The Ann Arbor City Council met Monday night to discuss the city’s budget proposal, as well as a consider the future of a Washtenaw Avenue redevelopment plan and a proposal to add a new sewer system to parts of Geddes Road.
City Administrator Steve Powers announced the proposed two-year budget for 2016 and 2017, which included a 2.6-percent projected increase in total for the 2016 budget. Some other notable changes were a 135-percent increase in funds allocated toward street repair, $400,000 for street light repair in Ann Arbor, $364,000 to put a sidewalk on the public side Geddes Ave. and $60,000 to a one-time appropriation for deer management in Ann Arbor. The budget will be considered by City Council on May 18.
Participants in the public comments portion of the meeting spent nearly an hour voicing their concerns on a resolution to authorize the city administrator to implement the Recommended Best Practices to Receive Redevelopment Ready Communities Certifications, a non-profit that promotes best standards for municipal development.
Under the proposal, the city would participate in the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program. This would provide the city strategies and recommendations on what areas they should further develop.
A majority of community members were outspokenly against the proposal because they felt the proposal was unnecessary and that Ann Arbor is already well-developed.
Ethel Potts, Ann Arbor resident and former member of the City Planning Commission, was one of the nearly 20 residents who spoke.
“As I read the redevelopment program, I try to think of how it fits Ann Arbor,” Potts said. “Number one, it assumes a town that lacks developers and needs to attract new development – that’s not Ann Arbor. Number two, it assumes that there are areas that could be redeveloped, there are, in some towns. Where are our slums that need development? Not here in Ann Arbor. Number three, this program assumes that our zoning ordinances are in good shape. It assumes that it’s accepted by everyone, but not in Ann Arbor.”
Other community members feared the proposal would take too much power away from elected representatives and grant too much power to appointed officials.
The council debated the ReImagine Washtenaw Corridor Improvement Study. Of a $3 million sustainable Communities Challenge Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, $255,000 was given to the study, which was completed one year ago. The study has been an issue for close to five years, but several council members expressed doubts on the effects of the study’s implementation.
The resolution consists of six parts, including recommendations for improving conditions on Washtenaw Avenue, creating off-road bus “superstops” in conjunction with the AAATA, completing a sidewalk on Washtenaw Avenue and endorsing the main points of the CIS. The study also calls for the improvement of alternative forms of transportation while also improving traffic for vehicles, creating indirect left turns — “Michigan lefts” — in many areas, as opposed to direct left turns, and changing zoning laws so new commercial buildings can be built closer to Washtenaw Avenue.
The latter two points caused the most debate from the council, as Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) raised concerns from an unnamed Ann Arbor resident and MDOT employee who wrote her a letter concerning the fact that Michigan lefts may not even be feasible for some large trucks who frequently travel the road.
Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) echoed Lumm’s concerns on the validity of the plan.
“It just seems to me that the plan was done by a consultant who did not have adequate knowledge of traffic engineering,” Eaton said.
Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 4), however, said he felt assured that if the policies went through, they would follow the federal highway administration guidelines to make sure it worked, citing that indirect left turns increase pedestrian safety. Councilmember Graydon Krapohl (D–Ward 4) agreed, noting the length of the study and how it has been written about 30 times already.
The council was less receptive to the final point, as many felt it contradicted zoning ordinances they had previously passed.
At this time, approving the resolution would only permit further consideration to see how adopting the recommendations would affect the city, but opponents of it, such as Lumm, are concerned that by accepting to continue with the study, the council would be voting to accept the policies associated with it.
“I think that we should take a pause and think through these things,” Lumm said. “I understand that endorsing this study does not approve specific actions, but most certainly provides the blueprint for future actions, so we better be sure that the blueprint is based on solid engineering.”
After more than an hour of debate, Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1)moved for the vote to be postponed and a public hearing be held on the first meeting in June. Council passed the motion with a unanimous vote.
Geddes Avenue Stormwater, Curb and Gutter Resolution
The Council also discussed an upcoming $6.4 million reconstruction of part of Geddes Road. The plan also calls for levying a special assessment on the property owners who would benefit from the addition of a storm sewer, curb and gutter to the road.
The councilmembers had previously voted to postponing a vote on the resolution, noted the importance in doing so because it allowed Ann Arbor residents to better understand the resolution and how it affects them.
“When we delayed it, it did enable the impacted homeowners there to see the plans they had not seen,” Lumm said, “and since that time there has been a lot of communication.”
During the public commentary portion of the meeting, several Ann Arbor Geddes Avenue residents spoke out against the resolution from several reasons including cost, safety and its effect on the appearance of their scenic neighborhood.
Geddes Avenue resident Alyssa Beveridge proposed several analyses she felt needed to be done before the proposal was voted on. Beverigge suggested the city do a water run-off analysis beforehand to see how much of an impact the plan will have on eliminating the run-off. In addition, she recommended a traffic speed analysis be administered to see how decreasing the vehicle lanes while increasing bike lanes will affect traffic flow, and assessing the speed limit so that Geddes Avenue has a uniform speed limit of 25 miles per hour until the curve.
Janet Garabarent, who has lived on Geddes Avenue for 27 years, was concerned about the effect the proposal would have on her neighborhood. She was also concerned that residents were not given a say in the decision that directly affected them.
“The beauty and historic value of Geddes Ave. will be greatly diminished,” Garabarent said. “Twenty-four landmarked trees will be removed.”
Garabarent was upset that homeowners had to pay for the storm water infiltration beds, which she saw as being a public entity since the storm water is caused by a public road and the beds are intended to protect a public area: the Huron watershed.
Council ultimately voted to authorize city officials to move forward with generating plans and cost estimates for this part of the project.