Northfield to Greenbelt: Keep Out

Also, greenbelt advisory commission reviews finances

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.

Northfield Rejects Greenbelt

During Wednesday’s meeting, Peg Kohring shared an email with commissioners that she had sent to Northfield Township supervisor Deb Mozurkewich in November:

The Ann Arbor Greenbelt has been approached by Al and Sue Honke about the purchase of development rights on their property in Northfield Township. Would you have time to meet to discuss Northfield Township’s interest in farmland preservation and potential for matching funds?

Here is Mozurkewich’s response, also via email:

Currently we do not have matching funds available but are working with the County to acquire State funds for this type of project. We have not been supportive in the past of the Ann Arbor Greenbelt and do not intend to be supportive in the future of an outside community exerting its influence on our community.

To respond to the message, Laura Rubin, who chairs the greenbelt commission, suggested forming a group to meet with township officials. Dan Ezekiel volunteered, saying it was a good approach to talk with them. Catherine Riseng also offered to go, partly as a learning experience – she is a relatively new commissioner who began serving on the commission in September 2009. Rubin asked a staff member to go along, too.

Jennifer Santi Hall asked staff to gather information about the number of applications that the greenbelt program had received from Northfield Township property owners. It wasn’t an issue of funding for Northfield, she noted. It’s that they’re not supportive of the greenbelt program itself, even when individuals from the township apply to participate in the greenbelt.

Peter Allen said he believed the attitude was coming from one of the township board members – that person (whom he didn’t identify) needs to be at the meeting as well, he said.

Gil Omenn suggested that the property owners take the initiative with Northfield Township. Kohring said that in this case the owners, who don’t live in the township, did initiate contact. Rubin added that having other township residents involved in the discussion would be a good idea. She asked Kohring to try to set up a meeting in January.

Financial Report

Kelli Martin, the city’s financial manager for community services, gave a report on the greenbelt program’s finances for fiscal 2009, which ended June 30. [.PDF file of full report]

Proceeds of the open space and parkland preservation millage, which funds the greenbelt as well as land acquisition for parks, totaled $2,232,550 for the year. [Two-thirds of the millage proceeds fund the greenbelt program, with the remaining third allotted to parks. The parks funding is overseen by the city's park advisory commission.]

Martin explained that the city took out a $20 million bond in fiscal 2006, that’s being paid back with revenue from the open space and parkland preservation millage. Investment income off of a $17.1 million fund balance – the combination of proceeds of a bond and the millage – totaled $815,261 for the fiscal year.

Millage revenue exceeds the amount needed to make debt service payments on the bond – the surplus is accruing in a separate account, Martin said. Of the $17.1 million fund balance, $10.225 million is the accrual of funds from the millage and $6.875 million is the remainder of the bond monies.

Other revenue came from a federal grant that totaled $681,800 for the year.

The Conservation Fund’s Ginny Trocchio, project director for the Ann Arbor greenbelt program, reported that the greenbelt closed on four transactions during the fiscal year:

  • six parcels of woodland in Scio Township, purchased in partnership with Scio Township and the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation department. The city contributed $350,000 toward the purchase of the 90-acre property, which is managed by the county’s Natural Areas Preservation program.
  • the purchase of development rights (PDR) for the William and Cherie Nixon farm in Webster Township, using $1,030,500 awarded to the city from the USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection program.
  • the PDR of two adjacent properties – the Smyth farm and Merkel/Heller farm – in Webster Township, in partnership with the township. (These properties are also adjacent to the Nixon farm.) The city’s portion was $856,599 for the Merkel/Heller property and $156,126 for the Smyth farm. A USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program grant covered 50% of the PDR cost for the Smyth property.
  • the PDR for 90 acres of the Walter Hilton estate in Pittsfield Township, in partnership with Ann Arbor’s solid waste department. The property is adjacent to the city’s composting center. The greenbelt program contributed $1,269,864 to the deal.

Trocchio noted that the fund balances on fiscal 2009 financial statements show “money out the door,” and don’t reflect deals that have been approved by council, but that haven’t yet closed. For example, at its Dec. 7 meeting, council approved the $815,767 purchase of development rights for the Girbach farm – also known as the Frederick farm – in Lodi Township. That transaction will be recorded on the fiscal 2010 financial statement.

Payments to The Conservation Fund are broken into three categories – transactional ($75,523), non-transactional ($61,370) and general (2,549). Trocchio said that she and Kohring break out their time based on tasks. Transactional expenses relate to time spent on specific greenbelt projects, while non-transactional expenses are for time spent in meetings, on outreach to landowners and other general administrative tasks.

From left: Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioners Peter Allen, Dan Ezekiel and Carsten Hohnke. Hohnke is also a city councilmember representing Ward 5.

From left: Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioners Peter Allen, Dan Ezekiel and Carsten Hohnke. Hohnke is also a city councilmember representing Ward 5.

Responding to a commissioner’s query about line items for endowment expenses, Kohring explained that because the city has responsibility for certain properties in perpetuity, the staff uses a formula to calculate how much should be set aside in an endowment designed to cover those potential costs. The funds are used to monitor the properties or take legal action if owners don’t abide by agreements with the city.

Laura Rubin, chair of the greenbelt advisory commission, asked why expenditures were down so dramatically for park projects in fiscal 2009. The financial report showed expenditures of $237,444 during the year for parks, down from more than $2.5 million in each of the previous two years. Kohring explained that the city had achieved its goals as set out by the Parks & Recreation Open Space plan, known as the PROS plan. That meant there was little activity left to do for parks in fiscal 2009, she said. [The current PROS plan runs from 2006-2011, and is being updated. Amy Kuras, a city of Ann Arbor planner, gave a report on that process during the October meeting of the park advisory commission.]

Misc. Staff Updates

Ginny Trocchio told commissioners that the staff was preparing a mailing to a set of landowners in the county, with a cover letter containing information about the greenbelt program, as well as an application form. She reported that they hadn’t received any new applications recently, but that a couple of their partners had. The commission would get details about those applications early next year, she said. [.PDF files of the cover letter and greenbelt program application]

Though not discussed at the commission’s Dec. 9 meeting, a contract renewal for The Conservation Fund is on the agenda for the Ann Arbor city council’s Dec. 21 meeting. The contract calls for a one-year, $119,565 agreement, and gives the city administrator authority renew the contract over the next two years at $113,66 and $106,797.

Present: Laura Rubin (chair), Jennifer Santi Hall (vice-chair), Mike Garfield, Peter Allen, Dan Ezekiel, Gil Omenn, Carsten Hohnke, Tom Bloomer, Catherine Riseng

Next meeting: Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 at 4:30 p.m. at the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Room, 220 N. Main, Ann Arbor. [confirm date]


  1. December 15, 2009 at 4:38 pm | permalink

    I hope that the purchase of the PDR for the Walter Hilton estate is not for an expansion of the compost center. That would not be true to the intent of the program, in my opinion.

  2. By susan shink
    December 16, 2009 at 11:43 am | permalink

    Many residents of Northfield Township do support the Greenbelt. In fact, many of us pitched in to help get it passed. There is no downside to our township if a landowner wants to sell their development rights and keep their land. We can continue to enjoy the beauty and environmental benefits, as well as continuing low municipal service requirements, while township landowners receive money, which they may decide to spend in the township. When our township government supports a program such as the Greenbelt, it is supporting township residents.

  3. December 16, 2009 at 12:14 pm | permalink

    Just a guess, but I would bet that the Hilton estate purchase was defensive in part – to keep the property from turning into homes that would then generate complaints about the solid waste facility.

  4. By julia henshaw
    December 16, 2009 at 3:36 pm | permalink

    northfield township–and every other township in washtenaw county–needs to preserve as much green space as possible. the self-serving township board cares only for the development of whitmore lake and ignores the thousands of us who are proud to live in the desirable rural areas, keep farmland productive, and help to protect the natural environment from further degradation. i’ve just increased my donation to the legacy land conservancy.

  5. By John Q.
    December 16, 2009 at 4:10 pm | permalink

    The statement by the Northfield Supervisor is false. The Township previously did support the Greenbelt concept. However, some of the current board members rode into office running on anti-preservation platforms backed by some of the “old guard” interests who didn’t like the positions that the previous Board had taken (most of all, exposing the financial mismanagement of the “old guard”). This is pure payback politics by a retrograde supervisor looking out first for the interests of a privileged few, not the Township as a whole. You can read more about her here:


    and some of the activities of the old guard:


  6. By Gill
    December 16, 2009 at 7:43 pm | permalink

    One idea thrown around to reduce governmental costs in the State of Michigan was to eliminate townships – they would default to County control. Sounds like a good idea to me.

  7. By Kim
    December 18, 2009 at 11:07 am | permalink

    I concur with Susan Shink. As a resident of Northfield Township, I am completely supportive of the Greenbelt and find supervisor Mozurkewich’s email to be irresponsible, dishonest and unprofessional. I’m hopeful the Greenbelt will continue to work with Northfield residents…and I look forward to further expressing my discontent with my vote in upcoming elections.

  8. By Renee Mulcrone
    December 19, 2009 at 2:00 am | permalink

    I am sorry to hear our supervisor responded this way. As a Northfield Township resident and former Planning Commissioner, I believe the biggest problem is the misunderstanding of what the greenbelt would do or not do for our township. Much of it is fear of the unknown. Many of the misconceptions include phrases like “Ann Arbor would take over the township,” the tax base would be severely effected, etc.

    Please, DO come to our township and help explain the Greenbelt, both pros and cons.

  9. By Deb Anderson
    December 22, 2009 at 9:05 am | permalink

    What Ann Arbor fails to grasp is that Northfield Township isn’t Ann Arbor and this is the gist of the debate, not the greenbelt. Ann Arbor wants it their way — no building vertically and no building outwardly and they want to control all of their neighboring communities as well. Northfield Township is struggling economically. It is possible to sanely plan development and Northfield Township needs to develop to prosper economically and develop a tax base. It is also possible to plan and implement greenbelts also but that’s up to Northfield, not Ann Arbor. We need a solid tax base to fund planning greenbelts and this isn’t possible right now. What is possible and is exciting is planning out the light rail station and surrounding businesses. This attracts prosperity and smart growth, we don’t want to be Brighton. We don’t want to be Ann Arbor, either. The residents of our area DO care about greenbelts, but we also care about strengthening up our economy and this is a very depressed area. Deb has improved our township by leaps and bounds.

  10. By Alan Goldsmith
    December 22, 2009 at 9:20 am | permalink

    “What Ann Arbor fails to grasp is that Northfield Township isn’t Ann Arbor and this is the gist of the debate, not the greenbelt. Ann Arbor wants it their way — no building vertically and no building outwardly and they want to control all of their neighboring communities as well.”

    Deb, thanks for hitting the nail on the head.

  11. By Rod Johnson
    December 22, 2009 at 6:48 pm | permalink

    “Deb has improved our township by leaps and bounds.”

    So are you Deb, or are you just a Deb supporter? If you’re not her, you shouldn’t be posting as her, even with her permission.

  12. By Cosmonican
    December 22, 2009 at 8:36 pm | permalink

    Rod Johnson #11: Read the article, then read the name on the post; two different “Deb’s.” I suggest you look before you leap. There is no subterfuge implied or taken.

  13. By Rod Johnson
    December 23, 2009 at 12:43 am | permalink

    Aha, thanks. I did look before I leapt though–that was why I asked rather than accusing, and used the word “if.”

    Sorry Deb–who could have anticipated there would be more than one Deb in the world? :)

  14. By Deb Anderson
    December 23, 2009 at 12:38 pm | permalink

    No problem, Rod. I should have put her last name there too to avoid the confusion.

  15. By John Q.
    December 28, 2009 at 12:36 pm | permalink

    “Ann Arbor wants it their way — no building vertically and no building outwardly and they want to control all of their neighboring communities as well. ”

    That is completely false.

    First, Ann Arbor has worked with the neighboring communities to secure easements on greenbelt properties. Even those communities that do not have a dedicated greenbelt millage have cooperated with Ann Arbor because every other township except Northfield realizes that working with the city will benefit, not harm, the township’s potential for growth. Also, Ann Arbor works with willing property owners. What Ann Arbor is doing is no different than what various land conservancies in the area have also done. Would you oppose the efforts of the Legacy Land Conservancy if they were successful in securing farmland preservation easements in Northfield?

    Second, Ann Arbor does not have plans and never has had plans to secure greenbelt easements over an entire township. To claim that Ann Arbor wants to “control all of their neighboring communities” is simply false.

    Third, the claim that Northfield wants “smart growth” but opposes the Ann Arbor greenbelt simply shows a lack of understanding of either concept. By helping to preserve farmland in the southern portion of Northfield, Ann Arbor is helping to direct growth to the developed portions of the township. The alternative is sprawling development across the township which is not smart growth.

    Fourth, I’ve heard little of what Deb has accomplished in her time as supervisor. But what you point to as a positive was the result of the previous supervisor who did support the efforts being made by Ann Arbor to help the entire area through efforts like the greenbelt initiative and the light rail line through Northfield.

    For most of Northfield’s history, your belief that preventing preservation and allowing uncontrolled growth is the way to succeed has held sway. Only in the last few years was their any effort to encourage smart growth and preserve farmland. Yet despite decades of having it your way, you claim that Northfield is still a “depressed area”. Maybe you need to realize that some of the cause of Northfield’s depressed state comes from the failure to plan wisely, to encourage smart growth and to support the preservation of farmland. Instead, poorly planned growth, mismanaged township government (save for the last few years under the previous supervisor) and an unwillingness to work with neighboring communities has hurt, not helped the township. Going in your direction is a step backwards in the wrong direction for the township.

  16. By Deb Anderson
    December 31, 2009 at 10:33 am | permalink

    Keep Ann Arbor out of our township! We don’t need Ann Arbor to dictate how we run our community. The discussion is not about the green belt, it is about stepping on our autonomy as a separate community. I decided to live here rather than Ann Arbor because housing is affordable, property taxes are not outlandish, the locale is pleasant and convenient, traffic isn’t insane, I can walk or bike safely to local stores rather than drive, and we do have open space. We currently have the best township budget we’ve had in decades. We are attracting development and there will be smart growth. The blight is disappearing. There are concerned citizens, and I’m one of them, who will strongly advocate open space development and we’ll pull together to create our green belts and famrmland preservation. We do not need the paternalistic arm of Ann Arbor reaching out to tell us how to plan our community and perhaps Ann Arbor should begin concentrating on their own troubles. We aren’t laying off firefighters and police, we pass our school and library millages, we don’t have the crime, we don’t have the insane traffic, and we don’t have the heavy hand of government fining our residents over a cracked sidewalk or snow that isn’t shoveled within a few hours. We aren’t taxed to death either. We also have room to grow sanely, unlike Ann Arbor where they’ve painted themselves into a corner because they resist growing vertically.

  17. By Rod Johnson
    December 31, 2009 at 12:38 pm | permalink

    Honestly, that seems pretty non-responsive to the points made in #15. Is your whole program based on an emotional “we’re not Ann Arbor” reaction? Speaking from experience as an unhappy resident of the Libertarian Utopia of Scio–it’s a pretty sucky basis for a politics.

  18. By Deb Anderson
    January 8, 2010 at 11:10 am | permalink

    How difficult is it for you to understand that we don’t want A2 in our community? Got it now? Good. That’s my ONLY point. Thank you, sir.

  19. By Mikey48
    January 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm | permalink

    “Deb has improved our township by leaps and bounds.”
    And you base this praise on what accomplishments?

  20. By Rod Johnson
    January 8, 2010 at 5:50 pm | permalink

    Who is “we” and what does it mean to have “A2″ “in” “your” community? I mean, I get the fact that you have an emotional reaction going, it’s just that, when you actually think about it, it’s dumb and bigoted.

  21. By John Q.
    January 12, 2010 at 5:36 pm | permalink

    “I decided to live here rather than Ann Arbor because housing is affordable, property taxes are not outlandish, the locale is pleasant and convenient, traffic isn’t insane, I can walk or bike safely to local stores rather than drive, and we do have open space.”

    All of which gets sacrificed by your bizarre desire for more sprawl growth. You claim that you are for “smart growth” but you oppose the only “smart growth” initiative that is happening in the area, which is the Greenbelt. What’s even more bizarre is that what Ann Arbor is doing, which is preserving local farms, is the one thing that would help the township protect what you claim you want to preserve. It’s completely illogical.

  22. By David G
    January 13, 2010 at 9:54 pm | permalink

    As one of the previous board members of Northfield Township, I helped to fight for the Greenbelt expansion into the township. Myself and the other like-minded board members even went as far as to delay and postpone any possilbe development that was presented before us in the hopes that monies would have been available in the commission’s budget to purchase the developmental rights along the areas we thought were most prone to development, but alas, the economy had a sudden downturn and we as township administrators didn’t have any funds to match as contibutions.

    You see, we understood, as many of the Conservancy do, that there is no such thing as smart growth. If we want to make sure that our farm spaces are preserved, the only real way to do this is to prevent growth. Basically, if growth starts, it is self perpetuating. Once a community starts to get money from tax revenues of develpoed property, it is like a drug. They only want more and more. That’s why the group I helped to form, and which I was a part of during my 4 years on the board, decided in our infancy to stop develpoment at all costs. Why get hooked on the drug of money? Hell, we even stopped a major development from starting by getting a referendum placed on the ballot, and getting it passed. Though I can’t take all the credit for it, our position was brillant in that we convinced people that if the door is propped open, the horses will charge on through and there will be no stopping things. But hey, we did leave a little bit of a mess for the current board to try and get through. All in the plan.

    So as you can tell, I am a staunch supporter of keeping the open spaces open. Living in Northfield Township has made me realize that I like things the way they are. No need for change. I’d really like to see everyone of my neighbors sell their develpomental right to the Greenbelt Commission. As a matter of fact, I really don’t care that there is not a single pharmacy in the town that I live. I can just get in my car and drive 10 or 15 minutes into Ann Arbor or Brighton. And I really am glad there is no hardware store or lumber yard in my town. It keeps the traffic down and helps me see the stars at night, since having someting like that would do nothing but pollute the night sky with lights. As a matter of fact, I’d love to see flowers planted all the way down the median of US-23 into Ann Arbor, just as a reminder of how beautiful our past has been.

    And in closing, I really have disdain for the current Northfield Township Board. Not only have they succeeded in strengthing the townships finances ( A- bond ratings ), which we were never able to do, but they are actually encouraging development to occur, which I, and those of like mind , tried desperately to keep out. I hate to say it, but it may be time for me to think about moving up north, where I know open spaces will be perserved for ever.