Ann Arbor City Council had its first October meeting this Monday, discussing issues such as a Packard Road rezoning ordinance and marijuana legislation. 

The meeting began with a proclamation from Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor and Ann Arbor Fire Chief Mike Kennedy to kick off Fire Prevention Week. The Ann Arbor Fire Department and the National Fire Protection Association are collaborating to promote the national 2019 campaign, with an emphasis on ensuring smoke detectors are functioning and practicing fire safety plans.

Lisa Jackson, vice chair of the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission, then spoke on the progress of the commission, created last March after citizens expressed concern over the transparency of the selection process. The 2014 shooting and death of Aura Rosser by an Ann Arbor police officer highlighted the need of the commission and City Council unanimously passed a resolution to establish to police oversight board in October 2018. 

Jackson described the commission’s primary vision to foster a transparent and mutually beneficial relationship between the Ann Arbor Police Department and the community. She described the numerous trainings undertaken by the police department and encouraged individuals to file complaints through the committee. Jackson said they are optimistic to work with newly sworn in Police Chief Michael Cox. 

“Transparency is at the heart of earning and growing that trust,” Jackson said. “We want to hear feedback, we want to get criticism and we want to learn.” 

Additionally, more than 15 community members spoke against the 2857 Packard Road Planned Unit Development rezoning ordinance, a conditional zoning agreement introduced in 2016. The zoning would shift eight acres of property along Packard road from R1C single-family residential to R1E, a single-family residential zoning which allows for greater density. The developer is Jim Haeussler of Saline-based Peters Building Company and the construction costs estimated at $2.6 million.  

The community members cited several reasons to discontinue the council’s support of the ordinance. According to these members, the area is one of the last affordable neighborhoods in Ann Arbor and subsequently has a diverse population. Members in and out of Ward 3 argued for environmental and historical preservation of the neighborhood and brought forth concerns over traffic congestion if the development were to be pursued. 

Community member Emily Epstein moved to the area several years ago and urged the committee members to reconsider the proposal. 

“I find it difficult to believe that elected servants would have such a poor command of current economic conditions, and the interrelationships its specific demographic groups, like the soon to be refugee middle class,” Epstein said. “These are not starter homes, or starter households. These homes house real and knowledgable people. The vast number of retirees that live in my neighborhood will be pushed out as property taxes rise with absurd housing costs under this proposed PUD.” 

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, expressed his hesitation in moving forward with the site plan during the second readings of the ordinances. 

“The PUD should provide public benefit, and I frankly don’t see a lot of it,” Ramlawi said. “When you have 80 percent of area residents petitioning against it, that just speaks volumes.” 

On the other hand, Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, said since the council moved to push the plan forward in the past, they must continue. Grand and Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, expressed concern over the land owner clear-cutting the trees in the area without the development. 

“I think it would be dishonest of me to ask for it, and then reject it,” Grand said. “Even though I understand that there’s a lot of really good intent behind wanting to keep the things you love about your neighborhood. I don’t think this plan, in terms of housing type, is actually a horrible plan.”

The official ordinance to pass the amendments of the plan needed eight votes to pass, but only six members voted in favor of it. Because of its contingency on the first ordinance passing, councilmembers unanimously voted against the site plan. 

The council also discussed the city code of Ann Arbor in regards to marijuana retailers, microbusinesses and designated marijuana consumption facilities. Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, pushed for an amendment to limit the proximity of marijuana businesses to schools and child-care buildings. 

“It’s not a matter of if marijuana is coming, but exactly when and under what set of specific regulations,” Lumm said.

Councilmembers later voted unanimously on a resolution proposed by Lumm to establish a body to review and oversee responsible marijuana use. 

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