Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Feb. 26, 2013): An item generating the most discussion at this month’s PAC meeting related to two potential locations for a new fenced-in dog park: about 2 acres in and near South Maple Park, on the city’s west side off of West Liberty; and a roughly 1-acre section of West Park, on a knoll in the south-central area.
No action was taken, and a PAC committee will continue to evaluate these options with parks staff before making a formal recommendation to the full commission. The previously recommended site – at a different location within West Park, near the parking lot off Chapin Street – was ultimately not presented to the city council, following protests from the nearby New Hope Baptist Church.
Another PAC committee, focused on developing recommendations for a possible downtown park, gave only a brief update. Its next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5. However, commissioners heard from four people during public commentary who advocated for a new park atop the city’s Library Lane underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue. Part of the commentary covered a proposal to build a temporary ice-skating rink on that site.
Commissioners also recommended approval of several contracts totaling over $180,000. The contracts cover landscaping work at multiple locations, golf cart leases, custodial work at Cobblestone Farm, renovations at Esch Park, and rental of an overflow parking lot for the Argo canoe livery. The landscaping work is being funded through a donation from the Henrietta Feldman Trust.
And in his monthly report, parks and recreation manager Colin Smith informed commissioners about a strategy the city is pursuing to deal with invasive aquatic plants – primarily Eurasian watermilfoil – at Geddes Pond.
New Dog Park
A report from PAC’s dog park committee turned into an extensive discussion on the topic. By way of brief background, at PAC’s Dec. 18, 2012 meeting, commissioners had recommended locating a new dog park in West Park, in a spot across from New Hope Baptist Church. But because of concerns raised by church members, the recommendation was never put on the city council agenda and that location – by the parking lot off of Chapin Street – was abandoned earlier this year, when it was removed from the city council’s Jan. 22, 2013 agenda.
So the dog park committee – Ingrid Ault, Missy Stults and Karen Levin – met again with park planner Amy Kuras. They visited and evaluated three sites that had been among the top five locations previously identified as suitable for a possible new dog park. The goal is to find a location more centrally located than the city’s 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.
The locations visited by the committee were:
- A different part of West Park, on a roughly 1-acre knoll in the south-central area.
- About 2 acres in and near South Maple Park, on the city’s west side off of West Liberty.
- Just under an acre at city-owned land at the northwest corner of Crest and Bemidiji.
Each of these sites had been on the short list of locations that were previously considered for a dog park. Committee members had evaluated the three sites, scoring each site based on location, size, shade, parking, water access, neighborhood buffer, surface grading (minimal slopes), and potential conflicts with other uses on the site. The ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5, from best to worst. [.pdf of scoring and maps for the potential dog park locations]
At PAC’s Feb. 26 meeting, Kuras told commissioners that subsequent conversations with city staff have eliminated the Crest/Bemidiji site from consideration. It’s a former landfill, and for that and other reasons, the city’s utilities department – which is responsible for the site – did not support using it as a dog park.
The utilities department also has plans for the South Maple site, where a water tower might be built at some point, Kuras reported. But city staff felt that a dog park could co-exist with a water tower, so that site remains a possibility. The positives are that it’s a large area well-buffered from neighbors, and is in an underserved part of town. However, there isn’t much parking available there, and that’s an issue that would need to be addressed, Kuras said.
The West Park spot is more centrally located to the downtown, and in a part of the park that is near to only one home – although it would be somewhat near the back yards of houses along North Seventh Street.
Neither of the sites have lighting nearby. That was an advantage of the previously identified site at West Park, where the nearby parking lot provided ambient lighting.
PAC talked about how to proceed, with the committee planning to meet again to make a recommendation to the full commission. There would also need to be public meetings with neighbors and a revised budget, because the sites being considered now are larger than the previous half-acre lot off of Chapin.
Tim Doyle encouraged staff to conduct a survey of current dog park users, to get feedback about existing parks that might be useful in creating a new one.
Christopher Taylor wondered how the site at West Park is currently being used. Kuras replied that the uses are mostly informal – saying it’s not a location where organized sports are programmed.
Tim Berla wondered whether the new site at West Park was too far away from parking for people to use. His observations were that people preferred to drive to the other dog parks. Kuras thought that the parking – either in the Chapin lot, or on North Seventh – was sufficiently close. She didn’t think it would be a barrier. If that’s the location chosen, the city would need to put in a path to reach the dog park, she said. Graydon Krapohl noted that it’s in more of a residential area than the other two dog parks, so people might be more likely to walk there.
Berla also questioned whether PAC needed to get a broader perspective, perhaps by looking at a larger number of possible sites and identifying how many total dog parks the city should have. Colin Smith noted that this effort is following up on a goal in the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan – which PAC approved – that identified the need for a centrally located dog park. It’s not clear how to answer the question of how many dog parks the city should have, Smith said.
Commissioners discussed concerns that neighbors might raise about being close to a dog park. Doyle suggested that PAC consider finding a location away from residential areas, perhaps near a highway so that traffic noise would drown out noise from the dog park. If the point is to add a new dog park, the city might need to give up the idea of one that’s centrally located, he said.
Stults strongly disagreed that the idea is just to add a dog park, and she stressed the importance of the central location. For her, the South Maple location wouldn’t fit that description. She also noted that it doesn’t need to be an either/or decision. When Doyle then suggested pursuing both the South Maple and West Park locations simultaneously, Smith cautioned that the city didn’t want to move forward on anything that it didn’t have adequate funding.
Krapohl wondered what the costs would be, other than the initial start-up expenses. Jeff Straw, the city’s deputy parks and rec manager, reported that the Swift Run dog park, which is operated in partnership with the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, had $25,000 in expenses for calendar year 2012. Those costs include mowing, trash removal and general maintenance. Straw noted that Swift Run is fairly large – about 10 acres – which makes a difference in expenses.
Alan Jackson pointed out that mowing already occurs at the West Park location, so he wondered if there would be any additional increase in expenses by adding the dog park. Parks staff indicated that some efficiencies would be seen because mowing and trash pickup already occur at West Park. Smith again noted that a budget would need to be developed, depending on the location identified.
Public Commentary: Library Lane Park
Four people spoke during public commentary at PAC’s Feb. 26 meeting, all of them advocating for a park on the top of the Library Lane underground parking structure. The South Fifth Avenue site is owned by the city, adjacent to the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building and across from the Blake Transit Center.
Aaron Hammer told commissioners he lives in Ward 5 and has a background in landscape architecture. He focused his remarks on the load-bearing capacity for part of the Library Lane area – the part of the site that does not include footings for a large building. He was attempting to show how much soil and plant material could be supported on the site. Information provided as part of the city’s previous request for proposals (RFP) for that site indicated that it can accommodate 18 inches of soil, Hammer said, and that accommodating an additional 18 inches of soil beyond that would require further analysis. Average soil weights are between 75-100 pounds per cubic foot, he said, so a cubic yard of topsoil will cover 100 square feet with a depth of 3 inches. That translates roughly to between 19-25 pounds per square foot. So the structure can support about 150 pounds per square foot – the weight for 18 inches of soil.
Factoring in the weight of crushed gravel and stone that’s already on the site, it would be possible to remove the surface parking and replace it with plantings and trees with shallow root systems, Hammer contended. He thought that more questions could be asked about the information in the RFP as well as the construction documents, which show the site in more detail. In addition to being a great green outdoor common space, it could be a live, environmentally-respecting, useable green roof, he concluded.
Mary Hathaway said she was speaking as a member of the Library Green Conservancy and as a former chair of the Ann Arbor historic district commission. She was there to address what she described as two fallacies put forward by opponents of a park on top of the Library Lane structure. Opponents say that the site isn’t suitable for a park because the existing structures wouldn’t face the park, she said. The second fallacy is that new construction would be forbidden under historic district ordinances. “Both of these arguments are false,” she said. There’s nothing in the law that would prevent existing buildings from opening their rear facades to face a new park, Hathaway said. New entries, porches, balconies and decks could seize this opportunity, she added, and would bring the buildings enhanced value.
Also, the historic districts on the block would not prevent new development from occurring, Hathaway said. She showed a drawing that indicated the location of buildings that are part of historic districts – five houses on South Division; a carriage house on East William; three houses on East Liberty, west of Seva restaurant; and three buildings on South Fifth, including those that house Jerusalem Garden and Earthen Jar.
These houses can’t be demolished, she said, but changes are allowed in the rear. Not part of an historic district are the Ann Arbor District library building on South Fifth; the University of Michigan Credit Union building on East William; and the Michigan Square building on East Liberty, next to Liberty Plaza. The Denali condos and the Seva restaurant building on East Liberty are technically within an historic district, she noted, but are classified as “non-contributing” structures and as such could be demolished or replaced.
Hathaway mentioned the “proximity principle,” which predicts increased value of land near public parks. A park at the Library Lane location would encourage redevelopment of properties that aren’t protected by an historic district, she said. The conservancy hopes that a new park and redevelopment of that area would create a vibrant setting for downtown.
Odile Hugenot Haber told commissioners that she’s French, and in Paris there are many parks where you can sit on a bench and meet older people who live in your neighborhood, watch children play, see people walking their dogs – there is social life going on. In Ann Arbor, many people work all day in front of a computer, she said, so it’s nice to walk downtown and have some place to meet your friends. She said she couldn’t think of a better place for that to happen than next to the library. You could check out or return your books, meet a friend in an area where there’s grass and a waterfall, she said, with maybe a concrete ping pong table or place for people to play chess. It would be an interactive urban park.
This kind of thing is happening in other cities, she noted. “I don’t know why Ann Arbor is so stuck in the ’50s.” People want to destroy old buildings and just put in more parking. The city wants to attract people to live downtown, she noted, but why would people want to do that if there’s no place to walk around and see green space? A lot of people she knows would like to see a playground next to the library – there’s a big demand for it, she said. “Why not go for it?”
Alan Haber spoke next, focusing his comments on a proposal for an ice-skating rink on top of the Library Lane structure, using artificial ice. The site won’t be developed for quite a while, he said, so in the short-term there could be a skating rink there. It would be a way to indicate how people like using that space. Haber said that people have already pledged money toward this project, and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has been asked to make a contribution too. The Library Green Conservancy is also making this proposal to the city council, he said. [.pdf of handout given to PAC on skating rink proposal]
Skating is a lot of fun, he said, and even people who don’t skate have expressed enthusiasm for it. He called it “public art in motion.” The project is a good idea, and he hoped PAC could make a statement as a body or individually to the city council, urging them to give it a try for just two months. It could even continue into the summer, because artificial ice doesn’t require freezing, he said. Or the ice could come off and the platform underneath could be used as a dance floor.
As commissioners look at the issue of where a downtown park should be, he said, this would be a great project to support on an interim basis and would generate a lot of community involvement.
Commissioners did not discuss the public commentary on the proposed park atop the Library Lane parking structure. However, there was a brief update regarding work of a subcommittee that’s developing recommendations on the need for downtown parks. [For background, see Chronicle coverage: "Committee Begins Research on Downtown Parks."]
The next subcommittee meeting is set for Tuesday, March 5 at 4 p.m. in the council workroom at city hall. The meeting of PAC’s land acquisition committee, which typically meets at that time, has been canceled. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith reported that after March 5, the subcommittee will be meeting every two weeks, and will begin posting information about its work online.
Subcommittee members include Ingrid Ault, who is serving as the subcommittee chair, PAC chair Julie Grand, Alan Jackson, and Karen Levin. However, any park commissioner can participate. The meetings are also open to the public.
A contract to do plantings and other landscaping work at several parks in Ann Arbor was on PAC’s agenda for review. The $53,248 contract with Terra Firma Inc. would be for plantings at Cobblestone Farm, Gallup Park Livery, Huron Hills Golf Course Club House, Leslie Park Golf Course entrance, and the Veterans Park Pool and Ice Arena entrance.
The work would be funded through a $112,442 donation from the Henrietta Feldman Trust. Terra Firm submitted the lowest of two qualified bids, coming in under a $103,695 bid from Crimboli Nursery Inc. The contract with Terra Firm will include a 10% contingency of $5,325, bringing the project total to $58,573.
The contract will include maintenance for two planting seasons, including watering, weeding, and replacing dead plants. It will also cover maintenance of plantings made in the fall of 2012 by volunteers at Bryant Community Center, Northside Community Center, the Ann Arbor Senior Center, Fuller Park and Buhr Park Pool and Ice Arena. Those plantings were also funded by the Feldman Trust, which also paid for work to design all of these plantings. That work was done by InSite Design Studio, an Ann Arbor landscape architecture firm. [.pdf of InSite designs for park plantings]
Amy Kuras, the city’s park planner, gave a presentation to PAC about the proposed work, including before and after photos of plantings that volunteers have already done. She noted that the Ann Arbor Rotary paid for plantings at three of the sites.
Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith said it’s important to note that there are people in the community who support the parks system – this landscaping project is an example of that. He also cited the previous donation made for improvements at South University Park. [Leslie and Michael Morris made that donation in 2011. See Chronicle coverage: "Couple Gives $50,000 for Ann Arbor Park."]
Smith told commissioners that these efforts make a big difference in the appearance of the parks, which over the years have been affected by budget cuts. He pointed out that several years ago, the city employed a horticulturalist – but that position had been cut. So to have a funding source like the Feldman Trust is really outstanding, he said, and will make the parks look better and more colorful.
Landscaping Contract: Commission Discussion
Missy Stults asked whether the plantings would be robust enough for this climate, and whether they would be native plantings. Kuras replied that InSite was known for its work with native species. The firm had designed the rain garden at city hall, for example. But because of soil and aesthetic considerations, the plantings will be a mix of native plants and cultivars, she said.
Ingrid Ault observed the variation in bid amounts made by Terra Firma and Crimboli Nursery. Kuras said it wasn’t clear why there was such a difference in price. She noted that when the Terra Firma representative saw the other bid, he wondered if his own bid had been too low. Sometimes firms will bid low if they want to get work for the first time with the city, Kuras said. But that’s not the case in this situation, so she didn’t know why.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend awarding the landscaping contract to Terra Firma. The contract requires city council approval.
Esch Park Upgrades
Commissioners were asked to recommend approval of a $39,219 contract with D&J Contracting for improvements to the 4.5-acre Esch Park, located off Fenwick between Packard and Eisenhower Parkway on the city’s south side. The contract would include a 10% construction contingency of $3,922, bringing the total project to $43,141.
The city received 12 bids on the project, which entails repairing an asphalt walk and game court, adding pathways to the playground that will make the area compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and installing picnic tables, benches and shade trees. The bids ranged from a high of $106,904 by DRV Contractors to the lowest bid, which came from D&J Contracting.
The project would be paid for out of the fiscal 2013 park maintenance and capital improvements millage.
Park planner Amy Kuras gave a presentation on the work. She characterized it as a fairly simple project, but noted that neighbors were excited about it. [.pdf showing location and features of Esch Park]
Esch Park Upgrades: Commission Discussion
Alan Jackson said it seemed like a nice project, but he wondered what kind of public process had been involved. Kuras explained that it was a three-step process, including an initial public meeting, a questionnaire sent to residents, and a follow-up communication to residents with proposed drawings that showed the work to be done. She noted that the project had been initially spurred in response to complaints from residents about the park’s condition.
Bob Galardi pointed out the wide variance in the bids, and wondered why that had occurred. Kuras said she’d also been baffled by that, given that it’s a straightforward project. She didn’t know why the bids had come in at such different levels.
Responding to a question about her experience working with D&J, Kuras reported that she had worked with D&J on other city projects, including renovation of a bridge at Bandemer Park and work on pathways at Buhr Park.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend awarding the Esch Park improvements contract to D&J Contracting. The contract requires city council approval.
Golf Cart Leases
On the agenda was a resolution to award a two-year contract for leasing golf carts at Huron Hills and Leslie Park golf courses. The contract with Pifer Inc. – for up to $40,260 – covers the leasing of 65 golf carts for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, with an option to renew for 2015.
Part of the deal includes selling 24 city-owned golf carts to the company. That sale is a trade-in of nine-year-old carts that are no longer suitable to rent, and will be used to offset the new lease.
The city received four bids for this contract, from Club Car-Midwest Golf & Turf; Ellis Sales Inc.; Michigan Tournament Fleet; and Pifer. Club Car submitted the highest bid at $124,113 with a trade-in offer of $28,800 for a net cost of $95,313 over two years.
Pfier was the lowest responsible bidder. The lease cost of $75,600 will be offset by the trade-in valued at $35,400, for a net bid of $40,260 – or $20,130 per year.
According to a staff memo, golf cart rental at Huron Hills and Leslie Park generated about $250,000 in revenue for the city during fiscal year 2012.
Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, explained that in 2009, the city council authorized buying a fleet of golf carts that the city had been leasing. Since then, those carts have been supplemented with additional carts leased during the season, but at an amount that didn’t trigger the need for council approval. Now, the carts are too old to continue using, he said, so they’re being sold to Pifer to “retire to Florida for less intensive use.” That trade-in aspect makes this particular contract more complicated than it would normally be, he said.
He noted that the current FY 2013 budget includes a $45,000 line item for golf carts. So the good news is that there will be substantial savings, he said, because the lease is for $20,130 per year.
Golf Cart Leases: Commission Discussion
Tim Doyle asked how much a new golf cart would cost. Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf, replied that the cost would be about $6,000.
Karen Levin asked why the city was leasing, rather than buying. Colin Smith explained that the current carts are gas-powered. Eventually, the city would like to explore moving to electric carts, but the infrastructure for that – such as charging stations – isn’t in place yet. The city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) includes the infrastructure for electric vehicles in the future, Smith said, so the staff is recommending a short-term lease until the transition from gas to electric can be made.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend awarding the golf cart leasing contract to Pifer. The contract requires city council approval.
Custodial Contract at Cobblestone
Commissioners were asked to review a three-year contract with Magic Finish to provide custodial and event services at Cobblestone Farm. The contract would not exceed $44,250 annually, from fiscal year 2013 through fiscal year 2016. It would include an option to renew administratively for an additional two years at an amount not to exceed $47,200.
Four firms bid on the contract, according to a staff memo, but two of those bidders – Kristel Cleaning and Pristine Cleaning – were disqualified. Magic Finish submitted a lower bid than H & K Janitorial Services, which had bid $47,695 for the first year and $51,280 in each of the subsequent two years.
The city-owned Cobblestone Farm, located at 2781 Packard, is used as office space for the parks and recreation customer service staff and GIVE 365 volunteer program. Event space is rented to hold public meetings and special events, including weddings.
Parks staff noted that revenue generated by the facility is growing, and reached $342,000 in 2012. Although cleaning and set-up services have been used in previous years, the amount now required has grown to the point that the contract triggered the need for city council approval.
Jeff Straw, the city’s deputy parks and rec manager, reported that Cobblestone Farm hosts about 160 events each year. This year, the facility is booked every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from April through mid-November.
Custodial Contract at Cobblestone: Commission Discussion
Tim Doyle asked whether the city provides staffing for events held at Cobblestone Farm, or if the renter brings in outside staff for services like catering. Straw replied that the city provides a staff person to oversee the building during the event, but the renter is responsible for everything else, like catering, DJ, and other amenities.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend awarding the custodial contract to Magic Finish. The contract requires city council approval.
Parking for Argo Canoe Livery
A $3,000 lease to accommodate overflow parking for the Argo canoe livery was on PAC’s Feb. 26 agenda for review. The lease of a parking lot at 416 Longshore Drive – with about 40 spaces – will cover Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from May 25 to Sept. 2, 2013, with an option to renew administratively for two successive one-year periods.
City parks staff reported that the overflow parking at this lot had been used during the 2012 season, and they recommended continuing the lease. According to city records, the land is owned by the Stewardship Network.
Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, noted that even though the amount is low, the city’s charter requires that any land contract must be approved by the city council.
Parking for Argo Canoe Livery: Commission Discussion
Ingrid Ault asked how the use of this lot is monitored. Smith said that the lot owners have asked the city to put signs up to indicate when the lot is available for the public. The owners would call the city if there are any problems, he said, but so far there hadn’t been any issues.
Bob Galardi wondered if there was sufficient parking, even with this overflow lot. Jeff Straw, deputy parks and recreation manager, reported that the extra lot helps, but parking is still a challenge as the use of the canoe livery grows. He clarified for Galardi that people come to that area both to rent from the canoe livery as well as to use the public boat launch for their own canoes or kayaks.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the parking lot rental. The contract requires city council approval.
Colin Smith, manager of Ann Arbor parks and recreation, gave commissioners an update on plans to deal with aquatic plants at Geddes Pond.
Last year, city staff hired a company to harvest excess vegetation in July near the Gallup Park canoe livery. The main problem is with Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive plant that makes it difficult for people to use paddleboats or canoe on that part of the pond. In addition to the difficulty of using that area and the aesthetics, the vegetation increases the rate of sedimentation, reduces water clarity, and is perceived as unsafe.
This year, the city staff are proposing to harvest the vegetation three times, and are preparing a request for proposals (RFP) to hire a company to do the work. The parks staff is working with the city’s staff in natural areas preservation and water quality, as well as with the city’s environmental coordinator, Smith said. He referred commissioners to a staff memo with more information. [.pdf of staff memo]
Alan Jackson reported that he’d talked with Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Natural Resources Center in Ann Arbor. Buchsbaum had expressed skepticism about this approach, Jackson said, and had hoped that the city would pursue other alternatives.
Smith responded, saying that the city staff who’ve looked at this have a wide range of expertise and had explored a variety of options. They had also consulted with Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council. Approaches like dredging would require getting state permits and would be quite costly, he said, although that might be something to consider in the future. Smith also noted that the harvesting approach is used by other park systems, including the Huron-Clinton Metroparks.
Manager’s Report: Budget, Conference
Smith also reported that the budget process for fiscal year 2014 is underway, and for the first time in years, no budget reductions are proposed, he said. The outlook for fiscal 2015 is less clear, he added, but still encouraging. [The city's fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.]
Smith will meet with PAC’s finance committee – Tim Doyle and Bob Galardi – then bring the budget for parks and recreation to PAC’s April meeting for review and a recommendation to the city council. The council will vote on the entire city budget in May.
Smith also reported that he’d be attending the Michigan Recreation & Parks Association conference in Lansing later in the week, along with some of the other city parks staff. Gayle Hurn, the city’s outreach coordinator for the Give 365 program, will be making a presentation at the conference about outreach efforts, he said.
Present: Ingrid Ault, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Bob Galardi, Alan Jackson, Graydon Krapohl, Karen Levin, Missy Stults and councilmembers Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.
Absent: Julie Grand.
Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, March 19, 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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