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.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: November 18 2019

Gentler reader tonight is the final #a2council meeting of November. I have already written about the ambitious affordable housing agenda and the Weber Property.

Here's a quick rundown of the rest of the agenda.

The consent agenda is largely dominated by affordable housing items. I would not be surprised if some of these get pulled. There are also two sidewalk gaps: Stimson and Scio Church.

There are 4 public hearings tonight. Three are on township island rezonings, and will likely not have participants. PH-1/DB-1 is on Vic Village, a 12 story building to be built on the 1100 block of South U.

Elsewhere there is DC-2, which would change the way Ann Arbor pays for and prioritizes sidewalk gap filling. DC-3 which is a settlement allowing the Weber PUD. There is also DC-4 which would direct the city administrator to investigate the Weber Property for Affordable Housing. At the risk of editorializing, it would be really something if council voted against developing affordable housing on properties they already own (e.g. 4th and Catherine Lot) in favor of investigating the possibility of affordable housing on a property they do not own and that would cost several million dollars.

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.

Let's talk about the Weber Property

The Weber Property from a 1947 aerial photograph.

tl;dr: There is a great need for housing in Ann Arbor. This PUD provides housing. It also preserves the important ecological features on the property. It should be approved.

At the October 21 city council meeting the Ann Arbor City Council voted 6 to 11 to approve a PUD at the Weber Property, 2857 Packard. This did not meet the 8 votes needed to approve the rezoning. At the November 4 #a2council meeting, council failed to pass a resolution to make an offer on the 7.66 acre property for $4.76 million, then again for $3 million. At the same meeting council was able to add 114 acres in Ann Arbor Township to the Greenbelt at a cost to the city of $186,500. The city also bought 5 acres within the city as a natural area for $153K. At $30,000 per acre, this is less than one tenth the cost that was proposed to buy the Weber property.

The owner and the developer of the Weber property have sued the city and tonight DC-3 is a settlement of that lawsuit. This is very similar to the PUD that was voted down on at the October 21 council meeting. I think the current proposal is a responsible use for this site that preserves the important environmental features and address the urgent need for housing in the city. The proposed PUD would create 51 homes: 25 detached and 26 in multi-family buildings. The homes are a maximum of 2000 sq ft and targeted to cost about $400k. This is less than the median home sale price for Ann Arbor in September was $436k. So these houses would be around market rate. At approximately $200 per square foot, these homes are also within the estimated cost per square foot of neighboring properties. Here is a haphazard sampling of adjacent parcels and their costs per square foot. Prices are from Zillow except for 2889 Easy Street, where I could only find the Redfin estimate (I looked up the Zillow prices on November 2nd and am too lazy to see if they changed.)

2765 Carmel St: $240,000/1,388 sqft = $172.9 /sqft
2989 Easy St: $240,054/1,220 sqft = $192.8 /sqft
2889 Easy St: $222,658/816 sqft = $237 / sqft
2869 Easy St: $212,597/986 sqft = $219 / sqft (sold for $210k in 2018)
2929 Easy St: $196,691/1,127 sqft = $174.5 / sqft
2829 Easy St: $245,556/900 sqft = $272.84 / sqft
The charge that this proposed PUD represents luxury townhouses is hyperbolic, unless we are to consider all of Easy Street to be luxury ranch houses. These new homes are 1) less than the median home sale price in September and 2) within the range of costs per square foot found in existing housing on adjacent parcels.

Opponents of this development also site concern over the trees on this property. In particular there are two very large bur oaks on the property. Some have even gone as far as to suggest there are trees on the property that predate widespread European settlement of the area. I find this claim to stretch credulity. First the property in question because a farm in 1840. In the 1947 aerial photograph, we can see the site had no forest. There is a windrow of trees running north-south as well as a smaller one running east-west. There are some landscaping trees along the driveway and what appears to be a plantation of trees in a grid north of the house. There are two large bur oaks on the property now. One is 60" in diameter, the other 48". They are part of the windrow. Given that these trees in question are part of the windrow, it is very unlikely that they were there before the farm. Finally, it is important to note that the PUD preserves these two spectacular trees and the other areas of high quality woodland on the property.

Trees will be lost if the PUD is built. Of the 184 trees on the property that will be cut down, 160 will be black walnuts, 4 bur oak, and the raminder are a mix of other species. Some opponents of this project have said that preserving the site is climate action. Trees do sequester hundreds of kg of CO2 per year. When thinking about climate change, we must also consider tradeoffs. The tradeoff here is losing trees a few trees in Ann Arbor for a moderately dense development that will allow people to commute shorter distances versus losing lots of trees in the area for low density development that forces people to commute to Ann Arbor from outside of the city. Right now 80,000 people commute into Ann Arbor every day, I am sure at least 51 of them would love to cut their commutes down and live in this proposed PUD. Driving on average releases 404 grams of CO2 per mile, there are 230 work days per year. Assuming everyone here would drive a 3.3 mile commute to downtown versus a commute from just outside the city on Packard (5.3 miles), there would be a ~18,000 kg per year savings in CO2 emissions for the development. This far outweighs the annual sequestration of the trees that will be lost and does not even take into account the use of public transit or cycling. Denying this PUD is not climate action.

There is a great need for housing in Ann Arbor. This PUD provides housing. It also preserves the important ecological features on the property. It should be approved.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

March for Affordable Housing today at Liberty Plaza

Gentle readers, are you excited about all the target="_blank"affordable housing items on tomorrow's #a2council agenda? If you are, there is an opportunity to advocate for affordable housing today. From 1 to 4 pm today there is a March for Affordable Housing starting Liberty Plaza. You can find out more here.