D. S., 2010. Density zoning and class segregation in US metropolitan areas. Social science quarterly, 91(5), 1123-1143.

Tobias, R., 2019. The Boomtown Fallacy. Tree Downtown.

Zuk, M. and Chapple, K., 2016. Housing production, filtering and displacement: Untangling the relationships.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: May 18, 2020

Someday gentle reader, I will write something that's not just a council preview. I promise. Until that time though, here's you #a2council preview. The agenda is here.

Tonight is a big night. The evening kicks off with a small, 7 item consent agenda. Of note, CA-7 which is adoption of the A2Zero carbon neutrality plan. Last meeting there was a todo about whether council should adopt (binding) or recieve the plan (non-binding). So this could be the evening's first spicy chili.

What we lack in consent agenda items, we make up for with a stacked docket of public hearings. PH-1/B-1 and PH-2/DB-1 are the Garnet PUD and site plan. I don't expect these two to get too spicy tonight. PH-3/B-2 is on an increase in sewer rates. Spiciness level: mild. PH-4/B-3 is on an increase in water rates. Some CMs are upset that the city adopted a 4-tier residential water rate structure and at the last meeting they talked about not approving this rate increase. I will point out that to get into the 4th tier you basically have to be watering a lawn regularly. You can read more about water rates here. PH-6/B-5 is modifies the backyard chicken ordinance. PH-7/DS-1 is on filling a sidewalk gap on Jackson Road. These sidewalk gap assessments have been a real crapshoot lately, so I imagine this will be medium spiciness.

The spiciest item on the agenda tonight is probably DC-8 "FY21 Budget and Financial Recovery Plan." This would, among other things, remove the 40/40/20 funding from the Mental Health and Public Safety rebate. Currently Ann Arbor allocates 40% of the rebate to carbon neutrality, 40% towards affordable housing, and 20% to pedestrian safety. The current council majority has tried to remove this funding two or three times so far (I think, my count could be off). Will they be able to pull it off tonight? We will see.

But wait there's more! DS-2 is the budget for Fiscal Year 2021. Expect some amendments to be introduced tonight. Going into the weekend it seemed like there may be some objections to some of Mayor Taylor's appointments to various boards and commissions. But, based on last night's Council Caucus, it seems like these may get through with some grumbling.

It'll probably be a pretty late night. There you have it gentle reader. Please let me know what agenda items you are most excited about or if I missed anything. Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 and follow #a2council on twitter for all the action.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: May 4 2020

It's Council Night in Ann Arbor. Here's tonight's #a2council agenda.

The evening kicks off with a modest 12 item consent agenda. CA-2 and CA-3 are sidewalk gap fillings.

Holy Cow. Then we have 14 Public Hearings. PH-1 is a township island rezoning.PH-2 through PH-6 are rezoning land as public land. Most of which are creating new nature areas. PH-7/B-7 is an ordinance to amend the DDA's rules to allow them to support affordable housing at 60% AMI rather than 50%. PH-8/B-8 is the Garnet rezoning. This project came forward earlier requesting Campus Business District rezoning. That was turned down for reasons. Now it is coming back as a PUD. This project looks good, and I hope that it can go forward, get approved and get built. PH-9/DS-1 is on the Barton Drive resurfacing project. Notably, council removed the bike lane that staff had recommended. PH-10/DS-2 is the special assessment for sidewalks that are part of the Barton Drive assessment. PH-11/DS-3 and PH-12/DS-4 are also sidewalk gap special assessments. Finally, PH-14 is a public hearing on the next FY budget.

DC-2 is another exciting item. It's a resolution to support Fair and Equal Michigan's ballot initiative to amend Michigan's anti-discrimination law. DC-4 is a resolution to give money to the Shelter Association of Washtneaw County to help with their COVID-19 response.

DC-5 and DC-7 are both resolutions dealing with lane closures to allow for safer social distancing. I hear they may be consolidated into a single resolution. Transportation Commission Chair, Molly Kleinman, has a good Medium piece about the need for lane closures.

There you have it gentle reader. Please let me know what agenda items you are most excited about or if I missed anything. Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 and follow #a2council on twitter for all the action.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: April 20, 2020

Tonight is the final #a2council meeting of April. Here's the agenda.

The evening kicks off with the administrator's presentation of the budget. Then a short, 10 item Consent Agenda. Don't let that fool you though, you know councilmembers are going to pull items off left and right! I am most excited about CA-7 and CA-8. These are are pre-entitlement resolutions for affordable housing at 415 W Washington and 350 S Fifth (Y Lot), respectively. Great to see these affordable housing developments going forward. CA-10 is also really important. It's a resolution adopting the A2Zero Carbon Neutrality Plan.

There are three public hearings on the docket tonight. PH-1/B-1 is for an amendment of the city's non-discrimination ordinance. PH-2/B-2 is the MSGCU Rezoning (2151 West Stadium) changing 0.6 acres from C2B (Business Service District) to C3 (Fringe Commercial District). PH-3/DB-1 is approval of the site plan for 2151 West Stadium.

C-1 is the first reading of an ordinance that "is to align the unit income target goals of the DDA Housing Fund with the City of Ann Arbor’s Affordable Housing goals as 60% of Area Median Income (AMI) and to clarify that the DDA Housing Fund can be used for plans, studies and processes that support the development of affordable in the downtown that includes 60% AMI households within a range of incomes." Sounds good to me.

Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 and follow #a2council on twitter for all the action.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: April 6, 2020

Gentle reader, I hope you are well. Tonight is the first April #a2council meeting. Here is the agenda.

The evening kicks off with a dense, 26 item consent agenda. I am most excited about the sidewalk gap items: CA-8, CA-19, CA-22, and CA-23. Hopefully all these will pass.

There is one public hearing tonight. PH-1/B-1 is on rezoning 2151 West Stadium Boulevard which was a Szechuan West, I think. The building was demolished in 2011. The rezoning would be from C2B (Business Service District) to C3 (Fringe Commercial District).

C-1 is the rezoning for the proposed Garnet Building at 325 East Summit Street. This is now coming to council as a PUD after it didn't make it as campus business district, if I remember correctly. C-2 is an ordinance to amend the city's Non-Discrimination Ordinance to "Clarify Definition of Source of Income, Add Ethnicity as a Protected Class, and Add an Exception Allowing Discounts for Veterans."

I am very excited about DC-2, the resolution to direct planning commission to create a transite supported development district. Essentially a Transit Development District would be like a zoning overlay that would allow for greater density and reduced parking maximum along well served bus routes. CM Ackerman hosted a town hall on this recently. You can watch the video below.

Two points on this. First, a Transit Supported Development District is critical if we want to meet the city's carbon goals. Denser housing has a reduced carbon footprint; making it easier to bus and harder to drive also reduces our carbon footprint. Second, this is inline with the current Master Plan and my understanding is that transit oriented development is mentioned in Master Plans going back decades.

Another exciting resolution is DC-3. This would approve the Housing Commission spending $200k on emergency eviction prevention.

I am probably missing something in the agenda. Drop me a line in the comments and tell me what you're most excited about. As always, don't forget to watch on CTN at 7 and follow the action on the #a2council hashtag.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Stream Welcome to Commie High today and tomorrow

Welcome To Commie High – Trailer from 7 Cylinders Studio on Vimeo.

Welcome to Commie High is a documentary about Ann Arbor's Community High School, my alma mater. The documentary was supposed to premiere over the weekend at the Film Festival. Now though, you can stream it online today and tomorrow. It costs $10, and half the proceeds go to the Film Festival. One very important detail about the documentary is that you will have a chance to hear one of my high school ska band's songs. That surely is worth the cost of admission. You can watch the movie here.

Monday, March 30, 2020

My favorite hikes in Washtenaw County

I find nothing boosts the spirits like a nice walk outdoors. These are some of my favorite hiking areas in the County. I hope they are not too crowded.

Sharon Hallow -- This is a property owned by the Nature Conservancy and located just north of Manchester in Sharon Township. The area features some complex interaction between glacial and riparian landforms. As such, it has very diverse plant life.

Pickerel Lake -- There are lots of Pickerel Lakes in Michigan. I'm talking about the one in Pinckney Recreation Area. There are several hiking trails that originate here and you can do anything from a 1 mile to a 10 mile hike. There is also a spooky old root cellar.

Mud Lake Bog -- This is a really challenging hike. It's hard to get to. You will get wet. You will get poison sumac. Bring a compass so you don't get lost in the bog. Mud Lake Bog is owned by the Botanical Gardens. It is located southeast of the intersection of Hamburg and Barker Roads in northeast Webster Township. There is a poorly marked path through a swamp that turns into a beautiful bog. There are tons of blueberries. There is tons of poison sumac. The path is often submerged in 1 foot to 3 feet of water. You will have to park on the side of the road within the right of way. Still, this hike will take your mind off of the current situation.

Stinchfield Woods -- This property in northern Dexter Township off Dexter-Pinckney road is owned by the School of Environment and Sustainability. It used to be a an experimental forest for the School of Forestry. I'd recommend starting at the eastern entrance, which means parking across the street about 100 yards north of the entrance. The site is very hilly as a result of glacial kame topography. One of the most xeric sites in the county, you can find dwarf chinkapin oak (Quercus prinoides) within the oak hickory forest present at the site.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: March 16, 2020

The world feels like it has turned upside down since the last #a2council meeting. Still, the gears of government grind on. Here's the agenda for the March 16 meeting.

The evening kicks off with a 20 item consent agenda. There are 4 street closings for various festivals, concerts, and races between May 10 and July 10. Will these events happen? Maybe. Hard to say at this point.

There is one public hearing on a township island rezoning.

On to ordinance first readings. C-1 is the entertainment noise district, though the link on the agenda isn't there so I don't know what's up with that. C-2 is a routine township island rezoning. C-3 through C-7 are all rezoning land as parkland. All in all we are getting 35.8 new acres of parkland. Nice.

The item I am most excited about is DC-3. This resolution would direct Planning Commission to create a Transit Supported Development District. My understanding is that this would allow for greater density and remove parking minimums along transit corridors (e.g. State, Plymouth, Washtenaw). I think this would be a great way of helping the city reach its carbon goals and I hope it passes.

Well gentle reader, that's a pretty short preview. What items are you most excited about? Remember to tune into CTN at 7pm and follow all the action on the #a2council hashtag.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: March 2nd, 2020

Gentle readers, tonight is the first March meeting of #a2council. Here's the agenda. Of note, it will be the first meeting since the council fired Administrator Howard Lazarus. DC-4 appoints CFO Tom Crawford interim administrator.

The evening kicks off with a modest 13 item consent agenda. Highlights are street closings for the Monroe Street Fair, Fool Moon, and FestiFools.

There are two public hearings on the docket this evening. PH-1/DB-1 is approval of the site plan for the Satndard, a new building going in at 405 S Main, which is currently a DTE Building. This is coming to council with unanimous support from planning commission. My understanding is that this is a by-right development so I don't expect too much oposion. PH-2/DB-2 is a routine township island rezoning in Ann Arbor.

Elsewhere, DC-5 is a resolution regarding the Police Chief. It basically acknowledges the Norris Report and says the Chief "acknowledges and affirms those fundamental police values in his response letter; and that Chief Cox demonstrates an understanding of his need to provide clear communication of those fundamental values and is committed to that practice."

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.