Stories indexed with the term ‘greenbelt’

Art Lobby Averts Temporary Funding Cut

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 5, 2011): In a meeting that pushed well past midnight, the Ann Arbor city council backed off making a temporary reduction to the city’s public art funding.

Marsha Chamberlin Christopher Taylor

Marsha Chamberlin and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) before the start of the Ann Arbor city council's Dec. 5 meeting. Chamberlin is chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission. (Photos by the writer.)

At its Nov. 21 meeting, the council had given initial approval to ordinance revisions that included temporarily reducing the required 1% allocation to public art from all city capital improvement projects, dropping the amount to 0.5% for the period from 2012 to 2015. Neither that provision, nor one that would have required allocated funds to be spent on public art within a specific period of time, survived a final vote. What did survive was a prohibition against using general fund dollars for public art projects, as well as an exclusion of sidewalk repair from the definition of projects triggering the public art requirement.

Councilmembers who had previously argued for the temporary reduction, but changed their positions after intense lobbying by the arts community – both privately and at the lengthy public hearing – included Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and mayor John Hieftje. All face possible re-election campaigns in 2012. Questions about the legal foundation of Ann Arbor’s public art program, which taps utility fees and dedicated millage funds to pay for public art, were raised again at the meeting by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

In other significant business, the council gave final approval to an expansion of the area around Ann Arbor that is eligible for protection using funds from the voter-approved greenbelt millage.

The council also approved its side of a deal to contract out Ann Arbor police dispatching services to the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office – at an annual cost of $759,089. The city expects eventually to save $500,000 a year with the move, which will entail laying off all of the city’s current dispatchers, not all of whom would be able to obtain employment within the expanded sheriff’s office dispatch operation.

The council also formally tabled a proposed ordinance that would have provided residents with the ability to forbid the delivery of newspapers to their property – by posting a notice on their front doors. The city’s code already prohibits depositing newspapers onto sidewalks.

A sidewalk along Dexter Avenue, east of Maple Road, was the subject of a special tax authorized by the council to be applied to property owners there. The city will use the funds to construct a continuous sidewalk along that stretch, and make curb and gutter improvements.

The council took care of several housekeeping issues, including approving its set of rules for the coming year and making its committee appointments. Those included the appointment of Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) as the council representative to the board of the local development finance authority – replacing Stephen Rapundalo, who was defeated by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) in the Nov. 8 election. But Rapundalo was appointed as a citizen representative to the board and will thus continue to serve on that body. Council committee appointments were only slightly shuffled, because Lumm was assigned to a number of spots Rapundalo had previously filled.

At the end of the meeting, Hieftje announced a nomination to replace Sue McCormick on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – Eli Cooper. Cooper has previously served on the AATA board and is the city’s transportation program manager.

Highlights during public commentary included advocacy for a 24/7 warming shelter to be staffed by volunteers from the community, and support for 14-year Ann Arbor resident Lourdes Salazar Bautista, who faces deportation later this month. [Full Story]

Initial OK: Less Art Money, Bigger Greenbelt

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 21, 2011): After the ceremonial swearing in of councilmembers who won their elections on Nov. 8, the council devoted more time to deliberations on modifying its public art ordinance than on any other item on its agenda.

Leslie Morris Jane Lumm Ann Arbor City Council

Before the Nov. 21 meeting, former councilmember Leslie Morris (left) might be reminding Jane Lumm (Ward 2) which ward Lumm represents on the Ann Arbor city council. (Photos by the writer.)

In the end, the council gave initial approval to an ordinance amendment that would temporarily reduce the required allocation to public art from city capital improvement projects – from 1% to 0.5% for a period of three years. After three years, the percentage would automatically revert to 1%. Of the various amendments to the ordinance, the percentage of the required allocation was the focus of the most controversy during council deliberations. A bid by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to lower the percentage further to 0.25% gained little support.

Other art ordinance amendments given the council’s initial approval include a requirement that public art money be returned to its fund of origin after three years, if not encumbered by a specific art project. The amendment also included a definitional change that effectively excludes sidewalk repair from the public art ordinance. The amendments also addressed the general fund, making explicit the exclusion of general fund projects from the public art ordinance.

During deliberations, city staff confirmed that at least a portion of the public art allocation required from the new municipal building (aka the police/courts building) could be associated with the general fund – about $50,000 out of the $250,000. [This is for art in the interior of the building, and is separate from the outdoor fountain designed by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl.]

As part of her Ward 2 election campaign, Jane Lumm had argued that general fund dollars were connected to supporting public art at the new municipal building – an idea that had been, until Monday’s meeting, poo-pooed by some councilmembers, including mayor John Hieftje, who had said no general fund money had been used for the public art program.

Lumm was active in her first council meeting since serving in the 1990s. During deliberations on a revision to the ordinance on the city’s greenbelt boundaries, she prompted extended discussion on the part of the revision dealing with the boundary expansion. A less controversial part of the proposed revision involved allowing parcels adjacent to the boundary to be eligible for protection. In the end, the council gave initial approval to both parts of the greenbelt boundary change.

Also related to land use were two site plans on the agenda. The council gave initial approval to altering the University Bank site plan for its property at 2015 Washtenaw Ave., known as the Hoover Mansion. And the council signed off on the site plan, as well as the brownfield plan, for Arbor Hills Crossing, a proposed retail and office complex at Platt and Washtenaw.

Because the content of a proposed revision to the city’s littering and handbill law was not available to the public until late in the day Monday, just before the council met, the council postponed its consideration of that item. The ordinance amendment would allow residents to prevent delivery of unwanted newspapers to their homes by posting a notice on their front doors.

In other business, the council expressed its opposition to a bill pending in the Michigan legislature that would nullify an Ann Arbor ordinance on non-discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or student status. At the meeting, the council also authorized acceptance of several grants for the 15th District Court for programs on domestic violence and substance abuse.

In routine business for the first council meeting after newly elected councilmembers take office, the council elected Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) as mayor pro tem. Committee appointments and rule changes were postponed until Dec. 5. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Adds to Greenbelt

At its Nov. 10, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved use of its open space and parkland preservation (greenbelt) millage funds to preserve two parcels outside the city through the purchase of conservation easements.

The city of Ann Arbor is partnering with Ann Arbor Township and Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation by contributing $49,500 towards the $99,000 cost of a conservation easement on a 23-acre property owned by Joe Bloch in Ann Arbor Township. Part of the land is currently used for farming.

For a second parcel, the council authorized $15,000 to partner with the Legacy Land Conservancy to preserve a 30-acre property owned by Charles Botero in Northfield Township. Botero is donating the conservation easement to the Legacy Land Conservancy – the $15,000 will cover the closing, due diligence, and stewardship costs for the property.

The greenbelt advisory commission recommended both fund expenditures at its Sept. 14, 2011 meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Briefed on Pittsfield Plan

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Aug. 10, 2011): Possible partnerships with other local communities – including Pittsfield and Salem townships – were the focus of this month’s greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) meeting.

Paul Montagno, Anissa Bowden

Pittsfield Township planner Paul Montagno helps Anissa Bowden of the Ann Arbor city clerk's staff set up his presentation for the greenbelt advisory commission at its Aug. 10, 2011 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Township planner Paul Montagno briefed commissioners on Pittsfield Township’s updated master plan, which the township board approved late last month. Specifically, he focused on the section concerning open space, natural features and agricultural land use. He described efforts to balance denser development along corridors like State Road and Michigan Avenue while protecting more rural land, especially in the central and southern parts of the township.

Pittsfield Township has partnered with Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program on just one property – the Hilton farm, near the township’s large Pittsfield Preserve nature area. However, Montagno indicated that township officials are open to future land preservation deals with the greenbelt.

Also during the Aug. 10 meeting, Ginny Trocchio of The Conservation Fund, which manages Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program, reported that the previous day, the Salem Township board had approved an ordinance that created a purchase of development rights (PDR) program, and allocated $200,000 annually for land preservation. GAC is considering possible expansion of the greenbelt boundaries, including an expansion in Salem Township. The boundary proposal was discussed at the commission’s July meeting, and will be on the agenda again in September.

The commission took one formal vote on Wednesday, after emerging from a closed session to discuss land acquisition. Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution recommending that city council move forward with application 2010-09 if at least 50% matching funds are secured. Properties are identified only by application number at this stage, and the resolution did not indicate what type of land acquisition this would entail. Typically, greenbelt monies are spent on the purchase of development rights (PDR).

There is currently one vacancy on GAC. Shannon Brines, owner of Brines Farm and a member of the city’s public market advisory commission, attended Wednesday’s meeting and expressed interest in applying for the seat. Nominations to GAC are made and approved by the city council. [Full Story]

Proposal Would Expand Greenbelt Boundaries

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (July 13, 2011): After discussing several options to expand the boundaries of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program, members of the greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) ultimately voted to postpone action until their next meeting. Several commissioners expressed a desire to give the proposal more thought. One issue raised was whether extending the boundaries would cause Ann Arbor taxpayers to feel that their dollars are being spent to preserve land too far away from the city.

Liz Rother

Liz Rother attended her first meeting as an Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioner on July 13. Her appointment was approved by the city council in June – she replaced Jennifer S. Hall, whose term had expired and who was term limited.

A subcommittee of GAC has been evaluating a potential greenbelt boundary change since November 2010. Options included expanding in Salem Township and Lodi Township to “square” off the boundaries, and allowing properties adjacent to the greenbelt to be eligible for the program. Another option would be to create a one-mile “buffer” around the existing boundaries, and include properties within that buffer if they met stricter criteria. Whatever recommendation GAC eventually makes would require Ann Arbor city council approval.

Also at July’s meeting, commissioners got an update on Scio Township’s land preservation efforts from Barry Lonik (a consultant who works with the township) and Bruce Manny (a member of the township’s land preservation commission). Lonik noted that the township’s 10-year, half-mill land preservation millage expires in 2014. The land preservation commission would like to get a renewal on the November 2012 ballot, to coincide with higher voter turnout for the presidential election.

It was the first meeting for GAC’s newest commissioner, Liz Rother, who was appointed by the city council in June to replace term-limited Jennifer Santi Hall. Another position, held by former GAC member Gil Omenn, remains vacant. Dan Ezekiel – who was elected GAC’s chair at the meeting – urged anyone who’s interested in serving on the commission to contact their city councilmember.

During his communications to fellow commissioners, Ezekiel noted the recent death of “Grandpa” Don Botsford, calling him a real pioneer and champion of land preservation in this area. Botsford was man who lived in poverty rather than sell his land to developers, Ezekiel said. He eventually sold part of his property’s development rights to Scio Township, in partnership with Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program – it’s now known as the Botsford Recreational Preserve, near M-14 and Miller Road. Botsford introduced thousands of people to the natural environment, Ezekiel said, so it was fitting to note his contribution and his passing. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Adds Lodi Farm to Greenbelt

At its July 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized the purchase of development rights for a 110-acre property along Pleasant Lake Road in Lodi Township – the Lindemann-Weidmayer property. The city’s cost for the PDR will be $387,372. The total budget for the project is $699,992, including contributions from other funding sources.

On Feb. 7, 2011 the council had already approved a grant application to the federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program for the purchase of development rights on the property. And on June 6, 2011 the council approved the acceptance of $312,620 from the USDA for the purchase. The deal had been recommended by the city’s greenbelt advisory commission, after discussion in a closed session at its Feb. 9, 2011 meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Park, Greenbelt Advisory Groups Share Goals

Joint working session of the Ann Arbor park and greenbelt advisory commissions (June 7, 2011): Even with a fan blowing, the meeting room at Gallup Park was hot and stuffy. But members of the city’s greenbelt and park advisory commissions toughed it out for about 90 minutes to hold their second-ever joint working session earlier this month.

Peter Allen, Julie Grand, Ella and Jennifer Santi Hall, Dan Ezekiel

From left: Peter Allen, Julie Grand, Ella and Jennifer Santi Hall, Dan Ezekiel. Grand is chair of the park advisory commission. Allen, Hall and Ezekiel are greenbelt advisory commissioners. Jennifer Hall has served as GAC chair, but her term is ending on the commission – this was her last meeting. Ella Hall also had attended the first GAC meeting with her mother seven years ago – she was three weeks old at the time. (Photo by the writer.)

They covered many of the same topics that they’d discussed at their first joint meeting in April 2010 – funding issues, land preservation and acquisition strategies, as well as specific projects like the Allen Creek greenway and support for small farms.

Ginny Trocchio of The Conservation Fund, which has a contract to manage the greenbelt and park land acquisition programs, gave commissioners an overview of finances, projects and goals. Both programs are funded by a 30-year, 0.5 mill tax for land acquisition, called the open space and parkland preservation millage, which Ann Arbor voters approved in 2003. Two-thirds of the millage proceeds are used for the greenbelt program, and one-third is allotted to park land acquisition. To get money upfront for land acquisition, the city took out a $20 million bond in fiscal 2006 that’s being paid back with revenue from the millage. Current combined fund balances for the two programs total nearly $9 million.

Trocchio also highlighted an upcoming event to celebrate the greenbelt program. On Thursday, June 16, an open house will be hosted at the Braun farm – one of the program’s protected properties in Ann Arbor Township. The event is free and open to the public, and starts at 5:30 p.m. – parking is available at 4175 Whitmore Lake Road.

At the end of the June 7 meeting, commissioners congratulated two GAC members for their service – it was the final meeting for Gil Omenn and Jennifer Santi Hall, who has served as chair. Their terms expire June 30, and it’s not clear when appointments to replace them will be made. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Commission Terms Revised

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (May 11, 2011): Wednesday was the last regular meeting for two greenbelt commissioners – terms end on June 30 for chair Jennifer S. Hall and Gil Omenn, who were both active in efforts to launch the program. Both have reached the term limits for serving on GAC.

Jennifer S. Hall

Jennifer S. Hall, chair of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, presided over her last regular meeting on May 11. Her term ends on June 30; GAC's June meeting will be a joint session with the city's park advisory commission.

Instead of holding their regular meetings in June, the greenbelt and park advisory commissions have scheduled a joint working session to discuss common goals and priorities – they last met jointly in April 2010.

Term limits were raised in another context during Wednesday’s meeting, when commissioners were asked to recommend that city council restate current GAC membership terms. Mary Fales of the city attorney’s office has been working on the revisions, after inconsistencies were discovered for current appointments. For example, a term for Ecology Center director Mike Garfield ended on June 30, 2009. Though he continued to serve, he was not officially reappointed to another three-year term until Sept. 21, 2010. Under the resolution recommended by GAC, all terms would end on June 30, over staggered years.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners got an update about Michigan budget-related legislation that would cut tax credits for farmers. They were also briefed by staff about changes to the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program – the city has received millions of dollars worth of FRPP grants over the years to offset the cost of development rights purchased in the greenbelt.

Ginny Trocchio, support staff for the greenbelt program, told commissioners that June 16 is the date for a greenbelt celebration, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Braun farm in Ann Arbor Township, which was added to the greenbelt in 2010. The event will be open to the public, and will include a presentation to highlight the program’s accomplishments.

Dan Ezekiel, GAC’s vice chair, reported that the subcommittee he’s leading to look at possible changes in the greenbelt boundary will be making a proposal at the commission’s July 13 meeting.

And in its final action of the meeting, commissioners emerged from a closed session and voted to recommend that Ann Arbor city council make a $127,200 offer for the purchase of development rights on a property within the greenbelt. Before appearing on the city council’s agenda, details of these greenbelt acquisitions are not made public – parcels are identified only by their application number. [Full Story]

Greenbelt, County Look to Partner on Farms

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (March 9, 2011): Changes to Washtenaw County’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP) now allow the county to buy development rights for farmland – a land preservation strategy also pursued by Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program.

Ginny Trocchio, Tom Freeman

Tom Freeman, deputy director of Washtenaw County parks & recreation, and Ginny Trocchio of The Conservation Fund distribute handouts to the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission at GAC's March 9, 2011 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Tom Freeman, deputy director for the county’s parks & recreation department, gave commissioners an update on this new aspect of NAPP, which is funded by a 10-year millage that voters renewed in November 2010. He discussed with commissioners areas of overlap between the two programs, and the potential for future partnerships as NAPP’s farmland protection efforts ramp up.

Prompted by a question from GAC chair Jennifer S. Hall, Freeman also updated commissioners about the county’s plans to apply for a grant from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund. The grant would help the county buy a parcel in Ann Arbor Township now owned by a subsidiary of Domino’s Farms. The land, which has water and sewer hookups that make it prime for development, is near three other parcels of already preserved property: the county’s Goodrich Preserve; the University of Michigan’s Horner-McLaughlin Woods; and the city-owned Marshall Nature Area. Freeman explained some complicating factors in the acquisition, including two widely divergent appraisals – for $1.9 million and $3.25 million – and the fact that the land is at the center of ongoing litigation between the township and the landowner.

When Hall floated the idea that the greenbelt commission could send a letter of support for the county’s application, Carsten Hohnke cautioned against it. Hohnke, who serves on both GAC and city council, said the city also plans to apply to the trust fund for two projects. [He didn't identify the projects during the meeting. In a follow-up email to The Chronicle, Colin Smith, the city's parks & recreation manager, reported that the applications would be for a skatepark and upgrades to the Gallup canoe livery and park.]

Hohnke felt the county’s application could dilute the city’s chances for success, though it was pointed out to him that the county and city would be applying to two separate pools of funding – the county plans to ask for a grant available for land acquisitions, while the city’s projects are in the category of project development grants. Ultimately, commissioners voted to recommend that the city council consider sending a letter of support for the county’s application. Councilmembers would need to act at their next regular meeting on March 21 – the deadline to apply is April 1.

Also at GAC’s March 9 meeting, commissioner Tom Bloomer – who owns Bur Oaks Farm in Webster Township – reported on a plan to eliminate state tax credits for farmers. It’s part of a broader budget proposal by Gov. Rick Snyder to cut many of the tax incentives currently offered by the state – the most high profile of which is for the film industry. Eliminating the credits for farming could make it unprofitable to farm in this area, Bloomer said. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Gets Mid-Year Financial Review

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (Feb. 9, 2011): The main event of the commission’s Wednesday meeting was a review of the second-quarter financial picture. The review was presented  by Ginny Trocchio, who works for The Conservation Fund, a consultant the city employs to assist with administering the greenbelt millage. Highlights of the presentation included the calculation of administrative overhead costs – including The Conservation Fund’s work – which are well below the legal maximum of 6%.

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Map, boundaries and property

Blobs inside the squarish boundaries represent properties or development rights acquired with greenbelt millage funds. The darker squarish area is the original area where millage funds could be spent. The lighter strips to the east, south, and west were added in 2007. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Though not included explicitly in the millage language, the city approaches the administration of the millage as a one-third/two-thirds split between a portion for parks and a portion for the greenbelt program. So as part of the financial review, commissioners also looked at current fund balances as analyzed based on the one-third/two-third split between parks and greenbelt projects. Noting that the greenbelt fund balance might be on track to be drawn down before the parks portion is exhausted, commissioners seemed to agree that now is a good time to begin mulling what should happen if that scenario played out. The group discussed holding a joint meeting between the park and greenbelt advisory commissions – their last joint session was held in April 2010.

Also discussed on Wednesday was the scheduling of a first meeting of a commission subcommittee that will look at the question of changing greenbelt boundaries. The boundaries define the region where land or development rights on land might be acquired by the greenbelt program. Any change to those boundaries would ultimately require approval from the Ann Arbor city council. [Full Story]

Marijuana Law Stalls; Future Projects OK’d

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Feb. 7, 2011): At its Monday meeting, the council made some progress on further amendments to a proposed licensing scheme for medical marijuana businesses, but ultimately decided to postpone their initial vote on the licensing law. Among the amendments made by the council on Monday night was one that provided a definition of a “cultivation facility” – something that a council caucus attendee had suggested the night before.

The postponement of an initial vote to the council’s next meeting, on Feb. 21 22, means that a final vote on licensing could not come sooner than the council’s March 7 meeting. An initial vote on zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses was already taken by the council at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting. On Monday, the final vote on those zoning regulations was also postponed to March 7. The council’s pattern over the last two months has been to postpone the final vote on zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses so that it will coincide with the final vote on licensing.

Betsy and Alex de Parry

Betsy and Alex de Parry listen as councilmembers deliberate the question of whether to grant a fee waiver if de Parry resubmits his Heritage Row project to the city.  (Photos by the writer.)

The council also took action on several development-related issues. Without discussion, councilmembers approved an amendment to a contract with Village Green to develop a 244-space parking deck as the first two stories of a 9-story building, City Apartments – a 156-unit residential planned unit development (PUD) at First and Washington. The contract approval is part of a series of milestones that is planned to culminate in Village Green’s purchase of the city-owned land parcel for $3 million by June 1, 2011, and with construction starting later in the summer.

The council also approved an application fee reduction, from nearly $5,000 to $2,000, for the developer of Heritage Row, a residential project proposed for Fifth Avenue just south of William Street – if  the project is resubmitted within 90 days. The resolution began as a fee waiver, but was amended to be a reduction. On resubmission, the project will go through the complete review process, starting with a citizen participation meeting.

The council also took action to implement the city’s new design guidelines for new downtown buildings. It sets a purely voluntary review and compliance process in place for now, with the expectation that the mandatory review process with voluntary compliance will be implemented later.

The council unanimously approved the city’s new capital improvements plan (CIP) after a close 6-5 vote that removed an item calling for an extension to the Ann Arbor municipal airport runway. And one item appearing in the CIP was moved ahead to possible fruition: A possible roundabout for the Maiden Lane and Fuller Road intersection will be studied and engineered under a $460,139 contract with DLZ Michigan Inc.

At Monday’s meeting, the council also authorized applications for federal matching funds to acquire development rights for two greenbelt properties.

And labor issues found their way into the deliberations in two ways. First, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), chair of the council’s labor committee, gave a breakdown of the large disparity between health care costs paid by the city’s fire and police union members as contrasted with the city’s non-union staff, as well as with University of Michigan employees. Second, as part of its consent agenda, the council approved a $54,000 contract with a consultant to study fire protection service requirements in Ann Arbor. The city administrator cited such a study at a recent council budget retreat as useful if the city decides to contemplate a shift to a combined paid-on-call and full-time staff fire department. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Applies for Greenbelt Matches

At its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to approve applications to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRLPP) for matching grant funds for the purchase of development rights on two properties: 110 acres on the Lindemann-Weidmayer farm in Lodi Township, and 92 acres on the Grosshans farm in Superior Township.

The city’s cost would be paid out of the greenbelt millage funds. The federal match would be up to 50% of the appraised fair market value of the development rights, up to a maximum of $5,000 per acre. The greenbelt advisory commission recommended at its Dec. 8, 2010 meeting that the city make the applications to the FRLPP.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Greenbelt Gets Equestrian Request

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Jan. 12, 2011): The owners of Cobblestone Farms in Webster Township – Jim and Darlyn Daratony – have applied to the greenbelt program for a parcel adjacent to their business.

Jim Daratony

Jim Daratony, owner of Cobblestone Farms in Webster Township, made a presentation at the Jan. 12 meeting of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. To the right is Jennifer Merrick-Brooks, an equestrian trainer and coach. (Photos by the writer.)

It’s the first equestrian-related property to be considered for the greenbelt, so they came to commissioners to make their case for including it. The land is used for a sport called “eventing,” which includes a cross-country component. Jim Daratony said the eventing competitions that they’ve held so far on the property have drawn people from as far away as Texas – he stated that it’s having a positive economic impact on this area.

Commissioners also heard from John Satarino, one of the original advocates of the greenbelt program, who spoke during public commentary. He urged them to consider making more outright acquisitions of property, which could then be open to the public. Much of the land protected by the greenbelt is done through the purchase of development rights, with the land remaining private property.

In her staff update, Ginny Trocchio reported that in 2010, the greenbelt program had protected just over 1,000 acres of land, bringing the total of greenbelt land to nearly 3,000 acres. [Full Story]

Washtenaw, What’s Your Farmer Grow?

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Dec. 8, 2010): Here’s one thing that greenbelt commissioners learned at their Wednesday meeting: Washtenaw County contains 166,881 acres of farmland, yet the county ranks low on an index that gauges an area’s ability to produce enough food to meet the needs of local residents.

Jennifer S. Hall, Peg Kohring

Greenbelt advisory commission chair Jennifer S. Hall, left, talks with Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund prior to GAC's Dec. 8 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Staff gave an overview of agricultural production statewide and in Washtenaw County, with the goal of providing some context as commissioners consider how to support local farmland within the greenbelt. It’s an issue that’s emerged frequently at previous GAC meetings, and one that the commission’s chair, Jennifer S. Hall, said they’ll be continuing to address in the coming months.

Farmland also played a role in reaching a milestone announced later in the meeting: With the recent acquisition of development rights for the Ledwidge Farm in Webster Township, the greenbelt program has completed its first 1,000-acre block of protected open space. The news prompted a round of applause from commissioners. [Full Story]

Time to Expand Greenbelt Boundary?

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Nov. 10, 2010): At this month’s meeting, commissioners unanimously approved forming a subcommittee to explore possible changes to the existing boundary of the greenbelt district. Led by GAC vice chair Dan Ezekiel, the group will look for ways to protect properties that might be appropriate for the greenbelt, but that lie just outside of the current district. A similar effort in 2007 resulted in bumping out the boundary by a mile.

Lisa Gottlieb

Lisa Gottlieb, organizer of the Selma Cafe, made a presentation with her husband, Jeff McCabe, at the Nov. 10 meeting of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. (Photos by the writer.)

Noting that this was the second time they’d looked at the issue, GAC chair Jennifer S. Hall suggested exploring other ways that the greenbelt program might achieve the same result, but that wouldn’t involve regularly moving the program’s fixed boundary.

Another theme of the meeting was local food. Two local food advocates – Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe – gave a presentation about their work raising money to fund construction of hoop houses at local farms. Gottlieb and McCabe host the weekly Selma Cafe, a breakfast gathering every Friday morning at their home that regularly draws more than 120 people. Commissioner Dan Ezekiel praised their work, and GAC chair Jennifer S. Hall expressed the hope that they could find ways to work together in the future.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners voted to recommend an agreement with Webster Township, which is offering to contribute $50,000 to the purchase of development rights for the 146-acre Whitney farm. The city council has already agreed to pay $707,122 toward that purchase.

Greenbelt program manager Ginny Trocchio reported that the city has closed on the 51-acre Gould property, adjacent to the recently protected 286-acre Braun farm – both farms are located in Ann Arbor Township. The Braun acquisition bumped the greenbelt program over the 2,000-acre mark, she said – about 2,200 acres are now part of the greenbelt. The Brauns have agreed to open their property for a celebration in the coming months.

In other action, GAC voted unanimously to set public commentary rules in alignment with other city boards and commissions. And Hall noted that two vacancies will be opening up next year on GAC – she encouraged local residents who might be interested in serving on the commission to attend some of their meetings, or talk to their city councilmember about their interest.

The commission also got an update from city treasurer Matt Horning, who was responding to questions that commissioners had raised regarding a drop in investment income on the latest year-end financial statement. [Full Story]

Column: A Broadside for Barn Preservation

Editor’s note: The Chronicle’s regular coverage of civic affairs includes many meetings of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) as well as the city’s historic district commission (HDC). The GAC oversees the spending of revenues from a millage dedicated to the preservation of open space – much of it in the countryside around Ann Arbor. Inside the city, the HDC is charged with reviewing requests for modifications to structures that are preserved in Ann Arbor’s 14 historic districts.

In following The Chronicle’s coverage of these issues, local architect Chuck Bultman has been wrestling with the notion of where old barns fit into this preservation picture.

Every architect remembers that first time they went into a barn – the vastness of the space, the hewn beams, the light streaming through all of those gaps. For me it was in southwest Virginia, in the country going to college. I was captivated by the light and space. Outside, the farmyard also made its statement. The large red barn, along with the out-buildings made a room with a silo in it, not so much unlike a piazza with a campanile.

Barns have an interesting place in the built world. They are icons in the landscape, and as such it is easy for us all to assume a familiarity, bordering on ownership. After all, they have been there for as long as you can remember and you expect them to be there long after you are gone. We think of barns not as in the landscape. Instead, like rivers or mountains, they seem part of it – an inseparable part of the countryside that surrounds towns and cities across the country, coloring the landscape with distinct personalities. They are variously described as timeless, strong, permanent, and historic.

But barns are not part of the landscape, nor are they timeless, permanent, or historic – at least as we might commonly apply the word “historic” to an achievement, for example. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Commission Reviews Finances

The Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (Sept. 8, 2010): At their September meeting, commissioners got a financial update on the city’s greenbelt program, reviewing unaudited statements from fiscal 2009-10.

Peg Kohring, Lindsay-Jean Hard, Cara Rosaen

Lindsay-Jean Hard, standing, gives a presentation about Real Time Farms to the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. In the foreground is Cara Rosaen, marketing director for the business. Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund, which manages the greenbelt program, looks on. (Photo by the writer.)

Financial manager Kelli Martin reported that revenues from the 30-year open space and parkland preservation millage, which funds the greenbelt as well as land acquisition for parks, were $2.262 million in FY10. Combined with grants and other sources, total revenues for the year reached $3.413 million.

Some commissioners questioned a sharp drop in investment income – from $815,261 last year to $130,011 in FY 2010 – and Martin agreed to ask Matt Horning, the city’s treasurer, for a more detailed report on that issue.

Total expenditures rose 19% to $5.087 million, an increase mostly attributable to greenbelt projects – $3.427 million spent during FY10, compared to $2.641 million in FY 2009. The program bought development rights to three properties during the fiscal year: the Nixon farm in Webster Township, the Girbach farm Lodi Township, and the Webster Church property in Webster Township.

The Sept. 8 meeting began with a presentation by two representatives of Real Time Farms, who asked the commission to help them market their business – an online guide to local foods. [Full Story]

Leveling the Field for Small Farms

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (July 14, 2010): Small farms and local food production again was a focus of the greenbelt advisory commission (GAC), as they considered revisions to easement language and scoring criteria for the greenbelt program.

Jennifer S. Hall

Jennifer Santi Hall was elected chair of the city's greenbelt advisory commission at their July meeting, replacing Laura Rubin in that role. (Photos by the writer.)

The discussion prompted one commissioner, Dan Ezekiel, to underscore that they weren’t trying to favor small farms – they were simply trying to offset the advantages that the program has previously afforded to larger farms.

A review of revisions to the greenbelt program’s scoring criteria included a robust discussion about the meaning of “local food economy.” One of the proposed revisions would award points to farms that produce local food and contribute to the local food economy.

Commissioner Tom Bloomer, a Webster Township farmer, argued that all farms in Washtenaw County contribute to the local food economy, either directly or indirectly. Jennifer Santi Hall, who had proposed the change, agreed to withdraw the item from the scoring criteria so that they could refine the language. But she noted that it was important to find some way of including criteria for local food production, to align the scoring of applications with the greenbelt program’s strategic plan, which includes a section on the local food economy.

Later in the meeting, after nearly an hour in closed session to discuss land acquisition, the commission recommended allocating nearly $3 million in five separate deals, the majority of them for the purchase of development rights of local farms. Those recommendations will be forwarded to city council for final approval. [Full Story]

Zingerman’s Moves on to HDC

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (July 19, 2010): On Monday night, Zingerman’s Deli partners enjoyed complete support with no dissent from the city council, or the community at large, for their plans to expand the Detroit Street location. The council approved the site plan for the 10,000-square-foot addition, as well as a brownfield application.


Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Ann Arbor chief of police Barnett Jones chat during a break in the July 19 council meeting just after passage of a new pedestrian ordinance. During deliberations on that ordinance, Jones had cited the Canadian cultural practice of pedestrians standing on the curb and simply pointing to the crosswalk, which prompts motorists to stop for them. The remark had earned a thumbs-up from Rapundalo, who is a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen.

Intended as an extra measure of support for Zingerman’s was a third resolution communicating to the city’s historic district commission (HDC) the council’s view that the project represents a substantial benefit to the community. The proposal includes demolition of one house and the integration of another house into the architecture of the proposed new construction. Because the site is located in the Old Fourth Ward, the HDC will need to give its approval, in order for the project to be built. The message sent by the council to the HDC was clear: We want this project approved.

The council also sent a clear message to its firefighter and police unions, which the city hopes will soon ratify contracts that will save the city money. At the meeting, the council approved labor agreements with two other groups – the Teamsters civilian supervisors and the Teamsters police professional assistants. That added to bargained changes with the police deputy chiefs union that were approved at the council’s previous meeting on July 6. All three agreements reflected cost savings to the city through greater contributions by union members to health and retirement benefits and no increase in wages.

The implicit message to the firefighter and police unions was given explicit form through a position statement from the council’s labor committee and read aloud by Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), the chair of that committee. The statement calls on those unions to follow the example of the three who have already ratified contracts.

The council also gave final approval to a new pedestrian safety ordinance, which requires motorists to stop for pedestrians who are in, or even approaching, crosswalks that lack any traffic control device. During deliberations, the council swapped in “stop” to make the ordinance stronger than the originally proposed “yield.”

In other business, the council authorized the specific allocation of over $1 million in already-budgeted funds to nonprofits providing human services, approved liquor licenses for two downtown businesses, authorized the hire of a community energy coordinator using federal funds, got an update on the future of the Library Lot, and heard public commentary on a range of issues. [Full Story]

Land Uses Expand; Plan Regs Relaxed

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (July 6, 2010) Part 2: The two main events of the council’s Tuesday meeting were consideration of a historic district on Fourth and Fifth avenues and a resolution opposing Arizona’s recently passed law requiring local law enforcement officers to follow up on possibly undocumented immigrants.


Eunice Burns and Shirley Axon, co-founders of Huron River Day, were at the podium to receive a proclamation honoring the event to be held July 11. (Photos by the writer.)

Public commentary and deliberations on those two issues sent the council’s meeting well past midnight. [Chronicle coverage of those issues is included in Part 1 of this meeting report: "Unscripted: Historic District, Immigration"]

The council transacted a lot of other business as well. Councilmembers approved a change to the zoning code that modifies the list of allowable uses for public land so that the planned Fuller Road Station can be accommodated. Also passed was a change to the site plan approval process, which relaxes the requirement that up-to-date site plans be accessible to the public on a 24/7 basis.

Parks were front and center, and not just because of the public hearing and council action on allowable uses of public land. At the start of the meeting, a proclamation was made for Huron River Day, which takes place at Gallup Park on Sunday, July 11. And the council continued its pattern at the first meeting of the month of recognizing volunteers who help maintain the city’s parks through the Adopt-a-Park program.

In other action, the council approved the $2.5 million purchase of development rights for the 286-acre Braun farm in Ann Arbor Township, as recommended by the city’s greenbelt advisory commission, and established a residential parking permit program for the South University area. [Full Story]

Greenbelt: How Best to Support Small Farms?

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (June 9, 2010): Under typical agreements crafted for the city’s greenbelt program, only 2% of land protected by a greenbelt conservation easement is allowed to be covered by an impervious surface – a house, for example, or roads.

A hoop house at Sunseed Farm

A hoop house at Sunseed Farm, northwest of Ann Arbor. (Photo by Marianne Rzepka.)

To date, that hasn’t been an issue for most parcels in the program, which are fairly large – more than 40 acres. But as the greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) considers ways to support small farms – in the 15-20 acre range – some challenges have emerged. A farm of that size with hoop houses, for example, might easily result in covering more than 2% of the land.

During the public portion of this month’s GAC meeting, commissioners discussed how to address this and other issues that might require modifying the language in conservation easements for the city’s greenbelt program. Also addressed were strategies to ensure that the land stays in agriculture for future generations.

No action was taken at the June 9 meeting, and comments from commissioners indicate there’s also no clear consensus yet for how to handle this relatively new greenbelt focus. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Supports Ann Arbor Twp. Deals

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (March 10, 2010): After hearing from Ann Arbor Township supervisor Mike Moran, and meeting in closed session with Mary Fales of the city attorney’s office, commissioners passed a resolution of support for the acquisition of development rights on the Braun and Gould properties in Ann Arbor Township.

These deals have been in the works for more than two years. The city has binding purchase agreements with the owners based on appraisals taken when land values were higher. New appraisals, required to get funds from a federal program, came in with much lower values. That means fewer-than-expected federal funds will be available, and the city would be required to come up with the difference.

Saying that Ann Arbor Township was their partner, Moran urged commissioners to support the purchase of development rights. He called the Braun farm a “poster child” for the township’s land preservation movement, and said it would be a significant error to reject the deal simply because of the new appraisals.

Later in the meeting, commissioners also got an update on committee work being done to help support small farms in the greenbelt. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Delays Vote on Pay Cuts

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Feb. 16, 2010): Looming budget decisions were a prominent part of the council’s meeting. Around a dozen speakers addressed the council during a public hearing on housing and human services needs – the input will be used by the office of community development in making recommendations for city general fund expenditures.

Jim Mogensen

Jim Mogensen, speaking about the University of Michigan shouldering a half-million-dollar cost for the Central Campus Transit Center that the city would ordinarily have paid: "Look, it's not free." (Photos by the writer.)

The approval of a contract extension for the city’s public art administrator generated a great deal of discussion – partly concerning the dollar amount of the contract – and was passed despite dissent from three councilmembers.

But the council postponed a resolution that would have cut the base salaries of the city administrator and the city attorney by 3%, and would have directed the administrator to cut the salaries of non-union employees by 3% as well.

Another prominent theme of the meeting was real estate and infrastructure. Council approved the acquisition of a property within the city limits – a portion of the Black Elk’s site on Sunset Road – using greenbelt millage funds. They also approved the capital improvements plan (CIP), modified to delete an item for the extension and shifting of a runway at the Ann Arbor municipal airport. [Full Story]

Budget Round 2: What’s the Big Idea?

On Monday night, the Ann Arbor City Council continued with the second in a series of extra meetings devoted exclusively to budget issues. Much of the discussion was a review of information that councilmembers had deliberated at their Jan. 25 meeting, when the focus was specifically on the community services area.

Tom Crawford and Roger Fraser

At left is Tom Crawford, the city's CFO. To the right is Roger Fraser, city administrator. (Photos by the writer.)

The community services area comprises the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, planning and development, human services, and parks/recreation. The council had chosen to focus on that area first, because of the community service area administrator’s imminent departure – Jayne Miller’s last day working for the city is Feb. 12, 2010.

But Miller’s new post as director of the Huron Clinton Metro Authority (HCMA) factored into some of the conversation on Monday, ranging from HCMA’s canoe rental fee structure, to the (remote) possibility that HCMA might take over some of the city of Ann Arbor’s parks. It was those larger scope issues the council was meant to address on Monday.

So at Monday’s meeting, city administrator Roger Fraser labeled the occasion as a time to talk about the “big ideas” the council had been presented at their December 2009 budget retreat. And councilmembers did eventually come around to start grinding through the list of ideas.

Rather than organize our account of the meeting based on that list, we’ve identified some themes that might provide an alternate framing of some of the budget challenges. We’ve formulated them as questions: (i) What are the basic philosophies? (ii) Should anything be held harmless? (iii) What do we do with our land? (iv) Is increasing revenue an option? [Full Story]

City Restarts 415 W. Washington Process

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Feb. 1, 2010) Part II: In the first part of our report from Monday’s meeting, we covered the transportation and budget topics. This second part reports on land issues and other miscellaneous topics addressed at the meeting.

The vacant building on city-owned property at 415 W. Washington. This view is looking west – an entrance to a surface parking lot is in the foreground.

The vacant building on city-owned property at 415 W. Washington. This view is looking west – an entrance to a surface parking lot is in the foreground. (Photo by the writer.)

In its main land use business, the council approved a resolution to start a process for redeveloping the city-owned 415 W. Washington parcel. The resolution calls for the arts and greenway communities to lead fundraising and development of a vision for the parcel’s use. The site, across from the YMCA, is currently providing revenue to the city as a surface parking lot. It was previously the city’s maintenance yard.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) convinced her colleagues to add language that would make any future use of the parcel cost-neutral with respect to the general fund. But a bid by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) to add a “citizens committee” to the mix was rejected.

And while council approved several deals under the city’s greenbelt program, it postponed consideration of another – in the area of the Bluffs park and the Black Elks lodge on Sunset. The postponement was prompted by concern from Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) that the property’s appraised value seemed too high.

The council also extended an emergency moratorium on demolition and other work in a historic district study area south of William along Fourth and Fifth avenues, and adjusted permissible on-street parking locations along Baldwin Avenue in the Burns Park neighborhood.

And the council took time to thank some volunteers for its Adopt-a-Park program. The volunteers who were recognized at the meeting helped out at Ann Arbor’s parks through CHS Group Inc. [Full Story]

Dispute over Superior Township Settlement

There’s broad consensus on open space and farmland preservation among Superior Township’s roughly 13,000 residents.

A sign opposing property rezoning in Superior Township

A sign opposing property rezoning in Superior Township. (Photos by the writer.)

It’s evident in words like those on a banner in the township hall touting a commitment to preservation. It’s evident in actions like voter approval of a special tax to defend the community’s growth-management plan.

But for all the agreement, there’s discord over the means to that end.

Rather than fighting a lawsuit they say they expected to win, township officials have struck a deal with a development group that sued after a zoning change was denied.

Disappointed residents say the settlement bails out the developers, and is a retreat from a strategy of enacting and defending a strong master plan and zoning. Township officials say buying land and development rights – as the $400,000 settlement deal will do – is the only sure way to end the battle for good.

The real goal isn’t a legal victory, but the conservation of the community’s rural character, says township supervisor Bill McFarlane. “I feel we would have won the lawsuit this time, but land values will eventually go up again and we could be fighting this again in a year, or two years or five years.” [Full Story]

Northfield to Greenbelt: Keep Out

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (Dec. 9, 2009): During a relatively brief final meeting of 2009, members of the greenbelt advisory commission got reports on the program’s finances and its preservation activity for the last fiscal year.

Preserve Washtenaw sign

Signs like these will be used to mark land that's preserved through a variety of programs, including the Ann Arbor greenbelt. (Photos by the writer.)

Also discussed was a direct rebuff to the greenbelt program from Northfield Township’s supervisor, who wrote that the township wasn’t supportive of “an outside community exerting its influence on our community.”

Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund, which manages the greenbelt program for the city, had approached the township on behalf of landowners who were interested in participating in the greenbelt.

Commissioners strategized over how to respond, and are forming a group to talk with township officials about their concerns. [Full Story]

Frederick Farm in Line to Join Greenbelt

The distinctive red barn at Frederick Farm on Wagner Road.

The distinctive red barn at Frederick Farm on Wagner Road. (Photo by the writer.)

Not many people attended the September meeting of the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission, so it was easy to figure out who was there, and why. Scott Rosencrans, for example, came to introduce himself to the commission – he’s the new chair of the city’s Park Advisory Commission. He said he hoped the two groups could find ways to work together, given their common interests.

Others attending had a more specific goal in mind: To see whether GAC would approve the purchase of development rights to the Frederick Farm.

The commission did approve the PDR, sending it on to Ann Arbor’s city council for a vote to authorize the deal – it might be on the council’s agenda as early as November. If approved, it would be the first time the city’s greenbelt program has undertaken an agricultural project without federal funding, and the first time they’ve made a purchase in Lodi Township. If the Legacy Land Conservancy joins in on the deal as expected, it also would mark that nonprofit’s first participation in the city’s greenbelt initiative. [Full Story]

Unscripted Deliberations on Library Lot

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (July 6, 2009): The word “public” covered much of the ground of this past Monday’s meeting: public art, public land, public input.

closeup of printout of Anglin's amendment with edits by Briere

Mike Anglin’s (Ward 5) amendment with edits made by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) at the council table.

The council got an annual report from the Public Art Commission highlighted by a reminder that Herbert Dreiseitl will be visiting Ann Arbor on July 20 to introduce plans for the storm water art he’s been commissioned to design for the new municipal center. The designs have not yet been accepted.

The council also heard a report from the Greenbelt Advisory Commission on a slight strategy shift in the use of $10 million of public money so far to protect 1,321 acres of land. The  council also approved a resolution to preserve the First & William parking lot as public land.

The discussion of another parcel of public land, the library lot, led to long deliberations on the wording of a resolution to establish an RFP (request for proposals) process for development of the site – below which an underground parking structure is planned. At issue was the timing of the RFP and the explicit inclusion of a public participation component in the process. The deliberations provided some insight into how councilmembers work together when the outcome of their conversations at the table is not scripted or pre-planned. [Full Story]

City Starts Thinking About Counting Carbon

carbon credits management

Alfredo Nicastro, vice president of MGM International, described a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions at the March 26 meeting of the Ann Arbor environmental commission.

At last Thursday’s regular meeting of the Ann Arbor environmental commission, Alfredo Nicastro of MGM International gave a sales presentation for his company’s services – which served an educational opportunity about carbon credits, and the possibility of the future “compliance market” in the U.S. based on a cap-and-trade system. It was also an opportunity for environmental commissioners to start thinking about the impact of such a market system on the city of Ann Arbor.

In broad strokes, here’s how a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions – greenhouse gases – might work. The U.S. would set an overall limit – a cap – on the amount of a gas that can be emitted. Companies and other organizations, including entities like the city of Ann Arbor, would be issued permits (allowances, or credits) to emit a certain amount of carbon. The sum of all the emissions allowed by the permits would not exceed the amount specified in the cap. All organizations would have to comply with the requirement that they hold emission allowances at least equal to the amount of carbon they emit. [Full Story]