Ann Arbor city council meeting (July 16, 2012): The bulk of the council’s recent meeting was related to parks – either directly or tangentially.
The council considered a resolution that would have placed a question on the Nov. 6 ballot about a charter amendment affecting city parkland. The amendment would require a voter referendum not just for the sale of parkland, but also for leases or other contracts that have a practical effect similar to a sale.
The majority of the council wanted to allow time for the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) to weigh in before taking council action. To facilitate that timeline, PAC is convening a special meeting on Aug. 8 to consider the matter. The council’s postponement was until Aug. 9 – its next regularly scheduled meeting. That’s a Thursday instead of the usual Monday, pushed back because of the Aug. 7 primary election.
Some supporters of the possible amendment had hoped to bring the matter to a council vote before the August primary, because they wanted incumbent council candidates to be judged by the electorate based on their vote on the parkland ballot question. That led Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who is not seeking re-election to a third term, to call the resolution on the ballot question a “poorly disguised political stunt.”
Other park-related items on the agenda included approval of a $89,560 contract with Wally Hollyday Skateparks for the design and construction oversight of a skatepark to be built in the northeast corner of Veterans Memorial Park. The council also gave initial approval to the rezoning of two parcels recently acquired by the city for expansion of the Bluffs Nature Area at 1099 N. Main St., north of Sunset Road. On final approval, both parcels will receive the PL (public land) zoning designation. The city expects the additional land to make the entrance to the nature area more accessible.
The Leslie Science and Nature Center will get $115,309 worth of improvements to create accessible pathways at the city-owned site – the council approved a contract with JB Contractors Inc. for that work. The center is operated by a separate independent nonprofit on land and buildings that are owned and maintained by the city of Ann Arbor.
The possibility of a mixed-use park and art center at the city-owned 415 W. Washington property was given a chance to move forward, with the council’s authorization of $50,000 in general fund money to pay for physical surveys of the building on the property. The building, which would potentially house a space for working artists, would need environmental, hazardous materials and topographic surveys done, even if a decision were ultimately made to demolish the building.
Open space outside the city got a boost from the council’s acceptance of $396,900 in federal funds for the purchase of development rights (PDR) on properties in Webster and Superior townships. The federal funds will be matched with city funds from the open space and parkland preservation millage, which supports the city’s greenbelt program.
The wetlands at Plymouth Parkway Park that were impacted by last year’s railroad embankment washout along Plymouth Road will be restored through a $97,687 contract with Fonson Inc. authorized by the council. The funds will come from the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage.
Only tangentially related to parks was the council’s approval of the site plan for the Maple Cove development. Located on 2.96 acres at 1649 N. Maple, north of Miller Road between North Maple and Calvin Street on the city’s west side, the plan calls for combining two sites – 1649 N. Maple and 1718 Calvin – and demolishing an existing single-family home and detached garages there. Two 3-story apartment buildings would be built with a 64-space parking lot. The project also includes building a private street to serve seven new single-family houses near Calvin Street.
The parks connection to Maple Cove is that the city requested a $26,660 contribution from the developer to support the city’s parks – a voluntary contribution, with the amount determined by formula. The developer has declined to make that contribution.
The council also voted to appoint John Seto as chief of police and head of safety services – he’s now permanently in charge of policing the city, including city parkland. Seto has served since April as interim in the wake of Barnett Jones’ retirement.
In other action, councilmembers voted to suspend the use of construction unity board (CUB) agreements in construction contracts – after voting to restore their use earlier this summer. On the CUB issue, the council has been responding to a changing landscape of law, as state legislation is passed and court decisions are handed down.
At its July 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized a $115,309 contract with JB Contractors Inc. to construct barrier-free pathways at the Leslie Science and Nature Center. The recommendation includes a 10% contingency, for a total project cost of $126,840.
The city’s park advisory commission had recommended approval of the contract at its June 19, 2012 meeting.
JB Contractors provided the lowest of two bids. Fonson Inc. had submitted a much higher bid of $197,459. Funding is available from the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage.
PAC had been initially briefed on this project – the first phase of a larger renovation – at its Feb. 28, 2012 meeting. The center, located at 1831 Traver Road, was previously part of the …
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (June 19, 2012): Park commissioners took action on three items that now will likely be on the Ann Arbor city council’s July 16 agenda: (1) a contract for the design of a proposed Ann Arbor skatepark, (2) path renovations at Leslie Science & Nature Center, and (3) a parks millage renewal.
An $89,560 contract with Wally Hollyday Skateparks – for design and construction oversight of a new skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park – was unanimously recommended for approval. Trevor Staples, president of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, was on hand to answer questions, and several commissioners congratulated him for spearheading this project. Staples noted that fundraising is still underway, focused now on building a $100,000 endowment for future maintenance. Funding for design and construction of the skatepark has been secured primarily from a $300,000 state grant and $400,000 from the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission.
PAC also unanimously recommended approval of a $115,309 contract with JB Contractors Inc. to build barrier-free pathways at the Leslie Science & Nature Center. The recommendation includes a 10% contingency, for a total project cost of $126,840.
This first phase of a broader renovation project on the center’s grounds will include making the raptor enclosures – housing owls, falcons, a bald eagle and other birds of prey – more accessible. The center, located at 1831 Traver Road, was previously part of the city’s parks system, but since 2007 has operated as an independent nonprofit. However, the city still owns and maintains the buildings and property.
Also unanimously recommended for approval was placement of a millage renewal on the Nov. 6 ballot. The current 1.1 mill Ann Arbor park maintenance and capital improvements millage expires this year. A renewal would run from 2013-2018 and is expected to generate about $4.9 million next year.
The June 19 meeting included a quarterly financial update, and the election of Tim Doyle as chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee. Commissioners also were briefed on a Traver Creek streambank stabilization project at Leslie Park golf course, designed to improve the water quality of this Huron River tributary.
Other water-related issues were brought up during the parks and recreation manager’s report. Colin Smith told commissioners that final repairs on swirl concentrators at West Park – designed to help stormwater management – will start later this month, with final renovations of the park occurring over the summer. And city staff will be harvesting Eurasian watermilfoil from about 6-7 acres around the Gallup Park canoe livery, using what Smith described as a “Zamboni on the water.” The aquatic plants have overgrown the area around the livery, making it hard for people to use paddleboats, canoes and kayaks.
During public commentary, Alan Haber urged commissioners to support the Library Green project, a citizen-led effort to put a public commons on top of the new city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure. He invited PAC to a July 14 “Imagine a Park” block party on the site, from noon until 5 p.m. Later in the meeting, park commissioner Tim Berla picked up the idea, saying he wasn’t advocating for that particular project but that he felt PAC should be “in the game” for discussions of a downtown park.
The June 19 meeting was the last one for commissioner David Barrett, who is term-limited after serving two three-year terms. PAC chair Julie Grand praised his work, particularly in advocating for renovations to the city’s athletic fields and ballparks. The mayor has not yet publicly put forward a nomination for Barrett’s replacement.
At its June 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission recommended approval of a $115,309 contract with JB Contractors Inc. to construct barrier-free pathways at the Leslie Science and Nature Center. The recommendation includes a 10% contingency, for a total project cost of $126,840.
JB Contractors provided the lowest of two bids. Funding will be provided from the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage.
PAC had been briefed on this project – the first phase of a larger renovation – at a Feb. 28, 2012 park commission meeting. The center, located at 1831 Traver Road, was previously part of the city’s parks system, but since 2007 has operated as an independent nonprofit. However, the city still owns and …
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Feb. 28, 2012): Commissioners took action on several parks projects at their most recent meeting, and were briefed on others already in the works.
The largest of the action items was a $865,190 contract for road, parking, pathway and other exterior renovations at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm. The work will include resurfacing the entry road off of Packard, and improving the path system to allow better access within the park area, as well as a connection from Essex Street into the park. The city council later approved the project at its March 5 meeting.
Commissioners also recommended approval of a 15-foot landscaping buffer in Riverside Park, next to a proposed new DTE Energy substation that abuts the park. DTE is seeking a variance from the city code, which requires a land use buffer for any commercial site that’s adjacent to a park – without the variance, that buffer would need to be located on DTE property. The new substation, to be located in the utility company’s Ann Arbor service center at 984 Broadway, will provide more electrical power to the downtown area due to increased demand.
Also recommended for approval was a $35,200 contract for restroom renovations at the Ann Arbor Senior Center. The facility will be closed in May while the project is completed, and activities will be scheduled at other locations. When PAC chair Julie Grand said she was impressed to see that so many companies had bid on the project, parks manager Colin Smith noted that it might reflect changes related to CUB agreements.
To comply with new state legislation, last summer the city council rescinded a resolution that had previously required contractors for city projects to execute Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements. The agreements are negotiated between local trade unions and contractors, and require that contractors abide by terms of collective bargaining agreements for the duration of the construction project.
At their Feb. 28 meeting, park commissioners were also updated on a project to make exterior improvements – primarily related to pedestrian pathways – at the Leslie Science & Nature Center. The center, located at 1831 Traver Road, was previously part of the city’s parks system but since 2007 has operated as an independent nonprofit. However, the city still owns and maintains the buildings and property. The first stage of the project will focus on making pathways to the center’s popular raptor enclosures more accessible.
Commissioners also learned that during the week of March 12, the city will begin to install a new pedestrian bridge at the end of the Argo Dam bypass. Because of the construction, the recently renovated bypass will be temporarily closed. A stoplog will be put in to stop the flow of water into the bypass – the project will likely take a couple of weeks. The path along the bypass is expected to be paved later in April, with the end in sight for the entire project by May.
Smith reported that Argo Cascades will be the new name for the bypass – a series of drop pools that eliminates the need to portage along that stretch.
During an update on the parks and recreation budget, Smith reported that due to extra funds available from the park operations budget, plans are in the works to: (1) restore mowing to a 14-day cycle – the cycle has in recent seasons been every 19 days; (2) increase seasonal staffing between April 15 and Oct. 15; and (3) hire three park rangers from May through September, to deal better with maintenance and enforcement issues in the parks.
Several items were also raised during the time set aside for communications. Smith noted that the six-year, 1.1 mill parks maintenance and capital improvements millage will be coming up for renewal this fall. Staff has already started working on the renewal process, gathering materials in preparation for a March 12 city council working session. The millage was last approved in 2006.
It was also noted that two key staff members are leaving their jobs soon. Molly Notarianni, the city’s market manager, is stepping down at the end of March after about four years on the job. The position has already been posted. And long-time Rec & Ed director Sara Aeschbach will be retiring this summer. Both were praised for their service.
At the end of the meeting, commissioner Gwen Nystuen reminded her PAC colleagues about an upcoming sustainability forum on Thursday, March 8 at 7 p.m. in the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building. It’s the third in a series of four, this one focusing on climate and energy, and is part of a broader sustainability project that began last year and includes developing sustainability goals for the city. [See Chronicle coverage of the first and second forums in the series.] A public forum on the forums is also scheduled for March 29 from 6-8 p.m. at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building, 343 S. Fifth Ave.
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Jan. 24, 2012): Baseball fields in three city parks will be getting a major overhaul, if the Ann Arbor city council approves a recent recommendation by park commissioners.
PAC unanimously recommended awarding a nearly $1 million contract to RMD Holdings of Chesterfield, Michigan, for renovation of ballfields at Veterans Memorial Park, West Park and Southeast Area Park. If approved by the city council, work would begin after the 2012 summer season. Ann Arbor Rec & Ed – a unit of the Ann Arbor Public Schools – plans to cancel its fall season in light of the project. Teams playing in Rec & Ed programs are the primary users of these fields.
Commissioners also got an update on the status of West Park renovations – specifically, how problems with an underground stormwater system are being addressed. City engineer Nick Hutchinson described plans for repairing the system, saying that legal issues are still being worked out, but the project will likely be completed by July of 2012. A public forum will be held on Feb. 13 at Slauson Middle School to update residents. At a similar meeting held in mid-January, residents raised concerns over whether the situation in West Park has caused flooding in nearby basements.
Also at PAC’s Jan. 24 meeting, commissioner Gwen Nystuen urged the group to consider taking action on the Allen Creek greenway, in light of remarks made by mayor John Hieftje at the city council’s Jan. 23 meeting regarding the city-owned 415 W. Washington property. Colin Smith, the city’s manager of parks and recreation, reported that there’s been discussion about possibly applying for a state grant to help fund the greenway, but the timeline for applying this year is tight. He also suggested that an initial step would be to develop a master plan for the greenway, as recommended in the city’s parks, recreation and open space plan.
Near the beginning of the meeting, commissioner Sam Offen introduced the new executive director for the Leslie Science & Nature Center, Susan Westhoff, who spoke briefly to commissioners. Offen is a board member of the center, a nonprofit that’s located on city property.
Bob Voakes is sitting in the front room of the main Leslie Science and Nature Center building, encircled by more than a dozen children sprawled on the floor. “It’s a special day today – does anyone know what day it is?”
“New Year’s Eve!” they cry out.
It would be hard not to know the answer – everyone is wearing New Year’s Eve hats or masks that they’d made earlier that morning, using construction paper and markers.
They’re all enrolled in the holiday break camp program, with a full agenda of crafts, sledding, hiking, searching for animal tracks, s’more-making, and “who knows what other exciting things we might do!” Voakes, a staff member, tells the kids.
Just down the hall – in Dr. Eugene Leslie’s former study – someone else has a full agenda, too: executive director Kirsten Levinsohn, who’s getting ready to step down from the post in February, after 20 years at the center. With the sound of children happily hollering in the background, Levinsohn talked about the upcoming transition, and why it’s an exciting time for LSNC.