Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission (May 14, 2013): At their most recent meeting, county parks & rec commissioners voted to grant $150,000 to the city of Ypsilanti to help complete the Rutherford Pool project. The Friends of Rutherford Pool is trying to raise about $1 million to rebuild the community pool, located on the eastern end of Recreation Park at 975 North Congress Street.
Commissioners also took steps that could lead to spending over $1.713 million on natural areas preservation. They voted to move forward with the acquisition of three deals for the county’s natural areas preservation program: 17 acres in Scio Township ($55,000); about 245 acres in Northfield Township (about $1.4 million); and 65 acres in Freedom Township ($420,000). The latter two purchases were approved contingent on completing due diligence assessments, followed by final approval from the commission.
In addition, WCPARC approved an initial step in replacing the HVAC system at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center on Washtenaw Avenue, and heard reports on upgrades at several other facilities. Those include the nearly-completed major improvements and expansion of water parks at Rolling Hills and Independence Lake parks. Both are set to open Memorial Day weekend, kicking off WCPARC’s summer season.
In other news related to Ypsilanti projects, WCPARC director Bob Tetens reported that the Ypsilanti city council had recently passed a resolution reaffirming support for the east county recreation center project, proposed in the Water Street site near the Huron River. Tetens also presented a report on WCPARC’s marketing and communications program, which staff have expanded into new venues – including AATA buses. The effort is partly in preparation for a millage renewal coming in 2014.
Commissioners also discussed the desire to add another off-leash dog park in addition to Swift Run, which the county runs in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor. Interest is especially keen in light of Ann Arbor’s difficulty in finding a new dog park location. Some commissioners want to include a water element where dogs could play. Jan Anschuetz put it this way: “We’ve done so much to provide water recreation for people – now let’s do it for the dogs.”
Natural Areas Preservation Program
The May 14 agenda included three proposals related to the county’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP). Tom Freeman – former deputy director of WCPARC who now serves as a consultant for NAPP projects – presented all three proposals.
The commission’s meeting packet included a Nov. 13, 2012 memo from the Natural Areas Technical Advisory Committee (NATAC), which makes recommendations on the purchase of natural areas. The memo recommended property acquisitions for the current round (round 12). [.pdf of Nov. 13 NATAC memo] The memo ranked properties in five priority levels: highest (proceed to acquire as appropriate); second (of high interest if a partnership is possible); third (high interest, consider acquiring a portion); fourth (of high interest but requires additional research); and lowest (withdraw from further consideration).
The proposals on the May 14 agenda related to properties that had received NATAC’s highest or second-priority rankings.
NAPP is funded with a countywide millage of 0.2409 mill, which generates about $3 million a year and is in effect through 2021. NAPP has preserved about 2,500 acres of land – natural areas and farmland – since its inception in 2000.
NAPP: Sloan Property
The 17-acre Sloan property is located in Scio Township on the west side of Baker Road, south of the village of Dexter. It deserves protection, Freeman said, for its most significant natural feature: Mill Creek and its extensive floodplain, which both the township and WCPARC want to protect.
The township and WCPARC collaborated in 2012 to purchase an adjacent 35 acres from the Sloans for $280,000, or roughly $8,000 per acre. A state Dept, of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant provided 75% of that cost, and WCPARC and Scio Township split the rest. Freeman explained that during the process of that first purchase, contamination on part of the site was discovered. He said the owner would use part of the proceeds from the current sale to clean up the contamination, which was related to the former use of the site for a nursery.
The Sloan property was categorized by NATAC as a second priority. The recommendation was that WCPARC provide $55,000 – or half the purchase price – and collaborate with Scio Township, which would pay the other half. Scio Township would acquire title to the property and assume management and stewardship responsibilities. Freeman reported that an appraisal found the property worth $110,000, or about $6,322 per acre. In addition, WCPARC staff obtained a phase 1 environmental assessment that found no recognized environmental condition. Also provided to commissioners were a boundary survey, legal description and certified survey drawing.
Outcome: Unanimous approval of the recommendation that WCPARC authorize committing $55,000 toward the purchase of the Sloan property, which will be matched with an equal amount from Scio Township. A written agreement with Scio Township will spell out the township’s responsibility to pay all development expenses.
NAPP: Primeau Property
The Primeau property – 66 acres in Freedom Township – was also recommended for acquisition. The property consists of two adjacent parcels, each 33 acres, on the east side of Ellsworth Road, north of Haab Road and south of Parker Road in the northeast section of Freedom Township. NATAC rated this property in the highest priority.
A tributary of Mill Creek dissects the property, which has a diversity of land types and steep slopes, with high quality woodlands on the upper areas that are 950 feet high, according to a staff report. The lower areas contain wetlands.
Freeman explained that NATAC was using, for the first time, a bioreserve map that the Huron River Watershed Council had developed. This map uses various criteria – including size; the presence of wetlands, rivers or lakes; potential to contain groundwater recharge areas; and the potential to harbor a high diversity of ecosystems. The map shows that almost 100% of the Primeau property is categorized as high quality. In addition, Freeman said, the woodland on the property is very high quality, with a clear understory unhindered by invasive species and trees of various ages. Commissioner Janis Bobrin expressed appreciation for use of the bioreserve map.
Williams and Associates appraised the property at $420,000, or about $6,383 per acre.
NAPP: Primeau Property – Commission Discussion
During WCPARC’s discussion, Freeman expressed confidence in the accuracy of the appraisal, considering the property is in Freedom Township.
WCPARC director Bob Tetens explained that because of the new flexibility in use of NAPP funds, staff have been developing a plan for stewardship and maintenance, and looking for opportunities to have other entities take on long-term costs such as developing and maintaining parking lots. [A change in the NAPP ordinance, approved by the county board on Sept. 19, 2012, allows WCPARC discretion in dividing the use of its millage funds between purchase and maintenance/stewardship. For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: "County Parks & Rec System Plans for Future."]
WCPARC president Robert Marans, in response to a question, described the criteria that Huron Clinton Metroparks use to purchase additional land: they only buy land consistent with their master plan for each park. That is different from NAPP’s statutory purpose, which is to preserve natural areas, not to create parks. To further clarify the difference between use of park money and use of NAPP money, Tetens used the example of the still-pending proposal to use park funds to purchase part of the Trolz property on the west side of the county to create a horse trail. [For background on that proposal, see Chronicle coverage of WCPARC's Nov. 12, 2012 meeting.]
Outcome: Unanimous approval of the recommendation to authorize preparation of a purchase agreement for the Primeau property for $420,000, contingent upon completion of all necessary due diligence examination of the property, and the commission’s final approval.
NAPP: Ramsey, Lippert, and Carr Properties
Three properties in Northfield Township – the Ramsey, Lippert and Carr parcels, totaling 256 acres – are being treated as one, Freeman explained, because the owners are using one realtor and the properties are adjacent. The land is located just east of Whitmore Lake on the border with Livingston County, along a section of Seven Mile Road that runs at an angle rather than the road’s primary east-west orientation.
The exact acreage that WCPARC might purchase is not yet clear, because two of the three owners want to retain part of their land. The Lipperts own 111 acres and want to keep about 11, selling 100. The Carrs want to keep “a little,” Freeman said, perhaps one acre on Seven Mile of the 80 they own. The Ramseys are willing to sell their entire 69 acres.
Freeman described why the property is worth preserving. One reason is the large adjacent acreage, which is valuable in itself to keep habitat intact. Another factor is the ability to access all three properties from a single parking lot. In addition, the quality of the land – as measured by the Huron River Watershed Council’s bioreserve map – is high. Freeman said this will provide a worthwhile educational opportunity for Whitmore Lake schools, and be a resource for the whole northeast section of the county. He also noted a drawback he discovered while exploring a boggy area on foot – there’s a lot of poison sumac, which “gave me the worst case I’ve ever had.”
Bosserd Appraisal Services provided a value of $5,804 per acre. For the 248 acres that Freeman described, the purchase price would total $1,439,392.
NAPP: Ramsey, Lippert, and Carr Properties – Commission Discussion
Commission discussion focused on the dangers of poison sumac, which Freeman promised to address in three ways: placing trails where the sumac is not present; using boardwalks; and putting up warning signs with photos.
Discussion also brought out details about what portion of the property two of the owners want to retain. Carr wants to keep an acre on Seven Mile Road. Commissioner Dan Smith pointed out that this portion of the land will soon be improved – it has a sewer running along it now and is zoned for quarter-acre lots. Freeman described conversations he has had with township planners, and he is aware of the potential for more traffic on Seven Mile.
Finally, questions about NAPP’s fund balance brought out that there is plenty to cover the proposed $1.4 million purchase. The fund balance is about $10.2 million, Tetens said.
Outcome: Unanimous approval of the recommendation to authorize staff to prepare purchase offers for all three properties in Northfield Township at a price of $5,804 per acre, contingent on completion of necessary due diligence and the commission’s final approval.
The commission discussed two projects at their May 14 meeting related to the city of Ypsilanti: (1) a proposal to grant the city $150,000 for Rutherford Pool, and (2) the proposed east county recreation center.
Ypsilanti Projects: Rutherford Pool
The topic of Rutherford Pool came up in WCPARC’s last two meetings when commissioners asked about the status of the project to replace the pool. Most recently, it was discussed at the commission’s meeting on April 9, 2013. The community pool, which is more than 40 years old, is located on the eastern end of Recreation Park at 975 North Congress Street.
On May 14, WCPARC director Bob Tetens recommended that WCPARC rescind its earlier decision to grant $50,000 and loan $75,000 to the project. Instead, his recommendation was now to provide a grant of $150,000 for the pool replacement. [.pdf of staff memo on Rutherford Pool]
By way of background, the Friends of Rutherford Pool (FoRP) entered into an agreement with the city of Ypsilanti in 2003 to take over responsibility for the pool’s daily operation, maintenance and improvement, because the city no longer had the financial resources for that. Tetens told commissioners that by 2010, everyone realized the pool needed major work. Natatorium staff from Eastern Michigan University and pool staff from Ann Arbor parks & recreation had assisted in assessing the pool and concluded that it had to be replaced.
The FoRP began to raise money and to work on a design for a new pool. They secured grants from multiple foundations, corporations, community leaders, and citizens. [As of May 17, the FoRP website stated they are within $51,000 of their goal.] In August 2011, WCPARC agreed unanimously to provide $50,000 as a grant and $75,000 as a bridge loan. The city of Ypsilanti and FoRP also obtained a $300,000 Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources trust fund grant.
Now, Tetens said, the cost of a replacement pool is more than originally anticipated – more than $900,000. He indicated that based on an outpouring of support from the community, this project is important. The pool is consistent with and complementary to broader efforts by the county parks & recreation commission to enhance recreational opportunities and the quality of life in the community. In addition, the debt repayment on the $75,000 bridge loan could provide a hardship for meeting the pool’s operating expenses.
Tetens said that because FoRP has succeeded in obtaining an MDNRTF grant, commissioners should consider making a contribution consistent with their past practice of providing an amount half or more of that state grant, or $150,000.
Commissioner Fred Veigel moved to rescind the original grant and loan totaling $125,000, and to agree to contribute $150,000 to the city of Ypsilanti to help complete the Rutherford Pool project. Commissioner Janis Bobrin seconded the motion.
Ypsilanti Projects: Rutherford Pool – Commission Discussion
Discussion first focused on whether the FoRP had a business plan that would adequately operate, maintain and fund future needs of the pool. What is the plan and who is responsible for carrying it out? Commissioners asked whether they could attach a condition to the WCPARC grant. The condition would be that there must be a business plan that meets approval of WCPARC staff.
Conan Smith, Dan Smith, Janis Bobrin and Bob Marans all spoke in favor of having such a plan. Commissioner Rolland Sizemore, Jr. promised to sit down and “make sure we have everything we need.” Near the end of the discussion, all agreed that what they wanted was an agreement that ensures the new pool will not need replacement “until after we are all dead,” as Bobrin put it. This brought the discussion to a close, with agreement that the motion needed no amendment.
Outcome: Unanimous agreement to rescind the earlier grant of $50,000 and $75,000 loan, and to approve a grant of $150,000.
Ypsilanti Projects: East County Recreation Center
Tetens provided a brief update on this project to build a recreation center, similar to the Meri Lou Murray Rec Center in Ann Arbor, on the northwest corner of the 38-acre Water Street redevelopment area on Michigan Avenue. [For background, see Chronicle coverage: "Public Gives Input On East County Rec Center"]
The Ypsilanti city council recently approved sale of property on the northeast corner of the site for a Family Dollar store. Tetens reported that the city council passed a resolution on May 7 supporting the rec center project, with only one negative vote – from Lois Richardson. The next step, he said, would be to build a new pedestrian bridge, then in 2014 construct a section of the Border-to-Border (B2B) trail on the east side of the property along the Huron River. Finally, in 2015, the recreation center would be constructed. Tetens reported that the city of Ypsilanti’s revised grant application to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources – to extend the B2B into the Water Street redevelopment area – is under review.
Tetens said he expected to have the market study, being carried out by the Ann Arbor YMCA, for the June WCPARC meeting. [The Ann Arbor YMCA is partnering with WCPARC on this project.] Bob Marans said he had told Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber that the rec center would be to Ypsilanti what Frank Gehry’s museum was to Bilbao, Spain, and that the community planning meetings had shown strong support for the project. Commissioner Jan Anschuetz said “people were furious” over recent newspaper articles that said officials involved with Ypsilanti’s master plan revision were reconsidering the size, location, and feasibility of the rec center. She noted that having council reaffirm its support was critical.
Projects and Activities
Each month, WCPARC staff provide updates to commission members about ongoing improvements to WCPARC’s facilities, and activities at parks and natural areas. The reports include development projects, special initiatives, interpretive programs, and other happenings. Collectively, they provide an overview of the extent of WCPARC’s activities.
Projects & Activities: Meri Lou Murray Rec Center HVAC
Deputy director Coy Vaughn provided a description of the problem – that the HVAC system at the MLM rec center on Washtenaw Avenue is 23 years old and wearing out, requires too much staff attention, and uses too much energy. The proposed solution is a three-step replacement of the existing system. [.pdf of staff memo regarding rec center HVAC system]
The total cost to heat and cool the building in 2012, Vaughn said, was $76,525. A new control system would save about $23,000 a year and cost $108,000, returning the investment in 4.7 years.
The first step is to replace the pneumatic control system with a digital system, which Vaughn proposed to do after moving forward with a request for proposals (RFP). This step is needed partly because it’s “getting hard to find people who can fix pneumatic systems,” he said.
The second step would be to reset and calibrate the dampers and valves in the system, also known as balancing the system, he said, and would cost about $13,000. The third step – replacing the air-cooled chiller for $94,000 – would reduce operating costs from 2012’s $26,557 by an estimated $3,186 annually. Vaughn proposed to do the last step after issuing an RFP in the fall. The total cost, he said, was well within the budgeted $200,000.
There was no substantive discussion on this item.
Outcome: Unanimous approval of the recommendation to move forward with an RFP to install and calibrate a new digital controls system at the MLM rec center, and to authorize a second RFP to be issued this fall for the installation of a new chiller.
Projects & Activities: Marketing and Communications Report
In previous meetings, WCPARC director Bob Tetens had promised a staff report on renewed marketing and communications plans, partly to promote WCPARC’s offerings, and partly in preparation for a millage renewal coming in 2014. Meghan Bonfiglio, planner for WCPARC, prepared the report but was unable to attend the May 14 meeting, so Tetens presented the report.
He began by reminding commissioners that there are over 1 million visits annually to WCPARC facilities. Marketing covers a wide range of media: internet ads, paid ads in print media, social media; printed material such as brochures and maps; sponsorship of activities, programs and events; news stories; and videos. Starting this summer, WCPARC will have an ad on a large AATA bus for one month, costing $800. The bus goes on varied routes and so it will be seen around the AATA’s service area.
WCPARC uses social media: Facebook, Yelp, LivingSocial, and Groupon. WCPARC also provides promotional items, such as towels, magnets, bags, and bottles to celebrate events, including the opening of new trails, preserves, or park amenities.
Sponsorships are another means of marketing. Those include the kids’ zone at Chelsea’s Sights & Sounds festival, the Ypsilanti Pops Festival and Heritage Festival, Huron River Day, and events such as summer concerts, mountain bike and Fat Tire bike races, winter hikes, log cabin day at Parker Mill Park, geocaching, and the Walk & Wag event on behalf of the Humane Society of Huron Valley.
Tetens concluded by saying that the message – which is now “Here’s what you can do at our parks and preserves” – will be modified as the millage renewal gets closer.
Outcome: After brief positive comments, WCPARC accepted the report for filing.
Projects & Activities: Independence Lake
Independence Lake Park has undergone substantial improvements in its water park, which is now a separate section called Blue Heron Bay. Most of the work is done, Tetens reported, as Vaughn showed slides of the new buildings, two new 12-foot-high water slides and other water features, improved picnic area, and parking. Signage will soon go up, and all is on track for a grand opening on Memorial Day weekend.
Projects & Activities: Rolling Hills
Rolling Hills park and water park have also been improved and enlarged. The new buildings – including a new ticket booth and bathhouse – as well as mechanical systems are complete, and the three new 32-foot-high water slides are being installed. The overall effect, Tetens said, is to “make the water park more open and inviting, since the new entrance brings you in facing the wave pool.” There is a new parking lot and new landscaping, which includes three acres of sod served by sprinklers. Rolling Hills will also open Memorial Day weekend.
[For additional background, see Chronicle coverage of WCPARC's July 24, 2012 meeting, when the projects at Rolling Hills and Independence Lake parks were discussed in detail.]
Projects & Activities: Sharon Mills Park
Vaughn reported that a new pedestrian bridge at Sharon Mills Park is set on the abutments, and final restoration work on disturbed soil is in progress. The park’s former bridge was built as part of the dam, he explained, and when it deteriorated staff determined it would be more cost effective over the long run to replace the bridge rather than restoring it.
Projects & Activities: Other Updates
Commissioners were provided with brief updates on a range of other items:
- Border-to-Border trail: Staff continue to work with the village of Dexter and Michigan Dept. of Transportation on the final 1/8-mile extension of segment D1, the River Terrace Trail, to connect the trail to the village at Central Street.
- Trinkle Marsh Preserve: The landscape restoration for the parking lot, and observation decks, are nearly done.
- Spike Preserve: A third section of boardwalk through a portion of wetlands was completed by Cross Lake Construction.
- Draper-Houston Meadows Preserve: The restoration of the boardwalk and bridge railing is in progress.
Each month, WCPARC receives a report on claims to be paid that month, and on expenditures, income and fund balances for parks and recreation, and for the natural areas preservation program (NAPP).
Financial Reports: Claims in May 2013
Total claims for May were $408,280. Most of that was for parks and recreation, with expenditures of $387,741. By far the greatest expense was $270,058 in capital improvements, most of those at Rolling Hills and Independence Lake parks. NAPP expenditures totaled $20,539. Expenses for NAPP were related to due diligence activities pursuant to purchase of new land. [.pdf of May claims report]
Outcome: Unanimous approval for paying these claims.
Financial Reports: Fund Balance Statements
According to the fund balance statement as of April 30, 2013, parks and recreation income for the year to date was $6,458,836. Most income – $5,808,410 – is property tax revenue, with another $617,278 coming from fees and services. Expenses were $3,376,544.
WCPARC also budgets for an operating reserve of $6.7 million and funding commitments for partnerships of $925,000, which are recorded as expenses on the balance sheet. The beginning fund balance, on Jan. 1, 2013, was $12,950,815. The fund balance as of April 30, 2013 is $8,408,106. [.pdf of parks & rec fund balance statement]
The natural areas preservation program, which began the year with a fund balance of $10,263,644, has received $2,986,307 in revenue and spent $733,990, for a new fund balance of $12,515,960 as of April 30. [.pdf of NAPP fund balance statement]
Outcome: Unanimous approval to receive and file the financial reports.
WCPARC staff regularly report on the number of participants and amount of revenue at its operations that count participants and revenue. During the winter, the only facility that reports this information is the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center. In the spring and fall, the report includes Pierce Lake golf course. During the summer, Independence Lake and Rolling Hills parks are included.
Recreation Reports: Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center
Activity at the rec center has remained “flat,” according to WCPARC director Bob Tetens. Total participation as of the end of April was 125,106 this year. That compares to 124,824 last year and 133,430 in 2011. Revenue, however, was up this year compared to the last two years: $505,474 in 2013, $464,897 in 2012, and $500,927 in 2011.
The report also counts county residents and non-residents. Among membership users, non-residents remained a small percentage: 1.94% this year, compared to 0.85% last year and 0.47% in 2011. Non-residents were a much higher percentage of daily pass users, however: 7.15% this year, up from 5.34% last year and 4.88% in 2011. [.pdf of MLM rec center report]
Recreation Reports: Pierce Lake Golf Course
Weather, of course, has a huge effect on golf participation, Tetens reminded everyone. That 2012 had better spring golfing weather than the year before or after is obvious from the number of greens users, he noted: 2,534 this year, 3,268 in 2012, and 1,391 in 2011. Total revenue showed the same impact: $59,396 so far this year, compared to $86,166 last year and $33,657 in 2011. [.pdf of Pierce Lake golf course report]
Outcome: Unanimous approval to receive and file the reports.
Communications & Commentary
During each meeting, commissioners have the opportunity to raise issues or concerns. Here are highlights from the May 14 meeting.
Communications & Commentary: Dog Parks
Jan Anschuetz began by praising the dog park at Swift Run as wonderful, appreciated, and heavily used. But, she noted, it has flaws – there is no place for shelter from the wind, sun, or rain, for example. She expressed a hope for a gazebo.
Anschuetz acknowledged that pounding posts into the ground was not possible [because Swift Run was formerly a landfill and produces noxious gases]. WCPARC director Bob Tetens acknowledged the dog park’s shortcomings, but emphasized the danger of gas. Staff had, he said, been thinking about other places to establish dog parks, especially after the recent difficulty that the Ann Arbor parks staff has had in finding an acceptable spot for one in the city. [A proposal to place a new city dog park in Ann Arbor's West Park has met resistance from local residents. For background, see Chronicle coverage: "Parks Agenda: Downtown, Dogs, Dams, DTE." The Swift Run dog park, located at Ellsworth and Platt, is a joint project of WCPARC and the city of Ann Arbor.]
After other commissioners expressed a desire for another dog park, especially one with water, Tetens said that staff are looking at Rolling Hills, or perhaps off Medford at the County Farm Park – in Ann Arbor, near the recreation center.
Anschuetz closed the discussion with this: “We’ve done so much to provide water recreation for people – now let’s do it for the dogs.”
Communications & Commentary: MLM Rec Center
Board president Bob Marans said he had noticed the importance of the Meri Lou Murray recreation center as a social or gathering place for senior citizens. It is more than a place to exercise and has great importance to many people for that reason, he said, adding that this is another “tribute to the building.” [Marans is an architect who taught at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.]
He suggested collecting comments and oral histories to use in publicizing the value of the facility in marketing, and as a tribute to Meri Lou Murray’s leadership. Murray, who was instrumental in founding the WCPARC, died last year.
Present: Pat Anschuetz, Janis Bobrin, Robert Marans, Nelson Meade, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith, Dan Smith, Fred Veigel.
Absent: Evan Pratt, Patricia Scribner.
Staff Present: Director Bob Tetens, deputy director Coy Vaughn, and consultant Tom Freeman.
Next meeting: Tuesday, June 11, 2013, at 7 p.m. in the county parks and recreation department’s office at 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor, in the County Farms property.
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