Monday’s Ann Arbor City Council meeting marked the first in Mayor Christopher Taylor’s term.
Councilmembers passed two key resolutions — one pertaining to winter housing for the city’s homeless and another continuing the lease of the Fuller Park parking lot to the University.
Additionally, Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) was appointed as 2015’s mayor pro-tem; if Taylor were unable to perform his duties as mayor for any reason, Briere would fill the position.
Councilmembers unanimously voted to increase the amount of money given to the Delonis Center, a winter emergency shelter in Ann Arbor. Extreme winter weather has been a concern for public speakers at Council meetings for the second week in a row, following a report filed by the mayor’s office at the last meeting.
Briere said the money set aside by this resolution will also help support other warming shelters in association with the Delonis Center, such as three churches that have volunteered to host those in need during extreme. She said it is crucial that the Council give people a reliable opportunity to get off the streets.
“We are all excited to have winter come so early, but it can be a problem for people who do not have a home,” she said. “This resolution allows us to support this center and help it be open longer and hold more people.”
The Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development formed a response workgroup following last winter’s extreme weather conditions and the subsequent calls for more shelters and warming stations for the homeless.
The group began meeting during the summer months, publicly asking in August for any local facilities willing to provide shelter during the 2015 winter season. The committee announced in August that it had already determined a plan for staffing the location, but had yet to determine a proper place to hold the shelter.
The workgroup formed following public concerns surrounding the availability of shelters during record-low temperatures last year, especially at night when daytime warming stations are closed.
Yousef Rabhi, chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, said he will also be supporting an increase in the funds designated for the Delonis Center.
The Nov. 7 Council meeting included updates from the mayor’s office regarding the committee’s findings and an initial discussion of the city’s plan for expanding shelter offerings this winter.
The Delonis Center was scheduled to open Monday night in light of predictions that temperatures would fall to 10 degrees.
Another resolution, which was added to the agenda at the meeting and provided for re-opening the affordable housing site Burton Commons, passed unanimously as well.
Resolution to approve Fuller Park parking lot land lease with the University
The Council passed a resolution to alter the duration of the current lease held with the University for their use of the parking lots on Fuller Road from two years with an option for a two-year extension to one year with a one-year extension.
Discussion included two rounds of amendments, the first proposed by Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4), that would change the lease to expire after one year, offering the University a one-year extension if it chose to continue leasing the property. The second amendment, proposed by Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5), would have changed the lease to be one year in duration without any option to continue the lease for another year. This amendment did not pass, and instead councilmembers voted unanimously to pass the resolution with Eaton’s amendments.
“I would like to see this terminated, but not abruptly,” Eaton said. “This gives us time to look at what we would like to do with this property, and whether we want to provide the University parking. This gives them time to devise a parking management plan.”
Eaton wrote in an e-mail correspondence with Jim Kosteva, the University’s director of community relations, that Kosteva found this amendment of the lease from two years to one year agreeable.
Taylor, who was in support of the one-year lease, said it is important for the city to maintain a strong relationship with the University, adding that this is the first step in addressing a larger parking problem.
“Shortening this lease from two and two to one and one increases uncertainty,” Taylor said. “I am willing to support it because I want one and one more than zero and zero. I will say that I don’t see this as one and done; I am certain that there is an alliance of interest here given the history of parking problems in this area.”
The city leases parking space to the University, which is used by its staff. This lease includes three parking lots, one of which has been leased to the University since 1993. The Fuller lot’s original lease expired Aug. 31.
This resolution has been presented to the Council three times, once in August, once in October and once at the Nov. 7 meeting, but a decision was postponed each time. Public commentary and councilmember discussion have indicated the delay in renewing the lease stems from the possibility of the city using the area as the site of its future train station.
The Parks Advisory Commission’s recommendation to the Council said the lease amount to be paid by the University will not increase this year because the University leases overflow Argo Canoe Livery parking to the city at no charge, but the Council will consider increasing this amount in the future. Councilmember Julie Grand (D–Ward 3) said she was hesitant to remove the option of extending the lease by a year because of the free parking provided by the University.
“We don’t often hear about amicable or good relationships with the University, so for me this is a perfect example of our cooperation,” Grand said. “And you know, when times were hard, the money from this lease kept facilities open. So though this money may be small, it does matter to the park’s budget. The relationship that was established between the park and the University has provided for the city’s use of 100 free parking spots.
There have been multiple locations under consideration for a new train station, with the Fuller Park location being one of three.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article stated that Councilmember Steven Kunselman (D—Ward 3) proposed the second amendment to the parking lot lease. Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D—Ward 5) proposed the amendment.