Monday, January 23, 2023

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: January 23, 2023

 


It's #a2Council night in Ann Arbor. Here's the agenda for tonight's meeting. 

The evening kicks off with a modest, 10-item consent agenda. CA-1, and CA-2 are on That Damn Bridge (East Medical Center Drive Bridge). Though good news, the resolution has been updated and now Umich is agreeing to pay for 3/4 the cost and to have wider sidewalks. CA-9 is an amendment to the project at 841 Broadway. They are planning to include affordable units instead of doing a payment-in-lieu of affordable units. Finally, there's CA-10, the street closure for the Shamrocks and Shenanigans 5k on March 12. Anyone want to run it?

There is one ordinance first reading tonight. C-1 is to establish the Robert and Irma Hayden House Historic District. Robert Hayden was the first African American to hold the office that because Poet Laureate and also a notable rider of the No. 5 AAATA Bus. This would establish a historic district for his old house at, 1201 Gardner Avenue in Lower Burns Park. 

There are two resolutions on the docket this evening. DC-1 is to accept a settlement in the case of Rasiel Alvarez-Rodriguez v. City of Ann Arbor et al.. This stems from an event where an AAPD officer rear-ended the plaintiff in June of 2019. The city is settling for $39,000 to cover head and neck injuries sustained in the incident. DC-2 is to authorize the city to be listed as a supporting municipality in an amicus brief filed in the US Supreme Court in Biden v Nebraska and the Department of Education v. Brown. 

And that's all there is. Looks like a pretty modest agenda. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag or on a2mi.social. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Guest Opinion: THAT DAMN BRIDGE

Editor's note: This is a guest opinion by Adam Goodman. If you're interested in sharing an opinion, reach out to damn.arbor@gmail.com or drop us a DM on twitter.

The intersection of East Medical Center Drive, Fuller, and Maiden Lane is one of the most important connections for people walking and biking in the city. It’s a key link in the countywide Border To Border Trail, which is itself part of the statewide Iron Belle trail system. It’s also the linchpin in pretty much any conceivable commuting route between North and Central campuses.

Proposed Campus-to-Campus Bikeway route from Walk Bike Washtenaw

In early 2022, at the urging of the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council advanced a proposal to widen the East Medical Center bridge by adding a new 11-foot lane for cars. In doing so, it will - per the latest engineering plans - also increase pedestrian crossing distances and conflict points at the Fuller intersection. Update 1/20/2023: The city has clarified that they do not plan to change the crosswalk geometry. The engineering plans seem to show an excessively wide crossing (almost 60ft); however, it turns out that is already the crossing distance that exists today.

At the City Council meeting this coming Monday (January 23, 2023), the final construction contract will be up for consideration. Rather than approving it, the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan should take immediate steps to modify this project so it provides benefits for all transportation modes, rather than improving throughput for cars at everyone else's expense.

Both the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan have established goals to increase safety and convenience for people biking and walking, and simultaneously reduce overall Vehicle Miles Traveled:

  • The city's Vision Zero transportation plan targets a reduction to zero fatalities or serious injuries by 2025 and implement a citywide all-ages-and-abilities bike network. It specifically identifies Fuller as a "priority corridor".
  • The city's A2Zero climate action plan calls for a 50% reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled in order for the city to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.
  • The U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality report calls specifically for the development of a bike route between Central and North Campus, stating: "The Commission views cycling as an increasingly relevant and integral part of campus transit and encourages the university to pursue a multi-modal transportation system by incorporating accessible and safe cycling paths. Additionally, U-M should create a workable and safe Central-to-North Campus bike route..."

So, let's review: this bridge widening project will reduce pedestrian and bike safety and lead to increased car traffic, when our city and the University of Michigan both have established goals to do the exact opposite of both of these things, with specific focus along this corridor. And yet: the bridge widening proposal adds NOT ONE INCH of net-new space on the bridge for people walking and biking, in spite of these goals, and in spite of feedback from many community members noting that such space is needed. Instead, it only proposes to remove sidewalk space from one side and add it to the other, which is a terrible idea, that will make things worse, not better.

Existing vs Proposed sidewalk widths:
10.5 + 10.5 = 21.0
13.0 + 8.0 = 21.0

11 feet for cars, NOT ONE INCH for anybody else.

The only fig-leaf that was included for people walking and biking was to direct that the design contract include an analysis of a pathway connection beneath the bridge. There was no commitment to actually fund construction, but ... none of that matters now. We learned in December in a city memo that this connection is not currently possible, because it would cross into MDOT’s Right of Way for the railroad tracks, and they will not grant the city permission to do that.

This was already a bad project, but this news adds insult to injury. When the design contract was advanced a year ago, over loud objections from many in the community, representatives from the City and from the University characterized this project as a compromise, with benefits for all road users. It was not, and that’s even more clear now. Again. 11 feet for cars, NOT ONE INCH, nor any other new connections, for anybody else.

This project is now pretty far along; engineering plans have been completed. The best time to seek a better outcome would've been a year ago, but it's still not too late to make changes. We need a design that will benefit all transportation modes, rather than improving throughput for cars at everyone else's expense.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Guest Opinion: Put the Library Lot back on the ballot in 2023

Editor's note: This is a guest opinion by Daniel Adams. If you're interested in sharing an opinion, reach out to damn.arbor@gmail.com or drop us a DM on twitter. In a recent guest opinion, Dan summarized the history of the Library Lot leading up to the 2018 election, and argued that the subsequent failure of Library Green's private fundraising campaign all but requires--given the enormous annual public cost of maintaining the status quo--the city to pursue the repeal or amendment of the language that Proposal A added to the City Charter at the earliest possible opportunity. Below you will find Dan's email to #a2Council proposing one possible way to execute that change to the Charter, and urging City Council to put amendment or repeal language in front of voters in 2023.

2022 Peace Day Celebration on the Library Lot, Sept. 21. Photo Via @violinmonster

 Mayor Taylor and Council Members:

I have attached the draft Council resolution that I discussed during my public comment last night. As I mentioned, this resolution is not a "straight repeal" of the Charter language; instead, it replaces the current sale prohibition with a commitment to invest the proceeds generated by any sale or lease of the development rights in the Library Lot to support two policy objectives that I believe to have broad support among the electorate: the city's affordable housing fund and debt repayment. While less "clean" than a straight repeal, codifying these funding commitments into the Charter will help win support for the initiative and undo the damage that Proposal A has done to the city, which is what matters.

This document was intended as a thought starter; I have no particular expertise in municipal law, ballot initiative language, or drafting Council resolutions. So I apologize to the City Attorney in advance for any technical, clerical, or legal errors in the document, and I suspect there may be a few. I hope that it is helpful to you.

The ultimate form and structure of the resolution is not important. What is important, in my opinion, is tackling this problem--the cash burn, demands on staff time, massive opportunity costs, and wasted capital investments created by Proposal A--as soon as politically practicable, preferably in 2023. Some Council--this one, another one in five years, or further into the future--will have to deal with the problem that Alan Haber, Will Hathaway, and a few other folks created for the city. The sooner we deal with it, the better. But whenever it is on the ballot, it will have financial, political, and other support from me and others in the community who share my views on the imperative to make the best possible use of city-owned real estate to make housing more affordable and meet other resident needs.

At the end of the resolution, there is a paragraph that suspends the Council of the Commons and staff support for Library Green. Even if the Council decides to take no action on the charter language, Council should consider suspending these activities, which have outlived their usefulness, do not appear to be serving their intended purpose of providing actionable advice to Council, and are unnecessarily burdening staff with support work in service of a dead-in-the-water project.

This is not a criticism of the serious-minded professionals--I'm thinking specifically here of Mr. Zemke, Council Members Briggs and Cornell, and others--who have dutifully and in good faith served Council on this body and worked to make it as effective as possible, under very difficult circumstances. But with Library Green's leadership usually lacking any progress to report on the substantive work of creating a park, there is very little to discuss and no advice to provide to Council, beyond tasking staff--as they did most recently in November--with projects intended to "activate" a parking lot. This is reflected in the Council's minutes, which are cursory and devoid of action items, decisions, deadlines, and the other indicia of a body performing important work for the Council and the city.

Library Green should be provided with a space in City Hall, if it so wishes, to continue to meet and discuss any topic relating to planning and activating the Library Lot. It can contact Council, at any time, the way I have here, if it has progress to report or requests to make. But special access to Council and staff time should be reserved for projects that demonstrate promise and potential to advance city policy goals and help residents. Library Green, absent a material change in its fundraising progress, is not a worthy investment of these valuable city resources.

Please contact me if you have any questions. Thank you, as always, for your public service.

Daniel Adams

Proposed Resolution:

Title
Resolution to Order Election and to Determine Ballot Question for Charter Amendment Amending Section 1.4 of the City Charter (7 Votes Required) 

Monday, January 9, 2023

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: January 9, 2023

 


Tonight is the first #a2Council meeting of 2023. Here's the agenda

The meeting kicks off with a report from the Independent Police Oversight Commission. 

There is a pretty modest, 11-item consent agenda. Of note, CA-3 and CA-4 which both involve purchasing conservation easements in Webster Township. 

There are 4 public hearings on the docket this evening. PH-1/B-1 is on revisions to the best value purchasing ordinance. PH-2/DB-1 and PH-3/DB-2 are on routine township island annexations. PH-4/DB-3 is on the 2023-2028 Parks and Recreation Open Space Plan. I anticipate that there will be a lot of folks calling in tonight lobbing for their preferred use for the Library Lot. Personally, I think city council should think about setting a ballot question to repeal 2018's Prop A so that the Library Lot can be used for it's intended purpose: housing and a plaza. If you'd like to read more about the Library Lot, you can do so here. If you have strong feelings about the best use of the Library Lot, don't hesitate to call into this open public hearing. 

Further down the agenda, there are two ordinance first readings. C-1 is the first reading of a PUD at 530 N Division. This will allow a pretty cool looking 4-unit building to be built. C-2 is the first reading of an ordinance amending storm water management rules. 

On to the resolutions! DC-1 is a resolution to appoint Brian Steglitz as Public Services Area Administrator. DC-2 is to recommend a Downtown Development Liquor License to Tastu at 620 E Liberty. DC-3 is a resolution to revise a Class C Liquor License for A2Wineman, LLC. 

And that's all there is. Looks like a pretty modest agenda. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag or on a2mi.social. 







Monday, December 19, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: December 19, 2022


Gentle reader, tonight is the last #a2Council meeting of the year. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with a moderate 13-item consent agenda, but it looks like all the items that require 8 items have been pulled, leaving only 5 items. We do have street closures. CA-1 for the Mayors Autumnal Green Fair and CA-2 for the September Tech Trek. CA-13 is the contract with the AAPD officer union. 

There are no public hearings on the docket but there is an ordinance first reading. C-1 is an ordinance revise the best value procurement program. 

On to the resolutions! DC-1, DC-2, and DC-3 are is a resolutions to appoint a members to various boards and commissions. DC-4 is a resolution to adopt the city's legislative policy agenda for the FY23. DC-5 is an amendment to the city's contract with Recycle Ann Arbor. 

And that's all there is. Looks like a pretty modest agenda. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag or on a2mi.social. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Improving Housing Affordability by Expanding Downtown



Editor's note: This is a guest opinion by Abdulrahman Ateya. If you're interested in sharing an opinion, reach out to damn.arbor@gmail.com, drop us a DM on twitter, or a2mi.social. 

Ann Arbor is a city that loves zoning. We love zoning so much, we have thirty-three different zoning classifications! (The entire country of Japan, for comparison, only has 13 zoning classifications.) Our unified development code, which includes everything you may ever need to know about Ann Arbor’s zoning (to be clear, not building), is 319 pages long. We started with 4 districts in 19231, 2 and probably never thought we would get this far. (Of course, we also have eight comprehensive planning documents.)

Restrictive zoning is a significant barrier to increasing the affordability of housing. The US is not producing enough housing, which is exacerbating the cost of finding a place to live. More housing lowers rent, and more ‘permissive’ zoning leads to more construction3. D1 and D2, Ann Arbor’s “downtown” zones were designed explicitly with the construction of more housing in mind4, and as a result, are some of the best zoning we have. Unfortunately, Ann Arbor has far too little of these two zoning categories. But there is a solution: expanding D1 and D2 zones would be good for the city. It would lead to more housing construction, more housing supply, and housing affordability.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: December 5, 2022

 


It's beginning to look a lot like #a2Council. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with a brief, 8-item consent agenda. Of note: CA-1, a MOU betwixt city and county for a new trail and underpass connecting Barton Nature Area and Bandemere Park. You really love to see this. I've probably been crossing here for the better part of three decades. It's wonderful to see the city and county working to build up a robust trail system. 

There are no public hearings nor ordinance readings on the agenda tonight. So, on to the resolutions! DC-1 is a resolution on appointments to the Washtenaw Regional Resource Management Authority. DC-2 is approval of new council rules. DC-3 is 2023 Council Committee Assignments. DC-4 sets the #a2Council meeting calendar for next year. DC-5 is a resolution asking planning commission to look at two changes to the TC1 zone: incorporating limited automobile-related uses excluding drive throughs and gas stations and looking at some potential issues with narrow rights of way. DC-6 is a motion to suspend council rules to allow the council to reconsider the state trunkline study the conservative faction on the old council tanked in September. This is a really important step in making Ann Arbor safer by allowing the city to take control of its trunkline roads from MDOT. 

And that's all there is. Looks like a pretty modest agenda. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? 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 21, 2022

Guest article: New Council, Who Dis? A Policy Wishlist

Ann Arbor City Hall via Google Maps


Editor's note: This is a guest opinion by Jessica A.S. Letaw. If you're interested in sharing an opinion, reach out to damn.arbor@gmail.com or drop us a DM on twitter.

Introduction

Shortly after getting involved in local politics, I started writing up a policy wishlist every two years after the City Council primaries. It was a way of casting a vision for what I hoped would happen in the next two years; as time has gone on, it’s also become a way for me to celebrate what’s been completed or is under way, as well as the chance to lay to rest ideas whose moment has passed. This year, for the first time, I’ve decided to share this wishlist publicly; thanks, Ben and Damn Arbor, for the opportunity and the platform. 

What follows is mostly a housing mini-manifesto, because that’s my area of interest and expertise. I care about expanding community accessibility through housing affordability, so that’s what I spend the most time on. I’m talking mostly about policy, although there are some areas of community process managed by staff that I’ll note. I finish up with some extras at the end to help round out the cities I live in - Ann Arbor now, and the Ann Arbor I hope to live in someday: affordable and accessible, deeply integrated with its student and renter neighbors, holding an expansive collective understanding of safety and belonging.

While this wishlist represents my opinions alone (and none of the organizations and groups with which I am affiliated), I work hard to listen to groups and people all over our community, especially those who struggle to get the attention of folks with power and influence and experience barriers to accessing the resources they need. What I hope to see in our city is, in other words, a collage of hopes I’ve heard.

Housing

I don’t need to spend any time explaining why we need to talk about housing, right? We all know already about that whole 8th most economically segregated community in the country thing? We know that since that 2015 report recommended the City of Ann Arbor add 2800 affordable housing units over the next 20 years, we’ve barely been able to add 100? We know that even though no formal redlining map exists for the city of Ann Arbor the private sector found ways to enforce neighborhood racial segregation well into the second half of the 20th century? We know about our high local incomes ($118,000), high median home prices ($484,000), low rental home availability (less than 3%), and that all this makes our community economically gated and segregated?

We can just work on our problems and not debate whether we have them, right?

Great.

The goal of this entire section is asking us to find ways, via policy, to increase affordability and expand access to housing in the city of Ann Arbor. Its structure follows the one in Jenny Schuetz’s Fixer-Upper, a housing-policy book she describes as “practical ideas to provide affordable housing to more Americans.”  What I really appreciate about Fixer-Upper as a playbook is that it considers how federal, state, and local policy systems interlock to create some really detrimental housing outcomes in terms of affordability and accessibility, which is necessary because of the complexity of how American housing is governed and funded.  We only have control over certain aspects of that policy here at the city level; but as our city administrator has put state and federal lobbying on the table for our community, I’m going to lift up some of those fixes as well for our lobbyists to consider as they move Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County’s interests forward.  

1. We need to know more about why we have the problems we do

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: November 21, 2022

 


Gentle readers, tonight is the first #a2Council meeting of the new council. Let's check out the agenda

The evening kicks off with a short, 9-item consent agenda. CA-8, a resolution approving a contract with the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County for a warming center. 

There are two public hearings on the docket tonight. PH-1/B-1 is a the second reading of the sidewalk ordinance from last meeting. PH-2/DS-1 is on a resolution to authorize commercial access to the city's fiber optic network. 

On to the resolutions! DC-1 establishes the order of succession for the new council. CM Radina will be Mayor Pro Tem, who will run meetings in the event that Taylor is unavailable. DC-2 is a resolution asking the federal government to explore better uses for the Federal Building site at 200 E. Liberty. DC-3 is a resolution approving a lease of a hangar at KARB (the municipal airport). DC-4 is a resolution authorizing staff to apply for a Great Lakes Energy High Water Infrastructure Grant Program. DS-2 is a resolution to approve an agreement between the city and the DDA for sidewalk repairs. 

And that's all there is. Looks like a pretty modest agenda. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag.


Thursday, November 10, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: November 10, 2022

Gentle readers, tonight is a special Thursday edition of #a2Council. Tonight's meeting is also notable in that it's the last council before the new councilmembers are sworn in. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with a modest, 10-item consent agenda. Of note, CA-3, elimination of parking on a portion of S. Seventh St. The elimination of parking along this section of S. Seventh will allow for the creation of a protected bike lane to help students bike safely to Lawton Elementary. 

There are two public hearings on the agenda this evening. PH-1/B-1 is on the second reading of the TC1 rezoning for the Maple-Stadium corridor.  TC1 is a really important tool in helping the city achieve its important climate, housing equity, and Vision Zero goals. I am hearing that this might have to be delayed until the new council is sworn in. 

PH-2/DB-1 is on the annexation of land (1855 North Maple Road, 1875 North Maple Road, and 1921 Calvin Street) for the North Maple Apartments PUD. 

There is one ordinance first reading on the docket tonight. C-1 makes some changes to the sidewalk code, updating the dates "during which the City and Downtown Development Authority (“DDA”) can enter into a contract that relieves the owners of taxable property within the Downtown Development District from the responsibility for sidewalk repairs for one or more fiscal years during the life of the millage if the DDA agrees to return the City an amount equal to the share of 0.125 mill of the 2.215 Streets, Bridges, and Sidewalks Millage, as adjusted, that the DDA receives."

There are 5 resolutions rounding out the agenda this evening. DC-1 is a resolution to appoint Brandon Bond to the Human Rights Commission. DC-2 amends council rules adding more time for public comment reserved time before meetings as well as giving councilmembers an additional minute of time to speak before the agenda. It also eliminates council communications at the end of the meeting. DC-3 is a resolution to explore public restrooms downtown. These are sorely needed. DC-4 is a resolution to explore food trucks at the Library Lot. DC-5 is a resolution to investigate the creation of the office of an ombudsperson. 


And that's all there is. Looks like a pretty modest agenda. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag.