Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Feb. 28, 2012): Commissioners took action on several parks projects at their most recent meeting, and were briefed on others already in the works.
The largest of the action items was a $865,190 contract for road, parking, pathway and other exterior renovations at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm. The work will include resurfacing the entry road off of Packard, and improving the path system to allow better access within the park area, as well as a connection from Essex Street into the park. The city council later approved the project at its March 5 meeting.
Commissioners also recommended approval of a 15-foot landscaping buffer in Riverside Park, next to a proposed new DTE Energy substation that abuts the park. DTE is seeking a variance from the city code, which requires a land use buffer for any commercial site that’s adjacent to a park – without the variance, that buffer would need to be located on DTE property. The new substation, to be located in the utility company’s Ann Arbor service center at 984 Broadway, will provide more electrical power to the downtown area due to increased demand.
Also recommended for approval was a $35,200 contract for restroom renovations at the Ann Arbor Senior Center. The facility will be closed in May while the project is completed, and activities will be scheduled at other locations. When PAC chair Julie Grand said she was impressed to see that so many companies had bid on the project, parks manager Colin Smith noted that it might reflect changes related to CUB agreements.
To comply with new state legislation, last summer the city council rescinded a resolution that had previously required contractors for city projects to execute Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements. The agreements are negotiated between local trade unions and contractors, and require that contractors abide by terms of collective bargaining agreements for the duration of the construction project.
At their Feb. 28 meeting, park commissioners were also updated on a project to make exterior improvements – primarily related to pedestrian pathways – at the Leslie Science & Nature Center. The center, located at 1831 Traver Road, was previously part of the city’s parks system but since 2007 has operated as an independent nonprofit. However, the city still owns and maintains the buildings and property. The first stage of the project will focus on making pathways to the center’s popular raptor enclosures more accessible.
Commissioners also learned that during the week of March 12, the city will begin to install a new pedestrian bridge at the end of the Argo Dam bypass. Because of the construction, the recently renovated bypass will be temporarily closed. A stoplog will be put in to stop the flow of water into the bypass – the project will likely take a couple of weeks. The path along the bypass is expected to be paved later in April, with the end in sight for the entire project by May.
Smith reported that Argo Cascades will be the new name for the bypass – a series of drop pools that eliminates the need to portage along that stretch.
During an update on the parks and recreation budget, Smith reported that due to extra funds available from the park operations budget, plans are in the works to: (1) restore mowing to a 14-day cycle – the cycle has in recent seasons been every 19 days; (2) increase seasonal staffing between April 15 and Oct. 15; and (3) hire three park rangers from May through September, to deal better with maintenance and enforcement issues in the parks.
Several items were also raised during the time set aside for communications. Smith noted that the six-year, 1.1 mill parks maintenance and capital improvements millage will be coming up for renewal this fall. Staff has already started working on the renewal process, gathering materials in preparation for a March 12 city council working session. The millage was last approved in 2006.
It was also noted that two key staff members are leaving their jobs soon. Molly Notarianni, the city’s market manager, is stepping down at the end of March after about four years on the job. The position has already been posted. And long-time Rec & Ed director Sara Aeschbach will be retiring this summer. Both were praised for their service.
At the end of the meeting, commissioner Gwen Nystuen reminded her PAC colleagues about an upcoming sustainability forum on Thursday, March 8 at 7 p.m. in the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building. It’s the third in a series of four, this one focusing on climate and energy, and is part of a broader sustainability project that began last year and includes developing sustainability goals for the city. [See Chronicle coverage of the first and second forums in the series.] A public forum on the forums is also scheduled for March 29 from 6-8 p.m. at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building, 343 S. Fifth Ave.
Outdoor Upgrades at Buhr, Cobblestone
Commissioners were asked to recommend approval of a $865,190 contract for road, parking and other exterior renovations at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm, located at 2781 Packard Rd. The contract would be awarded to Fonson Inc.
Fonson submitted the second lowest of 10 bids. The contract includes a $786,536 base bid plus a $78,654 (10%) contingency for possible change orders. Funding would come from the park maintenance and capital improvements millage, as well as the park rehabilitation and development millage. According to a staff memo, the lowest bid received was from Pranam Global Tech for $499,000. However, no paving subcontractors were listed and no testing fees were included, both of which were requirements of the bid.
Parks planner Amy Kuras described the proposed work in detail. Among other things, Fonson’s work would include resurfacing the road. Kuras showed slides of the current deteriorated roadway, including “unintentional pervious pavement,” she joked. The project would also expand the parking lot at Cobblestone by about 15 spaces, and create a pedestrian pathway system throughout the park area. The path system would include changes to allow better access within the park area, as well as a connection from Essex Street into the park. The project also includes stormwater management features, such as a bioswale, rain gardens, porous pavement in certain areas, and stormwater basins to improve water quality.
These improvements were recommended as part of a stormwater management master plan completed in 2000, Kuras said. The renovations were also recommended as part of the recently updated Parks & Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan. [The 9MB plan can be downloaded from the city's parks planning website.]
Proposed changes will also help the park facilities comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Kuras said.
Work is expected to begin this spring. The plan is to keep the park open while the project is completed, though that will be a challenge, Kuras said. The work will begin in the Buhr parking lot and gradually move toward the Packard Road entrance. The plan is to finish the project by the fall of 2012.
Outdoor Upgrades at Buhr, Cobblestone: Commission Discussion
Commissioners had several questions and comments about the plan. Sam Offen asked whether the project will have any impact on the scheduling of events at Cobblestone Farm. Kuras said she’s coordinated with Jessica Black, parks and recreation customer service manager, who manages events at Cobblestone. [The building is rented out for weddings and other events.] When the parking lot is closed, there will be parking available on the grass, Kuras said. The plan is to mill the asphalt rather than remove it, she noted, so that would likely allow people to drive on it during the project.
Parks manager Colin Smith added that most events are held on Friday nights or the weekend, when construction workers won’t be active. It will be a challenge to coordinate, he said, but there are options. Even if it rains and they can’t use the grass area for parking, a gravel lot is available. It wouldn’t be optimal, but it would work.
Offen asked when the Buhr Park pool opens. Memorial Day, Smith reported. The work at the Buhr parking lot will likely be done by then, he said.
David Barrett said he assumed that the parks staff has reached out to Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, noting that the organization schedules games in the park. Yes, Smith said, they’re being kept in the loop.
Christopher Taylor asked for more detail about the pedestrian pathway from Essex Street. Previously, Kuras replied, there’s been no access from Essex into the park – it’s just lawn. With the new path, people will be able to bike or walk to facilities in the park.
Gwen Nystuen asked whether pervious pavement will be used for the new parking spaces at Cobblestone Farm. No, Kuras said. There’s room within the park to handle stormwater treatment in other ways, she said, accomplishing the same environmental goals related to water quality. When Nystuen suggested that they could accomplish even more by using pervious pavement, Kuras replied that the same amount of water would be handled – it’s just a matter of the method used to handle it.
In response to a question from Offen, Kuras noted that the original raingarden in Buhr has been doubled in size, and another one was added there. Nystuen mentioned that it’s the location of the Buhr Park children’s wet meadow project, and Kuras said she’s worked closely with the project’s organizer, Jeannine Palms.
Smith told commissioners that this entire project is a good example of the city taking care of its existing parks infrastructure. Over the past 10 years, several parts of Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm have been renovated, including improvements at the swimming pool and ice rink. By the time this current project is completed, the entire park will have been redone, he said. The city is lucky to have a large parks system, Smith said, but in reality many of the parks are quite old and in need of an overhaul.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the contract with Fonson Inc. for renovations at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm. The Ann Arbor city council subsequently approved the project at its March 5 meeting.
DTE Landscaping Buffer
The commission was asked to recommend approval of a 15-foot landscaping buffer in Riverside Park, next to a proposed new DTE Energy substation that abuts the park.
DTE is seeking a variance of the city’s conflicting land use buffer. Chapter 62 of the city code requires a buffer for any commercial site that’s adjacent to a park – without the variance, that buffer would need to be located on DTE property. The code requires that the buffer be at least 15 feet wide, include one tree for each 15 feet of abutting land, and provide a continuous screen at least 4 feet high using a hedge, berm, wall, fence, or combination of those elements.
According to a city staff memo, DTE is building the new Buckler substation in the utility company’s Ann Arbor service center at 984 Broadway, to provide an increase in electrical power to the downtown area due to increased demand for electricity. Because of physical constraints on DTE’s property, the utility is asking the city to place the buffer – which will include 23 new trees – in Riverside Park. The buffer would remain city parks property. The parks staff recommended approval of the plan.
Parks manager Colin Smith walked the commission through the proposal. The current border between Riverside and the DTE property includes a fence, scrub, and a “haphazard” screen of trees of varying quality, he said. All of the substation’s construction would occur on DTE property, Smith said, and the city’s ownership of the park property would remain unchanged. He noted that the city’s forester would select the trees, and the area would include other landscaping as well. It will look much better than it does now, he said.
Smith also noted that the proposal will decrease the city’s maintenance costs – because of the landscaping, they won’t need to mow around the trees as they do now. He stressed that the proposed buffer is not an area that’s actively used, and that the city already has tried to create a buffer between the DTE facility and the park, so that park users won’t have to look at the DTE site. The project is an example of the city trying to be a good neighbor, he said, because the reality is that DTE needs a new substation to serve the electricity needs of residents.
DTE Landscaping Buffer: Commission Discussion
Sam Offen asked what is currently on the site where DTE plans to build its new substation. Scott Trowbridge of DTE Energy came to the podium to answer the question, saying that it’s a paved storage area for vehicles and equipment.
Offen asked if there were any other areas where the substation could be built, so that it wouldn’t abut the property line with Riverside. Trowbridge noted that the DTE property is on the edge of a floodplain, and if the substation is located closer to the river, it would require more floodplain mitigation. Underground conduits are also located in that area, he said, which will be used for the new substation – that also affects the choice of location.
Offen said he normally doesn’t like it when people don’t follow the city’s zoning code. It’s the property owner’s responsibility to provide a screen, he noted. On the other hand, he wants to be a good neighbor, so he was debating how to vote on this resolution. He trusted that DTE had considered alternatives, and that the company had determined this was the best option.
Offen said he said he assumed that since the buffer is on the city’s property, it would then be the city’s responsibility for maintenance? Yes, Smith replied, adding that most trees would come with some kind of warrantee. Offen wanted to ensure that the warrantee is at least the industry standard and that if a tree doesn’t survive, DTE would replace it.
Smith said he agreed entirely with Offen’s points, and that if there had been a way to accomplish this within the zoning code, that would have been the way to go. But the proposal seems reasonable, he added, and DTE has been working with planning staff about it.
Offen then asked if the path running along the river would be affected by the new substation. The path would not be affected, Smith said.
Christopher Taylor asked if there would be a vertical or noise element as part of the substation. Trowbridge reported that there’s currently a cell phone tower on that site that’s over 100 feet tall. The equipment at the substation would be no taller than about 16 feet, he said, but because of floodplain issues, the project includes raising the grade of the land there about four feet.
Regarding noise, Trowbridge said you would probably be able to hear a hum at the fenceline, but not much more than that.
Taylor noted that based on a Google Earth map, it looks like there’s a park playing field close to the property line. Tim Berla added that there’s a goal located not too far from the existing fence, and that one corner of the field is close to the property line.
Smith said the buffer won’t impact the ability to schedule games on that field. If anything, he added, it will result in a better parks buffer. He also noted that DTE is planning to provide additional landscaping along Canal Street, which runs next to the park.
Tim Doyle wondered what DTE would do if the city denies this variance request. Does the company have an alternative plan? Trowbridge said the decision would involve many people, and would lead to a delay in meeting downtown Ann Arbor’s demand for electricity – there’s only so much load the current substation can provide. It would lead to choices about how DTE can serve new developments, he said. And when the load peaks in the summer, DTE might need to shut down some circuits to protect its equipment.
Trowbridge said there are two main drivers in selecting the current site for a substation. One is that DTE already owns the property. The other is the location of underground conduits with existing circuits and spare ducts. At that location, DTE could easily bring cables underground into the new substation. Distribution circuits now come out of the Argo substation, located across the street on Broadway. In response to a query from Doyle, Trowbridge said that building the new substation as proposed is the most economically viable plan for DTE.
Doyle noted that raising the grade by four feet was dramatic, and he wondered if anyone had looked at the impact of drainage into the park. Trowbridge said the plan called for capturing stormwater runoff on the DTE site, by using a detention pond and stone surface instead of asphalt.
Noting that parks staff supports the proposal, David Barrett said he wanted to make sure that staff was comfortable that drainage wouldn’t be a problem and that the field wouldn’t be deluged. Smith indicated that the staff felt fine about the proposal.
DTE Landscaping Buffer: Amendment
John Lawter said he assumed that the proposed 23 trees exceeds the amount required by code – that would help compensate for using parkland for the buffer. Trowbridge said he couldn’t speak to that.
Doyle suggested amending the resolution to require that a minimum of 23 trees be used in the buffer. There was some discussion about what the code actually required. From Chapter 62, Section 5:603 of the city code:
The conflicting land use buffer shall consist of the following:
(1) A landscaped buffer strip at least 15 feet wide. If there is an existing building or vehicular use area located within the required 15-foot landscape buffer strip, the landscape buffer strip may have an average of 15 feet in width over the entire length of the required buffer area, with no specific location along the buffer strip being less than 8 feet in width
(2) One tree for each 15 feet or fraction thereof of abutting land. At least 50% of the trees within the conflicting land use buffer shall be evergreen. Arrangement of trees in clusters or groupings is encouraged, but in all cases shall be between 15 feet and 30 feet apart on center. Plantings should be placed to screen the views between buildings that existed at the time of site plan approval, (especially windows and patio views) on the adjacent property.
(3) A hedge, landform berm, wall, fence or combination thereof forming a continuous screen at least 4 feet high. All gasoline or service stations shall employ opaque walls as the continuous screen. For parcels principally used or zoned for residential purposes the requirement for a hedge, landform berm, wall or fence is only required to screen vehicular use areas and refuse/recycling containers that are adjacent to the conflicting land use buffer.
Parks planner Amy Kuras said she had recommended that an additional 7-8 trees be added between the Riverside parking lot and Canal Street. [Kuras is overseeing a larger renovation project at the park – commissioners were briefed on that effort at their October 2011 meeting.]
At the direction of commissioners, Smith crafted an amendment to request that DTE provide an additional 10 trees in landscaping for a parking lot in the park, adjacent to Canal Street. It was considered a friendly amendment to the resolution, and was not voted on separately.
Outcome: The commission unanimously recommended approval of a landscaping buffer in Riverside Park, next to a proposed DTE substation, as well as additional trees between the Riverside parking lot and Canal Street. DTE also needs to secure a variance from the city’s zoning board of appeals and planning commission, as well as final approval by the city council.
Senior Center Renovations
On the Feb. 28 agenda was a resolution to recommend approval of a $35,200 contract for restroom renovations at the Ann Arbor Senior Center. Staff recommended that the contract be awarded to L.C. Construction, which submitted the lowest of eight acceptable bids. The facility will be closed in May while the project is completed, and activities will be scheduled at other locations.
The $35,200 includes a $32,000 base bid and a $3,200 (10%) contingency fund to cover possible change orders. Funds would come from proceeds of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage.
According to a city staff memo, the restrooms don’t meet the state’s Barrier Free Code. The center’s two existing restrooms – each with two stalls – would be converted to three single restrooms that would each meet the Barrier Free Code standards. The memo notes that because L.C. Construction only has three employees, it is exempt from the city’s living wage and human rights ordinances.
Senior Center Renovations: Commission Discussion
There was little deliberation on this item. Julie Grand said she was impressed to see that so many companies had bid on the project. Parks manager Colin Smith mentioned that it might reflect changes related to CUB agreements.
By way of background, at its Aug. 15, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council rescinded a resolution it had passed in November 2009, which had required execution of Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements by contractors and subcontractors with the Washtenaw County Skilled Building Trades Council as a condition of award for all city construction contracts. The resolution also had required inclusion of the requirement in all construction bids issued by the city.
CUB agreements are negotiated between local trade unions and contractors, and require that contractors who sign the agreement abide by terms of collective bargaining agreements for the duration of the construction project. In return, the trade unions agree that they will not strike, engage in work slow-downs, set up separate work entrances at the job site or take any other adverse action against the contractor.
The council rescinded its CUB resolution because state Act 98 of 2011 – which became effective July 19, 2011 – prohibits municipalities from including as a requirement in a construction contract anything that would either require or prohibit contractors from entering into agreements with collective bargaining organizations. The act also prohibits discrimination against contractors based on willingness or non-willingness to enter into such agreements.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the contract with L.C. Construction. City council subsequently approved the contract at its March 5 meeting.
Renovations at Leslie Science & Nature Center
Amy Kuras, the city’s parks planner, gave an update on a project to make exterior improvements – primarily related to pedestrian pathways – at the Leslie Science & Nature Center. The center, located at 1831 Traver Road, was previously part of the city’s parks system but since 2007 has operated as an independent nonprofit. However, the city still owns and maintains the buildings and property.
The goal of the changes is to make the center compliant with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to make the pathways and overall organization of the site less confusing, Kuras said. The site includes a lot of paved impervious surface, and a lot of it isn’t necessary, she said. The project will also address soil erosion and water runoff issues.
The center’s raptor enclosures – housing owls, falcons, a bald eagle and other birds of prey – are located at the highest part of the site, Kuras said. The birds are very popular, she added, so it’s important to make the area as accessible as possible. In addition to pathways, there will be better signs indicating how to get to the enclosures, as well as directions to other parts of the center.
The city has hired JJR as a consultant on the project, Kuras said. There has been one public forum about the proposed changes, and staff has met with the center’s board as well.
After developing a master plan for the entire site, a more detailed design for the pathway to the raptor enclosures will be completed, Kuras said. Construction on that pathway will begin in the fall of 2012, after the center’s summer camps are over.
Leslie Science & Nature Center: Commission Discussion
Gwen Nystuen asked whether pervious pavement would be used in the project. As with all projects, Kuras replied, pervious pavement would be used where it’s appropriate. She’s looking at possibly using some innovative products, she added, including a product made from crushed recycled glass. Kuras said she hopes to find a local source for the glass, and that the pavement sparkles and is quite beautiful. However, there needs to be additional testing to see if it’s appropriate for the site, she said.
In response to another question from Nystuen, Kuras explained that the existing parking will be reconfigured from angled to perpendicular parking, which will allow for more spaces on the same footprint. They’re also looking at putting pervious pavement in the overflow parking areas, which are currently grass. Kuras said that instructional signs aren’t part of this project, but that the center’s staff will take care of that component.
Sam Offen noted that he also serves as a board member for the center, and reported that the board and staff are very excited about the project.
Kuras hopes to apply for a state grant to help fund the full project. Julie Grand clarified with Kuras that the pathways to the raptor enclosures would be handled first, followed by the rest of the renovations as funding allows.
The report was informational only – it was not an action item for PAC.
Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, gave PAC a financial update on parks and recreation operations, for the period starting July 1, 2011 through Jan. 31, 2012. [.pdf of parks and rec quarterly financial update as of Jan. 31, 2012] The city operates on a fiscal year from July 1 through June 30.
Smith started by focusing on the recreational facilities supported by the city’s general fund. On the revenue side, some facilities are ahead of budget and some are behind, he noted. Overall, however, the forecast for the full fiscal year anticipates $2.368 million in revenues – about $2,500 ahead of budget. And expenses are projected to be $15,000 lower than budgeted, at $3.445 million for the fiscal year. That means the forecast for the year is now $17,500 better than budgeted from the general fund for parks and recreation, he said.
There are no alarms in any of the facilities supported by the general fund, he said. The forecast anticipates a $1.076 million general fund subsidy for parks and recreation for the year.
Smith then turned to the park system’s three enterprise funds – areas that are intended to be self-sustaining – the farmers market, Huron Hills golf course, and Leslie Park golf course. Revenues and expenses are on budget for the market, Smith said, at about $165,000.
The $369,875 forecasted revenues for Huron Hills is about $12,000 less than budgeted, while Leslie Park’s $896,319 in revenues is forecasted to be about $25,000 less than budgeted. Expenses at each golf course are about $5,000 less than budgeted, Smith said. The net forecasted loss for the two courses is $27,500 for the fiscal year. It’s not an insurmountable amount, he added, especially if the spring weather isn’t as wet as last year.
Financial Update: Commission Discussion
After reviewing some of the other line items in the parks and rec budget, Smith answered questions from commissioners.
Sam Offen observed a $17,500 drop in forecasted revenues for the Argo canoe livery. Is that because construction has been delayed? Smith replied that the drop relates to the offer by DTE to pay for the whitewater feature in the Huron River near the Argo bypass, if the city delayed action on that project. When the budget was developed in early 2011, the parks staff had assumed that the whitewater feature would be open during the summer of 2012, creating new revenue opportunities. Now, it’s likely that the river whitewater feature won’t be ready until 2013.
In response to a question from John Lawter, Smith clarified that the city subsidizes the parks and recreation budget by about $1.076 million from the city’s general fund. Tim Berla noted that the golf courses are subsidized with about $292,000 in general fund dollars.
David Barrett asked why the golf courses are forecast to have a total of $10,000 less in expenses than anticipated. Smith replied that when the weather is bad, staff at the courses are sent home. That’s primarily why expenses are lower.
Barrett also asked about the fitness center at Veterans Memorial Park. Revenues are only about $5,500, which Smith said reflected low usage of the center – revenues come from fees paid by users. He said the staff are exploring better ways to use that space, and think that perhaps a fitness center isn’t the best option. Karen Levin speculated that perhaps people in the neighborhood just don’t know about it, and that if the facility is marketed, usage might increase. Smith observed that the equipment is out of date, and it’s not really the park system’s main business.
Gwen Nystuen asked about the line item for administration – $159,171 in revenues. Smith clarified that it comes from a variety of sources, including parking rental from Fuller and Riverside parks.
Financial Update: Maintenance
Matt Warba, supervisor of field operations, briefed the commission about the portion of the budget related to maintenance. [.pdf of parks maintenance financial summary] He began with operations funded from the general fund, and noted that by the nature of the work, there are very few revenues. Regarding expenses, overall they’ll be well within the budgeted amounts, he said.
For operations funded through the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage, Warba highlighted a few line items. The Argo livery is over budget due to maintenance and the purchase of additional kayaks and canoes in anticipation of the new Argo Dam bypass. Expenses are also higher than budgeted for the Ann Arbor senior center, due to renovations there.
David Barrett asked whether the winter’s lack of heavy snowfall saved in expenses. Warba said he didn’t want to say, because there was still the chance that the region would get hit – the potential for snow isn’t over yet. Warba’s assumption is that there will be savings, “but you never know.”
Smith noted that a budget impact statement for field operations had been distributed at a Feb. 13, 2012 city council working session. Over the past three years, he said, there have been savings in park operations, primarily due to budgeted but unfilled job vacancies. [Responding to a follow-up email query from The Chronicle, Smith clarified that since fiscal year 2009, park operations has annually underspent its expenditure budget by an average of about $550,000.] As a result, he said, parks staff were asked to figure out how best to use that money in the parks system.
The parks staff are making several recommendations: (1) restore mowing to a 14-day cycle – the cycle has in recent seasons been every 19 days; (2) increase seasonal staffing between April 15 and Oct. 15 so that active recreation areas can be maintained better; (3) hire three park rangers from May through September, to deal better with maintenance and enforcement issues in the parks; and (4) increase seasonal staff at the city’s ice arenas to help clean the facilities.
Sam Offen asked how much enforcement capability the rangers would have. When the city had park rangers in the past, that was an issue – the rangers didn’t have much ability to act. Offen also asked whether PAC would get more details about these proposals at a later date.
Smith replied that yes, details are still being worked out and would be brought forward to PAC. Regarding rangers, Smith said they will be parks staff, not police. Warba added that the intent of the rangers is to be informational – they won’t even have the ability to write tickets. If there were a problem, the rangers would call the police. The rangers are seen as stewards of the park system, Warba said, and would do tasks like check restrooms or ensure that people don’t jump the fence and use soccer fields when it’s too wet, which damages the field.
Smith noted that the parks staff does some of this work now at special events. For example, someone is on hand to greet people when they arrive to a special event held at a park, and to take care of any details that need to be handled. It’s a way that the parks staff can respond to issues in a timely way, Smith said, rather than waiting for residents to call in a problem.
Tim Doyle suggested that the rangers wear more formal uniforms, saying this would create a kind of “sentinel effect.” He joked that it wouldn’t hurt to carry a squirt gun too. Smith quipped that perhaps they could plan a fashion show at the next PAC meeting.
Communications & Commentary
Every meeting includes opportunities for public commentary and communications from commissioners and staff. Two people spoke during time allocated for public commentary at the Feb. 28 meeting.
Comm/Comm: Public Commentary – Preserving Parkland
George Gaston indicated that he’d spoken at other PAC meetings. Several years ago, the community strongly supported a proposal to protect parkland, he said. [Gaston was referring to a voter-approved city charter amendment, which prohibits the sale of city parkland unless approved by voters.] That proved inadequate, he said, as evidenced by efforts to develop Huron Hills golf course and Fuller Road Station. [Fuller Road Station was a proposed joint project between the city and the University of Michigan. Its first stage was a large parking structure, but UM withdrew from that partnership last month.] Gaston urged commissioners to close the loopholes and protect the city’s parks, calling them a great asset.
He described the new bypass at Argo Dam as wonderful, saying he’s already seen kayakers using it and having fun. Parks are parks, not public land, he said. When the city wants voters to approve a millage, the city refers to the land as parkland, he noted. But when city officials want to develop the land, they call it public land. Gaston asked commissioners to protect parkland now and in the future.
Saying she echoed Gaston’s comments, Rita Mitchell noted that projects totally unrelated to parkland have been proposed on parkland, like the Fuller Road Station at Fuller Park. She said she was asking PAC to uphold the principle of using parkland for parks. She said 80% of voters had supported the charter amendment to prohibit the sale of parkland without a voter referendum. She urged commissioners to protect parks and keep them as people in the community intended.
Comm/Comm: Manager’s Report – Argo Cascades
Parks manager Colin Smith reported that during the week of March 12, the city will begin to install the new pedestrian bridge at the end of the Argo Dam bypass. PAC had recommended approval of the new bridge, along with other project changes, at its Aug. 16, 2011 meeting, and the changes were subsequently approved by the city council. [.pdf of Argo headrace design and bridge info]
Because of the construction, the recently renovated bypass will be temporarily closed, Smith said. A stoplog will be put in to stop the flow of water into the bypass – the bridge will likely take a couple of weeks to install. Then in early April, parks staff plan to install a rubber guide in one of the series of drop pools in the bypass, Smith said. The intent is to make the drops easier to navigate. If that guide seems to be effective, others might be installed later.
The path along the bypass is expected to be paved later in April, with the end in sight for the entire project by May. Smith said PAC will get a presentation in March or April regarding all the improvements, programming and marketing for the bypass area.
Smith also reported that based on a survey that yielded about 600 responses, Argo Cascades will be the new name for the bypass.
John Lawter asked about the whitewater portion of the project. By way of background, the original renovation of the Argo Dam bypass had included construction of a stretch of whitewater in the section of the Huron River next to the bypass. DTE Energy subsequently offered to pay for the whitewater feature of the project – about $180,000 – if the city agreed to hold off on construction of that piece until after DTE completes environmental remediation on its nearby property, as required by the state.
Smith reported that DTE has submitted a remediation plan to the state, but the whitewater feature won’t be built this year. The Argo livery is expected to open in early May, with a grand opening for the new bypass expected sometime later this year. The Gallup Pond livery will open April 14.
Comm/Comm: Manager’s Report – Millage Renewal
Smith noted that the six-year, 1.1 mill parks maintenance and capital improvements millage will be coming up for renewal this fall. Staff has already started working on it, gathering materials in preparation for a March 12 city council working session. PAC will be briefed at their March 20 meeting, and there will be several public forums as well after that. A recommendation for renewal will likely be considered by PAC in July, with the council making a decision in August about putting it on the November ballot. “We’re certainly starting to work on that quite heavily,” he said.
The millage was most recently deliberated by PAC at its May 2011 meeting, in the context of budget allocations and how millage proceeds are spent. See Chronicle coverage: “Council to Get Reminder of Parks Promise.”
Comm/Comm: Manager’s Report – Market Manager
In his final communication, Smith reported that the city’s market manager, Molly Notarianni, will be leaving that job at the end of March. She’s been with the city for about four years, he said, and has been extremely enthusiastic about her work and has taken initiative to improve the market. She’ll be missed, he said.
The city has already posted the job and he hopes to get someone on board quickly, Smith said. According to the posting, the job has a minimum salary of $38,082 with a midpoint of $48,793. In the interim, the work will be handled by Jessica Black, parks and recreation customer service manager. Smith noted that Black ran the market before Notarianni joined the staff. He told commissioners that if they see Notarianni in the coming weeks, “wish her well and thank her, please.”
Comm/Comm: Commissioner Updates – Rec & Ed
Tim Berla, who’s also a member of the city’s recreation advisory commission (RAC), reported that Ann Arbor Rec & Ed is excited about the city’s upcoming work on the ballfields. [See Chronicle coverage: "Major Renovations of City Ballfields Planned."]
Berla also reported that long-time Rec & Ed director Sara Aeschbach will be retiring this summer. He described her as a rock, and someone who provided exemplary public service. There’s been a lot of turnover in the city parks management, he noted, but Aeschbach has provided stability at Rec & Ed over the years. [Rec & Ed is a unit of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, but works closely with the city parks staff.] Berla hoped someone equally good would be hired to replace her.
Comm/Comm: Commissioner Updates – Sustainability
Gwen Nystuen reminded commissioners about the upcoming sustainability forums. As part of a broader sustainability project, the city scheduled four forums this year, one per month, starting in January. All forums are held at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building, 343 S. Fifth Ave. starting at 7 p.m. [See Chronicle coverage: "Sustaining Ann Arbor's Environmental Quality" and "Land Use, Transit Factor into Sustainability"]
The two remaining forums are:
- March 8, 2012: Climate and Energy – including an overview of Ann Arbor’s climate action plan, climate impacts, renewable and alternative energy, energy efficiency and conservation.
- April 12, 2012: Community – including housing, public safety, public art, recreation, outreach, civic engagement, and stewardship of community resources.
The four forums reflect categories in a framework that the city is developing to organize its existing goals as they relate to sustainability. The project, which began earlier this year, is being led by Jamie Kidwell and funded by a $95,000 grant the city received from the Home Depot Foundation. Four city commissions – park, planning, energy and environmental – participated in a Sept. 27, 2011 joint working session focused on prioritizing existing goals for the city that touch on sustainability issues. [For additional background, see Chronicle coverage of Kidwell's briefing at the Nov. 15 park advisory commission meeting.]
PAC chair Julie Grand reported that the parks perspective will be represented at the April 12 forum.
Grand also serves on a committee that’s developing the sustainability goals. Draft goals were presented at the Feb. 9 sustainability forum. Tim Berla said he’d seen the draft goals and they seemed generic. He wondered if there would be more details associated with each goal at some point. Karen Levin, who serves on the sustainability committee with Grand, said the idea is to have 15 broader goals, then develop more detailed objectives and targets for each goal. Grand added that by highlighting this smaller set of goals, the intent is not to negate all of the other goals that have been set by the city.
A public forum to discuss the goals is also scheduled for March 29 from 6-8 p.m. at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building’s fourth floor conference room.
Present: David Barrett, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Julie Grand, Karen Levin, Gwen Nystuen, John Lawter, Sam Offen, councilmember Mike Anglin (ex-officio), councilmember Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks manager.
Absent: Doug Chapman.
Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 begins at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]
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