More Planning for Rec Center in Ypsilanti

Also: Washtenaw parks commission acts on land preservation

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meeting (April 10, 2012): Most of this month’s county parks and recreation commission meeting focused on plans for a recreation center in the eastern part of the county. The proposed center would be near downtown Ypsilanti on the northwest corner of the 38-acre Water Street site, located on the south side of Michigan Avenue and east of the Huron River.

Border to Border Trail sign at Water Street property in Ypsilanti

A sign at Ypsilanti's Water Street property indicating that this will be a future segment of Washtenaw County's Border to Border Trail. A portion of the site adjacent to the Huron River is being considered for a possible new county recreation center. (Photos by Mary Morgan.)

The commission heard from faculty of the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, who will lead a team of six students in developing a conceptual plan for the rec center by the end of December. They also heard from deputy parks and rec director Coy Vaughn about the steering committee and working groups that will oversee and coordinate the design team’s work, and ensure adequate participation by community members and other stakeholders, including the Ann Arbor YMCA. Some commissioners indicated that community input was especially important for this project.

Among the meeting’s action items, the commission approved the acquisition of additional land through the county’s natural areas preservation program, in partnership with other governmental entities, including the Ann Arbor greenbelt program. The properties include 23 acres in Ann Arbor Township and 33 acres in Northfield Township – both owned by J.A. Bloch & Co. – and the 35-acre Sloan property in Scio Township.

Additional items included a report from parks and rec director Bob Tetens about the department’s help in cleaning up after the March 15 tornado touchdown in Dexter; an update on improvement projects and activities at park facilities and preserves; and the latest milestones in a project to connect the Border-to-Border Trail in the village of Dexter, including a new bridge.

Other major action in the meeting included a review of the parks and rec budget to date, through the first quarter of the fiscal year. Tetens reported that the unusually warm weather this year had two effects: much less participation and revenue from Rolling Hills winter park compared to the last two years; and much more activity and revenue at the Pierce Lake Golf Course, which was also in part related to the March 15 tornado’s damage to other golf courses in the area.

Eastern County Recreation Center

By way of background, the site for a proposed new county recreation center is in downtown Ypsilanti, on the south side of Michigan Avenue with the Huron River flowing along the west side of the site. The center would be located on city-owned property in the Water Street redevelopment project. The project was first officially pitched to the Ypsilanti city council last fall. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ypsi Council To Be Briefed on Rec Center."] The county currently operates the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, which opened in 1991 at the corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Platt Road on Ann Arbor’s east side.

At the WCPARC’s April 10 meeting, Craig Borum – a professor of architecture and director of the University of Michigan master of architecture program – provided commissioners with an overview of the project. He began by introducing two assistant professors of architecture and urban planning who would be involved with the project: Maria Arquero and Jen Maigret.

The faculty will work with a team of six students: four in the master of architecture program, one in the master of urban planning program, and one in a joint program of urban planning and natural resources and the environment. WCPARC president Bob Marans, a UM professor emeritus of architecture, spoke of the value of the multi-disciplinary approach this team would take.

Borum underlined the complexity of the student project, which is compounded by its tight timeframe: they must finish by the end of December. The UM Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning is helping to fund the project by paying all the students to work through the summer, he said, and for one of them to continue through December. Other faculty would also participate, he added, including experts in business, real estate, and landscape architecture.

Borum used slides from a design project for a school in Trenton, N.J., to illustrate the principles of their process. He described those principles as a “transparent relationship between data analysis and our qualitative design process”; an emphasis on “visualization and communication through two- and three-dimensional representation techniques”; and an “emphasis on multiple expertise and an interdisciplinary team.” He showed slides of the models for the Trenton school project, including one model that was seven feet long, which included images of people using the spaces. The presentation, he said, was designed to show those who would use the school what it would be like for students to move through the spaces during a typical day.

The whole point, Borum said, is to “communicate the ideas and intentions behind the design, to build complex relationships that are meaningful.” They hope to do similar visualizations and models for the project in Ypsilanti. He also showed examples of their work in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood, which they began by a careful analysis of land use, including vacant land.

Borum provided a schedule and timeline for the rec center project:

  • May: Site analysis, including geographic information systems (GIS) assessment of soil groups, location of the water table, the planned location for the county’s Border-to-Border Trail, and an examination of historic aerial photos.
  • June: The team will work on programming aspects: indoor and outdoor recreation, community and educational uses, parking, user capacity and more as they discover it.
  • July: Community involvement, with scheduled public meetings and presentations, including ones with current stakeholders such as the Ann Arbor YMCA and potential stakeholders such as Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College.
  • Aug.-Sept.: Outreach will continue with publications and exhibits.
  • Sept.-Dec.: Conceptual plans will be reviewed, revised and finalized, aiming for completion by the end of December.

The total cost for Borum’s team will be $40,000. WCPARC will cover $10,000 and the Taubman College will pitch in $15,000. The final $15,000 may come from a pending grant application to the University of Michigan’s vice president for research.

Bob Tetens, WCPARC director, told commissioners that deputy director Coy Vaughn would later describe the working groups he was putting together. Vaughn said that Cathi Duchon, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor YMCA, had recently worked on a similarly complex plan and site, and that WCPARC would apply the lessons learned from that project – the working groups would serve as a sounding board. There will be monthly reports to the WCPARC, Vaughn said, and perhaps quarterly reports to the Ypsilanti city council.

Eastern County Recreation Center: Commission Discussion

Barbara Levin Bergman, who also serves on the county board of commissioners, asked how new students would be able to build on previous work. Bob Marans replied that they had chosen the students carefully – they already know each other and have worked together before. Craig Borum added that this is not “just a class” for the students; this is “what they will do as professionals” and they will be paid. “They will be interns as they would be in an architect’s office.”

UM Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning rents space in the Liberty Lofts building.

The University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning rents space in the Liberty Lofts building, at the corner of Liberty and First in Ann Arbor. Students developing the concept design for the county recreation center in Ypsilanti will work out of an office here part of the time.

Coy Vaughn added that the students will work out of an office that the Taubman College has in the building connected to Liberty Lofts in Ann Arbor [at the southwest corner of Liberty and South First Street].

Janice Anschuetz then asked whether the team would have a place to work in Ypsilanti, because that’s where the project is and that’s where the community members are. Bob Tetens responded that “both the city and Rich Fischer [of Fischer Honda on Michigan Avenue] are willing to give them space in Ypsilanti.” He noted that city planner Teresa Gillotti will be on half of the working groups. Anschuetz suggested that “You need to be careful in Ypsilanti. We have the [Eastern Michigan University] COB [College of Business] sitting there like a space bubble, and people in Ypsilanti want a building that is part of their town.”

To that, Tetens responded: “I am confident this will be an award-winning building.” And Marans added: “We may consider getting some citizen groups involved.” Jimmie Maggard suggested that they consider finding a place to display what’s being planned, after the concept is developed. Dan Smith, another representative from the county board of commissioners, said he was “thrilled with this approach, leveraging the brainpower in the county” and that he was “glad to see collaboration and $30,000 in labor going to people in the county.”

Bergman suggested hanging some of this information in Ypsilanti’s city hall now, showing what the process is. And Anschuetz suggested creating a Facebook page. Tetens clarified that this project is structured as a three-party agreement – with the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, and the Ann Arbor YMCA – and that they are committed to “collecting citizen input this summer.”

Maggard expressed thanks “to the two Bobs who have really pushed this and done a great job” – a reference to Tetens and Marans.

Eastern County Recreation Center: Working Groups

Later in the meeting, deputy director Coy Vaughn described the working groups, composed of WCPARC staff, city of Ypsilanti staff and perhaps others, who would coordinate the work of the team of planners from the UM Taubman College. There will be four such groups: (1) architecture and site planning, led by Tetens; (2) greenway and Border-to-Border Trail, led by Vaughn; (3) infrastructure and environment, led by superintendent of park planning Meghan Bonfiglio; and (4) partnerships and funding, also led by Tetens. This last group will work on grants, private gifts, and identify partners in addition to the YMCA, perhaps including Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College, which might want to use classrooms in the new building.

The discussion among commissioners identified the need to select people from the Ypsilanti community. Patricia Scribner asked how people would be chosen. Tetens replied that Vaughn had made a presentation to the Ypsilanti city council and that councilmember Peter Murdoch had offered to serve. Vaughn added that there would be room for representation from the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority. “There will be a cast of thousands,” Tetens joked. Marans suggested using a slide show to demonstrate the plans as they evolved.

Vaughn said each of the working groups would have five to eight members, and would meet at least monthly. The leads of each group will form a steering committee, which will meet more often. Marans asked Vaughn to supply a list of the groups and their members, and said that WCPARC commissioners could participate as they wanted.

Financial Reports

Several reports were presented during the April 10 meeting that related to WCPARC finances.

Financial Reports: Claims

The claims report includes a list of expenses by park/facility/function, including administration, the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, park maintenance, capital improvements, and each of the seven major WCPARC locations: Pierce Lake Golf Course, Independence Lake Park, Rolling Hills Park, Parker Mill, Sharon Mills, Staebler Farm, and the Swift Run Dog Park. [.pdf of April 2012 claims report]

There is a separate budget for each of the two components of the natural areas preservation program: (1) natural areas and preserves, overseen by the natural areas technical advisory committee (NATAC); and (2) farmland preservation, overseen by the agricultural land preservation advisory Committee (ALPAC). In each category, there is a line item for acquisition and another for preserve management.

Outcome: The commission unanimously approved the expenses in the claims report.

Financial Report: Year-to-Date vs. Budget

The second part of the financial report compared expenditures for the year-to-date with the budgeted amounts. The fiscal year, which mirrors the calendar year, began with a fund balance of $20,421,471. The budget projects ending the year with a fund balance of $6,052,350, with projected revenue of $9,469,000 and projected expenses of $15,513,721, plus contributions to operating reserves of $6,700,000 and to partnership commitments of $1,624,400. [.pdf of fund balance statement]

There was no substantive discussion on this item.

Financial Report: Recreation – March 2012

WCPARC director Bob Tetens provided a recreation report that covered the financial performance of the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center and Rolling Hills winter park.

Attendance at Rolling Hills was down, and therefore 2012 revenues are down about 50% from 2010 and 2011 because “we had no winter,” Tetens said. The chart below shows year-to-date (Jan.-March) revenue and the number of users at both locations, from 2010-2012.

WCPARC financial chart

This chart shows year-to-date revenues and user counts for Washtenaw County's Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center (MLMRC) and Rolling Hills Park. (Links to larger image.)


Projects Update

During the April 10 meeting, WCPARC director Bob Tetens reported on several improvement projects the department has undertaken, including activity related to the Border-to-Border Trail and the county’s natural areas preservation program.

Projects Update: Parks & Recreation

At Rolling Hills Park, the ring road project is nearing completion. A grand opening dedication is set for Sunday, May 20 from 1-4 p.m. Sidock Architects are working on construction documents for the Rolling Hills water park expansion, and a contractor was engaged to complete upgrades to the sewage pump system.

Entrance to County Farm Park and the Washtenaw County parks and recreation administrative offices.

Entrance to County Farm Park and the Washtenaw County parks and recreation administrative offices.

At Pierce Lake Golf Course, CMA Design Services is continuing work on the pavilion expansion.

A request for proposals (RFP) to repair the pedestrian bridge at Sharon Mills Park was reissued, and Food Art signed a contract to provide catering services there until Dec. 31, 2016.

At Independence Lake Park, SG Construction Services has started site-work operations for a “spray and play zone” project. Fourteen trees were transplanted from that area to elsewhere in the park. The new gravel parking lot for the disc golf course has been opened. Final grading and seeding work will be done this month. The lot will also provide overflow parking for the “spray and play zone” participants.

Work on the County Farm portion of the Mallets Creek drain project continues and should be done by mid-June.

A trail was staked in the field at Osborne Mill Preserve to connect a new parking lot to the existing trail accessing the Huron River.

Projects Update: Border-to-Border Trail

Tetens reported that construction of the Border-to-Border (B2B) Trail continues on the segment southeast of Dexter. The westside connector project in Dexter is complete and there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 24 – a day when over 700 people used the trail as part of the Dexter Wellness Walk.

Scio and Ypsilanti townships received awards from the WCPARC’s Connecting Communities program for trail construction. [WCPARC will make available up to $600,000 each year during the period from 2010 to 2014 – $3 million in total – toward the cost of eligible projects.]

Tetens also reported that WCPARC staff assisted the city of Ypsilanti in preparing a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant application to extend the B2B from Michigan Avenue to Grove Road. The application was submitted to the state on April 2. [More information about MNRTF grants is available online.]

Projects Update: Natural Areas

There was also activity in the county’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP), Tetens reported. Closing for the acquisition of the Pellerito property, adjacent to the Meyer Preserve in Superior Township, was scheduled for April 10. [On Friday, April 13, the closing was announced as a deal involving the county, the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy, and the city of Ann Arbor greenbelt program. See Chronicle coverage: "Superior Greenway Deal Adds 100 Acres"]

The closing on a 22-acre property on Joy Road – the J.A. Bloch & Co. property, to be purchased in collaboration with Ann Arbor Township – is tentatively scheduled for April 20. [Later in this meeting, the commission approved the deal – see below.]

Additional items in this part of Tetens report included:

  • Completion of a survey for the Arbor Vistas property, to be purchased with assistance from an MNRTF grant. [Late last year, WCPARC was recommended to receive an MNRTF grant of $2,275,000 to purchase this 54 acres in Ann Arbor Township. The parcel would connect three existing protected areas: Ann Arbor's Marshall Park; the University of Michigan's Horner Woods; and WCPARC's Goodrich Preserve.]
  • Continuing an appraisal of a 70-acre property – the Baker property – in Lima Township, where identification of a recognized environmental condition on the site necessitated a “phase two” investigation.
  • Engagement of a contractor to remove surficial debris from the Schrock addition to the Draper-Houston Meadows Preserve. Also, submission of a permit application to the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to construct a boardwalk west of the bridge over the Saline River in that preserve.
  • Completion of landscape plan drawings for a parking lot for the Squiers Preserve, and preparation of construction drawings. [There is not yet public access to this preserve.]
  • The start of staff work on trail layouts for Osborne Mill, the Clark & Avis Spike Preserve, Draper-Houston Meadows, and Trinkle Marsh Preserves. [The latter is located just east of Chelsea at Trinkle and Dancer Roads. It is not yet open to the public, pending construction of a parking lot and trail system.]

Tetens also listed other accomplishments in the last month: four programming days, a presentation for the Washtenaw County Historical Consortium, and attendance at the Ohio Environmental Council’s Vernal Pool workshop. The WCPARC’s website was updated, a planning intern is working on informational kiosks for parks, and two new park and facility coordinators – Lyla Ellens and Allison Richards – began work at the MLM Recreation Center.

Land Acquisition

During the meeting several parcels of land were considered for acquisition, using proceeds of a natural areas preservation program millage that voters renewed in 2010. [For a recent update on one aspect of this program, see Chronicle coverage: "County Working on Farmland Preservation."]

Land Acquisition: J.A. Bloch Property – Ann Arbor Township

The commission discussed the acquisition of the J.A. Bloch parcel, 23 acres in Ann Arbor Township. [J.A. Bloch & Co. is a land development firm based in Southfield.] Tom Freeman – who recently retired as WCPARC deputy director and now is working on special projects – described the parcel using photographs to supplement his written report and maps. The parcel’s north edge is Joy Road; it lies west of Gleaner Hall Road and its east edge is adjacent to Conrail property.

WCPARC staff and the natural areas technical advisory committee – which advises the commission on land acquisitions – made a number of site visits, Freeman reported, and feel it is a high priority property for acquisition for several reasons. Half of the parcel is a high quality woodlot with a diverse mix of tree types. It has a number of vernal ponds. In addition, the parcel is close to other property that’s already protected through conservation easements, so that “protection of this property would effectively enlarge the already existing preserve and enhance its value to the community,” Freeman said.

Further, Freeman reported that Ann Arbor Township and the Ann Arbor greenbelt program have expressed an interest in collaborating on protection of the property. The proposal, he said, is that Ann Arbor Township would purchase a conservation easement and then WCPARC would purchase the fee simple title to the property.

Williams & Associates had appraised the property at $173,000, or $7,450 an acre. The value of a conservation easement on the property is $99,000, leaving an after-easement value of $74,000.

Commission discussion, after a motion to authorize the purchase, focused on the nature of an earthen berm containing coal, which had warranted further investigation by Mannik & Smith Group, an environmental assessment firm. The firm determined that the coal had come from a tipped-over railroad car rather than a “facility” on the site, and therefore it does not represent a hazard nor require any remediation.

Outcome: A roll call vote led to unanimous approval of the proposal to acquire the property at a price of $74,000, contingent upon purchase of a conservation easement on the property by Ann Arbor Township.

Land Acquisition: J.A. Bloch Property – Northfield Township

Tom Freeman also presented information about another parcel owned by J.A. Bloch – a 33-acre site in Northfield Township, with its south edge on Joy Road. The parcel is immediately adjacent to the Northfield Woods Preserve.

“The most significant natural feature is the stream corridor which crosses the property from west to east and then continues south along the eastern border. Five wetland areas were identified,” he reported. Freeman said that acquisition of this Bloch property offers the chance to create a significant trail experience, connecting over 100 acres of protected property. The natural areas technical advisory committee identified this property as a high priority property for acquisition, and the Ann Arbor greenbelt program has expressed a strong interest in collaborating on protection of the property, he added, explaining that the greenbelt program was interested in yet another property immediately west of this, which is also owned by J.A. Bloch.

Due diligence investigations have been conducted: an appraisal by Bosserd Appraisal Services identified a value of $245,250, or about $7,500 an acre. Mannik & Smith Group did a Phase I environmental site assessment and did not indicate any recognized environmental condition on the property. Finally, a boundary survey, legal description, and certified survey drawing were prepared, all at the expense of the property owner.

A motion was made to authorize preparation of a contingent purchase offer for this property, at a price of $245,500. The purchase would be contingent upon development of a participation agreement with the city of Ann Arbor greenbelt program detailing its contribution to the purchase. It would also be subject to final authorization by the WCPARC at a future meeting.

Outcome: The resolution to authorize a $245,500 purchase of the Northfield Township property, with contingencies, passed unanimously.

Following the vote, Bob Tetens commented that he was not sure when the matter would return to the WCPARC. “Ann Arbor’s process is slower than ours,” he explained, “but I hope it will come back in May or June.”

Land Acquisition: Sloan Property – Scio Township

Tom Freeman reported that this 35-acre parcel in Scio Township is located on the west side of Baker Road, south of the village of Dexter. “The most significant natural feature is Mill Creek, which serves as the property’s western boundary,” he said, adding that preserving this property is a high priority for the Scio Township land preservation program, and that Scio Township has applied for and received grant funds through the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to acquire the property.

However, the due diligence environmental review revealed the presence of a recognized environmental condition, and Scio Township officials decided to proceed with consideration of only the portion of that property – about 35 acres – that does not have any environmental concerns. An appraisal identified a value of $8,000 an acre. The grant funds would cover 75% of the cost of acquisition and require a local match for the remaining 25%. The local match could be split between Scio Township and WCPARC.

WCPARC’s natural areas technical advisory committee recommends purchase of the property.

A motion was made and seconded to authorize commitment of $35,000 toward the purchase of the Sloan property in Scio Township, which will be used along with an equal amount from Scio Township as the local match requirement for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant.

Discussion among commissioners focused on the DTE power lines on the site and the need for DTE to maintain access by keeping a cleared area. Dan Smith asked: Would that be detrimental, and was there any way to minimize the clearing? Freeman responded that although there was little that could be done because DTE has to maintain the area, it would be possible to meet with DTE and by being cooperative, minimize the amount cleared each time.

Outcome: The motion to authorize the expenditure passed unanimously.

Other Business: Minutes, Communications

During the meeting there are opportunities for communications from staff and the public, as well as housekeeping items such as approval of the agenda and of minutes from previous meetings. At the April 10 meeting, no one spoke during the time for public commentary.

Other Business: Approval, Format of Minutes

Commissioners were asked to approve the minutes of the March 6 meeting. The minutes for WCPARC meetings provide a fair amount of narrative description and detail.

Jimmie Maggard asked “Can these minutes be condensed?” Dan Smith agreed, saying “it is better to have as little as possible for official minutes, and to use a second document you could call notes” to hold details. Janis Bobrin, who also serves as the county’s water resources commissioner, also agreed, indicating that’s the approach she takes with public meetings held by her office. [The minutes of public meetings are the official record and are subject to disclosure under the state's Freedom of Information Act. Unofficial notes of the meeting would not necessarily be subject to FOIA.]

Outcome: Without further discussion, the minutes were unanimously approved.

Other Business: Communications

During his communications to the commission, director Bob Tetens prefaced his remarks by saying “Don’t be alarmed by this.” He was referring to the fact that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) had not approved a plan for a section of the county’s Border-to-Border Trail to be built under the Michigan Avenue bridge spanning the Huron River, adjacent to the site for the proposed recreation center in downtown Ypsilanti.

Tetens then described a possible pedestrian crossing of Michigan Avenue with appropriate devices – not yet determined – to alert cars to the presence of pedestrians. MDOT would have to approve the crossing and any flashers. Tetens said that funds that would have been used for the under-the-bridge project could be used for the Michigan Avenue street level crossing. The Ypsilanti city council has already approved a fund transfer for this project, Tetens reported.

Present: WCPARC members Janice Anschuetz, Barbara Levin Bergman, Janis Bobrin, Jimmie Maggard, Robert W. Marans, Nelson K. Meade, Patricia Scribner, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Dan Smith, and Fred Veigel. WCPARC staff members Bob Tetens, Meghan Bonfiglio, Tom Freeman, and Coy Vaughn.

Next meeting: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 7 p.m. at the parks and recreation commission administrative offices, 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor.

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  1. By Eric
    April 17, 2012 at 6:02 pm | permalink

    Thank you so much for this report.

    The minutes for the Washtenaw Parks Commission are rarely timely and usually incomplete. They routinely refer to a powerpoint presentation on project updates but do not post that presentation on the county website.

    I hope the Chronicle continues to cover these monthly meetings.

  2. By Eric
    April 17, 2012 at 6:34 pm | permalink

    I also find it mind-boggling that they think that reducing the amount of information in the minutes would be a good thing.

  3. April 17, 2012 at 9:20 pm | permalink

    I’m enjoying Margaret Leary’s reporting here and in other publications. Thanks for this report on a project that has not been covered well elsewhere.

    (Just as spellcheck is ruining my spelling, and Google is rotting my internal dictionary/index system, Twitter is making my thinking staccato. I had the impulse to add hatchmark asides #deerinfestations #lawquad.)

  4. April 17, 2012 at 9:36 pm | permalink

    I love the idea of the Rec Center but taking the best commercial land on Michigan avenue and giving it over to a non-taxing authority makes no sense.

    The City foolishly paid over $600,000 a acre for Water Street and owes over $30 million in debt. To pay it back, the City needs taxpaying entities on Water Street and those most likely to buy and build will be right on Michigan Avenue.

    Please build a Rec center in Ypsilanti, please don’t take the last piece of commercial property on Michigan that has a slim hope of generating some money to pay the bonds back. Build it long the Huron River and Park Street (where the old Arlens was located). The vistas will still be great for patrons of the REC center, but it gives the city the flexibility in attracting new developers to Michigan Avenue to generate needed tax revenue.

  5. By John Q.
    April 17, 2012 at 11:17 pm | permalink

    “The parcel’s north edge is Joy Road; it lies west of Gleaner Hall Road and its east edge is adjacent to Conrail property.”

    The adjacent railroad is either owned by the Ann Arbor Railroad or Great Lakes Central Railroad, not Conrail. The two lines interchange on the adjacent tracks.