Wearing a black Tesla jacket, Eastern Michigan University student Chris Torrella plugs a charging cord into the side of his blue Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle.
A glowing computer screen inside shows the car is already 84 percent charged and has about another 25 minutes to go.
“That’s all it takes,” Torrella said, standing along Fernwood Avenue in the Pittsfield Village neighborhood, where Ann Arbor’s first curbside EV charging station is now up and running.
Homeowners Lisa Lemble and Robert Gordon — along with Torrella, their tenant in a neighboring condo – led the charge to make it happen, spending 10 months jumping through hoops.
They installed the EV station in front of their home at their own expense, with city approval, and others are now free to use it.
“Mainly we want people to know that if they live in the city of Ann Arbor and don’t have a driveway and don’t have access to a garage, that it’s possible to put in a charging station curbside,” Lemble said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, May 7.
Because it had never been done before, there wasn’t an established city permit process for a curbside EV station.
They also needed to convince their condo association to approve the project.
Torrella approached the city and the Pittsfield Village board of directors with the idea early last year.
His persistence led to a closed meeting between city and condo association representatives in May 2018.
Soon after, Torrella said he was dismayed to learn the city denied the proposal. Lemble and Gordon believe that initial denial was due to a misunderstanding over who would pay for the charging station. They clarified they weren’t asking the city to pay for it.
With help from their 3rd Ward City Council representative, Julie Grand, they set up a meeting with city staff in July to clear things up.
Several neighbors then showed up before the condo association board in support of the project in August, along with Craig Hupy, the city’s public services administrator. Hupy voiced the city’s support, and the board approved the project.
After that, Lemble and Gordon executed a license agreement with the city in October and the charging station was installed in November.
The final step came in December when DTE Energy added a dedicated meter for it, and charging began.
The station has two cords, so it can charge two EVs at once, including a Tesla that Lemble and Gordon own.
For safety reasons, nozzles are kept locked, but others who want to use them can get key access by making arrangements with the couple.
“We like to share! Ask us about charging,” a sign on the station reads, giving their name, address and phone number.
It can take six to seven hours to go from zero to fully charged, said Gordon, vice chair of the city’s Transportation Commission.
The couple has a flat-rate arrangement with DTE to pay about $46 per month for the electricity, Gordon said.
For those wondering, it was expensive to go through the permitting process and have the charger installed, Gordon said, indicating it cost about $15,000-$16,000, including thousands of dollars in city permit fees and thousands to reroute the sidewalk.
Now that there’s an established process and model to follow, Gordon hopes it will be less expensive for others.
Grand said she’s glad Lemble and Gordon were willing to put their financial and creative resources around living sustainably and she hopes others build upon their success.
Charles Lanning of Howell-based Homestead Enterprises was the electrician and general contractor.
“We feel like this would never have been completed if he hadn’t stuck with it through the entire process,” Lemble said.
The couple also gives credit to Alison Heatley, a city engineer, and Senior Assistant City Attorney Matthew Rechtien for their work on creating a process to follow.
“I would say that it was a little rough at times, but not because anybody was trying to make it difficult,” Lemble said. “They knew that they could do it. They just had to figure out how to do it.”
Explaining just how much work it took, Lemble said she has hundreds of files and emails related to the project on her computer.
But to start it all, she said, somebody had to initially think it was possible, and that wasn’t her.
“Chris Torrella bought himself a wonderful electric car and said, ‘It’d really be nice if I didn’t have to leave it somewhere for eight hours to charge it while I ride my electric skateboard somewhere,’ so he started asking, and he started garnering support,” Lemble said.
Torrella is studying computer science at EMU and is about to start a summer internship at Tesla in California. He hopes to work as a Tesla programmer after he graduates.
The reason he bought a Tesla and fought for a curbside EV charger for it, he said, is to make the world a more sustainable place.
“We need this to happen,” he said. “And so that is what drove me through the whole process of talking to people and researching and really seeing how we could get this done.”
He said he’s appreciative of Lemble and Gordon for funding the majority of the costs.
Their next step, they said, is hopefully convincing the condo association to allow solar panels in the neighborhood.