Park Commission Briefed on Millage Renewal

Also: Resident urges action to fill gaps in Border-to-Border Trail

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (March 20, 2012): At their monthly meeting, park advisory commissioners were briefed on two millages that help fund Ann Arbor’s park system, including one that will likely be on the November ballot for renewal.

Ducks in West Park

Creatures in West Park will not be able to participate in the November millage vote, even though they apparently can get their ducks in a row. A parks millage that's up for renewal helped pay for some of the recent renovations to the park, including the boardwalk, bandshell plaza and entry stairs. (Photos by the writer.)

The park maintenance and capital improvements millage, a six-year tax, brings in about $5 million annually and accounts for about 45% of the parks budget – including the entire funding for the natural areas preservation (NAP) program. Voters will likely be asked to renew it at 1.1 mills from 2013-2018, assuming the city council votes to put the millage on the Nov. 6 ballot at that rate. PAC chair Julie Grand – who has served on a working group to strategize about the renewal – said concerns about the economic climate are a major reason why an increase isn’t being recommended.

During the millage discussion, city councilmember Mike Anglin said he supports the millage but has concerns about Fuller Park, noting that talks regarding Fuller Road Station aren’t over. Parks manager Colin Smith pointed out that no millage funds have been or would be spent on Fuller Road Station. Grand cautioned against connecting the millage renewal to Fuller Road Station, saying it’s important to inform the public clearly about what the renewal means.

To provide that information, the city plans to hold four public forums in April, and a public hearing on the millage will be scheduled for PAC’s April 17 meeting. The city also plans to launch a website in early April with more information about the millage.

Also at the March 20 meeting, commissioners got a mid-year update about the open space and parkland preservation millage, which funds the greenbelt program and park acquisitions. Fuller Road Station was a backdrop to this discussion too, when commissioner Gwen Nystuen asked about protections that are afforded land acquired through this millage.

Land acquisition also came up in two other contexts during the meeting. The future of property owned by MichCon – located north of Broadway Street, between the Huron River and the railroad tracks – was part of the discussion during an update on environmental cleanup at the site. A DTE Energy representative indicated that senior management sees the potential for redevelopment there, but no plans are finalized. It’s expected that DTE Energy, which owns the property through its MichCon subsidiary, will eventually sell the site.

And speaking during public commentary, Ann Arbor resident Larry Baird advocated for the city to acquire land to fill gaps in the Border-to-Border Trail, which roughly follows the Huron River. Specifically, he characterized a connection between Bandemer Park and Barton Nature Area as the top priority, and urged the city to focus more on this project than on high-speed rail.

In the agenda’s one action item, commissioners recommended awarding a $79,980 contract to Michigan Recreational Construction Inc. to handle renovations at Placid Way Park. The resolution also recommends an additional 10% contingency of $7,998 for a total project cost of $87,978. The 1.32-acre neighborhood park is located on the city’s north side near the larger Dhu Varren Woods Nature Area and Foxfire South Park. The project would be funded from the park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Park Maintenance & Capital Improvements Millage

Commissioners were briefed on plans to put a renewal of the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage on the November ballot. The presentation was given by parks and recreation manager Colin Smith and Matt Warba, the city’s supervisor of field operations, and mirrored a similar one given to city councilmembers at their March 12 working session. The 1.1 mill renewal would run for six years, from 2013-2018.

Warba began by describing the history of what were originally two millages: one for capital improvements dating back to 1983, and a second one for maintenance. They were each levied at around 0.5 mill apiece for a total of 0.914 mills, until changes were made in 2006.

By way of additional background, here’s a timeline of the more recent millage history:

  • 2006-Oct-03: The Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution setting administrative policy on the planned use of parks maintenance and capital improvements millage monies. The policy stipulates a range of 60-80% for maintenance, with the remainder for capital improvements. It also stipulates that general fund support for parks will decrease only in concert with the rest of the general fund budget. In addition, an annual 3% increase in funding for natural area preservation (NAP) programs was stipulated.
  • 2006-Nov-07: Ann Arbor voters approved a single, combined parks maintenance and capital improvements millage with 56% support. It replaced two separate millages, which were previously levied at around 0.5 mill apiece for a total of 0.914 mills. The single millage that replaced the two separate taxes – one for maintenance and one for capital improvements – was approved by voters at a rate of 1.1 mill for six years.
  • 2010-May-17: The city council revised the 2006 administrative policy to eliminate NAP’s automatic 3% increase, and reset NAP funding to levels proportionate with other programs.
  • 2011-May-16: The city council revised the 2006 administrative policy to allow non-millage funds to count as general fund support for the parks for purposes of the policy that requires general fund support.

The millage raises about $5 million annually, and is one of two primary sources for the $11.75 million parks system budget, with the other main source coming from the city’s general fund. The millage pays for capital projects and park planning, forestry, NAP and operational maintenance. The general fund covers core services, Smith said, including mowing, snow removal, utilities and daily operations of general fund recreational facilities.

FY2012 parks budget

A breakdown of the FY2012 Ann Arbor parks and recreation budget. (Links to larger image.)

From the general fund, about $3.59 million supports parks administration and general fund recreational facilities (as distinguished from so-called enterprise funds for facilities that are intended to become self-supporting, like the golf courses and farmers market). Another $2.3 million funds general park operations, and about $500,000 is transfered from the general fund to support golf operations.

From the millage, $2 million supports millage-related park operations, $1.6 million is earmarked for capital projects, $981,389 is allocated to forestry, and $698,569 goes to NAP.

Smith and Warba walked through an example of how the millage is being used to fund a specific project – improvements at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm. [A detailed report on that project was part of the commission's Feb. 28, 2012 meeting.]

The millage casts a wide net, Smith said, and is incredibly important to the care and well-being of the city’s parks.

Warba reported that city staff started meeting in January to evaluate how the existing millage is working and to strategize about how best to communicate its uses. In addition, a working group of park commissioners – including PAC chair Julie Grand and city councilmember Christopher Taylor, an ex-officio PAC member – met to talk about levels of funding and whether current funds are sufficient for the park system’s needs.

The staff consensus is that a straight renewal makes the most sense, Warba said. It provides consistency and a sufficient level of funding. Every recreational facility has received some kind of upgrade within the past five years, even if it’s been behind-the-scenes infrastructure, he said.

The existing millage generates an average of $5 million annually, Smith said, totaling about $25 million over the past five years. The current fund balance is about $4 million, with roughly $2 million of that earmarked for renovations to the ballfields that were recently approved. That leaves about $2 million to cover emergency repairs throughout the system’s 157 parks, which Smith said he felt was adequate. An example of a project that might be covered is the restoration of Plymouth Park, following last year’s collapse of the railroad embankment.

The millage renewal would be on the ballot for 1.1 mills, Smith said – a little more than what’s currently levied because of the Headlee rollback. The renewal would be for another six years. If voters were asked to approve a higher tax or for a longer period, it would be considered a new tax, he noted. The working group had felt it was important to be a renewal, given the current economy.

A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of taxable value for a property. For a hypothetical house worth $200,000, with a state equalized value and a taxable value of $100,000, each mill of tax on that property would generate $100 in revenue.

Smith described the next steps as developing informational material for voters, and holding a series of four public forums in April. PAC will also schedule a public hearing on the millage at its April 17 meeting, and the commission would vote on a formal recommendation in May. That recommendation would then be sent to the city council for a vote, likely at an August meeting, to put the millage on the November ballot.

Park Maintenance & Operations Millage: Commission Discussion

Tim Berla referred the public commentary by Larry Baird, who had urged the city to move faster on completing the Border-to-Border Trail. [See below for a summary of Baird's commentary.] Several years ago, the commission had talked about how to make a pedestrian/bicycle crossing over the railroad tracks, Berla noted. Is that something that the millage could pay for? Berla wondered about the status of filling in gaps in the trail.

Colin Smith

Colin Smith, the city's parks and recreation manager.

Smith noted that anytime PAC or the city council wants to highlight or expedite a particular project, they can direct staff to take action. Passing a resolution would be one way to do that, he said. PAC’s land acquisition committee has identified areas that are a priority to acquire, he noted, and they are working with Ginny Trocchio – who manages the city’s greenbelt and park acquisition programs – to move those efforts forward. Now is a good time to have more conversations about the land along the railroad, Smith said.

Berla said he completely understands why a millage renewal is more politically advantageous than an increase. But he noted that now is the time to think about whether more money is needed for parks. If the city decided it wanted to do more, what would the process be? he asked.

Smith replied that it’s a fine balance between acquiring land and maintaining it. The city currently has more than 50 miles of trail that are heavily used and that need renovation and care, for example. Julie Grand cautioned that the city needs to be aware of the political and economic climate. In May, the Ann Arbor Public Schools will be asking voters to approve a technology millage. There will likely be other “asks,” she said. Grand pointed out that if the parks millage isn’t renewed, the system couldn’t operate.

Tim Doyle asked if other millages will be on the November ballot. No other city millages are anticipated, Smith said. That’s good, Doyle said, because it avoids confusion and backlash. Smith noted that in 2006, this millage was on the ballot along with the city’s street repair millage. [The street repair millage of 2 mills was most recently renewed by voters in November 2011. A separate 0.125 mills for sidewalk repairs was also approved.]

Sam Offen wondered if there were other major parks projects in the next five years that hadn’t yet been discussed. Smith pointed to several possibilities. Upcoming renovations at Gallup Park canoe livery are being funded by a state grant, but the millage could be used to enhance that work, he said. Paths to the raptor enclosures are being upgraded at the Leslie Science & Nature Center, he noted, but broader improvements there – part of a master plan for the facility – also could be undertaken. The Veterans Ice Arena is in dire need of a new roof, which Smith said he realized is not exciting, but it’s necessary. Renovations to the ballfields are another longer-term project, he said. Work at the city’s three main ballfields is already approved, but the second-tier fields also need attention, he said.

Park Maintenance & Capital Improvements Millage: Fuller Road Station

Mike Anglin, one of two city councilmembers who also serve on PAC as non-voting commissioners, said he was concerned about Fuller Park. The discussion about Fuller Road Station isn’t over, he said, even though the city’s partner “disappeared.” [Anglin was referring to the University of Michigan, which in February 2012 pulled out of plans to build a large parking structure, bus depot and possible train station at the Fuller Road site, near UM's medical campus. See Chronicle coverage: "UM, Ann Arbor Halt Fuller Road Project"]

Mike Anglin

Ann Arbor city councilmember Mike Anglin (Ward 5) also serves as an ex-officio member of the city's park advisory commission.

The city has already put about $3 million into the project, Anglin contended, and the original plan called for parks to handle the site’s maintenance, he said. Now the project is being re-discussed, he said, adding that it has bearing on the parks system.

Grand warned that the millage renewal is separate from the Fuller Road Station issue. The issues aren’t connected, she said, and it’s important to educate the public about what the renewal means.

Anglin replied that he support parks and he’s 100% behind the millage renewal. Voters will definitely pass the millage renewal, he predicted. Anglin said all he wanted to do was to alert people to the fact that the Fuller Road Station discussion is ongoing.

Smith said it’s important to note that no parks millage funds have been spent on Fuller Road Station. In response to a query from Berla, Smith said that no millage funds would be used to build a train station. The city’s charter describes how the millage proceeds can be spent, he said, and ”suffice it to say that a train station would not fall under that.”

The relevant section of the city charter reads as follows:

Funds for Park Maintenance and Capital Improvements

SECTION 8. 19 In addition to any other amount which the City is authorized to raise by general tax upon the real and personal property by this Charter or any other provision of law, the City shall, in 2007 through 2012, annually levy a tax of 1.10 mills on all taxable real and personal property situated within the City for the purpose financing park maintenance activities in the following categories: forestry and horticulture, natural area preservation, park operations, park equipment repairs, park security, and recreation facilities; and for the purpose of financing park capital improvement projects for active parks, forestry and horticulture, historic preservation, neighborhood parks and urban plazas, pathways, trails, boardwalks, greenways, the Huron River watershed, recreation facilities and park equipment acquisitions. (Section 8.19 added by election of April 4, 1983; amended by elections of April 3, 1989, November 8, 1994, November 7, 2000 and November 7, 2006).

Doyle wondered if the parks staff would have any responsibility for maintenance of a train station, if it were located on park property. Smith replied that the millage can be used to maintain park property, ”and that does not include a train station, plain and simple.” If the parks staff were used to do maintenance at a train station, those hours would not be billed to the parks budget, he said.

Park Maintenance & Capital Improvements Millage: Next Steps

The city staff plans to hold four public forums in April to discuss the millage:

  • Monday, April 9, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Senior Center, 1320 Baldwin Ave.
  • Wednesday, April 11, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm Center, 2781 Packard Road.
  • Monday, April 23, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Leslie Science & Nature Center’s Nature House, 1831 Traver Road.
  • Thursday, April 26, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library Traverwood Branch, 3333 Traverwood Drive.

Sam Offen pointed out that none of the forums are scheduled at locations on the west side of town. Smith said it was difficult finding suitable spots. Offen suggested that Slauson Middle School might be a possible location.

David Barrett observed that the public needs to realize that some great things have happened and that more is in the works. There’s a tangible relationship between the millage and these parks, he said, joking that a snappy phrase is needed to describe it.

Smith laughed, but added that the staff’s role is to provide information, not to advocate. If there’s a citizens group that wants to promote the millage renewal, he said he could give them information, but advocating is outside of the staff’s purview.

The city plans to launch a website in early April with more information about the millage.

MichCon Remediation Update

Representatives from DTE were on hand to update commissioners on the remediation of the MichCon property that’s located north of Broadway Street, between the Huron River and the railroad tracks that run past the Amtrak station. MichCon is a subsidiary of DTE Energy – DTE also owns property on the opposite side of the river, south of Broadway, where it plans to build a new electricity substation.

Shayne Wiesemann, a senior environmental engineer with DTE Energy, gave the presentation. He had given a similar report to city council at a March 12, 2012 working session. An extensive report on that presentation is included in The Chronicle’s coverage of a recent master plan committee meeting: “Planning Group Revisits Huron River Report.”

MichCon Remediation Update: Commission Discussion

Sam Offen asked what the company’s intent is for the property after the cleanup. Wiesemann replied that there’s a tremendous opportunity for redevelopment at the site, and that the company has recently started meeting with stakeholders in the community. However, no plans have been finalized, he said. The company’s senior leaders have a vision that the property can be used as an economic catalyst for the community, Wisesmann added, and that it can be a place for people to come and enjoy the river. In the short term, DTE will retain ownership, he said.

Gwen Nystuen said her understanding was that the Border-to-Border Trail route had been intended to include both sides of the river, including the MichCon side. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, said the original desire was to use the MichCon side for the trail. But now that the Argo Cascades project is nearly complete, the trail on that side serves the purpose.

Paul Ganz, Larry Baird

In the foreground is Paul Ganz, manager of regional relations for DTE Energy. Seated next to him is Larry Baird, an Ann Arbor resident who spoke during public commentary about the Border-to-Border Trail.

Tim Berla asked what uses would be safe after the MichCon’s property is remediated. Will there be any ongoing safety issues?

Wiesemann said the company realizes that the section of land by the river will be widely used for recreation, and their plans are to clean it to a residential unrestricted standard. As for the area that’s on higher ground closer to Broadway, there will probably be more work to do there, Wiesemann said, and the company will do whatever remediation is required after a final use for that land is determined. They don’t want to do too much or too little, he said, so they’ll wait until plans for its use are finalized.

Berla asked about tests that had been conducted on the property. Wiesemann said the results of testing are posted on the MDEQ website. [The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality keeps a list of contaminated sites in the state, including those in Ann Arbor, with a list of the contaminants at those sites. The contaminants at the MichCon Broadway site include heavy metals (lead, nickel, zinc, etc.) and phthalates.]

Berla also wondered about some blue tarps he’d seen on the site. Is there a homeless encampment on the property? Yes, Wiesemann said, there have been some issues with the homeless for a while. The company has worked with the Ann Arbor police department, he said, but “unfortunately, they keep coming back.” Breaches in the fence are being repaired and the encampment will be removed before remediation work begins, he said.

Responding to another query from Berla, Wiesemann reported that the permit to build the whitewater feature in the stretch of the Huron River adjacent to the MichCon site will likely be submitted to the state in early April. He anticipates it will be built in September, after the MichCon remediation work is done. The intent is to use the same designer and contractor who worked on the Argo Cascades project.

Julie Grand asked about the environmental impact of the foam that will be used for odor suppression. Wiesemann assured her that the foam is completely biodegradable and non-toxic, and that there will be no impact on wildlife. He said it basically creates a barrier over the soil so that odors can’t be emitted.

David Barrett asked what landfill would be used to dump the contaminated soil. Wiesemann said it would be taken to a licensed facility in Northville [the Arbor Hills landfill, operated by Veolia ES Arbor Hills Landfill Inc.].

Smith concluded the presentation by saying that he appreciated the time that DTE had taken to work with city staff, and that it was great to see this remediation project come to fruition.

Open Space & Parkland Preservation Millage Update

Ginny Trocchio, a staff member of  The Conservation Fund who manages Ann Arbor’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs under contract with the city, presented a mid-year financial report to PAC for the period of July 1, 2011 through Jan. 31, 2012 – the first seven months of the current fiscal year. [.pdf file of financial report]

Ginny Trocchio, Jeff Straw

Ginny Trocchio, who manages the greenbelt and park land acquisition programs, and Jeff Straw, deputy parks & recreation manager.

Ann Arbor voters passed a 30-year 0.5 mill tax in 2003 for land acquisition. It’s called the open space and parkland preservation millage, and appears on the summer tax bill as the line item 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. The parks portion of the millage is overseen by PAC, while the greenbelt advisory commission handles the portion for land preservation outside of the city limits.

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 2012 year has amounted to $837,088. [Two debt service payments are made during the fiscal year, totaling about $1.2 million.]

Net revenues from the millage were $2.244 million as of Jan. 31, Trocchio reported, with expenses of $1.768 million. In addition to debt service, the expenses include $813,000 in greenbelt projects and about $82,000 for parkland acquisition.

About $10.5 million remains in the fund balance, but some of that will be spent on deals that have already been approved but haven’t yet closed, Trocchio said. Of that fund balance, $4.5 million is designated for parks, while about $6 million is set aside for the greenbelt program.

In addition, there’s $445,000 in an endowment set up to cover legal costs related to enforcing the conservation easements held by the city.

Trocchio also reported that administrative costs of $35,594 so far in fiscal 2012 equate to 2% of total revenues. Administrative costs over the life of the millage are limited by ordinance to be no greater than 6% of revenues.

Open Space & Parkland Preservation Millage Update: Commission Discussion

Gwen Nystuen asked Trocchio whether the parkland acquired by the city with millage funds included permanent deed restrictions designating it for park use. Trocchio replied that for land acquired in the city, the city holds the title for the property.

Nystuen pointed out that city-owned property – including parkland – is zoned as “public land.” So unless there are deed restrictions, the city council could decide to change the use of the land to something else besides a park. [This has been an issue cited with the proposed Fuller Road Station, which would be located in Fuller Park.] Nystuen wondered whether buying property with the millage provided any additional protection.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, said the properties acquired by the millage are listed in the city’s Park and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan. The fact that the properties are purchased with millage proceeds provides an extra layer of protection beyond that, he said. If sold, that decision would need to be reviewed by PAC, the planning commission and city council, as well as requiring approval from voters, he said. Nystuen said that’s true if the land is sold, but the same process isn’t followed if the use of the land changes, she noted. It does seem like there’s merit to purchasing property through the millage, she observed, to help ensure that it remains parkland.

Sam Offen questioned a $7,928 payment made to Norfolk Southern Railroad out of millage funds. Trocchio explained that it’s a long-term lease payment for a section of land in Bandemer Park. Offen wondered whether the railroad still owned the property, or whether it had been sold to the Michigan Dept. of Transportation. Smith replied that the staff would look into the status of that sale. [Negotiations are ongoing for the state to buy about 135 miles of track from Norfolk Southern, including the section running through Ann Arbor.]

Nystuen wondered how the lease was paid for prior to the millage. Smith wasn’t sure, but noted that the millage had paid for it since fiscal 2007. In response to another question from Nystuen, Trocchio said that the millage ordinance allows for the purchase of land or land rights, and a lease falls under that latter category. Smith characterized it as a essential parcel for the Border-to-Border Trail.

Placid Way Park Renovations

On the March 20 agenda was a resolution recommending that the city council award a $79,980 contract to Michigan Recreational Construction Inc. to handle renovations at Placid Way Park. The resolution also recommends an additional 10% contingency of $7,998 for a total project cost of $87,978.

The 1.32-acre neighborhood park is located on the city’s north side near the larger Dhu Varren Woods Nature Area and Foxfire South Park. An entrance to the park with a small parking lot is located off of Placid Way, across from Tuebingen Parkway. [.pdf map of Placid Way Park.]

According to a staff memo, Michigan Recreational Construction, a Howell-based company, submitted the lowest of six bids. The work includes replacing the existing play structure and picnic table, and adding benches and landscaping. Funding is available from proceeds of the FY 2012 park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith told commissioners it was a fairly straighforward project.

Placid Way Park Renovations: Commission Discussion

There was minimal discussion on this item. David Barrett asked whether the city had worked with this company in the past. Colin Smith wasn’t sure, but assumed that parks planner Amy Kuras had experience with the company. Julie Grand asked Smith to clarify the park’s location. Smith described it as northeast of Leslie Park Golf Course, and southeast of Olson Park.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended awarding the Placid Way Park contract to Michigan Recreational Construction. The recommendation will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Communications & Commentary

Every meeting includes opportunities for public commentary and communications from commissioners and staff. One person spoke during time allocated for public commentary at the March 20 meeting.

Comm/Comm: Public Commentary – Border-to-Border Trail

Larry Baird spoke during two opportunities for public commentary, focusing his remarks on the Border-to-Border Trail. [The trail is a countywide shared-use path that roughly follows the Huron River.] He said he’s enjoyed the park system for over 20 years, but he’s concerned about the priority given to a high-speed rail initiative and the lack of discussion related to the trail system through the city.

He brought a copy of “Riverwalks Ann Arbor” by Brenda Bentley, saying it’s one of his favorite books, and he urged commissioners to get a copy or borrow his. After he read it, he attempted to walk the entire trail within the city, and came to appreciate the complexity of the trail and the challenges to complete the “missing links.” Those gaps in the trail system have been on the drawing board far too long, he said.

Book cover of Riverwalks by Brenda Bentley

Book cover of "Riverwalks" by Brenda Bentley.

Now that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation is negotiating to buy the stretch of railroad that runs through Ann Arbor, Baird encouraged commissioners to take a pro-active approach, perhaps by forming a task force to ensure that MDOT doesn’t slow down the process of completing a river trail even more.

Baird read an excerpt from the city’s Park and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan: “Since the 1962 Plan, there has been a concerted effort to complete the pattern of recreational open space along the Huron River from Barton Pond to Geddes Pond … Although Ann Arbor lacks a completed system of connected natural areas, City residents take pride in the preservation of substantial open space along the Huron River…”

For at least 50 years this project has been discussed, Baird noted. He challenged commissioners to find the will and determination to complete it.

Baird picked up the topic again at the end of the meeting, handing out a map from the PROS plan that showed proposed trail connections. [.pdf of PROS trail maps for the Huron River greenway] Two of five proposed connections – at Depot Street (next to the MichCon site) and Maiden Lane – are close to other alternatives, so he hoped that priority would be given to the three other connectors. Of those other three connectors, two are connections to Nichols Arboretum and while nice, they wouldn’t extend the trail, he said.

There’s really only one connection that Baird said he would deem the “holy grail” – connecting the northwest corner of Bandemer Park to Barton Nature Area. That would add almost two miles of trails and open up connections to nearly 300 acres of forests and natural areas, he said.

The current plan calls for a “grade separated” crossing at the railroad tracks near Bandemer Park, but Baird said city officials seem uncertain about how MDOT’s track upgrades for high-speed rail would affect potential crossings. Baird reported that Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, had told him that similar upgrades elsewhere have resulted in the closing of many crossings for safety reasons.

Baird concluded by proposing an action plan for completing the Border-to-Border Trail connections:

  1. Create a task force to study the impact of high-speed rail on the parks system, and to create an action plan for negotiating with MDOT to get a portion of grant funds for high-speed rail to be used for trail easements.
  2. Prioritize the trail’s missing links, with the Bandemer-to-Barton link at the top of the list.
  3. Set a deadline for completing the missing links.
  4. Ensure that an adequate portion of the greenbelt millage is spent within the city, preferably for trail easements.
  5. Advise the city to focus on the broader impacts of high-speed rail on the parks system, rather than just focus on Fuller Road Station.
  6. Consider allocating a portion of the existing greenbelt millage, or a separate millage, to fund completion of the trail.

Baird said he hoped commissioners would give consideration to his suggestions.

Comm/Comm: Public Commentary – West Park

During the opportunity for communications from commissioners, Tim Berla asked about the situation at West Park. He noted that there were still construction fences up around the section where swirl concentrators had failed, gravel along one of the walkways, and poles in the pond. He said it would be great to have a bench along the boardwalk that overlooked the pond.

Lids for underground swirl concentrators

Lids for underground swirl concentrators at West Park.

Colin Smith replied that he’d recently been to West Park too, and wondered about the poles, which had been used to help keep birds away from aquatic plants as they take root – though he noted that a few ducks “have been less than deterred.” Smith said the city council will soon be asked to vote on change orders to fund the final repairs at West Park, so the project is wrapping up. The dispute between the city and its contractors over who’ll pay for work related to the failed swirl concentrators is close to being resolved, he said.

[Swirl concentrators had been installed for stormwater management as part of a major renovation of West Park in 2010. Most recently, PAC received a detailed update on the project at its Jan. 24, 2012 meeting from Nick Hutchinson, a civil engineer and one of the project managers in the city’s public services unit. Hutchinson had told the commission that in May and June of 2012, the manufacturer of the swirl concentrators will make repairs on the units. Following that, the city will hire a contractor to complete additional work that was recommended by Orchard Hiltz & McCliment (OHM), which the city had engaged in 2010 to look into the problems at West Park. City staff hope to have that work completed by July of 2012.]

Comm/Comm: Public Commentary – Manager’s Report

Colin Smith began his report by noting that the city’s two golf courses had opened early because of warm weather – last year the courses hadn’t opened until April. On the flip side, the Buhr Park Ice Arena was closed earlier than expected for the same reason. As schedules allowed, hockey leagues that played at Buhr were relocated to Veterans Park Ice Arena.

Argo Cascades – the name for the new Huron River bypass near Argo Pond – is closed so that a new pedestrian bridge can be installed. That work is underway. Final modifications to the bypass will be done in mid-April, Smith said, including installation of a rubber guide in one of the dropped pools where the water flow is more “energetic” than the staff would like.

Earlier in the meeting, Tim Berla had suggested the possibility of installing benches along the Cascades. Julie Grand noted that she had visited the Cascades as part of a task force on public art. The feeling had been to leave the area as natural as possible, and to see how people use the large rocks along the bypass before installing manmade structures.

Turning to a different project, Smith reported that construction will begin soon in the Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm renovations that PAC had recommended for approval at their Feb. 28 meeting. The major ballfield renovations approved earlier this year will begin in August. It will be a very busy season, Smith said.

Present: David Barrett, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Julie Grand, Karen Levin, Gwen Nystuen, Sam Offen, councilmember Mike Anglin (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks manager.

Absent: Doug Chapman, John Lawter, Christopher Taylor.

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 begins at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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One Comment

  1. By Mary Morgan
    April 3, 2012 at 10:10 am | permalink

    Colin Smith, parks & rec manager, followed up with The Chronicle by providing answers to some of the questions that commissioners had asked during the March 20 meeting:

    • Re. Gwen Nystuen’s question about how the lease payment to Norfolk Southern was funded prior to the open space & parkland preservation millage, Smith writes: “Prior to FY2008, the lease agreements with Norfolk Southern were paid out of the General Fund / Parks. Changes were made in FY2007 to the Chapter 42 Ordinance language to clarify and provide more specificity regarding the types of land rights eligible under the millage. At this time, specific language was added allowing costs for leased rights to land to be allocated to the millage. Since those ordinance changes took place, the lease agreements have been paid out of the land acquisition millage. [.pdf of changes made in FY2007 to the ordinance]

    • Re. David Barrett’s question about the location and experience of Michigan Recreational Construction Inc., which PAC recommended to handle renovations at Placid Way Park. Smith writes: “Amy [Kuras, city park planner] confirms she has worked with them in the past and they are very good. They are based out of Brighton.”

    • Re. Tim Berla’s questions regarding the status of remaining work at West Park, Smith answered:

    1. When will the posts in the water be removed? The contractor responsible for the aquatic plants will be back in May, possibly earlier given the weather, to evaluate how well established the plants are and when the posts can be removed.

    2. Can a bench be put on the boardwalk? There were no plans for the construction project to put a bench there, but we could in the future, especially if someone wants to donate one! It was conceived more as a gathering place.

    3. When will the hole be filled in? The hole [where the failed swirl concentrator was located] should be fixed in May/June. Still waiting on the agreement from the attorneys with the supplier who is supposed to repair the units.