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Posted on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 2:55 p.m.

Ann Arbor officials announce crackdown on graffiti to combat growing nuisance

By Ryan J. Stanton

An increase in the amount of graffiti in downtown Ann Arbor and other parts of the city has city officials responding to what they consider a growing nuisance.

In recent months, city officials say, there has been a clear increase in the amount of graffiti, which they argue detracts from the aesthetic appeal of the community, can decrease property values and has a negative impact on sense of safety and security.


This graffiti has been on a building on the 300 block of East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor for several weeks and has not been removed yet. It's unknown whether anyone has filed a complaint about it.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"It was noticed by council, it was noticed by the mayor, it was noticed by our police department, and we're responding and trying to take care of it early on so it doesn't spread," City Administrator Steve Powers told in an interview today. "This is certainly an item of emphasis for our community standards right now."

Beginning Nov. 1, city officials said the city's community standards officers are going to dedicate increased staff time to graffiti enforcement, meaning property owners may receive notices ordering graffiti removal.

In 2009, the City Council passed an ordinance to strengthen the language in the city’s ordinance regarding removal of graffiti on private property.

The ordinance is complaint driven, meaning that when there are complaints about graffiti, the city requires property owners to clean it up.

Powers said the graffiti crackdown is not going to require additional funding, but rather a reallocation of existing resources.

Under the ordinance, property owners are required to remove graffiti within seven calendar days after notice from the city. If the owner does not remove the graffiti, then the city may remove the graffiti and bill the property owner for the work.


Graffiti lingers on the building occupied by retailer Ragstock on East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Residents have several options for reporting graffiti, including calling the community standards unit of the Ann Arbor Police Department at (734) 794-6942 or e-mailing complaints to They also can submit a complaint online.

Under the city's ordinance, graffiti may be physically removed or covered over with paint.

Powers said the Downtown Development Authority has been in on the discussions about the graffiti crackdown and is in support.

"I think it's too early as far as any response back from property owners," he said. "We're just getting started with community standards going out and working with property owners and business owners on the graffiti on their structures and on their buildings."

Of course, there are some areas of Ann Arbor — like the graffiti alley on Liberty Street — where graffiti is tolerated. But how does the city distinguish between art and graffiti?

"I can't tell you this afternoon whether community standards will have a specific definition of graffiti or if it will be more judgment and common sense as far as what is graffiti," Powers said. "Certainly vulgar, offensive lettering or symbols would be one."

DDA Executive Director Susan Pollay could not be reached for comment. In the past, the DDA has provided funds for graffiti removal, working in partnership with Anderson's Paint and Fingerle Lumber to provide graffiti removal materials to downtown businesses.

The DDA grant funds made it so downtown building or business owners who find their property tagged with graffiti could visit Anderson's or Fingerle for free anti-graffiti supplies.

"We all benefit when graffiti blight is removed quickly, and DDA grant funds have had the effect of improving downtown aesthetics without placing an additional burden on downtown businesses who are in fact the victims of graffitists tagging their property," Pollay said in a May 2010 news release from the DDA.

Ann Arbor officials said earlier this month they were expecting to announce a set of strategies — including adding more frequent police foot patrols downtown — to combat problems associated with aggressive panhandling and crime on East Liberty Street. Stepped-up enforcement of panhandling, graffiti and alley ordinances are going to be part of the effort downtown, Mayor John Hieftje said at a DDA meeting.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

Powers said the Downtown Development Authority has been in on the discussions about the graffiti crackdown and is in support. But the crackdown is aimed at the wrong people. Heaven forbid we should "crackdown" on the poor unfortunate lazy droopy drawer bums that deface others property! Too bad these bums can't read!


Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 10:51 p.m.

I sure hope they start cleaning up the new graffiti in Gallup Park. It's bad. Check out the footbridge and train tressel bridge near Mitchell Field, Gallup park and the path to the Arb. Disgusting graffiti has just emerged this weekend.

John Minock

Sun, Oct 30, 2011 : 4:54 p.m.

If anyone knows who the taggers "Mekan" and "kiefOne" are, please contact the Ann Arbor Police. These are the most prolific spray painters downtown.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

(from another article) the mayor and city council said that they don't feel there is an uptick in crime, even though business owners complained about/closed up businesses and site aggresive panhandling as a factor. Aggresive panhandling, graffiti (and rapes) are worse than they were a few years ago (when we had more cops, beat cops) so yeah, I don't see any correlation at all that less police presence is a factor. (insert rolly eyes here)


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

I have noticed while driving Detroit that if I see graffiti? It is gone within days. Detroit does not fool around. Especially the bridges on 94. Slow to thought Ann Arbor?


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

Hood rats from Detroit.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 3:39 p.m.

That's a completely ignorant comment. I guarantee you it's more likely to be a skinny white kid in $300 sneakers than someone who drove all the way from Detroit to Ann Arbor to 'tag'.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 12:09 p.m.

The rise in graffiti is directly tied to the diminished police presence in the city. 20 years ago you could drive from one side of the city to the other and most likely pass at least 2-3 police cars. These days I can travel around the city for a full week and never see a police car. We used to have bike cops and foot patrols that eliminated this kind of behavior. How many foot patrols could we fund in trade for a water sculpture? How about "1% for An Extra Couple of Cops"


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 5:19 a.m.

Does anyone remember the Sept.17th (By Paula Gardner) GeorgeTown Mall Article? in it graffiti issues were highlighted. I wonder if the Mayor/City Admin." Noticed No Lights for Safety Are the Taxpayers Gettin Ripped Off?


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 3:20 a.m.

The &$%#! graffiti is everywhere! And guess what age group is the undisputed leader in graffiti production? At new tax on all teens in the county might be the best way to bring this to a screeching halt. Let the "kids" start paying the costs. Heartless? Hardly so: teens are not babies or "grade schoolers" in the traditional sense; they are regarded as "adolescents" or even "young adults" - time to FINISH their Civics Lessons. Alternatively: this minor offense could be made a felony. Graffiti makers could be forced to: do their obnoxious dirty work only on the outside - of their own homes. Let the neighbors then come with torches and rope. ;-) Meanwhile, we don't need no stinking added law enforcement: the city and county can just "reallocate" forces from, say, the rape prevention campaign. Or better yet, let them "reallocate" all the security personnel from protecting the governor and legislators.

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 2:01 a.m.

The only reason they city doesn't like graffiti is that it didn't overpay some snobby foreign artist for it and it wasn't chosen by the AAPAC.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 1:23 a.m.

Graffiti is also one of the ways gangs mark their territory.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 2:54 p.m.

So we have more dogs in the hood then ever before?


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 11:55 p.m.

Yesterday we walked along the Huron to the Dixboro Dam and found a lot of very fresh graffiti on the footings of the Dixboro Road bridge and tags on the footbridge over to Parker Mill. It looks like there's a lot of fresh activity on empty concrete canvas. It's not downtown, but this graffiti scars a key juncture of one of Ann Arbor's best quiet walking paths along the river.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 2:05 a.m.

please call it in, I want the Mayor and council to get the notice from their enforcers


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 10:18 p.m.

Property owners recieving notices! bah! the police should have to spend their after hours time with sandblasters if they missed catching the perps on their watch! The property owners aren't responsible for the graffiti!!


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 10:15 p.m.

Well, it's a start in the right direction, getting rid of ugliness in Ann Arbor and improving our city. Now lets clean up the alley by the Michigan and get rid of the bums there, and get rid of that structure in Liberty Square.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 10 p.m.

I still don't get how the city is going to be able to tell the difference between unsightly graffiti and art. I mean, isn't art pretty much a matter of opinion anyways? FWIW, I really love a lot of the street art found around town and sometimes I get a little sad when it gets removed.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:44 p.m.

I for one hope the grafitti artists concentrate on the new city hall. The project is by far the ugliest I've ever seen. The building looks to have been made from army surplus material from WWII quonset huts. Graffit would either help or hide the appearence. The "art?" project could also benefit from graffiti or maybe we could get a few bucks back from scrap metal. Does city council ever have a clue?

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 2:03 a.m.

You are by far not the only one. It's hideous and an embarrassment.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 10:02 p.m.

I don't know why but I am glad to hear that I am not the only person who thinks that the new Ann Arbor city hall facade is about as ugly as can be. :) I find myself wondering "what were they thinking?" every time I go by the place.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:42 p.m.

The very worst thing that can do is publish photos of the graffiti. That gives instant fame to the writer, and will encourage others to follow suit. I'm speaking from experience. I guarantee "Mekan" and his friends are celebrating right now., and planning future hits at that spot. And the best thing to do is remove it immediately. If it's known it will come down the next day, they won't bother with that spot.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 2:09 a.m.

Absolutely right on both counts. That was my first thought to, "great, you just gave the creep free advertising."

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:32 p.m.

From the Ann Arbor City Code: "Graffiti" constitutes a public nuisance and means any mark or marks on any surface or structure made without the prior permission of the property owner and made in any manner, including but not limited to, writing, inscribing, drawing, tagging, sketching, spray-painting, painting, etching, scratching, carving, engraving, scraping, or attaching. Public nuisance is defined as: Whatever annoys, injures or endangers the safety, health, comfort or repose of the public; offends public decency; interferes with, obstructs or renders dangerous any street, highway, navigable lake or stream; or in any way renders the public insecure in life or property is hereby declared to be a public nuisance. Public nuisances shall include, but not be limited to, whatever is forbidden by any provision of this chapter. No person shall commit, create, or maintain any nuisance.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.

Ann Arbor should start focusing on real issues and forget about alleyway graffiti. most graffiti artist are some what respectable of personal property and will stray out way. go catch of criminal Ann Arbor


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:46 p.m.

How about we give the city council a citation for "failure to serve the public". If we had more police on the streets we won't have such a graffiti problem. The council is squandering away the money of the tax payers with no penalties. The sights of the graffiti should be a reminder to the tax payers that we NEED more police officers on the streets.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:37 p.m.

Whos going to do the work? The city has cut the work force to bare bones. Putting it on paper is one thing, actually being able to enforce it is yet another. Good luck.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 10:47 p.m.

Seriously??? ESL, right?


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

They'll hire over-priced, under-skilled contractors, just like they now do for sidewalks. The victims will pay, so why should they care?

Kara H

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:36 p.m.

I tend to really like graffiti. My camera is full of shots from when I visit other cities and even some from AA. That said, much of the stuff that's been going up recently is pretty low-quality tagging and merely defaces buildings and underpasses without adding anything to the setting. Since I actually do like graffiti, I understand some building owners might too. But they should have to indicate their intention to leave graffiti intact once they've been cited by the city. As long as there's that sort of opt-out provision, if the property owners don't act, then if city workers remove or paint over it, I have no problems with the property owner being billed, at cost, for time and materials. Oh, btw, fair is fair. The city or county should also be responsible for the immediate remove of graffiti on their properties (specifically over and under passes) where it seems to languish for quite awhile.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 4:48 p.m.

Glad to hear it. Post your address and I'll provide all you want.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:33 p.m.

if i had building i could some nice graffiti and in fact i'll pay got artist to spray.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:09 p.m.

If this is discovered in the DDA jurisdiction and most of the complaints are centered in and around the downtown area, how about having the DDA's rainy day fund foot the bill to remove the graffiti instead of the property owner? Are these owners actively looking for people to deface their property? Didn't think so! This appears to be a crime issue and not another money making venue for the city.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:46 p.m.

That's sort of what is described near the end of the article.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:05 p.m.

So if I'm a victim of a crime, oh say robbed at gunpoint, will the police not do their job and leave it up to me to find the person?

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 10:36 p.m.

Not only that, you are responsible for covering up or removing any unsightly bruising. Don't despair, a free bandage kit will be made available at Fingerle Lumber.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:32 p.m.

yes! because it's fault for going out and getting robbed ;)


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:54 p.m.

And if a property owner discovers the "artists" in the act, will they be allowed to pound the crap out of them before calling the police?


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:19 p.m.

I say the liberal use of a car antenna their back side should be legal if caught by the property owner.

Bob W

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.

I hope this "crackdown" includes the AT&T network boxes all over the city. They are pretty unsightly even without graffiti.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:26 p.m.

Lets not forget that his is the same city that promoted graffiti alley on Liberty. Build it and they will come.

rusty shackelford

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:13 p.m.

""I can't tell you this afternoon whether community standards will have a specific definition of graffiti...." Going to make legal enforcement pretty tough if you can't even define what it is you're calling a violation. Perhaps instead of specific parking codes we should just have the community standards use their "common sense" about whether someone has been in a space too long. Sound untenably vague? that's my point. Perhaps you should just leave it up to the property owners/tenants about what they consider a nuisance on their property. Just because you don't like a piece of art doesn't mean it's "graffiti" instead of "art." It seems instead of solving more pressing issues our "city fathers" spend a lot of time making up problems that they think they can then look good by fixing.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:31 p.m.

i don't see graffiti as major problem and it isn't even damaging . business owner should just simply put up sign saying "please don't spray here.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:05 p.m.

"In 2009, the City Council passed an ordinance to strengthen the language in the city's ordinance regarding removal of graffiti on private property. Powers said the graffiti crackdown is not going to require additional funding, but rather a reallocation of existing resources. Under the ordinance, property owners are required to remove graffiti within seven calendar days after notice from the city. If the owner does not remove the graffiti, then the city may remove the graffiti and bill the property owner for the work." BWAHAHAHAHAHAAA! So instead of increasing enforcement on the cretins who are causing the graffiti, the city is going to ding the property owners.. the VICTIMS of the graffiti. Only in Ann Arbor does the administration gut those that would've prevented these from happening and then bill the taxpayers for the crimes having happened. You all better be prepared to protect yourselves because I'm sure they'll start charging for individual rescues and investigations soon...

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 1:57 a.m.

Thanks, Rusty. So if other towns jumped off a cliff....


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

Did you miss the part where the owner can get supplies free to remove the graffiti?

rusty shackelford

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:14 p.m.

I actually agree that they shouldn't be billed/fined. I think it should be up to them how they want their property to look.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:12 p.m.

Yes I know that's how it's done in most places. The point is there are very few cops around to pass by let alone deter these "artists" So when more and more of this is appearing, who should be billed? I say the mayor should be paying for the clean up out of pocket. You're welcome.

rusty shackelford

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:08 p.m.

Actually, this is how it works pretty much everywhere, but thanks for the rant. I doubt cops pass by people painting graffiti and say to themselves "no worries, we'll just hassle the business owners tomorrow."