Park Commission Focuses on Downtown, Dogs

Also: PAC hears from mayor; gives input on Connecting William

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Aug. 21, 2012): Several items at the August monthly PAC meeting related to parks and green space in downtown Ann Arbor – improving what the city already owns, and possibly adding more to it.

Colin Smith, Bob Galardi

From right: Bob Galardi, the newest member of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, talks with parks & recreation manager Colin Smith before the start of the Aug. 21, 2012 PAC meeting. Because the PAC meeting in July was cancelled, this was the first regular session for Galardi since his appointment by city council. (Photos by the writer.)

In their main action item, commissioners voted to direct PAC’s dog park subcommittee to develop recommendations that could lead to additional off-leash dog parks, to be located in central Ann Arbor. Those recommendations will likely be presented at PAC’s Sept. 18 meeting.

The commissioner who’s been spearheading this effort for more than a year, John Lawter, didn’t attend the meeting. That disappointed one member of the public, Steve Thorp, who advocated for West Park to be considered as a potential site for a dog park. He dubbed Lawter “Citizen Canine” and said the ballfield at West Park could be a spot for a temporary dog park during certain hours of the day or times of the year.

Commissioners also heard from mayor John Hieftje, who asked PAC to help prioritize action on downtown parks. He highlighted possible improvements at Liberty Plaza and a process for moving that work forward. [.pdf of Liberty Plaza staff memo] But he also listed several other city-owned properties that he’d like to see as part of a greenway – including the 721 N. Main and 415 W. Washington sites – as well as the DTE/MichCon property that’s being cleaned up along the Huron River.

Commissioner Tim Berla asked how the Library Lane site – atop the new underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue – fits into the mayor’s vision for downtown parks. Hieftje said he’d attended a picnic there this summer hosted by the Library Green advocates. He felt it was a little disingenuous of them to show images of a possible future park with large, mature trees – because there’s only three inches of soil, he said, so if you’re looking for greenery and shade, that’s not the best place. There’s room for a plaza, Hieftje added, but the question is how large it should be.

The Library Lane site is one of five city-owned properties that are being evaluated as part of the Connecting William Street effort, which aims to coordinate planning and possible development on those properties. At the Aug. 21 meeting commissioners were briefed about that project, led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The DDA was seeking feedback from PAC on three development scenarios that, generally speaking, represent low density, moderate density and high density development.

Several commissioners expressed disappointment that the scenarios did not include more green space. Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, urged PAC to give specific feedback about where they’d like to see more green space and how they envision it being used, in the context of other downtown parks. She said the city needs to find a “sweet spot” between parks and the population density needed to support those parks.

Also on the agenda was an update from the nonprofit Community Action Network. CAN operates Bryant Community Center and Northside Community Center under contract with the city, which owns those properties.

Dog Parks

John Lawter, PAC’s vice chair, has been leading an effort to increase the options for dog parks, especially in Ann Arbor’s core area. A year ago, he gave a presentation on the topic at PAC’s Aug. 16, 2011 meeting, and cited the need for another off-leash area in the central part of the city. There are only two legal off-leash dog parks in Ann Arbor, at Olson Park and Swift Run – on the far north and south sides of the city. He recommended incorporating this goal into the city’s park planning efforts, adding it as a consideration when looking at land acquisitions, and asking that parks staff actively look for potential sites.

On Aug. 20, park commissioner Karen Levin gave an update on the situation, noting that Lawter was unable to attend the meeting.  She has also worked on this project and introduced the resolution asking for a formal recommendations. Parks staff would be asked to review all possible options, she said, including unfenced off-leash hours in some city parks.

Recommendations would be presented at PAC’s Sept. 18 meeting.

Dog Parks: Public Commentary

Steve Thorp told commissioners that he’s lived on Chapin Street, adjacent to West park, for about 30 years. He was there to confess two obsessions: (1) renaming West Park as Central Park West; and (2) putting a dog park in the central part of Ann Arbor.

Thorp said he was disappointed that John Lawter wasn’t at the meeting, because he wanted to make his case to Lawter – adding that he thought a good nickname for Lawter would be “Citizen Canine.” Thorp walks his dog at “Central Park West,” and thinks it would be a great location for a dog park of some sort. The existing partially-fenced ballfield could be fenced-in completely, creating an enclosed space. The use of the field as a dog park could be confined to certain times of day or periods during the year. He said he wouldn’t want to interfere with its use as a ballfield.

Thorp felt that some kind of arrangement could be worked out that wouldn’t be expensive and would accommodate both uses. He noted that he doesn’t like dog poop, and that generally groups are good at policing themselves. But there are always a few bad apples, he said, so he would support greater enforcement and higher penalties for violating rules at such a dog park.

Dog Parks: Commission Discussion

PAC chair Julie Grand pointed out that this has been Lawter’s passion for some time – and it’s brought him positive and negative attention, she said. He hopes to move this project forward before his term expires. [Appointed in 2006, Lawter's second three-year term ends on Dec. 31, 2012. PAC members are limited to two consecutive terms.]

Bob Galardi wondered whether one month was sufficient time to prepare recommendations. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, replied that this has been discussed for a long time and shouldn’t require much more time to prepare. If they do need more time, Smith added, he wouldn’t be shy about asking for it.

Ingrid Ault asked whether staff had received enough guidance from PAC. As a dog owner, she said she’s very passionate about this topic and would be willing to share her ideas. Smith observed that the recommendations they’d bring back to PAC would not focus on a specific location, but would lay out a process for how to proceed. A lot of research had been done previously, before the city put in its current dog parks, he said, and that work could still be used – including suggestions for other locations.

Tim Berla said he’s not a dog owner, but he has supported the two existing dog parks. He didn’t want to gloss over the behavior of dog owners – saying he felt that it’s more likely they would drive to a dog park, rather than walk several blocks to get there. He also raised potential problems with designating temporary dog parks at parks that are used for other purposes. He said he’d be upset the first time he encountered a “present” not removed by a dog owner, or if he were ever bothered by a dog while at a park. He wanted to ensure that whatever action PAC took, it considered the impact on the rest of the community.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to direct its dog park subcommittee to work with city staff and develop recommendations that could lead to additional off-leash dog parks.

Downtown Parks: Liberty Plaza, North Main Corridor

PAC’s Aug. 21 agenda included a presentation by mayor John Hieftje about downtown parks. His remarks began by focusing on Liberty Plaza. A staff memo outlined possible strategies to improving that park, located on the southwest corner of Liberty and Division. But he also discussed a range of other city-owned sites that could be included in the Ann Arbor parks system, including 415 W. Washington, 721 N. Main and possibly the DTE/MichCon site near Argo Dam, if it’s acquired by the city.

Downtown Parks: Public Commentary

At the beginning of PAC’s meeting, John Teeter of First Martin Corp. introduced himself, saying he was on hand to answer questions about Liberty Plaza if necessary. First Martin owns the building next to that park. He said this is the third year that the firm has provided grounds services at the park on weekdays. The company has spent over $27,000 on the park during that time, he said.

In addition to his comments on dog parks, Steve Thorp told commissioners that West Park – which he calls “Central Park West” – recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Perhaps 100 years ago, it was appropriate to consider it a park on the west side of town, he said. Just before the meeting, the mayor had told him that when the park was first formed, Seventh Avenue wasn’t paved. But now, it’s really central to the city, he said. The downtown has a couple of pocket parks, but nothing that’s of the same stature. He said that renaming it would keep “west” in its name, so that the park’s history wouldn’t be lost. There are natural areas, new programming – he said he’s looked at it every day for 30 years, and there’s a lot to cherish. He hoped commissioners would give his idea some consideration.

Downtown Parks: Mayor’s Perspective

Mayor John Hieftje attended PAC’s Aug. 21 meeting to talk about Liberty Plaza and other parks in the downtown area. He said his goal was to bring commissioners up to speed, to ask them to start thinking about prioritizing needs and possibly integrating additional parks into the system.

Hieftje noted that Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere was also attending PAC’s meeting, and that he had spent time with her and others thinking about Liberty Plaza. Around 2000, there had been significant problems at Liberty Plaza, he said. For some residents, their current perceptions of the plaza are colored by that past situation. Years ago, police had set up surveillance cameras and ultimately made several arrests for heroin sales and other crimes, and for the most part that took out the “criminal element.” The DDA and parks commission had worked to make improvements too, making it more visible from the street, for example. He talked about his own efforts – eating lunch there.

Julie Grand

Julie Grand, chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, also serves on the North Main/Huron River corridor task force.

It’s come a long way and it’s a nice park, Hieftje said. He’s comfortable there and said many citizens feel that way too, though “it could be better than it is.” He talked about how he, Briere and others met with people there who were part of Occupy Ann Arbor, and started thinking about the park beyond that issue. Working with parks staff and others, he said, they started thinking about how to make Liberty Plaza a more dynamic park.

He referenced a staff memo that outlined some of Liberty Plaza’s history, as well as suggestions for more improvements and a process for moving forward. It’s a starting point, he said. [.pdf of Liberty Plaza memo] There are ways to make the plaza better, he said, mentioning the Sonic Lunch summer concert series, more links to the adjacent Kempf House, and possible increased pedestrian traffic now that the nearby underground parking structure is open. He indicated there might be partnerships with others, like the library and DDA.

It’s a park at the center of downtown, he continued – saying there are actually a lot of downtown parks. He felt that the green space at the University of Michigan campus, even though it’s not officially part of the city, still offers people green space that they can use, even if they aren’t students.

Hieftje then talked about other downtown city property that might become part of the parks system. He said he had some confidence that something will come out of efforts at the 415 W. Washington site, where the city has been working on a future use for the property with the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy and the Arts Alliance. Hieftje noted that the Arts Alliance has taken a “back seat” now – and it’s the 555 Nonprofit Gallery & Studios that is representing the arts community on the project. It’s been looked at as a possible community arts center and a greenway park. It’s been a long slog, he said. [The latest council action, taken on July 16, 2012, was to approve $50,000 of general fund reserve money to be used for various physical surveys on the  property, which is a former vehicle maintenance facility.]

Although the 415 W. Washington site was originally expected to be the first city property in a greenway, he said, it now seems that the 721 N. Main site is a more likely possibility, Hieftje reported. Uses on these sites are constrained because they are located on either floodways or floodplains, he said. The North Main/Huron River corridor task force, which the council formed in May of 2012, is looking at the 721 N. Main site, he said. The city is planning to apply for a state Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant to help make it the initial piece of a greenway.

The Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission might be interested in providing matching funds, he said, because the site could be part of the countywide Border-to-Border Trail. Those two sources might be able to provide $600,000 to transform the site. Hieftje said he talked with the city’s consultants in Lansing [the lobbyist firm Governmental Consultant Services, and one of its directors, Kirk Profit]. Hieftje said they believe it will be one of the highest-scoring applications ever for a trust fund grant. He believes it could likely become the first anchor site for the Allen Creek greenway.

Looking forward, he said, the city needs to think about integrating the 721 N. Main site into the parks system. The city also needs to look at 415 W. Washington and other greenway issues, including the Border-to-Border Trail, Hieftje said.

Hieftje also mentioned the DTE/MichCon site along the Huron River near Argo Dam. The area has seen an explosion of interest following the opening of Argo Cascades, the city’s new dam bypass, Hieftje observed. If the MichCon site is cleaned up to a park standard – which Hieftje thinks will happen – he said the city would be interested in it. The city has wanted that property for decades, he noted.

So it’s time to start prioritizing parks and how to take care of them, he said. How can the city integrate the 721 N. Main and 415 W. Washington sites? How should the city handle the DTE/MichCon property and integrate it into the parks system? He said he couldn’t think of a better use for that property. He thinks DTE will be in a position to let the city take ownership and it could become a park. “At least that’s where preliminary conversations have led us,” he said. That would give the city parkland on both sides of the whitewater section that’s going to be built along that stretch of the river, near Argo Cascades. If the city has property on both sides of the river, he noted, the city might be able to get yet another state DNR trust fund grant to develop it as a park.

Hieftje said he was there to bring PAC up to speed. Nothing has happened yet, he added, so it’s a good time for their input. It might be overwhelming to think about how to maintain existing parks, he said, but it’s also time to think about integrating new parks into the system, and making Liberty Plaza as good as it can be.

Downtown Parks: Commission Discussion

Tim Berla said he was sure the mayor knew about the Library Green group who are advocating for a park on top of the Library Lane underground parking structure. A bigger park – either there, or at some other downtown site – is in Berla’s vision for what’s good for the city. He noted that there are a lot of processes underway, such as the Connecting William Street effort. [PAC was briefed on that project later in the meeting – see below.] Berla wondered how the prioritizing that Hieftje was asking for would fit into these other efforts, and how citizen input would be involved.

John Teeter, Susan Pollay

John Teeter of First Martin Corp. and Susan Pollay of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority at the Aug. 21, 2012 park advisory commission meeting.

The fact that there are so many efforts underway shows why it’s important to think about prioritizing, Hieftje replied. A greenway has been a goal since the 1970s, he said, although there’s been a big push more recently for that. These are city-owned sites that the city needs to do something with – he didn’t want the city to own blighted sites. PAC will have a central role in prioritizing these issues, he said. New park development will land in PAC’s lap.

As for the Library Lane site, Hieftje said he attended a picnic held there by Library Green advocates. He felt it was a little disingenuous of the group to show images of a possible future park with large, mature trees.  There’s only three inches of soil, he said, so if you’re looking for greenery and shade, that’s not the best place. There is a place for a plaza at the Library Lane site, he noted. The question is about size.

Berla said there seems to be a good fit for some kind of park next to the library, but it might be good for PAC to look at other sites, and options for possible green space as well as connections between downtown parks. The first place he thinks of is the lot across the street, on the former YMCA site that’s now a city-owned surface parking lot.

Hieftje pointed to University of Michigan green space at the Diag and the new North Quad at State and Huron. But on the other side of town, that kind of space doesn’t exist, he said. It might be nice to have a playground near the library, he said. Hieftje pointed out that a significant investment was made in infrastructure to support a building on top of the Library Lane parking structure. If you have a park, you also need people and buildings with active uses that face the area, he observed. Without activity, there will be problems – the city learned that lesson from Liberty Plaza, he said.

Hieftje again said he felt PAC should be at the center of helping the city prioritize and take advantage of opportunities for existing and potential parks. It has to be done at some point, he said, though it’s difficult.

Julie Grand, PAC’s chair, noted that she serves on the North Main/Huron River corridor task force, as well as on the subcommittee of that group that will explore various grants for the 721 N. Main site. She suggested that this might be a topic to discuss at PAC’s retreat this fall – but a date hasn’t yet been scheduled for that. PAC might want to form a committee to look at downtown parks and other downtown issues.

Outcome: This was a presentation only, and no action by PAC was required.

Connecting William Street

Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and Amber Miller, the DDA’s planning and research specialist, were on hand to update the commission on the Connecting William Street project, a DDA-led effort to coordinate planning for five city-owned sites in downtown Ann Arbor. PAC’s land acquisition committee had served as a focus group for an earlier stage of the project, and commissioner Bob Galardi is a member of the project’s leadership & outreach committee.

Acting under direction by the Ann Arbor city council, the DDA is crafting a proposal for a framework to guide possible development of the five sites, which are primarily surface parking lots: (1) the Kline’s lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the old YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, which recently opened north of the downtown library.

The substance of the presentation was very similar to one that was made at an Aug. 14 working session of the Ann Arbor planning commission. See Chronicle coverage: “Planning Group Briefed on William St. Project.”

Like the session with planning commissioners, the DDA was seeking feedback from PAC on three development scenarios that, broadly speaking, represent low density, moderate density and high density development. All conform to current zoning. They were created based on input from interviews, focus groups, an online survey, and the work of land use economist Todd Poole. [.pdf of Poole's market study]

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion

After the presentation, Susan Pollay and Amber Miller fielded questions and comments from commissioners.

Tim Berla wondered whether the DDA envisioned these scenarios being achieved through private development, or would the city or DDA becoming involved – by issuing bonds, for example. He noted that the city already had invested in building the underground parking structure.

Pollay replied that at this point, the DDA is simply exploring possible uses for these sites. In the past, a developer whose proposal was considered for the top of the Library Lane structure – Valiant Partners – had asked for a lot of things from the city, she said. That process drew out the fact that the city needs to talk about these issues before getting a proposal, she said. So one of the things that the Connecting William Street process is trying to do is to tease out the issues that need to be discussed, Pollay added – issues that the city council, the DDA and others need to think about.

Tim Berla, Alan Jackson, Ingrid Ault

From left: Park commissioners Tim Berla, Alan Jackson and Ingrid Ault.

Beyond the provision of parking spaces, requests from Valiant had included asking the city to back bonds for the project, and that the DDA to use its TIF revenues (tax increment financing) in a different way, Pollay said.  Other developers often ask for other things, like for the DDA to pay for streetscape or infrastructure improvements. Those kinds of questions need to be considered – what are the city and the DDA willing to do? But those discussions haven’t happened yet, she said.

Berla asked how PAC could best give its feedback to the DDA. For example, if PAC reached a consensus that they wanted a park on one of the sites – how should they communicate that?

Getting PAC’s priorities is important, Pollay replied. Should the city reinvest in existing downtown parks, like Liberty Plaza? How does that fit in with their priorities? What audience are they trying to reach? What locations? All of these things are important to hear about, she said.

Berla asked whether the project had considered closing any streets to create pedestrian plazas. No, that wasn’t on their list of things to consider, Pollay said. She noted that the DDA’s assignment from council was limited to the five city-owned sites. One of those sites – the lot next to Palio restaurant, at Main and William – is often closed for special events, she said. Library Lane is also designed so that it can easily be closed for special events, too, Pollay added. Given the weather in Michigan, only certain months of the year are conducive to using outdoor space. So it’s important to look for flexibility – ways that sites might be used in multiple ways.

Alan Jackson wondered whether other communities have gone through this process, and used a land use economist, as the DDA had. How successful have they been? How reliable is the data, and do developers “play along”?

Pollay observed that one of the biggest concerns expressed by developers relates to the clarity of the city’s development approval process. Developers propose something they think will be successful, but people keep asking them to make changes, she said, and time passes. Universally, what developers say is that they need to know what the community wants, then they’ll deliver that, she said.

Given Ann Arbor’s activism, Jackson observed, is might not be realistic to think there will ever be a process that doesn’t involve changes along the way.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – More Green, Please

Julie Grand said it bothers her that there aren’t any scenarios that include more green space. There’s movement in the community toward that goal, she said.

Tim Doyle picked up on that issue, too. He wondered whether other scenarios with more green space had been “deep-sixed” because there weren’t any tree huggers in the room. He had been taken aback that none of the options represented a “pretty city,” with fewer buildings. Doyle said he’d recently visited New York City and seen the High Line – a park built on a former elevated freight rail line. Saying he wasn’t trying to be critical, Doyle described the Connecting William Street scenarios as seeming to have been created by a bunch of developers trying to make money off the city, not in an effort to try to make the city prettier.

Pollay responded by noting that there are eight million people living in New York City – an amount of density that can support parks like the High Line. Yes, Doyle replied, but none of the DDA scenarios even make an attempt to create a greenway or to close streets. Perhaps it’s not economically feasible, he noted, but he was glad that PAC had the opportunity to react to these ideas. He’d like to see more green space by a factor of three to five, not two. He said he wasn’t sure how to answer the questions on the feedback form they’d been given, because he didn’t like any of the scenarios. He was very disappointed.

Pollay said this process was driven by adding to what the city already has. Part of the challenge is that right now, there’s relatively low density downtown, she said. Successful parks have a lot of people near them, she said. In Ann Arbor, there are a lot of choices – and a lot of those choices involve finding ways to animate the open space that’s already in the city, and making sure that open space and density work together.

Yes, Doyle said, and it’s important to have both. Pollay agreed – that there’s a “sweet spot.”

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, highlighted the comparison between the Library Lane plaza and Sculpture Plaza, in Kerrytown. Sculpture Plaza is successful because of the activity there, he said – people spill out into the plaza from adjacent businesses, and use the space. There’s already a lot of green space nearby and in the city, he said. Commissioners just need to make sure they give feedback about how to activate it.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – First & William

Julie Grand wondered why First & William – another city-owned parcel that’s used as a surface parking lot – isn’t part of this project.

Christopher Taylor, the Ward 3 city councilmember who’s an ex-officio member of PAC, fielded her question. He noted that originally, the council had considered asking the DDA to look at all city-owned downtown sites. It was ultimately decided to “cabin” the effort into a smaller area, he said, to give it more focus. [The council approved the planning effort at its April 4, 2011 meeting. But even if the First & William lot had been included in the council's direction at that meeting, the planning effort would have been guided by the vote the council took at its July 6, 2009 meeting, to designate the First & William parcel as a future part of the Allen Creek greenway.]

Grand pointed out that it had been the “third of three” at one point. [Her reference was to a previous three-site plan that the DDA had proposed in 2005 but that was never put on the city council agenda for a vote. The three sites had included lots at First & William, First & Washington and the Kline’s lot on Ashley. ]

Taylor replied that it had been the subject of much conversation among councilmembers. He had felt the DDA’s scope should be much broader, he said.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Infrastructure, Parking

Alan Jackson said the high density scenario would put a lot of pressure on infrastructure. What would be the impact on parking? Would the city need to build another parking structure?

Alan Jackson

Ann Arbor park commissioner Alan Jackson.

Susan Pollay replied that the city has the opportunity to rethink transit. About two dozen bus routes emanate from the Blake Transit Center, located in the general William Street area. Increased density would result in a level of ridership that would sustain public transit, she said.

The DDA talks about how the recent underground Library Lane parking structure is the last one it intends to build, she said. How can the proposed countywide transit plan help that goal? In addition to buses, the city has a range of other alternative transportation – Zipcars, vanpools, taxis, parking for scooters and bikes, electric vehicle parking. How can the city use an increased downtown population to support things they’d like to see, like countywide transit?

Amber Miller said the DDA has talked with city staff about infrastructure needs in the William Street area, including sanitary sewer. All scenarios would entail infrastructure upgrades, she said.

Jackson noted that while it’s high-minded to encourage more public transit, do businesses buy into that when they’re looking at those sites? Is there realistic demand for that?

Pollay replied by talking about the growth of the city’s go!pass program, which offers bus passes to employees who work in the DDA district. Even without additional development, she said, the program is growing. There’s a certain kind of business and employee and resident who comes downtown, she noted, and those people are more apt to use public transit. In this part of the downtown, there’s the opportunity to build a community where cars aren’t a central part of how our lives are organized, she said.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Next Steps

Karen Levin wondered about the DDA’s timeframe for getting feedback. PAC was planning a retreat this fall, and could perhaps talk about it then, she said.

Amber Miller replied that in late August and early September, they’ll hold additional meetings with specific groups as well as a couple of public forums. They’re also planning some webinars, for people to participate online.

They’ll use the feedback they’ve received to develop a recommended draft scenario by October. That recommendation will be reviewed with the public through meetings and surveys for additional input, with revisions made in October and November.

Tim Berla asked whether the DDA will be picking one of the three scenarios. Susan Pollay replied that they’ll be looking for areas of overlap, to come up with a strategy that most people can live with and that meets as many needs as possible.

Berla wanted to know what kind of feedback would be most helpful – specific or general? Pollay suggested being specific: Where would they like to see green space located, and what size parcel would they prefer? Who maintains it and pays for that? How would they envision it being used, compared to other parks or nearby green space?

Miller added that getting PAC’s feedback in the next month or so would be helpful. Julie Grand suggested discussing it at the next meeting of PAC’s land acquisition committee – on which all PAC members serve – then relaying their consensus to the DDA via Bob Galardi. The land acquisition committee meets on Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 4 p.m. in the city council workroom.

Colin Smith asked when the DDA expected to take a final recommendation to the city council. Based on what he’d heard during the presentation, he said, it sounded like there would continue to be opportunity for input. Pollay didn’t give an exact timeframe, but said “of course everything council does is fully public” and she was sure there would be more input there as well.

Berla suggested putting as much information as possible online, so that community members could weigh in, too – the sooner, the better. Miller said there’s already a lot of material on the Connecting William Street website. The website includes information about upcoming webinars on Aug. 29 and Sept. 5, as well as public meetings at the downtown library on Aug. 28 and Sept. 10.

Outcome: This was a presentation only, and no action by PAC was required.

Community Action Network

Joan Doughty, executive director of the nonprofit Community Action Network, and Derrick Miller, director of the Bryant Community Center, updated commissioners about their work for the city. CAN operates Bryant Community Center and Northside Community Center under contract with the city, which owns those properties.

Joan Doughty, Derrick Miller

Joan Doughty and Derrick Miller of the nonprofit Community Action Network.

The presentation was prompted in part because the city council last year appropriated $82,500 from its open space and parkland preservation millage to acquire the property at 5 W. Eden Court, immediately adjacent to  Bryant Community Center. The center is located in a neighborhood south of I-94 and east of Stone School Road.

Miller described the improvements made to both Northside and Bryant since CAN took over management. Renovations were aimed at making the buildings more client-friendly and hospitable, and programming includes First Steps for early childhood education, a partnership with Project Grow for community gardens, after-school study programs, summer camp, food programs, a toy lending library, workforce readiness training for adults and teens, and general community events. For the Bryant neighborhood, CAN has also been an advocate for addressing chronic drainage and flooding problems.

Miller noted that the Bryant Community Center is expanding into the adjacent building acquired by the city, and that they hope the two buildings are connected someday. He also reported that CAN is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and will hold a volunteer recognition event on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at Cobblestone Farm from 6-8:30 p.m.

Community Action Network: Commission Discussion

Alan Jackson noted that obviously CAN has a partnership with the parks, and he wanted to know if there was anything more that the parks system could do to help.

Miller replied that they work closely with Jeff Straw, the city’s deputy manager of parks and recreation. Congestion had been a problem at Bryant, which had led to the city’s purchase of the adjoining property.

Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith noted that the city supports CAN’s activities at Bryant and Northside from the parks general fund budget with $105,000 annually, and that renovations and repairs are funded as needed from the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage. The acquisition of property next to Bryant Community center is another example of the city’s support, he said.

Miller pointed out that CAN doesn’t charge for the programs it offers. Doughty added that while the city is by far CAN’s largest partner, the nonprofit also receives support from the United Way of Washtenaw County, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, and the joint city/county office of community and economic development.

Ingrid Ault asked about the Buy Bryant program. [The program is a directory that links customers with neighborhood service providers – including daycare, pet care, handyman services and the like.] Miller reported that it was popular, and that one person had pulled out of the program because he’d been inundated with interest.

PAC chair Julie Grand clarified with CAN and parks staff that contact information is on the city’s website, in order to reach potential donors.

Outcome: This was a presentation only, and no action by PAC was required.

Misc. Communications

The meeting included a variety of communications from parks staff and commissioners.

Misc. Communications: Manager’s Updates

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, gave several project updates. He reported that on Aug. 9, the city council had unanimously voted to put the park maintenance and capital improvements millage renewal on the Nov. 6 ballot. [PAC had recommended the action at its June 19 meeting.] The staff is now working on a communications plan for the millage, he said.

Colin Smith

Colin Smith, manager of Ann Arbor parks and recreation.

DTE has started remediation work on its MichCon site, Smith said, noting that PAC had been briefed on the project earlier this year. He commended the company for coordinating with parks staff, and said the work will start near Argo Dam and move downstream. DTE is paying for construction of a whitewater area along that same stretch of river. Smith reported that the city expects to hear soon regarding a state permit that’s needed for the whitewater project.

In response to a query from Tim Doyle, Smith said the parks staff will be developing a course to teach people how to use the whitewater section of the river, and possibly will offer rentals from the livery specifically for that.

Turning to golf courses, Smith reported that summer tournaments were nearly over and had good participation. The creekbed stabilization project in Leslie Park golf course, which PAC had been briefed on at its June 2012 meeting, will begin in November.

Renovations at the Veterans Memorial Park ballfields have started. PAC had recommended approval of that project at its January 2012 meeting. The first field was recently torn up and is on its way to being rebuilt, Smith said.

Smith reminded commissioners that the night farmers market continues through September, from 4:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. This is the second season for that, and the city has seen an increase in vendors and customers, he said.

Smith also noted that registration starts on Monday, Aug. 27 for the parks and recreation fall courses and activities. It seems too soon, he said, but the brochure for that is already distributed.

Misc. Communications: West Park

Tim Berla asked for an update on work at West Park – he wondered why he’d seen large pipes being unloaded in the park.

Amy Kuras, the city’s parks planner who has overseen renovations at West Park, reported that the current work is being done in two phases. The first phase was to replace covers of underground swirl concentrators, devices that help remove solids in the stormwater stream. The second phase involves diverting water that will exit the concentrators – that’s what the pipes will be used for. Work will continue through September, she said.

Swirl concentrators at West Park

The construction site at West Park where swirl concentrators are being re-installed. The project is located on the park’s west side, off of Seventh Street.

By way of background, swirl concentrators had been installed for stormwater management as part of a major renovation of West Park in 2010, but the system failed. PAC had originally been briefed on that failure in February 2011, then received a detailed update 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 after the manufacturer of the swirl concentrators made repairs on the units, the city would hire a contractor to complete additional work. The work was recommended by Orchard Hiltz & McCliment (OHM), which the city had engaged in 2010 to look into the problems with that aspect of the West Park project. City staff had previously hoped to have that work completed by July of 2012.

At PAC’s June meeting, Colin Smith had reported that the city expected the manufacturer of the swirl concentrators to replace the lids and finish repairs on those units within a few weeks. After that, the project’s contractor would rebuild the diversion structures, finish the access paths, and complete native plant restoration in that area, located along Seventh Street.

The city posts updates about the work on a website focused on this project.

Present: Ingrid Ault, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Bob Galardi, Alan Jackson, Karen Levin, Julie Grand, councilmember Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.

Absent: Doug Chapman, John Lawter, councilmember Mike Anglin (ex-officio).

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 begins at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

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  1. By Stewart Nelson
    August 27, 2012 at 2:43 pm | permalink

    I hate to keep harping on this but how is it that Tim Berla can serve on the PAC for over 10 years when the committee rules say that 6 years is maximum? I know he was on the RAC and they have a seat but it seems to me to be a big loop hole that allows him to bypass the rules.

  2. By Tom Whitaker
    August 27, 2012 at 3:48 pm | permalink

    “The DDA talks about how the recent underground Library Lane parking structure is the last one it intends to build, [Pollay] said.”

    Isn’t there one currently under construction at First and Washington, funded by the DDA?

  3. August 28, 2012 at 9:14 am | permalink

    A quick check of Google Maps suggests that more than half of the surface area of downtown is devoted to cars. Can’t some of that be converted to park land?

  4. By Steve Bean
    August 28, 2012 at 9:25 am | permalink

    @3: It goes higher (and deeper) than that with the parking structures. The answer is “no”, not when it doesn’t fit the mayor’s (and therefore city council’s and the DDA’s) vision. All for “economic growth” that will reach a clear end in a matter of months as we dive into the depths of this depression and leave behind cheaply obtained power post-oil extraction peak.

  5. By B
    August 28, 2012 at 11:15 am | permalink

    Sorry, Mr Mayor. We need more central green space if we want more density. More cement, and only cars will go there. Only three inches of soil, but the place can hold a building? Ever heard of raised beds? Plant the trees in pots. Whatever. Stop making excuses to continue to follow a bad design.

  6. August 29, 2012 at 9:30 am | permalink

    A quick and easy way to start might be to close Main Street from William to Huron to motor vehicles. Yes I know it was a failure in Kalamazoo, but it’s worked great in some other places and I think it would work here. We’ve certainly got the pedestrian traffic to support it. Now would be a good time to do it with Fifth Avenue finally re-opened.

  7. By Steve Bean
    August 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm | permalink

    @6: Jim, that would be a difficult case to make. Having been married to a Main Street merchant and spoken with others about that idea, I couldn’t make such a case myself, especially absent a successful example in the Midwest. To point to just one aspect that you mentioned, foot traffic primarily shadows car traffic. If car traffic were eliminated from that stretch of Main, the foot traffic would follow, with the activity shifting to 4th Ave (or maybe Ashley, or even all the way to State St.) over time. If more people came downtown without their car, then the potential would be greater. For now, closing Main for large events works well.

    As for park land downtown in general, I had suggested a while back that the city consider selling Liberty Plaza (a corner lot) and put the park on top of the new structure. Now that the structure has been built (at added expense) to support a large building on top, that option is no longer viable. Maybe moving the transit center–including Greyhound–there is still a possibility, though, which would free up the current site for a more direct cut-through park to/from both the underground structure and the 4th and William one than the old Y lot could.

    By the way, the doorstop Fed building would be something for local Dems to call their buddy John Dingell about, wouldn’t you think? And again, and again, ….

    Until Liberty Plaza is a cut-through space like Sculpture Plaza, it won’t function as some people would prefer. (It functions quite well for those people who use it, and there are quite a few–apparently just not the “right” people), as well as for some (smaller) events. The best option for such (given that the suggestions above aren’t likely to fly anymore now than they did before) is the Palio lot, which could have a diagonal (NW to SE) sidewalk with seating on both sides and plantings along William. If William were put on a lane diet with on-street(!) parking added (yet another past suggestion), the traffic noise would be reduced and the intersection at Main could be more pedestrian friendly (i.e., narrower by way of bump outs).