Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission meeting (Dec. 15, 2009): If projects discussed by the city’s park advisory commission move ahead, next year will bring a series of art installations to the Huron River, and turn two city parks into parking lots for University of Michigan home football games.
At its Dec. 15 meeting, park commissioners raised concerns but ultimately signed off on a city staff proposal to use parts of Allmendinger and Frisinger parks for football parking during the 2010 season. The plan could raise an estimated $34,000 in net revenues for the city.
In a separate move, the commission gave the go ahead for UM to apply for a state permit that’s needed to install a series of wire sculptures at four locations along the Huron River, from Argo to Gallup. It’s an ambitious project by UM visiting artist William Dennisuk, designed to bridge the town/gown communities – assuming that the project itself gets approval from the city and state.
Commissioners also got a budget update from Jayne Miller, the city’s community services director, who told them to anticipate additional cuts over the next two years, and described how that might affect parks and recreation.
Jayne Miller, Ann Arbor’s community services director, spoke to commissioners to give an update on the city’s budget. Her responsibilities include supervising parks and recreation.
The city has a two-year budget cycle, Miller explained. Typically, the city council will adopt the budget for the first year and approve the second-year plan, which will later be adjusted as necessary. Usually, those adjustments for the second year are minor, Miller said. “That’s not the case this year.”
Last year, the city council dealt with budgets for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. The city is currently in the middle of FY 2010, which ends June 30, 2010. Staff is starting to work on revisions to the FY2011 budget plan, which begins July 1, 2010. Miller told commissioners that starting in January, Colin Smith – manager of parks and recreation – would be working with them on budget recommendations to send to the city council by April.
Also starting in January, the city will be implementing $3.3 million in cuts to the current general fund budget, Miller said. In addition, they’re looking to cut an additional $5.4 million in FY2011, she said. From FY2010 through FY2012, the city will likely need to make as much as a 30% reduction in its general fund budget. “I wanted to set the tone so you understand the magnitude of the challenge,” Miller said.
Parks programs will be affected in several ways. Miller noted that Mack Pool and the Ann Arbor Senior Center are slated to close as of July 1. [City council appointed task forces earlier this year to work on ways to keep Mack Pool and the senior center open. See recent Chronicle coverage: "Task Force Tries to Save Senior Center" and "More Options for Ann Arbor's Mack Pool"]
In addition, mowing cycles for parks will be extended from 14 days to 19 days, starting in the spring. And the city is eliminating hand-trimming contracts in the parks, to save about $140,000 annually.
Like other areas supported by the general fund, the parks and recreation unit is being asked to cut 7.74% from its FY 2011 budget, Miller said. Some of the possibilities to explore, she said, included asking voters to rescind or re-purpose the parks millage, forming a public/private partnership for Huron Hills Golf Course, discontinuing some maintenance in the parks and getting more volunteers to help with that, or selling some parkland, among other things. Responding to a query from commissioner David Barrett, Miller said the city would be open to exploring a public/private partnership for the city-owned soccer fields as well.
Another possibility is some sort of collaboration with the Ann Arbor Public Schools and Washtenaw County, Miller said.
Mike Anglin, a city councilmember representing Ward 5, said he thought working with the schools and county was a good approach, but that there will be cuts as well. “Bottom line, there’s going to be a lot of hurt, and services will disappear – and that’s the reality of it,” he said.
Christopher Taylor, another city councilmember (Ward 3) who like Anglin serves as an ex-officio member of PAC, said the commission can help by providing guidance to city council.
Commissioners also discussed how a focus on the budget would affect staff time and other projects. Smith said he was still trying to prioritize, but that he would need to spend the majority of his time on budget-related issues and task forces. That meant some projects would be put on hold, he said.
Football Parking at Two Parks
Under direction from city council, the parks and recreation staff explored the possibility of having parking in city parks during University of Michigan home football games. Staff proposed allowing parking in two parks – Allmendinger and Frisinger – during home games this fall. At its Dec. 15 meeting, the park advisory commission discussed how this would work, raised some concerns, but ultimately approved the proposal, which will now be forwarded to city council.
[A resolution allowing parking at Frisinger appeared on, but was subsequently yanked from, the city council's Oct. 5, 2009 agenda. Opposition to parking at Frisinger Park can be anticipated from Margie Teall (Ward 4), in whose ward it's located. Parking at the two parks is not a part of the resolution on parking to be considered at the city council's Dec. 21 meeting.]
During the time set aside for public commentary, two people spoke about the football parking proposal.
Nancy Leff, chair of the Lower Burns Park Neighborhood Association, said she was opposed to this proposal. She asked that the city consider a range of questions: How much will the city net in revenues? How much will they have to pay attendants during the games? How will cleanup occur? What kind of overtime will be incurred for city staff? Whenever tailgating occurs, there’s a tremendous amount of trash generated, she said. Additionally, if the weather is bad, vehicles will tear up the ground. Most of all, she said, she’s concerned that residents won’t have access to these parks for eight Saturdays during the fall. Asking whether the city has done a cost/benefit analysis, Leff wondered if the revenue raised was really worth it.
Helen Cerey also spoke against the proposal. The parks are a great refuge for neighbors, she said, especially during football games. She described herself as a walker, and said she walked on sidewalks that were supposed to be maintained by the city, but weren’t. Given an even further reduction in the city budget, she wondered whether there would be sufficient resources to return the parks to their proper condition each week, so that they would be usable for residents, especially children.
Colin Smith, the city’s manager of parks and recreation, told commissioners that earlier this year, city council had directed staff to explore the issue of football parking in the parks. In putting together this proposal, several people and groups were consulted, he said, including Matt Warba, the city’s supervisor of field operations; Jessica Black, who supervises events planning; the city forester, Kay Sicheneder; the police department; and community standards personnel.
Based on that feedback, the staff proposed allowing parking in Allmendinger and Frisinger parks during the seven home UM football games next fall. Game days in 2010 are Sept. 4, 11 and 25, Oct. 9 and 16, and Nov. 6 and 20.
Staff estimate that Allmendinger – bounded by Pauline, Edgewood, Potter and Hutchins streets – would accommodate 350 vehicles at $15 each. Frisinger, at East Stadium and Woodbury, would park 200, with a proposed fee of $10 each.
The proposal calls for four people to work during game day at each park, to oversee the parking. Smith also provided a list of recommended guidelines. They include:
- The city won’t be responsible for the loss or damage to vehicles or their contents parked for football games.
- The city prohibits possession of open intoxicants and the consumption of alcoholic beverages within Allmendinger and Frisinger parks.
- Spaces are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Spaces may not be reserved for later-arriving vehicles.
- Vehicles may begin parking at 8 a.m. on home football game days. Overnight parking is prohibited. All vehicles must vacate the parks within two hours after the end of the game or vehicles may be towed.
- No RVs or buses are allowed.
- Parking area personnel will have final decision on the location of vehicles.
- There will be no parking on days where there is high likelihood of rain or the prior inclement weather has rendered the parks unsuitable for parking vehicles. Final decision of parking and rain will take place on the Friday before the game and will be posted on the city’s website, Twitter account and Facebook account.
The following breakdown of revenues and expenses assumes parking during all seven games.
Frisinger: Expenses Revenues Vehicles 200 @ $10 $14,000 Porta-Johns (4) $1,320 Trash barrels $325 Trash pickup $1,260 Site prep $532 Materials $500 Site restoration $685 Staff $2,394 Total $7,016 14,000 NET REVENUE $ 6,984 -
Allmendinger: Expenses Revenues Vehicles 350 @ $15 $36,750 Porta-Johns (6) $1,980 Trash barrels 520 Trash pickup 1,610 Site prep 840 Materials 950 Site restoration 1,184 Staff 2,394 Total 9,478 36,750 NET REVENUE $27,272
Inclement weather was factored into estimates of revenues, Smith told commissioners. If parking occurs during only six games, due to bad weather, net revenues would be $22,714 at Allmendinger and $5,528 at Frisinger. For only five games, Allmendinger would net $18,156 in revenues, with $4,180 from Frisinger.
Combined revenues are estimated to be as high as $34,256 for all seven games, or as low as $22,336 is the parks are used for only five games.
Commissioner concerns had several themes, including safety and liability, impact on the parks and residents, and the “worth it” factor – whether the effort and impact to the city was worth the additional revenues.
Sam Offen asked who would enforce the no-alcohol policy – that’s an issue for parking at the Pioneer High School property too, he noted. Smith responded that they’ve talked with police, who suggest putting up signs and having literature on hand describing the policy. Each park will also have four staff members on site, he added, who can watch out for alcohol use. If there’s a problem, staff would call police. In response to a query from Christopher Taylor, Smith said that non-alcoholic tailgating would be allowed.
Offen also wanted to know if children would have access to the playground area on football Saturdays. Yes, Smith said. Matt Warba, the city’s supervisor of field operations, said certain parts of the park were out of the mix – there’ll be no parking in the playgrounds, he said, nor underneath the drip lines for trees in the park (the area underneath a tree’s canopy).
Tim Berla expressed concern about the ability of staff to clean up the parks in a timely way. If it’s going to be a problem, he said, it wasn’t worth doing – the city’s parks are too valuable to risk damaging. Warba said it was not unlike managing other large events that happen on a regular basis at city parks. Smith added that in many cases, big events are held at the parks that staff doesn’t know about in advance, but they respond with clean-up as soon as possible. In the case of football Saturdays, he said, they’ll be prepared and can staff appropriately to handle the job.
The staff knows they’ll be under a microscope on this, Warba said, adding that there will likely be residents going to the parks on Sunday mornings just to check on the aftermath.
Berla suggested doing outreach to residents in the neighborhoods served by Allmendinger and Frisinger, by providing phone numbers of people to call if there’s a problem on game day or with clean-up. Smith said they could also include information about nearby alternatives to those two parks, such as Woodbury Park.
John Lawter applauded the staff’s creativity, but said he’d had experience with this kind of thing in a different city, where they eventually pulled the plug on parking. “Tailgating is nasty,” he said, with charcoal ashes and chicken bones getting buried in the ground. He suggested that staff do an evaluation after every game – it might not be worth the negative publicity. Smith said they were only looking at the 2010 for just that reason – they would evaluate how things went, and that would determine whether they continue the program in 2011.
Offen wanted to know why the parking rates were so low. Warba allowed that they were being conservative in their pricing, and that they could probably get more out of both locations. Taylor said he imagined that residents who had parking on their property wouldn’t be pleased to be undercut by the city. Smith said that in the past, the city had been overly optimistic in its estimates and he didn’t want to get into that situation again. However, he agreed that they didn’t want to undercut, either.
Taylor also asked whether it would be possible to allow parking, but not tailgating. The majority of concerns seemed to human-based, not car-based, he said, and “we can set the rules.” Smith said that tailgating is a reality of pre-game parking, especially if you’re in a park. It’s easier for staff to plan for that than to try to enforce a no-tailgating policy, he said.
Offen offered that perhaps selling reserved spots would be a better approach. That way, the city would know exactly who’d be parking there – people would get a dependable spot, and the city would know who to contact is someone caused a problem. Jessica Black, who supervises event planning and scheduling for parks and recreation, said they’d talked about using the city’s booking system for selling reserved spots. They decided that they’d revisit that possibility after seeing how the first season unfolded – it would be a bit of a challenge to set up, she said.
David Barrett commented that they were in an awkward position, given that the “Poseidon Adventure” wave was about to hit the city. “This wave is coming to shore, and I applaud you for trying to get out in front of it,” he told staff.
Smith said that $30,000 might not seem like a lot, but as an example, it’s almost exactly the amount of the gap between revenues and expenses to operate Veteran’s Memorial Park ice arena.
Outcome: The resolution recommending that parking be allowed in Allmendinger and Frisinger parks during 2010 Saturday home games for UM football passed, with Scott Rosencrans and Doug Chapman dissenting. City council will take up the issue at an upcoming meeting.
Art in the Huron River
The park advisory commission has heard from William Dennisuk at its previous two meetings, on Oct. 20 and Nov. 17. Dennisuk lives in Finland but this year is a visiting artist and lecturer through the University of Michigan’s Witt Residency program. He’s proposing an art installation in and near the Huron River, as a way to conceptually bridge the town and campus communities.
Dennisuk did not attend PAC’s December meeting. However, two other people, both with the University of Michigan, spoke in support of his project.
Chrisstina Hamilton, director of visitors programs at the UM School of Art & Design, told commissioners that she runs the popular Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitors Series and the Witt Residency program, which is supporting Dennisuk this academic year. Hamilton said the university is in full support of his project – it’s being supported with $35,000 in funds from the Witt program. She described his project as a great way to engage the Ann Arbor community. After talking with city staff, the student component has been removed from the piece of the project that connects with the city, she said – student work will be placed on university property, in Nichols Arboretum and Matthaei Botanical Gardens. She said they looked forward to working with the city, and that the university would be flexible in responding to the city’s concerns.
Heather Blatnik, with the university’s environmental permitting program, explained that in order for the project to proceed, they needed to apply for a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. As part of the application process, MDEQ required a signature from the city, which owns property along the river where Dennisuk is proposing to place his artwork.
Amy Kuras, a city park planner, reported that she’d talked about the project with Bob Grese, director of Nichols Arboretum and Matthaei Botanical Gardens, and Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, as well as other city and university staff. City staff thought it was an exciting proposal, she said, and were generally in favor of it.
There were some concerns, however. Putting anything in the river could be controversial, Kuras said, adding that there was discussion about the need for a process to ensure the public was on board. City staff also had questions about who’d be checking the installations to make sure they weren’t vandalized or filled with garbage. Curiosity from the public can be both a benefit and a drawback, she noted. And if one of the works were vandalized, it’s still not clear how that would be handled. Some of the other concerns had been addressed by Dennisuk in a packet provided to the commission. [.PDF file of material related to Dennisuk's project]
Scott Rosencrans, who chairs the commission, said he’d had several questions that Dennisuk had answered – the questions and answers were provided in the commission’s meeting packet. Tim Berla asked whether staff felt confident that the installations wouldn’t have a negative impact on canoeing, rowing or kayaking. Colin Smith reported that Cheryl Saam, facilities supervisor for the city’s canoe liveries, was on board with the project and the proposed locations – in Argo Pond, near the Broadway Street bridge, in Nichols Arboretum and in Gallup Park. However, Smith said he’d just recently talked with the head of a rowing team that uses Argo Pond, and the location there will have to be reconsidered. Right now, it’s proposed for an area that rowers use to turn their boats. [.PDF file showing proposed locations for the river art project]
Several commissioner mentioned the need to inform the public – Kuras said the staff had discussed the idea of holding a series of public meetings about the project.
Commissioners also questioned what authority they had to act. In response to a statement from Rosencrans, Kuras clarified that city council doesn’t need to sign off on the request to apply for an MDEQ permit.
Kuras noted that even if the university applied for and received a permit from the MDEQ, that doesn’t mean the city would be forced to give its permission, too. Hamilton said that at this stage, the university was simply asking the city – via PAC – for permission to apply for the MDEQ permit. That allows MDEQ to start the process. If at any point the state or the city says no, then the project is “off the table,” she said.
Hamilton further assured commissioners that the university’s insurance would cover this project, that they’re also paying for materials, installation and maintenance, as well as signs and literature promoting the project.
Several commissioners expressed support for the project, at this stage. There was some discussion about the level of detail needed in a resolution giving permission to apply. They settled on a fairly short resolution with this resolved clause: “Be it resolved that the Ann Arbor park advisory commission endorses the University of Michigan’s making of an application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for approval of the project.”
Outcome: The resolution endorsing the university’s making of an application to the MDEQ for a permit for William Dennisuk’s public art project on the Huron River was unanimously approved.
City/Parks Agreement Renegotiated
An agreement between the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Rec & Ed program – governing the use of city-owned fields – expired in November. According to a memorandum from Colin Smith, the city’s manager of the parks and recreation, the new agreement differs in the following respects. The new agreement:
• Covers all AAPS use of park space for sports including, but not limited to, soccer, field hockey, flag football, and lacrosse. The expiring agreement pertained only to baseball, softball, and kickball.
• Better outlines City responsibilities for baseball field conditions.
• Allows for AAPS to groom any designated park space for the purposes of preparing the field for interscholastic baseball or softball games.
• Provides for supplies of infield material to be stored at fields so that on-going field maintenance may occur.
• Allows the City and AAPS to renew this agreement if mutually agreed upon in writing.
• Allows the City greater flexibility in scheduling and programming events on certain City Parks by better reflecting AAPS usage levels.
Commissioner Sam Offen asked whether money would be changing hands. Smith said that fees for third-party users hadn’t changed. There’s no set amount mentioned in the agreement for Rec & Ed’s payment to the city, he added, because Rec & Ed collects fees during the season, and their payment to the city depends on usage. The same applies to Rec & Ed’s payment for ballpark lighting.
Outcome: The commission unanimously passed a resolution recommending that city council approve the agreement.
HRIMP Report Redux
During the section of the meeting reserved for communications from commissioners, Christopher Taylor reported that city council, at its Dec. 7 meeting, had voted to ask the park advisory commission and the environmental commission to review the 30 recommendations in the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan, known as HRIMP. [Those had been considered consensus recommendations and did not include the two conflicting recommendations related to Argo Dam – the HRIMP committee could not agree on recommending that the city remove the dam or keep it in, and that question remains unresolved.]
Now, PAC and the environmental commission are being asked to identify which of those 30 so-called consensus recommendations could be implemented with little or no cost to the city. The council would like a plan for implementation within a year, Taylor said. He noted that council had a “fulsome discussion” about the report, and that there was no longer a sense that the recommendations reflected a consensus.
Scott Rosencrans, PAC’s chair, took issue with the characterization of the 30 HRIMP recommendations as not reflecting a consensus. After a healthy debate, they were submitted by a unanimous vote, he said. Taylor responded that the public conversation has evolved since then, to the point that city councilmembers no longer felt comfortable giving their imprimatur to the consensus.
PAC won’t be able to get to the task for a few months, Rosencrans said. It would be valuable, he added, if the commission could get some criteria from council for doing the review, as well as information about funding sources. Taylor stated that the request is to review the HRIMP report regarding recommendations that can be implemented with little or no cost.
Public Commentary: Misc
John Satarino, a former park advisory commissioner, said he represented hundreds of activists and thousands of taxpayers, park users and staff who’ve created a beautiful and utilitarian park system. He wanted to share concerns about the Fuller Road Station project. Since the ’70s, he said, activists have worked to keep the Fuller Road corridor a green, rolling vista – but the University of Michigan has never fully bought into that view. He said that appeasing the university or anyone who has designs on the city’s parkland or park resources sets a dangerous precedent. He urged the commission to take a long look at the proposal for the transit station, and to consider the benefits for the average park user. There aren’t many, he said. Satarino also asked the commission to help disseminate information about the proposal and hold a public hearing on it. [The Fuller Road Station is a proposed UM/city project that includes building a parking structure for 1,020 vehicles on city-owned property that's designated as parkland. Most recently, at its Nov. 5 meeting, Ann Arbor city council approved two resolutions related to the project, including a memorandum of understanding with the university. UM currently leases a portion of the site for a surface parking lot.]
David Walsh told commissioners that he was representing both himself and his neighbors. On Oct. 31, the neighborhood suffered a loss, he said. A house at 1701 Waverly Road burned, killing three people. He reported that the city finally cleaned up the lot, and that the neighbors are hoping it can be turned into a community garden or park.
Present: John Lawter, Gwen Nystuen, Sam Offen, David Barrett, Scott Rosencrans, Julie Grand, Doug Chapman, Karen Levin, Tim Berla, Mike Anglin (ex-officio), Christopher Taylor (ex-officio)
Next meeting: Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 4 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building boardroom, 220 N. Main St. [confirm date]