RiverUp! Focuses on Revitalizing Huron River

Park commissioners also discuss Argo Dam, Fuller Road Station

Ann Arbor park advisory commission (July 19, 2011): A new project to shore up the ecological health and recreational infrastructure of the Huron River – and to strengthen the economies of river communities like Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – is getting ready for its public debut in mid-August. Park commissioners were briefed on the RiverUp! effort at their July meeting, and were invited to an Aug. 16 bus tour of sites that will be given initial attention in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area.

Greek Revival shelter at Island Park in Ann Arbor

Greek Revival shelter at Island Park, where an event to launch the RiverUp! project will be held on Aug. 16. (Photos by the writer)

Elizabeth Riggs of the Huron River Watershed Council, which is coordinating the project, told PAC members that RiverUp! is spearheaded by a conservancy group called the Wolfpack. Co-founded by attorney and former Clinton advisor Paul Dimond and retired Ford executive Ray Pittman, Wolfpack members – mostly from the Ann Arbor area – have been previously focused on state issues. Now, Riggs said, they are turning their attention to a 104-mile stretch of the Huron River, starting from the north at Milford through Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and downstream to Flat Rock.

Also at their July meeting, commissioners got an update about efforts to build an Ann Arbor skatepark. They also reviewed tentative FY 2011 budget results for the parks system – finals numbers will be presented to the commission in August.

Several other topics were discussed or mentioned during the meeting, in the form of communications from staff or commissioners: (1) an update on work at Argo dam; (2) concerns over the proposed Fuller Road Station and the site design’s consideration of the Border-to-Border Trail; (3) a roughly $100,000 donation from the Henrietta Feldman trust; (4) news of the resignation of Greta Brunschwyler, executive director of the Leslie Science & Nature Center; and (5) a preview of an August agenda item regarding dog parks.

Other news regarding the Argo dam project – a $1.17 million effort to build a bypass channel in the Argo dam headrace, and to add whitewater features – emerged the week after PAC’s July 19 meeting.

A July 25 memo from city staff reports that the city was recently notified by DTE officials of upcoming remediation work that DTE plans to do in 2012 adjacent to DTE’s property on the south side of the Huron River, between Allen Creek Drain and the Broadway Bridge. The remediation is being required by the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality.

DTE is offering to pay for the whitewater feature of the Argo dam project, if the city agrees to hold off on construction of that piece until after DTE completes its remediation. Details of the offer haven’t been finalized.

River Up! Project

Elizabeth Riggs of the Huron River Watershed Council briefed commissioners about the RiverUp! project, which HRWC is facilitating. The nonprofit is partnering with the National Wildlife Federation, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and a group of local conservation activists called the Wolfpack – all working to bring a renaissance to the Huron River, Riggs said.

The Wolfpack, Riggs said, was started in 2002 by local residents, and operates under the auspices of the National Wildlife Federation, which has a Great Lakes regional office in Ann Arbor. Wolfpack members include Bill Ford, Bill Martin, Lana Pollack, Jeff Irwin, Del Dunbar, Bob Martel, Phil Power, Mike Staebler, Stephen Dobson, Howdy Holmes, Lisa Wozniak and several dozen others. [.pdf file of Wolfpack members] The Wolfpack has been working on key state environmental issues, but now is turning its attention closer to home, Riggs said.

RiverUp! is a project in its nascent stages that began earlier this year, Riggs said. It was a response to a challenge by U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who called for development of a plan to protect the Huron River – its ecological health, its recreational infrastructure, and the economic health of river communities, including rehabilitating riverside properties that have been abandoned and contaminated by industry. For the first six months of this year, the group has looked at projects and specific improvements that might be undertaken.

The Huron River Water Trail is a project designed to meet some of RiverUp!’s goals. The idea is to make recreating along the 104-mile stretch of the river more enjoyable, safer and accessible. Three work groups were formed to work on different aspects of the trail: (1) infrastructure – looking at where put-ins and take-outs might be added or improved; (2) cultural/natural history – researching what’s happened along the river, and developing a guidebook and other materials, such as signs and a website; and (3) pilot sites – identifying communities along the river to focus on initially. Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, Dexter, Milford and Flat Rock are the initial pilot sites, Riggs said. Details about what that means are still being worked out.

People are excited about the idea of a water trail, she said, and anyone who wants to volunteer on the project is welcome to join.

Riggs also described other Ann Arbor projects that fall under the RiverUp! umbrella:

  • HRWC is working with the mayor’s office and DTE Energy on plans for the former MichCon site on Broadway, next to the river. It’s a brownfield site that needs to be cleaned up and redeveloped, and might be used as parkland or for businesses like restaurants. That’s in the very early stages, she said.
  • City parks staff are working with the RiverUp! project to identify infrastructure improvements needed along the Ann Arbor stretch of the river. Improvements could be made at the Barton Dam portage and at Island Park, Riggs said. At Island Park, there’s a “social” landing – one that’s used, but that hasn’t been officially built. There’s been a lot of shore erosion, she said, because the location wasn’t designed to accommodate large numbers of people who put in there. The city has offered to pay for part of the design for a landing, Riggs said, and RiverUp! will look for donations to fund the rest of the design and construction.

Riggs said RiverUp! would welcome PAC suggestions for other projects to tackle.

In addition, several projects are also being planned for the Ypsilanti area. Many of the projects are being done in partnership with other groups, including greenway advocates, Washtenaw County parks & recreation, and the Friends of the Border-to-Border Trail. There are natural linkages between “green” land-based and “blue” water-based trails, Riggs said, “so we’re making those connections.”

Ypsilanti area projects include:

  • Improvements to the canoe/kayak portage at Superior Dam, near St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. Right now, it’s difficult to get access, and it’s neglected. This will be one of the first water trail sites to get fixed up, Riggs said.
  • An analysis of options for the Peninsular Paper dam.
  • A renewal of the Water Works Park.
  • Canoe/kayak portage improvements at Ford Lake dam.

Riggs concluded by inviting commissioners to the Tues., Aug. 16 launch of RiverUp! A bus tour begins at 11 a.m. at Island Park in Ann Arbor, with stops at the Superior Dam portage and the Angstrom property (the former Ford/Visteon plant in Ypsilanti). Owners of that property are granting a 100-foot easement along the river to connect to the Border-to-Border Trail, Riggs said. The bus will return to Island Park for some remarks by Dingell, Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje, HRWC executive director Laura Rubin and others. Gov. Rick Snyder, an Ann Arbor area resident, has also been invited to speak at the event.

RiverUp! – Commissioner Discussion

Commissioners had several comments and questions about the RiverUp! project. John Lawter asked about the river’s water quality – does it change as the river moves east? He also wondered how far east you can travel on the river. Riggs said it’s possible to travel all the way to Lake Erie, though there are several dam portages along the way, and some are more difficult to navigate than others. Portages at the Ford Lake and Belleville Lake are “particularly gnarly,” she said.

Elizabeth Riggs

Elizabeth Riggs of the Huron River Watershed Council gave a report to park commissioners about RiverUp!, a project to make infrastructure improvements along the Huron River and to support the economic development of river communities, including Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

The Huron is the cleanest river in southern Michigan, Riggs said, but it’s common to find contaminants wherever there are human developments. Upstream of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti is generally cleaner. It’s a good idea to wait 48 hours after major rains before going into the river, she said, because of possible runoff contamination. This kind of safety information would be included in the river guidebook being developed.

The fact that it’s possible to talk about encouraging more recreation in the Huron River indicates that it’s clean enough for that kind of activity, Riggs said. Even so, there are pollution “hot spots,” and HRWC is working with landowners along the river to ensure that they are complying with the Clean Water Act requirements, she said.

Gwen Nystuen asked for more information about the Superior Dam portage, and the city of Ann Arbor’s involvement. The project involves making the portage more accessible, Riggs said, and involves land owned by both the city and St. Joseph’s. Right now, the take-out is at a steep embankment. It then requires winding through a wooded area to a put-in that’s fairly close to the downstream side of the dam. It’s not an easy portage, Riggs said. The project would relocate the put-in to a quieter area downstream, and make a gravel path for the portage. Signs would be added to mark the way – that’s a sponsorship opportunity, she said.

The Wolfpack will be providing funding for the project, Riggs said. That group is in the process of securing permits and getting bids for the work.

In response to a question from Sam Offen, Riggs said the first year’s funding for RiverUp! is being provided by Wolfpack members. For specific projects, organizers will try to identify other funding sources at the local, state and federal level, or from other partners. For example, Angstrom will be donating the 100-foot conservation easement for the Border-to-Border Trail. Another project – creating an underpass or overpass at I-94 in Ypsilanti for hikers and bikers – would be much more expensive. RiverUp! has funding for an engineering feasibility study, but the actual under/overpass project could cost millions. Terri Blackmore of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) is involved in exploring options for that project, Riggs said.

Riggs noted that there would be plenty of opportunities for the city of Ann Arbor to participate.

Lawter observed that there’s no mention of camping sites along the stretch of the Huron River where RiverUp! is focused. Riggs said a water trail map that’s being developed will include locations where canoers/kayakers can take out for camping and other lodging, as well as where to park and store belongings. She noted that there’s a fairly large stretch of the river with no official campsites.

Ann Arbor Skatepark

Scott Rosencrans – a board member with Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark (FAAS), and a former PAC chair – delivered a presentation similar to those he’s given recently to the Ann Arbor city council and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. It focused primarily on safety issues and ways in which skatepark organizers have been collaborating with the city’s commission on disability issues to ensure that the skatepark facility planned for Ann Arbor would be accessible to everyone.

PAC members had several questions after the presentation. John Lawter wondered whether discussions with the disabled community have let to any design changes for the skatepark. Rosencrans said the design hasn’t been finalized. FAAS will be issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for the design and oversight of construction, he said. A later RFP will be issued for the actual construction. Recommendations from the city’s commission on disability issues are meant to inform the design, he said, but many of the recommendations would already be required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Karen Levin asked about the project’s funding status. Organizers have raised about $515,000 – an amount that includes $400,000 in contingent matching funds from Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation. In addition, the group has applied for about $350,000 in grants, including a $300,000 grant (through the city of Ann Arbor) from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

The group has recently received $20,000 from a donor who wants to remain anonymous, Rosencrans said, and $5,000 from the Tony Hawk Foundation. There are deadlines that the skatepark needs to meet, he said. To secure the county’s matching funds, for example, skatepark organizers need to raise $400,000 by January 2012. ”So we’re under pressure here, but we’re also optimistic,” he said. Several major donors are being cultivated, and skatepark supporters are excited by the prospects, he said.

John Lawter, Julie Grand

PAC vice chair John Lawter talks with Julie Grand, chair of the commission, before the group’s July 19 meeting.

Lawter asked for more details about the deadlines and the total amount of money the skatepark organizers need to raise. The deadline for the county funding is January 2012, while the memorandum of understanding for use of the city parkland is 2014, Rosencrans said. Organizers are looking at January 2012 to raise $1 million, he said, and they think that’s a doable goal. They’ll need about $900,000 for construction, and $100,000 to set aside for future maintenance. On that timeline, organizers hope to issue a design RFP relatively soon.

David Barrett asked whether there’s any aerobic value in the sport of skateboarding – in a culture of obesity, that would be a good thing. Rosencrans said he’s not a fitness professional, but it’s clear from his observations that a lot of calories are burned. It’s also a great way for kids to get out who might not be attracted to traditional sports like baseball, basketball or football. A skatepark and the city’s relatively new BMX/dirt bike course in Bandemer Park are places that might attract more kids to get out and be active.

Tim Doyle asked whether the skatepark would be amenable to winter activities, other than skateboarding. If there’s no ice and it’s a sunny day, people will skateboard even if it’s cold, Rosencrans said. Joe Galante, FAAS chair, told commissioners that skateboarders will shovel the snow themselves so they can use the skatepark in the winter. But a skatepark isn’t designed to be used for other purposes, like sledding.

Mike Anglin asked what the age range is for skateboarders. There are kids as young as 6-7 years old involved, Rosencrans said. He joked that Trevor Staples might be the oldest. [Staples, a board member who was instrumental in organizing the skatepark effort, is in his mid-40s.]

Anglin noted that it’s important for more city parks to be accessible via AATA bus routes. Rosencrans replied that the skatepark is intended to be a “destination amenity,” and the location was chosen in part because it’s on a bus route and near major roadways – I-94 and M-14.

Urban Forest Management Plan

On the agenda for the July PAC meeting was a presentation about the city’s Urban Forest Management Plan. However, no one came to the meeting to give an update. John Lawter, PAC’s vice chair who also serves on the project’s advisory committee, said he hoped that someone could attend the next PAC meeting to brief commissioners and get their input. The group is helping put together a master plan for managing the urban forest. Lawter said the effort includes possible recommendations for ordinances regarding management of trees on public and private property, and how to raise money for the city’s forestry unit.

Parks Budget Update

Jeff Straw, deputy manager of parks & recreation, gave a budget update and answered questions about the year ending June 30, 2011. He noted that there will be additional adjustments – the final report on fiscal year 2011 won’t be ready until PAC’s August meeting.

The general fund portion of the parks system brought in $2.336 million in revenues for the year, with $3.428 million in expenses. The net loss of $1.09 million was covered by the city’s general fund.

Straw went over many of the line items in the budget, and answered questions from commissioners. Matt Warba, the city’s supervisor of field operations, reviewed the budget as it related to his area of responsibility. This report provides some highlights of the budget discussion. [.pdf of financial statements as of June 30, 2011]

Jeff Straw

Jeff Straw, the city’s deputy manager of parks & recreation.

  • Facility rental revenues of $308,815 exceeded expectations – this has been an area of growth, Straw said. It includes rentals for Cobblestone Farm, the public market, and athletic fields. Expenses for this category totaled $311,184, and were slightly lower than budgeted.
  • It was a successful year for revenues in the city’s pools, Straw said. Revenues of $137,076 at Veterans Memorial Park pool, for example, exceeded the amount budgeted by about 30%.
  • Julie Grand wondered why some pools – like Fuller – make money while others don’t. [Fuller Pool brought in revenues of $254,410 with $207,917 in expenses. That compares to Vets Pool, with $137,076 in revenues and $239,868 in expenses.] Straw said each pool as unique characteristics and rental opportunities. Fuller Pool, for example, is used more for rentals and masters swim classes.
  • Staff had been too aggressive in projecting revenues for ice rink rentals, Straw said – they didn’t see as many rental opportunities during the year as they expected, and have lowered expectations for the FY 2012 budget. They tried to manage expenses to compensate, but still fell short in FY 2011, he said.
  • Straw reviewed the budgets for Mack Pool and the Ann Arbor senior center. [Those operations had been discussed in detail at PAC's June 21, 2011 meeting.] In response to a question from Offen, Straw said that Mack Pool had lost about $22,000 in rental from the departure of a synchronized swimming group. But that will free up the schedule for other rentals in the future, he noted.
  • Significant rainfall in the spring affected revenues for the canoe liveries as well as the golf courses. Revenues were down from the amount budgeted, and staff tried to manage expenses accordingly, Straw said. For example, Argo livery had budgeted revenues to reach $246,425 for the year, but the operation only brought in $219,489. Expenses were $204,875 – about $35,000 less than expected.
  • The public market – an enterprise fund – fell short on revenues in a couple of areas, but managed expenses, Straw noted. Parking fees were budgeted at $13,000 but didn’t bring in that much – the budget had anticipated more daily fees, he said. The FY 2012 budget has been adjusted to reflect lower parking revenues. The fees are collected only on market days (Wednesday and Saturdays). On non-market days, parking revenue at the market goes to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. [.pdf of public market financials]

Commissioners had a more extended discussion about the budget for the city’s two golf courses – Huron Hills and Leslie Park – which the city operates in a combined golf enterprise fund. [.pdf of golf financials] Operations in enterprise funds are those that city staff have determined should be self-sustaining, although the golf operations are not, based on the city’s accounting.

Revenues for the two courses combined reached $1.65 million for FY 2011, with combined expenses of $1.46 million. Straw noted that not all expenses have been tallied for the year. Revenues also include a transfer in of $504,000 from the city’s general fund.

At Huron Hills, cart rentals increased significantly, in part because the city increased its fleet there. Rentals were up about $20,000, while golf fees increased about $10,000, due to more people playing, Straw said. Staff also managed expenses better during the year, he said.

Christopher Taylor, an ex-officio PAC member who represents Ward 3 on city council, clarified that the golf courses combined had a year-to-date net of $191,000, taking into account a transfer from the general fund. Does the net above zero get transferred back into the general fund? he asked. Straw replied that the staff will look at the performance of the courses in FY 2011, plus the month of July 2011. Based on that 13-month period, they’ll determine what’s needed to transfer from the general fund for FY 2012, he said. The transfer will be adjusted to reflect the financial performance of the two courses.

Tim Berla noted that the financial report shows the FY 2011 general fund subsidy to parks and recreation was $1.09 million. However, that figure doesn’t include the $504,000 general fund transfer into the golf enterprise fund. With that, the general fund support is $1.6 million, he said. Of that $1.6 million, nearly 20% was used in FY 2011 to support the golf courses – or about $300,000. [Though $504,000 was transferred in from the general fund to the golf courses for FY 2011, the net loss for the golf courses was lower than expected and only about $300,000 was necessary to break even.] The point is to assess how much of the parks budget is going to support golf, Berla said. Offen said it appeared to be a decent-sized portion, but getting smaller.

Berla acknowledged that the trend was heading in the right direction. He recalled that a consultant’s report indicated that only 4% of residents played golf.

Another area that garnered some discussion related to mowing. Berla clarified that the field operations report covered all mowing, including mowing for non-park city property. Grand wondered why so much money budgeted for mowing – about $600,000 – was unspent in FY 2011. Warba explained that there were fewer full-time employees during the year than they had originally anticipated, and his operation used temporary workers instead – at about a third of the cost. In the future, the city will be hiring some full-time workers so the budget won’t show such a large amount of unspent funds.

Related to funds from the parks millage, Gwen Nystuen expressed concern that it appeared more millage funds are being used pay for routine maintenance. Warba said everything that field operations does could be considered routine maintenance. Straw added that the millage can be spent on capital projects or maintenance.

Nystuen said it becomes an issue when the city asks voters to renew the millage. The city’s general fund support for parks maintenance appears to be declining, she said. In the past, all maintenance was covered by the general fund. Now, it’s shifting to the millage, and general fund support is decreasing, she said.

John Lawter added that part of the concern stems from the uncertainty about future support for the millage. If the city depends more on the millage for things like routine maintenance, what happens if voters reject a millage renewal and those funds go away?

Communications: Argo Dam, Fuller Road Station, Dog Parks

Several other topics were discussed during the meeting, in the form of communications from staff or commissioners. Topics included: (1) an update on work at Argo dam; (2) concerns over the proposed Fuller Road Station and the site design’s consideration of the Border-to-Border Trail; (3) a donation from the Henrietta Feldman trust; (4) the resignation of Greta Brunschwyler, executive director of the Leslie Science & Nature Center; and (5) a preview of an August agenda item regarding dog parks.

Communications: Argo Dam

Tim Berla asked Jeff Straw, deputy parks and recreation manager, for an update on work at the Argo dam. Berla said he thought the project would be done by now, but it looked like the work hadn’t really started.

By way of background, the Ann Arbor city council approved a $1.17 million project to build a bypass channel in the Argo dam headrace and add whitewater features. PAC had previously recommended approval of the project. [See Chronicle coverage: "PAC Recommends Argo Dam Bypass"]

The plan calls for removing the canoe portage, and replacing it with a series of “drop pools” so that no portage is required. The project will also improve accessibility of the path – which is part of Washtenaw County’s Border-to-Border trail – and address problems in the headrace embankment that were identified by state officials. The work is tied to a consent agreement that the city reached with the state in May 2010, laying out steps that the city must take to deal with some long-outstanding structural issues with the earthen berm.

Straw reported that the city was still waiting for the state to issue the necessary permit for the project – that could happen at any time. Meanwhile, the contractor is doing as much prep work as possible, including tree removal.

Berla characterized the situation as depressing. It looked like an entire season would be lost, he said. Was there any chance the work could be completed this year? Straw reminded commissioners that the state had mandated closure of the headrace – that would have been closed regardless of what happened with the new project. It’s possible the project can be completed by November, he said, but in part “that depends on Mother Nature.”

Two fauns grazing at the Argo dam headrace

Deer grazing at the bottom of the Argo dam headrace, which has been de-watered in preparation for construction of a bypass channel. (Photo by Sabra Briere)

Following PAC’s meeting, additional information was emailed to The Chronicle by councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1). Brian Steglitz, the city’s senior utilities engineer, had informed Briere that although the city initially submitted its application for a permit in March, it wasn’t considered complete by the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) until June 6. This was the city’s third submittal, in response to changes requested by MDEQ. From June 6, the state has 90 days – until Aug. 23 – to issue the permit.

Briere said that in order to complete the work (at least substantially) by mid-November, the contractor would need to work very aggressively after the construction permit is granted. The contractor has already begun removing trees, and almost all of the headrace is completely de-watered.

Then on July 25, Sue McCormick and Sumedh Bahl – two senior city managers – sent a memo to interim city administrator Tom Crawford. The memo stated that the city had been notified by DTE officials of upcoming remediation work that DTE plans to do in 2012 along the Huron River, adjacent to DTE’s property on the south side of the Huron River, between Allen Creek Drain and the Broadway Bridge. The remediation is being required by MDEQ. From the memo:

DTE has requested the City to delay construction of the whitewater features of the Argo Headrace Reconstruction project until DTE completes the remediation in 2012 as DTE recognizes that the whitewater features will likely need to be removed and rebuilt if the remediation plan includes these areas. DTE has also proposed paying for the construction costs of the whitewater features with their installation in 2012 following completion of the remediation, although the details have yet to be finalized. [.pdf of memo on DTE/whitewater feature]

Communications: Fuller Road Station

Gwen Nystuen asked Straw about the status of an agreement between the city and the University of Michigan regarding the proposed Fuller Road Station. She asked when PAC would have the opportunity to review it, and noted that the city was already moving ahead with related utility work that would affect the project, even though no public hearing has yet been held.

Straw said he didn’t have that information, but that he’d follow-up and report back to commissioners.

Later in the meeting, Mike Anglin – an ex-officio PAC member who represents Ward 5 on the city council – expressed disappointment over how the city is handling the project. The decision to build on parkland seems to have been made, he said, without adequate input from PAC. Many citizens are upset about building along the Huron River, Anglin said. The level of discourse by city councilmembers had been very discouraging, he added, and information provided to the council was simply dismissed, he said.

Anglin was referring to a recent re-vote that had been taken by city council to approve utility work on the Fuller Road Station site. From Chronicle coverage of the council’s July 5, 2011 meeting:

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) made a motion to reconsider a June 20, 2011 vote that the council took in awarding a $1,216,100 construction contract to Hoffman Brothers Inc. The project involves relocating a sanitary sewer south of Fuller Road, and east of the Maiden Lane and East Medical Center Drive intersection.

The project includes moving and replacing an 825-foot, 30-year-old section of 60-inch sanitary sewer pipe. It also includes construction of 525 feet of 24-inch stormwater pipe, as well as construction of 925 feet of a new 12-inch water main for service to Fuller Pool. The water main portion of the project will be completed in two phases, the second of which is planned for 2013.

Anglin’s effort to reconsider the motion was based on criticism that the work is being undertaken only because of the planned Fuller Road Station (FRS) in the area – a project  to which he has expressed opposition. Proposed in partnership between the city and the University of Michigan, it calls for construction of a large parking structure, bus depot and possibly an eventual train station.

Anglin had originally voted in favor of the utility project. At the July 5 council meeting, he said was bringing forward the reconsideration to discuss with councilmembers what he’d heard from the community about questions to which he didn’t have answers. He said he’d voted for the contract on June 20, thinking it was related to flooding conditions on the city’s northside. He subsequently realized the project was for water utilities at the Fuller Road Station site. Several councilmembers noted that they had understood what the original vote was for. The re-vote failed, with only Anglin voting against approval of the utility project.

Toward the end of PAC’s July meeting, Nystuen distributed two documents related to Fuller Road Station:

  • Some reflections by Bob Elton, who was PAC chair in 1993 when the city struck a deal with UM to build a surface parking lot at the proposed Fuller Road Station site – the lot has been leased to the university since then. [.pdf of Elton's reflections]
  • An email from mayor John Hieftje in which he answers questions about the project posed by former city councilmember Bob Johnson, who also served on PAC. [.pdf of email Q&A]

Nystuen also raised the issue of how the Border-to-Border Trail would fit into the Fuller Road Station site design. She noted that the topic has been brought up on several occasions, but that the trail wasn’t even mentioned when the council approved the utility work at that site. In the context of projects like RiverUp! and partnerships with Washtenaw County on the Border-to-Border Trail, the trail should be part of the city’s consideration, too, she said.

Tim Berla noted that when he’d most recently raised the issue with Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, Cooper had said that the portion of the trail running through Fuller Road Station would be widened to 10 feet, but no other changes were planned. That was upsetting, Berla said, because the trail will be crossing roadways where hundreds of vehicles will be traveling – it’s a safety issue.

Another plan has been floated to make a trail that looped under the bridges in that area, Berla said, so that cyclists and pedestrians could avoid the traffic at the intersection of Fuller Road, Maiden Lane and East Medical Center Drive. But that plan hasn’t been incorporated into the project, he said.

Berla suggested that PAC might consider a resolution of support for an alternative trail. PAC chair Julie Grand said that Berla could write up such a resolution – he indicated that he would. Later in the meeting, Grand said that in light of the concerns that had been raised about the Border-to-Border Trail, it was something they could add to PAC’s August agenda. She noted that PAC had made a statement previously about the Fuller Road Station project – the commission had passed a resolution a year ago urging for transparency. [See Chronicle coverage: "Park Commission Asks for Transparency"] That was the kind of thing PAC could continue to do, she said, “with the powers we lack.”

Communications: Feldman Trust

Straw reported that the city has been notified of a roughly $100,000 donation from the Henrietta Feldman trust, to be used for tree plantings or land acquisitions. He said that city staff didn’t yet have a lot of information about the donor or her reason for giving, but that he’d follow up with more details at a later date.

Communications: Dog Parks

John Lawter told commissioners that he’d be making a presentation on “dog issues” at PAC’s Aug. 16 meeting. “I know you’re anxiously awaiting that,” he joked.

Offen noted that dog permits in the city are down. Lawter replied that although permits are down, usage of the city’s dog parks is up. That’s something to add to the “issues” list, Lawter said. At previous meetings, Lawter has mentioned the possibility of establishing another dog park.

The city currently has two dog parks – enclosed areas where dogs are permitted to run off-leash. They are located at Olson Park, on the city’s north side, and at Swift Run Park, located at the northeast corner of the Swift Run landfill. The Swift Run dog park is in partnership with Washtenaw County. Permits are required to use the dog parks, but enforcement is limited.

Communications: Leslie Science & Nature Center

Sam Offen, a PAC member who also serves on the board of the Leslie Science & Nature Center, reported that its executive director, Greta Brunschwyler, had resigned and would be leaving at the end of July. Lisa Brush will be serving as interim director until a new director is hired.

Brunschwyler was relatively new to the position. Hired after a national search for a new director, she started the job in March 2010 and had attended PAC’s March 16, 2010 meeting to introduce herself. Offen said Brunschwyler had resigned for personal reasons, and that board members had been surprised by the decision.

Present: David Barrett, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Julie Grand, Karen Levin, Sam Offen, Gwen Nystuen, John Lawter, councilmember Mike Anglin (ex-officio), councilmember Christopher Taylor (ex-officio).

Absent: Doug Chapman

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011 begins at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]



  1. August 2, 2011 at 4:08 pm | permalink

    Thank you for the article.
    Another key funder for RiverUp! is the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

  2. By Eric
    August 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm | permalink

    The article states: “… with stops at the Superior Dam portage and the Angstrom property (the former Ford/Visteon plant in Ypsilanti). Owners of that property are granting a 100-foot easement along the river to connect to the Border-to-Border Trail, Riggs said.”

    Did she specify whether it is the east bank or the west bank?

  3. By Eric
    August 9, 2011 at 6:36 pm | permalink

    The article states: “Another plan has been floated to make a trail that looped under the bridges in that area, Berla said, so that cyclists and pedestrians could avoid the traffic at the intersection of Fuller Road, Maiden Lane and East Medical Center Drive. But that plan hasn’t been incorporated into the project, he said.”

    I really like this idea and I hope its made the plan whether or not they build the Fuller Transit Station. Crossing the intersection is a pain in the neck due to the slow lights and it’s the only thing along the whole route from Bandermer to Parker Mill that really reminds you that you are in the middle of a city.

    Does anyone know if the alternative plan Tim Berla is advocating requires a new pedestrian bridge over the Huron? Or does it simply use the west side of the Maiden Lane bridge and then loop west under the Fuller Road Bridge and the East Medical Center Drive bridges before going back out to Fuller?

  4. August 10, 2011 at 10:07 am | permalink

    The conservation easement on the Angstrom property is for the west side of the river between Spring St and I-94.

  5. By Eric Boyd
    August 10, 2011 at 10:19 am | permalink

    @4: Thanks! That’s great news. If the state funds the bridge under 12, if the county paves the Water Street Trail, and if River-Up cleans up Waterworks Park, extends the B2B trail through the Angstrom property, and funds an engineering study to determine how to cross 94, that would go a long way towards making the B2B path complete through Ypsilanti.

  6. By Mary Morgan
    August 10, 2011 at 2:58 pm | permalink

    Re. “Does anyone know if the alternative plan Tim Berla is advocating requires a new pedestrian bridge over Huron?”

    Tim forwarded me a statement from the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, with a map showing the connections he mentioned. [.pdf of WBWC statement and map]

    Some additional comments from Tim’s email to me:

    These trail enhancements are apparently all in the non-motorized transportation plan, and everything but the bridge is also in the current PROS plan (and I believe the bridge was accidentally left out of the current PROS plan, and in the previous one).

    There are a couple of additional trail improvements that might be incorporated to improve the biking experience. There is the possibility of also having a connection from one side of Fuller to the other via an underpass on the west side of the Huron River where Fuller crosses the river just to the east of Fuller park, which would also give bicyclist more options for avoiding crossing Fuller. Also, one big concern is building a way that the path on the south side of Fuller not cross all the vehicle entrances and exits to the FRS, which should have thousands of vehicles entering and exiting each day. This could be done, for example, by a ramp that took the path up to the first level of the station, above the ground level entrances and exits.

    Gwen Nystuen and I are working on a resolution advocating for the completion of these items as part of building the station, and I expect that we will present it at the PAC meeting next week.

    The park advisory commission (PAC) meeting is on Tuesday, Aug. 16 starting at 4 p.m. in the second-floor city council chambers of city hall, 301 E. Huron. The Chronicle will be there to cover it.