PAC Supports Grants for Skatepark, Gallup

But no support for committee on Fuller Road Station

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (March 15, 2011): A meeting packed with presentations also included a last-minute addition to the agenda: Resolutions recommending support of the city’s application for grants from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund. The grants – for $300,000 each – would help fund the Ann Arbor skatepark and upgrades to the Gallup canoe livery and park.

Julie Grand, Sam Offen

Julie Grand, chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, talks with PAC member Sam Offen before the start of Tuesday’s meeting. Offen was the only commissioner to vote against support of a state grant application for the Ann Arbor skatepark. (Photos by the writer.)

The resolution for Gallup passed unanimously, but commissioner Sam Offen – without comment – cast a vote against the resolution for the skatepark grant.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioner Gwen Nystuen suggested forming a committee to look more closely at the Fuller Road Station project – she felt that as stewards of the city’s parkland, PAC should take a more active role in examining the proposed parking structure, bus depot and possible train station. The project, a joint effort between the city and the University of Michigan, would be located on land that’s previously been designated as parkland, though it’s been leased to the university as a surface parking lot since the early 1990s. Nystuen did not put forward a formal resolution, and commissioners took no action on the idea.

The meeting included five presentations from various groups, including updates on the city’s two golf courses, the new Give 365 volunteer program, and a restoration project for a stretch of Malletts Creek near Huron Parkway. Commissioners also heard a proposal for a new Wednesday night farmers market, and got a mid-year financial report on the open space and parkland preservation millage.

Grant Applications for Skatepark, Gallup Livery

Two resolutions were added to the agenda at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, both recommending support for city’s grant applications to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund. The grants – for $300,000 each – would help fund the Ann Arbor skatepark and upgrades to the Gallup canoe livery and park.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks & recreation manager, told commissioners that the city would include the resolutions as part of the application package.

[The issue of the city’s grant applications previously emerged during the March 9 meeting of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. At that meeting, Tom Freeman of the county’s parks & recreation department told greenbelt commissioners that the county would be applying for a DNR trust fund grant to help buy a parcel in Ann Arbor Township now owned by a subsidiary of Domino’s Farms. The parcel would become part of the county’s natural areas preservation program.

Greenbelt commissioners discussed voting on a letter of support for the county’s application, but were dissuaded by Ann Arbor city councilmember Carsten Hohnke, who felt it would dilute the city’s own chances for grant funds from the state – for the skatepark and the canoe livery. Ultimately, greenbelt commissioners voted to recommend that the city council consider sending a letter of support for the county’s application.]

At Tuesday’s PAC meeting, Gwen Nystuen said she approved of the resolutions, but wondered whether it hurt their chances to apply for two grants instead of one. Smith said they had reviewed the applications and grant awards from last year – out of 160 applications statewide, 117 had received funding, he said – a high success rate. What matters most is the quality and strength of the application, he said. In addition, the two projects they’re applying for are very different, and serve different user groups.

Smith said they need the funding for the skatepark in order to help reach the matching funds needed to secure a $400,000 matching grant from the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission. And the funds for Gallup are necessary for the work they need to do to improve safety and accessibility at the canoe livery, he said. They’re hoping to have improvements at Gallup completed by 2012, to prepare for increased activity following a significant upgrade at the Argo dam.

Tim Berla asked for a reminder of what work would be done at Gallup. [Park planner Amy Kuras had most recently provided an update at PAC's January 2011 meeting.] Smith reported that the work would include expanding the facility’s meeting room, improving the safety of the path approaching the livery, and giving people barrier-free access to the facility and dock area. They would also add wayfinding signs throughout the park.

Outcome: The resolution of support for Ann Arbor’s application for a state DNR trust fund grant to fund upgrades to the Gallup canoe livery and park was unanimously approved. A second resolution of support for the grant application to fund the Ann Arbor skatepark was also approved, with Sam Offen dissenting.

Fuller Road Station

During Tuesday’s meeting, Gwen Nystuen asked commissioners to consider forming a committee that would look more intently at the Fuller Road Station project. [Fuller Road Station is a joint city of Ann Arbor/University of Michigan effort to build a large parking structure and bus depot on the south side of Fuller Road, just east of East Medical Center Drive. City officials hope the initial $46 million phase will be followed by a later phase that would include a train station for commuter rail. The city-owned land, which is zoned public land but has been designated as parkland, is currently leased to the university for use as a surface parking lot.]

Nystuen said she’s been looking at this project for months, and is deeply concerned because it would mean a major change for the city’s parks. It’s an issue she’s raised repeatedly at previous PAC meetings for more than a year.

Nystuen described some of the property’s history, dating back to the time when it was a municipal golf course in the 1930s through 1968. Several transfers of ownership and changes in use have taken place over the years, she noted, and it’s time that PAC have a coordinated discussion about the current situation, given their role as stewards of the parks system.

Gwen Nystuen

Park commissioner Gwen Nystuen.

One of the big questions is what kind of protection does parkland have, Nystuen said. The city’s planning commission, in its discussions of Fuller Road Station, has identified several protections, she said, such as inclusion of a parcel in the Park and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan, purchase of a parcel with parkland acquisition millage funds. One other way that planning commissioners feel parkland is protected is through oversight by PAC, Nystuen noted – so they are responsible.

The land where Fuller Road Station is to be located was assessed in 2004 by the University of Michigan for $4.25 million – Nystuen passed out a letter sent to the city in February 2004 by Gerald Alcock and Marcel Vidovic, who had appraised the property at that time. At that time, the university was looking at the land to potentially build housing there, she said.

Further, she was concerned that a complete environmental assessment hadn’t yet been conducted. As far as she knew, the firm JJR had done an assessment that was presented as a draft in June 2010. But a final assessment hadn’t been done, nor had a public hearing been held on the issue.

Nystuen also had concerns about how the county’s border-to-border trail would fit into the structure’s design. And there’s a roundabout being considered for the intersection of Fuller Road, Maiden Lane and East Medical Center Drive, she noted, where the border-to-border trail crosses. At its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, the city council authorized a $460,139 contract with DLZ Michigan Inc. to review previous studies of that intersection and propose a design for its reconfiguration.

A lot of questions remain about the project and its process, Nystuen said. PAC needs a committee so that they’ll be fully informed and can make a recommendation to city council.

Tim Berla asked parks manager Colin Smith what the timeline is for the project. Smith reminded commissioners that he’d given them an update at their February meeting, and nothing has changed since then. The city attorney’s office is still working on the Fuller Road Station operating agreement between the city and the University of Michigan.

Berla noted that some things related to the project weren’t under PAC’s purview. But the border-to-border trail is completely within their realm, he noted, adding that he’d like to see PAC consider a resolution at their next meeting to address that issue. They should go on record identifying that as a problem to be solved, he said. Overall, though, Berla said he supports the idea of a bus or train station.

Smith reminded commissioners that they had already passed a resolution related to Fuller Road Station last summer. His recollection was that PAC gave the project its overall support, but identified some areas of concern, including how the project would be financed and how the border-to-border trail would be incorporated. He suggested reviewing that resolution before taking additional action. [For details on that resolution, see Chronicle coverage of PAC's June 15, 2010 meeting: "Park Commission Asks for Transparency"]

Nystuen said she wasn’t opposed to alternative transportation. But the area where Fuller Road Station is proposed is in a location that the city has identified as a high priority for parkland acquisition – land along the Huron River. It’s a surface parking lot now, but it could be restored and become a beautiful park – it doesn’t have to be covered with cars, she said.

Sam Offen asked Smith to check with Fuller Road Station’s project manager, and perhaps ask him to return to PAC and provide an update. Smith reminded commissioners that they’d be dealing with the annual budget at their April meeting.

Julie Grand noted that the point of the resolution they passed last year was that they wanted to be kept in the loop about the project. This is a good reminder to city staff that PAC be kept informed.

Berla asked Smith whether they could see a copy of the operating agreement when it was drafted. Smith said he would get a copy for them to review.

Nystuen again expressed her interest in having two or three PAC members sit down with the city councilmembers who serve as ex-officio members of the commission – Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). [Anglin did not attend Tuesday's meeting.] Taylor said that for his part, he believed things would come to the city council “in their ordinary course.” While getting information is good, he said, information can be “ripe and unripe.” Regarding the border-to-border trail, he agreed that they should ask what the plans are for that effort. He agreed with Berla that there are certain things within PAC’s ambit, like the border-to-border trail. As for the roundabout, analyses are being done that are “ongoing and professional,” he said.

Berla noted that in general roundabouts are fantastic, but it’s hard to envision how someone using the border-to-border trail and trying to cross there could do so easily, given the heavy traffic in that area.

Nystuen did not put forward a formal resolution for her proposal to form a committee, and the discussion came to a close without action.

Golf Courses Update

Earlier in the meeting, commissioners got an update about the city’s two golf courses – at Huron Hills and Leslie Park – from Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf, and Andrew Walton, golf course supervisor at Huron Hills. Kelly and Walton had previously given a detailed presentation at PAC’s Nov. 17, 2009 meeting.

Kelly began by giving brief descriptions of both courses. Huron Hills is a beautiful tract of land, he said, with vistas overlooking the Huron River valley. As a golf course with a shorter layout, it’s a tremendous asset to the entire area’s golfing community, he said, a much-needed course for introducing people of all ages and economic backgrounds to the game of golf. It’s especially important to provide opportunities for kids, to grow the game. In the winter, Huron Hills also provides one of the area’s best sledding hills, he noted.

Andrew Walton, Doug Kelly

Doug Kelly, right, the city of Ann Arbor’s director of golf, and Andrew Walton, golf course supervisor at Huron Hills.

Leslie Park golf course is their pride and joy, Kelly said. It also sits on some of the prettiest land in the city, land that was previously the site of Dr. Eugene Leslie’s farm and orchard. Kelly noted that the golf course’s logo features the red barn that’s still on the property. “We’re very proud of that barn and we love it,” he said.

Leslie Park attracts golfers from around the region. Its layout is challenging, yet playable. Golf Digest magazine has rated it as the best municipal course in the state, he said.

Since the city’s re-commitment to its golf courses in 2008, Kelly said they’ve focused on the “5 Cs”: customer service, culture, course conditions, cleanliness, and community. These are the reasons why people keep returning to the courses, he said – they’re creating a place where people are comfortable and feel like they belong.

Kelly said they are caretakers of the land. He described how last year, Leslie Park was certified by the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program, and Huron Hills is now going through that process. Certification requires that the course exceed requirements of environmental laws, protect water resources and enhance the maintenance of turf grass and open spaces. It’s harder to get than certification from the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, Kelly said, which focuses on enhancing the habitat for wildlife. He expects Leslie Park golf course to achieve the Audobon certification later this year.

Kelly showed commissioners some slides of wildlife on the courses, including one of a wild/domestic hybrid turkey watching golfers on Leslie Park’s No. 1 green last summer. He noted that eight bluebird houses had been added throughout the course last year, and so far seven of those are inhabited. Staff is also working with school groups to build bat houses that can be placed on the courses.

Also related to the environment, golf staff work with the city’s natural area preservation (NAP) program to do controlled burns in some parts of the courses – three of the four full-time golf employees are volunteer certified burn technicians, Kelly said. Scott Spooner, Leslie Park’s superintendent, is doing outreach with local schools as well, bringing student groups to the course for projects like water quality testing at Traver Creek, which runs through the property.

Walton, who supervises Huron Hills, focused his comments on that course, saying one of the main objectives there is to grow interest in the game of golf. It’s very affordable to play there, he said, and is a crucial course for introducing new golfers to the game. He described several programs aimed at that goal, including junior golf camps, a new parent/child instructional program and a new junior golf league. Adult programs also focus on beginners, he said.

Another goal is to use promotions and events to attract families, young people, seniors, and beginning golfers to the course, Walton said. One of the larger efforts in that regard is allowing juniors to play free on Sunday afternoons, when accompanied by a paying adult. Last season the city also started a program called “Wee Tees” – a set of shorter tees that are meant to make the game more playable and fun. The annual Herb Fowler memorial tournament has become a marquee event, Walton said, and monthly “nite lite” golf – when they illuminate the course after dusk – is becoming popular.

Walton also noted that adding power golf carts has made the course more accessible to seniors and the disabled – and even, frankly, to able-bodied people who just don’t want to walk, he said. Last year was the first full season that the carts were available, and they brought in about $46,000 in revenue.

Both courses also provide a source of revenue for the city’s parks & recreation scholarship fund, Walton said, contributing about $4,000 last year from player donations and tournament proceeds.

Walton compared Huron Hills to the other golf courses in the Ann Arbor region. Of the 12 local courses, seven are either private or provide limited access to the general public, he said, like the University of Michigan course. Three of the remaining five – including Leslie Park – are more difficult to play. That leaves Georgetown Country Club, which only has nine holes, and Huron Hills, which is an 18-hole course. “We are quite a unique facility in the Ann Arbor golf community,” he said.

Kelly returned to the podium for a brief financial overview. Golf rounds at Huron Hills are up 56% since 2007, from 13,913 in 2007 to 22,501 in 2010. At Leslie Park, rounds have increased during that period by 48% – from 21,857 to 31,998. This occurred at a time when average golf rounds were decreasing at the state and national levels, he said. Their goal is to grow rounds of golf played at Huron Hills to 25,000 and at Leslie Park to 35,000.

Revenues during the period from 2007 to 2010 have also increased at both courses. At Huron Hills, revenues grew from $242,677 to $310,602. Leslie Park revenues increased from $615,448 to $851,570. By FY 2013, revenues are projected to increase to $396,050 at Huron Hills and $929,044 at Leslie Park.

[Related to revenues, the city council recently voted to increase fees at both courses – the increases had been initially recommended by PAC at their February 2011 meeting.]

Revenues are trending in the right direction, Kelly concluded, and recognition for the courses is strong.

After the presentation, PAC chair Julie Grand thanked Kelly and Walton for their work. Commissioners had no other comments or questions.

[Neither Kelly nor Walton mentioned the request for proposals (RFP) that the city issued last year to solicit ideas for improving operations at Huron Hills. Two groups submitted proposals, but only Miles of Golf – a Pittsfield Township business – was chosen by a selection committee to move forward in the selection process. The business owners made a presentation at a Dec. 3 public meeting, but were informed later in the month that the city would not be pursuing their proposal.]

Malletts Creek Restoration

Janis Bobrin, the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner, attended Tuesday’s PAC meeting – along with Harry Sheehan, the county’s environmental manager, and Ron Cavallaro of the engineering firm Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment – to give an update on the county’s Malletts Creek restoration project.

Bobrin began by noting that the county and city have a strong history of partnering, including work on Olson Park, Mary Beth Doyle Park and West Park – a project that’s still underway. [PAC had received an update from city staff on problems with West Park renovations at its Feb. 15, 2011 meeting.]

Bobrin said they were attending the meeting to talk about the Malletts Creek restoration work, which affects the city’s Huron Parkway Nature Area.

Harry Sheehan, Janis Bobrin, Ron Cavallaro

From left: Washtenaw County environmental manager Harry Sheehan; Washtenaw County water resources commissioner Janis Bobrin; and Ron Cavallaro of the engineering firm Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment. The three were on hand to give the Ann Arbor park advisory commission an update on a Malletts Creek restoration project.

Sheehan, who’s leading this project, stepped forward to give the remainder of the presentation. He said the county has been working for a decade with the city on improvements to Malletts Creek. The current work will take place along a 1.6-mile stretch of the creek’s stream bank, he said, near the area of Washtenaw Avenue and Huron Parkway. The project focuses on the stream bank’s erosion – he noted the stream is a natural channel and can’t handle the roughly 11 square miles of urban runoff that now flows into it.

Erosion washes downstream and impairs water quality and habitat, he said. Phosphorus from the runoff flows downstream to South Pond and ultimately the Huron River, affecting the city’s drinking water supply. The state’s Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has created a mandate to deal with phosphorus and sediment issues related to Malletts Creek creekshed, he said, and that’s what the project is addressing.

Sheehan described several techniques that will be employed to deal with these problems. Instead of vertical stream banks, they’ll rebuild banks that are staggered back from the creek in tiers to accommodate higher flows. They’ll first stabilize the bank’s base with rock, then revegetate the bank with native plants. Another technique is to create rock structures within the stream – called veins – that direct water flow away from the banks and turn the force of the flow toward the center of the stream.

The third technique is to build different levels of channels within the creekbed – a deeper channel in the bottom center of the creek, with shallower channels carved out at the sides to handle higher flows. Finally, the project will include work to repair and upgrade infrastructure, such as cracked drains.

Sheehan said workers on the project will access the area from spots on Huron Parkway and Chalmers Drive. In response to a question from Sam Offen, who lives in that area, Cavallaro said they didn’t anticipate any traffic issues related to the work.

Sheehan said they’d work with the city’s natural area preservation (NAP) crew to coordinate with the controlled burns that NAP conducts in the area. If there are any areas that are disturbed by the work, the county will revegetate the area with native plants.

The project’s budget is set at a maximum of $4.1 million for the 1.6 miles of creek, Sheehan said. Half of that will come through a federal grant and won’t need to be repaid – it’s in the form of loan forgiveness through the Clean Water Act. The other half will be financed through a state revolving loan program – a 20-year, low-interest loan at 2.5% interest that will be paid by assessing the Malletts Creek drainage district. The city of Ann Arbor accounts for 95% of that district, Sheehan said, and funding for the assessment will come from the city’s stormwater utility fund. [It's classified as an "at large" district, so rather than assessing individuals and businesses in the district, it's paid for by the city collectively.] There’s no impact to the parks budget.

Bobrin later clarified that the other 5% is paid for by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT), because the work benefits state roads. She noted that the project required a formal petition from the city, which city council passed in December 2010. Sheehen added that this project does not involve a rate hike to residents’ stormwater utility fees – it’s a project that was already budgeted, and included in the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP).

Sheehan said they’re more than halfway through the project’s design, and expect to finish that part by June. They’ll have a contract for the work to be approved by city council in August, with construction starting in September 2011 at the earliest, and running through next spring or early summer.

He said they’ve been in contact with homeowners’ associations in the area to alert them about the project, and also plan public meetings later in the year.

In response to a question from Gwen Nystuen, Sheehan said that Malletts Creek is a county drain, and the county’s office of water resources has regulatory responsibility to maintain its flow and improve water quality. The county has a 66-foot easement on either side of the channel, which has been in place since the 1920s.

Christopher Taylor asked if Sheehan could articulate the water quality benefit they expect to get from the project. It hasn’t been quantified yet, Sheehan replied. About 4,000 pounds of phosophorus load comes into the Huron River every year from Malletts Creek, he said, and the sediment load can be hundreds of times that amount. Those are the two things they’re trying to reduce, he said, and they’ll be calculating how best to do that as they complete the project’s cost/benefit analysis and set priorities about where to do the work.

In response to a question from Tim Berla, Sheehan said water quality monitoring is one way to measure the effectiveness of the project. He said he could provide a report on their work at Doyle Park, which included such measurements. However, they don’t currently have funding to conduct the same types of analyses on the Malletts Creek project, he said. Another way to evaluate the project is to look at how long the changes last – how stable are the stream banks in 10 or 15 years, for example.

Night Market Proposal

Molly Notarianni, the city’s market manager, gave a report to commissioners about plans for a night market pilot program. She had given a similar presentation last week at the city’s public market advisory commission meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "Idea for Night Market Floated"]

The proposal calls for a producers-only market from 4:30-8:30 p.m., operating as a separate entity from the existing Saturday and Wednesday daytime markets, which run from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. The night market would run for a shorter season, launching this year on July 1 – the start of the city’s fiscal year – and running through September or early October. There would be a separate application process for the night market, and there would not be a seniority system as there is for the other markets, which gives an advantage to long-time vendors.

The idea would be to give shoppers more options for shopping at the farmers market, to attract new shoppers to that area, to provide opportunities for more producers to sell their wares, and to increase activity at an underused space. Notarianni said she plans to assign stalls before market day – unlike the current system for the daytime markets, when stalls are assigned on the day of the market just before the market opens. That will provide some consistency for vendors, she said, and shoppers won’t have to hunt for their favorite vendors.

Ann Arbor farmers market building

The Ann Arbor farmers market building. On most days, the market is empty and used primarily for parking.

There’s a lot of action in the local food movement, Notarianni said, and this is an easy way to capitalize on that interest at little cost.

Members of the public market advisory commission had been excited about the proposal, she said. The manager for Kerrytown Market & Shops, a complex of stores adjacent to the public market, had a similar reaction, she said. The shops there often stay open later if there are special events in the area – they might keep longer hours on Wednesdays because of increased traffic from the night market.

Sam Offen asked about the logistics of transitioning between the day and night markets. Notarianni said that although the Wednesday market is open until 3 p.m., in reality about 70% of the vendors leave before then. She didn’t think that many of the daytime vendors would stay for the night market – although they could certainly apply to do so. Since they come to the market at 5 a.m., it would make for a long day, she said.

The public market is part of the parks & rec budget. Colin Smith, the city’s parks & recreation manager, said the additional revenues they expect to generate from stall fees will be reflected in the proposed budget for FY 2011, which PAC will review at their April meeting. Because it will be a change to a well-known, much cared for institution, he said he wanted to bring it to their attention. City staff have received feedback from shoppers that they want to have more options for buying fresh food at the market, and this is an attempt to provide that, he said.

Give 365 Volunteer Program

Gayle LaVictoire, volunteer outreach coordinator for Ann Arbor’s parks system, gave commissioners an update about her efforts since being hired in the newly created job last year.

On March 1, the city launched the Give 365 volunteer program, a new effort to foster a year-round culture of volunteerism for parks, LaVictoire said. They’re publicizing the program in a variety of ways, including posters and brochures at city facilities, through the Ann Arbor parks Facebook page, and by direct outreach to groups like Ann Arbor Rec & Ed and coaches for youth leagues, among others.

Gayle LaVictoire

Gayle LaVictoire gave a presentation to commissioners about the park system’s new volunteer outreach efforts.

A page on the city’s website – – provides more information, she said, and allows people to register online. They’re using the Volgistics database system to handle the logistics. It allows volunteers to sign up for exactly the type of activities they’re interested in, to search for volunteer activities on specific dates or at certain facilities, and to sign up for alerts for more general volunteer opportunities. The system also sends out automated reminders to volunteers prior to the times they’ve signed up for. LaVictoire said she’s a volunteer at the Humane Society of Huron Valley, which also uses the Volgistics database. From a user’s perspective, she said she could report that it’s easy to use.

LaVictoire noted that the last time she talked to PAC, she had outlined four programs she was planning to start. Since then, she’s added several others. They include the Friends of the Field ballfield adoption program; taking photos and writing for the farmer’s market or senior center newsletters; and helping with spring and summer “startups” at the city’s pools and canoe liveries. They’re also recruiting young people between the ages of 13-17 to join a Counselor in Training program at the city’s four day camps, she said. Other volunteer opportunities are listed on the Give 365 website.

LaVictoire noted that she was modeling a T-shirt that they gave to volunteers – she reported that her boss, parks manager Colin Smith, wanted one, but she told him that he’d have to sign up to volunteer first.

David Barrett asked whether the ballfield program could be expanded to soccer fields too. LaVictoire said that in the future, she hoped the program would grow. They’re working with the city’s Adopt-a-Park staff to coordinate those efforts.

Tim Berla wondered whether these volunteer programs could be expanded into the Ann Arbor Public Schools – the city uses some of the school district’s facilities for their programs, and vice versa. LaVictoire said they were starting small but hoped to expand – the possibilities are great, when you nurture a culture of volunteerism. Smith noted that he hoped the schools would partner with the city, but he added that because LaVictoire’s position is funded by millage proceeds, there are certain restrictions about how the money – and her time – can be spent.

Julie Grand asked how the Give 365 volunteer program was different from the Adopt-a-Park program. LaVictoire replied that there’s some overlap, but that her volunteer program focused on parks & recreation facilities and areas adjacent to those facilities – activities like trash pickup, weeding, painting and planting flowers. Adopt-a-Park focused primarily on parkland and open space.

In response to a question from Christopher Taylor, LaVictoire described how Give 365, Adopt-a-Park and the volunteer outreach for the city’s natural area preservation (NAP) coordinate their efforts. The Volgistics database manages all three volunteer programs, but there are categories that volunteers use to indicate their preferences. There are also ways that city staff can “tag” volunteer information to indicate that there might be overlap, she said – those tags aren’t visible to the volunteer, but help staff share information. “Your secret’s safe with us,” Taylor said.

He asked how many volunteers had registered so far, two weeks after the launch. One group and about 10 individuals had signed up, she said, and she’s encouraging existing volunteers to register as well.

Barrett asked what assurances volunteers had that their information wouldn’t be used for other city purposes. LaVictoire said there’s nothing to indicate that the information won’t be used for other things, but that the volunteers have control over what they sign up for. She also noted that if people don’t feel comfortable registering online, they can call city staff and give their information over the phone. The number for the volunteer office is 734-794-6230 ext. 42510.

Millage Update

Ginny Trocchio, a staff member of The Conservation Fund who works under contract with the city to manage the Ann Arbor greenbelt and parks acquisition programs, gave a report on expenses and income related to the open space and parkland preservation millage. The presentation looked at the first six months of the current fiscal year, from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2010. [.pdf file of mid-year financial report for open space and parkland preservation millage]

By way of background, Ann Arbor voters in 2003 passed a 30-year 0.5 mill tax for land acquisition – called the open space and parkland preservation millage. On the summer tax bill, the line item appears as CITY PARK ACQ. Though not stipulated in the legal terms of the millage, the city’s policy has been to allocate one-third of the millage for parks land acquisition and two-thirds for the city’s greenbelt program. PAC oversees parkland acquisitions, while the greenbelt advisory commission makes recommendations for the greenbelt program.

To get money upfront for land acquisition, the city took out a $20 million bond in fiscal year 2006. That bond is being being paid back with revenue from the millage. Debt service on that bond so far in FY 2011 year has amounted to $815,288 – the first of two annual payments.

On Tuesday, Trocchio told commissioners that total gross revenues – including millage proceeds, grants and investment income – are just under $3.5 million. Millage proceeds are $2.175 million this year, down from $2.26 million in FY 2010. Investment income is also down – $88,148 compared to $492,576 the previous year. Trocchio said the year-end investment income number will likely be higher. Federal grants total $1.235 million this year – those are reimbursements for greenbelt purchases, she said.

Christopher Taylor, a city councilmember who also serves as an ex-officio member of PAC, asked Trocchio to explain why investment income is down. She said that the city’s treasurer, Matt Horning, would be able to provide a better explanation, but that part of the reason is that the millage’s fund balance has been spent down, so there’s less money to invest. [Horning had provided a detailed explanation of this issue at the greenbelt advisory commission's November 2010 meeting.]

The greenbelt has spent about $5.7 million on purchases – it’s been a busy year, Trocchio said – while nearly $1 million has been spent on parkland acquisitions. The two major parkland acquisitions were property owned by Elizabeth Kaufman and Wes Vivian, adjacent to South Pond, for $591,006; and a parcel next to Bluffs Nature Area purchased from the Elks for $369,160.

Administrative expenses as of Dec. 31 were $66,358, and included the contract with The Conservation Fund, IT costs, advertising and other items. Trocchio noted that administrative costs are capped by ordinance to be no greater than 6% of revenues. Over the life of the millage, administrative costs are tracking well under that number. Starting in FY 2005, those percentages each year have trended as follows: FY05, 7.6%; FY06, 5.1%; FY07, 2.0%; FY08, 3.8%; FY09, 4.3%; FY10, 3.5%; and so far in FY11, 0.9%.

At year’s end, about $11.7 million remained in the fund balance, Trocchio said. The bond monies have been spent down – what remains are the funds that have accrued from the millage proceeds. After calculating the one-third/two-thirds split between parks and the greenbelt, that leaves a fund balance available for parks acquisitions of $4.36 million.

Sam Offen observed that it’s difficult to know whether these numbers are good or bad, in isolation. Was there a projection that had been done at the start of the millage, against which they could be compared in terms of anticipated revenues and expenses? Trocchio said she didn’t have that information, but that Kelli Martin, financial manager for the city’s community services unit, was working on that kind of projection going forward. They would provide that information to PAC in the future.

Communications: Parks Manager, Commissioners

Colin Smith, the city’s parks & rec manager, had several updates during Tuesday’s meeting, as did a couple of commissioners.

Smith reported that the city council had approved the Parks and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan at their March 7 meeting – that major project is completed. There are also two parks-related public meetings later this month. A meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 23 from 7-8:30 p.m. to discuss the design of a new play area at Winewood Thaler Park. That meeting will be held at Veterans Memorial Ice Arena (in the lobby) at 2150 Jackson Road. Residents who can’t attend are invited to take an online survey. On Wednesday, March 30 from 7-8:30 p.m., a meeting will be held at the Northside Community Center, 815 Taylor St., to discuss improvements to Beckley Park. An online survey for that project is also available.

Smith said he’d recently met with the construction team for a project to build a bypass around Argo dam. [City council had approved the $1,168,170 bypass at its Nov. 15, 2010 meeting. It will take the place of the current headrace, which is separated from the Huron River by an earthen embankment. The bypass will eliminate the portage currently required by canoeists. It would also allow the city to comply with a consent order it has with the state of Michigan that requires the city to address the repair of toe drains in the embankment.] The city submitted the paperwork required to secure a state permit on March 7, he said, and site plans are being developed. He hoped to have a schedule to share with the commission about the work within the next couple of weeks, adding that it will be a busy summer.

Finally, Smith gave a brief report in response to a previous request from commissioner Tim Berla to look at how the parks budget compares to the overall general fund. The issue had first been raised by Berla at PAC’s Nov. 16, 2010 meeting, but had emerged again at last month’s meeting, when Smith had reported back to PAC about a city council budget work session. From The Chronicle’s report of PAC’s Feb. 15 meeting:

Smith laid out for the commission the main points of the city council work session presentation:

  • Ways that parks and recreation would be meeting its roughly 2.5% reduction target. [Energy savings in FY 2012 and increased revenues due to the construction of the Argo Dam bypass channel, in FY 2013]
  • A question about whether to continue a $287,000 supplement to the parks and recreation budget, which began in FY 2008 amid controversy over the interpretation of an October 2006 city council resolution about the administration of the parks capital improvements and maintenance millage.
  • Options for the future of Huron Hills golf course.

[For detailed coverage of the work session itself, see Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor 2012 Budget: Parks, Plans, People"]

With respect to the $287,000 parks supplement, Tim Berla recalled how the city’s chief financial officer had addressed PAC in 2007 in preparation for the FY 2008 budget planning and had explained how the parks budget does not increase at as high a rate as, for example the police department, which has a greater percentage of its costs due to personnel. He also recalled how part of the explanation for the apparent disparity in parks funding that year, compared to other parts of the budget, was related to the idea that a department can’t count savings for activities that had been discontinued.

In broad strokes, the controversy that resulted in the $287,000 parks supplement involved the language of the October 2006 resolution, which indicated that parks would be treated the same as other parts of the budget with respect to any increases or decreases.

On Tuesday, Smith reported that the parks budget had increased 9.9% between FY 2008 and FY 2009, from $6.67 million to $7.33 million. During the same period, the city’s general fund budget grew 10.7%, from $76.75 million to $84.97 million. The parks budget then decreased 4.6% in FY 2010 and 3.7% in FY 2011. By comparison, the general fund budget was cut by 4.7% and 3.9% in those years, he said.

Smith said the finance staff is tracking those figures – they even make the calculations from the floor on the night that city council approves the budget, he said, in case councilmembers make changes that might affect the percentages. It’s very much in line with the intent of the 2006 resolution, he said.

In commissioner communications, Sam Offen invited PAC members and the public to attend the annual Mayfly fundraiser at the Leslie Science & Nature Center. It will be held on May 21 from 6-8 p.m.

Julie Grand reported that she’d met with city staff and the consultants hired to develop a strategic plan for the Ann Arbor senior center. It was a productive meeting, she said, and they’re moving toward a vision of offering services for seniors beyond the physical building where the center is housed. They’ll share the plan with PAC at a future meeting, she said.

Public Commentary

Only one person spoke during public commentary. A.J. Dudas introduced himself as a volunteer steward for the Olson Dog Park, working with Tina Roselle, coordinator for the city’s Adopt-a-Park program. He said that in the future, he’d return to PAC to present to them some recommendations that residents would like to see at the dog park. He would be a liaison between residents and the commission, he said.

Present: David Barrett, Doug Chapman, Tim Berla, Julie Grand, Karen Levin, Sam Offen, Gwen Nystuen, John Lawter, councilmember Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks manager.

Absent: Tim Doyle, councilmember Mike Anglin (ex-officio)

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, April 19, 2011 begins at 4 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building boardroom, 220 N. Main St. [confirm date]

One Comment

  1. March 17, 2011 at 11:28 am | permalink

    “Further, she was concerned that a complete environmental assessment hadn’t yet been conducted. As far as she knew, the firm JJR had done an assessment that was presented as a draft in June 2010. But a final assessment hadn’t been done, nor had a public hearing been held on the issue.”

    It’s not a complete environmental assessment. It does not talk about the petroleum/88% phosphoric acid spill in the Huron River that occurred in 2010 near the site [link]. That spill was unsolved, and so the report should talk about the spill, why it was unsolved and the steps being taken to solve the spill and future spills. It should address the question, ‘was any phosphoric acid used in the area on any parking lots or tanks?’. ‘were any fuel tanks removed in 2010 and were there any spills or cleaning operations associated with those tanks?’. This spill covered the Huron River from the hospitals to Gallup and flowed for hours, it should not be excluded from the environmental assessment. The spill was large enough that they ran out of equipment when tackling the spill. If the university cannot solve a spill that flowed through its own property, then serious questions should be raised to the environmental hazards in the area, DPS’s inability to solve the hazards, and preventative actions taken to prevent future oil/acid spills.