Monday, April 23, 2018

Opinion: Ann Arbor should buy back the Y Lot

The city has the option to buy the Y Lot back from Dennis Dahlmann for $4.2 million. This is $1 million less than the city sold the lot for in 2013 and $3 to $8 million less than the the Y Lot is worth (the value of the Y Lot depends on the size of the building built there.). The city should absolutely exercise it option to buy the lot back. To do so is in the best interest of the city. Not just in terms of being able to potentially profit from the property, but also the city has an interest in controlling the fate of this important parcel.

The clause in sale that allowed the city to buy back the lot if Dahlmann had failed to build anything by this year was placed on the sale because there was concern in some quarters that he was buying the lot just to maintain his downtown hotel monopoly. Whether that fear was grounded or not is irrelevant, Dahlmann knowingly entered into the contract. He is not some naive land speculator, he is a multimillionaire who owns numerous properties throughout Washtenaw County.

Dahlmann has sued the city and offered insulting terms to drop the suit. Either giving the city's Affordable Housing Fund $1.5 million and removing all restrictions on the property or offering to sell the lot to the city for $5.7 million instead of $4.2 million. In my opinion the only acceptable settlement would be paying the city the difference between the assessed value of the property and what he bought the property for in 2013 and maintaining all the same restrictions on the deal. e.g. a new 4 year time table to develop the lot.

On a related note, there are those that say the the city should let Dahlmann have the property because of the city exercised its right of first refusal to keep the AATA from buying the property in 2003. I would just like to point out that none of the current members of the Ann Arbor City Council held their seats in 2003.

Gentle reader, if you're interested in the fate of the Y Lot, make sure you tune into tonight's very special #a2council meeting.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A very special #a2council meeting

Gentle readers, this Monday, April 23rd, there will be a special meeting of the Ann Arbor City Council. On the agenda: buying the Y Lot. An interesting wrinkle in all this Ryan Stanton just got the Ann Arbor to release the independent appraisal of the parcel which places the value between $7.7 million and $12.5 million depending on the size of the building built there. Nice FOIAing Ryan. You can see the whole appraisal over on

Interestingly, this is very close to the value range calculated by Ryan Tobais' "lazy appraisal" method, which places the value between $5.5 million and $12.9 million:

Monday, April 16, 2018

#a2council preview for April 16, 2018

Gentle readers, tonight's #a2council meeting promises to be a scorcher. You really have to watch it. If you would like to watch it with some cool folks IRL, we are hosting a viewing party at 7pm at Workantile.

The hottest item on tonight's agenda is the sale of the old Y Lot. At the April 2nd Ann Arbor City Council meeting a motion to purchase the Y Lot failed. You can read a bit about the background of the Y Lot sale here. Councilmember Westphal introduced a motion to reconsider the purchase of the Y Lot at that April 2 meeting, which brings us to where we are today. One unfortunate aspect of this situation is that since this item, DC-1, is just a resolution, there will be no public hearing.

There are also two ordinance first readings, C-1 and C-2, which update Ann Arbor's zoning code. You can read more about the City's Zoning Ordnance Reorganization Project (ZORO) here. Because these are first readings, there will not be public hearings.

Elsewhere in the agenda there is the rezoning of a township island (C-3) and in the consent agenda there are items to appoint a fire chief, an interim assessor, and an interim police chief. It'll probably be a pretty long and exciting meeting. If you can't join us at Workantile, make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Monday, April 9, 2018

#a2Council viewing party April 16th at Workantile

Ann Arbor's City Council recreated in Peeps. Photo courtesy of Patti Smith.
As the old saying goes, "Ain't no party like a #a2council party cause a #a2council party has #a2council Bingo." Gentle readers, if you are so inclined, please join us for a viewing of the April 16th meeting of the Ann Arbor City Council. The viewing party will be at Workantile at 7 pm. You can RSVP for the event on Facebook if you like. Though meeting details have not been finalized yet, we do know there will be a reconsideration of the City's option to purchase the Y Lot from Dennis Dahlmann. This is probably the hottest topic on the agenda. There will also be a first reading of a Unified Development Code (UDC) which clarifies the city's zoning ordinance.

If you've never been to an #a2council viewing party, this is your chance to meet all your friends city council twitter. If you have been, you know you won't want to miss #a2council Bingo. This event is BYOB, but don't worry, we will provide the Bingo cards.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Season 5 of First Friday Ypsilanti kicks off tonight

The fifth season of First Friday celebrations starts tonight in Ypsilanti. There are 34 venues in downtown and Depot Town Ypsi that will be participating tonight. Stores participating in First Fridays will have everything from local art to live music. If you know where to look, you can even find some free wine and cheese. It should be tons of fun.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Opinion: $7800 in Dahlmann Campaign Contributions Explains Eaton & Kailasapathy 'No' Votes on Y Lot Purchase

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Gentle reader, you may be surprised to hear this, but I have no formal training in journalism. Until today (4/5/2018) I didn't really know the hard, fast distinction between an opinion and an editorial. Hard to believe, I know. To that end, when Mr. Dzombak asked if he could write this as an editorial I said sure. Upon reflection, Mr. Dzombak and I have decided to re-classify (and re-title) this piece as an opinion. Going forward, we are working to formalize Damn Arbor's ad hoc editorial board. I apologize for any confusion.
Ben Connor Barrie, Publisher and Editor in Chief

The Y Lot is the former site of the YMCA along William St. between Fourth and Fifth Aves. downtown. In this photo from Google Maps, looking northeast, the Blake Transit Center and downtown library are visible; beyond the transit center is the back of the Federal Building & Post Office.

City Council member Jack Eaton's campaign committee was formed in 2010. From then through 2015, his campaign received $5,200 in contributions from members of the Dahlmann family. Eaton's campaign also received $650 from Dahlmann Properties' corporate counsel, Steven Zarnowitz.

Councilmember Jane Lumm's campaign received $2,500 in total from the Dahlmanns from 2011 through 2015, and Sumi Kailasapathy's received $1,950 from 2012 through 2016.

These are not trivial donations in a city where a typical, winning City Council campaign costs less than $20,000. (This MLive article dives into City Council campaign finance in 2017, and a 2014 Observer article notes the average cost of a winning Council campaign was $13,500.)

It is therefore unsurprising that, at the City Council meeting on April 2, Councilmembers Eaton and Kailasapathy voted against a resolution to spend $4.2 million of the City's general fund to buy the Y Lot from Dennis Dahlmann.

Property developer Dennis Dahlmann is perhaps best known as the owner of the Bell Tower Hotel and the former owner of the Campus Inn. He sold the Campus Inn in 2015, the year First Martin broke Dahlmann's downtown hotel monopoly by opening the Residence Inn at Huron & Ashley.

Dahlmann purchased the Y Lot from the City in April 2014 for $5.25 million. I'm not going to revisit that backstory here; you can read about this purchase in the Ann Arbor Chronicle (2013)this MLive article covers the current issue at hand, and Ed Vielmetti has gathered some additional, relevant information in his newsletter.

The conditions for the sale specified that Dahlmann would develop the property and obtain a certificate of occupancy by April 2, 2018 — otherwise the City would have the option to buy the property back for $4.2 million.

In the four years since, Dahlmann has not developed the property, opting instead in February to sue the city over alleged problems with the legal paperwork surrounding the sale, and also puzzlingly because — I am not making this up — there are bus stops on sidewalks along some of the property. (The Y Lot is adjacent to Blake Transit Center, as it was at the time of the sale in 2014, and has been since at least the 1980s.)

City Council now has the option to buy the property back, and on April 2, Councilmembers Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy, Anne Bannister, and Kirk Westphal voted not to allocate funds to buy the Y Lot. Councilmember Lumm was not present at the meeting.

Councilmember Westphal made clear that he voted "no" so that he'd be able to bring the issue up at a future Council meeting, with all City Council members present. (This is a parliamentary procedure maneuver which I don't totally understand, but I'm not an expert here.) Westphal issued a statement on Facebook about the vote after the Council meeting Monday night.

It's not clear why Councilmember Bannister voted "no." Her campaign has not received any campaign contributions from the Dahlmann family, and she told MLive she returned a $1000 contribution from Dahlmann last year. Her campaign has received $250 from Jack Eaton, $150 from Sumi Kailasapathy, and $150 from Jane Lumm.

To get the 8 "yes" votes required to allocate funds for a Y Lot purchase at an upcoming City Council meeting, either Councilmember Lumm needs to vote "yes," or one of Councilmembers Eaton, Bannister, or Kailasapathy needs to change their vote to "yes."

This is a critical issue because the Y Lot is now worth something like $10 million, depending who you ask. Were the City to spend general fund money to buy the property and then sell the development rights to a different developer, it would make millions of dollars. This is a clear financial win, with little risk to the City.

(I personally would like to see some of that money allocated to the City's affordable housing trust fund, as with a portion of the funds from the sale of Library Lot development rights. I'd also like to see the City start using that fund to support and subsidize affordable housing projects of all different shapes and sizes — any successful housing affordability plan has many components, all of which require funding — but that's a separate blog post.)

City Council members have a responsibility to do what's right for the City and all its citizens — not to enrich their donors.

In failing to buy back the Y Lot at $4.2 million, Ann Arbor would give Dennis Dahlmann a multimillion-dollar reward despite his failure to build a multi-use building in the heart of downtown, as he agreed to four years ago.

In failing to pass this resolution, City Council would pass on the opportunity to allocate millions of dollars to affordable housing, crosswalk safety, and parks, or to less flashy line items, like shoring up the general fund & pension system. Instead, City Council would hand a seven-digit windfall to the private developer whose family & lawyer spent $10,000 on campaign contributions for Jack Eaton, Jane Lumm, and Sumi Kailasapathy.

MLive reports, "Kailasapathy … said she has not taken money from any developers, including Dahlmann, in the last two elections." But in July 2016 — ahead of her victory in the August 2016 Democratic primary — her campaign received a $500 contribution from Bernard C. Dahlmann. Campaign finance records list his occupation as "Real Estate Management" at Dahlmann Properties. In May 2016, her campaign received $500 from Michael C. Martin, “Real Estate Developer” at First Martin Corporation. I could not find any record indicating that either contribution was returned.

Councilmember Eaton told MLive he did not accept any money from Dahlmann or his associates last year. Campaign finance records agree, but I don't believe that turning down a check this election cycle leaves Eaton with clean hands: he's still accepted nearly $6,000 from Dahlmann & associates over five years.

A "no" vote from Councilmembers Jack Eaton, Jane Lumm, or Sumi Kailasapathy on buying back the Y Lot is a corrupt vote.

You can make sure they know that. Make sure they're aware we know who gave thousands of dollars to get them elected, and make sure they know Ann Arbor is watching them vote:

See the complete spreadsheet of contributions linked to the Dahlmann family, culled from the complete campaign finance records of all City Council members, here.

The Y Lot in March of 2014. Dennis Dahlmann has failed to develop the promised "exciting mixed use development." Photo: Ann Arbor Chronicle

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Ypsilanti City Council Preview: April 3, 2018

Gentle readers, tonight is the regular meeting of the Ypsilanti City Council. You can find the agenda here and the meeting packet here. The agenda is pretty light; there are no public hearings or first readings. There is a second reading of the Bell-Kramer rezoning ordinance I mentioned at the last #YpsiCouncil preview. There are 7 items on the Consent Agenda including the donation of an old fire truck to the Michigan Fire Museum and authorizing the Ypsilanti Fire Department to apply for a grant. There is one resolution (No. 2018-080) that would request City Council conduct a town hall style meeting on the budget and solicit feedback regarding FY 18-19 budget priorities.

Probably the biggest item on the agenda is a discussion of the plan to market the Water Street Property (page 46 of the meeting packet). The city planning department's plan proposes a short-term and a long-term strategy for marketing the property.

Proposed Short Term Strategy

1. Order market level appraisal of the Water Street property.
2. Work with Council to recommend marketing of full 30 acre site as shown in Shape Ypsi. Update marketing materials and order survey and visual marketing.
3. Update website by May 1st to focus on full site and local amenities.

Proposed Longer Term Strategy

1. Re-Identify ideal desired uses and undesirable uses
2. Re-establish sales price based on appraisal and debt
3. Enlist marketing firm to create national marketing package and provide national interest list based on ideal uses
4. Create Request for Qualifications and Interest
5. Identify interested developers
6. Vet financial sources

There will also be a discussion of a proposed amendment to the recycling ordinance. You can watch the meeting in person at Ypsilanti City Hall at 7pm or follow live on Ypsi Live's facebook page.

Written into Rock Exhibition opening party this Friday at Ann Arbor Art Center

Mound XXXVIII (To the Victor) by Michael Garguilo

How are humans altering Earth's geology? As a species we have left an indelible mark on our planet through climate change, atomic bombs, and our production of plastics. Written into Rock is a new art exhibition that explores the idea of the Anthropocene, a new geologic era defined by humanity's impact on Earth's systems. It opens at the Ann Arbor Art Center this Friday and I think the exhibition looks fantastic. Written into Rock is the curatorial debut from Gina Iacobelli. Over the weekend Gina was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the Anthropocene and her process for building this exhibition.

Ben Connor Barrie: When we spoke about this exhibition in November, you mentioned it was focusing on the Anthropocene. For our readers who may be unfamiliar with the term, could you explain what the Anthropocene is?

Gina Iacobelli: The term Anthropocene was originally coined by chemist Paul Crutzen to describe the geologic era we are currently living in – one dominated by human projects. In terms of geology, the Anthropocene is the time period when the efforts of humans are reflected in the geologic record. What that means is the records of human activity can be found in the land and oceans. Some examples are rising carbon dioxide levels from deforestation or ocean acidification or even irradiated soil from nuclear activities. The records of these changes can literally been seen in the geology of the Earth, hence the title of the show “Written into Rock.”

BCB: What inspired you to do an exhibition focused on the Anthropocene?

GI: I have always been fascinated with the way humans alter the landscape, particularly in terms of industry. I think that is a product of growing up around Detroit. Lately, the deindustrialization and nature’s push-back against these man-made structures, particularly in decommissioned or abandoned sites in the city made me think of the tension between man and nature. It’s a push-pull relationship that is always in flux. This tension is really what the show focuses on – human’s desire to mold and manipulate the landscape and nature’s ability to adapt to these changes.

I attended a few lectures last year by Heather Davis, curatorial fellow at Cranbrook. Her work explores the intersection of aesthetics and the Anthropocene. She talks about how we have become anesthetized to human’s transformation of the landscape, and I believe that is true. We take as a given all of the industrial changes that make our life more convenient, from large earth moving projects to mining for minerals that make up the contents of our digital devices. There is a real impact that humans make on the environment and it is important to address that so that we see these changes with fresh eyes every now and again.

BCB: How did you decide which artists' work to include in this exhibition?

GI: In planning the exhibition I was looking for artists who explore the tension between humans and nature. The topic could have a tendency to be a bit didactic and I wanted to avoid that. Focusing on the more complex interdependency of humans and nature helped guide me when selecting artists.

The actual selection process just involves a good amount of leg work. The most important guide for me was to go see as much art as possible. I am based outside of Detroit, so I am very grateful to Megan Winkel, gallery director at the Ann Arbor Art Center for directing me towards some Ypsi-based artists. Studio visits are the best part of putting together any exhibition. That is when you get to really understand the artist’s process and the intellectual foundation of their work. Plus, for me, it is just fun to chat about art and see all the labor that goes into making the finished product.

BCB: Are there any artists or works that you are particularly excited about featuring in this exhibition?

GI: I am really excited to show the work of Jessica Tenbusch and Kristina Sheufelt. They are both sculptors who incorporate found organic matter into their works – from mouse bones to hornet’s nests. Jessica’s work is very intimate in scale and requires close looking which I particularly enjoy when viewing art. Kristina’s work is made using biological material see scavenges in Detroit and it represents that tension between human and nature so well. She’s mining a landscape that has been significantly transformed by human effort and then later slowly reclaimed by nature.

New Orleans-based Hannah Chalew, will be displaying her monumental drawings on paper made of recycled trash. Hannah is asking important questions about waste and is exploring how it commingles with the natural environment. The works are very large scale and will be quite striking in the gallery. Overall the work in the show is quite varied. It incorporates sculpture, painting, printmaking, drawing and photography. However, all of the artists are working in a vein that deals with landscape or organic forms. I am excited to see the work all come together in the gallery. The dialogues between the different artworks should produce some interesting exchanges about how we interact with the natural world around us.

Root Shock II by Hannah Chalew

Written into Rock runs April 6th through May 5th at the Ann Arbor Art Center. The opening party is this Friday, April 6th from 6 pm - 9 pm. If you are already planning on heading Downtown for FoolMoon, plan on coming a little early to check out the exhibition. Written into Rock features work by Hannah Chalew (New Orleans, LA), Michael Garguilo (Royal Oak, MI), Phillip Hanson (Saginaw, MI), Kristina Sheufelt (Detroit, MI), Brian Spolans (Ypsilanti, MI), Jessica Tenbusch (Ypsilanti, MI), and Millee Tibbs (Detroit, MI).

Monday, April 2, 2018

#a2council preview: April 2, 2018

"The Old Y Lot," or 350 S 5th Ave.

Tonight is the first April meeting of the Ann Arbor City Council. You can read the agenda here. The agenda is a little heavy so it might run into the start of the NCAA Championship Game.

There are 13 items on the Consent Agenda tonight. There are two street closings, one for the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run (June 3), and one for the Ann Arbor Goddess 5k (May 13). Elsewhere in the Consent Agenda is a increase in the purchase order for salt from the Detroit Salt Company. Nice to see the city using that sweet local salt.

There is one public hearing tonight, PH-1 corresponds with the second reading of the ordinance to rezone 1200 and 1400 Chalmers Drive from township to public land (B-1). I touched on this during the first reading of the ordinance during the March 5th meeting. Essentially, this is taking two undeveloped parcels in a township island and making them into a city nature preserve.

There are two first readings of ordinances tonight. C-1 is an ordinance to amend sections 5:1 and 5:10.4 of Chapter 55 (Zoning) of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor to Modify the Definition of Fraternity or Sorority House and Amend Corresponding Special Exception Use Standards. This ordinance makes it so that, in order to receive a special zoning exemption, all fraternities and sororities would have to have an affiliation with U of M or another post-secondary educational institution within the city of Ann Arbor. So I guess that would be Concordia University. There is a letter of opposition to this ordinance from an attorney "write on behalf of several national Greek organizations" who own property in Ann Arbor.

C-2 concerns the rezoning of 2301 Highland, which is also known as the historical Ingles Estate. I don't expect this to be controversial as it has support from most of the neighbors. It is also coming to council with the full support of the Planning Commission.

The biggest item on the agenda tonight is DC-1. By biggest item, I mean the item that will likely consume the most time. DC-1 concerns "The Old Y Lot," AKA 350 S Fifth Ave., AKA that surface parking lot across from the Library that's always closed. By way of background, the YMCA used to be located on that site. The building was demolished in 2008 and the parcel became a parking lot, hence the name "The Old Y Lot." In 2013 the city sold the property to local hotelier, Dennis Dahlmann's, Fifth Fourth LLC for $5.25 million. As part of the sale, Fifth Fourth LLC was required to make specified improvements and obtain a certificate of occupancy by January 1, 2018. If the Fifth Fourth LLC failed to meet the requirements, then the city has the option to buy the property for $4.5 million. In February of this year, Dahlmann sued the city arguing that the conditions placed on the sale by the city made it impossible to develop the property and satisfy the requirements of the property transaction. You can read more about this on Ed Vielmetti's awesome newsletter and on Ann Arbor's LocalWiki. As Ed notes, "Eight votes are required by council on this decision, which might be a challenge for a council that's been divided 7-4 on many issues."

The only other item I want to draw attention to is the DB-1. This item would use money from the Greenbelt Millage to add a property near the corner of Nixon and Wagner to the Greenbelt. You can see a map below.

So there you have it gentle reader, tonight's meeting definitely has some meat on its bones. I think the question on everyone's mind is whether the meeting will end before the 9:20 tip off. Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.