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Volunteers sought for Booth Park playground
July 20, 2004
Tim Page, the Quarton Lake Estates resident heading up the project, is seeking volunteers to coordinate everything from fundraising, to donations of tools and material, to childcare and catering for the workers who will assemble the playground.
Page presented his proposal at numerous board meetings over the past two years. The project was finally given the green light earlier this month.
Volunteers, who are needed immediately, can expect to meet once or twice a month and make phone calls and write emails in between. The project is expected to be completed by next summer. Click here for a complete list and descriptions of volunteer positions open.
The playground will be coordinated by Leathers & Associates, which has completed similar projects in Huntington Woods, Harbor Springs, Naples, Fla., and elsewhere.
For more information on Leathers, visit its website at www.leathersassociates.com.
Each Leathers playground is original, the company says, because it is inspired by the imaginations of local children. Community volunteers build the playgrounds over three to five days.
Roughly $65,000 of the cost will be paid by the city, with the remainder to come from private sources.
Volunteers should contact Tim
Page at (248) 433-1211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roundup: Catching up with City Hall
July 20, 2004
The ad hoc committee formed to recommend a parking solution for Shain Park has wrapped up its work and will recommend two levels of underground parking with more than 200 spaces. Current capacity would be roughly doubled, said committee chairman Jeff Salz, who also heads the city's Parking Advisory Board. The committee, which did not examine design aspects of the park, is to present its findings to the City Commission this fall.
Booth Park renovations are set to begin in September. The project start was delayed by city administrators, who applied for a grant to help pay for stabilization of the Rouge River stream bank. This was the second grant-related delay. The first grant was denied. The City Commission voted last December to proceed with the $300,000-plus project without grant money. City Manager Tom Markus said completion of the first two phases of the three-phase project will be combined because of the delay, and that completion will be on target. The first two phases include cleanup and stabilization of the river bank, grading, landscaping and installation of a new playground. Phase Three involves the installation of an entrance feature at the corner of N. Old Woodward and Harmon. Cranbrook School, which donated the land, is to collaborate on the design.
A new preliminary site plan for the site of the old Jacobson's mens store was approved by the Planning Board, and now goes to the Board of Zoning Appeals for variances. The plan calls for first-floor retail, two floors of office and one floor of residential. Several variances for use and height are required; proponents of the plan say the variances are warranted because the site is sloped, the mass will match nearby buildings and alternative zoning rules would allow the extra office floors without providing for retail and residential.
A first round of zoning ordinance amendments was approved by the City Commission. The changes restore city staff authority to grant certain so-called "administrative approvals," ease restrictions on rooftop mechanicals and restore the definition of "mezzanine" to a commonly accepted meaning in the design and building trades. These were considered by many to be "nuisance" ordinances enacted by the previous commission to restrict development. Both Mayor Don Carney and Commissioner Gordon Thorsby, who previously supported the restrictions, voted to ease them. Next up are amendments that will increase allowable building heights. The amendments have already been approved by the Planning Board, and will come before the Commission soon.
up on the Birmingham Eccentric
July 16, 2004
The following links are to news stories appearing in the Birmingham Eccentric since our last roundup of links in April. Of course, we always recommend you read the stories directly from the news pages or website of the Eccentric. A link to the Eccentric site is at the top of our website.
Comment: Ideas for improving Eccentric coverage
June 10, 2004
We finally caught up with Jack Lessenberry, the new editorial director of the Eccentric Newspapers, at a Birmingham/Bloomfield Chamber event a couple weeks ago.
Lessenberry, a longtime well-respected local journalist, took over late last year for the retiring Jeanne Towar, and we hoped he would bring his penchant for relatively hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is journalism to the news pages of the Birmingham Eccentric. We've been disappointed. The only improvement in the Birmingham paper since Lessenberry's arrival more than six months ago has been the addition of his own column. Its general news coverage remains shallow and parochial, even for a local community newspaper.
Lessenberry says he doesn't want to tinker with something that's not broken, and we could only presume he was referring to the newspaper's profitability, for it is difficult to look at the Eccentric's news coverage and conclude it is anything but broken.
You can't critique the Eccentric without considering its geographic, economic and political context. That context is unlike most major metropolitan areas, where power and money are focused in the center city, which typically is covered by one or more major metro papers and magazines.
In metro Detroit, power and money are dispersed throughout the Eccentric's coverage areas (with a good deal of the focus in Oakland County), while the major metros remain focused on the City of Detroit.
A coverage vacuum therefore exists in the greater Detroit area that isn't normally seen in metro areas of similar size.
With newspapers and reporters dispersed throughout this area, the Eccentric's editorial staff is well positioned to exploit the same opportunities that its advertising department has so successfully exploited. Yet it fails to do so, leaving important local and regional stories and issues untold and unexamined.
By deploying its resources more generously and effectively, the Eccentrics could easily become the newspapers of record for their communities, and credible voices and forums for positive change regionally.
Instead, reporters are admonished to keep stories short and focused locally. They seem ignorant and blind to their surroundings and to the common problems faced by the communities in which they operate. Lessenberry curiously claims his readers are not interested in what's going on in similar area communities while he and the papers' publisher, Phil Power, devote their own columns to regional and state issues.
The list of stories the Eccentric could and should be writing is long. Not all of it must be time-consuming, hard-hitting investigative journalism. Sometimes imagination and a sense of fun are all that's needed.
Lessenberry challenged us to make some suggestions, and as much as we think that's a job for him and his reporters and editors, we herewith offer up a range of topics for his consideration.
* The Eccentric barely scratched the surface of the dual issues of taxation and municipal finance in March when it published a shallow package of two stories on Proposal A on its 10th anniversary. But the Eccentric's articles, astonishingly, never defined Proposal A. Along with the Headlee Amendment, Prop A is the single most important tax policy, affecting everything from how we pay for schools and municipal services to real estate taxes, home values and the real estate markets. But you wouldn't know it reading the Eccentric.
* The Dream Cruise has become a major economic and cultural event for the entire region, involving numerous communities, the Big 3 automakers and hundreds of small businesses and other organizations. You'd hardly know it reading the Eccentric.
* Our infrastructure -- roads, bridges, sewers, water supply, etc. -- is aging, and many communities like Birmingham are struggling to keep up with repairs and replacements. Where are we, how did we get here, and where are we going? Tell us, Jack.
* Prop A, aging infrastructure and other considerations have older area suburbs such as Birmingham talking about combining essential services such as police and fire protection. Aside from an off-hand mention, you wouldn't know much about it from reading the Eccentric.
* Metro Detroit is the home of many important social and cultural groups. African-American, Middle Eastern, Polish, Jewish and other important communities exert significant influence, and regularly undergo significant change, but you wouldn't know much about it reading the Eccentric.
* Our courts are a rich source of compelling stories, where disputes are played out and law is made. Who is suing whom over what, and what are the outcomes? The Eccentric doesn't devote much space to anything coming out of the courts.
* Our area is full of talented, interesting individuals who have made significant marks in the world. In-depth, well written profiles would inform, entertain and make us all proud of community members who contribute to each other and world at large.
Good journalism takes talent and money and carries the risk of making people mad now and then. If the Eccentric wants to improve its news coverage -- and Lessenberry isn't kidding anyone when he says readers are happy with what they see -- it needs to beef up its talent pool, devote its resources to better coverage, and get used to occasionally raising its readers' and advertisers' ire.
The Eccentric has shown some
courage and thoughtfulness in its editorial positions. It needs to bring
the same sort of intelligence and punch into its news columns.
Throw in your two cents at Dick's on Friday
May 12, 2004
Join the peanut gallery at the third monthly Buzz salon, this Friday, May 14, at 6 p.m. at Dick O'Dow's. The gatherings are held on the second Friday of every month. If you're lucky, you might get to meet the elusive Roger Gienapp, frequent and valued contributor to the Buzz forum, and a regular salon attendee.
Comment: Scatterbrained over park bond money
May 10, 2004
A couple of years ago, Birmingham voters approved a $25 million bond issue to expand and improve our parks. Some people opposed the bond because the ballot language was vague and allowed too much flexibility in how the money is spent.
Nonetheless, the measure was approved, and $15.7 million in bonds have been issued so far. The Barnum Center has been acquired, Quarton Lake was dredged and numerous other projects, including the construction of a new dam at Quarton Lake, are in progress.
Now, some of the same people who supported the vague language are complaining about expenditures, claiming that voters were sold on the ballot measure because they believed the money would be used only in certain ways.
One of the chief proponents of this position is former mayor Seth Chafetz, who was unwisely appointed to the Parks & Recreation Board a few months back by our new commission. Chafetz had trouble making up his mind and articulating his waffling viewpoints when he was on the commission, and he's carried those traits into his new role on the parks board.
Out of one side of his mouth, Chafetz has railed against spending bond money to rebuild the parking lot at Kenning Park. Out of the other, he voted in favor of a resolution that supports spending the money to rebuild the lot. As usual, it's anybody's guess where he really stands on this or any other issue.
Chafetz's scatterbrained approach is mirrored in the views expressed publicly by Planning Board member Jean Holland. Arguing against spending money on the parking lot and on improvements to the Historic Park, Holland told the commission recently that she and other members of that paragon of credibility, the Presidents Council of Homeowners Associations, had "sold" the parks bond issue to voters by saying that the money would be used primarily to acquire parkland -- even though the ballot language clearly said it can be used for improvements and "all appurtenances and attachments."
Voters approved what they approved: the language that appeared on the ballot. If Chafetz, Holland and others thought it should have been more specific, they should have made their arguments then, not now.
Of course, we respect the right of anyone to question on anything but spurious grounds the spending of bond funds . Despite themselves, Chafetz and Holland have raised legitimate questions.
So Markus wisely has attempted to further define the conditions under which the bond money ought to be spent, and Chafetz, on behalf of his dwindling cadre of Antis, has agreed -- at least until the wind comes out of the south again.
The commission is expected to approve the Chafetz-backed (or not!) resolution tonight.
Click here to read the resolution, along with a spreadsheet detailing expenditures.
Board rules Seger overstepped as overseer
May 10, 2004
Ruling in its first case involving a complaint against an individual, the Birmingham Board of Ethics has found Ralph Seger, a primary proponent of the new ethics ordinance, guilty of violating the law by acting as an overseer of the fund established to help pay for Gary Kulak's lawsuits against the city.
In its draft opinion, the board said solicitation of donations to the fund by Seger constituted protected speech under the First Amendment, but called his establishment and administration of a bank account for the fund "conduct" that is not protected.
Click here to read the opinion.
Board agrees with city attorney:
May 10, 2004
In an opinion that closely mirrors the opinion of City Attorney Tim Currier, the Birmingham Board of Ethics has determined that the Planning Board wrongly edited its minutes earlier this year to delete a threat by City Planner Jim Sabo to walk out of a meeting over the behavior of then-member Gary Kulak.
Click here to read the opinion.
recommends zoning ordinance revisions
Allowable heights of downtown buildings would increase under a set of revisions recommended to the City Commission by the Birmingham Planning Division.
Other revisions would give city staffers the ability to administratively approve many changes to project plans, and remove stringent review requirements for rooftop screening in the downtown.
In addition, occupancy of attic space would be allowed, and the definition of "mezzanine" would be restored to its traditional meaning, as a space that can be located anywhere within a building.
In the most densely zoned portion of downtown, the D-4 district, the tallest eaves line of four- or five-story buildings would be 58 feet, with the peak of any sloped roof no higher than 70 feet. Fifth stories would be permitted if set back.
In the D-3 district, eaves lines would be set to a maximum 46 feet, with sloped roofs no higher than 58 feet.
In the D-2 district, eaves lines would be set to a maximum 34 feet, with sloped roofs no higher than 46 feet.
Other changes would affect the MX, or mixed-use district on N. Eton St.
The recommended revisions would undo many of the changes enacted over the past two years by the previous administration. Those changes were widely seen as intended to restrict development downtown.
The City Commission is set to review the revisions and may send them to the Planning Board for public hearings as early as tonight.
Downtown projects added $500,000 to tax income
April 19, 2004
Seven downtown developments built between 2000 and 2002 increased city tax revenues by more than $500,000, according to a report prepared by City Assessor Sherry Lee.
The Willits Condominium accounted for the most dramatic increase, from $8,663 to $310,966. The figures represent taxes paid to the city, and do not include school or county taxes. The seven projects accounted for 2.5% of the city's total tax levy in 2003.
According to the report, 81% of the city's tax levy is on residential property; 18% is on commercial property, and 1% is on industrial. The city includes condominium projects such as the Willits in the residential total.
Click here to read the report.
Carney overstepped in testifying for Seger
April 19, 2004
Birmingham Mayor Donald Carney apparently violated the law when he testified on behalf of volunteer Ralph Seger before the city's Ethics Board earlier this month, according to an opinion issued April 13 by City Attorney Timothy Currier.
Furthermore, and ironically, if the board votes in favor of Seger, its decision could be rendered void.
"It is ... the long-standing policy and law that members of the Commission cannot appear before the boards and commissions they appoint," wrote Currier in a letter to City Manager Tom Markus. The opinion was sought after Buzz Contributing Editor Christopher Longe questioned Markus about the propriety of Carney's testimony.
"An appearance by a commissioner before the board creates duress on the members of the board, not as a matter of fact, but as a matter of law... In the event a commissioner does appear before such a board or commission and that participation is not challenged, any decision made by the board or commission that sides with the position taken by the city commissioner may result in the action being declared void.
Currier cited a 1968 legal case, as well as a 1968 City Commission resolution and a 1971 opinion by a previous city attorney in his current opinion.
Seger was called before the Ethics Board over his administration of a fund established to pay the legal expenses of Gary Kulak, who is suing the city and five commissioners over his removal from office in January. Carney was called as a witness by Seger, and testified about Seger's character and about his belief that the First Amendment right to free speech "trumps" the city's Ethics Ordinance.
Carney could not be reached for comment on Monday.
April 19, 2004
The record of a December Birmingham Planning Board meeting at which City Planner Jim Sabo threatened to walk out over Gary Kulak's behavior will be restored despite a vote by the board to excise mention of Sabo's threat from the minutes of the meeting.
Planning Board members knew that Kulak had been removed from the board two days earlier, that he had threatened a lawsuit, and that the incident would be relevant to the lawsuit, but a majority of them voted on Jan. 28 to delete mention of the incident, concluded City Attorney Tim Currier in an 11-page opinion.
The Michigan Open Meetings Act requires that "corrected minutes shall show both the original entry and the correction," but the Planning Board and many other city boards have, until now, failed to follow this rule. They have been advised to do so not only by Currier, but by the Ethics Board, which is to issue an advisory opinion next month in response to a question about the Planning Board's action from Buzz Contributing Editor Shelli Weisberg.
Planning Board members James Neuhard, Jean Holland, Willem Tazelaar and George Dilgard voted to change the minutes. Chairman Bruce Thal voted against the move. Member Brian Blaesing was absent for the vote. The terms of Nuehard and Tazelaar have since expired.
our forum: Public projects such as redesign
Posted April 15, 2004, by Roger Gienapp
The 2016 Plan was as much,
if not more so, about the design of the public realm as it was about the
design of buildings. Much of the focus of the week-long design charrette
was on how suburban style design standards for streets, curb cuts and
lighting had crept into our traditional downtown and were threatening
to make it a place more suited for cars than people.
The commonly held belief that
"there's no place to park in Birmingham" was a result, Duany
said, of the decks being seen as separated from the shopping district
and therefore underutilized by patrons and underappreciated for their
potential economic impact on the downtown. To some extent that sentiment
has waned, but the perception that the decks are "too far" from
shopping areas persists.
With the completion of the
new office building at the site of the old Jake's store imminent, it's
time to take a serious look again at the thinking behind the creation
of the Ring Road, its location, and the potential redesign of some of
Help McDaniel mark 65th birthday at 220 Friday
April 14, 2004
City Commission Tom McDaniel
turns 65 this week, and his wife, Susan, has invited Buzz readers to help
to mark the occasion from 6- 8 p.m. Friday at 220 in Birmingham.
Comment: Walk the walk; eliminate Ring Road
April 14, 2004
Ironically, the ideas regarding traffic circulation downtown are some of the simplest and least expensive changes recommended by the plan, but promise huge benefits in making Birmingham a more pleasant and walkable community.
"Traffic is too fast on certain downtown streets for the comfort of pedestrians," the plan said. "Also, some downtown streets are too wide for traffic needs."
While some progress has been made, it's not nearly enough. Moreover, while numerous developments have occurred adjacent to problem areas, developers and the city have failed in some cases to incorporate changes into the projects. Had this been done, better projects would have resulted, and the city could have defrayed the cost of street improvements by persuading developers to cover some of the costs.
One such opportunity presents itself now, and the developers of the Hilton Hotel and the city would be seriously remiss if they didn't leap on it.
The intersection of Maple Rd. and Park St. was specifically addressed in the 2016 Plan as being difficult for both pedestrians and motorists, yet plans for the hotel currently before the city make no recommendation for fixing the intersection.
Like many intersections along the so-called Ring Road, this one should be restored to a normal city intersection, with two-way traffic, right-angle corners and sufficient crosswalks.
Likewise, the intersection (if you can call it that) of Willits and Chester, where two lanes of traffic race around a curve toward the merge onto Maple Road west, should be incorporated into the development of the former Jacobson's women's store. The curve should be eliminated, a 90-degree intersection should be installed, sidewalks should be widened and parking should be added.
These two projects should form the basis of a complete and final elimination of the Ring Road. "Traffic speeds are high," said the plan, "partly because of the very wide curb radii, which are more appropriate to a highway than a downtown. These stream-form geometries, including the 'banana' and 'pork chop' medians of the free right turns, contribute to the prevailing atmosphere of the Ring Road as an auto-dominant environment."
These words were written more than eight years ago, and the city has been calling itself a "walkable community" for most of that time. But it is our deeds, not our words, that speak loudest.
Like many of our problems, this one may be more about process than substance. For the last eight years, our Planning Board, Traffic & Safety Board, City Engineer and City Commission have failed us on this. Now that we have a City Commission that's willing to walk the walk, it should move quickly to make more of Birmingham truly ... walkable.
Letter: New Macomb website is launched
April 12, 2004
Great Job with your site!! It along with Harrisontruth.com gave us the motivation to create our own web site for Macomb Township, Macombtruth.com. We released it the evening of April 7th. Now, each week it will build and become stronger. So give us to the end of this month to see what we have planned.
New look to downtown Birmingham: The former Jacobson's women's store at Maple and Bates is transformed into the Detroit headquarters of the McCann-Erickson advertising agency in this rendering provided by Christopher J. Longe & Associates Architects, which designed the project for Central Park Properties.
Buzz salon is 6 p.m. Friday; tidbits from City Hall
April 8, 2004
The second Buzz salon will be at 8 p.m. Friday at Dick O'Dows. All are invited for spirited discussion of issues facing Birmingham. The first Buzz salon March 12 drew approximately 30 people, and was highlighted by the service of subpoenas on Buzz editors Clinton Baller, Chris Longe and Shelli Weisberg. (The subpoenas were rendered moot several days later when the case was kicked from federal court.) Now that Kulak has refiled in state court, we're looking forward to a visit from the friendly local process server.
Speaking of Gary Kulak, he showed up briefly at a hearing Monday at which a financial supporter, Ralph Seger, faced a complaint before the Birmingham Ethics Board. Resident Dorothy Conrad had asked the board to rule on whether a sitting board member (Seger is chairman of the Barnum Steering Committee and sits on the General Investment Committee) may contribute to or administer fund the purpose of which is to sue the city.
Seger allowed as he was only one of three custodians of the fund. The other two he identified as the Denises Grzech and McKewan. Conrad was quick to point out that Grzech, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the City Commission last November, sits on the Parking Advisory Board. Had Conrad known Grzech was involved in the Kulak "defense fund," she would have named her in her complaint, she said.
Seger also disclosed that the law firm of Howard & Howard had taken the Kulak case on a contigency basis, which raised the unasked and unanswered question as to why Kulak needed a defense fund in the first place.
The board is being asked to make a judgment based on three undisputed facts: Seger is chairman of the Barnum committee; Seger is on the investment committee, and Seger is involved in a committee to raise money to sue the city. Seger didn't dispute the facts, but insisted on mounting a defense anyway. He called a series of witnesses, including Mayor Don Carney, to attest to his good character and the nature of his business with the city. The questioning of witnesses opened the door to many questions about the nature and operation of the fund, which Seger was only too happy to answer.
Carney made the reasonable argument that Seger's right to free speech trumps anything that might be inferred from the ethics ordinance. And while we might agree in this case, we couldn't help but marvel at the irony of Conrad and Seger duking it out before the board that Seger fought so hard to create.
The board said it would deliberate on the matter at its next monthly meeting. Stay tuned.
Commission OKs improvements to historic park
April 2, 2004
The historic Allen and Hunter houses will be linked by a plaza entrance, and the Allen House garage will be converted to a main entrance to the Birmingham Historical Museum under a concept plan approved Monday night by the Birmingham City Commission.
The commission approved spending $47,000 to finalize plans, and another $252,000 to complete the first phase of an improvement plan presented by the Birmingham Historical Board. Click here to read the board's report to the commission and see preliminary concept drawing for the project. Most of the money will come from the $25 million parks bond issue.
Former Mayor Seth Chafetz, now a member of the Parks Board, spoke out with other residents against spending bond money on the improvements. Chafetz and the others said they didn't think voters had improvements to the historic park in mind when they approved the bond two years ago. Chafetz led the Parks Board to pass a resolution opposing the expenditure from bond funds. Resident Anne Honhart said she thought voters expected land acquisition to consume the lion's share of bond money.
In fact, some $8.5 million has been spent on land acquisition for the Barnum property, or 34% of the bond. The historic park expense represents roughly 1% of the bond.
City Manager Tom Markus was quick to clarify for Honhart and others that the ballot language approving the bond issue was unspecific, and said only that the money would be used for acquisition and improvements.
Numerous residents expressed support for the improvement. The vote was 5-2, with Mayor Don Carney and Commissioner Gordon Thorsby voting against the plan.
Kulak refiles, and replacement's spouse recuses herself from case; city seeks to collect legal fees
April 2, 2004
Ousted Planning Board member Gary Kulak refiled two counts of his case against the city and five commissioners in Oakland County Circuit Court last week, and Circuit Judge Wendy Potts, whose husband, David Potts, was up for appointment to the board, was assigned to the case.
She quickly recused herself, and Monday night, her husband was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Kulak's ouster.
Kulak unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order to halt appointment of his replacement. His case was booted from federal court several weeks ago after a judge found all of his federal claims meritless.
Meanwhile, City Attorney Tim Currier said Monday the city would seek to have Kulak billed for the city's legal fees. Currier said the city would have considered dropping the request if Kulak let the matter rest, but in view of Kulak's persistence in state court, the city would move forward to assert its right to collect its fees.
Planning, HDDRC top list of appointments
April 2, 2004
Architect and urban planner Mark Nickita and attorney David Potts were appointed to the Birmingham Planning Board Monday night. Nickita, principal in the urban planning firm Archive DS, served on the board from 1997 to 2001. Potts is a partner in the law firm Butzel Long.
A single remaining opening exists on the board. The City Commission postponed the appointment because one of the applicants, Robin Boyle, was out of the country and could not be interviewed. Boyle is a professor of urban planning and Associate Dean of the College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs at Wayne State University.
Current Planning Board member Willem Tazelaar applied for one of the positions, but was not appointed. Other vacancies occurred with the expiration of the term of James Neuhard, who did not seek reappointment, and the ouster of former Chairman Gary Kulak.
Nickita, a contributing editor of the Buzz, is an outspoken proponent of the Birmingham Downtown 2016 Plan. Potts said he is seeking involvement to help build consensus and reduce conflict in the planning process. Click here to view applications and resumes of Nickita, Potts and Boyle.
One of three openings on the Historic District & Design Review Commission were made. Gordon Rinschler, a retired Chrysler product manager, won appointment. Two positions designated for an architect and historic society nominee went unfilled.
Two positions on the Parks & Recreation Board were filled. Catherine (Cassie) Vasileff, a homemake and mother of four boys, and Therese Quattrociocchi Longe, director of grant development at Beaumont Hospital, were appointed. (Longe is the wife of Buzz contributing editor Chris Longe.)
The commission also appointed two attorneys to the Cablecasting Board: Matthew Lund and Susan Frishman.
City seeks 3 to study permit review process
April 2, 2004
The Birmingham City Commission is seeking applicants for an ad hoc committee to study the city's construction permit review process. The appointments will be made April 19, and applications are due to the city clerk by noon April 14. Click here for an application form, which can be faxed to the city clerk.
Comment: Birmingham is back on track!
March 23, 2004
Mayor Donald Carney and Commissioner Gordon Thorsby joined the majority in voting for the rewrites at the end of a three-hour special meeting called to discuss the ordinances. The laws must still be reviewed by both the commission and Planning Board, and are subject to public hearings.
Several rewrites are intended to restore allowable building heights to levels adopted by the city after development of the Downtown Birmingham 2016 Plan. Others would restore and broaden staff authority to issue administrative approvals to developers in the midst of their projects. Still others would ease restrictions and prescriptions on screening of rooftop mechanicals.
City Commissioner Tom McDaniel called the current administrative approval and rooftop screening rules "harassment ordinances" aimed at developers, and asked that the process of adoption of the rewrites be completed by the end of May.
Adoption of the rewrites will most likely be anti-climactic to Monday night's meeting, which represented in many ways another major turning point for the commission and the city. Just four months after winning a decisive victory in the November election, and two months after placing ousted former Planning Board member Gary Kulak on trial, the commission essentially placed much of Kulak's legislation on trial.
Monday represented a turning point in other ways, too. City Planner Jana Ecker, for example, perhaps for the first time publicly expressed sharp criticism and frustration with some of the ordinances, many of which were adopted before she joined the city about a year ago. Ecker has until now merely expressed the opinions of the Planning Board in her public presentations.
And in another turning point, commissioners gave credence to a long line of local experts who testified that the restrictions had inhibited development and stunted the growth of the city's commercial tax base. The former administration was characterized by its suspicion and disdain for such experts. It rejected numerous such people for appointment to city boards, and instead appointed inexperienced residents who shared its no-growth philosophy.
Monday night's testimony was led by a 15-minute slide presentation by Mark Nickita, an urban planner and former Planning Board chairman. Nickita's testimony was bolstered by local architects Victor Saroki, Michael Poris and Frank Carnovale, urban planner Bob Gibbs, Planning Board Chairman Bruce Thal, builder J.C. Cataldo, property owner Edward Fuller, retail developer Bruce Gershenson, Birmingham watchdog Dorothy Conrad and Buzz Editor Clinton Baller.
In a testament to their diminished influence, backers of the former administration apparently could muster only a few weak voices to make their case. Astonishingly, Kulak -- almost single-handedly -- defended the current laws. He was backed only by current Planning Board members Jean Holland and Willem Tazelaar. Old Guard members conspicuously absent included former Commissioner Dante Lanzetta, Paul Reagan, Ralph Seger and others.
Tazelaar, an architect, betrayed his lack of historical perspective (and lack of fitness for his post) when he echoed Lanzetta's oft-repeated but tired question of whether Birmingham wants to be a city or a town, a question that was asked and answered during development of the 2016 Plan in 1996.
Anyone hoping finally to hear an honest and cogent defense of the laws -- that they were enacted specifically to halt development -- was disappointed. The defense was as rambling and incoherent as Kulak's defense in his removal hearing.
Three Planning Board members are expected to be appointed Monday to fill vacancies created by the ouster of Kulak, and the expiration of the terms of Tazelaar and James Neuhard, another appointee of the former administration. Critics of the former administration have urged the commission to make its appointments from among the many qualified and experienced planners, architects, builders and developers in the city.
The meeting was sparsely attended
by residents, despite notices and stories about its intent published in
the Birmingham Eccentric and on the Buzz. Attendence by residents at such
meetings tends to be proportionate to the level of opposition to proposed
action, and so it was telling that few residents appeared to oppose the
anticipated action. This was in stark contrast to attendence at the public
meeting two years ago at which building heights were reduced; dozens of
residents attended that meeting to express objection to the proposed action.
Seger faces ethics hearing over Kulak legal fund
March 18, 2004
Ralph Seger, the controversial chairman of the city's Barnum Study Committee, has been charged with an ethics violation in connection with his sponsorship of a fund to pay the legal expenses of former Planning Board member Gary Kulak. He faces a hearing April 6.
Kulak sued the city and five city commissioners who voted to oust him from the Planning Board. The suit was dismissed on Monday.
The ethics complaint was filed by longtime city government watchdog Dorothy Conrad. "I support any citizen's right to support a person or cause. However, in the case of a lawsuit against the city, a board or committee member should resign if he or she is financing such a cause," Conrad said in her complaint. "I believe board and committee members have a fiduciary duty to the residents of the City of Birmingham."
Seger is also a member of the city's General Investment Committee. Seger and the Barnum committee, which is charged with making recommendations for the development of the Barnum site, have been criticized for taking too long and for failing to consider residential development alternatives that would return some of the property to the tax rolls.
A January edition of the BeLine electronic newsletter carried the following item:
Kulak Legal Defense Fund Established
Citizen voluteers (sic) are under attack by a commissioners (sic) indebted to the architects/commercial developers/and realestate (sic) speculators that financed their election. Gary Kulak represents an obstacle to the deal making and political spoils system that (sic) taken over City Hall. Gary's defense will be expensive. He needs your help.
Please send a check for a contribution to the "Gary Kulak Legal Defense Fund." There is no limit on the amount except the size of your purse and your heart. Mail checks to:
The hearing before the city's three-member Ethics Board is scheduled for 8 a.m. April 6 in the second floor conference room at City Hall. By Seger's choice, it will be open to the public.
"I am the victim of vicious politically motivated groundless accusations," Seger said in a letter to city Treasurer Thelma Golden, who oversees the investment committee. Seger said he intends to call Golden and city parks and recreation staffers Bob Fox and Lauren Wood as witnesses at his hearing.
Conrad, ironically, is a former political ally of Seger. They served together on the Presidents Council of Homeowners Associations, which was closely allied with former members of the Birmingham City Commission. Also ironically, it was Seger and the Presidents Council that spearheaded passage of the Ethics Ordinance.
Judge dismisses Kulak complaints
March 16, 2004
Gary Kulak can add federal court to the list of places from which he has been booted this year. Judge Lawrence Zatkoff on Monday dismissed Kulak's complaints seeking reinstatement to the Birmingham Planning Board. Kulak failed to show that he had either a "property interest" or a "liberty interest" in his position on the board, Zatkoff said. Click here to read the judge's ruling.
Kulak wants documents, depositions from Buzz
March 15, 2004
The subpoenas seek documents, emails and other information related to Kulak and his ouster. They also seek information about anonymous contributors to the open forum on the Buzz website. Kulak seeks to depose the three in early April, provided the case is not dismissed sooner.
Kulak is suing the city and five commissioners who voted to oust him from office.
Baller said Monday that little exists beyond what appears on the website.
Under federal law, newspapers and other media outlets -- including web-based publications such as the Buzz -- are conditionally shielded from such subpoenas, said Detroit attorney Herschel Fink, a First Amendment specialist. Requesting parties must demonstrate that the information they seek is central to their cases, and that no other potential sources exist for the information, Fink said.
"Kulak is fishing in very shallow water," Baller said Monday. "He's trying to uncover a conspiracy that did not exist. Sure, folks got together and worked to remove him, just like millions of voters are getting together and working to remove President Bush. The Buzz certainly did nothing actionable, and we have nothing of value to Mr. Kulak's case."
Baller said compliance with the subpoenas would have "a chilling effect on the willingness of individuals to contribute to the Buzz. Our website has become a significant forum for free discussion of the issues our town faces, and we don't want to inhibit people from contributing."
Comment: Zoning changes can ease tax burden
March 14, 2004
If you care about property values, taxes and the future of our downtown, then you won't want to miss a special meeting of the Birmingham City Commission next Monday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Birmingham Community House.
The commissioners are meeting to discuss commercial zoning ordinance changes made over the past several years by their predecessors. These changes have effectively halted most development downtown and placed the 2016 Plan on the back burner. The goal of the new commission, we hope, is to relax some of the restrictions and restore the spirit of the 2016 Plan so that reasonable development can resume.
This is precisely what we hired commissioners to do when we campaigned and voted for them last year.
Birmingham's commercial district needs to grow for two reasons: First, as good a place as it already is, it can and should be better. A reasonable increase in density, guided by reasonable rules concerning architecture and use, will go a long way toward making our town even more special, more vibrant and more desirable. The guidelines for this sort of development already exist in the 2016 Plan we as a community researched and wrote eight years ago.
Second, the tax revenue generated by a more densely developed downtown will help assure the continuation of vital city services, and could result in reduction of the tax rate for residents.
Taxes in Birmingham are too high. The buyer of a $1 million home in Birmingham can expect to pay roughly $24,000 per year in taxes -- far more than if the buyer purchased property in nearby Bloomfield Hills or Bloomfield Township. If you are selling property in Birmingham, as either an owner or a real estate agent, then you already know that our high taxes contribute to the difficulty of making a sale. If you are a potential buyer who wants to move into town, or simply a resident seeking to change residences within town, you know the tax rate significantly intensifies the sticker shock you experience while shopping.
For several years, we have attributed a depressed real estate market to the economy. But as the economy gains steam, our high tax rate will continue to be a significant depressing influence.
We can reduce taxes two ways: cut services or increase the tax base. Our vote goes for increasing the tax base by encouraging reasonable development downtown.
Comment: What's next?
Feb. 27, 2004
After the November election, the shock of our success got us thinking.
What was it, we wondered, that
all our supporters had in common? Our nearly 2-to-1 victory over the opposition
Finally, in our post-election
editions, we had decided to ask our subscribers: "What is your vision?"
Our criticism of the opposition for lack of vision challenged us to articulate
an answer to the question ourselves. So often, we had heard the question
asked about our town: "What do we want to be when we grow up?"
Do we want to be a city or a town? Do we want big buildings or small ones?
Do we want offices or residences downtown? These questions just scratched
(Florida visits Detroit Wednesday
and Thursday this week. Check out the schedule of events at http://www.createdetroit.com/home_Features.php.)
When someone unfamiliar with
Birmingham asks you about your home, how do you describe this place?
Letter to Buzz: More detail on the historic museum
Feb. 26, 2004
Although I can appreciate the comments made regarding the proposed Historic Park & Museum improvements, it should be noted that some of the facts regarding the cost and scope of the project were not represented. Please find below information regarding the museum's plans that outlines the historical roots of the plan, the cost and the vision behind expanding the museum as a cultural and civic resource.
The proposed project has been divided into two phases. Phase 1 represent all of the work that addresses the improvements of the Historic Park & Museum including plaza area between the Allen and Hunter Houses, new entry to the museum, landscaping surrounding the pond and creating more visible trailhead for the trails running along the Rouge River corridor. The projected cost is $315,000. It is anticipated that park bonds, already issued, will be used to pay for these improvements, which will greatly increase access and awareness to the Historic Park & Museum by making it much more visible and welcoming to neighborhood residents, pedestrians and motorists passing through the community. I believe that this will provide beautiful "western gateway" feature to downtown Birmingham.
The second phase, the Barn, is much more ambitious, but just as important for the long-term viability of the museum as a cultural and civic resource. The re-created barn would be multi-level structure built into the hill and would be used for expanded exhibition and public programming space, provide barrier-free accessible archives/historical records center, and collection storage. The use of the barn as banquet hall or rental facility was overstated by the consultant at the long-range planning meeting. The barn will not be used in this manner. Although the Allen House has not been rented out since December 1999, it still has been used to host events for community organizations including the Mill Pond Neighborhood Association. I think that this is and will continue to be more appropriate use of the new barn. The cost estimates for the construction of the barn is $626,000 with at least half to be raised through private donations, grants and other fundraisers using 50/50 matching funds against the park bond.
In addition, the Historical Board and the Birmingham Historical Society have been working very hard to address the ongoing operational cost of the museum. They are committed and activitily engaged in raising additiional funds for the Museum's Endowment and to raise capital funds for this proposed project.
This project both Phase 1 and 2 are an investiment in promoting and preserving the rich heritage of Birmingham and guranteeing that this institution will continue to be an asset by creating a physical link to our neighborhoods and parks, and by linking this community to its past, present and future, through the educational programs, exhibitions and events presented by the Museum. Your comments and questions are always welcomed. Thanks.
William K. McElhone
Comment: Planners need to be more pro-active
Feb. 26, 2004
One of the keys to successful development for any town is good communication among policymakers, city staff and private developers. For more than two years, Birmingham has suffered from bad -- or no -- communication among these groups.
It's time to set things right.
The Jacobson's development is a prime example. Where pro-active communication among city staff, members of the Planning Board and City Commission, and the developer could have resulted in a much better project in much less time, the lack of such communication has resulted in, well, something less than we all might like.
We're going to give most of those involved a pass for now on this project, because the development began before the last election, and the winds have clearly shifted. But it's time to start looking at this and all other projects facing the city pro-actively.
The responsibility for this is clear.
One the one hand, developers are not only expected -- but required -- to seek input from city staff and elected and appointed boards. But developers work on their own timetables, and look out for their own interests.
It is the city staff and elected and appointed boards, on the other hand, who are expected to look out for taxpayers' interests. And over the past two years, for various reasons, these folks haven't been doing the kind of job the overwhelming number of voters in the last election expect.
Most likely, they were all working under standards set by the anti-development commission and Planning Board. In other words, make life difficult for developers, obstruct as much as possible, and under absolutely no circumstances cooperate with people interested in improving their properties and/or investing in the city.
Well, a different message is being sent now, and it's time for city staff and boards to respond. The responsibilities are pretty clear: City planners Jana Ecker and Jim Sabo, City Manager Tom Markus, Planning Board Chairman Bruce Thal and others in responsible positions must begin taking a more pro-active role in developments in our town. That means they have to get out and begin talking to the owners of properties such as the old Jake's men's store, the old Shell and Sunoco gas stations, and the Flatiron-like building at Woodward and Bowers. These are just a few of the projects in the works and on which Birmingham residents expect input.
The old Antis didn't like former city planner Keith Edwards. They thought he was too cozy with developers because he actually left his office and visited local architects and developers who had projects on the board. This is precisely the kind of pro-active involvement we want and expect from staff and elected and appointed officials.
Comment: Design panel has its work cut out
Feb. 25, 2004
The Birmingham City Commission took a big step in the right direction Monday night when it agreed to move forward with appointment of an Architectural Review Committee to advise the city on public works projects.
The commission wisely eliminated, for the time being, any tasks for the panel that would have them review private development. That's best left to professionals on the city staff and appointed boards, and once our appointed boards can be repopulated with qualified members, existing review procedures should be sufficient.
But in the public arena, design input is sorely needed. One of the first projects this committee might tackle is the proposed improvement to the intersection of Woodward and S. Old Woodward.
Back when the last commission nixed the deal, and unceremoniously sent MDOT and its hundreds of thousands of dollars packing, the rather specious arguments against the project were that it would direct a significant amount of new traffic into nearby neighborhoods (not true) and that it ignored 2016 Plan recommendations that we consider a traffic circle for the site (just plain dumb).
Legitimate complaints could have been lodged that the project wasn't very pretty, and that it didn't contain any features that would help make the intersection more walkable.
Monday night's action directed city staff to return with a detailed resolution that would outline the composition and duties of the committee. We'd strongly recommend that one of the three proposed members be a landscape architect, and we wouldn't get too hung up on a requirement that the members be residents. Members who work in Birmingham or have some sort of stake here are good enough for us.
Once constituted, the committee could set to work on any number of projects, but the Woodward project is extremely visible and will be getting a lot of scrutiny. It would be a great place to start.
Letter to Buzz: Act boldly
Feb. 23, 2004
After years of wandering the desert it is shocking to enter the promised land. Nonetheless, we won the election soundly, and our commission and our Planning Board should now invite bold and exciting new development in our neighborhoods and downtown. They should seek now to convert the Jacobson's building and parking lot into a mini Mizner Center (Boca Raton, Florida) or an indoor Farmers Market (with lofts above), such as in Los Angeles on Fairfax and 3rd, or some other fun design.
Further, 30% lot coverage in R3 districts and 30-foot height restrictions on residential construction should be eliminated at the next meeting, period. They are ridiculous anachronisms from people whose anger and fear have been rejected by the voters.
Our original land developers, named Pierce, Baldwin and Willits, came here and acted boldly. We are still waiting for one of our new commissioners to take charge and lead our city.
City should act fast to insure best plan
Feb. 22, 2004
Here's just one of the not-so-small ironies of the dying (but unfortunately not dead yet) Anti movement in Birmingham: While they have repeatedly lamented the glut of unsold million-dollar condos downtown, and while they have repeatedly called for more affordable housing in our city, they sat idly by as the developers of the former Jacobson's men's store worked for months on a plan that would -- guess what? -- add at least a half dozen more million-dollar condos to the city's streetscape.
The Birmingham Planning Board, as could have been expected, did absolutely nothing to encourage more affordable units, and instead sat on its hands as developers worked in a vacuum on a plan that nobody with much sense thinks is very good. Then, with very little intelligent discussion, it did what it had no other choice in doing: It approved the plan.
The developer of the property, Burton-Katzman, stayed within the strict confines of its own property and existing city ordinances in planning its development. But common sense suggests that staying within those confines discouraged more affordable units and resulted in a plan that fails to respect its site and adjacent property.
The shape of the building -- essentially a 160-foot square -- and the need to provide windows within a residence, requires enormous (and thus expensive) residential units. Had planners worked more closely with the developer, a better building, and a better overall project, might have resulted.
It's not too late to get the project back on track, but it will be up to the developers, the City Commission, city staff and perhaps even voters to make things right. All are newly liberated from much of the anti-development leadership that hampered the project up until now. But they all need to work fast if we're to get anything better than a lamentable legacy of the Antis.
Astoundingly, the architects for Burton-Katzman, Hobbs & Black of Ann Arbor, reportedly met only once with city planners before submitting their drawings. And the drawings were done under an extremely conservative interpretation of the city zoning ordinance, which fails to consider sloped sites such as theirs.
A more comprehensive site plan is being presented to city officials by a group of concerned citizens. It would extend Bates St. around to N. Old Woodward, include a pocket park adjacent to the Rouge River ravine, connect the site to Booth Park, provide more building frontage on Willits, and allow more affordable housing in the Burton-Katzman project. But it might require the sale, lease or swap of land with the developer, and that would require a vote.
As the City Commission Monday night discusses the many changes made to city land use ordinances over the past two years -- many made without much thought or professional input, and intended to inhibit rather than encourage development -- it should bear in mind the specific short-term requirements to get this project back on track. As the city staff report illustrates, ordinance amendments were a way of almost daily life for the Anti crowd. It wouldn't hurt if the new commission made a few quick ordinance changes of its own to insure that we get a respectable development on Willits.
Commission to discuss architectural review panel
Feb. 22, 2004
The Birmingham City Commission Monday night will consider a Planning Division staff recommendation to appoint an Architectural Review Committee responsible for looking at all public projects and any private projects requiring design review by the Planning Board or the Historic District & Design Review Commission.
The proposal, which calls for a one-year trial, is to be discussed at the commission's meeting Monday night. Click here to read the staff report.
Also on the agenda Monday is a discussion of 21 changes to the city's land use ordinances over the past two years, most made under the leadership of ousted former Planning Board Chairman Gary Kulak. The discussion is to include a review of city policy for public hearings on such matters. Click here to read the staff report.
The meeting begins at 8 p.m. at City Hall and will be broadcast live on Comcast Cable Channel 15.
Comment: Museum upgrades must make sense
Feb. 20, 2004
Bill McElhone has his work cut out for him if he is going to convince the City Commission and Birmingham taxpayers to pony up close to $1 million for improvements to the city's Historical Museum.
We're all for making improvements to the museum, so long as they make sense, fiscal and otherwise. The private fundraising effort a few years back that turned the Allen House into a museum made a ton of sense. Grabbing for parks bond money to pay for a $600,000 barn for which their is no clear plan doesn't.
The Allen House was for many years a nice venue for weddings and other parties, but now that it has been converted to a museum, a very good business case would need to be made for putting it back into competition with local banquet facilities. And if there's any thought of funding it with bond money... well, we have a hard time seeing how a catering hall qualifies as a parks improvement.
Speaking of business cases, Bill McElhone, the museum's director, should be prepared to make a case for any sort of public funding of any improvements. With private donations, the museum would have much more freedom. But if McElhone and the city's Historical Board want taxpayer dough, they better be prepared to answer all sorts of questions about past and future use, income, expenses, neighborhood impact, and more.
More than a year ago, the city was informally offered the home on Vinewood St. that was declared historic by the city. (The owner wanted to tear it down to build a new home, but was willing to let the city haul it away instead.) Since it had already been moved once, moving it to the city's historical park didn't seem like too much of a stretch. The city declined the offer, and instead started what will no doubt be a losing battle with the property owner. Maybe the home is still available, and the city can save a cool $600,000, taking the appropriately historic home instead of the barn.
'Ozzie' debuts in new website
Feb. 20, 2004
A frequent and anonymous contributor to the Buzz forum known as Ozzie has apparently established a website for his wry commentary. Check out Ozzie's Recliner at www.ozziesrecliner.com. The domain is registered to a Paul Atrades. We tried to reach him at the phone numbers listed in the Whois directory of domain registrants, but the numbers don't appear to be his. He apparently used an email list provided by the BeLine to send out an announcement about the website.
Kulak loses bid for reinstatement
Feb. 13, 2004
Gary Kulak lost his bid in federal court for reinstatement to the Birmingham Planning Board.
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff denied a motion to reinstate Kulak to the planning board and ordered his attorney to show cause why the case should continue.
Zatkoff, in a 16-page ruling, said Kulak didnt have a substantial likelihood of winning the case and there was no other reason to put him back on the board.
The people of Birmingham freely elected the present City Commissioners to their positions in spite of (or because of) their expressed disapproval of Kulaks performance, said Zatkoff.
The case isnt entirely over, however.
Zatkoff gave Kulaks attorney one more chance to prove appointed officials have protected property rights. Such rights are typically afforded to paid employees working under contract but Kulaks attorney, Jon Kingsepp, said appointed officials should be granted the same protections from arbitrary dismissal.
Zatkoff gave Kingsepp until 5 p.m., Feb 23 to show in writing that he has a constitutionally protected property right. Currier will file countering arguments and both sides have 10 pages to make their case.
If Zatkoff rules Kingsepp failed to show cause that the case should continue, it will likely get dismissed.
The commission kicked Kulak off the planning board Jan. 26 after the city was inundated with complaints about his behavior.
Kulak subsequently sued the city and those who voted against him for $75,000 each under federal Civil Rights laws. Commissioners Julie Plotnik, Scott Moore, Tom McDaniel, Dianne McKeon, and Rackeline Hoff were sued while Mayor Donald Carney and Commissioner Gordon Thorsby werent named because they backed Kulak.
The judge considered four factors in denying Kulaks request for a temporary restraining order. The first was whether he had a substantial likelihood of winning the case. The second was whether Kulak was irreparably harmed. The third was whether a restraining order would cause substantial harm to others and the fourth was whether the public interest would be served by granting the request.
Kingsepp argued that Kulaks right to due process under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was denied in Jan. 26 sham hearing that had a predetermined political outcome.
He said the decision to remove his client was politically motivated because four Birmingham City Commissioners openly campaigned to get rid of him during the November city election.
At the Feb. 9 hearing, Zatkoff asked Kingsepp what was illegal about duly elected officials fulfilling a campaign promise.
The commissioners ran saying they would remove Kulak and they won the election, said Zatkoff. What does that tell us?
The question was a telling moment at the hearing because Kingsepp didnt argue the commissions legal right to remove Kulak, he merely said the correct process wasnt followed. He said the commission reduced the standard of removal from for cause to an arbitrary one.
Birmingham City Attorney Tim Currier said the new standard defined cause as a vote of the commission but didnt eliminate the standard altogether.
Kingsepp also said the commissioners violated the state's Home Rule Act, which he said requires appointees to be removed for cause.
Zatkoff ruled that the commission not only established cause but also gave Kulak a chance to defend himself at a hearing so there was no denial of due process. With Currier prevailing on all counts so far, the only matter that remains is whether appointed officials have a protected property right.
The judge said Kingsepp failed to prove the point so far and Zatkoff even cited a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that said: In short, generally speaking, the nature of the relation of a public officer to the public is inconsistent with either property or contract right.
Zatkoff basically told Kingsepp to find case law that refutes the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court and gave him 10 days to do it.
Feb. 13, 2004
We got a kick out of the Free Press report today on l'affaire Kulak.
"Ousted Birmingham volunteer may get another day in court: Judge to study whether Kulak's rights violated," said the headline atop Laura Potts' hopelessly hopeful account of the ruling.
No wonder the BeLine has fallen silent. With the Freep carrying the Kulak torch, who needs the unprofessional rants of Paul Reagan and Ralph Seger?
Anyone who has read Judge Lawrence Zatkoff's decision can see that he has effectively slammed the door shut on Kulak's case.
The only thing left for him to do is twist the deadbolt, and he's made it clear he'll do that in short order, just as soon as Kulak's attorney fails to meet the judge's challenge to come up with case law that contradicts the U.S. Supreme Court.
We've heard that Kulak's lawyer, Jon Kingsepp, came into this case with a fairly good reputation for representing area municipalities. We can only wonder Why he took such a hopeless case, filed it against just such a municipality, and argued it with so little deftness.
Feb. 13, 2004
Small upscale restaurants could flourish in Birmingham if only there were more liquor licenses to go around. And there is a way to make it happen without destroying the ambience of the city, said John Carlin, one of the states leading authorities on liquor licensing.
The city could set a 100-seat limit on restaurants that want to transfer a license in to the city, said Carlin. Then the Elies of the word could get licenses. These types of arrangements are often successful in small towns like Birmingham.
Elie Mondalek, the owner of
Elie's Mediterranean Cuisine, 263 Pierce, was turned down when he tried
to transfer a Class C liquor license into Birmingham. Hes been trying
to get a license for 11 years but the citys quota of 17 licenses
is used up. Current license holders dont want to water down the
value of their prized possessions by allowing transfers and have lobbied
against changes in local ordinances.
Under state law, liquor licenses are issued based on population and Birmingham has no licenses left.
But state law changed a few years ago and now allows a business owner to transfer a license from another town as long as it is in the same county.
Ted Fuller, owner of Central Park Properties, said its time for the city to take action.
All we are getting is big box restaurants, said Fuller. Were getting the national chains when we should be getting unique, fine dining. This town doesnt need another Blue Martini, it deserves better than that.
Fuller said city officials have for years protected an exclusive club of license owners that continue to thrive because smaller competitors dont have a fair chance. He points out that the state law change eliminates the need to go for resort licenses, which require multi-million dollar investments in the business.
The only thing standing in the way of Birmingham being able to offer more licenses is reluctance on the part of Birmingham officials, he said.
Theyve got to do something, said Fuller. Or the whole city is going to suffer the consequences.
Fuller said Birmingham is successful because it offers a distinctly different experience from other cities. And that quality will erode as more chain operations come in because only they can afford liquor licenses.
Bruce Gershenson, a developer trying to bring a large restaurant to the old Jacobsons mens store, said the city would miss out on prestigious clients unless more licenses are available.
Im looking at a six-month window of opportunity, said Gershenson. There are people interested in coming to Birmingham but they have to know if theyll have a chance of getting a license.
Birmingham City Attorney Tim Currier has been asked to find a way to offer a limited number of new licenses to be transferred into town. He said it wouldnt be easy.
We could, perhaps, establish a new limit or a time frame for new applications, said Currier, at a city meeting in January.
Carlin, an attorney who handles most liquor license cases in the state, wrote a sample ordinance for the city of Birmingham some five years ago but it wasnt acted upon. Birmingham officials have up to now been reluctant to allow transfers because the border community of Royal Oak did so with troubling results.
More than dozen new bars and restaurants opened quickly in Royal Oak and problems soon followed. Underage drinking, public urination and rowdy behavior all became a factor as Royal Oak developed a seedy reputation.
The current commission wants to avoid a similar fate for Birmingham but still offer licenses for places like Salvatore Scallopini and a proposed Hilton Hotel for the corner of Maple and Woodward Avenue.
Curriers report is due in early March.
Comment: Let's hope Kulak day in court is the last
Feb. 5, 2004
The Gary Kulak saga may finally come to an end Monday after he gets his day in court.
Kulak, booted from the Birmingham Planning Board last week, is to appear at 2:30 p.m. Monday at the federal courthouse in Detroit before U.S. District Judge Lawrence Zatkoff, seeking a restraining order that would reinstate him.
Let's hope Zatkoff takes the opportunity to dismiss the case, send Kulak packing once again, and let the City of Birmingham move on.
Kulak was removed from the board Jan. 26 after a disciplinary hearing before the City Commission. Kulaks attorney, Jon Kingsepp, said Kulak was railroaded by commissioners following through on a campaign promise.
Kingsepp said pro-development forces filed a stack of politically motivated complaints against Kulak. He did not apologize for Kulaks long history of bad behavior, which a majority of commissioners cited in dismissing Kulak by a 5-2 vote. He also failed to stress Kulak's best defense, that he was just doing his job.
Grandstanding, Kingsepp vowed to sue the city the next day, but it didnt happen. Lawsuits were served on the commissioners who voted against Kulak five days after the hearing.
Named in Kulaks suit are commissioners Dianne McKeon, Tom McDaniel, Scott Moore, Julie Plotnik and Rackeline Hoff. The City of Birmingham is also named. Not on Kulaks hit list are Mayor Donald Carney and City Commissioner Gordon Thorsby, both of whom backed Kulak at the hearing. Kulak wants his spot on the board back and $75,000 from each party.
Thorsby, by the way, showed his allegiance to Kulak -- not the city -- when he suggested on the record after the disciplinary hearing that commissioners turn over their personal notes to the City Clerk for possible use in the anticipated lawsuit.
Kingsepp is expected to argue that Kulaks constitutional right to a fair and impartial hearing were violated by the commission, which instead conducted a sham hearing with a predetermined outcome. Kingsepp wants access to the personal computers of commissioners to see if they conspired against Kulak, which could be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Tim Currier, Birmingham city attorney, has said for months that the commission has the inherent right to remove its appointees.
In a move of questionable ethicality, Kulak supporter Ralph Seger has established a legal defense fund for Kulak. Seger is chairman of the city's Barnum Study Committee and sits on the city's General Investment Committee. Aside from the ethical questions related to a city official's support for someone suing the city, shouldn't it be called a legal OFFENSE fund?
Cranbrook hosts design symposium
Feb. 2, 2004
An invitation from Cranbrook:
Forbidden Futures: Polemic Design and the Public Imagination
Saturday, February 7, 2004,
This is one in a series of symposia and exhibitions entitled "The Design Engine" presented by College for Creative Studies, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Lawrence Technological Institute, Marygrove College and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Anthony Dunne of Dunne & Raby, designers and authors of "Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects."
Joep van Lieshout, designer/artist and founder of the controversial Dutch collective Atelier van Lieshout.
Andrew Blauvelt, Design Curator of the Walker Art Center.
Scott Klinker, Head 3D Design, Designer -in- Residence, Cranbrook Academy of Art
The series examines the relationship between design and commerce, technology, and social values, while posing questions about the power of the design industry. These diverse events highlight southeastern Michigan's substantial influence on modern design and introduce emerging ideas and imagined futures from distinguished regional and international practitioners and thinkers.
Design serves as one of the few public forums for discussing our collective technological future. While design is clearly understood as a commercial tool, a number of visionaries have used design methods to challenge the dominant values of our technological consumer culture. Through their polemic designs, the hidden assumptions of our society are revealed for critical reflection. In this symposium, selected designers and thinkers will discuss Design's potential to divert the public imagination toward envisioning alternative futures.
For more info call (248) 645-3323.
This event is free to ArtMembers@Cranbrook
or with museum paid admission: $6 adults; $4 full-time students with ID;
$4 senior citzens +65.
liquor licensing highlight big agenda
Jan. 21, 2004
Discussions of land-use planning, recent zoning amendments, the Downtown Birmingham 2016 Plan and liquor licensing are to highlight an all-day meeting of the City Commission Saturday.
The public is invited to participate in the annual long-range planning meeting, which will feature a series of reports from city staff and an opportunity for discussion and comment by commissioners and the public.
The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. at Barnum School with a tour of the facility, and will continue into the afternoon.
The agenda and a 446-page package of information prepared for the meeting has been posted on the city's website.
Click here to download just the agenda.
Click here to download the entire package. (We recommend right-clicking the link and saving the file to your computer.)
Buzzzzzzz sleeps, suggests alternate info sources
Dec. 17, 2003
While the Buzz hibernates for the holidays, we suggest you keep up on things by consulting the following sources of information:
The Birmingham Eccentric. It pubishes every Sunday and Thursday, and its new website is user-friendly and contains back issues. Have a story you want covered? Send an email to Birmingham reporter Larry Ruehlen.
Our lively discussion forum, where anyone is free to say almost anything, and reports and comment often appear about happenings around town.
The City of Birmingham website can bring you up-to-date on meetings of the commission and other boards, with agendas and minutes. Missed the televised political suicide of Gary Kulak? Read about it in the minutes of the meeting.
Kulak fails in bid to regain Planning Board chair
Dec. 11, 2003
Planning Board Member Seethes As Crowd Watches Support Evaporate.
Former Allies Dilgard, Holland Distance Themselves, Join Blaesing To Support Thal.
Neuhard Nominates Pariah, Then Abstains On Thal Vote After Kulak Withdraws.
Thal Steps Down Temporarily, Is Named Interim Chair, Then Regains Top Spot As Political Power Play Fails.
Previous Claims That Personal Reasons Motivated Self-Demotion Ring False As Kulak Accuses Commissioners of Reneging On Deal.
Staffers Ecker, Sabo Respond To Kulak Belligerence With Threat To Walk Out, Credit Manager Markus With New Zero-Tolerance Policy Toward Ex-Chair.
Defeated In All Votes, Kulak Packs Up and Leaves Early; Remaining Participants Carry On; No Beats Missed.
Replays of Astonishing Action Scheduled On Channel 15 for 6 p.m. Tonight; 9 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. Saturday/Sunday; Noon the 18th; 6 p.m the 29th.
Bulletin: Stop Kulak's reinstatement as PB chair
Dec. 10, 2003
Gary Kulak wants the chairmanship of the Planning Board back, and he intends to raise the issue at tonight's Planning Board meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Kulak should NOT be reinstated as chair, and you can influence the decision by showing up at the BEGINNING of the meeting and voicing your opinion. Kulak is expected to raise the issue early in the meeting.
Kulak -- who is under fire for his obnoxious behavior toward petitioners, city staff, fellow board members and others -- resigned the chairmanship Nov. 12. He told the board and others that his resignation was for personal reasons.
Now, he is changing his story. He now says he wants the chairmanship back because he resigned to appease city commissioners seeking his removal from the board. When his self-imposed demotion failed to appease the commissioners, he decided to seek reinstatement.
Don't let it happen. Kulak may have the votes to put himself back in the driver's seat. Show up at City Hall tonight and be heard!
court reinstates homeowner's challenge
Dec. 10, 2003
A Michigan appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit challenging the city's designation as historic of a home at 543 Vinewood St.
The case was thrown out of court last April by an Oakland County Circuit judge, who told the homeowner that he must exhaust other remedies. The appeals court disagreed.
"We're back in the game," said Timothy Stoepker, attorney for the homeowner.
Last year, city officials were advised to pay $500,000 in damages by a panel of Oakland County Circuit Court mediators, but the city decided to take its chances in court. The April decision was a victory.
That victory was rendered hollow
by the appeals court decision. The city now faces a possible judgment
in excess of $1 million.
The crumpled draft of the bEline's first rant in two years, above, was found beside the curb outside the Whistle Stop restaurant on S. Eton recently. Click for enlarged image.
April 1, 2004
The bEline is back in business, and the Buzz has obtained what appears to be a draft of the webzine's first tract in more than two years. In a single-spaced typewritten rant that fills two pages, the anonymous author makes specious legal arguments against the indictment of former Planning Board Chairman Gary Kulak and threatens city commissioners with lawsuits if they proceed with Kulak's ouster. No one has yet claimed credit for the manifesto.
The nativity scene is Shain Park is made of molded plastic and is lit from inside. If baby Jesus was ever a part of it, he was missing on Saturday.
Comment: We hate to say we told you so, but...
Dec. 1, 2003
This is what you get when you approve something sight-unseen. We coulda and shoulda done better. Maybe next year...
Commission sets hearing on Kulak complaints
Nov. 26, 2003
Gary Kulak, the combative and embattled Planning Board member who resigned his chairmanship but declined to resign from the board two weeks ago, will face a hearing Jan. 12 before the City Commission that could result in his removal from office.
The commission Monday night demanded a response from Kulak to a series of complaints filed by property owners, city staff and fellow advisory board members.
The complaints, obtained by the Buzz under the Freedom of Information Act, indicate that city staffers, property owners, at least one fellow Planning Board member and at least one member of the Board of Zoning Appeals are "exasperated," as one put it, with Kulak over his conduct on the board.
Kulak is "out of control; he seems to have un-vented anger that's boiling beneath the surface that at any moment could erupt," according to a fellow Planning Board member who said in September he was "totally exasperated" and didn't know "if I can keep it up much longer."
"No matter how simple the project or how easy it would be to adopt something, [Kulak] seems to find a way to make it a controversial issue and one which just aggravates everybody," the board member said in a message to City Manager Tom Markus.
Said a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals in September: "Shoot me now -- this guy is a running sore." Recounting his reaction to a board meeting televised in late September, the BZA member told Markus that Kulak "was bullying everyone in the place to keep from coming back to the Board of Zoning Appeals. This is completely improper."
"This guy is being tolerated by the City Commission, and I don't know what recourse the city employees and/or the petitioners have to this really intolerable conduct," said the BZA member.
"Chairman Kulak's behavior at Planning Board meetings does not meet the high standards of integity and professionalism required of Planning Board members by the Planning Board's Code of Ethics," said City Planner Jana Ecker in a Sept. 25 memo to Markus.
"Not only does this type of conduct compromise public respect fo the planning process in Birmingham, it also creates a hostile work environment for employees of the Planning Division," Ecker said. "I believe it is necessary to draw your attention to this matter to avoid the loss of further qualified and competent employees."
Complaints filed with the city about Kulak go back to at least the spring of 2002.
In an April 2002 letter to Markus, Louis C. Dortch Jr., president of Qdoba Mexican Grill, called Kulak a "jackass," and said, "I have attended dozens of planning, zoning and other types of municipal meetings over the years and have never been treated with such contempt and antagonism. Mr. Kulak seems to enjoy using his position to deride people seeking approval for their given project. His treatment of the local businessman or resident is only outdone by his deplorable abuse of the City of Birmingham staff."
In September 2002, former Commissioner Chuck Moss wrote to the commission, alleging that Kulak threatened him at a commission meeting on April 15, 2002. He urged the commission not to tolerate "Kulak's erratically abusive public behavior and improper threats."
Kulak will be able to choose whether or not the hearing is public. The commission voted 5-2 in favor of keeping the matter before them; Commissioner Rackeline Hoff proposed sending the matter to the city's Board of Ethics, and Mayor Don Carney agreed. Both voted against holding the Jan. 12 hearing.
The matter could still be brought before the Ethics Board by an individual, however. It's hearings and findings are by law public.
We can do better than pot luck
Nov. 26, 2003
The City Commission Monday night approved the placement of a nativity scene in Shain Park for the holiday season.
We've got nothing against nativity scenes, and we think a tasteful one would be a reasonable addition to the menorah that will be displayed in the park for a second time this year.
Problem is, no one is sure the nativity scene will be tasteful. The permit to place it was submitted by a Royal Oak fertilizer salesman, who said he purchased it at Bronner's. He didn't have a picture, and the commission apparently wasn't willing to delay his application until a picture was available.
Commissioner Gordon Thorsby argued that the group placing the menorah wasn't required to offer a photo.
We don't think two wrongs make a right. Birmingham's leaders, from commissioners on down to city staff, need to get a grip on the aesthetics of the projects they deal with. (We've started a drumbeat on this issue, and we don't intend to stop until we see some aesthetic sense given to public projects in our town.)
Frankly, we should have seen this coming. While the city itself is prohibited from getting involved in the placement of religious symbols during the holiday season, somebody probably should have taken it upon themselves to recruit Birmingham-based religious organizations to put together holiday displays that would be sure to make us all proud.
That's not to say we won't get something tasteful out of the Royal Oak fertilizer salesman this year. But it's pot luck, as far as we can tell.
Maybe next year, we can think ahead far enough to do it ourselves the right way, and eliminate the guesswork.
City seeks applicants for advisory boards
Nov. 26, 2003
The City of Birmingham is seeking qualified applicants for the following positions, to be filled at its Dec. 15 meeting:
* Parks & Recreation Board. One member is sought for a three-year term. The board meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m.
* Board of Review. Two members are sought for three-year terms. The board considers property tax appeals. Two training sessions occur in February, and the board hears appeals over three weeks in March. It also meets for one day in each of July and December. Board members are paid $110 per day for their service.
* Canvassing Board. Two members -- one Democrat and one Republican -- are sought for four-year terms. Members certify results of city elections.
Applications are due Dec. 10. Click here for an application form that you can fill out on your computer.
Ethics Board sets rules, files first opinions
Nov. 26, 2003
The newly established Birmingham Board of Ethics has met four times, adopted a mission statement, formulated rules of procedure and issued three opinions since it was constituted late last summer.
Buzz merits Page One story in Detroit News
Nov. 19, 2003
The Birmingham Buzz was featured on the front page of the Detroit News today.
"In Metro Detroit, community Web pages, online forums and message boards are changing the way candidates campaign and activists crusade, and slowly shifting the balance of power between citizens and government," the News reported.
To read all about it, click here.
Comment: Who is 'we?'
Nov. 21, 2003
Friendly critics of the Buzz have been making the same sort of presumption about our readers lately.
We have been reminded repeatedly, for example, that we need to be careful about what we say. We don't want to give the impression, we've been told, that we are gloating, or that we are going to be just like "them," or that we are going to steamroll anyone. We need to be thoughtful, reasonable and deliberate. We don't want to cross any lines because, after all, we are all seen as one -- the Buzz and the new commissioners -- because we all supported one another in the last election, and our readers are too casual or too uninvolved to know the difference.
With all due respect, we disagree.
We think our readers are smart enough to know the difference between a commissioner or a group of commissioners and a website and email newsletter that happened to have endorsed them in the last election, and that happens to agree with them on many issues.
Who are "we?" We is, for the most part, me -- Clinton Baller, editor of the Buzz. I am fond of using the editorial we, which is defined by the American Heritage dictionary as "the first-person plural pronoun used by an editorialist in expressing the opinion or point of view of a publication's management."
Often, "we" means me and my cohorts, Christopher Longe and Shelli Weisberg, with whom I often discusses editorial positions before committing them to computer. We usually agree, but not always.
"We" does NOT include -- emphatically -- the commissioners we supported in the election. Their say in what we say is roughly equivalent to our vote at the commission table, which is to say nonexistent. (In fact, we have occasionally irked one or more of our commissioners by sounding off in a manner they deem inappropriate.)
Of course, commissioner letters are as welcome as any -- perhaps more so -- and we fully expect to be given the courtesy of an ear when we have something to contribute to a debate. Bottom line: We on the Buzz are fierce about our independence, and we hope all of our commissioners are likewise.
We reject the suggestion that we should somehow muzzle ourselves, and now that "we've" won, let those we elected do their jobs. (Wouldn't all elected officials like to be so lucky!) Our new commissioners and those who supported them need to get used being on the inside of the fishbowl for a change. Open debate, comment and criticism are good things, no matter who is in power.
The Buzz is nothing more or less than it has ever been -- a voice on the local political scene advocating openness, intelligence and reason. If those in power happen to agree with us, great. If not, we can only hope that they at least remain open, intelligent and reasonable.
toward positive change openly, intelligently and deliberately -- but without
On the most divisive and decisive issue of the election -- development -- two proposals from the Planning Board will be brought before the commission. Both are proposed changes to our zoning ordinances. One deals with rooftop screening of mechanical equipment on commercial buildings downtown. The other deals with so-called "accessory structures" -- garages, for the most part -- in our neighborhoods.
Both of these proposals appear to be motivated by the anti-development policies of the last commission, and should be rejected. But they raise important issues, and the new commission should seize the opportunity to begin delving into the broader questions they face over development in our city.
Our last two commissions tended to deal with questions like these -- if they dealt with them at all -- in a relatively closed a manner. Public hearings on important changes to zoning ordinances were held before the Planning Board, rather than the commission, even though attendence and public comment at Planning Board meetings is sparse. Important changes to the laws that enacted the 2016 Plan were made without the intense public input that accompanied development of the plan in the first place. And no significant action was taken on our one-size-fits-all residential zoning ordinance, which has been widely criticized as inadequate by people on all sides of the development debate.
Our new commission has an opportunity to approach these issues openly and intelligently, and it should begin doing so immediately. The process should be deliberate, but it need not be prolonged -- and it should not be delayed. The commission and the public need to know definitively where we are and how we got here, and then work together to get us back on track.
For our downtown, early restoration of the ordinance that enacted the 2016 Plan might be a reasonable interim measure. But consideration should certainly be given to the original ordinance language suggested by Andres Duany. His language was changed significantly, and confusion, ambiguity (and the Paladium!) resulted.
In our neighborhoods, the one-size-fits-all zoning ordinance is seriously flawed, and has done little to preserve or enhance the character of any of our residential districts. We support study of an ordinance detailed enough to apply standards to each of our unique neighborhoods -- something that even our former political opponents have supported.
The commission should move quickly to take back responsibility for holding public hearings on important ordinance amendments. And it should begin formulating an ordinance to create a panel of resident design experts to provide input to city staff on the aesthetics of public projects and the impact of any further changes to our zoning ordinances.
We owe it to property owners throughout our city to settle quickly on a set of rules that everyone can live with, and adopt a spirit of cooperation with those who want to make improvements to their property. For too long, the rules have been a moving target, and the spirit has been one of obstructionism.
The owners of the former Jacobson's mens store on N. Old Woodward, for just one glaring example, deserve quick resolution of the development questions before us. For more than a year, they have been sitting on a piece of property worth nearly $5 million. The carrying costs are high. They recently submitted a design that fits within the strict confines of their property and our zoning ordinance, but it ignores its surroundings. The window of opportunity to do something extraordinary with an extraordinary site is closing quickly. Many other property owners face similarly narrow windows of opportunity.
For all of Birmingham, the opportunity for positive change is here. As we watch them deliberate on development and other questions, we hope and expect our new commissioners to make intelligence, openness and a spirit of cooperation the hallmarks of their service.
Kulak's self-demotion isn't enough;
Nov. 13, 2003
Gary Kulak resigned as chairman of the Planning Board Wednesday night, but for us and many in town, that wasn't enough.
He was replaced as chairman by longtime member Bruce Thal, who now has an opportunity to lead the Planning Board through a difficult period of adjustment to the new commission's attitudes toward development.
We think Kulak's self demotion was a less than half-hearted nod to his new bosses and the property owners and city staffers he has repeatedly offended over the past several years.
Sufficient cause exists for Kulak's removal, and we think the commission should move with haste toward that goal.
While they're at it, they should take the advice of one prominent Birmingham civic leader, who says a "night of terror" would be the best route if there is any sense that a house-cleaning is in order.
Such a move would get the dirty work out of the way quickly and assure those who remain afterward that their jobs are secure. Once the dust from such a move settled, there would be little further uproar, and we could all move on with the business at hand.
Those who should be considered for removal include James Neuhard and George Dilgard from the Planning Board, both die-hard Lanzetta/Kulak cronies who have contributed repeatedly to obstructionism by the board. On the HDDRC, they should look at cronies Bill Dow, Jeff Sadowski and others, who likewise represent the most radical of the "Anti" sentiment.
The terms of some of these people -- and others whom the commission might consider sacking -- may be up within a year or so, and so the public humiliation of a firing might not be necessary.
Perhaps some of them should take a lesson from Tom Elliott, another Lanzetta crony who would have been on our hit list if he hadn't wisely resigned from the Parks Board this week.
Voters were very clear in their rebuke of Lanzetta and the policies of his followers. The new commission shouldn't get too hung up, as they did in appointing Don Carney mayor, on appearing conciliatory or vindictive. What they need to do is heed the overwhelming will of the people, who voted nearly 2-to-1 in favor of them, and against the policies of the Antis.
City seeks applicants for 4 advisory boards
Nov. 12, 2003
The City of Birmingham is seeking
applicants for the Parks & Recreation Board, Principal Shopping District
board, the Historical Board and the General
The PSD, Historical Board and investment committee appointments will be made Nov. 24. Applications must be received at City Hall by noon on Nov. 19.
The Parks Board appointment has not been scheduled, but an opening exists owing to the resignation Monday of member Tom Elliott.
Click here for an application form.
Click here to see the city's official notices on the openings, along with lists of current board members.
We'll keep you posted on openings on the Planning Board.
Carney elected mayor; dog park is approved
Nov. 11, 2003
The new Birmingham City Commission elected Don Carney mayor Monday night, then went on to approve the installation of a new dog park at Springdale Golf Course.
Carney's election came after a weekend of intense lobbying and hand-wringing by commissioners and political activists. He was elected by a majority of the commission that included himself and political ally Gordon Thorsby, along with commissioners Dianne McKeon and Rackeline Hoff.
The future of Carney, who was mayor pro tem going into the election and Monday night's meeting, was placed in doubt by the landslide election of four of Carney's political opponents on Tuesday. Traditionally in Birmingham, the mayor pro tem ascends as the position of mayor is rotated annually.
But at Monday night's meeting, after Thorsby nominated Carney, newly seated Commissioner Tom McDaniel nominated Commissioner Rackeline Hoff.
Since Carney was nominated first, a vote was called on his nomination. The four votes were cast, sealing Carney's fate.
Hoff, citing tradition, said she voted for Carney "because I thought it was the appropriate thing to do, the fairest thing to do." While she "of course" would have like to have been elected mayor, she said, "My time will come."
McKeon said she was most interested in avoiding "the appearance of vindictiveness."
The evening was marked by complimentary speeches by and about outgoing commissioners Russell Dixon and Seth Chafetz, both of whom attended, and about outgoing Commissioner Dante Lanzetta, who did not attend, reportedly for personal reasons.
Ironically, Lanzetta's chief opponent in the election race, Tom McDaniel, gave a short speech commending Lanzetta for 18 years of public service.
Commissioner Scott Moore emotionally thanked his friend and outgoing Commissioner Russell Dixon, urging him to return to public service as soon as possible.
The dog park, a fenced area about the size of a football field, was approved after a presentation by city staff and a citizens group that championed the park. The park is located in Bloomfield Township on land owned by the City of Birmingham.
The full report presented to the commission can be seen by clicking here. The commission approved the permanent installation of the park after McDaniel questioned the need for language indicating that the park should be installed on a trial basis. The park will be reviewed in about a year.
In other news Monday, Tom Elliott resigned from the Parks & Recreation Board. Elliott, a close ally of Lanzetta's, worked on Lanzetta's campaign.
"Recent events have made it clear that I can no longer be effective in pursuing the goals of the Parks and Recreation Board and the Master Parks Plans," Elliott said in his resignation letter.
Ironically, several of the newly elected commissioners campaigned on a platform that called for renewed vigor in implementing the Master Parks Plan, and on Monday all of them voted to approve the dog park.
Elliott had been criticized for the large volume of complaints he has filed with the city about building sites. He is frequently seen driving around the city taking pictures, and claimed he was bird-watching last winter after political opponent Shelli Weisberg complained to police that Elliott was following her around her neighborhood taking pictures of her and her home.
Comment: Priorities for our new commission
Nov. 10, 2003
To us, that means a plan.
Here's our suggested list of priorities.
1. Appoint a town architect, designer or design panel.
Andres Duany made this suggestion in the 2016 Plan, and it was a good one -- good enough that it tops our list of priorities. The vast majority of issues that face our city, and five of our seven top priorities, involve matters of design.
"There are aspects to the physical design of buildings and signage that may not receive the benefit of an eye worthy of a city that considers itself the artistic capital of the region," Duany said in one of his characteristic 2016 Plan understatements.
Our city is pitifully short of qualified design professionals among elected, appointed and paid city officials. Some projects receive absolutely no aesthetic consideration. The recently approved skate park, for example, was a prime candidate for aesthetic scrutiny, but received none. Other examples include bridges, streets and sidewalks. We face numerous other major public projects as well, including Booth Park, Shain Park and Barnum. If you're looking for evidence of the absence of aesthetic sense inside City Hall, look no further than the plaza outside City Hall, where a temporary PVC-pipe sculpture has greeted visitors for more than a year.
Birmingham is home to numerous qualified architects and designers. Christopher Longe, Ron Rea, Victor Saroki and Michael Willoughby are just of few of the qualified professionals who ought to be considered for this role.
2. Bring back the 2016 Plan.
The 2016 Plan contained a suggested ordinance that would have made the plan's recommendations law. That ordinance was never passed. Instead, a substitute ordinance, mucked up by city staff and officials, became law. The substitute created confusion and ambiguity, and it led, in part, to the lawsuit that resulted in the settlement that allowed the Palladium. Since then, the ordinance has been further changed. Allowable building heights have been reduced to the point that it is virtually impossible to build a marketable building under the plan.
We need to go back to the original ordinance contained in the 2016 Plan. We need to stop trying to dictate what goes inside a building, and instead focus on the intent of the Plan, which was to influence the architecture.
3. Review the residential zoning ordinance.
Our one-size-fits-all residential zoning ordinance doesn't work. The height provision (30 feet to the peak) has resulted in flat or only slightly pitched roofs on new homes that appear to be built in holes.
Our new commission should immediately restore the traditional height limitation that has served Birmingham's neighborhoods well for decades. That limit was 30 feet to the midpoint between the peak and the eaves. They should then review the nuanced recommendations presented more than three years ago by our Planning Board, which recognized and accommodated the variety of lots sizes and neighborhoods in our town.
Our new commissioners can and should do a better job of preserving and enhancing our neighborhoods than their predecessors did.
4. Develop a comprehensive plan for the tract of land that includes N. Old Woodward between Willits and Harmon; the old Jacobson's store on N. Old Woodward; the parking structure; the surface parking lot between the store and First Baptist Church; Booth Park; the Rouge River, and the Rouge River Trail.
Consideration of any one of these components independent of the others would be foolish, especially when so much of the land is available for redevelopment. But that is exactly what is happening. The city has presented a plan for turning the street into a boulevard. It has been working on a separate plan for Booth Park for several years now. And the new owners of the Jacobson's site have presented a preliminary plan to the city for their property. Reasonable development might result from this mish-mash of efforts, but do we want to take the chance that it doesn't? And wouldn't we want to explore the possibilities of a more comprehensive effort?
Our new commission has a golden opportunity to make something extraordinary happen here. It should be a top priority.
5. Settle the sewer question.
Every day, another sewer lateral fails, and another homeowner is faced with a huge repair project. The commission needs to decide the extent of the city's liability, and then close the book on this issue once and for all.
6. Revise the ethics ordinance.
Abolish the ethics board (the commission is perfectly capable of handling ethics complaints), and eliminate the financial disclosure requirements, which threaten to turn good people away from public service. Adopt a simple statement of ethics.
7. Get control of the Barnum project.
We voted to spend money on parks and recreation, not housing developments. If housing, senior or otherwise, is desirable, then part of the property should be sold to private developers. The City of Birmingham isn't in a position to develop or administer a housing project. The usefulness of the existing structure, and the appropriateness of a recreational facility at the site, aside from the open park space, shouldn't be so difficult to determine. In any case, whatever we do should not be a burden on taxpayers.
This is the sort of agenda that would indicate that our new commission has vision, and is capable of leadership.
Let's get down to work.
Buzz suspends publication of Eccentric items
Nov. 7, 2003
The Birmingham Buzz has suspended regular publication of news items from the Birmingham Eccentric. The recent reformatting of the Eccentric website makes it easier than ever to keep up to date on Eccentric reporting and read back issues.
The Eccentric is published each Sunday and Thursday.
The Buzz website and email newsletters will contain regular links to the Eccentric home page. And we may occasionally publish particularly noteworthy items. We hope this poses no inconvenience to our readers, and urge you to explore and bookmark the well-designed and easy-to-navigate Eccentric site.
Comment: Bring reason to mayoral appointment; elect and keep a mature and experienced leader
Nov. 7, 2003
We haven't been impressed the last few years with the city's custom of rotating the position of mayor among sitting commissioners. It seems to result in mediocrity.
In a town so devoid of effective leadership, we think now more than ever we need a strong leader as mayor. Too often lately, we've settled for neophytes to the worlds of politics, business and city administration.
Let's look at our last three mayors, for example. Most recently Seth Chafetz had the helm. As much as Chafetz meant well, and as cordial as he was to those who appeared before him, he wasn't a leader. He knew skating (he is a professional skating coach), not politics, or business, or city administration. He had little influence over the agenda at meetings, which he allowed to continue sometimes ad nauseum. (Some meetings didn't end until well after midnight.) We also thought he was more often the subject or victim of behind-the-scenes politics than the instigator. And he did little to communicate with the public at large.
Before Chafetz, Dianne McKeon was at the helm. Again, as much as we like McKeon (and we supported her successful re-election to the commission), she wasn't a strong leader, and her shortcomings were similar to Chafetz's. The same goes for Russell Dixon, who preceded McKeon. Intelligent and thoughtful, Dixon simply wasn't assertive enough to be considered a strong or effective leader.
Our City Commission needs someone who is experienced in politics, business and city administration. We need someone who will influence the agenda, work behind the scenes to make things happen, communicate effectively with the public, and run the meetings efficiently.
If we find someone like that, we ought to be willing to stick with him or her for as long as practical, and not be constrained by the custom of rotating the position every year, no matter what. If we get it right, in other words, and it ain't broke, why fix it?
When our new commission sits down Monday night to elect a new mayor, we hope they choose either Rackeline Hoff or Scott Moore. Both have been around the worlds of politics, business and city administration long enough to bring mature, effective leadership to the role of mayor.
Comment: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Nov. 6, 2003
We are so proud! We are so gratified!
Let's listen to some of you, without whom this wouldn't have been possible (send your comments to email@example.com):
"Free at last. Free at last."
"Good work, We threw the rascals out!!!"
"Thanks to all of you at the Buzz for gathering citizens together... Now we can move forward continuing with the great vision of the great citizens of Birmingham."
"[My wife] and I are in one of our favorite places, Seaside, Florida. Birmingham is a great city, but places like Andres Duany's Seaside and neighboring WaterColor and Rosemary Beach, Fla., show how much potential lies ahead for our home town. I encourage everyone to visit these wonderful examples of new urbanism integrity... Thanks for your outstanding effort and determination in creating and maintaining the Buzz lifeline. Your diligence -- and that of your associates -- is the Number One reason our town can look forward with renewed optimism. Many, many thanks for your outstanding service to our community."
"Dear Gang members: We are thrilled with the election results and all of your efforts in helping to make it happen! You all do good work!"
"Congratulations to the new commissioners and to the City of Birmingham for a well deserved victory! It's about time our city got back on track!"
"[The Buzz] and all of the candidates deserve great praise. It is a pleasure to see people with a positive and enthusiastic view of our city defeat demagogues who pitched anger, prejudice and fear. Bravo."
"I think all of us woke up this morning feeling much more at peace about our city and our representatives; your team did a great job."
"Congratulations to the Buzz and to all the winners! The winners waged an impressive campaign, and we are confident their leadership style will be just as impressive."
"I am delighted at the victory. I was fearful that the quantity of Lanzetta signs foretold bad things. Now on to get rid of the other two demons at next election."
"You did a magnificent job! I do not believe the election would have turned out as it did without the Birmingham Buzz and the work you did on the election. Hats off to you! I had to be at the city offices this morning (Nov. 5th). The staff was all wearing wonderful smiles for the first time in years!"
"The tide has turned and we have taken our city back. Let's remember that the citizens have finally said 'enough.' We need to have our city run by a government of the people, for the people and by the people. You and everyone in this town that have worked so hard to bring about this change should be commended. Do not rest on the laurels. Now is the time to show everyone what a vibrant, wonderful community this really is. The wicked witch is dead, and we have our city back. I feel like smilin'."
"Congratulations on a successful and wisely run effort. Now, start setting up your slate for the next election. You are only half way there."
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