Activity at city clerk’s counter includes dog license and dog park registration. Sign of spring.
Ann Arbor dog parks deserve winter maintenance. [Sign next to overflowing garbage can indicates "No winter maintenance."] [photo]
Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting (Sept. 10, 2013): WCPARC’s September meeting had only three action items, but they were each significant.
First, the commission gave final approval for a natural areas preservation program purchase: $390,005 to buy 13 acres from members of the Harwood family, located along Michigan Avenue in Pittsfield Township. The property is primarily high quality native woodland, nearly devoid of invasive species. In addition, it is proximate to the Pittsfield Preserve, owned and operated by Pittsfield Township, so existing trails can be extended, and there is a possibility of using a single parking lot for both sites.
Parks & rec commissioners also gave permission to spend up to $100,000 at the Meri Lou Murray Rec Center to replace the HVAC system’s pneumatic controls with digital controls. The project has been delayed because of a recent court ruling related to construction unity board (CUB) agreements.
The final major agenda item was approval of proposed budgets for 2014 and 2015 and projected budgets for 2016 and 2017. Bob Tetens, director of WCPARC, presented the budgets in the context of WCPARC’s millage history and developments since the mid-1970s, as well as budget strategies underlying all the proposals. The budget contains separate sections for the natural areas preservation program (NAPP) and for parks operations & development, because they are supported by separate millages. [.pdf of WCPARC budget document]
The 2013 operations & development budget of $13.79 million in expenditures drops to $10.417 million next year. The staff is proposing a budget of $13.574 million in expenditures for 2015. The projected budgets in 2016 and 2017 are $12.672 million and $10.009 million, respectively. Over the four years from 2014-2017, the operations & development budget – which does not include NAPP – will draw from its fund balance. At the end of 2012, the operations & development fund balance was $12.95 million. By the end of 2017, the fund balance is projected to drop to $2.8 million.
Expenditures for NAPP are projected to remain flat in the 2014-2015 budgets, at around $3.7 million annually, then drop to about $3.5 million in 2016 and 2017.
Commissioners discussed renewing the parks operating millage, which expires in 2016. It’s possible that staff will recommend putting a renewal on the November 2014 ballot. Other discussion focused on efforts to make WCPARC’s operations more self-sufficient, and whether personnel expenditures could be reduced.
The budget section on capital improvements generated discussion about dog parks. In 2015, a dog park is tentatively slated for the Medford Road side of the 141-acre County Farm Park, at a projected cost of $250,000. Some commissioners expressed concerns about WCPARC’s existing Swift Run dog park, which was developed in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor at the southwest corner of Platt and Ellsworth. Complaints focused on the lack of shade and water, but Tetens explained there are constraints about what can be done on that site, stemming from the dog park’s location on a former landfill.
Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. suggested that WCPARC should invest in the Swift Run dog park “or give it to Ann Arbor.” The city of Ann Arbor is currently exploring the possibility of adding another dog park that would be more centrally located. A public forum for that effort is set for Tuesday, Sept. 24 from 7-9 p.m. at the Traverwood library, 3333 Traverwood Drive.
New dog park under construction? [photo] [Ed. note: This is actually the location of the new skatepark.]
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (March 19, 2013): A packed agenda for this month’s PAC meeting included several items related to downtown parks and the Huron River.
Commissioners discussed a proposal to build an ice-skating rink atop a portion of the city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure. They took no action on the item, but were briefed on the proposal by two advocates of the effort: Alan Haber and Stewart Gordon. The two men also attended a subsequent March 26 meeting of a PAC downtown park subcommittee. This report includes a summary of that session as well.
River-related items on PAC’s March 19 agenda included a resolution to recommend awarding a $295,530 contract to Gerace Construction Co. for repair work and repainting at Argo and Geddes dams, as well as site improvements around Argo Dam. Brian Steglitz, an engineer with the city, told commissioners that the work is being done in response to the most recent inspection by state regulators.
Commissioners also recommended awarding a $512,180 contract for improvements at the Gallup Park canoe livery to Construction Solutions Inc., which will be funded in part by a $300,000 state grant. Cheryl Saam, facility supervisor for the Argo and Gallup canoe liveries, gave commissioners a presentation on those operations, in preparation for budget recommendations that PAC is expected to consider at its April 16 meeting.
As part of her report, Saam noted that the city plans to issue another request for proposals (RFP) to design a whitewater section along the Huron River, downstream from the Argo Dam near the Argo Cascades. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith reminded commissioners that the first attempt at this project wasn’t successful. The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality did not approve the initial design, and would not issue the necessary permit for the project. The staff is working with the state to address MDEQ’s concerns, he said. Smith also reported that DTE Energy still intends to pay for the project, which is located adjacent to property that the utility company is cleaning up.
DTE representatives were on hand at the meeting because of a different project: To request an easement on city-owned land in Riverside Park, where utility poles are located. The easement is needed as part of an $8 million new electrical substation that DTE is building on land adjacent to the park. Commissioners unanimously recommended that the city council approve the easement.
In another presentation to set the stage for next month’s budget discussion, PAC heard from Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf, and Andrew Walton, recreational facility supervisor at Huron Hills. They reviewed the status of the city’s two golf courses – at Huron Hills and Leslie Park – and noted that both courses have seen significant revenue gains over the past five years.
The issue that drew the most public commentary during the meeting wasn’t on the March 19 agenda: a possible dog park on a knoll in West Park. Residents in that area aren’t happy about the prospect of barking dogs in their neighborhood.
Three dogs romping off leash in the West Park ballfield, with their owners nearby – an unofficial dog park.
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Jan. 15, 2013): The city’s park advisory commissioners are embarking on a process to analyze the need for a possible downtown park or open space, with the goal of delivering recommendations to the city council later this year.
In a 90-minute discussion at PAC’s January meeting, commissioners talked about how they’d like to approach this effort, which stemmed in part from a request that mayor John Hieftje made last summer. Momentum for PAC to weigh in has accelerated in light of recommendations recently delivered to the city council on the Connecting William Street project.
Several councilmembers have expressed concern that those recommendations – made by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on five city-owned sites – don’t include sufficient green space. PAC has already weighed in on that specific project, passing a resolution on Sept. 18 2012 that urged the council to seek additional evaluation on locations for a downtown park.
During public commentary, several residents – including supporters of the Library Green Conservancy – spoke in support of a substantial downtown park.
A PAC subcommittee plans to draft a plan for how to proceed, with the full commission continuing the discussion at their land acquisition committee meeting on Feb. 5. The process is expected to take 4-6 months.
Also at their Jan. 15 meeting, commissioners got an update on plans for locating a dog park at West Park, across from New Hope Baptist Church. PAC had recommended that location for a dog park, but – as The Chronicle previously reported – objections from church members have resulted in a decision to look for another location. The project had been slated for consideration by the city council on Jan. 22, but has been removed from the agenda.
PAC chair Julie Grand told her fellow commissioners that she was still committed to the concept of a centrally-located dog park, and that PAC and parks staff would pursue other options. A PAC subcommittee that had worked on identifying a new dog park location will be reconvened to bring forward another recommendation.
In other action, commissioners received a mid-year budget update. The parks system is doing better than planned, thanks to a combination of better-than-expected revenues and lower expenses. [.pdf of budget summary] The city’s fiscal year 2013 runs from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.
The recommendation to locate a dog park in West Park, across from New Hope Baptist Church, will be removed from the Ann Arbor city council’s Jan. 22 agenda. The Ann Arbor park advisory commission, which had recommended the location off of Chapin Street, was informed of the decision at its Jan. 15, 2013 meeting. Parks staff and PAC will regroup and select a new location for a dog park more centrally located to the downtown.
Several members of the church had spoken at PAC’s December 2012 meeting, objecting to problems with noise, smell and safety. The African American church is located directly across the street from the proposed dog park location. At that meeting, PAC voted to recommend that city …
Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 7, 2013): Most of the council’s first regular meeting of the year was taken up with discussion of a U.S. Department of Energy grant of nearly $1 million for construction of two wind turbines, likely to be constructed on Ann Arbor Public Schools property.
Councilmembers established a concern about the possible financial risks associated with the project, and a desire that public input be solicited on the ultimate decision for a site. But the vote was unanimous to accept the grant, which includes an obligation to provide roughly $480,000 in matching funds. That match is expected to be provided by Wind Products Inc., a company located in Brooklyn, New York.
At a meeting of the city’s energy commission held the following night, commissioners expressed their dissatisfaction that the proposal had not been brought to that body for review.
Some of the council’s deliberations on the wind turbines included the question of whether the effort was consistent with the council’s priorities for the next two years – ones that were formally adopted at the Jan. 7 meeting. The priorities, which had been identified in a Dec. 10 planning session, included the basic areas of: fiscal responsibility, public safety, infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing.
The council had three parks-related voting items on its agenda, neither of which prompted extended deliberations. One was approval of a design for the new skatepark in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, which is expected to start construction in the spring and be completed in the fall. A second voting item was the approval of another contract with the Conservation Fund, which helps manage operations for the city’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs.
A third parks-related voting item was authorization of a contract to replace roofs on two buildings at Cobblestone Farm.
Another agenda item – related to parks, but not requiring a vote – was a presentation from the council-appointed task force that’s been asked to make recommendations for a future vision of the North Main Street corridor, extending to the Huron River, including the MichCon property. They focused their presentation on the 721 N. Main property, for which the council had authorized two grant applications at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting. The group has a summer 2013 deadline to make recommendations for the whole area.
Also on the topic of parks, the council heard from representatives of New Hope Baptist Church during public commentary, regarding a planned new dog park. Members of the congregation oppose the location of the dog park inside West Park, because it’s immediately adjacent to the church on Chapin Street. Also during public commentary, the council again heard calls for the top of the Library Lane parking garage to be designated as a park.
Some other items on the agenda could be grouped under land use and planning. The council gave approval to changes to the site plan for Packard Square, a proposed redevelopment of the former Georgetown Mall. The council had postponed the item from its Dec. 3, 2012 agenda.
And the council gave initial approval to a zoning request in connection with the proposed Summit Townhomes project site, just east of Stone School Road. The land was recently annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township.
Also as a result of council action, Ann Arbor residents could have some additional flexibility for parking cars on their front lawns – beyond just the occasions of University of Michigan football games.
In other business, the council approved the appointment of Carrie Leahy to the board of the local development finance authority (LDFA). The LDFA is a tax-increment finance (TIF)-funded entity that comprises the geographic area of the city of Ann Arbor’s downtown development authority, as well as the city of Ypsilanti’s DDA.
Other public commentary heard at the meeting included remarks opposing continued investment in companies that provide military hardware to Israel.
One hour immediately preceding the regular meeting was a special session of the council. Its agenda consisted only of a closed session, to discuss labor negotiations – which is an allowable topic for a closed session under the Michigan Open Meetings Act.