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

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    Local running store Running Fit will host a unity run Wednesday, April 24 in honor of the victims of the deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon April 15.

    041613_Boston-Marathon-Explosion.jpg

    Two explosions about 3 p.m. April 15 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured more than 160 others. About 66 people from Washtenaw County were registered to run the race.

    AP Photo | Ken McGagh, MetroWest Daily News

    It's the third unity run that will take place in Ann Arbor as the local running community responds to the tragedy: The first of which was held April 17 by Team Red, White & Blue at Gallup Park, and the second of which will leave 10 a.m. Saturday, April 20 from The Diag on the University of Michigan's campus.

    Running Fit's "Runners for Boston" event will be 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the east boat launch at Kensington Metro Park at 2240 W. Buno Road in Milford.

    "I've always known running can give us a bit of an escape from our feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration as we deal with the troubles of this world, but since the bombings in Boston, the run seems to have taken on a new sense of purpose and meaning. Every step feels like a dedication to those who suffered," said Running Fit co-owner Randy Step in a post on RunningFit.com.

    It will be a 4.15 mile run or walk to bring together runners and their supporters. Participants are invited to wear Boston Marathon gear from races past and present or their favorite race shirt.

    Running Fit will be selling shirts for $20, of which all proceeds will go to the official charity fund established by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino to help the people most affected by the bombings, The One Fund.

    Donations will also be accepted through checks made out to "One Fund Boston Inc."

    The Saturday unity run called the "Solidarity Run for Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing" is being organized by a running group of 15 students enrolled at U-M's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. About 200 people have said they'll attend on the event's Facebook page.

    The run will be a route through U-M's campus, which will begin and end at The Diag.

    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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    Thumbnail image for Chelsea_fire_station.jpg

    Chelsea Area Fire Authority

    The Chelsea Area Fire Authority Board's 2-1 vote that would have given it more say in personnel matters has been deemed invalid, Board Chairman Rod Anderson said.

    The two board members who abstained -- Craig Maier and Kurt Kosek -- did so against the rules, officials said.

    Maier said he didn't cast a vote because he didn't believe there had been enough discussion about the resolution, which would have given the board more power when it comes to hiring and firing, which is right now at the sole discretion of Fire Chief Jim Payeur. Kosek had a similar reason, according to Maier.

    “Things got a little hectic in that meeting… we didn’t have the opportunity to have further discussion on it,” Maier said.

    The vote took place at the board's regular meeting Tuesday.

    The two abstentions did not meet legal requirements, however, and the resolution is now invalid, making its future uncertain. Anderson, who voted against the resolution, said he wasn't sure if it would be on the agenda at the board's next meeting on May 21.

    “I think it’s something we have to address,” Anderson said, adding he might vote differently on the issue next time if the board modifies the resolution.

    Two or three years ago, the board fully vested the chief's position with all hiring and firing matters, Anderson said.

    Maier said the board wanted to reconsider due to the financial impacts such decisions might have.

    Anderson said the invalidated vote is just one more chapter in a long road starting with the passing of a millage that seemed to call for a reduction of the department, which prompted four of the firefighters to try unionizing. That was voted down 7-4 in January, Anderson said.

    What many of the firefighters didn't seem to realize was if taxable values went up — thus increasing funds — no one would have to be let go. When the board formed a committee to speak individually with firefighters to communicate this — and to get feedback to update the department's handbook and standard operating procedures — firefighters began making allegations against one another, Anderson said.

    Some of the firefighters felt threatened, officials said.

    “The interviews became … very adversarial,” said Anderson.

    Both Anderson and Maier conceded the resolution to give the board more power was directly related to these issues in the department, which remain unsettled.

    Jamie Bollinger and John Francis voted against the resolution. They could not immediately be reached for comment, nor could Kosek.

    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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    Thirteen primary roads will be paved this year through the Washtenaw County Road Commission’s 2013 preventative maintenance program.

    The program will invest about $3.55 million from money allocated to the Road Commission to pave 21 miles of roadways this year:

    • Ann Arbor-Saline Road from Textile Road to 800 feet north of Woodland Drive
    • Austin Road from Boettner Road to 1,290 feet east of Grass Road
    • Dexter-Chelsea Road from 1,000 feet east of Steinbach Road to Parker Road
    • Geddes Road from Prospect Road east to the Wayne County border
    • Gotfredson Road from Plymouth Road to M-14
    • Grove Road from Emerick Street to Harris Road
    • Holmes Road from Prospect Road to Spencer Lane
    • Packard Road from Golfside Road to 1,700 feet east of Hewitt Road at the Ypsilanti city limits
    • Plymouth Road from Whitehall Drive to Dixboro Road
    • Pontiac Trail from Dixboro to Seven Mile Road
    • Stony Creek Road from Saline-Milan Road to Carpenter Road
    • Tyler Road from Dorsett Avenue to Wiard Road
    • Ellsworth Road from Carpenter Road to Golfside Road

    Construction is projected to last from July to September. All the routes will remain open to traffic, though there will be temporary lane closures. Businesses and property owners will still have access during the project.

    Additionally, a number of townships have finalized their agreements with the Washtenaw County Road Commission for local road maintenance this year.

    Dexter Township: $21,836 agreement in which the Road Commission splits the cost with the township for applications of brine for dust control to all gravel roads in the township

    Freedom Township: $27,120 worth of brine application for dust control to all gravel roads; $54,736 in ditch work and culvert replacement and $16,000 in gravel application. Road Commission will split the cost of all projects with the township.

    Lyndon Township: $27,807 agreement in which the Road Commission will pay $11,955 for applications of brine for dust control to all gravel roads in the township

    Saline Township: $25,012 agreement in which the Road Commission will pay $9,745 for applications of brine for dust control to all gravel roads in the township

    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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    0415_Eagle-Scout-project-2.jpeg

    Boy Scout Tristan Brauer is shown teaching other scouts how to repair bicycles as part of his Eagle Scout project.

    Courtesy of Tristan Brauer

    Tristan Brauer wanted to come up with an Eagle Scout project that would stand out. The senior at Ypsilanti High School and member of Boy Scout Troop 290 is on his way to accomplishing that goal.

    His idea was to refurbish children's bicycles, then give them out to kids who need a bike. So far, he's collected 38 bicycles all by donation.

    "I passed out about 1,000 flyers in my neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods," Tristan said. "I also went on CraigsList, where I told people who were selling bikes about my project and got more than 15 bikes donated."

    His goal is to collect 50 bicycles. He's learning bike repair the hands-on way and teaching other scouts, which is part of the Eagle Scout project.

    0415_Eagle-Scout-project-1.jpeg

    Tristan Brauer, a member of Boy Scout Troop 290, is shown evaluating bicycles as part of his Eagle Scout project.

    Courtesy photo

    "There's everything from busted pedals to a lot of brake and gear issues," said Tristan, who has also received some free help from mechanics. "People know what Eagle Scout stands for and are completely willing to donate their time, especially if you approach them kindly."

    Eric Maes, Eagle Scout adviser for Boy Scout Troop 290, says that the success of Brauer's project is dependent on how he demonstrates leadership and how he can articulate that.

    "Tristan has always been a behind-the-scenes leader in our troop," said Maes. "This is putting him more in the forefront of people and the leadership structure."

    Maes says that time management is another key part of successfully accomplishing an Eagle Scout project.

    "He must be 100 percent done with everything from inception to proposal to implementation to final reflection prior to his 18th birthday," said Maes.

    Brauer will turn 18 in June and feels confident that he will be one of the 4 percent of all Boy Scouts to earn Eagle Scout.

    He is working with the Salvation Army of Washtenaw County, which will help him with the distribution of the bikes when they are ready.

    If you are interested in donating a children's bicycle to Bauer, email him at sontarble@gmail.com.

    Lisa Carolin is a freelance reporter. Contact the AnnArbor.com news desk at news@annarbor.com.


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    041713_SELMA-CAFE.JPG

    Lisa Gottlieb's home Wednesday at 722 Soule Blvd. in Ann Arbor, out of which she ran Selma Cafe -- a non-profit, weekly breakfast operation run by volunteers -- for four years until this week when she ceased operations.

    Amy Biolchini | AnnArbor.com

    The future of Ann Arbor’s west side breakfast operation Selma Cafe is in limbo as owner Lisa Gottlieb faces zoning code violation issues and works to re-gain control of its frozen finances.

    The cafe, run by volunteers and donations out of Gottlieb's home at 722 Soule Blvd. served up its last meal April 12, according to a letter sent to the city of Ann Arbor offices Monday.

    “We’re closed now — I can say that,” Gottlieb said. “It just makes the most sense right now.”

    The city of Ann Arbor notified Gottlieb that Selma Cafe was in violation of city zoning codes in an April 3 letter from Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager.

    “Our numbers have stabilized in the past year or two,” Gottlieb said. “We were serving anywhere from 150 to 200 people (each Friday) for the past several years … and that was the issue.”

    021910_LISA-GOTTLIEB.JPG

    Lisa Gottlieb prepares breakfast in 2010 during the weekly Friday morning meal at Selma Cafe in Gottlieb's Ann Arbor home.

    AnnArbor.com file photo

    Rampson’s letter asked Gottlieb to respond by Monday with either a schedule of how Gottlieb would discontinue cafe operations, or with her plans to re-locate.

    Gottlieb’s response was to stop all operations of the cafe for the time being, as there is another pressing matter affecting Selma Cafe’s future.

    Selma Cafe’s fiscal sponsorship

    Selma Cafe’s assets - consisting of tens of thousands of dollars in donations from patrons of the cafe - are frozen in an account held by Food System Economic Partnership, the cafe’s formal fiscal sponsor.

    As the fiscal sponsor, FSEP’s involvement gave the cafe the nonprofit organization status it needed to legally operate as a food-service establishment.

    FSEP dropped its sponsorship of the cafe March 27 after a disagreement between the two parties on its operating agreement - thereby removing Selma Cafe’s nonprofit organization status.

    It also means Selma Cafe will have to find a new fiscal sponsor or gain independent nonprofit status before Gottlieb can transfer the funds out of FSEP’s control.

    Under the memorandum of understanding between Selma Cafe and FSEP, that must be done by May 31 or FSEP keeps Selma Cafe’s money.

    Gottlieb said she was unable to access the funds in the FSEP account two weeks before she formally was notified they were dropping their sponsorship. “Right now our focus needs to be on getting a new fiscal sponsor,” Gottlieb said.

    Gottlieb said Selma Cafe is in talks with a local 501(c)3 organization, and hopes to have a fiscal sponsorship agreement solidified soon so that Selma Cafe can re-gain its nonprofit organization status and re-gain control of its funds.

    Rampson said Selma Cafe’s zoning code violations were not related to FSEP dropping its fiscal sponsorship.

    The city has not gotten involved with Selma Cafe’s operations in the past four years because they had not received any complaints, Rampson said.

    “We generally, because of our limited staffing, don’t get involved … unless there are specific complaints made,” Rampson said.

    The city first received an anonymous complaint about traffic in the neighborhood related and that Selma Cafe was operating without a food license in 2009, Rampson said.

    After Washtenaw County Public Health determined Selma Cafe was operating legally as a non-profit organization, Rampson said the city didn’t pursue enforcement at that time.

    March 8, Rampson said the city began receiving complaints again about Selma Cafe operations through phone calls, walk-in complaints and written letters.

    The timing of the complaints corresponded with an Ann Arbor Observer article published March 8 on Selma Cafe that mentioned Gottlieb would be adding a happy hour, Rampson said.

    Rampson said complaints were a combination of the business being operated out of a home; about alcohol being served at the happy hour and others were about traffic from Selma Cafe patrons in the neighborhood.

    Operations

    Selma Cafe started in 2009 and is located in Gottlieb’s home on Soule Boulevard.

    Her home is the last one on the block before Soule Boulevard becomes the entry drive for Eberwhite School. It's also near to the rear entry drive to the parking lot for Zion Lutheran Church.

    The following is a video showing the proximity of Gottlieb's home to her immediate neighbor and the school:

    The cafe hosted volunteers on Thursday nights to help prepare for the breakfast the following morning — and at night volunteers were instructed to park at Eberwhite School.

    Friday morning, preparations would begin early by a crew of volunteers. Diners were instructed to arrive at 6:30 a.m. and were accepted until 9:30 a.m.

    Meals each Friday morning are coordinated by local guest chefs, who also volunteer their time.

    Food is locally sourced and purchased from area farmers. Donations of $12 to $15 per diner are suggested, as the donation money is used to buy food for the following breakfasts and to fund microloans for farmers.

    021910_SELMA-CAFE1.JPG

    A volunteer serves patrons breakfast at Selma Cafe in 2010. The weekly breakfast is held to offer a gathering place for friends and community to imagine and create a new, vital and sustainable regional food economy.

    AnnArbor.com file photo

    Each week, Selma Cafe brought in between $1,800 to $2,000 in donations, Gottlieb said.

    About one-third of the donations are used to purchase food, Gottlieb said.

    The other two-thirds are used to help farmers. In the first several years of Selma Cafe, that money was used to help farmers purchase kits for hoop houses from a company in Ohio, Gottlieb said.

    After the summer of 2011, more grant funding became available for local farmers to buy hoop kits and so Selma Cafe started funding microloans for farmers to buy equipment instead, Gottlieb said.

    This year, Gottlieb has started hosting more events out of her home: A one-time happy hour fundraiser, for which Gottlieb obtained a temporary liquor license; a Balkan dance party that about eight people attended; and two Sunday morning yoga sessions in the basement of Gottlieb’s home followed by a local food lunch. Her basement has a yoga studio that holds about 10 people, Gottlieb said.

    Zoning violations

    In the four years of operations, Gottlieb said she has not received any complaints or notifications of city ordinance violations regarding the traffic in her immediate neighborhood until this March, when she was first contacted by the city.

    “When I heard the issue was traffic and parking congestion, I immediately made changes to address the traffic,” Gottlieb said. “As far as I’ve known, the parking issues have only happened since this March.”

    With messages to volunteers and diners through emails and on Selma Cafe’s website, Gottlieb outlined a parking plan to keep the traffic down around her home.

    It did not prevent the City of Ann Arbor from issuing the April 3 letter to Gottlieb, indicating that she needed to change her operations or face enforcement of the ordinance.

    Rampson's letter cited a number of complaints the city has received by multiple parties about the traffic issues created by the weekly breakfasts at Gottlieb's house.

    The following zoning code violations were cited by Rampson:

    • More people are involved in the operation than just those residing in the home
    • More than the permitted 10 vehicle trips per day are generated in the vicinity of the home
    • The need for parking is not being met on off-street parking facilities

    “I disagree with those three violations,” Gottlieb said, explaining she knows Selma Cafe diners contributed to more than 10 vehicle trips but alleviated the problem through her parking plan. “I’ve made every possible concession.”

    A vehicle trip is defined as a one-way trip to a place. The city's zoning ordinance allows for five round-trip vehicle trips that are business related to a residence, Rampson said.

    Additionally, the parking need created by the Selma Cafe patrons was not being accommodated, Rampson said. City code requires users of the cafe to park in driveways and garages, not in the street.

    "Any type of on-street parking is not considered appropriate for home businesses and home occupation," Rampson said.

    Selma Cafe also violated the zoning ordinance for home occupation because it was run by more than just the family members, Rampson said.

    City codes allow for one employee. The number of volunteers needed to run the cafe violated the performance standard, Rampson said.

    “We’re an unusual unique thing; we don’t fit in to the typical ways that people are used to seeing things happen,” Gottlieb said. “So it makes sense we wouldn’t fit in to somewhat vague, limited ways of describing use.”

    Rampson said Selma Cafe is in compliance with the city because they are temporarily ceasing operations.

    After Gottlieb is able to secure a fiscal sponsor for Selma Cafe and re-gain control of its finances, she said she will be able to consider future possibilities for the operation.

    “I am really proud of what we created, both financially for our community, for our farmers, for local food artisans … I can’t tell you the number of people that have written me and thanked me,” Gottlieb said. “Whatever that spirit of Selma Cafe has, it will continue to happen. It may not happen here, but it will continue to happen … whether it will happen in my house or not.”


    View 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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    Running Fit owner Randy Step found a like-minded business to open next to his downtown Ann Arbor store: Michigan Rehabilitation Specialists.

    Step, who purchased the 800-square-foot space at 121 E. Liberty St., in September, struck a deal with the physical therapy clinic, which was founded in 1999 and now has more than 25 locations. Metamorphosis Salon vacated the space for a new location in January.

    running_fit_metamorphosis_building.jpg

    Michigan Rehabilitation Specialists in downtown Ann Arbor will specialize in sports and running-related injuries under its The Running Institute umbrella.

    Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com

    Because the downtown Ann Arbor Michigan Rehabilitation Specialists clinic will be adjacent to a Running Fit store, it will specialize in sports and running-related injuries under its The Running Institute umbrella.

    “It’s quite a unique model and it’s all for helping patients come back from injuries and also helping runners at all levels with their form and training and every aspect you can think of with running,” explained Pete Kitto, a partner and regional director for Michigan Rehabilitation Specialists.

    The clinic also sponsors running clinics, camps, races and group runs. Kitto said they will offer sports massage and possibly sports acupuncture.

    “I’ve devoted my last 13 or 14 years of my practice to runners and I just think: ‘How can I help any kind of runner continue to run?’” Kitto said.

    Having a downtown presence, he said, will give the clinic access to Univeristy of Michigan students.

    Michigan Rehabilitation Specialists already operates The Running Institute with two Running Fit stores: one in Northville and one on Jackson Road in Ann Arbor. Kitto said it’s the perfect partnership.

    “If you have a running injury or you’re shopping for shoes and have an injury, you can walk next door,” Kitto said. “Sales staff (at Running Fit) can bring people over and we do free assessments at any time. Then, if I want to fit people with shoes, I walk them next door.”

    Michigan Rehabilitation Specialists is renovating the downtown Ann Arbor space now and Kitto hopes it will open in June or July.

    Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at lizzyalfs@annarbor.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lizzyalfs.


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    A new gift shop, The Eyrie, will open in Ypsilanti's Depot Town by the end of April and will sell predominately Michigan-made products.

    Owner Janette Rook said her 750-square-foot business at 9 E. Cross St. will sell about 95 percent locally made items and the rest will be from California.

    The Eyrie will be the second Michigan-focused store to open on Cross Street.

    The MI General Store, at 44 E. Cross St., is a gourmet specialty shop featuring Michigan products. MI General primarily sells wine and beer with a small selection of chocolate, sweets, snacks and cheese.

    Rook said her products include handmade baby items, soaps, hand creams, unique home decor, seasonal potted plants and garden items.

    "I've been wanting to open something like this for a while," Rook said. "There's just a lack of stores that have locally made products, so I decided to create it myself."

    Rook plans to operate as the sole employee, as her business expands. Rook said she chose the area and space due to the desirable location and affordable rate.

    "I looked all over Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and the space was more affordable here," Rook said. "The space I have has giant windows and a garden space. It's kind of amazing and unique. Depot Town is fun and it has such a cute vibe."

    Rook's business is located along the Huron River and next to Stealth Hydro and near Frog Island Park.

    City records show J&K Worldwide LLC. purchased the property in 2011 for $305,000. The assessed value of the property is $148,800.

    Rook said she's made a few cosmetic changes to the property, giving it a more open feel. She tore the carpet out and "exposed the bones of the place." Rook has decorated the space with cases and armoires.

    "I painted one wall a deep turquoise along the full length of the building and the rest is white, with sheers hanging," she said. "The windows are really the focus. The store has big tall windows, it's just amazing."

    Rook said she partially chose the location because of the feel Depot Town has with several unique stores and businesses.

    "It just has a nice feeling and when I come down here on the weekends it has a lot going on," Rook said. "It feels relaxed, you see people playing guitars outside."

    When the store opens, its hours will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

    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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    Ragamala.jpg

    Ragamala Dance

    photo by Hub Wilson

    Bharatanatyam, the beautiful and expressive Indian classical temple dance form, was traditionally a solo art. But for dancers Ranee Ramaswamy and her daughters Aparna and Ashwini, it’s all in the family.

    If each of the three tours as a soloist, the trio also work together in the Minneapolis-based dance company Ragamala, founded by Ranee and now co-directed with Aparna. The highly praised company, which also includes three other dancers, makes its University Musical Society debut Wednesday evening at Power Center with a 65-minute dance called “Sacred Earth” that, through choreography, Indian visual-art traditions, poetry and music—explores interconnections between humans the landscapes that shape them.

    If dance goers familiar with ballet and modern dance view bharatanatyam as an art form only Indians can appreciate, Ragamala effectively dispels that notion.

    The company got its start when Ranee Ramaswamy, born in Madras but living in Minneapolis, engaged in a cross-cultural collaboration with American poet Robert Bly for a dance in which Bly read the poetry of 16th century Indian poet Mirabai, in English. In addition to the three Ramaswamys, the company includes three non-Indian dancers, one of whom has been with the company for almost its entire 20 years. The company also has a school - and Ann Arbor will have a chance to learn a bit of bharatanatyam in a free class at the Ann Arbor Y on Monday evening.

    PREVIEW

    "Sacred Earth"

    • Who: Ragamala Dance, esteemed 6-member Indian dance company based in Minneapolis.
    • What: A 65-minute, no-intermission dance with live music.
    • Where: Power Center for the Performing Arts, 121 Fletcher St.
    • When: Wednesday, April 24, 7:30 p.m.
    • How much: $22-$44, UMS Michigan League Ticket Office, 734-764-2538, and online at ums.org.

    Bharatanatyam, while popular with Indian expats in the U.S., is not necessarily a career path for their children, Aparna Ramaswamy explained in a recent phone conversation.

    “It’s not part of the Indian immigrant experience (to choose this as a career). It’s more engineers or doctors. So, as we have traveled we’ve met special people who take to the form so naturally. We invite them to classes, and that’s how the three dancers came to us. Their technique is impeccable. We have toured as a company in India, and they’ve all been received so well.

    “We’ve always sought to make our work accessible for our audience,” Aparna Ramaswamy continued. “From that first project with Robert Bly, we’ve done many collaborations, all accessible in different ways. It’s a huge mark of pride for us that ours is not an art form just for Indians, not as an audience and not as artists, but a universal experience. Now, we find ourselves focusing on Indian arts, but the message is a more global one, and the experience is more global. We are looking back to ancient traditions and philosophies that are relevant in contemporary societies. That’s our mission.”

    “Sacred Earth,” which Aparna and Ranee Ramaswamy made in 2011, was inspired by several Indian traditions. Two of them are visual: the art of kolam, making rice-flour designs on the ground as an offering to Mother Earth, creating sacred space; and the wall paintings of the Warli people of western India, which bring the spiritual into everyday existence. (The company conducts a family workshop on kolam drawing Sunday afternoon at the U-M Museum of Art.)

    Ragamala brought Warli tribal artists from India to Minneapolist for six weeks to create the paintings for the dance. Ranee and Aparana Ramaswamy also developed a score for the dance in conjunction with three of the four musicians who will play it live here on Wednesday. And the texts of the vocals, which come from Tamil Sangam poetry from South India, are preceded by the reading of English translations, making the words - which draw parallels between inner and outer landscape and use the natural world as a metaphor for the intricacies of human emotion - accessible to the audience.

    For the Ramaswamys, bharatanatyam has been a lifetime devotion. Ranee Ramaswamy had studied the form in India and become accomplished in its technique and narrative aspects, but it was a meeting with one of the art’s foremost exponents, Alarmel Valli - in Minneapolis, not India - that set the family on its current path.

    “My mother was so blown away by her,” said Aparna Ramaswamy, “that she started all over in her school of dance, to make sure she learned and absorbed her aesthetic.”

    Daughters Aparna and Ashwini became Valli’s students, too, and the three spend extended time each year in India continuing to work with Valli.

    Valli is a strict master. “She always says, ‘Please don’t come back if you’re not exactly at the same level,’” Aparna Ramaswamy reported.

    Dancing together, co-directing a company together, has been a joy both as an artistic adventure and a family endeavor, Aparna Ramaswamy said.

    “It’s a wonderful partnership,” she said, “having this common goal and drive. It’s not common to have a mother and daughter who have been colleagues together from a very young age.”

    Free, related UMS educational events:

    • Sunday, 3 p.m., U-M Museum of Art, South State Street at South University: Family Activity: Kolam Drawing Workshop. Join Minneapolis-based Ragamala Dance in an hour-long, hands-on art making workshop in conjunction with their performance of Sacred Earth. Ragamala incorporates kolam drawings into their performance, and will teach the technique during this workshop. Kolam is a form of drawing practiced throughout south India that uses rice powder, chalk, or colored powders. In collaboration with the U-M Museum of Art.

    • Monday, 7:30 p.m., Ann Arbor YMCA, 400 W. Washington St.: Join dancers from the Minneapolis-based Ragamala Dance for an exploration of the company’s movement style. No dance training or experience necessary, and all levels, ages 13 and up, are welcome. Free, but first come, first served until studio reaches capacity. Sign-up begins at 6:45 p.m. In collaboration with the Ann Arbor Y.


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    This story will be updated as information becomes available.

    A 20-year-old Pittsfield Township woman was shot in the head during a robbery Friday night, according to the Pittsfield Department of Public Safety.

    Pittsfield police officers responded to a call for a medical emergency around 10:35 p.m. on the 4900 block of Lakeridge Drive in Pittsfield Township and transported the victim to a nearby hospital where she was treated for non-life threatening injuries.

    Pittsfield Township Deputy Police Chief Gordy Schick described the suspect as an 18- to 20-year-old black male, approximately 5-foot-8 with a thin build, no facial hair and a bald head. He was wearing a hoodie and all dark clothing. He is still at large and considered armed and extremely dangerous.

    Schick said the woman had just gotten off work and was walking up to her apartment complex when an unknown suspect approached her with a gun and tried to grab her purse.

    The suspect then put the gun to her head and told her to remove her clothing while forcing her to the ground. At that point, the victim began fighting back and the suspect then shot her in the left side of her head.

    Schick said the suspect did have the intent to commit a sexual assault, but did not.

    The victim remains in stable condition as of 9:20 a.m. on Saturday.

    The Ann Arbor Police Department also responded to the scene with a K-9 unit, but were unable to track down the suspect after canvassing the area.

    Schick also added the victim was wearing headphones, which he advised against at that time of night as a preventative measure.

    Anyone having witnessed the incident or can provide more information is asked to call the Pittsfield Police Department at (734) 822-4911 or the confidential tip line at (734) 822-4958.


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    The cold, rain and wind may have ruined the week for most hgh school athletes in the area, but there's one spring sport that doesn't have to deal with pesky mother nature: water polo. The Saline High School girls defeated Grand Haven 12-2 on Friday night in the comfy confines of the school's natatorium.

    Daniel Brenner is a photographer for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at danielbrenner@annarbor.com.


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    Ann Arbor orchestra teacher Joe DeMarsh conducts during a rehearsal at Tappan Middle School on Jan. 17.

    Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com file photo

    The Ann Arbor Public Schools was among 307 districts throughout the U.S. to be named to the 2013 Best Communities for Music Education list.

    It is a designation awarded annually by the National Association of Music Merchants' nonprofit group, the NAMM Foundation.

    Ten other districts from Michigan also were recognized, including Bloomfield Hills Schools, Dearborn Public Schools and Pinckney Community Schools.

    The Best Communities for Music Education program acknowledges schools and districts nationwide for their commitment to and support of music education, according to its website. The distinction is given to schools based on survey participation.

    Nearly 2,000 districts and schools took part in the 2013 program, answering detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, financial support for the music program and other relevant factors in the community's music education program, the website says. According to the NAMM foundation, the information submitted is verified by district officials and advisory organizations, both of which review the data collected in the survey.

    Schools were chosen for the Best Communities award based on their ability to demonstrate a budgetary commitment to music; a variety of opportunities for students to learn music; the presence of highly qualified, certified music teachers; an adherence to state and national standards; and a wealth of performance experiences and competition opportunities offered.

    The NAMM Foundation's mission is advancing active participation in music-making across all ages by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving and public service programs from the international music products industry.

    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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    Katie Grosh, Ryan George, Emily Olson, and Micaela Stevenson star in the Huron Players' production of "MacBeth."

    Photo by Gwen McKee

    Huron High School's Huron Players will present Shakespeare's tragedy "MacBeth" on April 26-27 and May 3-4 at 7:30 p.m., at Huron's New Theater (2727 Fuller Road in Ann Arbor), directed by Brian Carbine. Tickets - $8 general, $6 for students/seniors/staff - go on sale 45 minutes before each performance, and advance tickets can be reserved by calling 734-994-2095.

    The press release summarizes the play's story: "The victorious Macbeth chances upon three mysterious witches who offer an intriguing prophecy, tempting him with the promise of becoming King. Upon hearing the news, Lady Macbeth urges her husband into murderous action, and what follows is a wild and maddening descent into war, insanity and demons."

    For more information, visit the Huron Players website.

    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 Ann Arbor Fire Department has been awarded an $87,876 federal grant to improve operations and safety, U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin announced this week.

    In addition to the grant for Ann Arbor, two other grants were announced under the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Assistance to Firefighters grant program, including $17,575 for the New Hudson Public Safety Department and $43,650 for the Auburn Hills Fire Department.

    "Every day, our first responders stand ready to protect lives and property. This grant will help provide the Ann Arbor, New Hudson, and Auburn Hills fire departments with the support they need to protect their communities," Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement Thursday.

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    The Ann Arbor Fire Department has been awarded an $87,876 federal grant to improve operations and safety, U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin said on Thursday.

    Joseph Tobianski I AnnArbor.com

    "Our firefighters provide brave and crucial services to communities across Southeast Michigan," added Stabenow, D-Mich. "This grant will help fund the resources and tools they need to perform their duties effectively and keep our families safe."

    The competitive grants are intended to help fund professional training programs, update equipment and facilities, and provide new supplies to help first responders handle hazards effectively.

    More information about the program can be found at http://www.fema.gov/welcome-assistance-firefighters-grant-program.

    Ann Arbor Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard and City Administrator Steve Powers could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.

    Powers presented his recommended budget to the City Council this week. Fire department expenditures account for $14.5 million of the $82.9 million general fund budget, while police department expenditures total $24.5 million — equating to 47 percent of the budget going to public safety, and another $4.4 million going toward the 15th District Court.

    The administrator's budget, which awaits City Council approval, maintains 144 full-time employees in the police department and 86 full-time employees in the fire department.

    The Ann Arbor Fire Department provides a broad range of services to the community, including fire suppression, vehicle accident extrication, medical assistance, water and ice rescue, fire safety inspections, investigation of fires, and oversight of fire-related permits. It also plays a large part in Washtenaw County Hazardous Material and Technical Rescue teams.

    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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    Volunteers gathered Saturday to plant 500 trees along the vacant Water Street property in Ypsilanti.

    The event was scheduled to fall before Earth Day on Sunday and the city of Ypsilanti partnered with ReLeaf Michigan, a nonprofit tree organization, to help recruit and train volunteers to help plant and tend the nursery.

    The nursery can be accessed at the intersection of Park Street and South Street, off of Michigan Avenue, or by crossing the pedestrian bridge on the Water Street trail. Parking is available down side streets and also at the Water Street park.

    AnnArbor.com staff photographer Courtney Sacco was there to capture these images.


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    Let's be clear, a child that does not receive a quality education today will become an adult without much of a future tomorrow. If we allow children to rot in historically failing schools we all will suffer.

    The Education Trust Midwest released a harsh report on how Michigan's education system stacks up.

    The report, "Invest in What Works: A Call to Michigan Leaders," spells out six steps Michigan should take to catch up with other states — and there's much catching up to do. The report states Michigan is below average on most educational metrics, and is falling further behind other states and nations.

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    The needs of students must be the biggest focus of the educational system.

    While much focus has been on Michigan's "brain drain" — students receiving a college education and fleeing our state — perhaps the greater problem is those we fail to educate that are staying behind.

    A uneducated child does not disappear. They will be coming to your place of business, be that as a potential customer, employee or with some more nefarious idea in mind.

    Holding onto the past and protecting the status quo are not prescriptions to help us thrive, collaborate and compete on the world stage.

    Having just returned from China where I have been traveling for nearly a quarter of a century I can assure you they are not slowing down while we have prolonged ideologically driven, political debates about reforming our schools. Be clear, while we stall and debate, protecting adult interest at the expense of students, the world is moving on.

    Gov. Rick Snyder spelled out his educational policy initiative in April 2011, identifying the problems he saw in our educational system and the solutions to address them.

    Two years later, House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) announced that the Michigan House Democrats have formed a task force that will find "real solutions for Michigan’s struggling schools." While commendable, they need to act with a sense of urgency, as though their child was trapped in these schools. Every year adults don't get it right, children suffer.

    For those that say Snyder and Legislature are "moving too fast," ask yourself this: "If this were your child trapped in a failing school - in many cases a decade or longer - would you come to the same conclusion?"

    If the Governor’s plan is not the answer, then what? Doing nothing is not an option. Pointing to islands of excellence in local school districts around the state even while other children are drowning in a sea of despair is not a plan.

    As the second decade of the 21st century knowledge economy unfolds, Michigan is going to be dependent at every level on bold leadership with the courage to cast off the anchors of the past and set sail to create a new future.

    Those educational and political leaders who believe we can go “back to the future” are selling fool’s gold. What we once had in Michigan is gone and it's not coming back — and change and progress is needed in these school buildings that we have neglected for far too long.

    When it comes to providing the education our children need and deserve not merely to survive, but to thrive in a hyper-competitive, disruptive knowledge economy, where ideas and jobs can and do effortlessly move around the globe - the focus has deteriorated into adult power, control, and politics.

    The viability of our society, the strength of our economy, the quality of our collective lives, the vibrancy our democracy, and our place in the world are sitting in our classrooms today.

    Let's get the educational focus in Michigan back on TLC —Teaching, Learning and Children.

    Quality education for all of our children remains a vital link to the future prosperity of Michigan and our country.

    Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as state mental health director and state superintendent of schools. He is a US/China business and educational consultant. He can be reached at tdwatkins88@gmail.com.


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    Democratic national committeewoman Debbie Dingell says she has decided not to run for the U.S. Senate seat that opened up with Carl Levin's impending retirement.

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    Debbie Dingell

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    The wife of longtime U.S. Rep. John Dingell had been mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate along with U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Oakland County's Bloomfield Township and others.

    In a statement released Saturday, Dingell said "there may be a time when elective office is the right choice" for her, "but this was not it."

    Potential Republican candidates include U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers and Justin Amash, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and ex-state party chairman Saul Anuzis.

    Levin announced last month that he won't seek re-election in 2014. The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman first was elected to the Senate in 1978.


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    Mark Hodesh (right,) owner of Downtown Home and Garden, offered tours today of his historic building.

    Lisa Carolin I For AnnArbor.com

    Downtown Home and Garden owner Mark Hodesh is "celebrating the neighborhood." Hodesh, who has owned the more than a century-old building since 1975, wants to share its history and offered tours Saturday morning to do just that.

    "We are a product of where and what we are, and the history of this building comes out of the pores," said Hodesh. "The farmers are gone. Now our customers are urban gardeners and gourmet cooks. We've even taking on clothing lines for this coming fall."

    The building was constructed in the mid-1890s and first named the Mann and Zeeb Elevator, which supplied field seed for farmers and grain for the poultry many residents on the West Side kept. Some of the original shelves and wood floors are still there along with an old grain elevator.

    The barn was built in 1906 and used as a livery stable where people coming downtown could park for the day. A reminder of that time period is the buggy that hangs there. It was manufactured at Walker's Carriage Factory on Liberty, which is now the home of the Ann Arbor Art Center. The buggy was purchased by the Washtenaw County Historical Society and is estimated to have been built in the 1890s.

    The Hertlers bought the building in 1906 and renamed it Hertler Bros.

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    This photo called "Farmers Day 1933" was taken in what is now Downtown Home and Garden and features members of the Hertler family, who formerly owned the building.

    Lisa Carolin I For AnnArbor.com

    "It is incumbent on me to keep up with modern times but not to change things too much," Hodesh told the tour group.

    Hodesh still refers to the wide open space in the building as the barn, and the remaining part of Downtown Home and Garden as "the store."

    Only part of the building has a basement where several horse stalls still exist. Hodesh uses the space to store Christmas trees and potatoes. He says that when he bought the building, there were seven layers of doors leading to the basement.

    There also is an upstairs, which Hodesh says people have told him was a hangout for neighborhood kids. It's used to store seasonal items, and also houses his wife's art studio as well as Hodesh's office, which he refers to as "world headquarters."

    Hodesh says that his mother still refers to the building as "Hertler's."

    "I'm keeping an eye on the past while adapting to the future," said Hodesh, referring to Mark's Carts, which opened two years ago in the courtyard on Washington Street between First and Ashley, and to Bill's Beer Garden, which opened last year in the courtyard of Downtown Home and Garden.

    "It is a labor of love and a joy to adapt this old mercantile model," he said.


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    Five days after the Boston Marathon tragedy, students at the University of Michigan were set to take action to honor the victims of the bombing — and they hit the ground running.

    Organizer of the event, Jimmy Schneidewind reached out to a few local running stores, posted flyers, and used social media venues to promote the run. He estimates nearly 200 people participated. One of which was president of the Ann Arbor track club, Mitchell Garner.

    Before the race, Schneidewind addressed participants while he spoke about the strength of the close-knit running community.

    "It's important to demonstrate publicly it wont divide us," he said. "It will make us stronger."

    Garner, who has run in the Boston Marathon seven times, looks back on his experiences with fondness.

    "Finishing the Boson Marathon is like you're on cloud nine." he says. He and his friends are confident this year's events will not deter anyone from attending next year. He also says the run in Ann Arbor was an opportunity to show resilience and strength.

    The course route started on the University of Michigan Diag and headed toward State Street, turned on to North University Avenue, continued down to South University Avenue, and then circled back to the Diag. Each lap was equivalent to about one mile and most participants completed three laps. The miles are recorded and updated to a website keeping track of all international runs in honor of the Boston Marathon. The site is managed by U-M alumni Jake Steinerman.

    All participants combined in the Ann Arbor race logged a total of 493 miles.

    Schneidewind says they were glad to be able to generate good will in the wake of a horrific event.

    AnnArbor.com photographer Daniel Brenner was at the run to capture these images.


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    Early morning lines and 12-inch vinyl were the ingredients for this year's Record Store Day. Add in uncommonly cold temperatures and it gets even more interesting. Three Ann Arbor stores are participating. Underground Sounds opened their doors at 9 a.m., Wazoo Records opened at 10 a.m., and Encore at 11 a.m.

    The most eager customers started lining up outside Underground Sounds around 3 a.m. and the line stretched to almost Fourth Street before opening.

    Each store ordered a different amount of specialty releases. Wazoo Records owner John Kerr said he received more than 100 different titles. Often getting more than one copy of each title, he had more than 300 total pieces. They sold out of a few options before noon but expects more customers to deplete their stock today.


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    The proposal for a massive 14-story student apartment building at 413 E. Huron St. has made obvious major weaknesses in the city's site plan approval process. Since planning staff says the project meets provisions of the city's zoning ordinance, legal counsel has advised council members they have no choice but to approve the project as submitted. In other words, the authority of council is being construed in the most narrow manner possible — i.e., only zoning counts.

    413_E_Huron_new_design_031813_b.jpg

    A look at the design for the proposed high-rise at 413 E. Huron. This shows the signature corner at Division and Huron.

    Humphreys & Partners Architects

    The 413 project proposal was first reviewed by the city's Design Review Board. That group of design professionals made comments on the negative impact of the project's size relative to the adjacent neighborhood. The public input session had one speaker after another speak of their concerns about the size and location of the project, and its overall impacts.

    The proposed project goes against established guidelines for design, as included in the city's master plan, its downtown plan, and its overlay zoning design guidelines. Also, there will be significant loss to the character of three of the city's premier historic districts.

    The advice council gets from its legal staff is simply: You must approve it as submitted or you will be sued. This advice pits the city's own authority to plan and control development against the deep pockets of developers.

    The public should question whether considered critiques by its appointed Design Review Board, concerns from the public, a resolution opposing the project from the Historic District Commission, and provisions in all of the city's design guidelines should be so easily discarded in the site plan review process. If only zoning counts, then what is the purpose of these other steps, which any developer will be free to ignore.

    Council does have other options, which have been presented by legal advisors representing at least eight citizens groups. Members of council should utilize these options and vote to send the developer back to the drawing board to deliver a plan that is more in keeping with what the community wants — and deserves.

    Norman Tyler is a resident of downtown Ann Arbor.


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