Greenbelt Grows by 170+ Acres in December

Also: Resolution urges Webster Twp. to enforce easements

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Jan. 5, 2012): At Wednesday’s GAC meeting – the first of the new year – commissioners got an update from staff on three deals in December that added more than 170 acres of protected land within the city’s greenbelt boundaries.

Tom Bloomer, Mike Garfield

From left: Greenbelt advisory commission members Tom Bloomer and Mike Garfield. (Photos by the writer.)

The properties include 32 acres in Northfield Township along US-23, 30 acres in Scio Township near Wagner and Scio Church roads, and 111 acres in Lodi Township along Pleasant Lake Road. By year’s end, the new additions brought the total of property protected by the city’s greenbelt program to 3,430 acres since its inception in 2007.

Most of Wednesday’s meeting was spent in closed session to discuss possible future land acquisitions, but the main action item involved land that’s not part of the city’s greenbelt program. Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution urging Webster Township to strictly enforce all of its conservation easements – the resolution will be forwarded to township officials as they weigh a request from the Dexter Area Historical Society to amend an easement that would loosen restrictions on parking.

The society wants permission to allow spectator parking for Civil War re-enactments on a site where the historic Gordon Hall is located. Land preservation activists are concerned that parking would damage the land, and that amending the easement would set a bad precedent, calling into question the trustworthiness of regional land preservation efforts. The resolution was brought forward by Tom Bloomer, a GAC member who also serves on Webster Township’s land preservation board.

Staff Update: December Closings

During Wednesday’s meeting, Ginny Trocchio – who serves as support staff for the greenbelt program – reported on three closings for land preservation deals in the greenbelt that occurred in December.

The city provided due diligence and stewardship costs for a conservation easement now held by the Legacy Land Conservancy, for a 32-acre property in Northfield Township. The landowner, Charles Botero, had donated the easement, she said. At its Nov. 10, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council had approved funding for up to $15,000 on the project. The land is located along the east side of US-23, north of East Northfield Church Road.

The city had also closed on a purchase of development rights (PDR) for 30 acres owned by Duane Thomas and his wife Judith Lobato in Scio Township. The city paid $140,367 for the deal, which city council approved at their Oct. 17, 2011 meeting. The owner contributed 50% of the cost for the PDR, Trocchio reported. The property is located near the northwest corner Scio Church and Wagner roads.

The final closing was for the purchase of development rights on 111 acres in Lodi Township, owned by Bill Lindemann and his sister Karen Weidmayer. The property is located along Pleasant Lake Road, about a half-mile from the former Girbach farm, which is also protected through the greenbelt program. At its July 18, 2011 meeting, the city council had authorized $699,992 for the deal, with $1,000 contributed by Lodi Township and 49% of the cost reimbursed by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, or FRPP.

Trocchio also reported that just before the holidays, she’d received word that the deadline for applying to the next cycle of FRPP grants is on March 9. She’s been working with landowners who might be interested in applying.

Webster Township Land Preservation

On the agenda was a resolution brought forward by GAC member Tom Bloomer regarding conservation easements in Webster Township. He had initially raised the issue at GAC’s December 2011 meeting, when he reported on a situation involving the Dexter Area Historical Society.

About 10 years ago, the society had purchased land from the University of Michigan that included the historic Gordon Hall. The society later sold the development rights to Scio and Webster townships, through conservation easements to those townships. A conservation easement restricts certain types of activity from taking place on the land, and is often used to protect land from development.

Last summer, the society asked Webster Township officials for permission to hold a Civil War re-enactment on the site. The event didn’t conflict with terms of the conservation easement, but the society also wanted permission for spectator parking – and that did conflict with the easement. The township eventually agreed to a one-year exception to allow parking for several hundred vehicles, with the understanding that an exception wouldn’t be granted again.

Now, the historic society wants to amend the conservation easement so that parking for this kind of event would be allowed. The township’s farmland and open space preservation board has recommended denying that request, but the decision will ultimately be made by the Webster Township board of trustees. The preservation board has asked for support from other land preservation entities (like Ann Arbor’s GAC) before the township trustees vote.

Catherine Riseng

Catherine Riseng, vice chair of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, chaired the Jan. 5, 2012 meeting. GAC chair Dan Ezekiel was absent.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Bloomer told other commissioners that based on their discussion at the December meeting, he had crafted a resolution that he hoped expressed GAC’s concerns without encroaching on the township’s decision-making. He had aimed to make township officials aware of where the greenbelt commission stood regarding easements in general. [.pdf of resolution]

The resolution notes that Ann Arbor has contributed over $4.7 million in partnership with Webster Township to preserve over 810 acres of farmland and open space in the township. The city, through its greenbelt program, has also spent more than $4.5 million for additional land preservation in Webster Township on its own.

The resolution also referenced the national Land Trust Alliance, noting that the alliance has established generally accepted practices and rules of conduct for land preservation, and that it discourages amendments to conservation easements that compromise the agreed-upon conservation values. The resolution does not specifically reference the situation regarding the historical society’s easement.

The resolution’s only resolved clause states:

Now, Therefore Be It resolved that the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission urges the Township of Webster to strictly enforce all of its conservation easements, and all of the conservation values protected therein.

There was only brief discussion about the resolution. Shannon Brines said it seemed to be a reasonable statement, in that it supported Land Trust Alliance practices and discouraged amendments to conservation easements.

Bloomer noted that it would be good to let all townships within the greenbelt boundaries know about the stance expressed in this resolution. It was directed at Webster Township because there’s a controversy there, he said, but he had tried to make it generic so that it could apply to other areas as well.

Catherine Riseng responded to Bloomer by saying she thought the resolution served that purpose well, and could be adopted to other situations.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously passed the resolution regarding Webster Township’s land preservation program.

Closed Session

Commissioners spent almost an hour of their meeting in closed session to discuss possible land acquisitions. When they emerged from closed session, they voted unanimously to recommend that the city council apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) for four properties located in the greenbelt’s boundaries.

Before appearing on the city council’s agenda, details of these greenbelt acquisitions are not made public – parcels are identified only by their application number. The parcels recommended for FRPP grants are 2005-01, 2011-12, 2011-13 and 2012-01.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved a recommendation to apply for FRPP grants for four parcels in the greenbelt.

Present: Tom Bloomer, Mike Garfield, Catherine Riseng, Liz Rother, Laura Rubin. Also: Ginny Trocchio.

Absent: Peter Allen, Dan Ezekiel, Carsten Hohnke.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Feb. 2 at 4:30 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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