Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Feb. 7, 2013): At their first meeting of 2013 – because the January session had been canceled – commissioners formally thanked individuals who’d made an extra effort on end-of-year land deals for the greenbelt program.
A resolution of recognition was presented to Mary Fales, senior assistant attorney for the city of Ann Arbor; Matt Keir, vice president of Liberty Title; Rosanne Bloomer, a lending officer for Greenstone Farm Credit Services – and wife of GAC commissioner Tom Bloomer; and Ginny Trocchio of The Conservation Fund, who provides staff support for the greenbelt program.
GAC chair Dan Ezekiel praised their work, noting that certain factors – including a change in tax law – had added pressure to complete the deals before Dec. 31. The transactions protected a total of about 320 acres in Webster, Salem and Superior townships.
Trocchio also reported that the purchase of development rights for part of the Donald Drake farm – 124 acres of farmland in Lodi Township – had closed earlier this year, making it the first deal of 2013. More than 4,200 acres have now been protected under the greenbelt program, she noted.
Another topic highlighted at the Feb. 7 meeting was the need to recruit new members for the commission. Liz Rother resigned earlier this year, though her term runs through June 30, 2014. Ezekiel also pointed out that he and two other commissioners – Laura Rubin and Tom Bloomer – will be leaving the commission this summer, when their terms expire. All three are term-limited. He urged members of the public to consider applying.
The meeting ended with commissioners voting to approve recommendations for additional land preservation deals. Two of those items – seeking approval to apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) – are now on the agenda for the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 19, 2013 meeting. The properties are both in Lodi Township: (1) another part of the Drake farm – 72 acres along Waters Road; and (2) the Carol Schumacher farm – about 100 acres along Pleasant Lake Road.
Resolution of Recognition
Commissioners formally thanked four people who worked on completing land preservation deals in December of 2012.
The resolution recognized: (1) Mary Fales, senior assistant attorney for the city of Ann Arbor; (2) Matt Keir, vice president of Liberty Title; (3) Rosanne Bloomer, a lending officer for Greenstone Farm Credit Services; and (4) Ginny Trocchio of The Conservation Fund, who provides staff support for the greenbelt program.
GAC chair Dan Ezekiel noted that the four deals needed to be completed by the end of 2012 because tax laws were changing after Dec. 31, and landowners wanted to close the transactions before that happened. Another complicating factor was that the Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds office was closed for an extended time near year’s end, so there was even less time to complete the deals.
The four transactions were purchase of development rights (PDRs) for the following properties:
- The Van Natter farm in Webster Township – about 20 acres, along Joy Road. It’s part of more than 1,100 acres of farmland protected in Webster Township. Vegetables grown on the property are sold at the Dexter Farmers Market and at the farm’s roadside stand. The city paid $126,867 in this deal, which was approved by city council on March 19, 2012. [.pdf of map showing Van Natter property]
- The Robbin Alexander farm, also in Webster Township – about 90 acres along Northfield Church Road. The same farmer also owns Alexander Farm Market on Whitmore Lake Road and North Territorial. The total cost was $394,417. Of that, Ann Arbor contributed $226,837. The deal was approved by city council on Sept. 4, 2012. [.pdf of map showing Alexander property]
- The Robert Schultz farm in Superior Township – about 136 acres along Harris and Geddes roads. The total cost was $523,567, including $294,247 from Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor city council approved this deal on Sept. 4, 2012. [.pdf of map showing Schultz property]
- The Dan and Amy Hornback property in Salem Township – about 73 acres along Pontiac Trail and Brookville Road. The city contributed $199,367 in this deal, which was approved by city council on Oct. 1, 2012. It was the first time that the city partnered with Salem Township. The township contributed $64,200 toward the purchase price, as did the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission. [.pdf of map showing Hornback property]
Fales and Keir were on hand and spoke briefly to commissioners. Fales described it as a team effort, and Keir said that Liberty Title – the city’s closing agent for these transactions – appreciated the business. He noted that the company is based in Ann Arbor, and that he was glad to see the greenbelt program making this city a better place to live and work.
Ezekiel observed that Rosanne Bloomer couldn’t attend the meeting, but he noted that Tom Bloomer – her husband and a GAC member – could accept the recognition on her behalf. In thanking Trocchio, Ezekiel described her as “the straw that stirred the drink,” coordinating efforts to pull off the transactions.
Trocchio pointed out that the greenbelt program has now protected more than 4,200 acres since the program’s inception in 2003. That’s more than had been anticipated, she said, calling it an exciting achievement.
Ezekiel described the recent transactions as going “corner to corner” within the greenbelt boundaries, from Salem Township in the northeast to Lodi Township in the southwest.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously passed the resolution of recognition.
Commission Vacancies – Current & Upcoming
Ginny Trocchio announced that Liz Rother has resigned from the commission for personal reasons. Rother had been appointed in 2011 as a public-at-large member for a term ending June 30, 2014. Trocchio asked other commissioners for help in finding a new member.
For most city commissions, members are nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council. However, greenbelt commissioners are both nominated and confirmed by the city council. So anyone who’s interested in applying for the position should contact their city council representative. [.pdf of application form for city boards and commissions]
Dan Ezekiel pointed out that he and two other commissioners – Laura Rubin and Tom Bloomer – will be leaving the commission this summer, when their terms expire. All three are term-limited. He urged members of the public to consider applying.
Ezekiel’s position is also for a public-at-large slot. Bloomer fills the farmer category – he owns Bur Oaks Farm in Webster Township. Rubin, who is executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, represents the category for environmental organizations.
In looking ahead at the commission’s future work, Ezekiel noted that the tasks would transition from a focus on land acquisition to a role of stewardship, as the amount of money available in the greenbelt program decreases. Commissioners will take on more of an outreach role, he said, informing the public about the program’s achievements and the land that’s already been protected. Ezekiel said Rother had been particularly good at that.
The meeting included several opportunities for communications from staff and commissioners. No one spoke during the two opportunities for public commentary.
Communications: Drake Farm
In her staff report, Ginny Trocchio told commissioners that in late January the city had closed on the purchase of development rights for the Donald Drake farm in Lodi Township.
The Ann Arbor city council had authorized the deal at its Oct. 15, 2012 meeting. The 124-acre farm is located along Waters Road in northwest Lodi Township. The city’s expenditure from millage funds amounted to $483,450. Of that amount, $23,867 covered costs related to closing, due diligence and a contribution to the greenbelt endowment. The total purchase price of the land was $549,478, with the city of Ann Arbor’s share supplemented by $109,895 from Washtenaw County parks and recreation, and $1,000 from Lodi Township.
The deal was somewhat complicated. Earlier in the meeting, GAC chair Dan Ezekiel had noted that the deal involved issues related to an inheritance and tax considerations. In March of 2012, the city had applied for – but was not awarded – USDA Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) grants for this property. Ultimately, the city split the deal into two separate transactions. The deal that closed earlier this year was for the purchase of development rights on the southern portion of the farm. The city plans to reapply for FRPP funds in 2013 for the northern portion of the farm.
Communications: Conservation Fund Contract
Trocchio noted that the Ann Arbor city council has authorized a new contract with The Conservation Fund. Trocchio is the local employee of The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit that manages operations for the city’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs. Those programs are funded by a 30-year 0.5 mill open space and parkland preservation millage that voters approved in 2003.
The Conservation Fund, headquartered in the suburbs of Washington D.C., has held the contract since the greenbelt program launched. The new 18-month contract authorized by the city council on Jan. 7, 2013 was for $156,230, with two one-year renewal options. The Conservation Fund was the only entity that submitted a bid to the city’s request for proposals (RFP).
Communications: Cherry Republic
Trocchio reported that Cherry Republic, which operates a downtown Ann Arbor store at the corner of Main and Liberty, is contributing $5,000 toward land preservation in the greenbelt. The business previously gave $2,500 to the city in 2011, when the Ann Arbor store first opened.
Communications: Strategic Plan
Commissioner Archer Christian asked Trocchio for an update on the strategic plan. At GAC’s Dec. 6, 2012 meeting, Trocchio had reported that she had hoped to get input on proposed revisions to the greenbelt program’s strategic plan at the November meeting of Preserve Washtenaw, but that meeting had been cancelled. Preserve Washtenaw is a consortium of local land preservation groups, including the Legacy Land Conservancy, Washtenaw County’s natural areas preservation program, and several township programs. Subsequently, GAC’s January 2013 meeting also was canceled.
On Feb. 7, Trocchio told Christian that she was still waiting for feedback. She expected to bring the strategic plan back to GAC for consideration at their March 7 meeting.
Communications: UM Environmental Journalism Class
Commissioner Laura Rubin reported that she’d been a speaker at a recent University of Michigan class on environmental journalism, along with Craig Welch of Wexford Homes, who had been a leading opponent against the 2003 land preservation millage.
Rubin described the session as a genial one, with she and Welch sharing their perspectives in support and opposition to the greenbelt program. She noted that so much has changed since 2003, when a strong economy put pressure on local farmers to sell their land to developers.
GAC chair Dan Ezekiel asked whether Welch indicated that he’d changed his position over the years: Did Welch imply that he’d vote for a greenbelt millage now? Rubin laughed and said no, Welch didn’t imply that. But he had acknowledged that a lot has changed since then, she added, with a trend toward housing in urban centers rather than the suburbs. They had also discussed the impact that the greenbelt program had in directing the location of development.
Closed Session: Land Acquisition
Commissioners spent about 30 minutes at the end of their Feb. 7 meeting in closed session to discuss possible land acquisitions, which is one of the reasons for a closed session allowed by the Michigan Open Meetings Act . When they emerged from closed session, commissioners voted on two recommendations 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.
Commissioners recommended that the city council apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) for two properties – application numbers 2011-13 and 2013-2.
A second resolution recommended that the city partner with the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission on the purchase of development rights for application number 2012-11, and to contribute up to 25% of the purchase price.
Outcome: Both resolutions passed unanimously without discussion.
The agenda for the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 19, 2013 meeting includes an item related to the FRPP grants. It identifies the properties as (1) another piece of the Drake farm – 72 acres along Waters Road in Lodi Township; and (2) the Carol Schumacher farm – about 100 acres along Pleasant Lake Road in Lodi Township.
Present: Peter Allen, Tom Bloomer, Archer Christian, Dan Ezekiel, Catherine Riseng, Laura Rubin, Christopher Taylor. Staff: Ginny Trocchio.
Absent: Shanon Brines.
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