County Takes Action to Preserve 250+ Acres

Land in Sylvan, Ann Arbor townships being vetted for Washtenaw County natural areas preservation program; also, long-time parks & rec commissioner Nelson Meade to step down at end of 2013

Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting (Nov. 12, 2013): The agenda for WCPARC’s November meeting was short but included four major items of business in addition to the usual reports on finances and activities of staff.

Geddes Mill, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map showing the location of the Geddes Mill property, which is being donated to the Washtenaw County parks and recreation’s natural areas preservation program.

The commission received a report on properties under consideration for acquisition and took the first step to acquire two properties for the natural areas preservation program: (1) a conservation easement on the Koenn property, 264.4 acres in Sylvan Township’s extreme southwest corner, adjacent to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Goose Lake State Game Area; and (2) about 10 acres owned by Geddes Mill Ltd., valued at $1.27 million and located south of Geddes Road just west of Dixboro Road. The owner is interested in donating the land to WCPARC, with the stipulation that the property be available for public use.

Two other major items were related to ongoing projects: (1) upgrading infrastructure at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center in Ann Arbor; and (2) shepherding the proposed Eastern County Recreation Center in Ypsilanti. WCPARC director Bob Tetens reported that planning continues for the rec center, proposed for the south side of Michigan Avenue, just east of downtown Ypsilanti on the east bank of the Huron River. This is a joint project with the city of Ypsilanti, as that city seeks to redevelop its 38-acre Water Street site. Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber also briefly reported on efforts to coordinate planning for the rec center with changes brought by Ypsilanti’s master plan revisions, which are ongoing.

Other actions at the November meeting included approving reports on finances and the use of WCPARC’s major facilities; and getting updates on activities and projects, including a major new award and work on the Ann Arbor skatepark, which WCPARC is helping to fund.

Commission members also heard an unexpected announcement from WCPARC member Nelson Meade: he plans to leave WCPARC after the December 2013 meeting. Meade has been on WCPARC since its inception in 1973, and has served on many other public boards. Tetens announced there will be an open house on Dec. 6 at WCPARC headquarters to honor Meade.

Natural Areas Preservation Program

The county’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP) is funded by a 10-year countywide millage of 0.2409 mills, which brings in about $3 million annually. Voters renewed the millage most recently in 2010, through 2020. The program enables WCPARC to purchase land worth preserving because of its natural features, and to purchase development rights on agricultural land. The Natural Areas Technical Advisory Committee (NATAC) advises WCPARC on NAPP acquisitions. The Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Committee advises WCPARC on the purchase of development rights.

NAPP: Recommendations for Acquisition

Tom Freeman, retired deputy director of WCPARC who continues to serve as a NAPP consultant, presented the report from NATAC for the 13th round of applications. [.pdf of application summary] He reported that the first 12 rounds included nominations of 203 properties totaling 11,269 acres.

By way of background, the first round was in the spring of 2002. An “application” is a written request by the owner of property to NATAC to sell property to WCPARC. NATAC coordinates its recommendations with ALPAC when the qualities of a particular piece of property make some or all of it suited to a conservation easement.

The county ordinance establishing NAPP includes standards for determining whether to purchase a property outright, or to acquire conservation easements. NATAC and ALPAC determine the suitability of nominated properties, sorting them into three categories. The highest are those appropriate for acquisition; the second priority are of high interest but require additional research; and the lowest are withdrawn from further consideration. For a more detailed explanation of the process, see Chronicle coverage: ”County Parks & Rec System Plans for Future.”

The report presented by Freeman on Nov. 12 identified two highest priority properties: the Heumann and Koenn properties, both in Sylvan Township. Of the 10 second priority parcels, seven are in Ann Arbor Township and one each are in Superior, Lima, and Dexter townships. Two parcels in Pittsfield Township and one in Augusta Township were withdrawn from further consideration. Freeman explained that before any parcel is brought to WCPARC for a decision, much more complete information is gathered. As an example, he moved to discussion of two properties proposed for NAPP consideration: Koenn and Geddes Mill Ltd.

NAPP: Koenn Property

Meghan Bonfiglio, WCPARC planner, and Robin Burke – land protection coordinator for the Legacy Land Conservancy – gave a presentation and written report on the Koenn property, illustrating the nature of this proposed acquisition of a conservation easement. [.pdf of staff memo on the Koenn property]

Meghan Bonfiglio, Robin Burke, Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission, Legacy Land Conservancy, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Robin Burke, land protection coordinator for the Legacy Land Conservancy, and Meghan Bonfiglio, WCPARC planner.

The 264-acre property is primarily farmland, so originally ALPAC had considered the parcel. However, the farmland, Burke explained, is interspersed with high quality natural areas, including woodlands and wetlands, so ALPAC consulted with NATAC. The property consists of six separate parcels near the far west side of Sylvan Township. Hayes Road runs through it, and the DNR’s Goose Lake State Game Area lies adjacent to the southwest.

Burke pointed out that together, Koenn and Goose Lake will total 575 protected acres, and WCPARC’s Squiers Preserve is within a mile. Further, she said, Tantre Farms at 2510 Hayes Road is nearby, and it attracts many who would be interested in the Koenn property. She went on to describe the impressive variety of plant species in about a quarter of the property that is woodland or wetland, and that has had only mild to moderate human disturbance.

NAPP: Koenn Property – Commission Discussion

WCPARC member Fred Veigel asked about the buildings on the property, which prompted Burke to explain that those would be excluded, as shown on a map that was provided as part of the Nov. 12 meeting packet.

Koenn, Sylvan Township, Washtenaw County parks & recreation, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map showing location of Koenn property (orange) in Sylvan Township, in relation to other parks and protected land.

A question from WCPARC president Robert Marans brought out that the Koenn family was willing to allow public access, which is not always an element of property protected by a conservation easement. Parking would be at the southeast corner, with trails extending west. Burke added that the trails would lead into a blueberry bog, which also has a wide variety of sedges.

The mix of high quality farmland, woodland, and wetland brought Koenn to the top of the list for both NATAC and ALPAC. NATAC would like to contribute the value of the easement over the natural areas, and the Koenn family is very interested in making a donation, but negotiations for that are not yet done.

Bosserd Appraisal Services put a value of $1,100 per acre or $291,100 for a conservation easement.

Outcome: Unanimous approval of the recommendation to authorize WCPARC staff to prepare a purchase offer for a conservation easement on the Koenn property at a price of $291,100 (not to exceed $1,100 per acre), contingent upon completion of all necessary due diligence and WCPARC’s final approval.

NAPP: Geddes Mill Property

Tom Freeman presented the Geddes Mill property as a “rare opportunity, an amazing piece of property in Ann Arbor Township.” The 10 acres on the north side of the Huron River lie immediately east of the US-23 northbound off ramp. There is a bit of frontage on both Dixboro Road to the east and Geddes Road to the north. [.pdf of Geddes Mill staff memo]

The outstanding feature of the property, Freeman said, is the 40- or 50-foot drop in elevation from north to south, down to the river. There are “pretty terrific vistas to the southeast and southwest,” he said.

Geddes Mill, Huron River, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

View of Geddes Mill property on the north side of the Huron River.

Also, WCPARC’s 45-acre Parker Mill park is less than 1,000 feet to the east; the city of Ann Arbor’s 17-acre Forest Park – managed by WCPARC – as well as the city’s 69-acre Gallup Park and the Border-to-Border trail are adjacent, creating a growing collection of preserves along the river. The B2B trail would connect the Geddes Mill property to Parker Mill to the east, and Concordia University to the west, making this property very accessible by non-motorized transportation.

Pausing to smile, Freeman then added “This application was very unusual in that the owners checked off a box at the bottom of the application to show they would donate the property.” He noted that it’s been appraised by Allen & Associates Appraisal Group at $1.27 million. The owners are in a hurry to complete the transaction in 2013 lest the tax laws change.

NAPP: Geddes Mill Property – Commission Discussion

There was little substantive discussion. Commission member Jan Anschuetz related a bit of the history of the area. John Geddes, the original owner, was important to the underground railroad, she noted – the house is still on Dixboro Road. He tried to adopt name of Geddesburg for the settlement – there is a Michigan Historical Marker across the river from the Geddes Mill property about Geddesburg. The original owner had a mill that was about where the dam is now.

Outcome: Unanimous approval of the recommendation that WCPARC authorize preparation to accept the donation of the Geddes Mill Ltd. property in Ann Arbor Township, contingent upon completion of all necessary due diligence examination of the property and the commission’s final approval.

Meri Lou Murray Rec Center Chiller Replacement

WCPARC’s deputy director Coy Vaughn provided background and led the discussion of a project intended to upgrade the HVAC system at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, located at the southwest corner of Washtenaw and Platt.

Vaughn reviewed what WCPARC had decided at its May 14, 2013 meeting: to divide the project and first award a contract to install new digital controls to replace the old pneumatic ones, which WCPARC approved at its Sept. 10, 2013 meeting. Next, an RFP (request for proposals) went out for a new chiller. Vaughn reported that 12 bidders had come to the pre-bid meeting. Nine of those submitted bids, ranging from $80,915 to $138,450. [.pdf of staff memo and bid summary sheet]

After reviewing the bids, and checking the reputation and background of the low bidder, CMS Mechanical from Fenton, Vaughn recommended awarding the contract to CMS.

As part of the process, Vaughn continued, WCPARC staff sought to solve a problem that had plagued the existing chiller. It constantly overheated because of the low volume of air circulating around it, and required constant spray from a lawn sprinkler to keep it working. The solution, Vaughn reported, was agreed on by CMS and by WCPARC’s HVAC consultant: use a 155-ton new chiller instead of a 140-ton size. This larger chiller, he explained, would not have to run so close to capacity. It would add $6,960 to the cost, which would also have to include an additional $3,048 for glycol to charge the new system, bringing the total cost to $92,000.

Summarizing the overall project, Vaughn said the capital improvements budget had allowed $200,000 for both parts of this project. The actual bids for both total $191,600.

Meri Lou Murray Rec Center Chiller Replacement: Commission Discussion

WCPARC members had learned of the need to replace these two components – controls and chiller – several months ago, so there was little discussion.

Commission member Dan Smith – who also serves as Washtenaw County commissioner from District 2 – asked Vaughn whether he was familiar with CSM. Vaughn replied that he had not worked with the firm, but the references checked out, and WCPARC’s HVAC consultant approved them.

Outcome: Unanimous approval to award to CSM Mechanical a contract for $92,000 to install a new Trane RTAC-155 chiller at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, with installation anticipated in February 2014.

East County Recreation Center

The project to build a recreation center on Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti on the Water Street redevelopment site is a proposed joint venture among WCPARC, the Ann Arbor Y, and the city of Ypsilanti. Updates on the progress of this center have been provided at several previous WCPARC meetings.

Nelson Meade, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Nelson Meade will be stepping down from the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission at the end of this year, after 40 years of service.

On Nov. 12, Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber appeared for the second month in a row to provide information about the latest developments from the Ypsilanti city council. He reported that the council had approved the pedestrian bridge across the Huron River. Planning for that bridge had been facilitated by WCPARC staff, and Schreiber said the city appreciated what the county has done in that regard.

He reported a lively discussion about where a pedestrian crossing on Michigan Avenue should be. The result was a decision to put the walkway on the west end of the Water Street project, to keep people walking along the Huron River.

WCPARC director Bob Tetens added the “important news” that both the 2011 and 2012 project agreements for funding for the walkway from the state Dept. of Natural Resources are ready to be signed, and construction will come next year.

Tetens also reported on the size and siting for the proposed rec center: “We have a footprint for the smallest size we can use. We are waiting to talk to city consultants about their plans. We will bring something back to you at our December meeting.”

The present agreement between the city of Ypsilanti and WCPARC calls for a development agreement to be completed by Dec. 31, 2013.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Financial Reports

Staff provide several different financial reports to WCPARC each month, focused on the past month’s expenses (the claims report), monthly and year-to-date reports on expenses and revenues in the form of fund balance reports, and a listing of major non-recurring expenses when they are significant. The September meeting reviewed reports for August. There are separate reports on parks and facilities, and on the natural areas preservation program (NAPP), which includes preservation of agricultural lands. Each of these has its own, separate funding, although WCPARC administers all of these programs.

Financial Reports: Claims Report

Parks and facilities paid a total of $404,990 in October. Of that, $216,713 was for capital improvements, with the largest expenses being $103,954 for two sections of the Border-to-Border trail, $40,000 for landscaping at Rolling Hills Park, and $29,687 for a pedestrian bridge at Sharon Mills Park.

NAPP claims totaled $421,673. Of that, $391,221 was for the Harwood properties. [For background on that purchase, see Chronicle coverage of WCPARC's Sept. 2013 meeting.]

Total claims paid by WCPARC in October 2013: $828,663. [.pdf of claims report]

Financial Reports: Fund Balance – Parks and Recreation

WCPARC director Bob Tetens introduced the fund balance report with the comment that “October could have been worse; we ended in better shape than we expected.” [.pdf of parks & rec October fund balance report]

And the end of September, the fund balance had been projected to stand at $8,220,788 by Dec. 31, 2013. Now, it is projected to decrease to $7,851,466 by Dec. 31 – the end of WCPARC’s fiscal year.

The fund balance started the year at $12,950,815. As of Oct. 31, 2013, revenue totaled $9,569,426 – primarily from property taxes ($6,408,702) and fees and services ($3,113,913). Expenses through Oct. 31 were $11,145,054. In addition, the parks budget includes an operating reserve of $6,700,000 and ”partnership” funding commitments of $925,000.

Financial Reports: Fund Balance – NAPP

The Jan. 1, 2013 fund balance for the county’s natural areas preservation program was $10,263,644. Through Oct. 31, 2013, revenue was $3,383,253 and expenses were $4,527,732, reflecting expenditures for closings that occurred in October. The projected fund balance for NAPP by Dec. 31 is $9,791,021. [.pdf of NAPP fund balance]

There was no substantive discussion of the reports.

Outcome: WCPARC unanimously voted to receive, accept, and file the financial reports.

Recreation Reports

These monthly reports include attendance at WCPARC facilities where attendance can be counted, with information about participation in measurable activities and revenue received at those facilities. The reports include the current year-to-date summary as well as similar information for the prior two years.

Recreation Reports: Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center

The Meri Lou Murray recreation center is doing better financially this year than the prior two years, Bob Tetens told commissioners. Year-to-date participation as of Oct. 31, 2013 was 267,889 and revenue was $1,056,178. In 2012, year-to-date participation was 268,978 and revenue was $997,406. In 2011, participation was 282,669 and revenue was $1,006,356. [.pdf of MLM rec center report]

Recreation Reports: Pierce Lake Golf Course

As he has all year, Bob Tetens recommended comparing Pierce Lake Golf Course’s use in 2013 to 2011 rather than 2012 because of the hotter weather in 2012, when the golf course opened two weeks earlier than normal. He also called out the increase in revenue from food and beverage, since beer and “better quality food” were added several years ago.

Through the end of October 2013, attendance was 17,620 and revenues from greens fees totaled $367,557. In 2012, 19,246 people paid $398,671 in greens fees. In 2011, attendance of 14,677 resulted in greens fees of $331,224. Programming and retail operations brought in $110,081 in 2013; $110,121 in 2012; and $88,149 in 2011. Total revenue in 2013 was $583,567, compared to $613,449 in 2012 and $508,437 in 2011. [.pdf of Pierce Lake report]

Recreation Reports: Rolling Hills Park and Water Park

There is an entrance fee, and gate count, for everyone who enters Rolling Hills Park. There is a separate fee, and gate count, for those who go on to enter the water park there.

WCPARC completed several major improvements to the waterpark in time for the 2013 season. In 2013, 30,612 people paid $239,512 to enter Rolling Hills Park. In 2012 there were 34,288 people, and revenues of $265,617. In 2011, 34,816 people attended, resulting in revenues of $266,930.

For the water park, attendance in 2013 was 94,266 with revenues of $715,239. That compared to 114,522 people in 2012 with revenues of $780,122; and 115,012 people in 2011 with revenues $780,995.

Total revenue for all operations at Rolling Hills was $1,203,470 in 2013; $1,318,300 in 2012; and $1,310,255 in 2011. [.pdf of Rolling Hills report]

Recreation Reports: Independence Lake Park and Blue Heron Bay

Blue Heron Bay is a water-feature area separate from the rest of Independence Lake Park. Bob Tetens indicated that Blue Heron Bay’s water features appeal to younger children but it’s “not the type of facility where parents leave their kids all day” as compared to Rolling Hills Water Park, which attracts older children.

In 2013, attendance was 15,416 with revenues of $122,173 for Independence Lake Park. That compares to attendance of 17,743 in 2012 and revenues of $137,217; and 2011 attendance of 16,968 with $132,283 in revenues.

Because Blue Heron Bay opened in 2013, there are no comparisons to earlier years. Attendance at Blue Heron Bay, through October 2013, was 17,668 with  $69,787 in revenues.

Through October 2013, total revenue for all of Independence Lake Park was $295,528. That compares to revenues of $211,458 in 2012 and $209,427 in 2011. [.pdf of Independence Lake report]

Outcome: The recreation reports were received and accepted for filing unanimously.

Projects and Activities

Staff of WCPARC provide monthly updates to commissioners about ongoing improvements at facilities, and activities at parks and natural areas. Some of this information is provided in writing in the board packet, which is supplemented by presentations at the meeting. This report summarizes the most significant items at the November 2013 meeting.

  • Award for Blue Heron Bay: WCPARC director Bob Tetens announced that WCPARC had earned a 2013 award from the National Association of County Parks and Recreation Officials for Class 1 Facilities.
  • Ann Arbor Skatepark: Tetens reminded WCPARC of its contribution of $400,000 to the skatepark that’s now under construction on the northwest side of Veterans Memorial Park. “It’s going to be the best skate park east of the Mississippi,” he said. All the concrete “pools” have been installed. In response to a question, Tetens clarified that these are not pools that will contain water, but rather bowls that present steep slopes to challenge skateboarders. The underground stormwater management system is complete, he said. The only problem, he reported, is that people are so eager to use it that some skateboarders have been entering the construction site and using it at night.
  • Sharon Mills Park: An event was held on Oct. 6 in honor of Henry Ford’s 150th birthday, and 50 people attended a talk by “ultimate Fordophile” Mike Skinner, a former tour guide for the Henry Ford estate.
  • Border-to-Border trail (B2B): A significant new three-mile section through Hudson Mills Metropark from the Westridge subdivision, near Dexter, is complete and usable. The official grand opening will be in May 2014. Staff continue to work on a difficult final 1/8 mile section of River Terrace Trail that will connect the village of Dexter to the trail. Coy Vaughn showed slides of visitors from China and Thailand who had asked for a chance to walk the trail.
  • Interpretive programming: Events took place in a park, two mills, and two preserves, including the first interpretive walk at the Trinkle Marsh at Easton Farm Preserve. Over 100 people, on two Sundays, visited the grist mill at Parker Mill.
  • Fifth annual Halloween party: This event at the Meri Lou Murray Rec Center attracted over 200 children and their parents. The party included crafts, games, a live DJ, and the traditional balloon drop.

The meeting traditionally closes with comments from commission members. However, on Nov. 12 there were no substantive comments.

Present: Jan Anschuetz, Janis Bobrin, Robert Marans, Nelson Meade, Patricia Scribner, Dan Smith, and Fred Veigel.

Absent: Evan Pratt, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith.

Staff: Director Bob Tetens, deputy director Coy Vaughn, planner Meghan Bonfiglio, and consultant Tom Freeman.

Next meeting: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the county parks and recreation department’s office at 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor.

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