Ann Arbor Punts Park Issue to Commission

At its July 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered a possible ballot question on a charter amendment affecting city parkland – which would require a voter referendum not just for the sale of parkland, but also for leases or other contracts that have a practical effect similar to a sale.

Ultimately, the council voted to refer the issue to the city’s park advisory commission (PAC), postponing its own vote until Aug. 9.

The chair of that commission, Julie Grand, had written in an email to mayor John Hieftje on July 12 that she felt “… it is critical for PAC to provide a formal resolution prior to any council vote. I therefore propose to find an alternative time for PAC to hold an open work session with councilmembers [Jane] Lumm, [Mike] Anglin and [Sabra] Briere [co-sponsors of the resolution] in accordance with the deadlines imposed on ballot initiatives prior to council’s vote on this matter.”

In the last two months, the nine-member PAC has seen the departure of three long-time members, because of term limitations: Gwen Nystuen, Sam Offen and David Barrett. Nystuen and Offen were replaced by Ingrid Ault and Alan Jackson. Barrett’s replacement was nominated at the council’s July 2 meeting – Bob Galardi, a former Ann Arbor Public Schools administrator. The two city council representatives to PAC – Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) – are non-voting ex officio positions.

The special meeting by PAC has not yet been scheduled. In an email to The Chronicle, Grand indicated that it might be scheduled for the first week in August. The Ann Arbor city council has until its second meeting in August to put various questions before voters on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot. A resolution placing a question on the ballot requires a seven-member (2/3) majority on the 11-member council.

The draft language before the council on July 16 was: “Shall Section 14.3(b) of the Ann Arbor City Charter be amended to require voter approval for long-term (greater than 5 yrs) non-park or non-recreational uses of parkland within the city while retaining the section’s current requirement for voter approval of the sale of any city park, or land acquired by the city for a park or cemetery?”

If approved by voters, the charter would be changed to read [added language in italics]: The city shall not sell, lease, or contract for any non-park or non-recreational long-term use, without the approval, by a majority vote of the electors of the city voting on the question at a regular or special election, any city park, or land in the city acquired for park, cemetery, or any part thereof. For purposes of this subsection long-term shall be defined as a period greater than 5 years.”

The existing charter provision, which deals only with the sale of parkland, had been approved in November 2008 by a 81%-19% margin of voters (42,969 to 9,944).

Michigan’s Home Rule City Act already lists among a city’s prohibited powers: “… to sell a park, cemetery, or any part of a park or cemetery, except where the park is not required under an official master plan of the city …” The council voted to place the question before voters in 2008 over dissent from councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and former councilmember Leigh Greden.

That year, the council had consciously settled on wording that included just selling, as opposed to leasing. In an Oct. 31, 2008 Ann Arbor News article, mayor John Hieftje was quoted as follows: “From time to time, we’ve thought about how nice it might be to have a restaurant near the river. I think it’s something people would really enjoy … That would be impossible if the ballot measure was expanded to include leasing.”

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]