Parks Group Acts on S. University, Windemere

Also: Argo Cascades adjustments include water flow, boat choice

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (May 15, 2012): At this month’s PAC meeting, commissioners gave positive recommendations for renovations to two city parks.

Argo Cascades

Argo Cascades on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012. (Photos by the writer.)

For Windemere Park, located in the Glacier neighborhood on the city’s east side, the commission passed a resolution supporting the reconstruction of two tennis courts there, allowing for costs as much as 15-20% greater than a site with better soil conditions. The exact location where the courts will be reconstructed within the park will be based on the outcome of a public meeting with neighbors.

The commission also recommended approval of a contract to undertake $39,575 of improvements to South University Park, using part of a $50,000 gift from Leslie and Michael Morris – donated to the city for the express purpose of renovations to that park.

Commissioners heard a number of updates, including a report on the city’s canoe liveries – the largest in Michigan, with nearly 500 boats. A highlight of the livery report was a status update on the Argo Cascades, a bypass that’s been constructed around the Argo Dam. The nine pools and drops have proven to be somewhat sportier than is suitable for complete novice paddlers, but city staff are working on a range of strategies to ensure safety and enjoyment.

The commission heard a briefing on the public art commission’s annual plan, which includes artwork in some local parks. They also got an update from the Cobblestone Farm Association, and were introduced to the new market manager, Sarah Benoit.

Among the highlights of parks and recreation manager Colin Smith’s report to the commission was the announcement that the city’s natural area preservation program (NAP) would change city departments. In the next month or so, NAP will begin reporting to the community services area instead of the public services area, as part of the city’s move to consolidate volunteer efforts.

The commission also said farewell to Sam Offen, who was term-limited for his service on PAC.

Windemere Tennis Courts

Commissioners considered a resolution recommending that the city pursue reconstruction of two tennis courts at Windemere Park, a nearly four-acre parcel on the city’s northeast side, north of Glazier Way between Green and Earhart roads. PAC had received a staff update on deteriorating conditions there at the commission’s April 17, 2012 meeting.

Windemere Tennis Courts: Public Commentary

Edward Weise, co-president of the Earhart Knolls Homeowners Association, led off public commentary by thanking parks and recreation manager Colin Smith and park planner Amy Kuras for their courteous and prompt response to the association’s concerns. He also thanked Ward 2 city council representatives. Rounding out those whom Weise thanked were Rod Sorge of the Earhart Village Homes Association, and Milt Baker of the Friends of Narrow Gauge Woods.

Tennis courts in Windemere Park

On Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, the tennis court in Windemere Park that still has a net was in use.

Weise told commissioners that the board of Earhart Knolls had sent a packet of information, which he hoped had been included in their information for the meeting. Weise identified two issues he wanted to address. First, he noted that the parks staff had determined the tennis courts should be replaced, and he hoped that PAC would agree with the staff recommendation for replacement. The current courts have served for 25 years, so the new courts should last at least that long, he said.

The second issue identified by Weise was the parks staff’s recommendation to move the courts to the east side of the park. He felt that before a recommendation on location is made, a neighborhood meeting should be held. The neighbors have already discussed the issue amongst themselves, he said. He hoped that PAC will look favorably on reconstruction of the courts, and let the neighbors have a meeting to hash out the location. He stressed that the neighbors are not unconscious of cost. [One of the issues identified by the parks staff is that reconstruction in the same location might require a more expensive approach to stabilizing the base, due to poor soil conditions there.]

Chuck Blackmer, also co-president of Earhart Knolls Homeowners Association, lives next to the park on the east side, he told commissioners. He said he’d heard there were soil borings taken, but he hadn’t seen the soil boring logs or reports. It had been verbally conveyed, he said, that there’s perched water. In his experience, that means water above the surface. [It appears that perched water can also refer to a layer of water beneath the surface, but above the groundwater level.] He had watched soil borings from his window being made on the east side of the park.

So Blackmer questioned the soil borings and encouraged PAC to look deeper into the recommendations. It was his understanding, he said, that staff wants to relocate the tennis courts somewhere east of where they are now. Residents have noted that the playground equipment and the tennis courts are used by different people in the same group [which would be difficult if the courts were relocated away from the equipment.] In their current location, he said, there are no residential lots next to the courts. That’s something that also could be taken into consideration, he said.

Jeff Alson reminded the commission that he spoken a month ago on the topic. He noted that there’s high demand for tennis playing at the park – even on Mother’s Day there were people out playing. [On the morning of Memorial Day, May 28, The Chronicle also observed a tennis lesson in progress at the Windemere courts.] He noted there aren’t many courts on the east side of town. He also felt there are some small improvements that could be added to the courts – like a windscreen and a practice backboard. He supported the plan to get neighborhood input. As a tennis player, he just wanted to see top-quality courts, but that should be a decision that comes out of the meeting between the parks staff and the neighborhood, he said.

Windemere Park Tennis Courts

Windemere Park tennis courts in relation to the rest of the park. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Scott Campbell told the commission he’d been on the board of the Earhart Knolls Homeowners Association since 2000. He also teaches urban planning at the University of Michigan, he said. But he allowed that he did not know soil science. He could recall two cycles of repairs of the courts, he said. The first repairs, undertaken in 2000, seemed to work fine and give the courts new life. But in 2009 the attempted repairs went very slow and were inadequate in setup. Back then, he’d tried contacting people in the parks department and city planning office and got no reply, he reported. He suggested that the problem could be not with the choice of the site, but with the inadequacy of the 2009 repair.

Speaking to the issue of idea of moving the tennis court to the east side of Windemere Park, he noted that the park’s layout is not a rectangle. There’s a nice clustering of activities in the narrow, western part of the park, which works well for the smaller-scale functions – playing on the playground equipment and playing tennis. On the eastern side of the park, which is larger, the space works for well as open space for soccer and other impromptu sports. Placing the tennis courts in that open space on the eastern side of the park would substantially disrupt the best landscape feature of the park, he contended. He hoped the courts would be kept where they are and renovated on site. He figured that would be cheaper than building from scratch.

Rod Sorge, with the Earhart Village Homes Association, supported the position of the Earhart Knolls Homeowners Association – that the tennis courts should be replaced. He allowed that the duty to maintain, repair and replace facilities is difficult and not as much fun as building new things. But he hoped that the commission would look favorably on replacing the court. He concluded by saying that he was impressed with the communication he’d received from parks and recreation manager Colin Smith and Ward 2 councilmember Jane Lumm, so he appreciated their efforts.

Windemere Tennis Courts: Staff Presentation

Parks planner Amy Kuras reviewed the location of Windemere Park and the number of courts and their locations throughout the city. She then reviewed the history of the Windemere Park tennis courts:

  • 1986: Windemere tennis courts constructed
  • 2007: Windemere tennis courts color coated
  • 2009: Crack repairs attempted; failed due to poor soils
  • 2009: New net posts installed; but failed (freeze-thaw heave)
  • 2011: Soil boring showed saturated organic soils and fill in current location
  • 2012: Second soil borings, with construction recommendation

Kuras said she did not pretend to be a soil scientist or an engineer. The recommendation she’d received from a city engineer for reconstructing the courts on the existing site was to remove the poor soil to a depth of three feet – which had doubled the price of construction. A different option, she said would be to use a geo-grid honeycomb layer, which would provide additional stability. That had been an option suggested for the eastern location in the park, which has better soils than the existing location – but the soils there are not optimal, either.

Kuras said she called that engineer and had a nice long conversation about whether the geo-grid option would work for the worst soils in the park – that is, where the tennis courts are currently located. The engineer had indicated the geo-grid would probably still work, but some additional drainage would be needed. The biggest issue, Kuras said, would be the need to go down 9-10 feet for installation of the net posts. Normally it’d be 42 inches to avoid the risk of frost heave in this part of the country.

Kuras laid out the currently-contemplated contrasting costs for replacement of both courts. The normal soil condition cost estimates are based on actual costs incurred for tennis court reconstruction at West Park and Veterans Memorial Park.

Same Location: If Soils Were Normal
Price    Item
$13,000  Demolition of existing courts
 26,867  Gravel base and asphalt
  3,000  Netposts
 14,667  Color coating
  2,450  Geotextile
 20,000  Fencing
 12,000  General conditions

Additional Costs Given the Poor Soils*
Price    Item
$ 3,000  Restoration of original area
  3,000  Additional gravel base
  4,500  Geogrid for base stabilization
  2,500  Perforated drain
  2,000  Stormwater connection or rain garden
$15,000  Subtotal

*Does not include some additional drainage and
costs associated with extra-deep placement of
net posts.


Windemere Tennis Courts: Deliberations

Tim Berla noted that the neighbors want the courts reconstructed, and they seem to want them reconstructed in the same location. He asked Kuras what her confidence level is that the expensive option would last for 10 years, say, without requiring maintenance. He said he didn’t want to do a big piece of maintenance every 3-4 years. He wanted to know if Kuras was confident or if it would be “an experiment.”

Kuras indicated that the current approach she’s taking with older tennis courts in the city is to take out the existing base to establish a new foundation – that approach, she said, tends to yield about 20-25 years of life, as long as the subsurface conditions stay the same. If the subsurface conditions change, then the lifespan can be reduced, she said, which is what happened at Windemere.

Responding to a question from parks and recreation manager Colin Smith, Kuras explained that for the first soil borings, they’d simply requested the log – and from that you can see, for example, that at a depth of two feet, there’s brown silty medium sand. For the second soil boring, she’d told the company that she wanted to build a tennis court and asked: What do I need to do to ensure that it’ll last for 25 years? The company had given the recommendation to increase the profile of stone in the base and to put in drainage, and use a geo-grid system. “Water is the biggest enemy,” Kuras said.

Sam Offen asked if the company recommending the geo-grid had offered a guarantee that it would work in the current location. Kuras noted that the company would never give a guarantee, but the engineer she’d spoken with kept saying, “It should work.” Kuras felt it might be worth having a third company interpret the soil borings to confirm the opinion.

David Barrett asked for some additional clarification of how the geo-grid system would work. Kuras noted that compared to a site that had normal soil, the recommendation would be to excavate two inches deeper – eight inches instead of six – and to use geo-fabric, a geo-grid and under-drains. Barrett wanted an estimate of the cost of unsuccessful repairs over the years – $20,000? Not nearly that much, Kuras told him. It had not been contracted out, so it would be staff time and materials only.

Colin Smith summarized the city’s position by saying that the staff wants to see the tennis courts at Windemere replaced. As far as the location goes, Smith said staff would work on that with the community. He wanted to make sure the place selected is best for the investment of the city’s money. He expressed no doubts about the need for the tennis courts as an amenity. Compared to the initial construction estimates based on the three-foot excavation of soils, the 15% additional money the city might be looking at is “not outrageous.”

Asked by Berla what Kuras thought of the geo-grid strategy at the current location, Kuras said she still thinks it’d be better to move a location with better soils. But she said the point of holding public meetings is not to say: Here’s what we’re doing! The reason for a public meeting is to get public input, she said. Berla felt like based on what he’d heard, he thought it would be best to replace the courts where they were currently located.

PAC chair Julie Grand then offered the text of a resolution expressing support for reconstruction and additional public input. She prefaced that by saying in her long history on PAC, the feedback PAC had received on the Windemere tennis courts had been the “most civil and well-researched communication we’ve ever received.”

The resolution expressed PAC support for the replacement of the Windemere Park tennis parks and called for additional input to be solicited through public meetings. The resolution stipulated that the reconstruction costs not be more than 10-20% greater than the cost of replacing tennis courts on normal soil.

Barrett stressed that it’s something that PAC supports, but he just doesn’t want to put the court on a “poltergeist.”

Kuras indicated that some time would be required to take another couple of soil borings, and based on the time it would take to properly notice another public meeting, she did not anticipate reconstruction of the tennis courts this summer. That would have to wait until the spring, she said.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to support reconstruction of the Windemere Park tennis courts.

Canoe Liveries

Cheryl Saam, who manages the city’s canoe liveries at Argo and Gallup parks, gave the commissioners an overview of operations, highlighting the new bypass around Argo Dam, which is called Argo Cascades. It’s a series of pools, with drops between the pools. The Cascades includes nine such drops and pools.

Canoe Liveries: Argo Cascades

One of the benefits to the bypass is meant to be that canoeists and other paddlers who launch from the Argo livery, can paddle down the Huron River to Gallup Park without having to portage. The former headrace, which occupied essentially the same channel as the cascades, ended near Swift and Broadway, and people had to carry their boats from the headrace down to the river. The new bypass offers a navigable channel, under a bridge, from the bypass to the river.

Argo Cascades

Argo Cascades on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012.

Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith told commissioners that parks staff had worked with TSP Environmental, the construction company, through the winter as the bypass construction was taking place, to test out the features. There was a “soft opening” on Saturday, May 5. On that day, there was too much water flow and the drops between pools were harder than staff expected, he said. They reduced the water flow, and on Sunday it was significantly better.

Smith told commissioners that he and parks and recreation deputy manager Jeff Straw, along with other staff, were on site that Sunday to observe. They’d met at the end of that week with TSP. Smith reported that TSP wants to do what it can to make the site as novice-friendly as possible. A lot is possible with computer modeling and design, Smith said, but ultimately it’s not possible to evaluate the features until they are in place. He said that staff who’d been involved in preliminary testing had tried to pretend to be novices, but at heart they were not novices. TSP will be back in touch with suggestions for any changes they might be able to undertake.

Canoe Liveries: Basic Operations

The discussion of Argo Cascades came in the context of Saam’s general overview of all the city’s canoe livery operations. She circled back to the issue of the cascades in the context of the types of boats in the city’s fleet that are best-suited for navigating the drops and pools.

First, Saam reviewed the basics of the parks canoe liveries. The Argo livery is 3.7 miles upstream from Gallup. Most river trips are from Argo down to Gallup right through the city of Ann Arbor, she said. There are also drop-offs at Barton, Delhi and Dexter, she said, for trips originating at those locations.

Saam described the range of activities at the Gallup livery, which include meeting room rentals and a coffee shop with Zingerman’s products. The Gallup livery runs a river camp summer program with 250 campers – for 1st through 5th graders. There’s also a pre-school program. The livery holds a boat auction to sell old boats. The city has received a grant from the state of Michigan for monthly river cleanup days. Out of the Gallup livery, the city also runs moonlight paddle, and trick-or-treating on the river.

Saam highlighted Huron River Day being held on July 15, which includes a triathlon this year. Participants will bicycle to Argo from Gallup, run around Argo Pond, and boat back to Gallup for the final leg.

Saam described Gallup and Argo as essentially two sites of the same livery. Argo has four vans with trailers, while Gallup has two vans. There’s more boat storage at Argo, she said, because of the greater number of trips that originate there. Argo has a relatively new summer camp that is growing each year, she said. It’s for kids in 6th, 7th and 8th grade. Last year, 96 kids participated, which is the maximum (12 kids each week).

The most popular river trip, Saam said, is Argo-to-Gallup – which is typically about a 1.5-hour trip. It costs $18 for a single kayak and $22 for a double. The Barton-to-Gallup stretch has fewer trips, but Saam expected that would increase, because of the elimination of the portage around Argo Dam.

Combined, the Argo and Gallup liveries count as the largest livery in the state of Michigan, she said. The two liveries have 38 staff and 492 boats: 315 kayaks, 155 canoes, 15 paddleboats, 5 rowboats, 2 stand-up paddleboats (SUP), 6 rafts and 50 inner-tubes. In the last fiscal year, 53,210 people visited the liveries, which generated revenue of $473,015 against expenses of $368,436, for net of $104,579.

Saam described the Argo-to-Gallup trip as a beautiful scenic urban river. People are astounded at how gorgeous it is, she said, and they come from all over southeast Michigan and northern Ohio.

Saam noted that the number of kayaks in the fleet is huge – 10 years ago when she started, there were zero. The new equipment, she said, can be purchased with the park maintenance and capital improvements millage. When new equipment is purchased, she said, some of the old equipment is sold through an auction.

Canoe Liveries: Cascades Again

About the Argo Cascades, Saam reported that construction of the bridges is complete and the pathway along the divider between the dam bypass and the river is now paved. Concrete sidewalks have been installed around the Argo livery. The challenge, she said, is deciding the boats and the skill level that is appropriate for customers.

Canoes are difficult for beginners to navigate through the drops, she said. Water comes up over the edge. Kayaks have an easier time of it. The sit-on-top kayaks are the best, because they have scupper holes, which allow any water to drain if it sloshes into the boat. The rafts fit five adults comfortably, she said, and would be a good choice for the cascades. Tubes haven’t been rented to the public yet, but the livery will try them as a soft opening at $10 for 2 hours. She felt that people would use them like a sled run – floating down the cascades and getting out and walking back to the top of the cascades for as many runs as they could fit into two hours. She figured the tubes would be popular.

Putting in canoes at base of Argo Cascades

Novice canoeists can put in at the base of the cascades. Park staff pull canoes from a pile and drag them down the incline.

Saam stressed that in terms of risk management, the briefing given to prospective paddlers is important. Before allowing people to navigate the cascades, the staff is imposing requirements that include prior experience paddling, being a capable swimmer, and the ability to right a capsized boat. For people who are nervous, they can watch a DVD, she said. Livery staff are working with Community Television Network to produce a video. Subsequent deliberations by commissioners drew out the fact that the additional safety precautions are focused on the orientation to the river. Smith noted that a waiver that boat renters must sign has been reviewed by the city attorney’s staff.

Those who don’t want to navigate the cascades can still do a “pond paddle” or do the river trip from Argo to Gallup by launching at the bottom of the cascades. Saam described how a pile of canoes had been stacked at the bottom of the cascades and staff were putting people in at that point. Staff who put in canoes at the bottom of the cascades will keep an eye on the cascades, she said. They are still trying to figure out the best boats and best requirements.

Saam described to commissioners that the city has rented a business parking lot just north of the livery to accommodate the additional demand at Argo livery.

Canoe Liveries: Commissioner Discussion

David Barrett ask about the possibility of people swimming in the pools of the cascades – especially as the weather gets warmer. Colin Smith noted that there’s a park rule against swimming in the river using parkland as a bank. And given the level of boating activity in the cascades, he said, if the intent was to go for a relaxing dip, it wouldn’t be all that relaxing.

Pile of canoes at base of cascades

A pile of canoes ready at the base of Argo Cascades for use by novice paddlers.

Sam Offen asked how deep the pools are. Cheryl Saam explained that the intended depth was three feet, but she allowed that there are some deeper holes.

Barrett asked about the stand-up paddle boats: If someone took a tumble, is that an issue? Saam explained that they’re intended for pond paddles, not for river trips. She said the city does not currently own any helmets to rent out. She also pointed out that the stand-up paddle boats can be converted to kayaks.

Christopher Taylor followed up on Smith’s description of TSP Environmental possibly making further modifications to the drops based on the city’s feedback. Taylor wanted to know if TSP had indicated cost. Smith told Taylor that the city had provided feedback and that TSP said they’d do more modeling. TSP didn’t know what specifically they could do, but their intent is to do the best they can within the existing site. Taylor asked what was meant by the existing “site” – which Smith characterized as the height of the water at the top and the bottom of the cascades.

City of Ann Arbor parks and recreation manager Colin Smith describes how the site of the Argo Cascades is constrained by the height of the water at the upstream end and the height of the water at the downstream end.

City of Ann Arbor parks and recreation manager Colin Smith describes how the site of the Argo Cascades is constrained by the height of the water at the upstream end and the height of the water at the downstream end.

John Lawter expressed his hope that any modifications – ones that make things easier for novices – don’t go so far that it’s made “too lame” and too easy. Smith suggested that commissioners need to bear in mind that the goal is to make the cascades as novice-friendly as possible. And that’s what the staff will work toward. Given that Argo-to-Gallup is the most popular trip the city offers, it’s hoped that everyone can be launched from the livery, without needing to launch people from the base of the cascades. Responding to the idea that the drops that are modified too much wouldn’t be very much fun for those with more experience, Smith indicated that those with more experience will perhaps be more creative and do what they want with the drops.

Lawter asked for an update on the whitewater features that are supposed to be installed in the Huron River itself by DTE, coordinated with the environmental cleanup of the MichCon site, which is across the river from the Argo Cascades. DTE agreed to pay for the cost of the whitewater features in the river. They’ll be placed somewhat upstream from the base of the cascades as the bypass feeds into the river. The idea is that experienced paddlers who want to navigate the whitewater on the river will paddle through the cascades, then paddle a bit upstream, then navigate the whitewater as many times as they like.

Argo Cascades on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012.

Argo Cascades on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012.

Smith told Lawter that the permit for the whitewater was submitted to the state of Michigan and initial feedback had been received. The state has some concerns about fish passage, Smith said, and the design will have to be modified to accommodate some of the state’s feedback. Returning to Lawter’s concern that the drops might become too “lame,” Smith pointed out that the future whitewater features in the river will be a place more experienced paddlers can go.

Offen wanted to know if TSP was surprised by the challenging navigation of the drops. Smith said that everyone was a little bit surprised, because they’d all taken trial runs. Smith clarified that TSP Environmental was the construction company; it was Gary Lacy who did the design.

Smith offered much praise for Saam’s work over the last 10 years with the city’s canoe liveries. Looking back to where the liveries were before Saam started, Smith characterized it as “night and day.”

South University Park

The commission considered a resolution recommending approval of a $39,575 contract with Terra-Firma Landscape Inc. for improvements to South University Park. The project is funded by a $50,000 donation from Leslie and Michael Morris. News of their gift had been announced nearly a year ago, at PAC’s June 21, 2011 meeting. At that meeting, Leslie Morris – a former Ward 2 city councilmember – had explained how the couple had played a role decades ago in creating the park at South University Avenue and Walnut. The dynamics of the neighborhood have changed, and the park is in need of an overhaul to serve the needs of current residents.

Terra-Firma, based in Ypsilanti Township, was the lowest of 10 bids received for the work. The budget includes a 10% construction contingency of $3,958 for a total project budget of $43,533. According to a staff memo, the work includes removing trees and shrubs that are overgrown and invasive; replacing the existing basketball court, which is in poor shape and undersized; removing the bench and kiosk; and installing three new benches located on the park’s interior along a new concrete walk that bisects the park.

A picnic table, native flowering trees and shrubs will be added to the site. Because a large play area is located in the nearby Angell Elementary School, it’s felt that a play area in the park isn’t needed.

At the May 15 PAC meeting, city park planner Amy Kuras described the park as having deteriorated. She had held a public meeting to discuss the improvements back in January, she said. Several former neighbors attended, as well as people who live there now, she reported. She noted that one of the “strange features” of the park are some berms, apparently built to get rid of soil.

Kuras noted that there’s a bus stop near the park, and people cut diagonally across the park to reach it. People also cut across the park diagonally for other reasons. That’s why a new path will be added. People at the meeting liked the idea of keeping the basketball court, but wanted to improve it. Kuras said there will be an engraved boulder to recognize the Morris couple’s contribution.

Sam Offen wanted to know if the park is used actively for things like Frisbee. Kuras said she had not seen that, but people at the neighborhood meeting reported that the basketball court is used. Kuras reported that the references for the contractor said Terra-Firma was fabulous. Asked about the disparity between high and low bids (around twice as expensive), Kuras felt that sometimes a contractor will throw out some numbers without doing a careful cost analysis, perhaps hoping they will be the only bidder. Kuras said the winning bid was somewhat lower than she had estimated, and that it was good that the donation will cover all of the work.

Julie Grand asked about the balance of the donation. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith explained that it would stay in a special donation fund. Even if the entire amount isn’t used, it’s good to have some leftover – in case, for example, a bench needs to be replaced. The money is earmarked specifically for that location, Smith said.

Outcome: The commission unanimously approved the resolution recommending approval of a $39,575 contract with Terra-Firma Landscape Inc. for improvements to South University Park.

Sustainability Goals

Park advisory commissioners considered a recommendation that the city council move ahead to incorporate 16 sustainability goals into the city’s master plan. [.pdf of sustainability goals]

PAC is one of several Ann Arbor advisory groups that have been working with city staff to develop a focused set of sustainability goals, drawing from more than 200 existing goals in city planning documents. The project began more than a year ago, after the city received a $95,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation to fund a formal sustainability project.

The grant funded the job of a sustainability associate, a position held by Jamie Kidwell, who’s been the point person for this effort. Originally the effort involved four advisory commissions: park, planning, energy and environmental. More recently, the city’s housing commission and housing and human services commission were added to the effort.

The goals are fairly general, and are grouped into four main categories: climate and energy; community; land use and access; and resource management. Four public forums were held earlier this year, with speakers and public input on each of those categories. [See Chronicle coverage: “Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor,” “Sustaining Ann Arbor’s Environmental Quality,” “Land Use, Transit Factor Into Sustainability,“ and "Final Forum: What Sustains Community?"] The city also maintains a website with information on the project.

Kidwell attended the May 15 meeting to explain the sustainability goals to park advisory commissioners. The recommendation would be going before the city’s environmental commission and the planning commission later.

She sketched out how the work had been approached – with formation of a staff working group; and smaller staff focus groups. A series of community forums had been held, which had been attended by a total of more than 300 people. David Barrett wanted to know if there’d been any outreach to the business community. Kidwell told him that the business community was not singled out for outreach, but the process had been inclusive. She pointed out that Ingrid Ault, a newly-appointed park advisory commissioner, had been able to provide some insight into the part of the business community she represents as the head of the Think Local First organization.

Tim Berla felt that the sustainability goals are admirable, and he understood that there would be a next phase. However, he felt that any time something comes forward, there’s typically two sides to it. He wondered if that had been incorporated into this process. For example, the kind of argument that might be brought forward could be: Even though we’re causing pollution, we’re creating jobs. He wondered if the sustainability goals would have any functional impact, or if they’d just be abstract.

Kidwell responded to Berla by saying the goals should be taken as a whole set of principles. As far as their implementation, she said, the goals could inform the development of the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP). To develop the CIP, the staff already use the city’s environmental goals to rank and prioritize projects. She ventured that a proposed projected on the CIP could be evaluated along a metric like: Does the project support three or more sustainability goals?

Outcome: The commission unanimously approved the resolution recommending integration of the sustainability goals into the city’s master plan.

Introduction: Public Art Annual Plan

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, summarized the public art annual plan for commissioners. It’s required to be presented annually to the city council. This year, it was presented at the city council’s May 7, 2012 meeting. AAPAC had settled on the final plan at its March 28, 2012 meeting. The plan describes projects that AAPAC intends to work on between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013. [.pdf of FY 2013 annual public art plan]

The final plan includes a list of five objectives for the next fiscal year:

  1. Develop a master plan for 2013-2016 that will create community engagement and expedite work of the commission.
  2. Advance the following projects that are underway, meeting all deadlines. All the projects have task force oversight, approved budgets, and are in various stages of completion. The projects are: (1) installation of Ed Carpenter’s “Radius” sculpture in the lobby of the Justice Center by November 2012 ($150,000); (2) a mural in Allmendinger Park by Mary Thiefels, to be completed by September 2012 ($12,000); (3) two additional murals by August 2013 ($40,000); (4) artwork for a rain garden at Kingsley and First by August 2013 ($27,000); (5) artwork for the East Stadium bridges by the fall of 2014 ($400,000); and (6) installation of artwork in the Detroit Institute of Art’s Inside|Out project by the spring of 2013 (budget TBD). That project involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks.
  3. By June 2012, identify and prioritize new projects for FY 2013, allocating existing funds using agreed-upon criteria of type, location, and community involvement. The criteria will be defined during the master planning process.
  4. By Aug. 1, develop and begin to implement an effective communications plan about the uses and value of public art and the operation of the commission.
  5. Collaborate with commissions, organizations, and agencies to accomplish public art projects

David Barrett wanted to know if AAPAC was hoping to get artists from this area if possible for upcoming projects? Seagraves explained that if local artists meet the qualifications, then they would be eligible for selection. [The city attorney's office has given the advice that it's not legally possible to give preference to local artists.]

Sam Offen asked about the Detroit Institute of Art’s Inside|Out program: Who picks locations and the art that’s displayed? Seagraves characterized that as a collaborative effort. Responding to a question from Offen, Seagraves said he expected that some of the works would be displayed in public open spaces.

Offen also wondered about the possible impact of graffiti on murals. Seagraves said that murals are generally respected by graffiti artists. It’s also possible to apply overcoat to protect the murals.

Introduction: New Market Manager

Sarah Benoit – the city of Ann Arbor’s new market manager – was introduced to the city’s park advisory commissioners. She replaces Molly Notarianni, who resigned from that position earlier this year. Benoit delivered some brief remarks to the commission.

Sarah Benoit, new market manager for the city of Ann Arbor

Sarah Benoit, new market manager for the city of Ann Arbor, attended the May 15 meeting of the park advisory commission, to introduce herself to commissioners.

Benoit grew up in Kalamazoo and earned an undergraduate degree in urban studies & European studies from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where she participated in a pilot farmers market on campus. After graduating, she spent a year in Ann Arbor, then moved to New York in 2010 to attend Fordham University. She received a masters degree in urban studies and completed a thesis on the role of seasons in local food education in New York City.

As Ann Arbor’s market manager, Benoit will oversee the operation of the Ann Arbor farmers market and work with the city’s public market advisory commission. She began work as market manager during the week of May 14.

Cobblestone Farm Update

George Taylor gave commissioners an update on the activities of the Cobblestone Farm Association (CFA), which helps manage and oversee the city-owned farm and helps provide volunteer opportunities. The mission of the CFA is to “to provide an example of a Washtenaw County farmstead, showing aspects of its settlement in the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, and by demonstrating agricultural, architectural, domestic, religious, and social customs and activities across time, …”

Taylor sketched out the strategy for planning activities for each year – a spring event, July 4, then a harvest event. The biggest one is July 4, he said. For the fall, the harvest event is held around the theme of Halloween, including a visit from the “headless horseman.” Other activities include pumpkin decorating and throwing pumpkins using a trebuchet.

Taylor told the commissioners that CFA had a new treasurer in Scott Diels, and a new historic district commission representative in Thomas Stulberg. Taylor thanked the city for hiring an architect to survey the Cobblestone Farm site including the house, the barns, and the log cabin. Based on the survey, he said, CFA can prioritize what needs to be done with the buildings. He also thanked the city for the restoration of the log cabin – because it was in very bad shape. He thanked the city for hiring Toth Brothers for the log cabin restoration. The cabin is now used for the Pioneer Living program, he said.

In the coming year, CFA will be working on its articles of incorporation and amendments to bylaws. The group is talking about moving the gift shop and setting up exhibit space. They’re looking forward to scheduling more tours of the house for wedding parties, when they book the barn as a wedding venue. Another new activity is a possible Tuesday evening farmers market, organized by nearby residents, which would be held from 4-7 p.m. in Buhr Park in front of the tennis courts.

When Taylor concluded his briefing, Sam Offen wanted to know if CFA coordinated with other historical groups in the county. Yes, answered, Taylor, the CFA works with all 26 historical societies in the county. He gave the Kemp House Museum as an example. He also noted that CFA also worked with Washtenaw County parks and recreation.

Julie Grand had a question about where the food for the farmers market would come from – and the explanation she received was that the nearby residents were just helping to organize it. The food would come from local farmers.

Parks and Rec Manager Report

City of Ann Arbor parks and recreation manager Colin Smith update commissioners with a number of dates on upcoming events.

He reported that the mowing season had started off not as well as the city would have liked. Part of the challenge was that there are no returning seasonal staff for the mowing. Now that the city is all staffed up with an understanding of their routes, things are going smoother. Getting people to know where they’re going and when is not easy. Smith also pointed out that the mowing takes place in two phases. First, the very large mowers go thorough, then the trim mowing comes a day or two behind. He noted that even the trim mowers are fairly large – about six-feet wide. So if it looks like the parks staff mowed part and then forgot to do it all, that’s not the case, he said. They come back a day or two later to finish up. The mowing is on a 14-day cycle this year, he said.

Smith also reported that city administrator Steve Powers had announced a number of organizational changes recently. For parks, the natural area preservation (NAP) program will return to the community services instead of reporting to public services area. There’s a desire to have one department that oversees volunteerism within the city, he said. So the NAP volunteer program will be in community services along with the Give 365 program. The time frame for that change is within the next month or two, he said.

Off-Leash Dogs

During the section of the meeting for general commissioner discussion, Tim Berla said he wanted to toss out some issues he’s recently encountered involving dogs and the city’s parks. He said he’s been playing tennis regularly on Saturday mornings in Burns Park, and he’d noticed regular dog walkers. Many don’t have their dogs on leashes, he said. They have “a whole activity going” with ball throwing. Should we consider this a problem in our parks? he asked.

A second issue he raised stemmed from a conversation he’d had with someone who goes to a commercial dog park – she drives her dog there. She does not use the city’s dog park, because she’d heard it was dangerous and that dogs had been killed or maimed. He wanted to know if parks staff had any information on that? Parks and rec manager Colin Smith allowed that there have been times when there’s been an aggressive dog that would go after another dog. He characterized it as unfortunate. The expectation is that owners have their dogs under control. Smith said there are signs indicating that police should be called. There have been incidents, he said, but he could not imagine a dog park that would not have incidents.

Smith said that some of the new park rangers can help with the educational effort on the leash law. They won’t be able to enforce the leash law, but they can help educate people.

John Lawter suggested that alternatives could be explored for off-leash hours in existing parks. That would not incur the expense of a fence. Lawter said there needs to be some kind of enforcement of the required permits to use the dog park. Part of the problem is that there is no oversight or enforcement, he felt. Lawter said he’d never seen dog fights at the park – though they might bark and argue. He ventured it was a no-blood-no-foul kind of thing. Incidents would be less likely if there were more enforcement. He came back to advocating for some off-leash hours in existing parks – because there is no place that’s easy to get to without getting in the car and driving.

Last Meeting: Sam Offen

On the occasion of Sam Offen’s last meeting as a park advisory commissioner, chair Julie Grand offered praise for Offen’s service, saying that he had helped to bring clarity to the parks budget. Offen has chaired PAC’s budget and finance committee.

Sam Offen. The May 15, 2012 meeting was his last as a park advisory commissioner.

Sam Offen. The May 15, 2012 meeting was his last as a park advisory commissioner.

Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith also told Offen that from the staff’s perspective, they really appreciated the work Offen had done.

Park advisory commissioners are limited to two three-year terms in a row. Offen was first appointed in 2006. His replacement on the commission was announced at the May 21 city council meeting – Alan Jackson, who serves with Offen on the board of the Leslie Science and Nature Center.

Offen said it had been a pleasure to serve on PAC. The city of Ann Arbor’s parks are a magnificent asset, he said, and he hoped they don’t take it for granted. He reflected on the fact that the topic of dog parks had been discussed at his very first PAC meeting, just like it was at his final meeting.

Present: David Barrett, Tim Berla, John Lawter, Karen Levin, Sam Offen, Julie Grand, councilmember Christopher Taylor (ex-officio), councilmember Mike Anglin (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.

Absent: Ingrid Ault, Doug Chapman, Tim Doyle.

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 begins at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

The Chronicle survives in part through regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. If you’re already helping The Chronicle paddle its boat, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to dip a blade in the water as well. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.


  1. By Andy Thomas
    May 30, 2012 at 6:30 pm | permalink

    The Argo Cascades are a tremendous recreational resource! I’ve made the trip several times, and have not had any problems (although my son and his friend, who were following me, did flip ther kayak). The livery staff were there to assist anyone who got into trouble, and were very friendly and helpful. I expect this will become one of Ann Arbor’s most popular attractions, particularly as the weather warms and word of mouth starts spreading. Congratulations to all who had a part in developing this wonderful venue!

  2. By Dan Ezekiel
    May 31, 2012 at 6:40 pm | permalink

    I kayaked the Argo Cascades and paddled from Argo to Gallup on Memorial Day. Amazing! The Cascades were really fun, and the rest of the trip a revelation. I hadn’t paddled that stretch for 25 years or more, and the woods alongside have grown up much more than I remembered. Most of the way, you have no feeling of being in a city. Rather, you feel you are paddling a wooded stretch of river in a peaceful rural setting.

    I think the Argo-to-Gallup paddle will become a very popular attraction, and people will discover the wonder of our clear urban river. Congratulations to all who conceived of this project.