Comments on: 413 E. Huron Highlights A2D2 Concerns it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Tue, 19 Feb 2013 22:48:10 +0000 I appreciate the commentary on the greenbelt issues. For readers who think this is all just ancient history and wonder, “But when will the Ann Arbor city council next consider anything related to that?” it’s tonight.

Here’s a resolution to approve two applications to the USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program: [link]

And here’s a resolution to approve purchase of a vacant property off Orkney, inside the city, that will provide access to the Bluffs Nature Area from the west side: [link] Access to the Bluffs Nature Area is challenging, because from the east, it rises pretty steeply off North Main.

[The city of Ann Arbor's open space and parkland preservation millage can be used for both these purposes.]

By: John Q. John Q. Tue, 19 Feb 2013 20:25:52 +0000 By the Greenbelt, I mean the city’s Open Space and Parkland Preservation Millage millage that’s been used for the acquisition of development rights on farmland. With all of the funding sources that are now available for these projects, it’s easy to forget that before 2003, there were no dedicated sources of funding for these efforts at the local or county level. Even the projects that have been funded by the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program have been assisted with funds from the millage.

My comments weren’t meant to diminish the work done by the area land conservancies. They have done tremendous work including securing the development rights to the David Braun property across the road from the larger Braun properties. But it’s only been with the passage of the city’s millage that large blocks of farmland in Washtenaw County have been secured through the PDR programs. The land conservancies have and continue to play a role in those efforts. But the land conservancies by themselves could not have achieved the level of success that’s come with the city and township PDR programs.

I know I have the old township master plan in my files but I don’t have it handy. I thought the Braun property was master planned to allow residential development at a higher density than 1 unit per 10 acres. Perhaps not. In any case, the 2001 master plan made no real effort towards farmland preservation and the absence of such a plan left the township open to legal challenges where a judge could have permitted a higher density development. That kind of legal challenge was part of the Colt Farms effort to have the property rezoned as were similar projects that were being pushed in Webster and Superior townships.

By: abc abc Tue, 19 Feb 2013 14:10:50 +0000 John Q. I do follow your point. However because this is a bit complicated I feel like a few clarifications are in order.

“… the Greenbelt provided an option for farmers and land owners that simply doesn’t exist in other communities.”

Actually if by “the Greenbelt” you mean the local application of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, which is what the city and the surrounding townships are using, its has been a federal program since 1996. So all communities theoretically have access to it, assuming they meet the criteria.

“Absent the Greenbelt,…”

Many other land conservation programs that focused on farmland and open space have existed in this area, and across the country, dating back to the 1960’s. The Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy dates back to the 1980’s and the Legacy Land Conservancy dates back to the 1960’s under another name.

“If the Brauns had sold out to a developer who was willing to develop the property under the township’s previous master plan…”

In this case the masterplan does not ‘foresee’ a different future for this lot than its past, which is general agriculture A-1, which has a 10 acre minimum for any use. And there are few uses that might attract developers other than residential. Also, if we throw away 10% for internal roads, and assume that some of the land is unbuildable because it has a wetland then we have only a few available lots. This is not much to sell to a developer who wants to build by right.

By: John Q. John Q. Tue, 19 Feb 2013 03:52:36 +0000 ABC, my point is that whether the Brauns were willing or less than willing participants, the Greenbelt provided an option for farmers and land owners that simply doesn’t exist in other communities. Absent the Greenbelt, the Brauns or a developer seeking to develop the property would still be pursuing litigation or pushing to develop the property. If the Brauns had sold out to a developer who was willing to develop the property under the township’s previous master plan, the loss of farmland would have been as complete as what would have happened if the Braun’s development plans had proceeded.

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Mon, 18 Feb 2013 23:09:56 +0000 abc, thanks for the history which matched my very sketchy memory of the long struggle over this property. I’ll also plead guilty to not consulting a map before commenting, though I saw it shown on maps in the past. I do know that it was a very important bloc in Ann Arbor Township. So whether or not the Greenbelt kept sprawl out in this case, it was a happy result for all concerned.

I thought I recalled that at least part of it is being farmed by young vegetable entrepreneurs now. I won’t disgrace myself further by suggesting another name.

By: abc abc Mon, 18 Feb 2013 21:23:11 +0000 “…there are several known development projects that did not proceed because the Greenbelt and associated efforts provided an alternative for farmers and land owners to consider and because the townships embraced the land preservation approach that the Greenbelt promoted.”

This may be true for some development projects but not so much for the Braun’s project, which was called Colt’s Farm. As I understand it this land was eyed for development prior to 2001, when applications began to be submitted. It planned to cram 1,300 pre-manufactured homes onto 285 acres of land, which would have resulted in houses on less than .2 acre sites (that’s ‘point two’ as in close to an 1/8th of an acre). MDEQ was not on board, nor was the township. The township was asked to change its zoning. Once the township denied the re-zoning the Brauns and the developer sued the township. That fight did not go the Braun’s way and the project was stopped. Ms. Braun also lost her seat as Township Clerk as a result of the struggle in the 2004 election. There was also an attempt to revive the project in 2006 which did not get much traction.

Fast forward to the end of 2008 and you now find the Brauns wanting to protect the development rights of the property. So after trying real hard to develop this property for about 10 years they now wanted to sell the development rights to the USDA.

It can be inferred from the quoted paragraph above that farmers can get to a point where they want to farm but don’t have the ability to meet their financial obligations; having no alternative but to sell the land to a developer. However in this case I did not see the property owners looking for an alternative to development. They did not embrace the land preservation approach or the Greenbelt until after they pushed and fought for something that was quite the opposite, and failed to get what they wanted.

BTW Ms. Armentrout, just for clarity, this property is located on the west side of Whitmore Lake Road, south of Joy Road.

By: John Q. John Q. Sat, 16 Feb 2013 03:54:30 +0000 Tilian is located off of Pontiac Trail between Gleaner Hall and Nixon roads. It’s about 1.5 mile east of the Braun farm, as the crows fly. As this history of the farm explains, pre-Greenbelt, this area likely wouldn’t have been preserved for agricultural use. I believe the previous Ann Arbor Township land use plan designated this entire area for residential development. The Greenbelt concept and the township’s own preservation millage and changes to their land use plan have completely changed how the township plans to develop in the future. Instead of a series of sprawling residential developments chewing up the remainder of the township’s open space, most of the remaining agricultural land remaining in the township will be preserved for agricultural use. [link]

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Fri, 15 Feb 2013 23:06:46 +0000 Yes, I recall that the controversy about the Braun Farm went on for some years. Part of that was because of roadblocks put up by the township board. The cooperation of Ann Arbor Township and the Greenbelt to secure that property was one of the great successes of our local agricultural preservation efforts. Isn’t that where the Tilian project is now?

Still, I think some numbers are needed to substantiate some of the claims being made.

By: John Q. John Q. Fri, 15 Feb 2013 21:33:34 +0000 “Simply repeating the “best practices” planning mantra doesn’t make it true. Engaging in the unsubstantiated claims that increased downtown population must be having a positive impact is the same kind of magical thinking (see comment 21) that leads to claims that the Greenbelt will lead to increased urban density.”

We have several decades of sprawl growth in and around Ann Arbor to see how the pre-Greenbelt status quo approach that you advocate for played out. While it may be too early to declare the Greenbelt approach a complete success, it’s achieved far more towards controlling sprawl than anything else that was tried the 40 years previous to it. To Vivienne’s question, there are several known development projects that did not proceed because the Greenbelt and associated efforts provided an alternative for farmers and land owners to consider and because the townships embraced the land preservation approach that the Greenbelt promoted. These include the proposal for developing the Charles and Catherine Braun farm in Ann Arbor Township. Pre-Greenbelt, these properties likely would have been developed in some manner that would have resulted in greater urban sprawl outside the boundaries of the city.

By: Timothy Durham Timothy Durham Fri, 15 Feb 2013 17:32:36 +0000 There was an interesting case study in chapter one of Catherine Tumber’s book, “Small, Gritty and Green” that deals with how the township of LaPrairie, WI had fought off the suburban sprawl spreading from downtown Janesville, WI.

This township contains some of the world’s richest farmland (not unlike that surrounding Ann Arbor) and the book looks at how township chairman Mike Saunders, and a group of highly engaged farmers, devised of a master zoning plan to zone out real estate speculators/developers with some very interesting and counter-intuitive changes to the existing zoning plan.

So it can be done. The end of cheap oil will do the rest, but will also keep us from reclaiming the farmland lost to sprawl once we figure out what a mistake it was to pave it in the first place.

As JH Kunstler says, “History does not care if a town makes terrible decisions.”