Stories indexed with the term ‘land preservation’

Two Scio Properties Added to Greenbelt

Acquisition of development rights for two properties in Scio Township has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council, using funds from the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage. The council’s action came at its Feb. 18, 2014 meeting.

The first is a 24-acre parcel just north of the Huron River in Scio Township. The city of Ann Arbor, through its greenbelt millage, will be contributing $25,200 to the total $84,000 cost of purchasing development rights, with the township contributing the difference. The deal was recommended by the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission at its Jan. 2, 2014 meeting.

[Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Briefed on Bioreserve

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Feb. 6, 2014): Kris Olsson, an ecologist with the Huron River Watershed Council, was on hand at GAC’s meeting to provide commissioners with an overview of the HRWC’s bioreserve project.

Kris Olsson, Huron River Watershed Council, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kris Olsson, a watershed ecologist with the Huron River Watershed Council, at the Feb. 6, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. (Photos by the writer.)

The aim of the project is to map, prioritize and encourage protection of the remaining natural areas in the Huron River watershed. The entire watershed covers about 994,000 acres. Of that about 247,000 acres are in the bioreserve. More than 1,700 sites have been mapped as potential natural areas.

The Ann Arbor greenbelt program is one of several partners in the project. Olsson told commissioners that the HRWC hopes this data is used to help land preservation programs like the greenbelt make informed decisions about how to protect natural areas.

Also during the Feb. 6 meeting, Ginny Trocchio – who provides staff support for the greenbelt program – briefed commissioners on the screening and scoring criteria used to review potential acquisitions for the greenbelt program. She reviewed characteristics that result in higher scores for property. For example, sites that receive higher scores have 3-4 natural features (stream corridors, woodlots or rare species), are located within 1 mile of the Ann Arbor city limits, and are located within a township or village that has passed a purchase-of-development-rights (PDR) ordinance.

Trocchio also reported that work on the greenbelt program’s new landowner registry is continuing.

The 90-minute meeting included a closed session lasting about 30 minutes. No votes were taken on potential land deals after commissioners emerged from closed session. [Full Story]

More Land Preserved in Superior Township

Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting (Oct. 8, 2013):  WCPARC’s October meeting saw the commission taking final action on the acquisition of a conservation easement on 82 acres in Superior Township, northeast of Ann Arbor. The land is adjacent to 65 acres that are already part of the county’s natural areas preservation program.

Ford Road, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map of showing the location of 82 acres of mostly agricultural land in Superior Township that the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission is preserving through a conservation easement.

The new parcel of mostly agricultural land, on the north side of Ford Road a bit east of Berry Road, is owned by Ford Road Property Company LLC. The intent is to provide a buffer between Ford Road and the land that WCPARC previously purchased, as well as Superior Township’s nearby Schroeter Park. WCPARC authorized purchase of the easement for $413,000, which will prevent the land from being developed.

In a separate vote, commissioners authorized moving ahead on the purchase of 10 acres in Bridgewater Township – located near the southern border of Washtenaw County on the south side of WCPARC’s 43-acre Riverbend Preserve. Commissioners approved the preparation of a purchase offer of $92,500 contingent on completing all necessary due diligence and WCPARC’s final approval.

Also on Oct. 8, WCPARC director Bob Tetens provided an update on the proposed recreation center near downtown Ypsilanti, a project that WCPARC began almost two years ago. The proposal is to build a multi-purpose recreation center on part of the 38-acre Water Street redevelopment area on the south side of Michigan Avenue, next to the Huron River. The project would be a partnership, with the city providing the land, the county constructing the building, and the facility to be managed by the Ann Arbor YMCA.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber attended the Oct. 8 meeting, to emphasize the city’s strong support for this project. Discussion focused on possible changes to the design developed by a team of University of Michigan architects and students. The need to make changes arose from the city of Ypsilanti’s 2013 master planning and rezoning project, which is nearing completion.

In addition to the regular financial reports and updates, other actions at the Oct. 8 meeting included approving WCPARC’s participation in Pittsfield Township’s State Road corridor improvement authority. The CIA to improve State Road would entail capturing a percentage of taxes from several local entities, including taxes that support WCPARC. [Full Story]

County Parks Group OKs Land Deal, Budget

Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting (Sept. 10, 2013): WCPARC’s September meeting had only three action items, but they were each significant.

County Farm Park, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of County Farm Park, located in Ann Arbor south of Washtenaw Avenue, between Medford and Platt. The county parks & recreation commission has budgeted $250,000 in 2015 to put in a dog park on the west side of the park. (Photo by Victor Banta, included in the WCPARC Sept. 10, 2013 meeting packet.]

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. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Commission Gets Financial Update

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Sept. 5, 2013): This month’s GAC meeting marked the first session for two new commissioners – Jean Cares and John Ramsburgh – and the first meeting led by the group’s new chair, Catherine Riseng.

Christopher Taylor, Jean Cares, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission

Christopher Taylor and Jean Cares at the Sept. 5, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. (Photos by the writer.)

Cares had been confirmed by the city council on July 15 to replace Tom Bloomer, filling the slot designated for a farmer. She co-owns the Dexter Mill, and serves with Bloomer on the Webster Township farmland and open space board. Ramsburgh, who was confirmed on Aug. 8, is a development officer with the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science & the Arts. He also is the son of Ellen Ramsburgh, a long-time member of the Ann Arbor historic district commission, and its former chair. He replaces Dan Ezekiel, who was term limited.

The Sept. 5 meeting was in some ways a tutorial on the greenbelt program. It began with introductions of all the members, and included a presentation on conservation easements.

Ginny Trocchio, who provides staff support for the program, also reviewed the draft activity report and financial statements for fiscal 2013, which ended June 30. During the year, the greenbelt program completed 5 deals covering 448 acres of farmland in Webster, Salem, Superior and Lodi townships.

Total revenues for the open space and parkland preservation program – which includes the greenbelt as well as park acquisitions – were $2.626 million. Of that, $2.141 million came from proceeds of the program’s 30-year millage, which voters approved in 2003. Total expenses for the year were $3.357 million. In addition to $1.227 million for debt service, expenses include $1.757 million in greenbelt projects and $242,867 for parkland acquisition.

During her staff report, Trocchio highlighted upcoming on-the-road events, including a Sept. 21 bus tour of greenbelt properties that’s open to the public, and a driving tour of greenbelt land as part of the commission’s Oct. 3 meeting. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Grows Again

Two deals adding land to the city’s greenbelt program were approved by the Ann Arbor city council at its Sept. 3, 2013 meeting. The program is funded by the voter-approved open space and parkland preservation millage.

The Sheldon and Wolf property is indicated in red. The green highlighted area denotes area already protected as a part of Ann Arbor's greenbelt program. The heavy green line is the boundary encompassing eligible properties. This is the northwest corner of the boundary area. The Sheldon and Wolf property is indicated in red. The green highlighted area denotes area already protected as a part of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program. The heavy green line is … [Full Story]

Greenbelt Commission Elects New Leaders

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (July 11, 2013): GAC’s first meeting of the fiscal year was relatively brief, lasting less than an hour – including about 35 minutes in closed session to discuss possible land acquisition.

Jennifer Fike, Archer Christian, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioners Jennifer Fike and Archer Christian. Fike was attending her first meeting as a GAC member. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the first meeting for the newest commissioner, Jennifer Fike, who replaced Laura Rubin. The last meeting for long-time commissioners Rubin, Dan Ezekiel and Tom Bloomer was on June 6, 2013. Jean Cares, owner of the Dexter Mill, was nominated at the Ann Arbor city council’s July 1 meeting to replace Bloomer, with a confirmation vote expected by the council on July 15.

Also on July 15, John Ramsburgh’s name is expected to be put forward to replace Ezekiel, with a confirmation vote on Aug. 8. If those two appointments go through, all seats on the greenbelt advisory commission would be filled.

Commissioners elected new officers on July 11, unanimously voting for Catherine Riseng as chair and Shannon Brines as vice chair. Both work at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources & Environment. Riseng, an aquatic ecologist, is a research program manager at SNRE, while Brines is manager of SNRE’s environmental spatial analysis (ESA) lab. Brines also runs Brines Farm near Dexter.

At their July 11 meeting, commissioners also received news about the city’s 2013 application to the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP). The city is receiving grants totaling about $220,000 for land preservation of two properties in Lodi Township: (1) a portion of the Donald Drake farm along Waters Road; and (2) the Carol Schumacher farm along Pleasant Lake Road. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Group Marks Transition

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (June 6, 2013): Three long-time commissioners attended their final GAC meeting this month, marking a pivotal point in the history of the greenbelt program.

Laura Rubin, Archer Christian, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory board, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioners Laura Rubin and Archer Christian came to city hall by bike. This was the last meeting for Rubin, who is term limited. She and other outgoing commissioners Dan Ezekiel and Tom Bloomer were honored during GAC’s June 6 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Tom Bloomer, Dan Ezekiel and Laura Rubin, whose terms end this month, are term-limited. Ezekiel and Rubin are the only remaining members of the original commission, which was formed in 2004. “I’m just really, really proud of what we’ve accomplished, and of what you all will continue to accomplish,” Ezekiel, GAC’s chair, told commissioners at the end of the meeting. “I’m done being on the commission, but I’m not done with land preservation – and I’m sure Tom and Laura feel the same way.”

It was the first meeting for GAC’s newest commissioner, Stephanie Buttrey, who replaced Liz Rother. Jennifer Fike will join GAC next month to replace Rubin, but there are still two remaining vacancies. Anyone who’s interested in applying should contact their city council representative. [.pdf of application form for city boards and commissions]

An ongoing concern emerged during the June 6 meeting related to Civil War Days – a reenactment event being held this weekend at Gordon Hall in the Dexter area. A dispute over spectator parking on the land has prompted Scio Township trustees to move toward rescinding an existing conservation easement and replacing it with a new easement. The new easement would allow for parking, without a requirement to seek permission for parking each year. The property is owned by the Dexter Area Historical Society, a group that was sharply criticized by Bloomer. “Quite frankly, the Dexter Area Historical Society has been an untrustworthy partner from the very beginning,” he said, “and I don’t know why [the township board] thinks they’ll honor a new easement any more than they honored the old one.”

Although the land in question is outside of the greenbelt boundaries, it’s of interest to GAC because of the underlying issue of easement enforcement.

Commissioners were also briefed on a proposed greenbelt registry that’s being developed. The intent is create a way to formalize relationships with landowners who aren’t yet part of the greenbelt program, but who are committed to the program’s principles of land preservation. [Full Story]

County Gives More Support to Rutherford Pool

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission (May 14, 2013): At their most recent meeting, county parks & rec commissioners voted to grant $150,000 to the city of Ypsilanti to help complete the Rutherford Pool project. The Friends of Rutherford Pool is trying to raise about $1 million to rebuild the community pool, located on the eastern end of Recreation Park at 975 North Congress Street.

Recreation Park, Ypsilanti, Rutherford Pool, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

The entrance to Recreation Park in Ypsilanti, where Rutherford Pool is located. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners also took steps that could lead to spending over $1.713 million on natural areas preservation. They voted to move forward with the acquisition of three deals for the county’s natural areas preservation program: 17 acres in Scio Township ($55,000); about 245 acres in Northfield Township (about $1.4 million); and 65 acres in Freedom Township ($420,000). The latter two purchases were approved contingent on completing due diligence assessments, followed by final approval from the commission.

In addition, WCPARC approved an initial step in replacing the HVAC system at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center on Washtenaw Avenue, and heard reports on upgrades at several other facilities. Those include the nearly-completed major improvements and expansion of water parks at Rolling Hills and Independence Lake parks. Both are set to open Memorial Day weekend, kicking off WCPARC’s summer season.

In other news related to Ypsilanti projects, WCPARC director Bob Tetens reported that the Ypsilanti city council had recently passed a resolution reaffirming support for the east county recreation center project, proposed in the Water Street site near the Huron River. Tetens also presented a report on WCPARC’s marketing and communications program, which staff have expanded into new venues – including AATA buses. The effort is partly in preparation for a millage renewal coming in 2014.

Commissioners also discussed the desire to add another off-leash dog park in addition to Swift Run, which the county runs in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor. Interest is especially keen in light of Ann Arbor’s difficulty in finding a new dog park location. Some commissioners want to include a water element where dogs could play. Jan Anschuetz put it this way: “We’ve done so much to provide water recreation for people – now let’s do it for the dogs.” [Full Story]

Greenbelt Commission Seeks New Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

County Preps to Buy More Natural Areas

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meeting (April 9, 2013): The April meeting, which director Bob Tetens forecast would be “the long-promised very short meeting between our busy seasons,” saw WCPARC take the first step to acquire more properties in two locations for the county’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP). The group also heard a report from the Legacy Land Conservancy about a second round of farmland preservation through a NAPP program that the conservancy helps administer.

Fox Science Preserve, Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission, natural areas preservation program, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

The entrance to Fox Science Preserve in Scio Township. An additional four acres might be added to the county preserve, which is frequently used for environmental education and field study. (Photos by the writer.)

The first proposed acquisition for NAPP was the four-acre Jarskey property in Scio Township, which would become part of the Fox Science Preserve. That preserve lies east of Peters Road and north of Miller. Tom Freeman, retired deputy director of WCPARC and consultant on NAPP matters, briefed commissioners on the proposal. He highlighted two ponds on the property, and the popularity of the former gravel pit for educational purposes. Commissioners ultimately authorized preparation of a purchase offer at $14,285 an acre – or a total of $57,140.

The other NAPP proposal was for four wooded parcels totaling about 18 acres in Pittsfield Township, on the north side of Michigan Avenue roughly across from the Pittsfield Township offices. The value of this property, according to Freeman, is in the quality of the woods and the adjacency to the 535-acre Pittsfield Preserve. Commissioners authorized preparation of purchase offers of $390,000 for two of the properties, and $150,000 for the two other parcels – a total of $540,000.

Also at the April 9 meeting, Robin Burke – land protection coordinator for the Legacy Land Conservancy – briefed commissioners on the process used by the agricultural lands preservation advisory committee (ALPAC) to prioritize possible farmland preservation through the purchase of development rights. There were 72 applications for consideration, totaling 6,500 acres. This is the second round of potential deals that the county is weighing. The initial round was closed in March of 2013, protecting a total of 206 areas of farmland in the Bailo Family Partnership and Trust.

The commission also received reports on its finances, use of its facilities, and ongoing maintenance and improvement of WCPARC buildings and land. [Full Story]

Commissioners OK Greenbelt Strategic Plan

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (April 4, 2013): An updated strategic plan for the city’s greenbelt program received unanimous approval at this month’s GAC meeting. The plan included only minor changes since the draft was reviewed in September of 2012.

Jennifer Fike, Huron River Watershed Council, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jennifer Fike, finance director of the Huron River Watershed Council, is interested in joining the greenbelt advisory commission. If nominated and confirmed by the city council, she would replace Laura Rubin, HRWC’s executive director, whose term on the commission ends in June. (Photos by the writer.)

The plan lays out a broad range of goals for the preservation of farmland and open space within the greenbelt boundaries. There are no significant changes from the last version approved in 2009, although the plan does include a new section on education and outreach.

The plan also includes the goal of establishing a greenbelt registry program, to formalize relationships with landowners who aren’t yet part of the greenbelt program, but who are committed to the program’s principles of land preservation. “It’s creating a pipeline of projects for the future,” said Dan Ezekiel, GAC’s chair. Three commissioners – Peter Allen, Shannon Brines and Archer Christian – agreed to work with Ginny Trocchio, who manages the greenbelt program, to develop a proposal for the full commission to consider.

Also at the April 4 meeting, Jennifer Fike – finance director for the Huron River Watershed Council – was introduced as a possible replacement on the commission for Laura Rubin. Rubin, who serves as HRWC’s executive director, fills a position on GAC that’s designated for an environmental organization. Her term ends on June 30. Because she is term-limited, she can’t be re-appointed.

Ezekiel noted that there are other vacancies as well, and that anyone who’s interested in applying should contact their city council representative. [.pdf of application form for city boards and commissions] Meetings for the commission are scheduled monthly, although the April meeting was only GAC’s second one in 2013. Both the January and March meetings were canceled. [Full Story]

County to Protect More Farmland, Nature Areas

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meeting (Feb. 12, 2013): The first meeting of WCPARC in 2013 kicked off when each member received a copy of a half-hour video history of the county park system, in honor of WCPARC’s 40th anniversary.

Miller Creek, Washtenaw County parks and recreation, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A section of Miller Creek runs through a property off of Geddes Road that the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission might help preserve, in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor. The land is located in Ann Arbor Township. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners were then briefed on what WCPARC director Bob Tetens called a record monthly expenditure for his time with the commission: $3.9 million in January 2013, including $2.9 million for parks and recreation – primarily for capital improvements at Rolling Hills, Independence Lake and Sharon Mills parks – and $1 million for natural areas preservation.

Expenditures in January for the natural areas preservation program included acquiring land from the Ford Road Property LLC on the east side of Berry Road in Superior Township; for improvements at Trinkle Marsh, Spike, Hornback, and Nagle preserves; and for phase 1 due diligence on the proposed purchase of the Trolz property in Manchester Township.

The commission also approved taking the next steps on several additional natural areas preservation proposals. Those steps include applying for (1) federal funds to help cover the purchase of development rights on farmland in Superior and Lima townships, and (2) a state grant to help develop the Staebler Farm, located in Superior Township, into an active park. Commissioners also approved the purchase of a conservation easement on 82 additional acres from the Ford Road Property LLC in Superior Township.

Also discussed was a proposal to help the city of Ann Arbor buy the 8-acre Taylor property on Geddes Road, east of Huron Parkway. The land is immediately east of the city’s Ruthven nature area, and is seen as a priority because a section of Miller Creek runs through it. The creek is subject to flash flooding during heavy rains, and has been the focus of stormwater management efforts by the city and the county water resources commissioner. Conan Smith, a county commissioner who also serves on WCPARC, questioned whether this is an appropriate project for the county’s natural areas preservation program. He indicated that it might be better for the city to partner with the water resources commissioner on this project instead.

In other action, commissioners voted to increase fees at WCPARC facilities, including the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, and Independence Lake and Rolling Hills parks. A staff report indicated that the fees would still be lower than comparable public recreation facilities in this region. [.pdf of fee schedule]

WCPARC members were briefed about applications to fund eight projects through the Connecting Communities initiative, under which WCPARC helps pay for non-motorized transportation trails throughout the county. The city of Ann Arbor is among those applicants, asking for $300,000 to fund development of trails along the Allen Creek greenway, including at the city-owned 721 N. Main site. Final decisions will be made at WCPARC’s March meeting.

WCPARC members also re-elected their officers, set the 2013 meeting calendar, and got updates on two months’ worth of activities at the county’s parks and recreation facilities – including a report on flooding at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center in January, and steps toward developing a new recreation center in Ypsilanti.

The meeting was attended by six of the current nine-member commission. One vacancy remains to be filled on WCPARC by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, which appoints all WCPARC members. A vote on that position is expected at the county board’s Feb. 20 meeting. [Full Story]

Greenbelt, Park Commissions Strategize

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission and park advisory commission’s land acquisition committee – joint meeting (Nov. 1, 2012): Two city advisory groups – for parks and the greenbelt – have a common link, in addition to their land-related focus: Both oversee programs funded by a 30-year millage that voters approved in 2003.

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Staff and members of the Ann Arbor greenbelt and park advisory commissions at a joint meeting on Nov. 1, 2012. From left: Colin Smith, Shannon Brines, Archer Christian, Peter Allen, Tim Doyle, Laura Rubin, Alan Jackson.  (Photos by the writer.)

Earlier this month, members from both commissions met in a joint session to get a financial update from staff and learn more about the roles and priorities of the greenbelt and parks.

The greenbelt program uses about two-thirds of the millage proceeds. By the end of 2012, about 4,200 acres will have been protected around the outskirts of Ann Arbor. When the program began, the expectation was that it would fund protection for between 3,500 to 4,500 over the life of the 30-year millage. But because the economic downturn has lowered the cost of land, the program has protected more land – primarily through the purchase of development rights – than originally anticipated. Land that previously was valued at about $16,000 per acre is now closer to $4,000, with the likelihood of even lower costs in the coming year.

The last joint meeting of these groups was held in June of 2011, but membership on the groups has changed over the last year and a half. The park advisory commission in particular has seen considerable turnover since then. Earlier this year PAC members Gwen Nystuen, David Barrett, Sam Offen and Doug Chapman left the commission, either because they were term-limited or did not seek re-appointment. New members are Ingrid Ault, Bob Galardi, Alan Jackson and Missy Stults. New to GAC this year is Archer Christian, replacing long-time member Mike Garfield, who was term-limited. Both Garfield and Christian are executives at the nonprofit Ecology Center.

The Nov. 1 discussion among commissioners was wide-ranging. Among the topics covered were the need to provide connections between existing parks, potential for recreational use of greenbelt-protected land, farming trends, and protections for both greenbelt property and parkland. For this report, the conversations are summarized and grouped thematically. The meeting began with a staff update – and that’s where this report begins, too. [Full Story]

County Pursues Major New Parks & Rec Deal

Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission meeting (Nov. 13, 2012): At their November meeting, county parks & recreation commissioners approved moving forward with a major project that could result in a new state recreation area in the southwest corner of Washtenaw County.

Trolz property, Manchester Township, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sign on the Trolz property in Manchester Township, which might become part of a new state recreation area in southwest Washtenaw County. (Photo by Russ Serbay.)

The proposal is to partner with the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources to acquire a total of 2,160 acres straddling the border of Jackson and Washtenaw counties – the Trolz property. The area includes an abandoned rail right-of-way that could become a multipurpose trail.

The county parks system would purchase about 461 acres of that total area – a parcel located in Manchester Township and appraised at $1.37 million. The commission authorized staff to conduct additional work on the potential deal, with a final proposal and request for approval in the coming months.

The commission also received an update on the proposed East County Recreation Center from Craig Borum, professor at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Borum presented two options for laying out the entire 38-acre Water Street redevelopment area in Ypsilanti, where the rec center would be located. He also reviewed two possible draft designs for the recreation building on a portion of the site.

The commission kept up its pace of land preservation efforts, often in partnership with other organizations. It gave final approval to acquire conservation easements on the 124-acre Drake property in Lodi Township, in partnership with the Ann Arbor greenbelt program. Final approvals were also given for easements on the 73-acre Hornback property in Salem Township, partnering with the greenbelt and Salem Township; and for the 213-acre Bailo property in Superior Township. In addition, the commission authorized preparation of a purchase offer for 65 acres in Superior Township – the Ford Road property – at a price of $500,000, contingent on completion of all due diligence and the commission’s final approval. When completed, WCPARC’s contribution to all these deals would total $900,224 to preserve 475 acres.

The nine-member commission will face some turnover in 2013. At the end of the meeting, commissioner Jimmie Maggard announced his intent to resign after 24 years of serving on WCPARC. Barbara Bergman, who serves on WCPARC because of her position as a county commissioner, did not seek re-election and will be leaving the county board at the end of 2012. The same is true for Janis Bobrin, who did not seek re-election as the county’s water resources commissioner. She’ll be replaced by Evan Pratt, who won the seat in the Nov. 6 election. Bergman expressed the hope that Bobrin would be appointed to a vacancy on WCPARC – those appointments are made by the county board. [Full Story]

More Notches in Ann Arbor Greenbelt

Two additional properties totaling 125 acres have been added to Ann Arbor’s greenbelt – land protected by acquisitions through the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage. Votes on the two pieces of land were taken at the city council’s Oct. 15, 2012 meeting.

A vacant parcel adjacent to the Kuebler Langford Nature Area with about 0.91 acres was purchased using a $123,000 expenditure from the millage. The owners had approached the city with an offer to sell. The fair market value of the land was determined to be $110,000, with the additional $13,000 accounted for through closing costs and due diligence. An environmental site assessment will be completed before closing. [.jpg image of parcel map]

A second, much larger property … [Full Story]

Hornback Farm Added to Ann Arbor Greenbelt

The Hornback farm in Salem Township has been added to the land protected by Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program. The city council approved $199,367 from the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage for the purchase of development rights on the property at its Oct. 1, 2012 meeting. The roughly 73-acre farm is located on Pontiac Trail and Brookville Road.

The appraised value of the property was $321,000, but the landowner made a 10% donation of $32,100, leaving a purchase price of $288,900. Of that, the city of Ann Arbor’s share was $160,500 after contributions from Salem Township and Washtenaw County of $64,200 apiece. The city incurred due diligence costs ($10,000), closing costs ($5,000) and made a contribution to the greenbelt endowment … [Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Briefed on Strategic Plan

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Sept. 6, 2012): Commissioners were briefed on two items at this month’s meeting – the greenbelt program’s strategic plan, and a design for the program’s logo.

Ann Arbor greenbelt logo

The proposed new Ann Arbor greenbelt logo.

It’s been three years since the strategic plan was last updated. In this latest version, no major changes are being made to the program’s existing priorities: protecting large blocks of farmland as well as natural areas in the Huron River watershed, and building partnerships to leverage other funding sources.

In addition to those, a new priority is being added: Educating Ann Arbor residents about the program’s efforts, and reaching out to landowners in the greenbelt to ensure that the flow of applications continues. [.pdf of revised strategic plan]

Commissioners gave additional feedback at their meeting, and the plan will be sent to funding partners for their input too. The greenbelt advisory commission is expected to vote on the final plan at its Oct. 4 meeting.

The group also weighed in on designs for a new logo to help brand Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program. The design is intended to show the connection to the city, as well as images representing both farmland and natural area preservation. There’s space for logos of partner entities, and text that indicates what kind of land is being preserved and whether the land is private or public. The intent is to use this image on signs at the properties that are protected by the greenbelt program, and on brochures and other materials.

In updates to the commission, Ginny Trocchio – who is the program’s support staff – highlighted plans to hold another bus tour of greenbelt properties on Saturday, Sept. 22. The trip will focus on the eastern portion of the greenbelt, and its connection to the Superior Greenway. She also noted plans to participate in the Sept. 8 HomeGrown Festival, an event showcasing local food.

In their main action item, commissioners voted to recommend that the city council partner with Washtenaw County and Webster Township, contributing 25.5% toward the purchase of a parcel identified as application number 2005-08. (The first four numbers signify the year in which the application was made.) Tom Bloomer abstained from the vote. He owns Bur Oaks Farm in Webster Township, and serves on the township’s farmland and open space board. He did not indicate his reason for abstaining.

Two days earlier, the city council had approved two purchase-of-development-rights (PDR) deals that GAC had previously recommended: the 90-acre Alexander farm in Webster Township, and a 136-acre property owned by Robert H. Schultz in Superior Township. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) voted against both deals, citing concern that no local partners contributed to the land preservation efforts. Both deals include federal grants to cover a significant portion of the costs. [Full Story]

County’s Natural Areas Ordinance Tweaked

An amendment to the ordinance governing the county’s natural areas preservation program received initial approval from the Washtenaw County commissioners at their Sept. 5, 2012 meeting.

The change would remove the current restriction that only 7% of millage funds can be used for management or stewardship. The Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission had been briefed on the proposal at its May 8, 2012 meeting. At that time, the proposal would have raised the limit from 7% to 25%. Now, however, the proposed ordinance amendment would eliminate all percentage restrictions on set-asides for management and stewardship.

According to a staff memo that was part of the county board’s Sept. 5 meeting packet, the goal would be to use $600,000 per year for … [Full Story]

County Parks & Rec System Plans for Future

On Sept. 5, 2012, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners will consider amending an ordinance for the county’s natural areas preservation program. The intent is to create more flexibility in setting aside funds for stewardship, with the goal of eventually building a $6 million fund for ongoing maintenance of county preserves.

Entrance to Scio Woods Preserve on Scio Church Road

The entrance to Scio Woods Preserve, part of the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission’s natural areas preservation program. The 91-acre property, off of Scio Church Road, is protected in partnership with Scio Township and the Ann Arbor greenbelt program. (Photo by M. Morgan)

Since the NAPP initiative was established in 2000, nearly 2,500 acres of land have been preserved countywide. The millage-funded program is overseen by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission (WCPARC), a body appointed by the county board that also oversees the much older parks and recreation system, which was established in 1973.

WCPARC also partners with other organizations on special initiatives, including the countywide Border to Border Trail, (B2B), the Connecting Communities program, and planning for an east county recreation center on Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti. That center’s planning effort is also taking another step forward this month, with WCPARC staff holding an open house on Thursday, Sept. 27 to review two design options for the center. The open house will be held at Spark East (215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti) from 3-8 p.m., with formal presentations at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

In the context of current proposals – the NAPP ordinance change and possible new recreation center in Ypsilanti – this report looks at the history, budget, and scope of the county parks and recreation system, as well as its master planning for the future and its partnerships with local, state and national organizations with a similar purpose. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Briefed on Land Link Idea

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Aug. 2, 2012): The main presentation at this month’s meeting focused on land link programs – efforts to connect potential farmers with landowners who want to sell their farms.

Archer Christian

Archer Christian is the newest member of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. She is also development director for the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center. (Photos by the writer.)

Bridget Callahan, an intern with the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) and a University of Michigan community-based research fellow, gave the report, describing how a land link program might relate to the city’s farmland preservation efforts. Callahan’s research included surveys of farmers statewide, and a focus group with eight people involved in the Tilian Farm Development Center in Ann Arbor Township.

Also during the Aug. 2 meeting, GAC chair Dan Ezekiel noted that the current contract with The Conservation Fund, which manages the greenbelt program under contract with the city, ends on Dec. 31. Catherine Riseng volunteered to work with city staff in developing a request for proposals (RFP) for a new contract. The Conservation Fund, which has been awarded contracts for this work since the greenbelt program was created, is expected to bid on it again. Ginny Trocchio is the nonprofit’s local staff member.

In updates during the meeting, Trocchio reported that a Sept. 22 greenbelt bus tour will focus on the eastern portion of the greenbelt, and its connection to the Superior Greenway. And Ezekiel told commissioners that he’ll be a guest on the Aug. 22 Issues of the Environment, a talk show broadcast on WEMU.

Commissioners absent from the August meeting included the city council representative to GAC, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). The only meeting he has attended this year was in April. As he did not run for re-election to the city council, there are only three remaining GAC meetings – in September, October and November – before Hohnke leaves the council and the commission. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Gets More Greenbelt Dollars

At its July 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved the acceptance of $396,900 in federal funds from the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program for the purchase of development rights (PDR) on properties in Webster and Superior townships owned by the Robbin Alexander Trust (90 acres) and Robert Schultz (136 acres). The grant amount represents 49% of the purchase price.

The council had approved the application for the federal funds at its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting. The local share will be provided through the city’s parkland and open space preservation (greenbelt) millage.

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]

Greenbelt Group Briefed on Regional Transit

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (July 5, 2012): When Dan Ezekiel called the July meeting to order by noting that it was “a hot, steamy day in Tree Town,” only five of the nine commissioners were on hand. Although it was hoped that a sixth member might show up eventually, no one did.

Dan Ezekiel, Michael Ford

From left: Dan Ezekiel, chair of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, talks with Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

That meant GAC did not have the six members required by the Michigan Open Meetings Act to enter into a closed session to discuss potential land acquisition, so Thursday’s meeting was much shorter than it would have otherwise been.

The main portion of the meeting included a presentation by Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. At GAC’s request, he briefed commissioners about the AATA’s efforts to develop a countywide public transit system, giving an overview similar to one he has delivered to many other government entities and community groups. The Ann Arbor greenbelt program preserves land in rural areas outside of the city limits, so commissioners were interested in hearing about how public transportation might expand there.

The meeting also included staff updates and news that two greenbelt properties have received funding from a federal grant program totaling nearly $400,000. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Updated on County Efforts

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (June 7, 2012): Collaboration was a theme that tied together several items at the most recent GAC meeting, starting with a review of farmland preservation efforts by Washtenaw County.

Liz Rother, Mike Garfield

Greenbelt advisory commissioners Liz Rother and Mike Garfield. The June 7 meeting was the last one for Garfield, whose term is ending this month. He is director of the Ecology Center, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor. (Photos by the writer.)

The county parks and recreation commission is moving toward a decision on the first farm properties to include in its land preservation program. It has about $1.6 million to work with, using a portion of proceeds from the countywide natural area preservation millage, which was renewed by voters in November of 2010. That 10-year, 0.25-mill tax also funds the county’s acquisition of natural areas and land preserves.

Susan Lackey, executive director of the Legacy Land Conservancy, briefed the greenbelt commissioners on the first round of deals. The Ann Arbor-based nonprofit is under contract to help manage the county program. Out of 57 applications, seven properties are moving forward for appraisals and final consideration, potentially covering 1,100 acres.

Though the county’s efforts at protecting farmland are relatively new, the greenbelt program has focused on farmland preservation since Ann Arbor voters approved a 30-year 0.5 mill tax in 2003. Lackey described the county’s efforts as complementary to the greenbelt program, noting that there’s more work to be done than any single entity can do.

Later in the meeting – during an discussion about efforts to update the greenbelt program’s strategic plan – Mike Garfield suggested that it might be time to shift more of the greenbelt’s efforts to natural areas or recreational projects like the Border-to-Border trail or RiverUp, and scale back the amount of farmland preservation.

One difficulty in this shift relates to matching funds. Ginny Trocchio, who serves as support staff for the greenbelt program, told commissioners that while the greenbelt has been very successful in securing grants through the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Preservation Program (FRPP), there are far fewer options for non-farmland properties. Partnerships with other local entities, like the county parks and recreation department, is one of the main ways that non-farmland land preservation dollars can be leveraged.

Another general challenge for all types of land preservation was cited by Lackey: A mild resurgence of development pressure as the economy improves, which is starting to drive up land values. She urged all groups to get as much preservation work done as possible in the next three to five years.

This month’s meeting was the last one for Garfield, who was instrumental in helping pass the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage, which funds the greenbelt program. He is term-limited. His potential replacement, Archer Christian, was introduced at the meeting. She is development director at the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, where Garfield serves as director.

At the end of the meeting, commissioners held a closed session to discuss potential land acquisitions. When they emerged, they voted unanimously to recommend action by city council on the purchase of development rights for four parcels within the greenbelt boundaries, if FRPP grants can be secured. [Full Story]

County Parks: Options for Staebler Farm

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meeting (June 12, 2012): This month’s meeting concentrated on Staebler Farm, a 98-acre WCPARC property on Plymouth Road in Superior Township.

Corn crib at Staebler Farm

A corncrib at the Staebler Farm in Superior Township. The farm isn't yet open to the public, but plans are underway to develop the site for educational and recreational use. (Photos by the writer.)

The parks and recreation commission bought the farm in 2001 and set aside more than $2 million to develop it for eventual educational and recreational uses. Possibilities include children’s gardens, a farm market, fishing, and demonstrations of farm activities.

Donald Staebler, who turns 102 in August, has lived there since he was two and has a life lease to stay in the 140-year-old farmhouse. The property is not yet open to the public.

At the June 12 meeting, commissioners heard from a consultant who described the use of similar property in three other communities: Ambler Farm in Wilton, Connecticut; the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont; and Luscher Farm in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Commissioners discussed possible uses for the land, and decided on the next steps in creating a master plan for the farm. Dan Smith, a WCPARC member who also serves on the county board of commissioners, noted that this project fits with other efforts supported by the board, including community gardens on the former juvenile detention center site and the Washtenaw Food Policy Council that was created earlier this year.

In addition to their discussion of Staebler Farm, the commission carried out its usual business of approving expenses, reviewing the budget, and getting updates on its parks, recreation facilities and natural areas. Among those updates was a report that a design team for a proposed WCPARC recreation center in Ypsilanti held its first meeting to review a possible schematic design. The team consists of faculty and students from the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. [For more details on this project, see Chronicle coverage: "More Planning for Rec Center in Ypsilanti."] [Full Story]

County Parks: Stewardship Fund an Option?

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meeting (May 8, 2012): This month’s meeting of the county parks and recreation commission had three themes: starting new projects, planning for the future of the natural areas preservation program (NAPP), and updating commissioners about ongoing and completed projects.

Entrance to Washtenaw County's DeVine Preserve

The entrance to Washtenaw County's DeVine Preserve on West Liberty Road in Scio Township, part of the natural areas preservation program. It is adjacent to other property that the county parks and recreation commission might buy with NAPP millage proceeds. (Photos by the writer.)

Much of the discussion related to NAPP, including a proposed ordinance change to increase the proportion of funds that can be used for maintaining (as opposed to purchasing) property for natural areas or land preserves. The change would allow the county to set aside up to 25% of annual millage proceeds for stewardship, a significant increase from the 7% currently allowed under the NAPP ordinance. NAPP is funded by a 10-year, 0.25 mill tax that voters first approved in 2000 and renewed in 2010. It generates about $3.2 million in annual revenues.

Commissioners authorized staff to pursue the NAPP ordinance change, which would need to be approved by the county board of commissioners. A June 7 board working session is scheduled on the topic. If approved, WCPARC staff estimate they could set aside enough to build a $6 million fund by 2020, when the current NAPP millage ends.

The commission also approved two new NAPP purchases: (1) $75,000 for the Malikah Muhammad property, 20 acres in Scio Township adjacent to the county’s existing DeVine Preserve; and (2) $245,250 for 33 acres in Northfield  Township owned by J.A. Bloch, contingent on partnering with the Ann Arbor greenbelt program for a portion of the cost.

Related to a project on the east side of the county, commissioners approved a $10,000 payment toward planning for the Eastern County Recreation Center on Ypsilanti’s Water Street site. WCPARC had been briefed on the project at its April 2012 meeting. The planning will be guided by faculty at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, who will lead a team of six students in developing a conceptual plan for the rec center by the end of December. A grant from UM will pick up $30,000 of the estimated $40,000 in planning expenses.

The commission also got updates on a range of projects, including completion of the extensive Malletts Creek bank stabilization at the County Farm Park, and the receipt of bids for design of the Ann Arbor skatepark, which WCPARC is helping to fund. [Full Story]

Webster Gives Ground for Civil War Days

At a special meeting held on April 24, 2012, the Webster Township board of trustees voted unanimously to approve a festival permit for the Dexter Area Historical Society’s Civil Wars Days to be held this year at historic Gordon Hall on June 8-10.

Webster greenbelt properties

The pink arrow marks the location of the Gordon Hall property, where Civil War Days will be held on June 8-10, 2012. Green blocks are properties protected in part through the city of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program. The green line with red dots is the Ann Arbor greenbelt program boundary for eligible properties. As the map shows, several protected properties lie within Webster Township. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Host for the re-enactor units will be the 4th Michigan Regiment, Company A, led by captain Russ Paul. Also expected at Gordon Hall for Civil War Days this year are the following units: 17th Michigan, Company E; 21st Michigan, Company H; U.S.S. Michigan Marine Guard Battery B; 1st Michigan Light Artillery; and the Confederate Bledsoe’s Battery.

The decision to grant a festival permit came after the board had turned down the permit at its previous meeting on April 17 by a 4-3 vote. The resolutions considered by the board at its two recent meetings differed in a significant way. The resolution rejected at the April 17 meeting stated that the festival would be granted “… with egress and ingress over Webster Township grounds and conservation easement with no parking on Webster Township grounds only Scio Township.”

The resolution ultimately approved by the board stepped back from trying to describe how parking on and crossing of the property would be handled, and instead simply stipulated that the DAHS had to comply with the conservation easement on the property.

Dan Ezekiel, chair of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt advisory commission, attended the April 24 meeting and addressed the township board on the commission’s behalf. Although the Gordon Hall property lies outside the Ann Arbor greenbelt boundaries, the city of Ann Arbor and Webster Township have partnered on a number of other conservation easements in their collaborative effort to preserve open space. He wanted to encourage the board to defend the easement on the Gordon Hall property and not set a precedent that violating a conservation easement is acceptable.

After the meeting, Ezekiel indicated in conversation that he was, in fact, a history buff and was hoping to attend the Civil War Days – he hoped not as a picketer.  [Full Story]

More Planning for Rec Center in Ypsilanti

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meeting (April 10, 2012): Most of this month’s county parks and recreation commission meeting focused on plans for a recreation center in the eastern part of the county. The proposed center would be near downtown Ypsilanti on the northwest corner of the 38-acre Water Street site, located on the south side of Michigan Avenue and east of the Huron River.

Border to Border Trail sign at Water Street property in Ypsilanti

A sign at Ypsilanti's Water Street property indicating that this will be a future segment of Washtenaw County's Border to Border Trail. A portion of the site adjacent to the Huron River is being considered for a possible new county recreation center. (Photos by Mary Morgan.)

The commission heard from faculty of the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, who will lead a team of six students in developing a conceptual plan for the rec center by the end of December. They also heard from deputy parks and rec director Coy Vaughn about the steering committee and working groups that will oversee and coordinate the design team’s work, and ensure adequate participation by community members and other stakeholders, including the Ann Arbor YMCA. Some commissioners indicated that community input was especially important for this project.

Among the meeting’s action items, the commission approved the acquisition of additional land through the county’s natural areas preservation program, in partnership with other governmental entities, including the Ann Arbor greenbelt program. The properties include 23 acres in Ann Arbor Township and 33 acres in Northfield Township – both owned by J.A. Bloch & Co. – and the 35-acre Sloan property in Scio Township.

Additional items included a report from parks and rec director Bob Tetens about the department’s help in cleaning up after the March 15 tornado touchdown in Dexter; an update on improvement projects and activities at park facilities and preserves; and the latest milestones in a project to connect the Border-to-Border Trail in the village of Dexter, including a new bridge.

Other major action in the meeting included a review of the parks and rec budget to date, through the first quarter of the fiscal year. Tetens reported that the unusually warm weather this year had two effects: much less participation and revenue from Rolling Hills winter park compared to the last two years; and much more activity and revenue at the Pierce Lake Golf Course, which was also in part related to the March 15 tornado’s damage to other golf courses in the area. [Full Story]

Superior Greenway Deal Adds 100 Acres

The Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy, Washtenaw County’s natural areas preservation program, and the city of Ann Arbor greenbelt program have partnered in a deal to preserve 100.33 acres of land that will become part of the Superior Greenway, a corridor of more than 2,000 acres of protected land between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The property is located in Superior Township along the east side of Prospect Road, south of Cherry Hill Road. [.pdf of map showing property location]

The property becomes part of 1,237 acres of contiguous protected land, including 710 acres that are open to the public. It includes a section of Fowler Creek (a tributary of the Rouge River) and a woodlot that’s part of … [Full Story]

County Working on Farmland Preservation

As the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission moves closer to making its first decisions about farm properties to include in its land preservation program, the county board of commissioners got an update on the process at its April 5 working session.

Susan Lackey

Susan Lackey, executive director of the Legacy Land Conservancy, updated commissioners about Washtenaw County's farmland preservation efforts at an April 5, 2012 working session. (Photos by the writer.)

Susan Lackey, executive director of the Legacy Land Conservancy – an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit that’s under contract to help manage the program – told commissioners that about $1.6 million is available to preserve farmland, using a portion of proceeds from the natural area preservation millage renewed by voters in November of 2010. That 10-year, 0.25-mill countywide tax also funds the acquisition of natural areas and land preserves.

Prior to 2010, the natural areas ordinance allowed for outright acquisition of land, but not for the purchase of development rights (PDR). PDR is a common mechanism for protecting farmland, letting landowners keep their property for farming but preventing – via a conservation easement – its development. In May of 2010, the county board approved an ordinance revision that incorporated farmland into the county’s natural areas preservation program and clarified the use of PDR for that purpose.

The county received 57 applications for its first round of potential deals, Lackey reported. That list has been narrowed down to seven parcels for final consideration, covering 1,100 acres. The locations of the parcels won’t be released until a final vote by the parks and rec commission. That vote will be taken when the deals are ready to close. That’s likely to happen later this year.

Yousef Rabhi was among the commissioners who praised the program, noting how it ties in with the food policy council that the county board recently created, as well as the food-related business incubator and job training program – called Seeds for Change – focused on the eastern part of the county. Rabhi serves on the Agricultural Lands Preservation Advisory Committee (ALPAC), which makes recommendations to the parks and rec commission about farmland deals.

The April 5 working session also included a briefing on the county’s community corrections unit. This report focuses just on the farmland preservation update. [Full Story]