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Council members debate over digital billboard

McKenzie Berezin/Daily
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By Allana Akhtar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 7, 2013

At its meeting Thursday night, the Ann Arbor City Council revisited its request that the University remove the newly installed digital billboard located off the East Stadium Boulevard near the entrance to Michigan Stadium.

After discussing the disturbance caused by the marquee at previous meetings, Councilmembers Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) and Marcia Higgins (D-Ward 4) proposed an ordinance to request the University take down the $2.8 million billboard.

The councilmembers said the billboard violates city ordinances by projecting moving, illuminating images that are distracting to drivers and residents. Taylor said he’d like to collaborate with the University and find a compromise for the situation.

“This resolution constitutes a resolution among friends,” Taylor said, but noted that the billboard is distracting to drivers and “degrading to the community.”

Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5) expressed discontent with the use of animation and video on the billboard. At an “absolute minimum,” the University should be following federal highway regulation rules, Warpehoski said. The Federal Highway Administration discourages billboards that have flashing, intermittent or moving lights.

Many of the councilmembers expressed discontent with the failure of the Board of Regents to speak with the city council before starting the project. Jim Kosteva, the University’s director for community relations, was present at the meeting but declined to comment on why the University did not tell the council their plans for the billboard beforehand.

In a previous statement, Kosteva said the University doesn’t believe the sign constitutes a safety threat.

“This may simply be a matter of the city and University disagreeing about the marquee’s use, size and effect,” Kosteva said. “We believe the marquee can safely inform patrons about events that they or their families might enjoy that wouldn’t receive attention otherwise."

University President Mary Sue Coleman has previously addressed the issue, noting that the University was careful to position the sign away from residential areas.

“I believe it’s the driver’s responsibility to not be distracted,” Coleman said. “My opinion specifically is irrelevant, but I do like the idea of informing people about lesser known sports on campus, such as women’s volleyball.”

Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) said the conflict between the city and the University has created too much conflict: he said the two bodies should be talking instead of throwing resolutions back and forth.

An innovative, tech-oriented Ann Arbor should have a digital billboard, said Councilmember Sally Hart Peterson (D–Ward 2). She expressed optimism that, rather than just advertising, the billboard could be used as a public service, to issue AMBER alerts or messages from city council

All were in favor of the city ordinance and motion was approved.

Councilmembers review DDA funding

Discussion also continued on changes to the tax-funding mechanism for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Kunselman spearheaded an ordinance to amend the way tax increment financing is captured the DDA. TIF is a form of public financing where future gains in tax revenue are used to subsidize future projects.

Though he’s a consistent critic of the DDA, Kunselman argued that the DDA isn’t getting enough funding for affordable housing projects downtown. He proposed an amendment where DDA tax funds would be budgeted no less than $200,000 for affordable housing downtown.

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje expressed skepticism at Kunselman’s amendments, arguing that the DDA rarely declines an affordable housing request.

But after much deliberation and many amendments, Kunselman succeeded in gaining approval for two amendments for the TIF capture ordinance.

Audience members express concern at treatment of homeless

Before council members discussed items on the agenda, several people spoke during the public commentary period about the topic of homelessness in the city. Councilmembers were planning to address the issue indirectly through a resolution to accept a public parks ordinance, which would change the process of renting public parks.

Liberty Plaza, a downtown park located at the corner of South Division Street and East Liberty Street, is a common gathering place for many members of the homeless population. On Fridays, the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor passes out food to people at the park.

Speakers expressed concerns that the homeless population in Ann Arbor was being treated poorly, and asked council members for welfare or “humanitarian help.”

Various councilmembers addressed these concerns in their communications after the commentary period. Councilmember Peterson asked Hieftje to urge churches to keep their doors open longer in the winter for homeless shelter.

Later in the meeting, councilmembers decided to postpone voting on the decision for the parks resolution to a later date.


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