Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Oct. 16, 2012): Creation of a new, more centrally located Ann Arbor dog park moved forward this month, as park commissioners reached an informal consensus to explore West Park for that purpose.
A committee that has focused on identifying possible locations for a new dog park recommended the West Park site – specifically, a parcel in the park’s northeast corner, where the city recently bought and demolished a house near the entrance off of Chapin Street. No formal vote was taken, but PAC’s support means that staff will bring back a proposal for PAC’s consideration, and hold a public meeting for community input.
PAC members did formally vote on a recommendation to relocate tennis courts within Windemere Park, to the east of the current location. Several residents of the neighborhood surrounding Windemere Park attended the meeting and advocated for a postponement on the decision. They noted that the option being recommended by staff had not been presented at an Oct. 8 neighborhood meeting. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, later explained that the fourth option had emerged from a consensus of ideas at the meeting.
Berla, who voted against the PAC resolution, felt there was nothing to lose in giving residents another month to review the proposal. But other commissioners believed that moving ahead was the best approach, and that no option would satisfy all residents – especially people with property facing the park. The resolution also recommended incorporating input from residents regarding landscaping around the courts, which was a concern raised by some of the homeowners.
In an unusual move, PAC member Ingrid Ault spoke to her fellow commissioners during public commentary. Telling them that she was speaking as a citizen, not a commissioner, Ault said she had formed a campaign committee – called Friends of the Parks – to support the park maintenance & capital improvements millage renewal, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot. The current 1.1 mill tax expires this year. A renewal would run from 2013-2018 and raise about $4.9 million next year. Ault brought yard signs to distribute, and encouraged commissioners and the public to support the renewal. PAC had passed a resolution in support of the millage at their June 2012 meeting.
As part of his manager’s report, Colin Smith noted that city staff will be meeting with representatives from the state on Nov. 2 to get a better understanding of concerns that have been raised regarding a planned whitewater section of the Huron River, near Argo Cascades. He said he’d have an update on that situation at PAC’s November meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: “EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project.”]
Commissioners held their annual officer elections, re-electing Julie Grand as chair. Ingrid Ault was elected vice chair and Tim Doyle was tapped as chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee. All nominations were uncontested, and the votes were unanimous. PAC also welcomed Missy Stults to her first meeting as commissioner. Her nomination had been confirmed by the city council earlier this month.
Amy Kuras, the city’s park planner, gave PAC an update on the effort to create another dog park. John Lawter, the commissioner who’s been leading this project, was not at the meeting. Commissioners had most recently discussed this issue during their meeting on Sept. 18, 2012. The city currently has two legal off-leash dog parks in Ann Arbor, at Olson Park and Swift Run – on the far north and south sides of the city.
Kuras provided some background on the effort, and reviewed a scoring sheet that had been included in the meeting packet. Five potential locations had been evaluated: West Park (the new lot on Chapin Street), two sites at Bandemer Park (south of Huron River, and north of Huron River at Barton Drive), South Maple Park, and Ward Park. Criteria included location relative to other dog parks, size, parking, access to water, shade, and neighborhood buffer. [.pdf of scoring sheet and map of existing and potential dog parks]
The site at West Park emerged as the preferred location. Commissioners involved in the evaluation included Kuras, Lawter, Karen Levin and Ingrid Ault.
Dog Parks: Commission Discussion
A couple of commissioners asked about the scoring. Karen Levin, who devised the system, explained that each aspect of the location had been rated on a scale of 1 to 5, from best to worst. Then the scores from each of the four raters were added to come up with a total – the lower the score, the better the location.
Alan Jackson asked if any consideration had been given to Riverside Park. Amy Kuras replied that Riverside had been considered a possible location when the original effort to identify dog parks took place several years ago, but since then it has become more heavily used by Ann Arbor Rec & Ed programs. Much of the park is also on the floodplain, she noted, so about a third of it is under water after a heavy rain.
Ault observed that the West Park site is a piece of land that would be difficult to use for any other purpose. It’s a long, narrow strip, with a church parking lot on one side and the driveway entrance into West Park on the other. It was previously the site of a single-family home, which the city demolished after purchasing the property. Using it for a dog park makes sense, she said.
Kuras added that the parks staff has also been looking for ways to draw more people to West Park. A dog park would be one way to do that.
Julie Grand, who serves on the technical committee for the city’s North Main Huron River task force, reported that there’s a large portion of the city-owned site at 721 N. Main that can’t be developed because it’s located in a floodway. One idea that’s been suggested for that part of the site is a dog park, she said. Grand wondered whether that information changed anyone’s perspective on putting a dog park at West Park.
Not necessarily, Kuras replied. For one thing, it’s unclear whether a dog park could be located in the floodway.
Tim Doyle wondered about congestion at the West Park site – would it be too small? Putting more than five dogs in the space of a single-family lot might not work. He liked the location, but was concerned about the size.
Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, described the West Park lot as about half the size of the Olson dog park. The Swift Run dog park is much larger. Even so, he said, Olson can accommodate about as many dogs as Swift Run – but the dogs do different things there. At Olson, there’s more socializing, while dogs have more room to run at Swift Run. The West Park site might be crowded, he said, but it could still work well as a dog park.
Levin said the dog park committee had visited the Chapin site at West Park, and it’s larger than she’d originally thought – it’s narrow, but long. She also noted that there’s the possibility of adding another dog park at a different location.
Mike Anglin, a city councilmember and ex-officio member of PAC, asked whether the city council needs an update on the situation at Slauson Middle School. He indicated that the choice of West Park as a dog park grew out of the unofficial use of Slauson property as a dog park, because people didn’t feel they had any other place to go.
Kuras replied that the Slauson situation might have brought things to a head, but the West Park location isn’t recommended in response to it. Smith added that the idea for a centrally-located dog park has been in the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, and was a goal long before dog owners started using Slauson. PAC has been working on this issue for some time, he said. West Park had also been discussed as a possible location during that park’s recent renovations, but at that time the city hadn’t yet acquired the Chapin Street property.
Tim Berla said he’d like to stay away from the implication that people used Slauson as an unofficial dog park because they had no alternatives. There are alternatives in the form of the two dog parks in the city, he noted. He didn’t feel PAC should accept the idea that if there’s no place within walking distance for a dog to run free, than people should just use whatever park or school property is convenient. Even if the city keeps adding dog parks, it would take a long time to satisfy a goal of having dog parks within walking distance of all residents. Berla felt that playgrounds should take a higher priority, but he agreed that the city should look for more opportunities to add dog parks.
Grand concluded the discussion by saying it seemed they’d reached consensus on West Park as a possible location. Kuras said she’d be coming back to PAC with a formal proposal for their consideration, and would hold a public meeting for community input.
Outcome: This was not a voting item, and no action was taken.
Windemere Tennis Courts
At their Oct. 16 meeting, PAC members were asked to recommend a new location for the tennis courts within the park. Commissioners had already supported the project in May of 2012. Amy Kuras, the city’s park planner, briefed commissioners on the project.
Windemere Park is a nearly four-acre parcel on the city’s northeast side, north of Glazier Way between Green and Earhart roads. The tennis courts there have deteriorated, and the city has been looking at options for replacing them. Neighbors had originally advocated keeping the courts in the same location, but the soil there is unstable. Before the area was developed, the current location of the courts was a pond.
Over the past few months, city staff has held two public meetings to seek input on options for locating the new courts. The option recommended by staff – which locates the courts to the east of the current location – was one that a majority of participants at the most recent public meeting had favored, according to staff and commissioners who attended. That meeting took place on Oct. 8.
The plan also calls for adding a rain garden to help handle stormwater runoff. There are low-interest loans available for that, Kuras said, with the possibility of loan forgiveness – it’s another possible funding source for the project.
The cost of the project is estimated at around $100,000. Kuras said she planned to solicit bids this winter, with construction to take place in the summer of 2013.
Windemere Tennis Courts: Public Commentary
Several residents of the neighborhood surrounding Windemere Park attended PAC’s Oct. 16 meeting and advocated for a postponement on the decision.
Mary Catherine Spires said she lives on Windemere Drive and her front window faces the park. Her understanding was that the neighbors had originally reached a consensus that they preferred a different option – Option 1. [.pdf of Option 1] Then in early October, suddenly this new proposal came up. She said she hadn’t seen it until a few days ago. Calling it a last-minute proposal, she requested that PAC delay action for a month so that she and others would have time to understand the impact on their homes and traffic in the area. That’s especially important for neighbors with homes on the perimeter of the park, she’s said, who need time to reflect on this significant change.
Ann McCarren, who also lives on the park’s perimeter, described the process that the neighbors had gone through with Amy Kuras, the city’s park planner. She pointed out that Option 1 had been the preferred proposal, but that a new proposal had emerged at the Oct. 8 neighborhood meeting. Some people at the meeting had supported that new option, she said, but others didn’t say anything. She also urged commissioners to postpone a decision until their November meeting.
Sven Hahr, another Windemere Drive resident whose home is near the park’s southeast corner, also advocated for a postponement. He felt the tennis courts shouldn’t be located in the area where soccer is played. Perhaps the courts could be swapped with the location where the children’s playground is, he suggested. He didn’t think it would take much to do that.
Joseph Dorenbaum told commissioners that his living room, office and a bedroom look onto the park, and it’s very nice now. He and his wife are quite distressed, because they spend a lot of time at home and don’t want to look at a fence. It would feel like they’re living in a prison, he said. Dorenbaum asked that the city provide landscaping to mask the fence. He noted that when his home was built there 30 years ago, the park was for the subdivision. But now, as a city park, it’s used by lots of other people. He requested that the city put up signs indicating that people should park only in certain areas while using Windemere Park.
Ruth Huff said she also lived in the neighborhood and agreed with Dorenbaum about the traffic in the area. Kids run across the street and it’s an accident waiting to happen. The park is important, but she’d like to see the land cleaned up. In a perfect world, the tennis courts would be dug up, the land would be cleaned up, and the courts would be rebuilt at the same location. She acknowledged that it’s not a perfect world, but she hoped at least there could be landscaping around the courts to help with noise and to make it look better.
Windemere Tennis Courts: Commission Discussion
Alan Jackson wanted to know if a rain garden could be included in the plan, regardless of where the tennis courts are relocated. It’s possible, Kuras said, though a rain garden in the courts’ current location would involve cutting through an existing berm.
Tim Berla asked whether delaying a decision by a month would impact the project. Is there anything that would prevent having additional public meetings? He saw a benefit in having more time, if it meant getting the best possible plan. More public process might be a good thing, he said.
Kuras replied that one more month wouldn’t set the project back, but she wasn’t sure the extra time would help the neighbors reach more of a consensus.
Berla noted that in her presentation, Kuras had cited a lack of other tennis courts in that part of the city. However, she hadn’t included the courts at Huron High School, which are located in that area.
Kuras indicated that she didn’t feel comfortable telling people to go to a school site. The reason that the staff recommended this option is because they didn’t feel there were any suitable alternatives, she said.
Julie Grand weighed in, saying that PAC had already discussed this issue and had voted at their May 15, 2012 meeting to support the rebuilding of tennis courts at Windemere, based on feedback from neighbors. To her, now it was just a question of where to locate the courts within the park.
In response to a query from Ingrid Ault, Kuras said the proposed location would not interfere with other activities, like the use of the park for soccer. Jackson noted that there’s an unused baseball area that would be affected. That’s right, Kuras said – that former baseball diamond would be removed.
Missy Stults cited the concerns that had been raised during public commentary, and asked whether all the options would include landscaping. Kuras replied that landscaping would be part of any plan. She later explained that the fence would be on three sides, about 10 feet high.
Tim Doyle asked what would happen to the area where the courts are currently located. Kuras said it would likely be “naturalized,” since it’s frequently soggy and would be difficult to mow. An area to the north of the courts is currently naturalized for that reason, she said.
Both Jackson and Grand reported that they had attended the Oct. 8 neighborhood meeting, and both felt that there had been general agreement among the neighbors in support of Option 4 – the one that was being recommended by staff. Jackson said there would likely be some opposition to any plan. Grand noted that this option is the one that seemed to be the furthest away from the sight lines for most residences.
Berla again advocated for postponement until PAC’s November meeting. Grand wondered what the process would be, if they postponed the vote. Smith didn’t think there was the need for another public meeting, but staff could continue to gather and share feedback they receive from the neighbors. The Oct. 8 meeting had been well-attended with about 30 people, he said, and there had been a spirited and productive discussion.
Christopher Taylor, an ex-officio non-voting PAC member who serves on city council, said that if it doesn’t cause a problem for staff, then allowing another month for the neighbors to mull over the proposal “strikes me as a good thing.”
There was some discussion about whether a delay would allow for the two neighborhood associations in the area to take a formal vote of their membership. Kuras pointed out that since it’s a public park, it didn’t seem fair to rely on that kind of vote.
Grand reported that there had been an informal vote of neighbors who attended the Oct. 8 public forum. When asked if the vote had been unanimous, she laughed – it had not. However, she felt there had been a “fair amount of consensus” supporting Option 4. Given the spirited nature of the meeting, she had been surprised by that consensus. The option seemed like something that most people could live with.
Jackson didn’t want to put more staff resources into the decision-making process, and felt there would be some complaints no matter what was decided.
In response to a question from Bob Galardi, Kuras reported that there had been two previous neighborhood meetings – so this was the third PAC meeting that had addressed the situation.
Commissioners then voted on a resolution, put forward by Grand, that recommended moving forward with Option 4.
Outcome: The proposed relocation of Windemere Park tennis courts was recommended for approval by a 6-1 vote, with Tim Berla dissenting. John Lawter was absent and Missy Stults abstained.
Parks Millage Renewal
Ingrid Ault, who was appointed to PAC earlier this year, moved from her seat at the council table to the podium during the first opportunity for public commentary, telling her fellow commissioners that she was speaking to them as a citizen, not as a member of PAC.
Ault said she wanted to update the community about actions related to renewal of the park maintenance & capital improvements millage, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot. She’d been concerned that the renewal would get lost on the “burgeoning” ballot, so she decided to form a campaign – called Friends of the Parks – to support the millage and educate the public about it. [According to records on Washtenaw County’s campaign finance database, the committee was formed on Oct. 1, with Ault listed as treasurer.]
She brought yards signs to the meeting, and encouraged people to take one. She said more information is on the campaign website. Ault asked everyone to vote yes on the renewal and to volunteer with the campaign.
After the meeting adjourned, Ault told commissioners that she’d like them each to either donate at least $50 to the campaign, or raise that amount. She again encouraged them to take yard signs and to volunteer, especially on election day.
The current 1.1 mill tax expires this year. A renewal would run from 2013-2018 and raise about $4.9 million next year. The recommended allocation of revenues is 70% for park maintenance activities, and 30% for park capital improvement projects. Of that allocation, up to 10% can be shifted between the two categories as needed.
Examples of park maintenance activities include “forestry and horticulture, natural area preservation, park operations, recreation facilities, and targets of opportunity,” according to a staff memo distributed to PAC in June. Capital improvement projects would cover parks, forestry and horticulture, historic preservation, neighborhood parks and urban plazas, park operations, pathways, trails, boardwalks, greenways and watersheds, and recreation facilities. [More projects are listed on the city's website.]
Commissioners have received updates on the millage renewal at previous meetings, and in June 2012 passed a resolution of support for it. City employees are not allowed to advocate for it, but can provide information. Colin Smith, manager for parks and recreation, told The Chronicle that he’d checked with the city attorney’s office regarding Ault’s presentation to PAC – and they’d advised that she could address the issue as a citizen during public commentary, he said.
PAC chair Julie Grand apologized to commissioners, noting that elections should have been held in September but she had forgotten to put it on the agenda. Three officers needed to be elected: chair, vice chair, and chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee.
Grand has served as chair since April 2010. Before the vote – which the PAC bylaws require to be conducted by a secret ballot – Tim Doyle asked when her term ends. Grand said she will serve on PAC through 2013. Tim Berla asked if she would be willing to serve another one-year term as chair. She indicated that she would.
The term on PAC for the current vice chair – John Lawter, who was absent from the Oct. 16 meeting – ends on Dec. 31, 2012. He would not be running for re-election as vice chair. Grand encouraged any of the new commissioners who might be interested in eventually chairing PAC to consider first serving as vice chair. Duties aren’t excessive, and many relate to planning and leading meetings if the chair is absent, she said.
Ingrid Ault nominated herself. There were no other nominations for chair and vice chair. Commissioners indicated their votes on pieces of paper, which were passed to parks and recreation manager Colin Smith who tallied them. Both Grand and Ault were elected unanimously.
Grand then nominated Tim Doyle to continue serving as chair of the budget and finance committee. He reported that he might not seek a second term on PAC, but he’d be willing to chair the committee for now. [His current term on PAC runs through May of 2013.] There were no other nominations, and Doyle was elected unanimously on a voice vote.
Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, highlighted several items during his brief report to the commission.
He noted that a public forum was set for the following day to get feedback on possible designs for a new Ann Arbor skatepark. State grant funding for the skatepark had been formally accepted by city council the previous evening, he said, along with grants for other city park projects.
Work on South University Park is almost done. Smith reminded PAC members that the project had been funded with a $50,000 donation from Leslie and Michael Morris. “It’s been well-spent,” he said.
Smith also reported that construction is underway on trails around the raptor enclosures at the Leslie Science & Nature Center. A grand opening of a new raptor enclosure – for the center’s second bald eagle – is planned for Nov. 11.
Tim Doyle asked for an update on the status of the whitewater project in the Huron River, near Argo Cascades. By way of background, at PAC’s September meeting, Smith had reported to commissioners that several letters of objection from different organizations had been submitted to the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) regarding plans to build a section of whitewater. A permit is needed from the MDEQ before the project can move forward. Objections were filed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state Dept. of Natural Resources fisheries division, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the local Huron River Watershed Council. [See Chronicle coverage: “EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project.”]
On Oct. 16, Smith told commissioners that city staff will be meeting with representatives from the state on Nov. 2 to get a better understanding of the situation, and of potential solutions to concerns that have been raised. He said he’d have more to report at PAC’s November meeting.
Present: Ingrid Ault, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Bob Galardi, Alan Jackson, Karen Levin, Julie Grand, Missy Stults and councilmembers Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.
Absent: John Lawter.
Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 begins at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listing to 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 with some financial green, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.