Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Dec. 18, 2012): Actions related to two projects that have long been in the works – a new dog park and the city’s first skatepark – received recommendations of approval from Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners at their last meeting of 2012.
Commissioners recommended that a site at West Park – next to the park’s entrance off Chapin Street – be designated as the city’s third dog park. Their action came after several members of the New Hope Baptist Church spoke during public commentary to oppose the location, which would be directly across the street from the church. Congregants cited concerns over safety, noise, “dog stink” and other issues. One speaker suggested the possibility of swapping the location with the existing Project Grow gardens, located in West Park but farther away from the road.
In response to New Hope concerns, PAC amended its original resolution to specify that parks staff and PAC would meet with church members to discuss a possibly temporary dog park at that location, and to review the status of the dog park a year after it’s in place, with particular attention to noise levels. The new dog park would need approval from the city council before being installed.
In another vote, commissioners recommended approval of the final concept design for the Ann Arbor skatepark, to be built at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, near the intersection of North Maple and Dexter Avenue. They were briefed on the design features by Wally Hollyday, a well-known California skatepark designer who had come to town specifically for the presentation. He had been hired earlier this year to do the design and oversee the project’s construction.
Two residents who live near Veterans Memorial Park spoke against the location during public commentary, concerned about noise, maintenance, safety and other issues that they felt hadn’t been adequately addressed.
Trevor Staples, chair of the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, also spoke to PAC and noted that the group would be holding a retreat later this winter to discuss their future mission. He indicated the group would be involved in ongoing support for the skatepark. Part of the memorandum of intent with the city stipulates that 10% of fundraising for the skatepark is being set aside for future maintenance.
Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2013, with a goal of completing the project by the fall.
Also at the Dec. 18 meeting, commissioners recommended awarding a $109,500 contract to Renaissance Restorations Inc. to replace roofs at Cobblestone Farm on the event barn and on the Tincknor-Campbell House. They also got an update from Colin Smith, who reported that the city has withdrawn its application for a state permit to build a whitewater section in the Huron River, near Argo Cascades. City staff are working with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality to come up with a different design that would address concerns raised about the environmental impact of the whitewater feature.
At the end of the meeting commissioners bid farewell to John Lawter, whose term ends on Dec. 31. Lawter has been instrumental in moving forward plans for a new centrally located dog park.
Dog Park at West Park
For more than 18 months, the issue of a possible new dog park has periodically emerged at PAC meetings, spearheaded by John Lawter. At PAC’s Aug. 21, 2012 meeting, commissioners had voted to direct its dog park subcommittee to work with city staff and develop recommendations that could lead to additional off-leash dog parks. The city currently has two legal off-leash dog parks, at Olson Park and Swift Run. Those parks are located on the far north and south sides of the city; but there’s not a centrally located dog park.
On Dec. 18, PAC considered a resolution recommending a section of West Park, located off Chapin across from the New Hope Baptist Church, as the preferred location for a new fenced-in dog park.
The site is roughly a quarter-acre in the park’s northeast corner, where the city recently bought and demolished a house near the entrance off Chapin Street. PAC had been most recently briefed on the project at its Oct. 16, 2012 meeting.
Five potential locations were evaluated by the PAC subcommittee of Lawter, Karen Levin and Ingrid Ault, with park planner Amy Kuras. Those locations were: 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.
City parks staff reported that feedback from a public meeting held on Nov. 7 was overwhelmingly positive. But at a subsequent meeting with members of New Hope Baptist Church, none of the church members who attended were supportive of a dog park at that location.
Dog Park at West Park: Public Commentary
Ten people spoke about the dog park during public commentary at the Dec. 18 meeting, including eight members of the New Hope Baptist Church who are opposed to the location.
Tom Miree, a trustee of the church, commended commissioners for their work and for the overall condition of parks in Ann Arbor – saying they are world-class in every way. But members of the church were there to oppose the dog park location. He showed commissioners a map of the properties that New Hope owns in the neighborhood. In addition to the chapel at 218 Chapin, the church owns six other lots on Chapin and Miller, including sites for the New Hope Outreach Clinic at Miller and Chapin, and a parking lot directly adjacent to the West Park parcel where the dog park is proposed. He asked commissioners to reconsider the West Park location for a dog park.
Lawrence Brown, chair of the church’s board of trustees, strongly urged commissioners to reconsider the location. “We will be directly affected by the dog park, more than anyone else on the street.” He asked that the city be sensitive to the church’s concerns. He said he wasn’t opposed to dog parks or dogs – he loves dogs. It was simply a matter of the location. Ann Arbor is a city that really cares about the aesthetics of their land, he said, and he commended the city for renovations at West Park. It adds a lot to the area, but he strongly urged commissioners not to put the dog park there.
Sammie Hugan, chair of the church’s board of deacons, also opposed the location, citing safety concerns. He said he has a dog himself and he loves dogs. But “you know, dogs do get loose.” Sometimes dogs like to jump on people and it scares people, he said. And because the dog park would be next to the church parking lot, people might be afraid when they go to get into their cars.
Johnita Porter supported looking for other locations, and was concerned about the proximity of the proposed site to the New Hope worship facility. Children and teenagers from the church often go over to the park to play, and she was worried about their safety. She also wondered why such a small parcel of land was deemed acceptable, when the other two dog parks are so much larger. She was uncertain that the city would achieve its goals for the dog park, given its size.
Porter noted that the church has collected over 130 signatures from congregants who are opposed to this location, and they are continuing to collect signatures. She asked commissioners to reconsider it. Even moving the location more toward the park’s interior would be better, she said.
Cloyd Peters, also a church trustee, told commissioners that he grew up on a farm and liked dogs. But putting a dog park 100 feet away from the church is too close, he said, citing potential noise problems, safety concerns and the fact that people don’t always clean up after their dogs.
Charles Stroud of New Hope suggested swapping the proposed dog park location with the area in West Park that’s currently used for Project Grow gardens. That way, the church wouldn’t be faced with noise, “dog stink” and safety problems, he said.
The groundskeeper for the church also spoke, saying that he already had to clean up a lot of trash because of activity at West Park, and a dog park would only add to that work.
Another church member, who didn’t give her name, told commissioners that she was opposed to a dog park, especially in front of a church. She’s seen several other locations that would be better, including land along Stadium Boulevard. She wondered if any of the commissioners attend church, and if they did, how many of those churches had dog parks next to them. People only pick up after their dogs if someone else is watching, she said. She noted that in the past, you could call the police if a dog came into your yard. But now, the city won’t take any action for that. In Ann Arbor, she said, if you hit a dog with a stick, you go to jail. If you hit a person with a stick, the police will just come out and talk to you.
Two people spoke in support of a dog park at West Park. One man identified himself as a resident of the Old West Side, and noted that dogs are now running off-leash – saying that’s a safety issue, too. He recalled that there used to be gatherings of people with their off-leash dogs at a middle school. [He was referring to what was considered an informal dog park at Slauson Middle School.] There’s a need for a dog park on the Old West Side, he said, and West Park seems like a good fit – if not at that specific location, then perhaps elsewhere in the park. However, he wondered if the proposed site was large enough for dogs to socialize.
Virginia Gordan supported the West Park dog park. In most major cities, it’s very common to have dog parks and it creates a sense of community without causing problems or danger. In Ann Arbor, most people who use the parks have dogs, she said. Gordan said she happily votes to pay for parks, even though there are many things that she doesn’t use, like baseball diamonds. People want more dog parks so they don’t have to spend time and money on gas driving to the other city dog parks. She urged commissioners to add more dog parks, noting that the city is trying to encourage people to move downtown. But if you live in an apartment downtown, there’s no place to take your dogs off-leash. That’s not consistent with the city’s overall policies, she said. There might be another location within West Park that would be better, but in general she supported this dog park and creating additional ones as well in more neighborhoods.
Dog Park at West Park: Commission Discussion
Amy Kuras, the city park planner who’s been working on this project, reminded commissioners that she had briefed them about the proposal at their Oct. 16, 2012 meeting. The resolution notes that Chapter 107, Section 9:45 of the city code states that dog play areas are designated by the city’s community services area administrator, and approved by city council.
The original resolution had one resolved clause:
RESOLVED, That the Park Advisory Commission recommend designating a fenced off leash dog play area in West Park as identified by the Community Services Area Administrator.
Referring to the safety concerns cited by church members, Christopher Taylor clarified with Kuras that the area would be fenced and gated. Kuras explained that the fence would be about 4-5 feet high and like the city’s other dog parks, it would be double-gated. People would enter the first gate into a small corral, before passing through another gate into the main dog park.
Responding to a query from Mike Anglin, Kuras said there were no specific limits to the number of dogs that the area would contain. Unlike the other two dog parks, though, it’s not intended to be a running area, she said. It’s viewed as an area where dogs can socialize off-leash.
John Lawter spoke at length about the issues that had been raised during public commentary. Of course it would be better to have a larger area, he said. But in his experience, people and their dogs tend to cluster together, regardless of the dog park’s size. Any area where dogs can be off-leash and socialize is better than nothing, he said. If it’s crowded, that’s great – it would show that there’s a need for even more dog parks.
Lawter said that in his experience, noise isn’t a problem, either. If someone brings an aggressive, barking dog, other people at the dog park will self-police and tell that owner to leave. The same thing happens with clean-up after a dog, he said – saying that if the owner doesn’t notice it, others will point it out. Nor is safety a concern, Lawter said. He didn’t know of any dogs that had escaped from the other dog parks.
To him, having more dog parks could be an opportunity to educate people about the true nature of dogs. Usually, when people are afraid of dogs they’ve had a bad experience, Lawter said. He’s witnessed parents bringing their children to a dog park to get familiar with dogs. At first the children are apprehensive, but soon they become comfortable and the joy on their faces is spectacular, he said.
Regarding the idea to switch places with Project Grow, Lawter said the lot that’s being considered for a dog park has mature trees, which is great for a dog park but not for gardening. He also noted that West Park would eventually be great for an unfenced off-leash dog park, but the city isn’t ready for that yet. Nor would it be a good idea to fence in a larger area of West Park, he said, for aesthetic reasons and because it would limit people from using the park for other purposes.
Wrapping up, Lawter said if the location becomes a problem, “the city can always make [the dog park] go away.” He asked people to give it a chance, saying he thought it would be a huge amenity.
Several commissioners weighed in with their own experiences at dog parks, saying they didn’t find noise, safety or cleanup to be a problem. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, offered to organize trips to other city dog parks for people to see the situation at those locations.
Julie Grand wondered whether there could be limited hours of use, encouraging people not to use it during Sunday worship services, for example. Smith indicated that the city could post signs, but having a sign doesn’t mean that people will pay attention to the directions.
Kuras noted that it would be possible to put up temporary fencing for a period, until it’s determined that the location will work for a dog park. Smith reminded everyone that the resolution was just to recommend that the site be designated as a possible dog park location – PAC’s action wouldn’t commit the city to actually building it there, although that’s implied, he said. Temporary fencing was certainly something they could consider, Smith added.
Taylor suggested amending the resolution to specifically mention that there would be follow-up after a year, to see whether the location was suitable. Alan Jackson wanted to add a mention of checking noise levels as part of the follow-up.
Smith crafted two additional resolved clauses, which were considered friendly amendments and did not require a separate vote: (1) that parks staff and PAC’s dog park subcommittee will work with the New Hope Baptist Church to discuss locating the dog park there on a trial basis; and (2) that staff will report back on the dog park’s one-year anniversary with a status update, including information about noise levels.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the resolution, as amended, recommending West Park as the preferred location for a new dog park. The city council is expected to consider the item at its Jan. 22 meeting.
Ann Arbor Skatepark Design
Commissioners were briefed on the proposed design for a $1 million skatepark, an ambitious effort to be built at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park. It’s a project that’s viewed as a potential regional attraction. The designer, Wally Hollyday, attended the Dec. 18 meeting to talk about his work. It incorporates a variety of features for skaters at all levels, as well as elements for the general public, suggestions for dual-purpose objects like skateable public art, and rain gardens and other landscaping features to help with stormwater management. In July of 2012, the Ann Arbor city council had authorized a $89,560 contract with his firm – Wally Hollyday Skateparks, based in Orange County, California – for the design and construction oversight of the skatepark. [.pdf of skatepark concept design]
Ann Arbor Skatepark Design: Public Commentary
At the beginning of the meeting, two people spoke during public commentary to oppose the skatepark’s location at the site in Veterans Memorial Park. Patricia Bova
Boven passed out a letter to commissioners – addressed to Trevor Staples of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark – that outlined her concerns. [.pdf of Bova's letter] She said she represented 20 homeowners and residents who live near the park, and contended that they were never brought to the table when the location was being considered. She said they never received a direct mailing about the skatepark until a notice for the design meeting on Oct. 15, 2012. The residents are calling themselves the Friends of Veterans Park and are circulating a petition, she said. The request might sound extreme, Bova said, but they’d like the skatepark to be moved to the southwest corner of the park. She reported that residents – including the owners of Knight’s Restaurant, located across the street from the park – are concerned about the impact of traffic, and how maintenance will be handled. “We’re not against the skatepark,” she said. “We’re against the location of the skatepark.”
Carol Potter told commissioners that she lives on Lyn Anne Court, across from the north side of Veterans Memorial Park. She lives on a beautiful street, she said, and she’s concerned about the impact of the skatepark. Would skateboarders get off the bus and ride on the sidewalk to get to the park? What about the noise?
Ann Arbor Skatepark Design: Presentation
Later in the meeting Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, began the skatepark presentation by describing the history of the project. He recalled that Trevor Staples and other supporters had approached PAC in 2007 about the need for a skatepark. In 2008, there were two public meetings about choosing a location. Smith described the meetings as heavily attended with about 75 people, and noted that the meetings had been publicized with a mailing to residents.
During 2008, the skatepark had been an item on PAC’s agenda at three public meetings, and a public hearing had been held on the project in May of 200 specifically to get input about the location on the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, Smith said. PAC had unanimously voted to support that location, he said, and public input for it had been overwhelmingly positive.
In November of 2008, PAC unanimously recommended approval of the memorandum of intent (MOI) between the city and the Ann Arbor Skatepark Action Committee – which later became the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark – spelling out how the two entities would interact to design, fundraise and build the proposed skatepark.
The city council approved that MOI in December 2008, specifically citing the Veterans Memorial Park location. [.pdf of memorandum of intent] Among other things, the council stipulated that 10% of all fundraising must be set aside in an endowed fund for future maintenance. From the council resolution:
Whereas, 10% of all funds raised by the Ann Arbor Skatepark Action Committee shall be allocated to an endowed fund designated the Ann Arbor Skatepark Fund (or similar name), through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation for operations, maintenance and future improvements to the Ann Arbor Skatepark.
The community foundation provides more details about the endowment on its website.
Smith told commissioners that the city will also tap its volunteer programs, like Adopt-a-Park, to help with the skatepark. But he stressed that the care and maintenance of the skatepark would not be on the shoulders of volunteers.
Finally, Smith reminded commissioners that grants awarded for the skatepark – from the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission, and the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund – were linked specifically to the site in Veterans Memorial Park.
Trevor Staples spoke next, as chair of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. [He has addressed PAC on several other occasions related to the skatepark, most recently at the June 19, 2012 meeting when PAC recommended approval of Hollyday as the skatepark's designer.]
He and others have been working on this project for about five years, Staples noted, and it’s exciting to see the skatepark come to fruition. He remembered attending the public hearing in May of 2008, and recalled that the council chambers had been packed. Only one person had opposed the project, Staples said, and everyone else had supported it – it was great to get such strong community support, he said.
The original mission of the nonprofit had been to build a skatepark, Staples continued. Now that they’re close to achieving that goal, the board will be holding a retreat this winter – facilitated by the NEW Center – to shape its next mission. They’ll invite the city parks volunteer outreach staff, he said, and plan to work together. The nonprofit intends to help with all aspects of the skatepark in the future, including maintenance, upkeep and special events.
Staples thanked the skatepark supporters, PAC and the city council, but gave special thanks to Bob Tetens, director of the county parks and recreation commission, and county commissioner Conan Smith for offering $400,000 in matching funds, which was crucial in securing the $300,000 state trust fund grant. Those two grants are providing the majority of funding for the skatepark construction.
Amy Kuras, the city’s park planner, gave additional background, saying that the skatepark and the dog park have been two projects with the most advocacy and public input of any others she’s worked on with the city. She noted that even though the more recent skatepark effort dates back to 2007, the history of residents pushing for a skatepark can be traced to the 1980s.
Kuras gave an overview of the project, noting that the cluster of oak trees in the northwest corner won’t be removed, and will provide shade for portions of the skatepark. The city has also pushed to include more greenspace in the design, she said, and she’s excited about that. The location was chosen because it’s easily accessible – located on a bus line, and near the interchanges with I-94 and M-14. And Veterans Memorial is already a very active park for recreation activities, she said. [The park includes baseball diamonds, a pool and ice arena.]
Kuras said the project hopes to get stormwater funding from the city, which will help with skatepark’s budget. The design also provides barrier-free access, she noted, with a new path that connects the parking lot on Dexter Avenue to the parking lot on North Maple. Barrier-free access will also be an element of the design within the skatepark itself.
The skatepark design has been in the works for about six months, Kuras said. After getting a recommendation on the concept design from PAC, the plan is to present the design to city council in January for their approval.
Hollyday was on hand to walk commissioners through the elements of the design. He noted the advantage of having the skatepark on a hillside – it would help with stormwater runoff.
The design includes a wide variety of skateboarding features – including bowls and pools; banked, Hubba and cantilevered ledges; and slappy curbs. The two larger bowls, with an 8-10 foot depth, provide a lot of variety – including stairs and a “love seat.” The bowls will be popular with older skaters, he said, as well as with “punky” teen skaters – because of the retro appeal. Those bowls also provide larger transitions – the term used to described the curved surfaces, transitioning between horizontal and vertical.
The smaller bowls are easier to skate, Hollyday said, with lots of places to roll in and roll out. You can literally tear through the bowls on a wheelchair, he said. “As crazy as that sounds, I’ve seen that happen.” There are also lots of places to transfer from one bowl to another.
Looking good is important in skating culture because it’s a very social sport, Hollyday told commissioners. He said young girls are really attracted to small bowls. When his own daughter began skating, she had been put off by “the stares from the boys and the looks of ‘What are you doing here?’” It makes you very self-conscious, he said, but you can look good in the small bowls, even as a beginner.
Other features include flat banks, rocks built into walls, rollers, a quarter pipe, and several other skateable elements.
Landscaped areas and rain gardens are located throughout the park, which will also serve as stormwater management elements. It’s important to create a visual effect, Hollyday said, so there are elements like spillover areas on walls for rain water to flow down into the rain gardens, for example.
The design also includes a small stage, which could be used for skateboarding demonstrations as well as other community performances.
Ann Arbor Skatepark Design: Commission Discussion
Tim Berla said he’d expected that there would be a fence around the skatepark, but clarified with Wally Hollyday that it wouldn’t be fenced. Hollyday explained that skaters like to socialize, and in parks where there are fences, people find ways to get around them anyway. There will be guardrail fences around the large bowls, but the intent is for non-skaters to be able to walk through the skatepark, too. If it succeeds as a community center, Hollyday said, that’s even more important than succeeding as a sporting center.
Amy Kuras added that the city would put up signs along the pathways to indicate that people are entering the skatepark. She noted that there will be paths going around both sides of the skatepark too, so people don’t have to go through it.
Responding to another question from Berla, Hollyday said he plans to put benches along the paths, so there will be places for people to sit. Trevor Staples recalled that when he was growing up, there were picnic tables and barbeque pits at the top of the hill in that part of the park. Now, that area isn’t well used, he said. It will overlook the skatepark, and he hoped it would again become a community gathering place. Colin Smith, parks and recreation manager, noted that there are a lot of comparisons, in that regard, to the Argo Cascades, which is also drawing the community – even people who don’t canoe or kayak.
Responding to another question, Smith said that the nearest bathrooms were in a shelter, but those will be removed during an upcoming renovation. As an interim, there will be port-o-potties in the area.
Alan Jackson asked about the durability of the materials. Are there choices that can be made to reduce future maintenance needs?
Hollyday replied that the skatepark itself will be concrete, and that the parts requiring more regular maintenance will be the landscaping elements. He noted that he’s seen city officials in other communities “freak out” when concrete gets chipped, but a popular, well-used skatepark is a good thing, he said.
Kuras pointed out that one of Hollyday’s tasks is to provide the specifications for construction so that the city can pre-qualify concrete contractors. The work is specialized, and requires more experience than most other projects that use concrete.
Jackson also asked how much of the concrete would be colored. That will depend in part on the budget, Hollyday replied. But there are less expensive ways to add color, he added – for example, adding black paint will result in a richer, charcoal gray concrete that won’t reflect light. It’s an inexpensive way to reduce glare.
Bob Galardi jokingly referred to palm trees shown in the design images, then asked how the skatepark would hold up in Michigan’s colder climate. The construction will use 4,000 psi (pounds per square inch) concrete, Hollyday said, which is “pretty strong.” There will be a lot of reinforcement and caulking in the joints, with a rebar structure and six-inch minimum thickness.
Smith noted that the terms of the MOI require that the skatepark design gets approved by city council. After that happens, the final design specifications will be completed and the city will seek bids for construction. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2013, with a goal of completing the project by the fall.
Outcome: The commission unanimously recommended approval of the design for the Ann Arbor skatepark. It will next be considered by city council for approval.
Cobblestone Farm Renovations
The commission was asked to recommend awarding a $109,500 contract to Renaissance Restorations Inc. to replace roofs at Cobblestone Farm on the event barn and on the Tincknor-Campbell House. It was the lowest of three bids received for the work. The contract includes a 10% contingency, bringing the total to $120,450.
The work would be funded with proceeds from the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage.
According to a staff memo, the Tincknor-Campbell House is a cobblestone farmhouse that was built in 1844. Its existing wood shingle roof was installed in 1977 and is in serious disrepair. The proposal calls for the new roof to be made of cedar shakes, with flashing done in copper.
The event barn, built in the late 1980s, is rented out for weddings, parties, business conferences, and other events. Its existing roof is over 30 years old and is also in poor condition. Because the building is not historically significant, the proposal calls replacing the roof with a recycled plastic shingle that resembles cedar, but that is less costly and more durable.
The proposal is being reviewed by the city’s historic district commission. The Cobblestone Farm Association has already reviewed the proposal and agreed with these recommendations.
Cobblestone Farm Renovations: Commission Discussion
There was little discussion on this item. Alan Jackson asked about the material being proposed. Amy Kuras reported that if the historic district commission signs off on using the recycled plastic shingle for the event barn, then it would likely last longer and cost less.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved recommending the contract with Renaissance Restorations for the Cobblestone Farm roof replacements. The item will next be considered by the city council.
Volunteerism in the Parks
Dave Borneman, manager of the city’s natural area preservation program, presented NAP’s Volunteer of the Year award to Community High School. He read a proclamation from the mayor that had been presented at the city council’s Oct. 24, 2012 meeting, which recognized the school’s students and staff for working “enthusiastically” to improve the city’s parks and natural areas, in part by participating in a bi-annual day of service focused on invasive plant removal, trail maintenance, and tree planting. Borneman noted that in the spring, 360 CHS volunteers pulled nearly 4 tons of garlic mustard and other spring invasives in the city’s natural areas.
On hand to accept the award were Marci Tuzinsky, a lead teacher at CHS, and students Obiageri Ugwuegbu, Lexi Schnitzer and Denny Carter. They received a round of applause from commissioners. Tim Berla pointed out that he was a member of the school’s second graduating class.
Borneman, who has been with the city since the NAP program began 19 years ago, now also oversees all volunteer efforts in the parks. Those programs include NAP workdays and park stewards, Adopt-a-Park and Adopt-a-Median, memorial plantings and “citizen pruner” efforts. For the overall parks system, the Give 365 initiative offers a range of volunteer opportunities, including one-day events, swim team volunteers, counselor-in-training and lifeguard-in-training programs, and golf rangers.
He then introduced a presentation by two of his staff: Tina Roselle, volunteer and outreach coordinator for the city’s NAP and Adopt-A-Park programs, and Gayle Hurn, outreach coordinator for Give 365.
Highlights of their presentation:
- Since NAP was launched in 1993, volunteers have contributed nearly 90,000 hours of work.
- More than 425 people have been trained for NAP’s volunteer crew for controlled burns.
- Volunteers work on a range of monitoring programs, including frog and toad surveys, salamander surveys, breeding bird surveys, photo monitoring, and a new turtle steward program. The turtle steward program grew out of concern by volunteers who discovered turtles nesting in the volleyball court at Scheffler Park, and a report of snapping turtles that were crossing the road near Dolph Park. Now the city has created five turtle nesting locations in various parks.
- There are 55 park stewards who work in 35 of the city’s parks.
- Twelve medians have been “adopted” by volunteers in the city’s relatively new Adopt-a-Median program.
- About half of the total volunteer hours is spent on control of invasive species.
- The number of volunteer workdays per year reached a high of 129 in 2010. Since then, the number of workdays has been decreasing, in part because staff is scheduling workdays for private groups on the same days as public workdays, in an effort to better allocate staff resources, Roselle said.
- Give 365, which launched in March of 2011, has logged nearly 12,000 hours of volunteer service. In fiscal 2012, volunteer efforts were the equivalent of $124,173 based on $20 per hour. Nearly six months into fiscal 2013, volunteer hours are the equivalent of $81,488 in hourly wages.
In response to a question from Alan Jackson, Hurn indicated that the city planned to work with volunteers to help with the ongoing care of the skatepark, after its construction.
Colin Smith, the city’s parks & recreation manager, noted that the Give 365 program has dramatically exceeded expectations for the number of volunteer hours they had hoped for in its initial year. Several commissioners also praised the outreach and volunteer efforts.
Communications & Commentary
Throughout the meeting there were several opportunities for communications and commentary. Here are some highlights.
Communications & Commentary: Whitewater on Huron River
During his report to commissioners, Colin Smith – the city’s parks and recreation manager – reported that on Nov. 9 the city had withdrawn its application for a permit to build a whitewater section in the Huron River, near Argo Cascades. A permit was needed from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), but letters of objection to the project had been filed by 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. [For more details on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project.”]
The EPA had filed its letter on Aug. 15. From that date, the MDEQ had 90 days – until Nov. 13 – to resolve the EPA’s concerns. Rather than let that period expire and possibly have the permit denied, the city decided to withdraw the application. Smith said city staff have met with MDEQ staff and are working to come up with a new design that would be acceptable. They’re looking at projects in other communities, he said, so work will continue on that.
Communications & Commentary: Appointments
Julie Grand, PAC’s chair, joked that she was continuing the commission’s long tradition of appointing people when they weren’t at the meeting – noting that she initially had been elected chair that way. Grand told commissioners that she was appointing Missy Stults, the newest PAC member, to fill the PAC position on the city’s environmental commission. Grand reported that Stults, who was absent from the Dec. 18 meeting, had agreed to serve, and that she had “more than adequate background” for the job.
Stults is a research scientist and doctoral student at the University of Michigan, studying urban and regional planning. She previously has worked as a sustainability analyst with Summit Energy Services in Louisville, Kentucky, and in various roles with the Boston-based ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA.
Also during the meeting, Grand referred to a list of PAC committees that had been discussed at the commission’s Nov. 4 retreat. The list was a summary of the committees, and the PAC members who’ll serve on them. [.pdf of committee list] There are two new committees: (1) a downtown open space committee (Ingrid Ault and Alan Jackson), to work with other entities like the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on needs for parks and open space in the downtown area; and (2) an education committee (Missy Stults) to educate the public on issues like invasive species and other parks-related issues.
Bob Galardi, one of the newer PAC members, asked about the greenway committee. That committee’s membership includes Galardi, Stults and Grand. Grand indicated that it was an existing committee that has been “dormant”– but it’s now re-emerging because of activity related to the Allen Creek greenway. She explained that work on this and other committees is left up to the discretion of its members.
Ault reported that the downtown open space committee had held is first meeting and plans to do a walk-through of downtown sites with DDA executive director Susan Pollay. The date of that walk-through hadn’t been set, but all PAC members would be invited, Ault said.
Communications & Commentary: Ice Rink at Library Lane
During public commentary, Alan Haber told commissioners that he’d spoken to them before about the need for the Library Lane site to be a park for all the people. [Most recently, Haber addressed PAC at its June 19, 2012 meeting.] He said he was glad that PAC had made a recommendation that a park should be considered as a best use for downtown property. [Haber was referring to a resolution that PAC passed at its Sept. 18, 2012 meeting regarding the Connecting William Street project. PAC did not advocate that a particular site be turned into a park. Rather, the resolution recommends that the Ann Arbor city council seek additional evaluation of locations for a downtown park, the best mix of amenities for the population expected to use a downtown park, and the costs of developing and maintaining a new addition to the parks system.]
Haber suggested that part of the Library Lane site could be turned into an ice skating rink. A downtown skating rink would be a great community gathering place, he said, and it would give people a sense of how the area would work as a park on a permanent basis. Volunteers could build a platform for the rink and a small warming shelter, he said, using private donations. There aren’t many cars that use the surface lot now, he noted, so it’s not being efficiently used for that purpose. Turning it into a skating rink “would be very easy to do,” Haber concluded.
Communications & Commentary: Farewell to John Lawter
PAC chair Julie Grand noted that this was the last meeting for John Lawter, whose term ends on Dec. 31, 2012. She said she was thrilled that PAC had acted on the dog park at the meeting, since this had been an initiative led by Lawter. However, Grand noted that he hadn’t been a one-trick pony – “or dog, as it were,” she joked. Lawter had served as vice chair, and had always been a “reasonable voice” and advocate for parks, Grand said.
Lawter described the last six years as a “huge growth experience” for him, and that PAC had accomplished a lot during that period. He looked forward to working with the parks as a park steward and in other ways in the future.
Present: Ingrid Ault, Tim Berla, Bob Galardi, Alan Jackson, Karen Levin, Julie Grand, John Lawter and councilmembers Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.
Absent: Tim Doyle, Missy Stults.
Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 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]
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