County Awards Trail-Building Grants

Ann Arbor's 721 N. Main gets $150K – half of its request; also, action taken on proposed Ypsilanti recreation center, Scio Township trail project

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meeting (March 12, 2013): Several actions at WCPARC’s most recent meeting related to grants and partnerships – including the allocation of $600,000 in Connecting Communities funding.

721 N. Main, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, Ann Arbor, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A view of the 721 N. Main site in Ann Arbor, looking south from Summit Street. The Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission awarded the city a $150,000 grant to develop trails in the property, but only if the city gets matching funds from the state. (Photos by the writer.)

Four communities received grants from WCPARC under that trail-building program: the village of Dexter ($225,000); Ypsilanti Township ($75,000); Pittsfield Township ($150,000); and the city of Ann Arbor ($150,000). Funding for Ann Arbor – only half of the $300,000 that the city had applied for – is to fund a trail at 721 N. Main, a city-owned site that’s being redeveloped. The award is contingent on the city receiving a matching grant from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund (MDNRTF).

WCPARC is also applying for an MDNRTF grant, hoping to get $300,000 to help develop a master plan for the Staebler Farm County Park. The 98-acre property, which straddles Plymouth Road in Superior Township, had been a family farm for nearly a century. The commission held a public hearing on this issue, and heard from four nearby property owners who raised concerns about trespassing. The proposal calls for WCPARC to contribute $450,000 in county funds to the project.

Moving forward on another major project, commissioners approved three actions related to the proposed recreation center on Ypsilanti’s Water Street redevelopment site, located along Michigan Avenue. WCPARC agreed to share equally with the Ann Arbor YMCA in a $28,000 market study to help determine whether there’s enough community interest to support the proposed center. Commissioners also authorized staff to move forward with the acquisition, for $31,500, of an easement from the Huron Fischer Honda Leasing Co. for a section of the Border-to-Border (B2B) trail that would connect Riverside Park to the Water Street site. The third action was a resolution acknowledging a partnership between WCPARC and the city of Ypsilanti to design, build and operate the rec center.

And WCPARC also authorized staff to apply for $1.4 million from the federal Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) to extend the B2B River Terrace Trail from Dexter-Huron Metropark east 1.1 miles to Zeeb Road. TAP is administered through SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments). The application would be in partnership with Scio Township and the Washtenaw County Road Commission.

Connecting Communities Grants

Deputy director Coy Vaughn presented a report about WCPARC’s Connecting Communities project, beginning with a review of information he had provided to WCPARC in February. The program is a commitment by WCPARC to provide $600,000 a year for five years – a total of $3 million – to help governmental entities in Washtenaw County build trails for non-motorized transportation. This is the program’s the fourth year, Vaughn said – 2014 will be the last.

This year, he said, six communities applied for funding for eight projects. WCPARC staff met with its greenways advisory committee to score each project. The projects with the highest ranking – labeled “rating” on a score sheet provided in the WCPARC meeting packet – received funding. [.pdf of Connecting Communities staff recommendations] Not recommended were a $230,000 application from Northfield Township and a $300,000 application from Superior Township.

The village of Dexter had the highest score for its proposal to continue the River Terrace trail from the bridge going west into the village – a 1,300-foot connection. Although the request was for $300,000, Vaughn said staff felt it could be built for $275,000, so that was the recommended award.

Second-highest rated proposal was from Ypsilanti Township to build three segments of trail along Whittaker, Tuttle Hill, and Textile Road. The township had applied for $295,000. However, staff recommended awarding $75,000 to build only a 1,000 foot section along Textile Road, since the township has not yet completed the project awarded by Connecting Communities in 2012. Staff suggested that the township defer the two other segments until the 2014 round of applications.

Pittsfield Township scored third highest for the second phase of the Lohr-Textile Greenway (LTG). This phase would be 1.76 miles extending east along the north side of Textile Road, past State Street, to the Marshview Meadow Park and Pittsfield Preserve. This is an expensive project because it contains extensive wetlands, according to the staff report. The township is applying for grants from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund (MDNRTF) and the Federal Transportation Alternatives Program to help fund the $1.8 million project. The township had applied for $400,000 from Connecting Communities. Staff recommended awarding $150,000, contingent on success obtaining the other grants. Failing that, the award would not be granted and the money would become available for other projects.

721 N. Main recommendations

A map showing recommendations for the city-owned property at 721 N. Main St.

Ann Arbor’s proposal for a $300,000 grant – for an as-yet-incomplete plan to build a trail at 721 North Main on city-owned property formerly used for vehicle storage and servicing – only scored fifth highest. Even so, WCPARC staff recommended awarding the city $150,000, contingent on the city obtaining a $300,000 grant from MDNRTF. As with the Pittsfield Township grant, if no state funding is received, the Connecting Community grant would not be awarded.

Vaughn provided additional background on Ann Arbor’s applications. In 2011 and 2012, the city submitted applications to Connecting Communities to construct the initial segment of the Allen Creek Greenway, on the city owned property at 415 W. Washington. The site’s limited connectivity to other trails or public spaces caused these proposals to score low.

Vaughn said WCPARC had suggested that Ann Arbor start closer to the county’s Border-to-Border trail, and he indicated that the city has done so with this current request. However, Vaughn said, the city hasn’t yet figured out exactly how those B2B connections will be made, and are still researching options.

By way of background, a task force established by the Ann Arbor city council on May 7, 2012 has been working to develop recommendations for a much broader area than 721 N. Main, including the North Main corridor and extending to the Huron River. The task force is supposed to provide recommendations for the area by July 31, 2013. Meanwhile, on Feb. 19, 2013 the council approved a $30,000 study of the main building on the site. The council also has voted to use a FEMA grant to demolish two buildings on the site that are in the floodway.

Connecting Communities: WCPARC Discussion

WCPARC vice president Patricia Scribner recused herself from the discussion and vote, citing her position as treasurer of Pittsfield Township.

Commissioner Jan Anschuetz asked about Northfield Township’s application. “They came in fourth,” she said. “What do we say to them?”

Commissioner Dan Smith responded, saying that the township still needs to finish the project’s first phase, which he described as involving “complicated engineering” over a railway crossing, a creek, and a freeway interchange. Smith – who represents District 2 on the county board of commissioners, which includes Northfield Township – then continued by thanking staff for their “great work in sorting through all of this.”

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the staff recommendations for Connecting Communities grants totaling $600,000.

Staebler Farm County Park

WCPARC president Robert Marans invited Coy Vaughn to present background information about a proposal to apply for $300,000 from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund. The grant would fund a master plan for the 98-acre Staebler Farm, which WCPARC has owned since 2001. [.pdf of staff memo and WCPARC resolution]

Plymouth Road bisects the site, which is immediately south of M-14. Vaughn explained that because crossing Plymouth is treacherous, the plan is to put parking, trails, and other public activity on the north side of the road. To the south, where Don Staebler still resides under his agreement with WCPARC, a farmer raises hay on several acres. South of the hay fields the land drops off and becomes marshy, and Vaughn said those areas would be left natural. There are several water features on the site: Fleming Creek runs through it, he said, and it has frontage on Frains and Murray lakes. Vaughn said the intent of Phase I in developing the park is to continue farming on the south side of Plymouth. Vaughn referred briefly to a presentation made to WCPARC in June 2012. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Parks: Options for Staebler Farm"]

Vaughn continued to describe the activities that would be possible at Staebler Farm. In general, it would be a “farm learning center,” he said, perhaps including a program to help Michigan State University train farm managers, which would also provide a caretaker for the park. Other features could include a community garden; a trail and bridge across the creek, leading to fishing in the two ponds from borrow pits created when M-14 was constructed; pavilions; and rest rooms.

Vaughn expressed optimism about the grant application: “We think it will score high with the trust fund because of the pedestrian trail, fishing pier, and improvements we will make to Fleming Creek, which is highly eroded by the presence of about 20 cattle walking in it.” He said the creek was damaged by the cattle “doing what cattle do in creeks.” The applications are due April 1, and use of the grant money would be possible in 2015. The maximum grant this round will be $300,000. Because the master plan will cost about $750,000, applying for the grant commits WCPARC to providing the remaining$450,000.

Staebler Farm County Park: WCPARC Discussion

In response to a question about trails, Vaughn said they would be limited, and would keep visitors on the north side of Plymouth Road. Commissioner Evan Pratt, who serves on WCPARC by virtue of his elected position as county water resources commissioner, asked whether WCPARC would use a consultant they already know. WCPARC director Bob Tetens responded that they would put the project out to bid to about a half dozen of the “same cast of characters” who typically bid on such projects.

Commissioner Dan Smith commented that WCPARC staff had done some planning themselves. Tetens said that yes, they did the WCPARC master plan in house, and used MSU staff to help with the outline of the farm plan.

Staebler Farm, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A slide showing Phase 1 of a plan to develop the Staebler Farm.

Commission member Janis Bobrin clarified her understanding of the cost as $750,000, and asked for more information about when grant money would be available. Vaughn explained that preliminary scoring will be done in August and final scoring in December; money would not be in the WCPARC budget to spend until 2015.

Dan Smith had another question: “Have you found anything at all like this around the state?” Vaughn said yes, they had, at Wolcott Mill, but they had not yet visited it. [Wolcott Mill is one of the Huron Clinton Metroparks in Macomb County. It is east of Romeo Plank Road, and extends from 26 Mile Road to 29 Mile Road.] Commissioner Nelson Meade commented that his parents used to use Wolcott Mill.

In response to a follow-up question from Dan Smith, Vaughn noted that the only other similar site is at Kensington Metropark, but it is not an operating farm.

Commission member Rolland Sizemore Jr., who also represents District 5 on the county board of commissioners, moved to go into the public hearing on this project, and WCPARC voted unanimously to do so.

Staebler Farm County Park: Public Hearing

The public hearing was somewhat informal, with commissioners and staff responding to speakers throughout the hearing.

Three members of the Fishbeck family – William, Betty Jo, and Anne – spoke first. [As background, according to Superior Township records, the Fishbecks own 14 properties in the vicinity of Plymouth-Ann Arbor Road and the Staebler Farm. Salem Township records show two properties owned by Betty Jo Fishbeck. A report from the Ecology Center in June 2006 noted that purchase of development rights from the Fishbecks was a “cornerstone” in creating the northeast section of the Ann Arbor greenbelt.]

Anne Fishbeck asked: “What are your plans to protect the neighbors from the public wandering in? I live right next door.” She wondered how WCPARC planned to “keep people from getting confused” between her private land to the east of Staebler Farm, and the public land that WCPARC owned.

Vaughn replied that WCPARC would probably fence in the entire property. Anne Fishbeck said she would like that. She then asked about Murray Lake. Vaughn indicated that the plan is to keep it natural, with no public access. “It’s very wet around the lake,” he said. “At the most we might build a trail in the future, but no swimming, boating, or fishing.”

Kevin Conway said he lived off Prospect Road near Murray Lake, and that he was interested in the farm’s development after Phase 1. He asked if he was correct that there is no plan right now beyond that first phase? Several commissioners indicated that he was correct. Conway then remarked that the public would like to go on Frains and Murray lakes, but those lakes are private. What, he wondered, will ensure security when the park is closed? Does the county see an issue with people crossing the Staebler Farm parkland and going onto the lakes?

Vaughn replied that there would be a caretaker on the farm, and that there will be no convenient place for people to park on the south side of Plymouth. Tetens told Conway that “we try to manage access. We don’t provide access to every bit of what we own, and we don’t intend to build public access on the south side.”

Commissioner Jan Anschuetz added: “You will have time to provide input when we get to the next phases. We have a major problem with Plymouth Road – we don’t want families getting mowed down there.” She indicated that WCPARC is very interested in using this park to teach children about farms all year long. There might be beekeeping classes, barn or country dances, or 4-H meetings. “I hope we can use our parks 100% of the time,” Anschuetz said. “We’ve done a careful job restoring the barns with taxpayers’ money, and we want to continue to use that money carefully. People are getting interested in raising their own vegetables and chickens.”

Bob Marans, president of WCPARC, then asked Vaughn what his best guess on timing was – when would the actual work be done? Vaughn indicated that the work would happen in 2015.

Marans asked what would happen beyond that? Vaughn said: “I would guess the trails and other improvements are five to eight years out. We will slowly implement the type of farming we want over time and build that up, but that is not a new use.”

Marans pointed out that this project is a work in progress that will evolve over time, with additional opportunities for public input. Tetens built on the idea, saying that WCPARC staff had met with representatives from MSU as well as from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, who are interested in the possibility of having veterans work on the farm.

Sizemore added that WCPARC tries to go out of its way not to create problems for the public, and WCPARC staff are available to address any problems. With respect to the southern portion of the site, Dan Smith indicated that Plymouth Road will act as a block to pedestrian access. “We do not want people to cross it, and that will prevent us from putting anything for the public on the southern half,” he said, adding that WCPARC will probably put in fencing all along Plymouth Road.

Conway asked whether most of the recreation will be on the north side? Yes, commissioners replied, at least for the foreseeable future. Tetens amplified the idea: “The south side might have naturalist classes and interpretive signs, and guided tours for school kids.”

Bob Tetens, Pat Scribner, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Dan Smith, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: WCPARC director Bob Tetens, and commissioners Pat Scribner, Rolland Sizemore Jr., and Dan Smith.

Conan Smith turned to the Fishbecks and asked: “How do you feel in general?”

Both Anne and Betty Jo Fishbeck repeated the issue regarding trespassers, which was their major concern. “It is super naïve to think people will not cross Plymouth or try to go to Frains Lake, which is all private,” Anne Fishbeck said. “Right now, people drive into our drive. We see them, and there are not enough sheriffs to take care of it.”

Anschuetz, looking surprised, said, “We have not heard about this before.” Betty Jo Fishbeck replied: “People think they can come on the property and go cross country skiing. The sheriff was chasing a guy who went right through Don [Staebler]’s property and ours, trying to trespass back to the lake. That field and Plymouth Road will not be any deterrent.”

When Anschuetz asked whether a fence would help, Anne Fishbeck replied that “it would have to be a big fence.”

Anschuetz observed that no matter who owns it, “there is a problem with an attractive piece of property.” She asked what WCPARC could do. Anne Fishbeck suggested having someone live on the property, and having daily sheriff deputy patrols come by.

Sizemore recommended that “we wait and see what really happens. I can tell you that this board will do all it can to keep people from trespassing.”

Conan Smith suggested that residents could meet with Coy Vaughn to discuss options for protecting their property. “We have preserves all over – some have public access, but some don’t, and we have to grapple with these issues,” Smith said. “Coy can talk to you about management plans. These are private lakes. We can establish guidelines and agree on what we want to have the rules be, and work to make sure they are effectively enforced.”

Dan Smith expressed his appreciation “that you came here to tell us your concerns. With Plymouth Road and Prospect Road, there is more public knowledge and access. Thank you for coming out at this early phase.”

Marans also thanked the four residents who had spoken, and declared the public hearing at an end. There was no further discussion.

Outcome: Commissioners gave unanimous approval for staff to proceed with a grant application to the state Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund for $300,000 to develop a master plan for Staebler Farm.

Eastside Recreation Center

Several items on WCPARC’s March 12 agenda related to a new recreation center proposed for just east of downtown Ypsilanti, at the northwest corner of the 38-acre Water Street development site. [For additional background on this project, see Chronicle coverage: "Public Gives Input on East County Rec Center"]

Eastside Recreation Center: Market Study

On the agenda was a resolution approving a market study about the new recreation center, in partnership with the Ann Arbor YMCA. The cost would be split, with each entity paying $14,000.

This item of new business, WCPARC director Bob Tetens explained, is the next step as the county looks to partner with Ypsilanti and the Ann Arbor Y to develop the recreation center. “The more partners, the better,” he said. “The Y is very interested but they have to do due diligence.” Part of that is a market study, he continued. The proposal before WCPARC was to authorize staff to proceed with the market study and to pay $14,000, or half the total cost of the survey, with the Ann Arbor YMCA paying the other half.

Commissioner Janis Bobrin said she would play devil’s advocate: “We are doing this to see if the market can indeed support a rec center? What if we find we don’t have the market we thought we did?”

Tetens had several responses. First, he said it would not be a surprise if the study found there wasn’t a current market for the center. The Y has scholarship programs for people who could otherwise not afford membership, he continued, and “we can program to attract people.”

Janis Bobrin, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Janis Bobrin, a member of the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission.

Tetens also spoke of “informal surveys” that WCPARC has done, but noted that WCPARC has a “vested interest” in the project. [As background, Tetens has frequently stated that WCPARC surveys over the years have shown strong interest in having WCPARC facilities in the east part of the county.] Also, he noted that CBRE – the real estate broker charged with selling sites in the Water Street redevelopment area – has studied the site, and even without a recreation center, the WCPARC’s Border-to-Border trail will run through the property.

Bobrin had another question: “Can we take it on faith this will be cost effective and well done, and trust the Y?” Yes, Tetens replied.

The WCPARC meeting packet included the proposal for a market study by FourSquare Research Inc. of Atlanta, Georgia. [.pdf of market study proposal] The proposal states that the company has conducted nearly 700 studies for YMCAs and nonprofits nationwide, and has worked with many YMCAs in Michigan.

The scope of work described in the proposal includes:

  • community needs and demands, which covers how many households will join and how much revenue will be generated;
  • programming and member services to determine which features are most desired;
  • marketplace and pricing;
  • partnerships;
  • social impact, i.e. how a new facility could make the community better and improve the quality of life of residents.

The proposal describes a nine-step process, using qualitative and quantitative research, including focus groups, developing a survey instrument and conducting a telephone survey, tabulating results, and delivering results to answer questions about the forecasted number of households that would join. Other information to be provided in the final report includes anticipated annual revenue, specific recommendations for facility development, and specific suggestions for marketing, programming, and pricing strategies.

The proposal states such studies take between two and three months, and that this one will cost $28,000. According to the proposal, if the project starts in mid-March, it will be completed in late May.

Bobrin took note that the proposal identified the YMCA as having “full ownership of the study findings and final report.” She asked that it be modified by adding WCPARC as an equal owner. Tetens agreed that could be changed. There was no further discussion.

Outcome: Commissioners gave unanimous approval of the proposal to proceed with the market study in partnership with the Ann Arbor YMCA, and to split the cost with each entity paying $14,000.

Eastside Recreation Center: Easement for B2B Trail

This item has often been before the commission: The question of how to get the countywide Border-to-Border (B2B) trail from Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park to the site of the proposed rec center. To do this requires crossing the Huron River, navigating the grade up from the river to street level, and crossing Michigan Avenue.

The city of Ypsilanti and WCPARC have worked on this problem for the last year, first hoping to build a new pedestrian bridge underneath the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Huron River to the Water Street site and further south, eventually, to Waterworks Park. Ypsilanti obtained a Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund (MDNRTF) grant in partnership with WCPARC to do that, but later the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) determined that the bridge was not feasible, because it would cause “a serious scour problem,” according to a written report from Tetens.

Therefore, an alternative location for a pedestrian bridge was identified: perpendicular and to the north of the Michigan Avenue bridge. According to Tetens, this would bring people using the B2B trail across the river and allow them to cross Michigan Avenue, via a crosswalk, to get to the Water Street site. The plan requires purchasing an easement from the Huron Fischer Honda Leasing Company. It also requires obtaining an MDOT permit to install a high intensity activated crosswalk (HAWK) traffic signal to facilitate safe crossing of busy Michigan Avenue.

The city of Ypsilanti is unable to afford the easement cost, so the proposal before WCPARC was to authorize the county parks & rec staff to move forward with purchasing the easement for $31,500.

Bob Marans asked for clarification of the location of the easement, which has a triangular shape, and Coy Vaughn provided a slide to show that. Tetens explained that while the first MDNRTF grant will pay for this bridge over the Huron River, another MDNRTF grant would be required to extend the B2B trail along the east side of the Huron River south of Michigan Avenue all the way to Grove Road. He noted that “documentation of site control is a requirement of state funding – the project cannot move forward unless the easement is purchased by WCPARC.”

Tetens said he eventually wants to connect all the way to Ford Lake.

Commissioner Jan Anschuetz spoke of the original wonder of Waterworks Park decades ago. It was, she said, “incredible, with a dam like a waterfall with a fish ladder, and a real zoo during the Depression. People would come and camp out there.” Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. recalled that there used to be a glass factory in the vicinity, and “we used to play down there – there were hundreds of bottles.”

Sizemore also expressed a concern: “Are we going to be able to build a walkway across Michigan Avenue? We don’t want to pay for an easement we can’t use.” Tetens responded that the agreement is written so that WCPARC has until August, “and if we can’t cross Michigan Avenue, or if the bridge is too expensive, then we aren’t committed to buy the easement.”

There are already indications, he said, that a crossing is warranted there. “I am optimistic that we can get a pedestrian activated crossing there.” Anschuetz asked if she understood correctly – that WCPARC must have an agreement on the easement in order for MDNR to disperse the grant money. Tetens indicated that was correct.

There was no further discussion.

The document provided in the WCPARC meeting packet indicates that Burgoyne Appraisal put the value of the easement at $28,000, and the appraisal cost was $3,500.

Outcome: Unanimous approval of the proposal to authorize staff to move forward with the purchase of an easement, for $31,500, required to proceed with this project to extend the B2B trail across the Huron River and across Michigan Avenue.

Eastside Recreation Center: Partnership with Ypsilanti

The third item related to the eastside rec center was a resolution acknowledging a partnership between the city of Ypsilanti and WCPARC to design, build, and operate a community recreation center in Ypsilanti’s central business district – the Water Street redevelopment area. [.pdf of partnership resolution]

The proposal in the WCPARC meeting packet made reference to the Jan. 10, 2012 letter of intent between WCPARC and Ypsilanti, as well as the WCPARC contract for design services from the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Noting the limited resources available to Ypsilanti, the resolution called for Ypsilanti to “provide sufficient land” at the Water Street redevelopment site to allow WCPARC to proceed to the design phase. That phase would include defining the site plan and determining the exact footprint of the project and the amount of land necessary.

The resolution’s three resolved clauses state:

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that by way of this resolution the undersigned parties publicly demonstrate their support for this project and their commitment to provide the necessary resources and/or skills, to work together cooperatively and in good faith, in the best interests of the community, towards the completion of this ambitious effort, and;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of Ypsilanti agrees to provide sufficient land at the preferred site as previously agreed to in the Letter of Intent approved on January 10, 2012 to allow the Commission to confidently proceed to the design phase; that the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission agrees to proceed with the design phase for the building and further define the site plan, including determining the exact footprint of the project and the amount of land necessary, and;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the parties agree that this intergovernmental, public/private partnership demonstrates a commendable and challenging level of collaboration that should serve as a model for future efforts to improve the quality of life for residents in communities throughout Washtenaw County.

The meeting packet also included a copy of the same resolution passed unanimously by the Ypsilanti city council on Feb. 19, 2013.

At WCPARC’s March 12 meeting, Tetens explained that the amount of land would be between 8-12 acres, and that the Ann Arbor YMCA was not part of this agreement because “the Y was more comfortable with it being a two-part agreement.”

There was no further discussion.

Outcome: The partnership agreement was approved eight to one. Dan Smith voted against it, but did not state his reason for voting no.

Transportation Alternative Program Application

Coy Vaughn presented a proposal that authorized WCPARC staff to proceed with an application for $1.4 million from the federal Transportation Alternative Program. The application would be made in partnership with Scio Township and the Washtenaw County Road Commission, with WCPARC providing a $300,000 local match. [.pdf of staff report]

He explained that the program – known as TAP – is a federal transportation funding program to support non-motorized transportation. It’s administered by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG).

Vaughn explained the root of this proposal. In 2012, Scio Township received a $250,000 Connecting Communities grant from WCPARC to build the first phase of a trail from the township offices – located on Zeeb Road just north of I-94 – heading north on Zeeb Road to Dexter-Ann Arbor Road. The project is stuck due to problems acquiring the easements needed to build the trail.

Rather than risk losing the Connecting Communities grant – which will happen if Scio Township cannot obtain the easements and enter a construction contract by March 2014 – staff discussed shifting funds to help construct a portion of the Border-to-Border trail. The project would extend the recently completed River Terrace Trail from Dexter-Huron Metropark east 1.1 miles to Zeeb Road, at a cost of $1.4 million. It would be completely on Huron Clinton Metropark Authority property and in the Huron River Drive right-of-way.

According to Vaughn’s report, the project is reflected in the current capital improvement plan at $1.5 million, for construction in 2014. Vaughn added that SEMCOG would allocate $5 million in TAP funds to communities in 2013, the same amount as in 2012.

Transportation Alternative Program Application: WCPARC Discussion

Bob Marans asked about WCPARC’s relationship with SEMCOG, saying “their money is hard to get.” Bob Tetens allowed that there wasn’t a close relationship. However, he added, “we have a lot to show them if they come to visit the project site – all that we have built around Dexter.” Also, he stressed the partnership aspect of this proposal, with the county road commission and the township.

Commission member Evan Pratt underlined that this part of the B2B gets heavy use, and Tetens agreed.

There was no further discussion.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the proposal to submit a grant application to SEMCOG for TAP money in the amount of $1.4 million. The resolution also reallocated $250,000 previously granted by WCPARC to Scio Township, and added another $50,000 of WCPARC funds to make a local match of $300,000.

Rolling Hills Landscaping

Meghan Bonfiglio, superintendent of park planning, presented recommendations for the Rolling Hills ring road and water park landscaping plan. Her report explained that the ring road project was completed in the summer of 2012 but that final landscaping was not part of that project. The water park improvement project is underway and will also require landscaping.

With two landscaping projects, staff decided to achieve economies of scale by removing the landscaping portion ($85,000) from the contract with Sorensen Gross Construction Services, and handling the landscape planning in house. Staff created the plans, and put them out for bid.

Bob Tetens commented that staff who did this work were “younger, computer literate people.” Three bids were received, the lowest from Washtenaw County’s Margolis Companies, with whom planning staff have had positive experience. Bonfiglio showed slides of the plans, and photos of the plants. The plants are 95% native and chosen to provide four-season interest: Echinacea, goldenrod, and grasses, for example. Bonfiglio recommended awarding the contract to Margolis for an amount not to exceed $200,000, with a contingency of $10,000.

After the meeting, Bonfiglio provided additional information about the other bids:

  • Margolis Companies: $199,935
  • Underwood Nursery: $255,488
  • Erie Construction: $364,400

Rolling Hills Landscaping: WCPARC Discussion

Dan Smith said it’s “fantastic” that WCPARC staff have the expertise to handle this project.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. asked about a “pretty nasty” residence that was located to the right of gate into Rolling Hills. He asked whether anything could be done about it.

Bonfiglio pointed to screening that would hide the house and its junk cars, so that vehicles using the entry road wouldn’t see it. Tetens added that Ypsilanti Township should do enforcement.

Outcome: Unanimous approval of the recommendation to award the landscaping contract to Margolis Companies.

New Signs for Rolling Hills and Independence Lake

Bonfiglio also presented a recommendation to award a contract to Harmon Sign, for fabrication and installation of new signs at Rolling Hills and Independence Lake parks. The amount would not exceed $24,500.

The signs are specifically for the improved Blue Heron Bay Spray Zone at Independence Lake Park and the water park at Rolling Hills. The signs cover facility rules, wayfinding, and other information that is either useful in the opinion of staff, or required by state law or the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The goal, she said, is to replace all the signs to achieve “a more uniform branding” as well as assure compliance with current requirements.

As with the landscaping, staff did the design and released a request for proposals (RFP). The recommended vendor, Harmon Sign, has offices in Novi and production facilities in Toledo. They have done work for large projects, including the University of Michigan stadium and the Detroit Riverwalk.

After the meeting, Bonfiglio provided additional information about the bids:

  • Harmon Sign: $24,319
  • Valley City Sign: $26,958
  • Signs by Crannie: $30,238

New Signs for Rolling Hills and Independence Lake: WCPARC Discussion

Discussion was brief. In response to a question, Bonfiglio explained that the content and location of signs are determined after consultation with staff who work in those parks, and with attention to local, state and national laws and regulations.

Commission members expressed approval – using words like “awesome” and “amazing.”

Outcome: With no substantive discussion, the recommendation was unanimously approved.

Financial Reports

WCPARC’s reports separate “recreation” (parks, facilities, and functions) from the natural areas preservation program (NAPP), because the two components of WCPARC’s responsibilities are funded by separate millages.

Financial Reports: Claims

The February 2013 claims report for recreation – including parks, facilities and functions, but excluding natural areas preservation – showed total claims of $559,020. The bulk of that – $345,584 – was for capital improvements.

Bob Tetens provided a separate sheet showing major non-recurring expenses for recreation that included five items over five figures:

  • $251,217 to Sorenson Gross for construction at Independence Lake;
  • $76,300 to Vortex for building the splash pad at Independence Lake;
  • $75,360 to John Deere Financial, the annual cost for leasing equipment;
  • $60,000 to the city of Saline for a Connecting Communities grant;
  • $17,920 to Turfgrass Inc. for turf chemicals.

For the natural areas preservation program, claims totaled $87,112. Major non-recurring expenses on Tetens’ list were payments of $25,232 and $43,832 (totaling $69,064) to Brock and Associates for boardwalk construction at Draper Houston Meadows Preserve.

In addition $3,183 was paid to Mannik and Smith for work at Draper Houston and Baker, respectively; and $6,500 to Williams and Associates for appraisals of the Preimeau parcel ($3,000) and West Pier ($3,500).

The total claims presented to WCPARC for both recreation and NAPP was $646,132.

Outcome: with no discussion, claims were unanimously approved.

Financial Reports: Fund Balance – Recreation

Tetens introduced this report by noting that activity is at a minimum at this time of year, and that WCPARC is only in the second month of the year. The beginning fund balance on Jan. 1, 2013 was $12,950,815. The report for Feb. 28 showed year-to-date revenue of $4,747,138 (most of it property tax revenue) and expenses of $987,644 (most for personnel and land development). In addition, WCPARC keeps an operating reserve of $6.7 million and sets aside $925,000 for partnerships, such as the Connecting Communities program. At the end of February, the projected fund balance for Dec. 31, 2013 is $13,186,587.

Financial Reports: Fund Balance – NAPP

NAPP’s beginning fund balance on Jan. 1, 2013 was $10,263,644. Revenue to date at the end of February was $2,277,053, mostly from property taxes. Expenses were $223,539, mostly for land acquisition. The projected fund balance at the end of 2013 is $12,889,014. Tetens remarked that there are “no purchases on the front burner right now.”

Outcome: With no discussion, the financial reports were unanimously accepted and received for filing.

Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center

Bob Tetens pointed out that the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center is the only WCPARC recreation operation open now. Both membership and participation are up, he said, and revenue is stable. In addition, “we are 72 days away from Super Friday” – meaning the opening day. We are, he promised “about two meetings away from a much thicker report.” Commissioner Dan Smith added, “meaning a larger file to download.”

According to a WCPARC written staff report, total year-to-date memberships at the center reached 1,187 in 2013, up from 1,165 in 2012. Total year-to-date revenue of $264,991 in 2013 is also up compared to $249,565 in 2012. However, the report showed that total participation has fallen in the last year: 63,615 in 2013 compared to 67,824 during the same period in 2012.

Commissioner Pat Scribner asked whether there had been any response to the rate increases that WCPARC adopted in February. Tetens said no, but he pointed out that those increases were not yet implemented. Commissioner Nelson Meade reported that most of the seniors he knows think the rates are too low.

Conan Smith asked, “Why can’t you rent a locker overnight?” Tetens replied that it’s a problem. “People leave the locks on and their stuff in the locker and don’t come back.” Smith said he would appreciate being able to leave his clothes in a locker. There was a brief discussion of the negative consequences to having many articles of athletic clothing stored for long periods of time. Tetens ended the discussion by pointing out that there are thousands of different users and not nearly enough lockers to allow overnight use.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Activities, Accomplishments, and Awards

Using written and verbal reports and slides, Bob Tetens and Coy Vaughn together presented a wide array of information about project, activities and awards. The projects to improve the water-based recreation activities at the Rolling Hills water park and the Independence Lake spray-and-play zone received the most attention, as both are major capital improvements. Vaughn showed slides of the construction, which is on schedule at both locations, and Tetens averred that both are on schedule to open Memorial Day weekend.

Slides of activities over the last month included the Daddy-Daughter dance at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center around Valentine’s Day; ongoing work to maintain parks, such as building picnic tables and doing repairs in the off season; and the Fat Tire bike race at Rolling Hills.

The city of Ann Arbor received the 2012 Michigan Recreation and Park Association’s Park Design Award for the Argo Cascades along the Huron River. WCPARC paid the city $112,500 to help improve Argo Cascades – it’s one of the funding partnerships to which WCPARC is committed. And WCPARC received honorable mention from the Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners Innovation and Excellence Program, for the Malletts Creek and County Farm Park drain restoration.

Executive Session

At the end of the meeting, WCPARC went into executive session to discuss the performance review for director Bob Tetens. No additional action was taken.

Present: Jan Anschuetz, Janis Bobrin, Robert Marans, Nelson Meade, Evan Pratt, Patricia Scribner, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith, Dan Smith.

Absent: Fred Veigel.

Staff present: Robert Tetens, Coy Vaughn, Meghan Bonfiglio.

Next meeting: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the county parks and recreation department’s office at 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor, in the County Farm property.

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One Comment

  1. By Margaret Leary
    March 26, 2013 at 8:06 am | permalink

    My story would have been stronger with background on the involvement of the Ann Arbor YMCA in Ypsilanti, so here it is: That began about six years ago, after the Washington Street facility was complete. The Y’s Executive Director, Kathi Duchon, told me they got involved because there is no city recreation department in Ypsi, and the Y wanted to provide activities for kids. There were no physical facilities, so they turned first to the schools with their gyms and outdoor fields, for sports. Later they added dance, yoga, and cheerleading. However, there are limits, she said: small gyms they could use only right after school.

    A year ago, the Ypsilanti City Council approved letting the Y use city parks to provide recreational opportunities for local youth at no charge in 2012 and 2013. Long ago, Duchon said she raised the idea building a Y facility on the Water Street site; only now is that coming to fruition.

    So, Duchon said, the Y continued to expand the programs it provides in Ypsilanti, Most recently, the Y has begun to offer programs at senior housing downtown and in Willow Run—all within the “east county” area. There are now, she says, many models nationally in which Y’s partner with cities, counties, hospitals, and other non-profit entities which own buildings but don’t have the resources to operate them for recreational purposes.

    The Y pays for these programs with its general revenue, and recently received a $70,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Community Health to underwrite its work in Ypsilanti and Willow Run. The Y also provides scholarships for lower-income families.

    The City, WCPARC, and the Y will work together to determine whether and what arrangement might work for the Eastside Rec Center.