Greenbelt Commission Seeks New Members

Stephanie Buttrey likely to join commission, but two more vacancies will open in June; also, two land preservation deals recommended

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (May 2, 2013): This month’s GAC meeting was highlighted by remarks from a likely new member – Stephanie Buttrey, an engineer and retired Chrysler executive. She’s being nominated to serve out the remainder of Liz Rother’s term through June 30, 2014, and is expected to be confirmed by the city council on May 6.

Christopher Taylor, Stephanie Buttrey, Ginny Trocchio, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor city councilmember Christopher Taylor, Stephanie Buttrey and Ginny Trocchio, who provides staff support for the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. Taylor serves on GAC, and Buttrey is being nominated to the commission. When asked by GAC chair Dan Ezekiel, Taylor and Buttrey reported that they did not coordinate their choice of pink shirts. (Photos by the writer.)

Buttrey told commissioners that she’s a 50-year Ann Arbor resident and University of Michigan graduate who’s interested in land preservation. Dan Ezekiel – GAC’s chair – said she’ll bring common sense, business acumen and knowledge to the commission.

Ezekiel also noted that there are other vacancies that need to be filled. GAC’s June 6 meeting will be the last one for him and two other term-limited commissioners – Tom Bloomer and Laura Rubin. “So all of you people watching us breathlessly on TV, please send in your applications,” he said. [.pdf of application form for city boards and commissions]

GAC’s May 2 meeting was also attended by Barry Lonik, a land conservation consultant who is representing Ann Arbor Township in a possible greenbelt deal. He was invited into the commission’s closed session to share communications about the property.

When commissioners emerged from the closed session, they unanimously voted to recommend that the city council pursue the purchase of development rights for two properties, including one in Ann Arbor Township. Before appearing on the city council’s agenda, details of proposed greenbelt acquisitions are not made public. Parcels are identified only by their application number.

At the end of the meeting, Ezekiel marked the recent death of Charles Braun, describing him as a very influential leader in the local farm community. Braun’s property – a 286-acre farm in Ann Arbor Township – has been preserved as part of the Ann Arbor greenbelt program.

Commission Appointments

The nomination of Stephanie Buttrey had been on the city council’s April 15, 2013 agenda to replace Liz Rother, who resigned from GAC earlier this year. However, public hearings on two controversial topics – the proposed 413 E. Huron project and possible changes to the ordinance governing the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – pushed the council’s meeting to 3 a.m., so several items on the agenda were postponed until May 6. One of those items was Buttrey’s nomination. She is being nominated to serve out the remainder of Rother’s term through June 30, 2014.

Buttrey attended GAC’s May 2 meeting and spoke briefly to commissioners. She described herself as a 50-year Ann Arbor resident who attended Burns Park Elementary, Tappan Middle School and Pioneer High, where she met her husband. She also earned an engineering degree from the University of Michigan.

Buttrey worked for Chrysler, and described how at one point she would commute down Ann Arbor-Plymouth Road. The route took her past two properties that are now protected, including a farm. At the time there was an article in the Ann Arbor News about the farm having sold its development rights. [The purchase of development rights (PDR) is a common method of protecting land from being developed.]

The article quoted the farmer, who said he had received a couple of nasty letters that criticized him for not selling the property to developers. Buttrey said she wrote a letter to the farmer, thanking him for not selling the land to developers and telling him how driving past it gave her “a big sigh of relief after a long day at work. I’m able to drive home – I can see farm, I can see fields, I can see barns – … and I’m hoping there are others who enjoy seeing this open space.”

Stephanie Buttrey, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Stephanie Buttrey, who’s being nominated to replace Liz Rother on the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission.

She said the story reflects that “greenbelt thinking” has been on her mind for many years. After retiring from her 30-year career at Chrysler five years ago, Buttrey began looking for volunteer work and started volunteering at the Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan, but is now ready to do more. She noted that she had taken two of the annual greenbelt bus tours. “I was just astonished to learn the amount of effort that had gone into buying development rights and preserving different kinds of properties, and always in conjunction with other governmental organizations.”

“I thought, well, this is where my money’s going to – I think that’s great, and maybe I can help out,” she said.

Buttrey noted that although she doesn’t have any natural area expertise, she’s an engineer with an MBA and could bring her critical thinking and enthusiasm to the commission.

Dan Ezekiel asked Buttrey to talk about the property she helped preserve in the city of Ann Arbor. She told commissioners that she lives near Packard and Platt, and several years ago brought property from a neighbor and then sold it to the city. It’s now Redwood Park.

Ezekiel said he was delighted that Buttrey is joining the commission. He noted that she had been a fairly high-ranking executive at Chrysler with international responsibilities, and will bring a lot of common sense, business acumen and knowledge to the commission.

As a point of interest, Ezekiel also noted that “at one time, for a brief moment many decades ago, Stephanie, Catherine [Riseng] and I were all on the same softball team.” Riseng serves as GAC’s vice chair.

Appointments by the city council are usually handled in a two-meeting process. But given the postponement of Buttrey’s nomination at the April 15 council meeting, Christopher Taylor indicated that a vote to confirm her appointment would likely occur on May 6, at the same meeting when her nomination is officially made.

“I’ll see that we get this done in one swoop,” Taylor said. The resolution nominating Buttrey is sponsored by Taylor.

Ezekiel noted that there are other vacancies as well. GAC’s June 6 meeting will be the last one for him, Laura Rubin and Tom Bloomer. Jennifer Fike – who attended the commission’s April 4, 2013 meeting to introduce herself – is expected to replace Rubin, filling a slot designated for an environmental organization. Fike is finance director for the Huron River Watershed Council. Rubin serves as HRWC’s executive director.

The positions of Bloomer and Ezekiel are designated for a farmer and representative from the general public, respectively.

Anyone who’s interested in applying should contact their city council representative. [.pdf of application form for city boards and commissions] Meetings for the commission are scheduled monthly, typically on the first Thursday of the month.

Communications & Commentary

During the meeting there are several opportunities for communications from commissioners and staff, as well as two opportunities for public commentary. Here are the highlights.

Communications & Commentary: Manager’s Report

Ginny Trocchio, a Conservation Fund employee who provides staff support to the greenbelt program under contract with the city, reported that there’s still no word about the status of a recent application to the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP). The application is for grants totaling about $202,000 for two properties covering 169 acres.

The government relations staff of the Conservation Fund recently held a roundtable discussion at its headquarters with the FRPP director, Jeremy Stone. Trocchio participated via conference call and said she told Stone about Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program. “He was really impressed and amazed at how much we’ve been able to do here surrounding the city of Ann Arbor,” she said. She followed up by sending him a map that showed properties protected under the program, including those using FRPP grants. “His response was that preserving land around an urban area is exactly the type of program that FRPP is looking to support,” Trocchio said. “It’s nice to be able to raise his attention about what we’re doing here.”

Trocchio also reported that she had sent some Rabble Roasters to the meeting with Stone. Rabble Roasters are dry-roasted soynuts made by Bur Oaks Farm in Webster Township, which is owned by greenbelt commissioner Tom Bloomer. The farm is part of the greenbelt programs that’s been protected with FRPP funds.

Communications & Commentary: Public Commentary

Barry Lonik, a local conservation consultant from Dexter, told commissioners that he had visited the Scio Woods Preserve that morning. It’s part of the Washtenaw County natural areas preservation program, purchased with the help of Ann Arbor greenbelt funds. He said he hadn’t been there since trails were built, and “it’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Barry Lonik, Dan Ezekiel, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Barry Lonik, a local conservation consultant, talks with Dan Ezekiel, chair of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission.

He encouraged commissioners and others to visit the preserve. It’s about 100 acres off of Scio Church Road, with rolling hills, streams, big trees, and flowers carpeting the ground, he said. Ann Arbor, Scio Township and the county contributed funds toward it, he added, “and it was just a terrific purchase.”

Dan Ezekiel, GAC’s chair, noted that he had received an email recently from someone who had seen a couple of pileated woodpeckers at the Scio Woods Preserve. If that area had been developed for housing, he said, it’s possible those pileated woodpeckers – which he noted are uncommon in this county – wouldn’t have made a home there.

Ezekiel also noted that Lonik was on hand representing Ann Arbor Township, and would accompany the commission into closed session to talk about possible land acquisition. Lonik would share some communication with commissioners about a township property, but wouldn’t stay for their deliberations, Ezekiel said, adding that this process had been run by the city attorney’s office.

Communications & Commentary: Charles Braun

At the conclusion of the meeting, Dan Ezekiel marked the recent death of Charles Braun, describing him as a very influential leader in the local farm community. Braun’s property – a 286-acre farm in Ann Arbor Township – has been preserved as part of the Ann Arbor greenbelt program.

Ezekiel noted that the Brauns initially approached land preservation skeptically, “but they embraced it in the end.” The Brauns had hosted a gathering for the greenbelt program in the past to honor local farmers who had preserved their land through selling their development rights. Ezekiel said the commission mourned Braun’s passing.

Land Acquisition

Most meetings of the greenbelt advisory commission typically include a closed session to discuss possible land acquisitions. The topic of land acquisition is one allowed as an exemption by the Michigan Open Meetings Act for a closed session. On May 2, commissioners met in a closed session that lasted about 45 minutes, then emerged and 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. Parcels are identified only by their application number, with the first four numbers signifying the year in which the application was made.

Commissioners recommended that the city partner with Ann Arbor Township and contribute 33% toward the purchase of development rights on a parcel identified as application number 2013-01.

In a separate resolution, commissioners recommended that the council proceed with the purchase of development rights for application number 2012-12, if at least 20% in matching funds are secured.

Outcome: In separate votes, commissioners passed both resolutions unanimously.

Next meeting: Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date] The meetings are open to the public and include two opportunities for public commentary.

Present: Tom Bloomer, Shannon Brines, Archer Christian, Dan Ezekiel, Catherine Riseng, Laura Rubin, Christopher Taylor. Staff: Ginny Trocchio.

Absent: Peter Allen.

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  1. By Steve Bean
    May 6, 2013 at 7:32 am | permalink

    Piggybacking on Barry and Dan’s comments on Scio Woods Preserve, a neighbor reported yesterday that she and her husband saw a scarlet tanager out there last week. We walked there with them last spring. It is a beautiful area. Nice to hear about the woodpeckers.

  2. By Timothy Durham
    May 9, 2013 at 9:07 am | permalink

    Is there any talk of (or does Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County already have) a program like this “Countryside Initiative” in Cuyahoga County? [link]

    Re-localizing the food system is going to be increasingly important. Although that’s already taking place, it makes sense to make sure no more productive farmland is lost to speculative housing/shopping center developers.

  3. By Rod Johnson
    May 9, 2013 at 1:59 pm | permalink

    Isn’t that kind of what the Greenbelt is all about? (At least in part.)

  4. By Timothy Durham
    May 10, 2013 at 9:30 am | permalink

    As I understand it, the Greenbelt program just buys the development rights from current farmers (deed restrictions) so there is no pressure on them to sell to spec housing developers.

    This Countryside Initiative actually resurrects dead farms and leases them to people looking to get into farming. They also teach prospective farmers HOW to farm (sustainably) and provide support along the way. It’s a pretty interesting program. I don’t get the sense from the Greenbelt website that they have anything like that. Didn’t know if there was something else going on along the lines of the Countryside Initiative. I couldn’t find it if there were.

  5. By Steve Bean
    May 10, 2013 at 9:43 am | permalink

    Tim, i think the Tilian Farm Development Center, with their partners, is doing similar things: [link].

  6. By Timothy Durham
    May 10, 2013 at 9:51 am | permalink

    Thanks for that link, Steve!

  7. By Rod Johnson
    May 10, 2013 at 10:02 am | permalink

    Interesting, thanks.