Ann Arbor City Council met at Larcom City Hall Monday evening to revisit two agendas decided at the previous council session. The council addressed rezoning in the Transit Corridor 1 (TC1) district and changing ownership of certain highways from the state to the city.
The council also approved CA-1, a resolution to approve a memorandum of understanding between the city and Washtenaw County for the Bandemer-Barton Trail and Underpass Study. This study would extend the Border-to-Border Trail — a non-motorized, accessible pathway — to the city-owned Barton Natural Area and Bandemer Park.
The council moved to discuss DC-5 to consider amendments to TC1 zoning ordinances at the West Stadium Boulevard and Maple Road area. The resolution, which ultimately passed, would direct the Planning Commission to consider amendments that would outline special-use exceptions for some car-related businesses. These exceptions still exclude drive throughs and gas stations. Additionally, the amendments include addressing current narrow rights of way.
Councilmember Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1, expressed her support for the DC-5 resolution, saying that it provided modifications to ensure the districts are rezoned properly.
“I wanted to say that this certainly should not be a lengthy process,” Disch said. “This resolution has been narrowly crafted with the input of planning staff to ensure a very quick process of consideration … Making a couple of modifications before we head into the next two districts that will be rezoned is a reasonable and thoughtful thing to do.”
During the public speaking portion of the meeting, Ann Arbor resident Michelle Hughes said she was concerned about the potential amendments to the TC1 district, since their allowance for more car-oriented businesses would increase automobile-related use.
“I’m nervous that you guys are talking about going back on (TC1) a little bit to allow certain types of car-oriented businesses,” Hughes said. “It shouldn’t be convenient to own a car. Right now the city is entirely built around creating a situation where only the car is (a convenient transportation option), and often the most convenient, and TC1 was the first step towards trying to make that not be the case … Please take us in the right direction here and not the wrong direction.”
Councilmember Jen Eyer, D-Ward 4, moved to remove the last Whereas clause, which acknowledged that the amendment might result in delay in future TC1 designation. She said the city could not afford to delay the TC1 initiative.
“As we asked planning staff to do additional work, sometimes it takes additional time,” Eyer said. “The hope, though, is that we can move urgently through (TC1). I think everybody here has an urgency about moving forward.”
Eyer’s motion passed six to five, with Councilmember Chris Watson, D-Ward 2, Jenn Cornell, D-Ward 5, Erica Briggs, D-Ward 5, Disch and Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor voting no.
Councilmember Dharma Akmon, D-Ward 4, said that focusing on supporting sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly pathways would be a positive tweak to the original TC1 ordinance.
“Most of my consideration of this resolution is enabling a comfortable and safe experience for pedestrians and bus commuters,” Akmon said. “Think about a future in which we have more people milling about, getting out of present stores, trying to catch a bus — you really want space for those things to happen. And if people are building right up to the sidewalk, there is no space. So I’m excited to support this.”
The council then moved to discuss DC-6, which would allow the city to reconsider a feasibility study on transferring ownership of the state-owned trunklines to the city of Ann Arbor. The trunklines in question are the North Main Street and the Washtenaw Avenue/Huron Street/Jackson Road corridor. At the Sept. 20 meeting, the study was rejected by City Council, with some councilmembers saying that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) lacked motives to ensure pedestrian safety, while others rejected the study on the ground that the cost of it is unacceptable.
The council voted to approve a contract with Sam Schwartz, LLC to study the potential transfer of ownership with trunklines, which passed with unanimous support.
Briggs motioned to support the contract with Sam Schwartz, LLC to conduct a feasibility study. She said she supported the feasibility study because if the roads were taken over by the city, it could improve the quality of the roads and improve safety for residents.
“From a ward perspective, it is certainly good for residents who live adjacent to these roads who have been vocal and persistent advocates for safety improvements to address dangerous speeds (and) reduce vehicle crashes, and for the safety of residents trying to walk — improvements which are unlikely while the road is under the control of Michigan Transportation,” Briggs said.
Disch expressed her support for this feasibility study by saying that, right now, the council hasa unique opportunity to reconstruct the North Main Street area.
“The report would let us know whether it is economically feasible for us to take over North Main, and I want to emphasize that North Main is going to go through a once-in-a-generation reconstruction,” Disch said. “If we want that road to function differently than a four-lane highway, now is the time. If we are not able to take it over, it is unlikely that MDOT will do anything other than rip it up and put it back the way it was with the new pipes underneath.”
Akmon spoke in support of the resolution because she believes MDOT does not share the values and goals that Ann Arbor residents have in regards to transportation and safety.
“(Ann Arbor residents) value safety, mobility, accessibility (and) sustainability, and MDOT does not share these same values for these roads,” Akmon said. “There were several instances where the city wanted to make changes consistent with our Vision Zero (Comprehensive) Transportation Plan, and the state refused to adopt such changes.”
Taylor spoke in support of the feasibility study and said the city has wanted to improve roads but the state has limited their ability. Without the study, the city will not know what changes are possible, Taylor added.
“We have, for many years, sought to improve our major corridors and for many years have been unable to do so as a result of function with the state,” Taylor said. “The transfer of trunk lines from the state to the city would, of course, require that we provide ongoing maintenance and care for them that would also give us the opportunity to advise them in ways that are consistent with our community’s aspirations … We are interested in what is actually possible, and you cannot accomplish and identify that without a feasibility study.”
Correction 11/6: This article has been corrected to clarify that DC-6 pertains to trunklines, not freeways. Additionally, language for the DC-1 amendments have been clarified, and councilmember Jen Eyer, D-Ward, sought to remove the Whereas clause, not invoke it.