Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Sept. 6, 2012): Commissioners were briefed on two items at this month’s meeting – the greenbelt program’s strategic plan, and a design for the program’s logo.
It’s been three years since the strategic plan was last updated. In this latest version, no major changes are being made to the program’s existing priorities: protecting large blocks of farmland as well as natural areas in the Huron River watershed, and building partnerships to leverage other funding sources.
In addition to those, a new priority is being added: Educating Ann Arbor residents about the program’s efforts, and reaching out to landowners in the greenbelt to ensure that the flow of applications continues. [.pdf of revised strategic plan]
Commissioners gave additional feedback at their meeting, and the plan will be sent to funding partners for their input too. The greenbelt advisory commission is expected to vote on the final plan at its Oct. 4 meeting.
The group also weighed in on designs for a new logo to help brand Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program. The design is intended to show the connection to the city, as well as images representing both farmland and natural area preservation. There’s space for logos of partner entities, and text that indicates what kind of land is being preserved and whether the land is private or public. The intent is to use this image on signs at the properties that are protected by the greenbelt program, and on brochures and other materials.
In updates to the commission, Ginny Trocchio – who is the program’s support staff – highlighted plans to hold another bus tour of greenbelt properties on Saturday, Sept. 22. The trip will focus on the eastern portion of the greenbelt, and its connection to the Superior Greenway. She also noted plans to participate in the Sept. 8 HomeGrown Festival, an event showcasing local food.
In their main action item, commissioners voted to recommend that the city council partner with Washtenaw County and Webster Township, contributing 25.5% toward the purchase of a parcel identified as application number 2005-08. (The first four numbers signify the year in which the application was made.) Tom Bloomer abstained from the vote. He owns Bur Oaks Farm in Webster Township, and serves on the township’s farmland and open space board. He did not indicate his reason for abstaining.
Two days earlier, the city council had approved two purchase-of-development-rights (PDR) deals that GAC had previously recommended: the 90-acre Alexander farm in Webster Township, and a 136-acre property owned by Robert H. Schultz in Superior Township. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) voted against both deals, citing concern that no local partners contributed to the land preservation efforts. Both deals include federal grants to cover a significant portion of the costs.
Greenbelt Strategic Plan
A subcommittee of commissioners – Peter Allen, Laura Rubin and Shannon Brines – was formed in May of 2012 to work on updating a strategic plan for the greenbelt program. The first strategic plan had been adopted in 2005, and was most recently updated in 2009 to reflect changing economic conditions and the growing local food movement. [.pdf of 2009 version of Ann Arbor greenbelt district strategic plan]
At GAC’s Sept. 6 meeting, Dan Ezekiel – who chairs the commission – noted that this is the first strategic plan that’s been done without the help of Jennifer S. Hall, so it’s “kind of a maiden voyage.” Commissioners would get a briefing of the proposed changes, but would not take action at that meeting, he said. It will next go out to the greenbelt program’s funding partners for input, with the hope of coming back to GAC for approval at their October session.
Ginny Trocchio, a Conservation Fund staffer who manages the greenbelt program under contract with the city, briefly reviewed the plan’s history. She noted that although several changes are being made, basic priorities haven’t shifted. Those priorities still include protecting large blocks of farmland as well as natural areas in the Huron River watershed, and building partnerships to leverage other funding sources.
Major changes included the addition of a section on education and outreach. In the future, that will be an increasing role of the program as it matures, Trocchio said: Educating Ann Arbor residents about the program’s efforts, and reaching out to landowners in the greenbelt to ensure that applications for land preservation continue to come in.
Another major change is that the updated plan describes the greenbelt program within a larger context of other land preservation efforts, Trocchio said. The greenbelt is just one piece of the puzzle.
Trocchio showed commissioners a couple of maps that are included in the plan indicating land already protected by the greenbelt program, and areas that are considered strategic for future protection. One map also showed an overlay from township master plans, indicating areas that the townships have designated for agricultural use or preservation. “There’s obviously a lot of overlap in what our priority areas are,” she said.
Peter Allen has often discussed how the greenbelt properties fit in with other recreational opportunities and transit, Trocchio noted. So another map included in the strategic plan shows an overlay of greenbelt parcels with the Washtenaw County map of bike trails. Again, there’s a lot of overlap, she said.
Trocchio also mentioned that in the past, the plan had included a list of goals for the program. The subcommittee decided to remove the goals from the strategic plan, since the goals are also included in the program’s annual report. Often the goals will change from year to year, so it seemed more appropriate to have them in the annual report rather than the strategic plan, she said, which isn’t updated as frequently. The two documents will be linked, she added, because the goals will be based on the strategic plan.
Greenbelt Strategic Plan: Commission Response
Shannon Brines, one of the subcommittee members, praised Trocchio’s work on this project, saying she was able to incorporate their thoughts into a “nice, comprehensive document.”
Dan Ezekiel liked the new map overlays, especially the one that showed the township master plans. He hadn’t seen that perspective before, and it was helpful.
Archer Christian clarified with Trocchio that there hadn’t previously been a section on education and outreach. Trocchio noted that until recently, the program has been focused on acquisition. But as the bulk of the program’s funds are spent, there’s a recognition that with fewer acquisitions, it’s important to remind people of the land that’s already protected. They’ve been doing some of those educational activities already, she noted, but this formalizes it in the strategic plan.
Responding to a question about when the strategic plan will next be revised, Trocchio indicated that there’s no specific timeline for updates. It depends in part on whether there’s been a major shift that affects the program, she said. For example, if the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) is eliminated, that would significantly impact the greenbelt program, because the FRPP grants have provided a large amount of funding for the greenbelt. If something like that happens, the strategic plan would need to be revisited.
Dan Ezekiel highlighted a chart that showed other land preservation programs, the amount of revenues from millages or other sources that are generated, and how much of that money has been used in partnership with the greenbelt program. It was helpful to see that information, he said.
Trocchio noted that the chart will be revised to include revenues levied by Webster Township, which has its own land preservation millage. Ezekiel suggested including a chart with the amounts contributed by landowners and the federal FRPP program as well. Trocchio said she could do that, noting that the FRPP funds in particular are significant – the greenbelt program has been granted nearly $7 million to date.
Catherine Riseng raised the issue of not including goals in the strategic plan – saying that’s a significant change. It’s not that she opposes it, but she hoped that the sentence mentioning the goals could be strengthened. She’d like to indicate that specific goals will be identified in the annual report, and that progress toward those goals will also be included in the annual report. Trocchio proposed that the strategic plan can have a separate section discussing how the goals will be handled in the annual report.
Ezekiel concluded the discussion by noting that the commission has had a strong history of leadership on the strategic plan, first with Jennifer S. Hall and now with the current subcommittee members. It’s an active plan, he said, one that informs the greenbelt program’s practices. He’s glad people had the energy to pursue these revisions, and he commended Trocchio, Brines, Allen and Rubin on their work.
Outcome: No vote was taken. The plan will be brought back to the commission for formal approval at a future meeting, likely in October.
Branding the Greenbelt
A committee of two – Ginny Trocchio and Liz Rother – have been working on a new logo, with the goal of developing a better way to brand the greenbelt program. Some draft designs were presented to commissioners at their June 7, 2012 meeting.
On Sept. 6, Trocchio showed commissioners two final options, and credited Nicole Ray – who works with the city’s communications unit – with the designs. There had been many iterations, as they tried to incorporate several aspects of the program: the connection to the city, as well as images representing both farmland and natural area preservation. She noted that there’s space for logos of partner entities. Also, the text at the bottom can be changed to indicate what kind of land is being preserved, and whether the land is private or public.
The image can be used in a variety of ways, Trocchio said – on promotional brochures, posters, mailings, and posted as signs on the protected property.
Branding: Commission Response
Commissioners generally preferred the logo that they felt had a cleaner design (shown at the beginning of this article). Archer Christian, GAC’s newest member, asked if there had been previous logos or branding efforts. Not specifically for the greenbelt, Trocchio replied. A logo had been designed for Preserve Washtenaw – a consortium of local land preservation groups. [The a prototype of that image had first been presented at GAC's December 2009 meeting.] But everyone has their own sign that reflects their own communities and constituents, she said, so it was felt that the Ann Arbor greenbelt program needed one, too.
Dan Ezekiel liked the flexibility of the design. Signs would likely be most visible at natural area preserves, he said, like the Scio Woods Preserve off of Scio Church Road. [That natural area is protected through a partnership of the Washtenaw County natural areas preservation program and Scio Township's land preservation program – both of those entities already have signs at the preserve.]
Catherine Riseng said she was happy with the design, but wondered if they had tried to incorporate water imagery. One of the greenbelt program’s goals is to protect land along the Huron River and its watershed, she noted. Rother said they’d tried to work a water image into the design, but it had proven to be “one element too many.”
Ezekiel asked Tom Bloomer for his opinion, given that Bloomer already has a Preserve Washtenaw sign on his farm in Webster Township. Bloomer felt that the design was a little “busy,” trying to convey a lot. It’s important to have a distinctive sign that people can recognize easily as they drive by, he said, adding that he wasn’t sure it was possible unless it’s a billboard. The best they can hope for is that people see the image repeatedly in different locations. The main thing is to settle on a design and use it universally, he said. Bloomer also felt it was important to indicate whether the land was public or private.
Ezekiel ventured that if people see the image in printed material, perhaps they’ll more easily recognize it when they drive by a sign. He joked that the schoolteacher in him appreciates the period at the end of the text. [Ezekiel teaches science at Forsythe Middle School.] He thanked Rother and Trocchio for their work. It had been a convoluted process, he said, and no one had expected it would take so much time. He looked forward to getting the greenbelt’s brand established so that the public can see and appreciate how that their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent appropriately.
Outcome: This was a briefing, and no vote was taken.
Most meetings of the greenbelt advisory commission typically include a closed session to discuss possible land acquisitions. The topic of land acquisition is one allowed as an exemption by the Michigan Open Meetings Act for a closed session.
GAC recommendations on land acquisition are forwarded to the city council for approval.
Land Acquisition: City Council Action
The Ann Arbor city council had two items on its Sept. 4, 2012 agenda that had been previously recommended for approval by the greenbelt advisory commission. Both were for the purchase of development rights, and included grants from the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP).
A total of $394,417 for the Robbin Alexander Trust farm in Webster Township was approved by council. Of that amount, the city’s portion totaled $226,837 with the remaining $167,580 coming from the FRPP grant as a reimbursement. The greenbelt advisory commission had recommended approval of this deal at its June 7, 2012 meeting.
The 90-acre farm is located along Northfield Church Road in Webster Township. According to a staff memo, “the farm is considered large enough to sustain agricultural production and is in a location that will encourage additional farmland preservation activities. The property is surrounded by additional farmland that has been protected by the Greenbelt Program and Webster Township.” [.pdf map showing location of Alexander property]
The second item for consideration by the council was the purchase of development rights for the 136-acre Robert H. Schultz property located along Harris Road and Geddes Road in Superior Township. That deal totaled $523,567, including $294,247 from the city and $229,320 to be reimbursed to the city by an FRPP grant. Like the Alexander property, this land is also considered to be large enough for agricultural production and is located in an area that would encourage other farmland preservation. According to a staff memo, the property is surrounded by additional farmland that’s been protected by the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy, Washtenaw County and the greenbelt program. [.pdf map showing location of Schultz property]
Eight votes are required to pass PDR deals. Both of these items on the council’s Sept. 4 agenda passed on an 8-1 vote, with dissent by Jane Lumm (Ward 2). Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) were absent.
Lumm objected to the fact that there were no local partners in these deals. Webster Township has its own land preservation millage, but did not participate in the Alexander purchase. Superior Township does not have a dedicated millage for land preservation, but has an active volunteer group – the Superior Land Preservation Society.
Land Acquisition: Closed Session
There was no discussion of the council’s action at the open portion of GAC’s Sept. 6 meeting. Commissioners met in a brief closed session, then emerged and voted on a recommendation that will be forwarded to the city council.
Before appearing on the city council’s agenda, details of proposed greenbelt acquisitions are not made public, and parcels are identified only by their application number. For the Sept. 6 resolution, commissioners recommended that the city council partner with Washtenaw County and Webster Township, contributing 25.5% toward the purchase of a parcel identified as application number 2005-08. The first four numbers signify the year in which the application was made – this is one of the older applications that have been acted on this year.
Tom Bloomer abstained from the vote. He owns Bur Oaks Farm in Webster Township, and serves on the township’s farmland and open space board. He did not indicate his reason for abstaining.
Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously, with Tom Bloomer abstaining.
Present: Tom Bloomer, Shannon Brines, Archer Christian, Dan Ezekiel, Catherine Riseng, Liz Rother. Also: Ginny Trocchio.
Tom Bloomer, Carsten Hohnke, Laura Rubin.
Next regular meeting: Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 at 4:30 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]
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