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AnnArbor.com's News section covers government, crime, education, health and the environment across Washtenaw County.

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    The Saline boys golf team poses with its regional trophy Thursday at Grosse Ile.

    Courtesy of Saline Athletics

    Saline had four golfers shoot in the 70's and shot a season-low 297 to take a regional title Thursday at West Shore Country Club in Grosse Ile.

    More Coverage: Boxscore

    "The guys played great," Hornets coach Debbie Williams-Hoak said. "It's an old cliche, but we had four scorers in the seventies, and any time you can do that, you're going to have success.

    Saline senior Caleb Wittig won medalist honors by shooting a 70. Ian Martin shot a 73, Ryan Peruski shot a 76 and James Alcock shot a 78.

    With the title, Saline advances to play in the Division 1 state finals next weekend at Forest Akers West.

    "We're peaking at the right time," Williams-Hoak said. "We had a lot of grueling tournaments one after the other. In the last couple of weeks, we've been able to really focus on getting better. Our goal is to get to the state tournament and finish as high as possible. We still have our work cut out for us."

    Joining them there will be Connor Lang of Skyline, who shot a 73 to earn one of three individual spots in the state finals.

    As a team, Skyline finished in fourth with a 309, seven shots shy of qualifying for the state finals. Pioneer shot a 318 and finished in 5th and Huron finished in 6th with a 323.

    Division 3 at Cascades Golf Course

    Father Gabriel Richard's Andre Scopone shot an 80 to grab one of three individual spots in the Division 3 state finals.

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    The White House in Washington, D.C. on Friday will honor Scott Menzel, superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District in Ann Arbor, as one of 12 people across the nation who are YMCA “Champions of Change.”

    Thumbnail image for scott-menzel.jpg

    Scott Menzel

    Menzel is at the White House awaiting the award ceremony, which is scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m. The Ann Arbor YMCA CEO Cathi Duchon and Fran Talsma, vice chair of the YMCA Board of Directors and liaison for the Pioneering Healthy Communities of the Michigan Alliance of YMCAs, are at the White House as well.

    Jan Hack, Ann Arbor YMCA communications director, said it's a possibility that First Lady Michelle Obama may give the recipients their awards, but that hasn't been confirmed yet.

    "It’s the first time that our YMCA is receiving this award from the White House," Hack said. "It's an extradorinary award for Scott Menzel and the children of Ypsilanti. Scott gave us the support of getting in those schools. It’s a really terrific partnership and we’re honored that’s been recognized on a national stage."

    This particular Champions event will focus on YMCA leaders and Y Partners for their efforts around the country in transforming communities and making them better places for children to live.

    Each honoree has played an instrumental role in strengthening the community by addressing child hunger and reducing obesity and improving education.

    Menzel is an advocate for the Y and its Healthy Eating and Physical Activity standards, which are incorporated into all Y programming for children.

    Hack said Menzel has supported the YMCA programs offered during the summer and after school in the Ypsilanti and Willow Run areas, which have provided opportunities for more than 600 underserved children to participate in recreational programs that they might not otherwise have had access to.

    In a statement, Menzel said he's extremely honored that the Ann Arbor YMCA deemed his advocacy for their programs worthy of receiving the prestigious award.

    "However, the real champions are the men and women who put energy into providing exciting and healthy activities for the hundreds of students in Ypsilanti who benefit from their efforts," Menzel said. "The Ann Arbor Y identified a need in our community, childhood obesity, and implemented after-school and summer-school programs designed to address that need, in partnership with the school district. On behalf of our students who experience the joy of creative and organized activity while learning healthy eating habits, I am grateful."

    The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature Americans who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.

    The award ceremony will be live streamed on the White House's website at 12:45 p.m.

    Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for AnnArbor.com.Reach her at katreasestafford@annarbor.com or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.

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    A new mobile app will now allow users to make requests for city maintenance via mobile devices, as a result of a civic maintenance reporting project completed at last weekend's during the A2 Hack for Change.


    A prototype of the application.

    Courtesy of Kathy Griswold

    The mobile application would allow citizens to report infrastructure problems ranging from issues with bike lanes to burdensome potholes directly to the source with the tap of a finger. The program also would allow users to communicate new ideas for structures they would like to see in the city.

    "With this mobile app, you bring up a screen and tap to identify what the problem is," project developer Kathy Griswold said. "You can take a picture of the issue you want to report on and then a GPS coordinate, as well as a date and time stamp, are attached to the photo. It is then sent to the city."

    Griswold said originally she was more interested in reporting vegetation hanging over sidewalks or bushes blocking sight-lines, but other people liked the possibility of being able to report issues with roads and sidewalks.

    "This sort of application is necessary because the city spends millions of dollars on infrastructure for non-motorized transportation and this program would make it very easy to help maintain that infrastructure," Griswold said.

    Griswold also said there has been interest in making the interface county-wide, meaning all information would be sent to the county database and passed on to its respective city. She believes this would be beneficial to smaller towns.

    "The app would be a way for individuals to provide feedback and it's so easy that I think people would use it," Griswold said. "The seamless interface to the local government's Citizen Request System will encourage non-motorized transportation by providing information the city needs to better maintain existing infrastructure and identify as well as justify needed new infrastructure."

    Griswold said her target date to have some form of the application available is June 30.

    "If we can get the code from another city that already uses a similar program, we don't have that many technical problems to deal with. It's about getting everyone together and dealing with the political and bureaucratic decision making and educating the community."

    More research would be needed to determine whether software from another city or buying software from a company would be more cost-efficient. Although using pre-existing software would be free, it would require remodeling to fit Washtenaw County, which could be more expensive than starting from scratch, Griswold said.

    "I'm really excited about the possibilities. There seems to be a lot of interest and a lot of software out there," Griswold said.

    Griswold said the next step is to contact the Bloomington IT department in Indiana since the city utilizes a similar interface.

    The city maintenance application was not the only project to arise from A2 Hack for Change. According to Hans Kokx, organizer of event, a web-application that would allow users to map the carbon footprint of neighborhoods also came from the event.

    Kokx said users also would be able to input their household energy usage and then compare carbon footprints with others in the neighborhood.

    "Both are very different projects, but both are incredibly helpful to everybody living in Ann Arbor," Kokx said.

    A2 Hack for Change is a part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, which is a national event held to bring software developers, entrepreneurs and citizens together to solve issues in their community.

    Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.

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    Dymond Harding with Carlos and Salvador Santana.

    Courtesy of Dymond Harding.

    Last June, Ypsilanti teen Dymond Harding won a pop music competition held by PAVE the Way Project.

    Since winning PAVE, which stands for Preventing Abuse and Violence Through Education, Harding has been working alongside Grammy Award winner Salvador Santana and 10-time Grammy Award winner Carlos Santana to record a new single, which was released online Thursday.

    “It’s been amazing working with such successful artists — everyone has been so gracious and positive," Harding said. "They were very inviting and taught me a lot."

    Harding competed with seven other 13- to 20-year-old contestants from across the country for the opportunity to record a song written by Salvador and Klause Derendorf that would feature Carlos.

    After two weeks of voting, Harding was declared fan-favorite and winner.

    “I was so excited when I found out I won,” Harding said. “Out of all the other talented artists who were from big cities and (here I am) from little Ypsilanti; it felt so unreal.”

    Production of the new single, “Me, Myself & I”, began in October. Harding, who wrote lyrics for the song, flew out to Los Angeles to collaborate and record with Derendorf and Salvador.

    Verizon Wireless, Cornerstone, and MTE Inc., sponsored the competition in order to promote healthy relationships among teens and end dating violence, which Harding incorporated into her single.

    “The song is about learning to love yourself and forgetting all the negativity around you,” Harding said. “It’s about living life the way you want to. My inspiration came from a friend who was in an abusive relationship so it’s meant to be empowering and I just hope people will feel good when they listen to it.”

    Carlos Santana also recorded a guitar segment for the track.

    During the process, Harding said she has been performing in local festivals, competing in hometown idol contests and appearing at other local performances to stay active and get her name out there.

    “I hope to further my career as a singer,” Harding said. “I want to travel around the world one day, sharing my passion with others.”

    Since winning the competition, Harding has performed at the Canton Festival, Hamburg's 2012 Hometown Idol, and Arts, Beats and Eats in New York as well as New Jersey. She has also performed in New York at the "Day To Connect" event.

    Harding, who will be a senior next year at Lincoln High School, said it has been difficult to balance performances and production of the single along with school.

    “It’s been difficult, but I manage it,” Harding said. “My education always comes first, so I have to work hard to further my career at the same time.”

    Later this month, Harding will travel to California to perform with Salvador on June 27 in Los Angeles, which will be live-streamed online. You can find where to watch the performance as well as download "Me, Myself & I" and Harding's original song "Selfish Love" on the PAVE the Way’s website.

    Verizon also has made "Me, Myself & I" and all songs from the other contestants of the PAVE the Way Project available as free ringtones and ringback tones.

    Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.

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    At Friday’s Ann Arbor SPARK annual meeting, the organization will release a new five-year strategic plan developed by its executive committee.

    The plan, developed through a series of retreats and facilitated discussions, was designed to make sure that the focus of SPARK’s efforts aligns with the priorities of those who provide the organization’s funding and help spur further economic growth in the region.


    Ann Arbor SPARK CEO Paul Krutko stands outside the organization's central startup incubator in downtown Ann Arbor.

    Angela Cesere | AnnArbor.com file photo

    “A lot of it reflects what we’ve been doing but we’ve never actually said ‘let’s put it on paper,” Paul Krutko, CEO and president of SPARK, said in an interview before the meeting.

    “Thematically we’re focusing on connecting our region and looking at global opportunities. The strategic initiatives we’re going to use to get there are the development of leadership, planning and talent along with acceleration and growth in the region.”

    Krutko said the new plan gives SPARK a guiding document as it continues its transformation from a nascent economic development organization into a major player in the region’s economy.

    “We talk a lot here about SPARK 1.0 and 2.0. Much like software versions, we’re in 2.0 but we're quickly headed for 2.3 or 2.4,” he said.

    “There are about 330,000 people in Washtenaw County and we have helped retain, create or attract almost 12,000 jobs in the six years that SPARK has been around. That’s a pretty big impact, and it’s something we’re very proud of but we need to continue to make sure that our efforts are effective.”

    According to the organization’s annual report, its efforts have been very effective in 2012. Companies that SPARK worked with, including 63 innovative startups, created 628 new jobs in the county.

    Krutko said that SPARK engages with extremely early-stage startups more than most other economic development organizations across the country. Through incubators at SPARK Central, SPARK East, and the Michigan Life Science and Innovation Center that housed 73 startup tenants in 2012.

    “It’s a core part of what we do and it’s great that we have so many startups to work with here in Ann Arbor,” Krutko said.

    “The University of Michigan is certainly a driver of innovation but a full two-thirds of the startups we work with do not come from U-M research. That’s an amazing amount of innovation happening here from serial entrepreneurs and other inventors.”

    As part of its “growth and acceleration” initiative, SPARK is planning to turn some of its attention to companies that have passed the startup phase and are looking to continue to grow in Ann Arbor.

    “We’re very interested in trying to figure out what our role is and what the community’s role should be in taking companies from the point they have customers and are making revenue, then how do we accelerate their growth,” Krutko said.

    “… How do we flip a switch and have them be like a Menlo Innovations, or like a ForeSee, Online Tech or http://www.llamasoft.com/, where they continue growing and hiring so that the engine of company creation turns into an engine of job creation in the region.”

    Companies like those listed by Krutko help fund SPARK along with local municipalities and universities. Since SPARK's founding in 2006, the city of Ann Arbor has been SPARK’s largest municipal funder in the county, putting a total of $480,000 into the organization. The Washtenaw County government has contributed $1.2 million to SPARK in the same time period.

    According to the annual report, approximately 36 percent of SPARK’s $11.5 million budget comes from local funding, with the remainder made up of federal and state grants and foundations.

    “Because the nature of the funding and support that we get is so broad and diverse, we have the opportunity to try to solve problems in creative ways, and if what we’re doing doesn’t work we can shift or pivot like a startup to another approach,” Krutko said.

    “We want to keep not only talking the talk of entrepreneurship and innovation but really walking the walk as well.”

    One recent pivot by the organization, evident in its marketing materials and the report handed out at the meeting today, is a renewed focus on developing Ann Arbor and Southeast Michigan as a global brand. Krutko said SPARK has already been gaining traction on bringing more foreign direct investments into the region in the form of research and development centers, plant acquisitions and new facilities from international companies.

    “SPARK has focused on working with companies that will grow the region’s gross domestic product,” he said.

    “If we do that, those companies will buy goods and services from local companies, their employees will shop in the local retail establishments, and more jobs are created because the top of the employment food chain is being successful.”

    While the Ann Arbor area is SPARK’s primary area of economic development, one of the organization’s values that serves as a foundation for their strategic plan is “open source economic development.” In software, an open source program is one where the code is shared for free, allowing other developers to use and improve upon the original and then re-share it, allowing for everyone to benefit.

    “For us, open source means something very similar, that we are open to sharing how we work and what our methodologies are,” Krutko said.

    “We are in a belief that if there’s success in Livingston County, that’s a success for the entire Southeast Michigan region. It’s a strength of our region and leadership that we do not have intermural competitions that can be destructive.”

    Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at benfreed@annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2.

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    Ann Arbor police would like the public's help in identifying these two men, who they believe stole a credit card and racked up fraudulent charges.

    Courtesy of AAPD

    Ann Arbor police are asking the public for help with identifying two men who stole a credit card and then racked up fraudulent charges at businesses near downtown.

    Ann Arbor police Detective Dave Monroe said the credit card was stolen during the evening of May 6. It’s unclear at this point how the two men obtained the card but soon after they went on a spending spree, Monroe said.

    The credit card has been used at Jimmy John’s, Cottage Inn and the Blue Front store, located in the State Street and Packard Road area of Ann Arbor, Monroe said.

    The men are both white with thin builds and dark hair. Security camera images captured from one of the transactions shows one of the men wearing a backward hat, gray T-shirt and dark pants. The other is wearing a light gray T-shirt, shorts and a backpack.

    Anyone with information on these two men is encouraged to call the Ann Arbor police anonymous tip line at 734-794-6939 or Monroe at 734-794-6930 ext. 49308.

    Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at kylefeldscher@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.

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    U.S. Rep. John Dingell officially is the longest-serving member of Congress in history as of Friday, and the national media is busy reflecting on his involvement in monumental pieces of legislation ranging from the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the 2010 Affordable Care Act.


    John Dingell

    Closer to home, Dingell also is recognized by Ann Arbor officials as a representative who has routinely delivered for his district — whether that was federal grant money to help pay for a new transit center, high-speed rail improvements, or reconstruction of the Stadium bridges.

    Dingell has used the relationships he established throughout the last 57-plus years in Congress — with both Republicans and Democrats — to make those kinds of deliveries happen.

    "I've been responsible for thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into this district," he said in an interview with AnnArbor.com last summer.

    Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said he's been continually impressed with Dingell over the years.

    "I've never met a representative at any level who cares more about the people in his district and I know that's going to be a big part of his legacy," he said. "As far as I can tell, he never stopped working for the people in his district from the day he was elected."

    Hieftje said one doesn't have to look very far to see the effects of Dingell's leadership — the most recent example being the new Stadium bridges.

    "Every time I see John, he says, 'Are we doing everything we can be doing for Ann Arbor?' and I just appreciate that," Hieftje said. "And he means it. If we bring something up, he gets right on it."

    Republican Gov. Rick Snyder joined the chorus of those singing Dingell's praises on Friday, saying the state and nation owe a great thanks to Dingell for his leadership and devotion to public service.

    "During his 57 years in Congress, John Dingell has been a champion for civil rights, clean air and clean water, and affordable health care," Snyder said.

    "Most of all, he has been a champion for Michigan and its people. He has worked tirelessly to advance the interests of our state and all Michiganders."

    Check out the slideshow above and leave your thoughts in the comments below. What do you think will be Dingell's legacy both nationally and locally?

    Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.

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    Chris Kovac and Sarah Fertig, "pie-ing it forward" in Liberty Plaza on Wednesday.

    Bob Needham | AnnArbor.com

    There's nothing half-baked about the OccuPIE movement.

    Sarah Fertig and her boyfriend, Chris Kovac, started their efforts last year. Each Wednesday, they would spread their message about the power of generosity and sharing by giving away slices of homemade pie in downtown Ann Arbor's Liberty Plaza.

    They haven't been around Liberty Plaza lately. But they haven't given up—actually, they've only deepened their commitment. For the past three months they've taken OccuPIE on the road, continuing to "pie it forward" all across the western U.S. And they're just getting started.

    Wednesday brought Fertig and Kovac back to Liberty Plaza for a stop back at home base, giving out another six homemade apple pies back where it all started. Soon, they plan to return to the road, with an even more ambitious travel schedule. And after that? Fertig says she'd love to create a "donation-based pie cafe" in Ann Arbor.

    Traveling in a 1999 Silverado with a custom camper on the back, Fertig and Kovac have already covered close to 8,000 miles, making 12 stops along the way—San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, and so on—handing out pieces of pie and spreading the word. (The journey has been detailed on the OccuPIE blog and Facebook page.)

    Because of family ties, they started by heading to California, then set the rest of the itinerary by figuring they wanted to head back east and wondering, "What's the most interesting way to do that?" Fertig said on Wednesday in between serving slices.

    The trip has been funded entirely by donations; while both of them had jobs before leaving, "Now this is our job," Fertig said with a smile.

    Reception to the pie tour has been great, she said: "People coast to coast love pie."

    The two are in this area for a week, with another event set at the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Brighton after Sunday's 10:30 service. Then, it's back on the road.

    They plan to make 30 or so more stops between now and the end of October, with events almost every Wednesday and Saturday—including Newtown, Conn., and Boston. Word is spreading through the help of Reddit and some media coverage, so most of the itinerary is already set.

    They usually give away 6 pies at each stop, and Fertig said they've even improved their pie-making process: For one thing, they're now doing homemade crusts, and efficiency has been improved with the introduction of an apple peeler / corer they call "the mangler." "Having the right tools makes all the difference in the world," Fertig said.

    Once they finish the tour, Fertig said they hope to give their movement a long-term home. The vision is to open a "pie cafe" in Ann Arbor—set up as an official nonprofit organization, funded by donations, and offering a wider range of pies beyond apple (shepherd's pie and so on).

    "We really miss Ann Arbor and we really want to become part of this community again," Fertig said.

    Somehow, they make it easy to believe it can happen.

    For more information or to donate, see the OccuPIE blog.

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    Rick Snyder at rally.jpg

    Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder at a rally in 2010 prior to his election. The governor ruffled some feathers in the Ann Arbor Public School District this week when he questioned the fiscal sense of building the district's third comprehensive high school at a news conference Thursday.

    Ryan Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    Related story: Michigan says 55 school districts have deficits

    Gov. Rick Snyder ruffled some feathers at Ann Arbor schools when he questioned the financial common sense of his hometown public school district at a news conference Thursday in Lansing about the record number of schools in Michigan facing structural deficits.

    According to reports, Snyder was asked whether the budget crisis and massive cuts on the table in Ann Arbor indicate the state's funding model for public education needs reform.

    Snyder said funding issues should be discussed in the next few years, according to an Associated Press report, but blamed declining enrollment and bad financial planners in some districts, citing the Ann Arbor Public Schools' decision in 2004 to build Skyline High School — despite knowing negative demographic trends.

    But AAPS Communications Director Liz Margolis said Snyder's depiction of declining enrollment and poor planning for the future in Ann Arbor is "absolutely not true." She said across all grades, Ann Arbor schools enrollment has remained stable throughout the past 10 years, with even a little bit of an increase in total enrollment across all grades.

    Snyder and his family live in Superior Township, within the Ann Arbor Public Schools district. However, Snyder sends his school-aged daughter to Greenhills School, one of the most expensive private schools in the state. Tuition for the 2013-14 school year has been set at $20,500 for a high school student.


    Liz Margolis

    "First of all, Skyline was a voter-approved decision in the district he (Snyder) lives in," Margolis said. "The voters passed a proposal to build the school. And for the 10 years prior, even longer than that, Pioneer was the largest high school in the state with 3,200 students in a building designed for 1,800."

    Margolis said during that decade prior to the passing of the $205.4 million capital improvement bond in 2004, Huron High School had about 2,000 students in a school meant to hold 1,600. Now Ann Arbor's three comprehensive high schools — including Skyline, which opened in 2008 — are all sitting fairly evenly at about 1,600, Margolis said.

    Additionally, parents and students still have concerns about overcrowding at Pioneer.

    Earlier this year, a proposal to move the Roberto Student Development Center into Pioneer High School to save $200,000 to $348,677 in next year's budget caused a great deal of blowback from the community.

    The Ann Arbor Public Schools is trying to close an $8.67 million deficit for the 2013-14 budget and is weighing a number of drastic cuts that include more than 80 employee positions, about 50 of them teachers, and eliminating high school busing. The district already has issued layoff notices to 233 teachers.

    According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, the district had 4,764 high school students enroll in fall 2012: 1,612 students at Huron, 1,651 at Pioneer and 1,501 at Skyline.

    Also according to CEPI, the total number of high schoolers in AAPS is down from the 2004-05 academic year (5,006) but up from the 2008-09 school year (4,508).

    The total enrollment in Ann Arbor district wide in the fall of 2004 was 16,868, in fall 2008 it was 16,403 and in fall 2012 it was 16,635.

    Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at daniellearndt@annarbor.com.

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    Jeremy Abston

    Courtesy of YPD


    Raymond March

    Raymond March


    Farrah Cook

    Facebook photo

    A 25-year-old Ypsilanti woman testified Tuesday about the harrowing six hours she spent as a hostage in an apartment after being abducted by her ex-boyfriend and another man last month.

    Farrah Cook, 25, took the stand to testify against 27-year-old Jeremy Abston, the father of her three children, during a preliminary examination in the 14A-1 District Court. After listening to testimony from Cook and a woman who was in the apartment when Cook escaped, Judge Joseph F. Burke ultimately bound the case over to circuit court where Abston will appear for a pretrial hearing July 17.

    Cook's testimony detailed how she was grabbed by a man she didn’t know, dragged into the backseat of an unfamiliar Pontiac Bonneville and held against her will inside an Ypsilanti Township apartment where at one point Abston held a pair of scissors over her heart while she spoke on the phone to her mother.

    The abduction

    Cook testified she was leaving for work around 5:30 a.m. May 6 when she saw a man she didn’t know in the parking lot of Hamilton Crossing in Ypsilanti. She had recently moved there to be near her mother after breaking up with Abston, whose last known address was in Ann Arbor, in December 2012. The man was near a vehicle parked two or three spots away from hers, she said.

    Police say that man was Belleville resident Raymond March, 21, who also has been arrested and charged in the case. March waived his preliminary examination May 21.

    “I remember being nervous,” Cook said of what she felt when she saw the man. “He attacked me. He was telling me to shut up and get in the car. I didn’t understand what was going on. I was basically being thrown into the car like a rag doll.”

    As the man was forcing her into the backseat of the car, Cook said she saw Abston sitting in the backseat. He grabbed her ankles and pulled her inside the car so roughly that one of them was sprained, Cook testified.

    "I was kicking, fighting and scratching," she said.

    She started screaming Abston’s name, which infuriated him, Cook said. He told her he was going to have to kill her because she was yelling his name and possibly identifying him, she testified.

    During cross-examination, Cook said she did feel a little better when it turned out to be Abston in the backseat, which meant that strangers weren’t abducting her.

    The apartment

    Cook testified that March and Abston drove her to The Villas, an apartment complex off Golfside Road in Ypsilanti Township. She had lost one of her shoes and was limping.

    “I couldn’t run,” she testified, because of the ankle injury.

    The two men led her to an apartment where she had never been before. She said Abston knocked and a boy she didn’t know let them in. They entered the darkened apartment, where Abston made her sit on a couch.

    Shortly after they arrived, March and Abston were listening to a police scanner application on a smartphone when they heard police were already looking for their vehicle.

    March panicked and left, and didn't come back, Cook said.

    “Jeremy was nervous,” Cook said. “He got to pacing back and forth.”

    Tedium and terror

    The six or seven hours that followed were filled with tedium and terror, Cook's testimony suggested. Throughout the day, Abston played movies on a DVD player. Cooks said she didn’t remember what the titles were because she was too afraid to watch them.

    Abston seemed conflicted about what he was doing, Cook testified.

    “In his mind there was a switch,” she said.

    He would alternate between asking her for advice about what he should do to holding a pair of scissors pointed at her chest while Cook spoke to her mother on her cellphone.

    “He told me to tell her that it was a joke and that I was on my way to work,” she said. “The scissors were on me. The sharp end.”

    Cook said she attempted earning Abston’s trust throughout the ordeal, telling him that it would be a good idea to take apart her cellphone in case police could track it. Abston followed the advice and disassembled her phone.

    When cross-examined by Erika Julien, Abston’s court-appointed attorney, Cook said she was employing trust-building tactics to get Abston on her side so he would eventually let her go unharmed.

    “I was telling him to let me go,” she said. “It could have been an ugly situation.”

    Abston, however, kept flip-flopping back and forth, she said. During cross-examination, Julien asked Cook why she didn’t scream or say anything to the other people in the apartment.

    “I didn’t want to get Jeremy in trouble,” Cook said, breaking down and crying on the stand.

    Abston, who she dated for four years before breaking up in the winter, sat quietly at the defense table with an expressionless downcast face throughout most of the testimony, including when Cook took a moment to wipe the tears from her eyes.

    The escape

    Abston and Cook weren’t the only people in the apartment from roughly 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cook testified that she saw two children and a middle-aged man and woman coming and going throughout the day. Testimony did not make it clear how Abston knew the people.

    Cook said the woman was leaving the apartment to go grocery shopping with the two children while she and Abston argued. The woman told Abston and Cook they had to leave or she was going to call the police.

    Abston told the woman — Edlise Gulley, who later testified against him — that Cook was the mother of her children and that she owed him money, which is why they were fighting, Cook said.

    Abston then grabbed Gulley’s phone so she wouldn’t call police, causing the three of them to get into an altercation. Gulley said she grabbed a butter knife to defend herself. Meanwhile, Cook was using the opportunity to try to run out an open door.

    “There was a whole lot of pushing and shoving going on,” Gulley said.

    Abston caught Cook as she tried running through the door, according to testimony.

    “He ripped my jacket,” Cook said.

    She finally made it out the door, however, and ran to another building in the complex and called police.


    The two suspects were eventually tracked down and arrested. March was captured a few days later on May 10 at a residence in Inkster. He is charged with unlawful imprisonment, conspiracy to commit unlawful imprisonment and interfering with the reporting of a crime and aggravated assault for his alleged involvement in Cook's abduction.

    Abston was arrested May 23 at a residence in Detroit. He is charged with unlawful imprisonment, conspiracy to commit unlawful imprisonment, interfering with the reporting of a crime, assault with a dangerous weapon, larceny in a building, three charges of interfering with electronic communications, aggravated domestic violence, assault and battery and malicious destruction of property worth less than $200.

    Abston is being held at the Washtenaw County Jail on a $250,000 cash bond.

    March continues to be held in the jail on a $250,00 cash bond and is due back in court June 13.

    John Counts covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at johncounts@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.

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    The communal dining room at Sunward Cohousing in Scio Township that Selma Cafe will use for brunch June 22.

    Courtesy photo

    Two months after locavore breakfast salon Selma Cafe ceased its operations out of the west side Ann Arbor home of co-founder Lisa Gottlieb because of city zoning code violations, the outfit has found a new location to serve up brunch.

    The first brunch will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 22 in the kitchen of the common house at Sunward Cohousing at 424 Little Lake Drive in Scio Township.

    “I’m thrilled and excited,” Gottlieb said. “I got a lot of really lovely cards and notes and letters and messages from people who really loved Selma Cafe, talking about how much it meant to them and how hopeful they were to open it again.”

    Sunward Cohousing is an intentional community at a condominium development in Scio Township. Residents share meals, maintenance chores, host their own social events and have their own way of governing the community.

    Selma Cafe will operate much as it did from Gottlieb's home at 722 Soule Blvd. in Ann Arbor: The kitchen and wait staff will still be volunteers, and volunteer guest chefs will coordinate the menu.

    The kitchen in the common house at Sunward is attached to the large dining area that Gottlieb described as open, airy and surrounded by windows. An attached deck and patio area also will offer outdoor seating, weather permitting.

    There is ample street parking at the community, as well as a dedicated bus route and a bike path. Gottlieb said she's encouraging people to carpool.

    For the June 22 meal, the guest chefs will be Dan Vernia of Juicy Kitchen Cafe -- formerly of Ravens Club -- and Rebecca Wauldron of Busch's Fresh Food Market. Both chefs have worked with Selma Cafe previously.

    Guests will be seated on a first-come, first-served basis and the suggested donation of $12 to $15 for the meal remains the same. Donations are pooled in a fund to benefit local farmers.

    However, there will be some differences: The meals at the cafe will be once a month on Saturday mornings -- not every Friday morning as they were previously.

    The cafe will also open later -- meaning there will be more menu items and the meal will be more brunch than breakfast, Gottlieb said. Selma Cafe staples including vegan granola, waffles and bread pudding likely will return to the menu, Gottlieb said.

    To use the space at Sunward Cohousing, Gottlieb said Selma Cafe will be paying a flat $100 fee. The cafe has not committed to stay at Sunward Cohousing beyond the June 22 event.

    The cafe is able to pay that fee because it has secured control of its assets from its previous fiscal sponsor.

    Selma Cafe was able to operate for about three years out of Gottlieb's home because its finances were controlled by a nonprofit organization and it was thereby granted that status -- which meant it did not have to be inspected by the Washtenaw County Health Department.

    The relationship between Selma and its fiscal sponsor -- Food Systems Economic Partnership -- deteriorated and FSEP froze the cafe's assets in March. At the same time, the city of Ann Arbor's planning department notified the cafe in the beginning of April that the number of cars parked on the street in Gottlieb's neighborhood were creating a problem and were in violation of the city's zoning ordinance.

    Gottlieb chose to close Selma's operations in April to find a new fiscal sponsor, to regain control of the cafe's finances and to find a new location.

    Selma Cafe has found a fiduciary in Artrain and has complete control of its $40,000 in funds back from FSEP, Gottlieb said.

    The cafe also is seeking its own 501(c)3 nonprofit status. Gottlieb said Selma Cafe's application has been expedited and that she's in direct contact with the IRS on the issue.

    Once the cafe becomes its own nonprofit, Gottlieb said it will no longer need a fiduciary and can operate more independently.

    As to whether the cafe will keep its monthly brunch operations at Sunward, Gottlieb said it's too early to tell.

    “I’m also really open to what comes next with Selma Cafe,” Gottlieb said. “It feels like there’s lots of opportunity now for lots of things to happen.”

    View Sunward Cohousing in a larger map

    Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, amybiolchini@annarbor.com or on Twitter.

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    After 164 years, Ypsilanti Public School District schools will dismiss students for summer vacation for the final time as the district merges to form Ypsilanti Community Schools.

    For students at Estabrook Elementary, the day was filled with mixed emotions as they celebrated their last day with tears, hugs and words of encouragement.

    “Today we will say goodbye to Ypsilanti Public Schools,” Principal Karla Graessley said over the PA system Friday morning. “Tomorrow we will say 'hello' to Ypsilanti Community Schools.”

    Students gathered outside to watch the American flag, along with Michigan’s state flag, rise as the pledge of allegiance and the Michigan pledge of allegiance was recited. The national anthem and Ypsilanti School’s fight song was sung before second through fifth graders were sent inside to line the hallways and "clap in" the graduating sixth-grade class.

    A ceremony was held in the Estabrook cafeteria for sixth graders and their families as staff gathered to honor academic achievements and present the students with their sixth grade completion certificates.

    “I have been a proud principal to these sixth grade students,” Graessley said. “They are smarter, they’re taller and they look ready to take on the world — and they can take on the world.”

    The ceremony focused on the achievement of the students as teachers urged the class to work hard and be themselves as they move forward. The end of the YPSD was recognized by Graessley, who said change is hard and there have been bumps in the road.

    “It hasn’t always been easy and it has been a lot of work, but I am very excited about the merge bringing these communities together,” Graessley said.

    Former school psychologist Sandra Wong left Estabrook in December because of the district change, but returned to see the sixth-grade class off.

    “This day is bittersweet — I miss everyone at Estabrook and it’s so great to see all of the sixth graders grow up," Wong said. "I just hope that things go well for the kids. It’s a shame that the education system is the way it is with cutbacks and the current financial situation.”

    Sixth-grade teacher Joel Osborn will not be returning to the district next year. He said he always has planned to take his 30-year pension around this time, but the district merge was a factor in his decision to leave after this year.

    “I have been very vocal about my disagreement about how all this has been handled,” Osborn said. “I believe it was wrong to lay off all the staff and make them reapply. So many incredible teachers did not get their job back.”

    Osborn said he agrees with the consolidation of districts, but not with the way it was handled. After 22 years of teaching in the YPSD, Osborn will retire from education so he can experience other forms of employment.

    “I’m blessed to have been able to teach in the district I went to school in,” Osborn said. “Now it’s time for something new, which is what I have always planned.”

    After the ceremony, sixth graders gathered with friends and family to say goodbye, take pictures and reminisce about their time together. Many of the students teared up as they said their goodbyes.

    “I’m happy and sad to be done with sixth grade,” sixth-grader Caitlyn Burby said. “I have to leave all my friends because most of them will be going to a different middle school. I had a good year and I’m going to miss my friends.”

    Graessley said every year there is something that makes leaving the school behind particularly emotional.

    Sixth graders will be divided among various middle schools, which will separate them from current classmates, but many of the younger students will not notice the district change. Graessley said most students won’t notice a change beyond the new colors and mascot.

    “I’m just excited for summer,” fourth-grader Caprice Augustine said. “I’m looking forward to being in fifth grade and learning new things.”

    Augustine said she does not think the district merge will affect her and she will be returning to Estabrook next fall along with the majority of her friends.

    “We’ll be in a larger community and some of the staff is changing, but every year we have teacher changes,” Graessley said. “At Estabrook in particular, many students won’t notice a difference.”

    Fourth through sixth graders, however, will be moving to new schools. Fourth and fifth graders were given the option of returning to Estabrook or moving to another school within the district, while sixth graders also were able to request the school they wanted to attend.

    Graessley said families were allowed to choose because the district wants to make sure all students are being given the opportunity to be in the program fitting their needs.

    “This year has been a lot of work, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of stress, but also exciting to start and develop a brand new district,” Graessley said. “Bringing these communities together will be a good thing.”

    Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.

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    One lane of westbound Interstate 94 just east of U.S. 23 will be closed overnight Friday for maintenance work.

    The Michigan Department of Transportation will be cleaning catch basins along the roadway.

    The closure will begin 8 p.m. Friday and last until 8 a.m. Saturday.

    Though the closure starts just east of U.S. 23 on I-94, work crews will be moving along the roadway throughout the evening.

    View MDOT road work 8 p.m. Friday - 8 a.m. Monday in a larger map

    Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, amybiolchini@annarbor.com or on Twitter.

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    The Chelsea Police Department is asking motorists to use caution when traveling in the areas of Belsar Estates and Chelsea Ridge neighborhoods Saturday during the Chelsea Aquatic Club Kids Triathlon. Participants in the run will begin at 9 a.m. at Beach Middle School and should complete the run by 10:30 a.m.

    The race is open to kids between the ages of 6 and 14. Participants ages 6 to 10 will swim 100 yards, bike three miles and run a half-mile. Kids between the ages of 11 and 14 will swim 200 yards, bike six miles, and run one mile.

    The top three boys and girls to finish in each age group will receive awards following the race.

    Online registration has closed for the event.

    Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.

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    The Michigan baseball team’s top hitter could soon be following in the footsteps of his famous uncle.


    Michael O'Neill was picked by the Yankees Friday.

    Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com file

    The New York Yankees selected Michael O’Neill, the Michigan junior outfielder, Friday in the third round of the MLB draft, 103rd overall. He is the highest Wolverine picked since 2010, when Ryan LaMarre was picked in the second round.

    O’Neill is the nephew of former New York Yankee great Paul O’Neill. This marks the second time he has been drafted by the Yankees, after the team picked him in 2010 out of Olentangy Liberty High School in Powell, Ohio.

    O’Neill was an All-Big Ten selection in 2013, and led Michigan in batting average, (.356), slugging percentage (.498), on-base percentage (.396), runs scored (46), hits (85), doubles (17) home runs (5) and stolen bases (23).

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    Related: Students, staff reflect as Ypsilanti Public School District dismisses for final time

    At the beginning and end of every school year, Willow Run Middle School special education teacher Sue Littlefield reads Dr. Seuss’ timeless picture book “Oh the Places You’ll Go” to her students.

    But when she read the book to her class Friday morning, it took on a much more weighted meaning.

    After 70 years of educating children living near what was once the plant that produced B-24 bombers for World War II, the Willow Run School District will dissolve.

    On the last day, Willow Run students hugged their teachers, said their final farewells for the summer and prepared to return to the Ypsilanti Community Schools, a merger of the Willow Run district with Ypsilanti Public Schools. The consolidation officially takes place July 1.

    Littlefield’s students are feeling the sadness that comes at the end of something important.

    “I’m a Willow Run girl,” said Littlefield, who has taught 29 years in the district. “It’s sad to know that the family you’ve built will end…but I’m also a step-mom, and I have talked to my students about blending our Ypsilanti and Willow Run families together.”

    Working-class Willow Run has long been the underdog, but for many staff and faculty members, that’s what’s helped build the community family.

    “From its humble beginnings, it has a mystique to it, dating back to the war,” said Isaiah Daniel, intervention specialist and middle school basketball coach. “By a lot of people’s standards, I’ve only been here a short time — 14 years — but a lot of people touch you, and you touch a lot of people.”

    Instead of moving to the adjacent Willow Run High School, most of the 101 eighth grade students will attend school across town at YCS High School, which now houses Ypsilanti High School. While new school colors (black and Vegas gold) and a new mascot (the grizzly bear) have been chosen, a name for the new high school has not, said Natalie Turner, assistant principal of Willow Run Middle School.

    The new high school will be divided into smaller learning communities, including one to focus on fine and performing art, as well as one for science, technology, engineering and math.

    The current Willow Run middle school and high school campus will house the new district’s middle school program, with fifth and sixth graders at the current middle school and seventh and eighth graders at the current high school. Of the 29 Willow Run Middle School teachers, 13 will be returning to the new district, Turner said.

    Turner herself just learned she has been assigned as the assistant principal of the high school. Interviews still are underway for a new principal.

    While adults were worrying about job assignments and the loss to history, students had more immediate concerns.

    Eighth-grader Amari Jenson, a football and basketball player, is fine with the merger, but knows the sports teams will the more competitive. That doesn’t bother him. “It’s nice to have competition,” he said. “There are a lot of changes. Change is good.” (But) it's not just the school that’s going down,” he said. “It’s the Flyer pride that’s going down. When you say 'Flyer pride,' you represent Willow Run. We’re going to have to find a chant for the grizzlies.”

    Eighth-grader Mia Thomas said she has a few worries. As a female member of the football team, where she won an MVP award, she’s worried she won’t make the YCS High School team.

    She’s also voiced concerns about about the potential for fights. The two school districts have been cross-town rivals, and she’s afraid that will spill over into the classroom. Turner said teachers and administrators are aware of those risks and are working on programs — including a Restorative Practices program that deals with conflict before it escalates — that will address the challenge of bringing rival schools together.

    As sad as it is to see the Willow Run's era end, it will serve the district’s students better, Willow Run Middle School Principal Delores Jenkins, who is retiring, said shortly after she read the announcements over the loud speaker minutes before school was dismissed for a final time. The move is overdue, she said.

    “The area will become a draw. It will be a new future for the entire area. Kids will be learning in small communities, and it’s going to be good. We’re going to get some new hope here.”

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    Carol Gray and Graham Atkin as Beatrice and Benedick

    photo by Aleah Douglas

    “Much Ado About Nothing” - now being staged by Shakespeare in the Arb, a troupe composed of U-M students and community members - is among Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies partly because of the witty verbal sparring between seasoned equals Beatrice and Benedick; and partly because the play demonstrates how even sophisticated, seemingly well-armored adversaries become like gullible children when love suddenly enters the picture.

    For how else to explain the nearly instant reversal of both Benedick’s and Beatrice’s feelings when their friends decide to trick them each into thinking that the other is secretly pining for them?

    Of course, the play has a dark tonal counterpoint by way of the love story of young Claudio and Hero, whose surface-level, storybook romance is unmoored (with humiliating results) by the trickery of Don John, who convinces Claudio that Hero is, well, “used goods.”

    Director Kate Mendeloff stages Don John’s deception scene on a hill, with Claudio watching as Don John’s co-conspirator Borachio enjoys a nearly literal “roll in the hay” with a lady’s maid who’s dressed like, and answers to the name of, Hero.

    The short scene not only demonstrates how inventive, unconventional staging options abound when you move a play outdoors; it also - because the audience remains standing, as it does during Hero’s fake funeral scene - offers variety in terms of the audience’s experience.

    For although the traveling production generally moves, between scenes, to different locations around the Arb, and audience members settle (and re-settle) onto blankets or lawn chairs to watch the play’s action unfold, these short standing scenes work nicely to break things up while also maintaining the production’s pace. (In the past, the re-seating process sometimes took longer than the scene the audience had sat down to watch.)

    Mendeloff and her cast use the landscape to great advantage in other ways, too - whether it’s Benedick hiding his face behind foliage, leaping back and forth over a downed tree, and throwing bits of bark, or vocabulary-challenged constable Dogberry and partner Verges galloping with toy horses up and down a steep hill. Experiencing these real world dimensions is always part of the charm and appeal of this annual event.

    And the two and a half hour “Much Ado” has some personal touches as well, such as Benedick saying the line, “Hide me in the arbor,” before adding, “Etum”; three actors, on Friday night, decided to be Elizabethans flabbergasted by a plane flying overhead instead of trying to yell over the noise; and Beatrice and Benedick take turns dipping each other for a dramatic kiss in the final scene, visually emphasizing their equality (a staging choice I adored).

    The production is double-cast, so the actors I watched on Friday may not be the same ones you see. That having been said, Friday night’s cast featured Graham Atkin and Carol Grey as Benedick and Beatrice; the two ably anchored the production and landed, with consistency and clarity, the play’s funniest lines. Courtney Tipton and Declan Sheahan, meanwhile, believably played wide-eyed young lovers Hero and Claudio; and Dan Cox and Brittany Bettel had a ball playing Dogberry and Verges (as did Sam Dodge as Borachio), and their transparent joy rubbed off on the crowd.

    Yes, the show sometimes lacks polish. Any time an ensemble dance was about to begin, things looked (and felt) awkward, as actors openly look for their marks; some of the performed music was shaky (though a vocal ensemble’s work following Hero’s fake funeral, as the crowd walked to the next location, was quite lovely); and at times, the dialogue got fuzzy as actors momentarily lost the thread. (And those who read AnnArbor.com's preview for the show should note that the horse originally slated to appear in the production was absent due to “problems with Actors Equity,” Mendeloff joked before the show began on Friday.)

    But the cast members’ line delivery was almost never stiff, and was always clear, and a great sense of fun pervades the entire production, so that you’re carried along on the wave of its charms - one of which involves, of course, walking around a gorgeous park on a temperate summer night, listening to Shakespeare’s poetic insights on life and love. So bring some bug spray, as well as some warm clothes to pull on as temps drop; perhaps bring a picnic or a take-out dinner; and grab a blanket or lawn chair and a loved one and get thee to the Arb.

    The longest walk of the night is the one from the box office to the opening scene, and the show concludes close to the park’s entrance, near the peony garden (which is in glorious full bloom just now). Snacks and beverages are available for purchase before the show at the box office.

    "Much Ado About Nothing" continues through June 23. For more information, see the preview article.

    Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at jennmckee@annarbor.com or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.

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    The owners of Chelsea Village Hardware, which closed its doors Jan. 5, are holding a bankruptcy auction of the store’s inventory as part of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.

    Owners of the store, Tom and Pattie Clemons, claimed in court documents they received no profit from operating the store in 2012 and $20,250 in 2011.


    Chelsea Village Hardware is auctioning off its remaining inventory after closing in January and declaring bankruptcy in February.

    John Counts | AnnArbor.com

    The couple has outstanding liabilities totaling $461,362.52 according to documents from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, including nearly $18,000 in unpaid collected sales taxes. Other major creditors include Key Bank, Chase Bank, and building landlord Gary Seitz. Creditors who have not yet come forward must file proof of claim in court by July 15.

    According to the bankruptcy filings, Chelsea Village Hardware has $86,491.50 in personal property that can be used to pay off debts, and the store is attempting to make up at least part of the $371,871.02 difference between its assets and liabilities by auctioning off remaining inventory.

    The auction will be occurring online through RJM Auctioneers. According to the bankruptcy filing, the wholesale value of the items is $224,804.05 while the retail value is $370,699.48.

    As of Friday evening, nearly all of the items were up for auction, which ranged from the store’s neon “OPEN” sign to heavy-duty hardware to clocks and kitchenware. The auction only is available online, and bidding began June 3 and is scheduled to end Monday.

    Chelsea Village Hardware first opened as Gambles in 1940. Since then, the store has gone through a number of iterations before the Clemons took over ownership in 2001.

    The owners sent a letter to the Chelsea Update in January saying closing the store was a very difficult decision.

    According to online city tax records, the store also has not paid $313.61 in property taxes for the winter of 2012. Winter taxes usually are paid in the late winter or early spring of the following year.

    The Clemons could not be reached for comment on this story.

    Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at benfreed@annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2.

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    The Shape Ypsilanti master plan process is moving through its next phase and will hold a series of community focus groups to continue to guide the city planners toward a shared vision for the city.

    "Now that we have all of this information and both policy and land use recommendations, we want to come back and prioritize them," said City Planner Teresa Gillotti. "With that in mind, we need to be looking at what we need to do. We want to hear what the community wants."


    Discussions about Water Street continue to evolve throughout the master plan process. Officials have talked about extending River Street through the property to Depot Town and creating a dedicated public space for events.

    Courtesy Shape Ypsilanti

    Gillotti said, just as in the previous Shape Ypsilanti events, the community will play a vital part in the focus groups.

    "When you’re talking about the next 10 to 20 years, it's not something you want to be done in a vacuum," Gillotti said. "Shape Ypsilanti is supposed to be the community's plan for the future. However you're engaged in Ypsilanti, we're trying to hear from as many folks as possible. The more people we hear from, the stronger it will be."

    Several community members have been involved in the Shape Ypsilanti process so far, which has included discovery and design charrettes that laid out the things residents, business owners and Eastern Michigan University students envision for the city's future.

    Ideas that have come up so far have involved all areas of the city, including the vision for the Water Street property that has sat vacant for a long while.

    The focus groups are designed to laser in on and prioritize what's important. Residents and city planners will be looking at about 50 proposed efforts to be implemented throughout the next 10 to 20 years. Participants will provide input on the time frame for implementation. There will be three groups next week at the following times:

    • June 10, 2013 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Hope Clinic at 518 Harriet St.
    • June 11, 2013 - 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Senior Center at 1015 N. Congress
    • June 15, 2013 - 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at 496 S Hamilton St.

    Each focus group will feature a different population group, Gillotti said, to be all inclusive.

    "You have students and seniors and all different population groups and everyone has their own idea as to what Ypsilanti means to them," she said. "We want it to be as comprehensive as possible."

    After the focus groups, Gillotti said the next step is to adopt the master plan this summer and start-in on zoning ordinances.

    "The master plan is a big vision and when you get to the form-based portion, it's going to be a lot more specific," she said. "People will be able to say, what does this mean for my house? We'll be looking to get a lot of feedback."

    The city council would approve the master plan, once the draft is complete, Gillotti said.

    Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for AnnArbor.com.Reach her at katreasestafford@annarbor.com or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.

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    After researching ways to discourage unwanted graffiti, Ann Arbor business owner Rebecca Arends is trying a new technique to combat the issue: covering the concrete walls with artwork.

    Owner of Excelsior Massage Therapy, located at 2350 Washtenaw Ave., Arends found the best solution was to create a stenciled design on the often-targeted retaining wall near her suite. After being granted permission by the owner of the building, she went right to work on the project during Memorial Day weekend.


    Rebecca Arends, of Excelsior Massage Therapy, poses in front of the wall near her business at 2350 Washtenaw Ave. on Monday, June 3. After graffiti tagging, Arends received approval and took the initiative to paint over the wall and add star stencils.

    Daniel Brenner I AnnArbor.com

    "An ugly concrete wall almost invites some sort of art, but graffiti isn't the right kind," Arends said.

    Having grown up in Ann Arbor and now owning a business in the area, Arends said she really is invested in the community.

    "There are a lot of really cool artistic things around town, like the gold spray painted-fire hydrant and all of the murals around the city," Arends said.

    Arends acknowledges murals can be expensive, but at the cost of $70 and four hours to transform the large space, she said it was a manageable way to add to the artistic Ann Arbor atmosphere.

    "What I painted on the retaining wall isn't a mural," Arends said. "I would like to say I'm an artist because everyone is an artist, but this has broad appeal because anyone can do it. I just used a stencil."

    Arends painted a base color over the patchy wall and stenciled gold stars onto it using spray paint.

    "I had customers concerned if it was safe to park out there because it had a feeling of urban decay," Arends said. "Now it is cheerful and uplifting,"

    Arends said she hopes the transformation will inspire other businesses to attempt similar projects on their own buildings."

    "There are all these places that keep getting graffitied," Arends said. "Painting over and stenciling walls is a solution to urban blight that is cheap, quick, and won't bum you out if it gets ruined — it's a quick fix."

    Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.

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