Stephen Rapundalo

Stephen Rapundalo
Ann Arbor City Council Member, 2nd Ward

Tottered on: 15 March 2006
Temperature: 39 F
Ceiling: sunny
Ground: freshly chipped
Wind: WNW at 18 mph


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TT with HD: Stephen Rapundalo


HD: You know, what I might actually do, is ask you to flip ends for the photo but we'll do that later.

SR: Okay.

HD: I mean, it would work this way, but the more shadows we can avoid, the better. So you seem a little reluctant to actually totter, you know teeter totter, ... am I reading too much into this?

SR: I think you are!

HD: Okay! Alright, well, let's get this thing going, then!

SR: Okay!

HD: First order of business is the wager. Unless there's been some activity that was unforeseen on AnnArborisOverrated in the last little while, I think you've won the wager.

SR: Yeah. That's the first time I've won a wager in I don't know how long.

HD: Well, the over-under [on total number of comments by 15 March on the residential parking program thread], we said was 50, right? And you had the under ...

SR: ... it came way under.

HD: I don't think it even broke 20.

SR: The last I checked, it was 18.

HD: We'll go with 18 and declare you officially the winner of the wager. We'll settle up indoors after tottering.

SR: Whoo hoo!

HD: I notice on your car you've got the Canadian flag. And I think I remember reading somewhere that you actually are a Canadian?

SR: That is true. I hold dual citizenship.

HD: So that makes you the second international guest in a row! Also with dual citizenship. Alicia Wise was here and she's a dual American-UK citizen. Maybe I can keep the streak going after this.

SR: A little diversity.

HD: It's not a whole lot, but it's more than just folks from Ann Arbor, that's for sure. You bucked the trend a little bit by choosing that end of the teeter totter.

SR: Oh really?

HD: It's by far the least popular side.

SR: Hey, it's in the sun! That's why I took it. I like to be in that 'limelight'!

HD: I noticed in the paper the result of the Council vote on the breast-feeding ordinance and you also bucked the trend there, breaking ranks with your fellow Council Members. You were the only one to vote against that ordinance. Did they give you any grief for that afterwards?

SR: No, well, I bucked the trend with my colleagues. But I certainly didn't buck the trend, I felt, with the people, the residents, that I heard from. I think this was, for the most part, true for some of the other Council Members. Most of the emails were going against the ordinance.

HD: When he was here, Leigh Greden said that his phone calls and emails were going against.

SR: I had the same experience. And that was partly what influenced my decision. But more importantly it was driven by my concerns over safety. In that by allowing this ordinance to go through as written, it would basically prohibit facilities like the city pools, the Y, private swim clubs, or even the Weber's pool to go about regulating their pool behavior for their community. And to interpret whatever safety standards, recommendations, warnings are out there as they saw best to do, in order to ensure safety for their patrons. I was not against breast-feeding in public. I just thought that in certain circumstances, the safety concern overrode the need to breast- feed in the water. That was what I was particularly bothered by. I really don't have much concern about breast-feeding on pool decks.

HD: So it was the in-the-water issue?

SR: Well, you can imagine you've got an infant being held and, especially if you're minding another child and you've got to suddenly [sudden gesture] ... a lot of us parents have done that. You can lose your balance and jeopardize three individuals ...

HD: ... so basically you felt like it was an individual pool's call to make as to whether they felt that was a safety concern worth being mindful of or not?

SR: Yes. And there was plenty out there in terms of OSHA, MDEQ, CDC warnings, ... OSHA has things about chorine dioxide gases, which are extraordinarily noxious just that one foot above the water surface. That can be bothersome for infants whose respiratory systems are not fully developed. And the CDC discourages the feeding of any kind in pools.

HD: So would it be fair to extend the kind of logic you've applied there to the lease ordinance? And to suppose that you'd be against an ordinance that would regulate landlords' ability to make their own call ...

SR: ... you'd think so. But back when I was campaigning, in talking with the students, I perceived an issue. And who was to blame, I wasn't too concerned about. I think I recognized that there was a problem and the question was, How do we fix it? And the Mayor took the lead from Madison [Wisconsin]. It seemed like a good starting point. So that, basically, is what got proposed. In the intervening weeks since first reading [of the ordinance at Council], we've had a chance to talk to students. And some of us have had a chance to talk with landlords and to get their issues out there. And I think what's going to be coming back next Monday will be hopefully something that both sides can live with.

HD: So you think there's going to be some kind of ordinance? The question is what the actual language will be?

SR: Right. And remember, what we've called for in the ordinance is a one-year review period. So by next April, we want to see how this upcoming year goes and what kind of issues come up or not. We'll adjust it accordingly, if we have to. If we have to get rid of it, we'll get rid of it. If we have to tweak it in some minor way, so be it.

HD: I know you were being literal, when you said you chose that side of the teeter totter, because you wanted to be in the 'limelight' because it's sunnier there. But metaphorically, is there a possibility that you'd want to jump into the limelight in the form of a mayoral candidate for this cycle?

SR: Heavens, no. No, no. I feel I've got plenty of work to do at the Council table on behalf of the Ward 2 constituents. And even though I've been very familiar with the workings of Council on issues, even before I got on the body, there's still some learning to do. So no, that's not even in my dreams.

HD: At least not for this cycle anyway?

SR: And probably not for the next one! But who knows.

HD: The City Democratic Party had a meeting last ... Saturday? I guess it was fairly well attended as far as those meetings go. But I was wondering, when Tim Colenback was highlighting the fact that only one of the current Council Members attended, is this just Tim sort of stirring things up, just because he's angry about not having been appointed to Kim Groome's vacant seat on Council ...

SR: Not that I'm aware of. I had attended the initial 're-vitalizing' meeting. A lot of the issues that were taken up last Saturday were raised at that meeting. There were a few additional ones that got on the books in the meantime. So no, I don't think that's Tim's motivation!

HD: But Tim did point it out on one of the local blogs and also in the newspaper, and I guess my real question, Is there anything to this idea that the Council didn't show up to their own Democratic Party meeting?

SR: I can't speak for the others, other than the mayor, because I know he was out of town. I was out of town: one of my kids was playing soccer, so I was up and out of the house by 7 o'clock. And my wife was also out of town. I would have been there otherwise. One parent in the house, so ...

HD: ... these are the practical realities of life and families.

SR: I'll probably be at the next one.

HD: That's the April 8th meeting? I think the location might still be to be determined. But at the meeting last weekend, it seemed like the main point of discussion and controversy within the Party had to do with density and development. Would you say it's fair to characterize the upcoming primary elections as probably being driven by that single issue?

SR: I would say certainly for those in the 5th Ward, that seems to be what's evolving.

HD: That's for us right here.

SR: Obviously I don't have a direct link to the pulse, so I don't know. I know what I pick up from Chris [Easthope] and others. But that's what I read into it.

HD: So I assume if anyone were to challenge Hieftje in the primary, that would probably be the issue as well?

SR: I don't know. I don't know why anybody would want to challenge ... I think he's done quite a good job. I think he's certainly laid out his priorities and his areas of interest. I think he's gone about trying to achieve those. You know, anybody would have a hard time winning, because he's got a record he can run on.

HD: Do you think it'd be possible, within the Democratic Party, to outflank him on the side of pro-development? Because it seems to me the kind of language I've seen in the paper from John has been more on the side of, We're only talking about moderate growth, We're only talk about just enough growth. So I wonder, if there's room to run against him, it might be in the form of a super-pro-development candidate who said, You know, we can't possibly get enough density, but I'm still progressive on all the social issues!

SR: I don't think that kind of candidate would fare any better than somebody who said, We don't want any development. I think John's message has been consistent over the years. And that is that the growth we're talking about is going to be modest. We're only talking about a few thousand over twenty years. We're not ...

HD: ... when you say a few thousand ...

SR: ... new residents downtown ...

HD: ... downtown, specifically. But what about city-wide? I mean people have tended to focus on the downtown specifically, the DDA area, and say that's the only place the density discussion is about. What about the city as a whole? It seems to me that you could make the case, and I'm not necessarily trying to make this case, but one could say that the city as a whole needs to get a lot more dense in order get the efficiencies of and to support, say mass transit from here to Detroit or from here up to Lansing.

SR: I think from that perspective, one would have to argue for greater density. But I think there's plenty of people out there who I've heard from, who wouldn't necessarily agree with that. You have to remember that there are many residential areas that are there for a reason: people wanted that and that's what they want to see stay there. I think where we need to first start is in-fill development in places that are still vacant. There's still substantial acreage in the city, particularly in the northeast, that is available certainly for mixed-use development. So we need to start there first. Then, I think, at the same time talk about, think about, neighborhood centers that might be a focal point of higher density.

HD: I'm not sure if I know what you mean?

SR: For example, if in-and-around Huron and Washtenaw ... it's obviously very congested ... and if there were some future development, that would obviously have to replace what's currently there, that would be in sync with density already there. They have the shopping there, it's on a mass-transit line directly into town ... I think I can imagine a few higher-rises there ...

HD: ... so on the order of 10 to 12 stories, or ...?

SR: I'm thinking more 4 to 6. I can't imagine 10 to 12 ...

HD: ... at that particular location ...

SR: ... being outside the downtown corridor, yeah. I don't know what's being proposed for the old Suzuki Building behind Northside Grill.

HD: Hmm?

SR: The white building on the back side ... up the hill ... right back around the corner. That is now vacant, an old Suzuki test building. I think, if I'm not mistaken, Ed Shaffran bought that, or has the option for that. When we were discussing the Northeast Area Plan I recall there being discussion of high-rise residential there on the order of 8 to 10 stories.

HD: Wouldn't that be a part of the proposed Lower Town Historic District? I haven't kept up with how that's going.

SR: The Northside, Saint Vincent de Paul Building is. I'm not sure about the Suzuki Building. I don't think it is, but I'd have to double check.

HD: What is the status of the Historic District?

SR: That will come back to us in May.

HD: I panicked for a second there, because I thought maybe that happened when I wasn't paying attention.

SR: Oh, you would have heard about it.

HD: You mentioned the Northeast Area Plan, and people talk about the Northeast Area Plan as taking a really long time. And have pointed to that as an example of, not necessarily people not doing their jobs, or not following through, but just that you don't sit down at the computer and pound out a document by pulling an all-nighter ... So I think that's got a lot of people concerned in light of rewriting the zoning for downtown based on the Calthorpe study. Conan Smith's proposal was to have a moratorium, so we could take nine months and just get it done so that we can have it done. So I'm wondering how long do you suppose it would take to rewrite the zoning for downtown? And what's your sense of Council's strategy for thrashing that through?

SR: The last part first. I don't know for sure what the strategy's going to be. We really haven't had that discussion yet. We may begin that discussion this coming Sunday night at caucus. But from what I've been able to gather, from other cities that have attempted this, the timeframe has been from 9 months to 18 to 24 months. And that's even with the help of an outside consultant who's been hired to come in and actually do the writing. Because it is a very complex project. It's not as easy as it might strike someone at first. Again, I don't know for sure, but 9 months seems a little ...

HD: ... a little on the short side?

SR: Yeah. But I can assure you that the City Council is wanting to do it as quickly as can be done with the quality we want to see. I think there's certainly strong support for moving forward with the elements of the Calthorpe study. And implementing as quickly as we can within the constraints of financing it, as well as assuring that there's sufficient public input.

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