Elizabeth Nelson's City Council Blog

I write a City Council newsletter with my summary of agenda items coming before City Council.

Sign up to receive it first via email, or read it here later on this blog. I also post my perspectives on how issues were resolved, and charts of how Council voted at each meeting. I post Ward 4 road construction news under "Construction", and other news that affects Ward 4 residents under the category "Ward 4 News". News that affects all city residents is posted under "City News".

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City Council Newsletter (Apr 17, 2021)

Hello neighbors!

Welcome to everyone who is new to this newsletter! Before every Council meeting, I write up my own summary of each agenda item and try to pull details that I think are most relevant to understanding them. My hope is that these summaries can help residents keep track of what City Council is doing. For issues that matter to you, I encourage you to follow links (next to each agenda item) to the City's Legistar website, where you can find all the background information.


This week, City Council considers a short Consent Agenda, re-zoning of a large parcel in Ward 4 (Valhalla) and amendments to our Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance. Additionally, there are two public hearings for a re-zoning and site plan at 700 North Main Street.



I need to acknowledge a topic on our agenda because it warrants a public statement (as well as community conversation). In agenda item DC-5, three members of the Council Administrative committee recommend action against a Council member, in response to his use of offensive language in a social media post. The offensive language was a homophobic slur.


I unequivocally denounce the use of this word.


The offensive language was posted as part of a quotation from Hunter S Thompson. This detail - that the word was part of a quote, from a significant piece of well-known literature - has been offered as explanation/excuse. This past week, I have seen a whole range of reactions: confused, disappointed, outraged, defensive, resentful, dismissive, and thoughtful.


Words matter. There are some words so wildly offensive that context is unhelpful in diffusing their power to harm. In identifying those words (and measuring the harm of them), our conversation should be centered on the perspective of those who are hurt. To that end, I urge everyone to read a statement from the Jim Toy Center:

https://www.facebook.com/jimtoycenter/posts/3985922224800510


I appreciate leadership from the Jim Toy Center. From their statement:

We encourage our fellow Ann Arbor residents to use this situation as a learning opportunity instead of a shaming one. Discussions around word choice are very important. The intent of language matters and we plan to help facilitate respectable conversations within our community.


I agree that Council should respond to this. The DC-5 resolution includes anti-discrimination, diversity, and sensitivity training. I strongly support this because it is wholly relevant and responsive to the problem. My colleague must invest time and effort in understanding the perspective of the people he hurt. Publicly and privately, he must make amends.


This element of DC-5 is similar to what currently exists in the Council Rules: “internal regulation of the behavior of City Councilmembers through counseling or reprimand.” Council can impose counseling and reprimand within a specific due process that includes written notice, hearing, and defense. None of that process was observed in crafting DC-5. The resolution also proposes to remove an elected Ward 1 representative from his appointed positions on six committees and commissions. This spontaneous maneuver does not exist anywhere in our Rules and nothing like it has happened in recent history, even when concerns were directly relevant to a Council member’s appointments.


E.g. In 2019, a Council Member was arrested and convicted of a crime (pleading a felony down to a misdemeanor) and concealed it for nearly three months. After MLive revealed what happened, that Council Member continued to serve on the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission (ICPOC). He insisted that his experience as a white elected official reflected no special privilege or advantage because he “wasn’t in the room” when his lawyer negotiated the deal. He voluntarily stepped down from that ICPOC appointment only after five weeks of negotiations behind the scenes. Previous Councils have not weaponized majority-rule for the purpose of targeting individual members.


In just the first six months of their service, new members of Council have prompted serious, independent complaints about internal rules and procedure. Last month, the local ACLU sent the City a memo, warning that new, majority-approved Rules potentially violated the First Amendment rights of Council Members. This month, local media (Ryan Stanton, MLive) challenged the City for a lack of transparency regarding Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about specific Council Members. I do not believe this record would be enhanced by an attempt to ignore Rules and process, for the purpose of punishing a colleague.


The work of Council can accomplish policy for the good of the City that is responsive to both community goals and resident concerns (for more on that, see my "Additional Thoughts" section below). I urge new Council members to consider that our priority. I appreciate that agenda item DC-6 (allocating funds for a mediator/professional) acknowledges that Council clearly needs some help to re-focus on what matters.



Barrier Busters

Residents in need of financial help during this crisis (e.g. to avoid eviction, pay utility bills, cover emergency medical expenses) can find resources at this link:

https://www.washtenaw.org/2818/Barrier-Buster-Agency-Provider-List



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Virtual Coffee Hours

Sunday Apr 18th 3:00pm

During the COVID-19 crisis I have been holding "virtual" coffee hours with Zoom on Sunday afternoons before scheduled City Council meetings. Please email me for a link:

contact@a2elnel.com


Council Caucus

Sunday Apr 18th 6:00pm

We have been holding Council Caucus on Sunday nights before Council meetings since March 2019. All Council Members are invited to participate.

https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=829858&GUID=ABEE6D8E-CAFC-445A-B240-6965F984947A


City Council Regular Meeting

Monday Apr 19th 7:00pm

My summary of this Council meeting agenda is posted below in this newsletter.

https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=829768&GUID=C9AF3223-311E-4D31-9B1C-6E37698C3C93


Note that Council is still meeting "virtually" using the Zoom application. Video feeds of Council meetings are broadcast on CTN and YouTube. Public comment is audio only using dial-in numbers. Please check the Legistar link for the latest information.

A2ELNEL.com Website Updates

In addition to writing this newsletter, I post updates to my website with my perspectives on how issues were resolved at City Council and details on how Council voted at each meeting. I also post information about meetings and issues that affect Ward 4 residents, along with news that affects all city residents.

You can see a listing of all my posts here: https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/

City Council Voting Chart for Apr 5, 2021

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/city-council-voting-chart-for-apr-5-2021


Pattern of Attack

A local reporter from MLive (Ryan Stanton) recently challenged the City’s apparent violation of state law related to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This is an explanation of how and why a recent FOIA request generated controversy.

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/pattern-of-attack


Transportation Plan Review on April 20th at Joint Planning/Transportation Meeting

The City's Transportation Plan was recently updated, and will be reviewed at a joint Planning/Transportation Commission meeting on April 20th.

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/transportation-plan-review-on-april-20th-at-joint-planning-transportation-meeting


Scio Church Road Improvements to start July 2021

Construction on Scio Church Road originally scheduled to begin in April will now start in July.

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/scio-church-road-improvements-to-start-july-2021


Ann Arbor City Hall building closure extended through Summer 2021 or until further notice

The closure of City Hall has through Summer 2021 or until further notice to allow more time for the vaccine to penetrate into the community and among city employee groups. Per state order, the city will continue to conduct all nonessential operations remotely.

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/ann-arbor-city-hall-building-closure-extended-through-summer-2021-or-until-further-notice

A2COUNCIL Updates (A2COUNCIL.com)

For anyone interested in understanding and analyzing the recent work of Council, I have created a resource at A2COUNCIL.com with summaries of issues and direct links to City documents. For each City Council meeting since November 2018, you can find links to the City's Legistar website, CTN's YouTube video, and links to my newsletters and voting charts. I have listed agenda items of interest from each meeting, along with articles I've written and articles published on MLive.

https://www.a2elnel.com/a2council

http://a2council.com

Council Meeting Agenda 4/19/21

Below is my summary of some issues on the City Council Agenda this week, with links to more information about each of them. If you have comments about any of these issues, feel free to email me at my official City email: ENelson@A2gov.org

The full agenda (including a link to the latest published PDF agenda) can be found on the A2Gov Legistar website:

https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=829768&GUID=C9AF3223-311E-4D31-9B1C-6E37698C3C93


Ann Arbor City Council Monday Apr 19th (7:00pm) Electronic Meeting


City Council meetings are broadcast live by CTN on Comcast (channel 16) and AT&T (channel 99). They are also streamed live on YouTube and Viebit: https://www.youtube.com/user/ctnannarbor

Questions to the Agenda

In preparation for a Council meeting, Council members can ask questions of staff about scheduled agenda items. Questions must be submitted by noon on the Wednesday before a Council Meeting, and answers are returned the next day (Thursday) by 5pm.

AC-7 (21-0769) Agenda Response Memo and eComments - April 19, 2021

This agenda item has a PDF attachment with all questions raised by Council Members, and the answers provided by staff.

Communications from the Mayor

There are no board or commission nominations on the agenda from the Mayor at the time this newsletter was published.

Consent Agenda

Below is the list of items included on the Consent Agenda. If no one on Council specifically requests that an item be pulled for discussion, the whole of this list will be approved in a single vote. I encourage you to look at this list and offer suggestions to me about anything you would like to see pulled for discussion.


CA-1 (21-0646) Resolution to Approve Construction Contract Change Order No. 1 with E.T. MacKenzie Company RFP No. 19-04 ($54,731.67 Increase, with Total Contract Amount of $304,731.67)


CA-2 (21-0615) Resolution to Appropriate Funds and to Amend the Public Services Area Alternative Transportation Fund Operations and Maintenance Budget to Support increased Bike Lane Level-of-Service ($100,000.00) (8 Votes Required)


CA-3 (21-0610) Resolution to Direct the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, and Its Affiliated Legal Entities, to Complete Due Diligence to Enable Rezoning and Land Division of 721 N Main to Develop Affordable Housing on the W Summit Portion of the Property


CA-4 (21-0647) Resolution to Direct the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, and its Affiliated Legal Entities, to Develop 353 S Main as Affordable Housing


CA-5 (21-0648) Resolution to Direct the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, and its Affiliated Legal Entities, to Develop 1510 E Stadium as Affordable Housing


CA-6 (21-0649) Resolution to Approve Amendment Number 2 to the Professional Services Agreement with Rivenoak Law Group, P.C. for Legal Services Relative to Sustainability Initiatives ($20,000.00; total not to exceed $65,000.00)

Public Hearings

Anyone wanting to comment on these issues may speak for 3 minutes, without having specifically reserved time. Issues subject to public hearing will also be up for a vote by Council later in the meeting.

PH-1/B-1 (21-0341) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code), Zoning of 1.2 Acres from PUD (Planned Unit Development) to R4C (Multiple-Family Dwelling), Near North Rezoning, 700 North Main Street, (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 9 Yeas and 0 Nays) (ORD-21-07)

A 1.2 acre parcel at 700 North Main would be re-zoned from Planned Unit Development (PUD to R4C (Multiple-Family Dwelling)n in order to permit the construction of 22 townhomes with reduced setbacks and increased height. See DB-1, Planned Project Modification.


PH-2/DB-1 (21-0342) Resolution to Approve Near North Site Plan with Planned Project Modifications and Development Agreement, 700 North Main Street (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 9 Yeas and 0 Nays)A planned project at 700 N. Main would be modified to increase height by 3 feet 6 inches, reduce the south side setback by 4 feet 3 inches, and decrease the rear setback by 25 feet 3 inches. (The most significant change - at rear - abuts homes on N. Fourth). The project includes 22 townhomes.

Ordinances - Second Reading

In order to amend the city code, Council must vote to approve the change, via ordinance, at two Council meetings. The following proposed ordinances were approved at a previous Council meeting, and are also subject to a public hearing as listed above.

B-1 (21-0341) is the same as PH-1 above.

New Business - Boards and Commissions

The following resolution had a public hearing, as listed above.


DB-1 (21-0342) is the same as PH-2 above.

Ordinances - First Reading

In order to amend the city code, Council must vote to approve the change, via ordinance, at two Council meetings. The following proposed ordinances are being introduced for "first reading". If approved, the ordinance will be voted on at a subsequent Council meeting ("second reading"), where it will also be subject to a public hearing.

C-1 (21-0589) An Ordinance to Amend Section 5.15 (Table 5-15-2) and Section 5.16.6 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Accessory Dwelling Units)

Amendments to the City’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance will permit the construction of additional dwelling units on any residential lot in the City, without requirements for owner occupancy. Lot size requirements (minimum 5,000 sq. Ft.) would be removed. Requirements that the property owner reside in either the primary home or ADU would also be removed. The required rear and side setback for ADUs would be three feet. See my "Additional Thoughts" section below.


C-2 (21-0634) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code), Rezoning of 9.8 Acres from TWP(Township), R1C (Single-Family) and R1A (Single-Family) to R4E With Conditions (Multiple-Family Dwelling District with Conditions), Valhalla Ann Arbor Conditional Rezoning, 31, 50, 57, 77, 97, 98, 107, 145, 147, 151, 155, 159, 163 Valhalla Drive and 2065, 2099 South Main Street (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 8 Yeas and 1 Nay)

A cluster of fifteen parcels (a total of 9.8 acres) at South Main would be re-zoned from Township/R1C/R1A to R4E (Multiple-Family Dwelling District) with Conditions. This zoning would permit the construction of 454 Dwelling units in four stacked apartment buildings and five townhouse buildings, as well as two additional buildings. Staff recommended zoning would permit the construction of 84 dwelling units. See my "Additional Thoughts" section below.


C-3 (21-0542) An Ordinance to Amend Section 2:69 of Chapter 29 (Stormwater Rates) of Title II of the Code of the City of Ann ArborStormwater rates would be increased by 5%. It is estimated to generate additional revenue $606,909 to the Stormwater Disposal System, to fund operations and capital investments.

Motions and Resolutions

The following agenda items are motions and resolutions, which are approved or rejected in a single meeting. Agenda items marked "DC" are proposed by Council members, items marked "DB" are proposed by City boards and commissions, items marked "DS" are proposed by City staff.


DC-1 (21-0576) Resolution to Appoint Deaver Armstrong to the Greenbelt Advisory Commission

This nomination is from CM Grand, who serves on the Greenbelt Advisory Commission. This nominated was introduced at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.

  • Deanna Boer - Greenbelt Advisory Commission

DC-2 (21-0715) Resolution to Recommend Approval of Issuance of a Downtown Development District Liquor License to Kouzina Ann Arbor, LLC

Kouzina at 332 South Main would be granted a Liquor License to serve beer and wine.


DC-3 (21-0737) Resolution Declaring April 2021 Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Awareness Month in Ann Arbor, Michigan

April 2021 would be proclaimed Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Awareness month to increase the awareness and understanding of mental ailments, the need for appropriate and accessible treatment options, and the transformative power of psychedelic-assisted therapy for all those suffering or looking to improve their mental health.


DC-4 (21-0736) Resolution to Approve the Settlement Agreement in Michigan Public Service Commission Case Nos. U-20713 and U-20851 Regarding DTE’s Voluntary Green Pricing Program and Approve the Memorandum of Understanding with DTE to Work Together to Explore Potential Landfill Solar Project

A settlement agreement with DTE (through the Michigan Public Service Commission) is the result of a City challenge to DTE's Voluntary Green Pricing (VGP) program and its renewable energy build plans. This settlement will eliminate differential treatment of residential customers vs. larger users in the VGP program and allow all categories of customers to access the same lower-cost projects. The City will partner with DTE in meetings and discussion to reduce energy demand or eliminate fossil-fueled units. Solar installations at the Ann Arbor landfill will be a pilot program for Community Solar Offering, so the City (the “anchor tenant”) can sponsor the solar project and subscribers (any DTE customer - residential or business) will get the same deal per kilowatt hour as the “anchor tenant.”


DC-5 (21-0752) Resolution to Remove Councilmember Hayner from Current Appointments

City Council recommends that Council Member Hayner attend relevant anti-discrimination, diversity, and sensitivity training. He will be removed from appointments on six boards and commissions for seven months (through December 1, 2021). See the top of this newsletter for more explanation.


DC-6 (21-0779) Resolution to Improve Council Effectiveness, Performance and Communications for Professional Services in the Amount of $20,000 (8 Votes Required)

In consultation with the director of Human Resources, the City Administrator would be asked to spend up to $20,000 to retain a professional mediator to teach effective meeting management and discourse methodology for Councilmembers. See the top of this newsletter for more explanation.


Additional thoughts…

City Council is a lot more productive when it focuses on policy. This agenda - and recent news - highlights what we were able to achieve during my first two years on Council. This week’s agenda also includes new concerns that should prompt thoughtful consideration.


AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Three Consent Agenda items move us forward in developing affordable housing projects at the following City-owned properties:

  • CA-3 721 N. Main

  • CA-4 353 S. Main

  • CA-5 1510 E. Stadium

These projects are a result of the resolution approved by a majority of Council in 2019, asking our City staff to assess ten under-utilized City-owned properties for development as affordable housing. In 2019 - in response to a resolution identifying two City-owned parcels - a majority of Council asked for a comprehensive analysis of all under-utilized City properties (NOTE: that analysis revealed that the two parcels identified in the original resolution were not ideal). I am particularly proud of CA-5 (1510 E. Stadium) because in 2019, we had to push back on suggestions that the parcel simply be sold for revenue.


We have funding for these affordable housing plans because in 2020, the previous Council approved a ballot proposal for an Affordable Housing Millage (I was a cosponsor). The Washington Post wrote about it here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/how-a-small-property-tax-increase-can-boost-affordable-housing-inventories/2021/02/24/0c1c2554-6d8b-11eb-ba56-d7e2c8defa31_story.html



CLEANING UP THE GELMAN PLUME

Also this week: we received news that Governor Whitmer has formally requested intervention from the federal EPA to clean up the Gelman 1,4-Dioxane contamination. This pollution is spreading underground on the west side of Ann Arbor. Council efforts to engage the federal EPA started in October 2019. That resolution prompted many meetings in partnership with other local elected bodies, until we finally reached agreement in November 2020. For more explanation of the significance, see this MLive article:

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2021/04/state-approves-seeking-federal-superfund-cleanup-of-dioxane-pollution-in-ann-arbor.html



LAND USE PLANNING

Agenda Item C-1 proposes amendments to the City’s Accessory Dwelling Units ordinance. These amendments significantly change permitted use for all residential lots in the City, allowing the construction of an additional small house in any backyard, regardless of parcel size or ownership (i.e. two units on a single lot as investment rental).


In 2019, a majority of Council in 2019 resisted this change, suggesting that it could and should be considered as part of anticipated work to revise the City’s Master Plan. Due to COVID-related budgeting challenges, that Master Plan work is delayed. The amendments proposed this week are actually more remarkable than what was presented in 2019: they remove the requirement for owner-occupancy in either structure. It is no longer accurate to describe these units as “granny flats” to help house family members in close proximity or to help residents stay in their homes (supervising on-site rentals to generate income). As proposed, these amendments are now aimed at providing an opportunity for commercial investment in rentals.



WARD 4: VALHALLA

Agenda item C-2 is a proposed re-zoning of 9.8 acres located in Ward 4, on South Main just south of the intersection at Scio Church. Valhalla is a dirt road, across from Pioneer High School, that currently has six houses on it. Staff recommended zoning for this area that would permit re-development with 84 housing units. Against staff recommendation, the Planning Commission approved and sent to Council a plan for 454 housing units. The proposed zoning includes “conditions” to justify the expansion: the project will not hook up to natural gas (except for “emergency back-up electrical generator”), will have solar panel installation expected to provide 12-13% of needed power, and will offer 15 affordable housing units (3% of total units). The University of Michigan has communicated to City Council, identifying serious concerns they have about this project’s proposed retaining walls and grading, stormwater management, sanitary sewer systems, and safety fencing needed due to its proximity to the golf course.


Note: this is first reading of the zoning change. There will be a public hearing at second reading.



Thank you for helping me represent Ward 4!

Elizabeth Nelson ENelson@A2gov.org


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