The Ann Arbor City Council met for the first time in the new year to discuss a short agenda that included zoning single-family dwellings, modifying floodplains and clarifying a resolution to purchase cameras for the Ann Arbor Police Department. 

The council began by discussing a zoning ordinance to designate the 26 vacant parcels in Scio Township that have been annexed into the city as single-family dwelling. According to the city’s website, the proposed zoning would be “consistent with adjacent going, master plan, and principle use of each of the twenty-six parcels.”

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, noted the controversy surrounding single-family dwellings throughout the country and raised a note to the Planning Commission for revisiting these questions. Councilmember Erica Briggs, D-Ward 5, also agreed with Ramlawi’s point.

“There’s been a lot of criticism in single-family zoning,” Ramlawi said. “It’s been attacked and questioned as to whether it is the best way to use our resources, where it gets its origins and its questionable ways it gets used. It’s gotten to be a very charged conversation.”

Brett Lenart, the city’s planning department manager, said the Planning Commission is currently in talks around the implications of single-family zoning. He noted that the Planning Commission is inviting University of Michigan researchers to discuss and research the “history of racially exclusionary restrictions within properties in the city.”

“There’s a lot to learn, and we’re just starting that and I think it’s going to be a long conversation,” Lenart said. “And we do as a community need to balance that in the context of what our grand master plan says.”

The council unanimously decided to approve this ordinance to zone the 26 newly annexed parcels as single-family dwellings, but with hopes of upzoning the area in the future to increase the population density.

The council also voted unanimously to approve an ordinance that modifies and expands floodplain regulations throughout the city to implement best management practices, restore city-owned wetlands and lower flood insurance rates for city property owners, among other reasons. Properties within a floodplain — which are approximately 10% of the total city land area — mean that they are located adjacent to a river and are subject to flooding.

Through clarification from Jerry Hancock, the city’s Stormwater and Floodplain Programs coordinator, this ordinance does not expand the floodplain maps or change the extent to which FEMA requires property owners to have flood insurance. 

An additional resolution sponsored by Councilmember Linh Song, D-Ward 2, reconsidered a resolution to approve purchase of dashboard cameras, cloud storage and Wi-Fi offload hardware in all police patrol vehicles. Song said the purpose of bringing this resolution back to the council was to address some concerns raised by Ann Arbor residents on if and how identifiable information will be used.

“I’d like to see if there’s potential for collaboration between ICPOC (Independent Community Police Oversight Commission) and HRC (Human Rights Commission) and maybe exploring a potential ban on facial recognition,” Song said.

Michael Cox, chief of police for the Ann Arbor Police Department, said the AAPD does not use facial recognition software, because it’s “unreliable,” though he said he feels less inclined to ban the technology because spin-offs could potentially prove to be helpful in the future. Facial recognition technology has been found to be disproportionately less accurate in identifying and recognizing Black Americans, which was a major point of discussion during protests in Detroit last summer.

“I know right now law enforcement needs as much help as we can get in any way possible, whether that is through technology or not,” Cox said. “As long as we’re not using facial recognition and stuff that doesn’t work, and we talk as a community all the time, I don’t think there’s a need to ban it in that format because we’re not going to use it as long as it’s unreliable.”

In response to Song’s question about what exactly is stored in the cloud and who has access to it, Cox said the cloud is solely for storage of video footage from car video cameras.

“Instead of us having the storage capability, it’s kept in there, and their storage capability,” Cox said. “But they don’t give anybody or grant anyone access to it. It’s (the AAPD’s) data, we control it, we can upload it, we can download it and other people who have access to it.”

The resolution for the purchase order was unanimously approved again.

The council also unanimously approved the draft plan for Vision Zero, Ann Arbor’s comprehensive transportation plan to achieve zero fatalities and severe injuries on the city’s streets by 2025. According to the website, the plan provides 22 strategies — such as addressing critical gaps in sidewalks and pricing trips based on their impact on the city — that seek to improve safety, mobility, accessibility, sustainability and regional connectivity.

“I’m excited that this is going forward,” Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said. “The ability of folks to get around town without their cars safely by cycling or by walking is fundamental to the achievement of so many of our municipal goals, and this is a plan that’ll help us get there.”

Near the end of the two and a half-hour meeting, the council held general public comment for Ann Arbor residents. Ann Arbor resident Zachary Storey called for Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, to resign for “(attempting) to suppress the freedom of speech and the freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.”

Storey’s public comment references a Dec. 21 City Council meeting, at which councilmembers Hayner, Griswold and Ramlawi interrupted a public comment from Ann Arbor resident Adam Goodman. 

Goodman spoke about the barriers residents have to speak at public comment and called out Hayner’s allegedly illegal involvement in adding an additional floor to his home. In an interview with MLive, Hayner addressed these accusations saying this is an “unfinished project that sits under permits” that have yet to be signed off. 

“This is all about the First Amendment,” Storey said. “And I take this very f—ing seriously, and for you to again and again and again and again and again and again and again, attack it and undermine it, it’s unacceptable and you have no f—ing business being up there. Resign now.”

Immediately after, Hayner called a point of order and requested Taylor to make a comment “on the use of language as a violation of our council rules.”

“It’s not prohibiting someone’s speech to ask them to follow the rules when speaking in front of this body,” Hayner said.

Taylor ruled that “the use of that word as a point of emphasis is neither obscene or grossly indecent manner,” which was consistent with the advice from City Attorney Stephen Postema. 

Members of the council closed by addressing the culture at the table.

“I just will say that in the last few meetings, I felt extremely hurried and pushed and stressed to make my points and ask questions,” Ramlawi said. “I feel intimidated by others, and this body in doing the work that I’ve been elected to do, and that is to ask questions.”

In response, Councilmember Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, said he is  a member of the council who has spoken frequently about shortening meetings. According to Radina, this effort is to ultimately make these meetings more accessible to the public, as meetings often go late into the night.

“My goal in shortening a meeting is not to hurry you or to silence you or anyone on this body,” Radina said. “My goal is to ensure that the public has access to our meetings, and that doesn’t happen at 2 or 3 in the morning … In order for us to do our jobs effectively and transparently, we need to do it in a way that’s efficient and accessible.”

Daily News Editor Kristina Zheng can be reached at krizheng@umich.edu

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.