Posted inBusinessNews

City Council discusses long-term tax forgiveness and pandemic resolutions

City Council hosted a virtual meeting Monday evening to discuss several city resolutions regarding financial concerns for the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tom Crawford, Ann Arbor’s interim city administrator,  opened the City Council meeting by acknowledging public service appreciation week through the city administrator’s report. He commended the city of Ann Arbor for receiving the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.

Crawford announced the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Department will be reviewing its current situation in regards to the pandemic over the next several weeks.

“The community will receive communications from the parks department about their status (as they) open up and modify the things that they can,” Crawford said. 

Ann Arbor resident Shannon Hautamaki spoke at the meeting about a resolution promoting safe social distancing outdoors in the city and further progress with lane and road closures paired with opening the streets. She advocated for the use of outdoor spaces as many of the festivals and outdoor activities have been cancelled thus far. Hautamaki said she thought the resolution would allow her and her son to spend more time outside.

“I ask you all to pass the DC-5 for opening the streets for pedestrians as soon as possible,” Hautamaki said. “I see statements from other members of council saying they don’t see a need for closing streets because it's easy for themselves personally to move off the roads. Opening streets also offers opportunities for musicians, artists and local restaurants. The longer we wait, the more frustrated our citizens become. Ann Arbor needs a win right now.”

The council moved to discuss a resolution to approve a waiver of late penalty charge for late tax payments in response to the pandemic.

Matthew Horning, interim chief financial officer, opened the discussion by emphasizing the necessity of this resolution.

“We’ve never been in this situation before,” Horning said. “We’ve never waived penalties for property taxes. We don’t have any empirical data, so we looked at past payment data over the last several years: How many people paid on time and how (many) did not and then made assumptions if we omitted the August 1 deadline.”

Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, said the proposed tax break is important for Ann Arbor residents and the money lost is not significant in the long run. 

“A lot of people are asking what (they) can help out (with),” Hayner said. “It’s nice that we’re doing something but (only) 50,000 (dollars) out of 10 million people, in the grand scheme of things, it seems like we can do better somehow. I wish I could come up with something better for us.”

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, echoed Hayner and said although it is a lot of money to give up, it will help the people of Ann Arbor. 

“I want to push back a little bit,” Ramlawi said. “This is a significant give and it's only one of many of the things we have to do. This is to help alleviate some pain. We are going to have to be very resourceful moving forward. I know people want more and this is very significant.” 

The resolution was approved unanimously by the attendees.

Daily Staff Reporter Delaney Dahlstrom can be reached at delaneyn@umich.edu.

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Posted inAnn Arbor

City Council discusses new development projects, environmental hazards

 

After internet servers had been down in City Hall all day, the Ann Arbor City Council met for a regularly scheduled meeting Thursday evening.

Though the agenda stated the council would vote on a resolution to support the development project at 1140 Broadway St. in Ann Arbor’s Lower Town neighborhood, Mayor Christopher Taylor announced before the public hearing session for the resolution the possibility of the council postponing its vote. Because the servers were down, he said, residents could not get in touch with their council members to discuss their concerns with the resolution, which might persuade the council to wait to vote on the proposal.

The development plan on Broadway Street is being handled by Morningside Equity Group. Currently zoned as “PUD,” or Planned Unit Development, the group has proposed to change this classification to C1AR, which designates the area as campus/business/residential property. This zoning change allows for larger, taller residential buildings to be built on the lot — a concept many residents oppose and see as inappropriate for their community.

During the public hearing section of the meeting, many residents stood up to share their opinions on the issue. The community was divided. Some residents had issues with the environmental footprint the proposed buildings would have, and the lack of room for retail space.

Ann Arbor resident Andrew Pieknik spoke in each of the three public hearing sessions set aside for the issue. He said he welcomed Morningside to work on the lot under the current zoning restrictions, but did not think it was appropriate to change to a new zoning code. Pieknik is also the creator of an online petition that aims to influence city policy making through the making of maps that display community opposition to the proposed zoning change.  

“I wanted a large development,” Pieknik said. “I expected construction and traffic, but I also expected a reignition or the complete replacement of our neighborhood village. I was disappointed, but not alone. … The reason we’re here tonight (is because we) think this site needs more commercial. … We’ve learned PUD zoning is in fact viable.”

Others were fed up with looking at a vacant lot for so long, and were just excited to have some new movement in the neighborhood.

Ann Arbor resident Melissa Milton-Pung, a preservationist and lecturer at Eastern Michigan University, spoke in favor of the development plan, saying it was time to build on the lot. She saw promise in the current plan.

“Sometimes you keep what’s on the landscape,” Milton-Pung said. “Sometimes you wipe it away. … Sometimes you build something new. I’m speaking out in support of this project for several reasons. This project will help keep development where existing urban development should be — not out in the greenfields. It will utilize a vacant lot in a key location and help provide several public transportation options. It will also fundamentally change the micro-community in the Lower Town area — in a good way.”

Many other people stood up to support one side of the argument or the other. Lower Town residents who opposed the zoning change and Morningside’s plans even brought visual aids in the form of maps and Styrofoam models of the proposed buildings to show the council.

Morningside lawyer Jerry Lax also spoke, pressing the council to not wait any longer to vote on the proposal.

“We strongly urge you not to postpone your decision,” Lax said. “There has been enormous discussion, much of it has become repetitious, and the decision should be made.”

He described what Morningside sees as the advantages of using a conventional C1AR zoning instead of a PUD. According to Lax, C1AR is more flexible and commercially applicable.

The council entered into a separate public hearing session to discuss the brownfield plan on the lot. When a dry-cleaning business left the lot years ago, it left large amounts of solvents behind. These chemicals seeped into the ground, and the pollution is now creeping toward the Huron River, earning the area the designation of a “brownfield” lot. The city’s proposed plan to clean up the lot was largely supported, though some residents believe they could only back it if “they were given what they want.”

After hearing comments from the public, the council discussed whether to postpone the vote on the Broadway plan. Some council members, including Taylor and Councilwoman Jane Lumm, D-Ward 2, felt the vote should be postponed.

“We may receive the same documents we received in our packets today this time next week, or in anticipation of the meeting a week from Monday, but we will have had the opportunity for residents to communicate with us in a timely matter at the moment, and we all know that is something that residents … value,” Taylor said.

Others, such as Councilman Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, and Councilwoman Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, pushed for a vote immediately, as they believed any more time for residents to submit questions and comments to their councilmembers was unnecessary.

After a long discussion, the council voted to postpone voting on all Broadway-related resolutions on the agenda for the evening, deciding it would resume the conversations at its next meeting a week from Monday.

The council also passed a resolution to amend zoning related to medical marijuana facilities, and improvements of pedestrian safety outside Huron High School via new street lighting and the appointment of crossing guards.

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