Monday, March 1, 2021

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: March 1, 2021

 


It's that time again gentle reader. Tonight is the first #a2council meeting of March. Here's the agenda, and here's the A2AF episode about the meeting

The evening kicks off with a scant, six-item consent agenda. Of note, CA-4, which would allow sidewalk cafes in MDOT right of ways. 

There is one public hearing tonight, PH-1/DC-3. This is a resolution that would set fees to cover annual investigation and review of on-prem liquor licenses. This resolution would set the annual fee at $50 for this year and raise it to $90 in subsequent years. 

Further down the agenda there are five ordinance first readings tonight. C-1 and C-2 are both rezonings to make nature areas. C-3 is a routine annexation of a township island on Newport Road. C-4 is an ordinance to clarify that new construction should still be responsible for building sidewalks in light of the sidewalk millage. C-5 is an ordinance that would prohibit housing discrimination against formerly incarcerated people. Props to CMs Nelson and Radina for bringing this forward. 

DC-1 is, perhaps, the first spicy chili on tonight's agenda. This is a resolution to waive attorney-client privilege on advice regarding the new council rules.  I don't really know where to start with this one. Some CMs feel that the new council rules, specifically, the section that asks them to take their beefs to the Council Administration Committee rather than air them during council, represents unlawful viewpoint discrimination. They want the Michigan ACLU to redteam the City Attorney's Office, I think. The part I don't get is, if the new council rules constitute illegal viewpoint discrimination, why does the ACLU need to see the City Attorney's advice? There is a good discussion of this on the latest A2AF podcast, linked above. 

DC-2 is a resolution to evaluate alternative proposals for 2857 Packard. Apparently the development plan for the Weber Property is in rough waters. DC-4 awards a five-year recycling contract to Recycle Ann Arbor. 

DC-5 is exciting. It's a resolution directing the City Administrator to assess the feasibility, and propose cost estimates and strategies for a municipal sidewalk snow removal program, among other things. This resolution has some great whereas clauses. Very exciting to see this happening. 

As always, gentle reader, I am probably forgetting some very important items here. 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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: February 16, 2021


 What better way to celebrate a snowy Fat Tuesday than with a #a2counil meeting? Here's the agenda. If you'd like a deeper dive into some parts of the agenda, check out the latest episode of A2AF. 

The evening kicks off with a deep, 22-item consent agenda. Of note, CA-5, traffic calming for Glenwood. Also, CA-12, street closing in front of Conor O'Neil's for St. Patrick's. At the risk of editorializing, are we really at a place where we should be encouraging drunken revelry? I guess it'll be outside...

There are two public hearings on the docket for this evening. PH-1/DB-1 is on the site plan for St. Francis of Assisi, 2150 Frieze Ave. The parish is planning a 2-story, 14,570 sq ft addition. Are site approvals for religious institutions just a formality? Does anyone have a good grasp of the intersection between RLUIPA and local zoning law? PH-2/DB-2 is the site plan for 907 and 913 S. Main. This by-right project involves the demolition of two single family houses and replacing them with a 6-unit apartment complex. The real question here is: why do we make by-right projects come up for review by council?

Elsewhere on the agenda, we have C-1, a routine township island annexation. DC-2 is a motion to reconsider the council rules amendment from last council meeting. It's probably the first spicy chili of the night. We've also got DC-3, a resolution to determine the cost feasibility of supplemental snow removal within the DDA boundaries. This may seem like a no-brainer. But my understanding is that this is already handled by the downtown business improvement zones. For a deeper dive into this check out the latest episode of the Ann Arbor AF podcast. 

As always, gentle reader, I am probably forgetting some very important items here. 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.

Sledding hills, 2021

 

Gentle reader, I am sure you've noticed that we have some snow today. AAPS has called a virtual snow day and that must mean you have sledding on the mind. My personal favorite sledding spot is Huron Hills Golf Course. It is steep and has a great long run. I know people also love the hills at Vets Park and Hunt Park. In Ypsilanti, Riverside Park and Ypsi High are also very popular. If you do go sledding today, make sure you follow CDC guidelines on outdoor social distancing.

Enough about me gentle reader, what are your favorite sledding hills? Here's an article from the Damn Arbor archives with more information on sledding hills. Note: This article was first published on Dec. 27th, 2012.

Look out your window. We've got some snow. It's the holidays so you really have no excuse not to go sledding. With that in mind, I am posting some links to some classic articles about sledding in Ann Arbor:

Guide to Ann Arbor: Sled-DANG! In A2 from Damn Arbor's very own Quinn Davis

Sledding on Arborwiki

Guide to the Ann Arbor area's best sledding hills by Ed Vielmetti

I will add this: Huron Hills is probably my favorite sledding spot in the city (see this article on the Chronicle). The Arb is pretty sweet for sledding too. But the frozen hummocks of grass kind of hurt your bum as your sled there. But really it doesn't matter where you sled, as long as you get out and enjoy yourself.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: February 1, 2020

 


Gentle reader, tonight's the first council meeting of the shortest month of the year. Here's the agenda. Also, check out the latest episode of Ann Arbor AF where the take a deep dive into the agenda. 

The evening kicks off with a decent, 16 item consent agenda. Item's 5 through 8 are all purchasing conservation easements. CA-10 and 11 are purchasing parkland. Nice. 

On to the public hearings. We've got 4 on the docket tonight. Two rezonings and associated PH-1/B-1 is the rezoning for the new Lockwood development. The site at 2195 Ellsworth is being rezoned from R1C to PUD. PH-2/DB-1 is the public hearing approving the PUD for the site (I think this is like the site plan. PH-3/B-1 is the rezoning of 2111 Packard and PH-4/DB-2 is the site plan for this project. 2111 Packard is currently zoned Parking and this would the zoning it to allow mixed use three story buildings on the site. I think we can all agree that forcing parking through zoning is a bad use for land. 

Moving down the agenda we have DC-1, a resolution to appoint 3 at large members to the Council of the Commons. DC-2, the resolution to join WRRMA, the county solid waste org. DC-3 is a "Resolution to Determine Cost and Feasibility of Supplemental Snow and Ice Removal" sounds benign, but part of it is looking at shoveling out people's driveways after plows go by. This may be a spicy chili. DC-4 is cool, it's a plan to support equitable community engagement. DC-5 is a resolution to amend council rules with an eye towards helping meetings not last so long. DC-6 is a resolution to allow a drive through COVID testing site at Briarwood. This is one drive through I am happy to see. Finally, we have DC-7, a "Resolution to Restate the Purpose and Membership of the Council of the Commons." I have not read this because it's so late. 


As always, gentle reader, I am probably forgetting some very important items here. 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.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: January 19, 2021

 


Gentle readers, it's #a2council night in Ann Arbor. Here's the agenda. If you want to take a deeper dive into the agenda, make sure you check out the latest episode of the A2AF podcast. 

The evening kicks off with a short 8 item consent agenda. CA-5 is a resolution to fill a sidewalk gap on Jackson Road. CA-6 is a resolution to start a sidewalk gap elimination project. I am happy to see these happening. 

There are 4 public hearings on the agenda tonight. PH-1/B-1 is on an update that looks like it clears up some ambiguity/errors in the zoning code. PH-2/B-2 adds rules for electric vehicle parking.  PH-3/B-3 approves the PUD Zoning for the new Lockwood project at 2195 Ellsworth. PH-4/B-4 is the rezoning for 2111 Packard. This is changing the zoning from Parking to Fringe Commercial. This is really exciting because it will allow a parking lot to be replaced with mixed use. 

Further along the agenda we have DC-1 is a resolution to adopt board of review guidelines for the poverty exemption for property taxes. DC-2 appoints three people to the council of the commons. 

I am super excited about DC-3, which rescinds R-19-139. If you will recall, R-19-139 took the decision to make road diets away from the city's transportation staff and gave it to council. Road diets are great, they make roads safer for all users: drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Also, most people in the city support moderate to substantial increases in driving time if that makes roads safer. Check out this graphic from the 2015 Citizen Priorities Survey. 



DC-4 is a notice of Violation to Gelman. DC-5 is an implementation of the Healthy Streets program for 2021. I don't have the report at the tip of my fingers but the 2020 program did a great job keeping people from speeding. DC-6 is a one-step appointment of Makiah Shipp to the ICPOC. Finally, we have DC-8 which is requesting a legal memo about using curse words during public commentary. This is probably the spiciest chili of the night. 

As always, gentle reader, I am probably forgetting some very important items here. 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.




Monday, January 4, 2021

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: January 4, 2021

 

Gentle reader, today is the first #a2council meeting of 2021. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with an 11 item consent agenda. Of note, CA-8, which is purchasing road salt. The consent agenda is pretty light this evening. 

There are two public hearings on the docket tonight. PH-1/B-1 is an ordinance to initiate the next round to township island annexations. PH-2/B-2 is the second reading of an ordinance dealing with new rules for building in floodplains. 

Further down the agenda, DC-1, is a resolution to reconsider the resolution to purchase Axon Body Cameras for the AAPD. DC-2, is a resolution for Ann Arbor to join the Washtenaw Regional Resource Management Authority, which would be a regional solid waste authority. When this came forward initially, there was some fear that the new authority may not be as union friendly as Ann Arbor. Word on the street is that this might get pulled tonight to make confirm there are more robust labor protections this time around. Finally we get to, DB-1, a resolution to approve the distribution of the draft transportation master plan. Very excited to see this going out. 

The spiciest chili of the night is not even on the agenda. Last night at the Council Caucus CM Griswold indicated she might bring back the water rate increase for reconsideration. 

If you'd like a deeper dive into a couple of the agenda items, make sure you check out the latest episode of the A2 AF podcast. Hosts Jessica Letaw, Molly Kleinman, and Michelle Hughes take a deep dive into township island annexation, the Washtenaw Regional Resource Management Authority, the draft transportation master plan, and more. It's a great listen

As always, gentle reader, I am probably forgetting some very important items here. 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.


 


Monday, December 21, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: December 21, 2020

 


Happy Solstice gentle readers! Tonight is the last #a2council meeting of 2020. What a year it's been. Here's the agenda

Even before we get to the consent agenda, I wanted to share the Healthy Streets Project Finding, which will be shared with council tonight. One thing it is worth nothing is that these street modifications were effective at reducing driver speed. 


Given how effective this program was, if we are still in some form of social distancing this spring, I hope council will implement People Friendly Streets again. 

Hopping into the consent agenda. We've got a moderate 15 items on the docket this evening. Of note: CA-5, appropriating an additional $50k to barrier busters. CA-10 is buying two electric Ford Mustangs for the Police. CA-15 is approving the contract with the police union. 

There are two public hearings on tonight's agenda. PH-1/B-1 is on the ordinance to exempt residential solar installations from height restrictions when placed on flat roofs. PH-2/B-2 is on the change to water rates. This will probably be a spicy chili. 

On to the new ordinance, first readings. C-1 makes several changes to the zoning ordinance. From my brief reading this looks like these changes are pretty minor. C-2 creates rules for electric vehicle parking. C-3 is the first reading of a zoning change for the new Lockwood Senior Living facility. This new iteration of the project is seeking rezoning of 2195 Ellsworth from R1C (single-family) to PUD. Of the 154 unites in the building, a minimum of 42% would be subsidized and designated low-income unites for a period of 99 years. There may be some opposition to this, but I think this should easily pass the new council. Finally C-4 is a rezoning of the parking lot at 2111 Packard from P (parking) to C3 (fringe commercial). Any time we can get rid of mandatory parking that is a good thing. 

Rounding out the agenda with the resolutions. We've got DC-1 which concerns Short Term Rentals. DC-2 is the adoption of council rules. Based on statements by some CMs I would not be surprised if this is a spicy chili. DC-3 endorses HV 241, the Water Shutoff Protection Act. And finally, DC-4 appoints 4, as yet unnamed, members to the Council of the Commons. 

As always, gentle reader, I am probably forgetting some very important items here. 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.


Monday, December 7, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: December 7, 2020


Haul out the holly gentle reader, we are entering the final month of #a2council meetings. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with an early spicy chili, MC-1, the Mayor's nominations and appointments. In comments at the last council meeting, CM Hayner has indicated that he has some issues with some of these nominations. Then we move to a modest, 12-item, consent agenda. Of note, CA-12, $102,456.04 to purchase 4 police motorcycles. 

There are 7 public hearings on the agenda. PH-1/B-1 is an updated to the sign ordinance. PH-2/B-2 is a rezoning of 0.14 acres at 1043 N Main from AG (Agricultural) to RD1 (Single Family Residential). PH-3/DB-1 and PH-4-DB-2 are township island annexations. PH-5/DB-3 is the approval of the Brightdawn Village Rezoning Plan. This 120 unit project at 2805 Burton has received some criticism from neighbors so I would not be surprised if there is some commentary here. PH-6/D-2 confirms the Barton Drive resurfacing and special assessment.  PH-7/DC-3 is a sidewalk gap filling on Nixon and Traver. This may look like a ton of public hearings, but if I were a betting man, I'd guess there will not be a ton of people speaking during PH-1 through PH-4. 

Elsewhere in the agenda we have C-1, which initiates the next round of township island annexations. C-2 is the first reading of an ordinance to update water rates. I'd expect there to be some debate between the CMs during this agenda item. DC-2 is an update to how floodplains are treated in the Uniform Development Code. Based on last night's Council Caucus session there will probably be some discussion on this. There is also DC-3 a resolution to revise the resolution to ask the EPA to intervene in the Gelman Plume. This will probably be the spiciest chili of the night. 

As always, gentle reader, I am probably forgetting some very important items here. 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.


Monday, November 16, 2020

A Trip through Ann Arbor's Solarize Program

a photo of many solar panels on a roof


As a distraction from the hours spent stressing over the 2020 election, my family has been exploring the idea of generating our own power with rooftop solar panels. After attending a Solarize session recently, I chatted with Julie Roth, who works as the Program Lead in the city's Office of Sustainability and Innovation. This innovative program grew organically out of her own experience in 2019, when she led a group discussion about Solar in her own home. 

Roth says she was quite surprised by the program's success - at the pilot first event, she "expected a few people sitting around awkwardly trying not to make eye contact with the installer." Instead, 40 people showed up in her living room, and 11 of them signed up for a new solar install.

This year, the city decided to see if this grassroots pilot program could scale up. It exceeded all expectations. Despite the pandemic, there have been 8 Solarize meetings this year, with nearly 100 new installs through the program.  Now on almost a monthly basis, neighbors come together to spread the word about the benefits of solar power, and get a hefty discount in the process.

The program works like this: First, a homeowner gets quotes with select installers locally who have been vetted through the Michigan Saves green bank, and the city acts as a facilitator for the group buy process. Second, neighborhood yard signs, posts on social media, and emails go out to residents who express an interest in solar. Next, the lead homeowner, installer, and Roth facilitate a group information session via Zoom, covering the economics and process of putting up solar panels. Finally, after this informal low-pressure meeting, anyone interested can set up a free quote with the chosen installer. If others move forward with the installation process, the group can get up to a 15% discount.

The Changing Economics of Solar 


Big changes are coming for Solar incentives in the US, including sunsetting federal tax credits. For 2020, all installations are eligible for a 26% federal income tax credit, but most installers are booked for the rest of the year at this point. For 2021, that tax credit decreases to 22% - still thousands of dollars on a typical install. In 2022, the tax credit disappears entirely. 

In 2019, DTE successfully lobbied to change the rate it pays for any excess generation that it purchases from its customers who generate electricity from rooftop solar. Previously under net metering rules, DTE paid full price for any excess energy a customer generated. DTE argued this arrangement is unfair, and now essentially pays households half the amount it previously paid. It is still is cost-effective to have a solar installation, but now it takes an average of 13 years for a solar array to pay for itself, rather than 8 previously under net metering. Solar panels usually have expected lifespans of 25 to 40 years, so even with DTE's less generous reimbursements, Solar remains a bit of a no-brainer.

It can sometimes make more fiscal sense now to build a solar grid which provides the amount of energy you use during daylight hours, rather than a system which covers 100% of your use. Any energy you generate that goes back into the grid is essentially worth half as much as the energy your house consumes. 

An screenshot from DTE Insight App.
Notice the extra draw starting at 5pm when our EV is being charged on 110V power.


If you’re curious about your own power use, DTE has a helpful smartphone app called “DTE Insight” which can show you how much power you are using during the day. For our household, much of our energy consumption comes in the evening when a solar panel is generating little to no electricity. Some of this could perhaps be offset by behavior change- for example we could purchase an electric dryer that has a delay start feature, and set it to run while we are at work. Unfortunately, our plug-in hybrid will likely always draw most of its power from the grid. When my wife gets home from work and plugs it in to charge, the sun has already set. 

As an aside, the 30% federal income tax credit on electric vehicle charge stations expires on December 31st this year, so get it done now if you're thinking about purchasing one. 

Ecology 


Setting aside pure economics, one of the big reasons to use solar panel is to offset your own fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Even though DTE no longer pays the full rate for the excess electricity you produce, that electricity does go back into the grid, powering neighborhood homes in a much cleaner fashion than the current DTE mix - which is mostly coal-generated and only 8.67% renewable.


text image: Even a small 3.6 kW solar array in Ann Arbor will replace more than 8,800 lbs of CO2 emissions every year. That’s like taking a full-sized truck off the streets.



If your primary goal is to offset your own carbon footprint, then the best choice is to build the largest system you can afford, and that you are allowed to - you cannot build a system that covers more than 100% of your average use over the past year. This also means that to a certain extent, it makes more sense to build rooftop solar prior to reducing energy use through insulation and purchasing energy star appliances. With a larger array, if you end up adding electric appliances or an EV down the road, you have some excess power to cover it. 

Changes on the Horizon


Could President-elect Joe Biden and a Democratic majority in the Senate change the economics of Solar in the future? Certainly, but even if the Democrats control congress, it's unlikely the value equation will improve substantially - the tax credits could still disappear, as some argue these credits were meant to make Solar installs cost-effective, and they have succeeded

The 2020 election has proven that the future is uncertain, and perhaps it's best not to try predicting things like the existence of federal tax credits. 

There is also a little-known rule in Michigan limiting how much peak power can come from rooftop solar. Currently DTE and Consumers Energy allow just 1% of their peak power from rooftop solar grids. Consumers Energy is reaching that limit quickly, with DTE not far behind. There is a bill to change this rule, but it’s currently stuck in committee.  Utilities can also voluntarily extend this limit, but as of now there are no indications they would do so. 

 What About Batteries? 


If much of our use is at night, and the excess energy produced is sold to DTE at half of retail rates, then what about a battery? With a battery like Tesla’s Powerwall, a family can store excess energy for use after the sun sets. A battery can also act like a generator in a power outage - without one, a solar array will not provide your home with power when the grid is down. 


photo of Tesla Powerwall Battery

We’re not considering a battery at this time, mostly due to cost, degradation, and environmental concerns. One Tesla Powerwall unit costs about $11,500 installed - which is about the same price as a midsized solar installation. At that price they essentially never pay for themselves. The batteries are only guaranteed to last 10 years at 70% of their original capacity, which is much shorter than the 25-40 years expected out of a roof installation. Ecologically, it makes more sense to use the power generated than to store it, considering the heavy metal mining required to make modern batteries.

Interested?


If you're interested in learning more about generating clean energy for your home, contact Julie Roth at the Ann Arbor Office of Sustainability and Innovation, and her team will fill you in on the details. She's fantastic to work with, knows her stuff, and her enthusiasm for making A2Zero a reality is quite infectious. 

photo of Julie Roth and her girls
Julie Roth (far right) and her girls


You can also put your address into the SunNumber website to find out if your roof is reasonably well-suited to get sunlight. Keep in mind that unshaded south-facing roofs are ideal, but accommodations for others can still be made, and ground-mounted solar installations are also possible. 

For my family, we've decided to move forward with a system that will generate about half of our electricity, as it's the size that makes sense for us at this time. We're looking forward to sunnier days in 2021, in many ways. 

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: November 16, 2020


Gentle readers, tonight is the first session off the new council. So exciting. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with a light, 11 item, consent agenda. CA-1 is a resolution to remove parking on the north side of Scio Church Road between South Maple Road and Greenview Drive. CA-3 through CA-5 are accepting grants for drug, veterans, and mental health courts. CA-6 is purchasing of new patrol vehicles for AAPD. 

There are no public hearings on the docket this evening. C-1 is the first reading of an ordinance that would make it so solar panels don't count towards maximum building height when you have a flat roof. DC-1 is council committee appointments. 

DC-2 is very exciting. It's a resolution directing planning commission to create rules for a transit supported development district. This would allow for greater density, remove parking minimums, and maybe permit more uses along corridors that are well served by AAATA. This is a great way to make our city more climate friendly and more walkable. 

I don't entirely understand DC-4, a resolution directing Planning Commision to update the State Street Corridor Plan and examine the feasibility of a Transit Supportive Development Zoning District. It looks like a much, much weaker version of DC-2. 

As always, gentle reader, I am probably forgetting some very important items here. 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.