PAC: Downtown Park, More Input Needed

Parks commission also gets update on plans for new dog parks

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Sept. 18, 2012): Reprising issues they discussed in August, commissioners heard from several residents about the need for: (1) more downtown green/open space; and (2) one or more centrally located dog parks.

Eric Lipson, Mary Hathaway

Eric Lipson and Mary Hathaway attended the Sept. 18, 2012 Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting to advocate for more green space in the downtown area, specifically on top of the Library Lane parking structure. (Photos by the writer.)

PAC took action on one of those topics, passing a resolution to give formal input on the Connecting William Street project. That effort, led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, is process to examine five city-owned parcels for possible redevelopment. All but one of the sites are now used as surface parking lots.

PAC did not advocate that a particular site be turned into a park. Rather, the resolution recommends that the Ann Arbor city council seek additional evaluation of locations for a downtown park, the best mix of amenities for the population expected to use a downtown park, and the costs of developing and maintaining a new addition to the parks system. PAC also recommends that the council refrain from adopting plans for the five city-owned lots before resolving the question about open space in the Connecting William Street area. [.pdf of final Connecting William Street resolution]

At the start of the meeting, three members of the Library Green Conservancy – advocates of creating a commons on top of the Library Lane underground parking structure – spoke during public commentary. [The Library Lane site is one of the five properties included in the Connecting William Street project.] They urged commissioners to support their plan for a park at that location, adjacent to the library. The underground structure was built with a foundation to support a high-rise building on the site, in addition to a plaza area. PAC’s recommendation to the city council did not highlight that particular site.

Also during the meeting, commissioners heard from two speakers during public commentary who supported the creation of more dog parks. One speaker noted that despite potential problems – such as dog fights and the fact that ”pooping can occasionally go unnoticed” – a dog park poses no greater liability than a skatepark, pool or “even simply sidewalks.”

Colin Smith, the parks and recreation manager, told commissioners that staff did not support an unfenced option, but indicated that they’re exploring possible locations for one or more fenced-in dog parks. One possible site: A parcel on the east side of West Park, near the entrance off of Chapin.

PAC also was briefed on plans for rain gardens and other biodetention measures at Miller Nature Area and Garden Homes Park, in connection with a major reconstruction of Miller Avenue next year.

Smith also updated commissioners on letters of objection that had been submitted to the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) regarding plans to build a section of whitewater in the Huron River, near the Argo Cascades. A permit is needed from the MDEQ before the project can move forward. For a full report on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project.”

It was the last meeting for commissioner Doug Chapman, whose term ended on Sept. 30. At the city council’s Oct. 1 meeting, his replacement was confirmed: Melissa Stults, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Connecting William Street

On the agenda was a resolution to make a recommendation to city council regarding a downtown park. The resolution came in response to a request from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which had asked park commissioners for input on the Connecting William Street project. That effort is focused on developing a plan for five city-owned properties along William Street, between Ashley and Division. Four of the parcels are surface parking lots; the fifth is a parking structure at Fourth & William.

PAC members previously had a lengthy discussion on the issue at their land acquisition committee meeting in early September. [See Chronicle coverage: "Park Commissioners: More Green, Please."] They concluded that the possible development scenarios being floated by the DDA did not include sufficient green space or parkland.

Connecting William Street: Public Commentary

Three people spoke about the need for a downtown park. Gwen Nystuen – a long-time PAC member who was term-limited and left the commission this summer – said she was part of the Library Green Conservancy, advocating for more open space downtown. She hoped that PAC’s resolution would highlight the fact that there aren’t many parks or much open space right now. The Connecting William Street choices seem to be “dense, dense or denser,” she said, but a survey done by the DDA had found that a desire for more open space was one of the top four responses. With more dwelling units being added downtown, the city needs more open space, she said.

Eric Lipson, another member of the Library Green Conservancy, told commissioners that he’d been heartened to hear some of them ask why there isn’t more green space in the Connecting William Street scenarios. It’s been disappointing to see the scenarios lacking in this regard, especially because there have been several large-scale studies that promoted the idea of more green space. In the Calthorpe plan, for example, the only site-specific mention of public space was the top of the Library Lane underground parking structure. Now, that space is being used for surface parking, he noted. The conservancy wants as much of that area as possible to be used as a plaza.

Lipson noted that a plurality of responses to the DDA survey had listed urban open space as a priority, yet it’s not in the Connecting William Street plans – except for a “tiny” amount of green space on top of Library Lane. The argument that downtown parks attract bad elements is no excuse, he added. That’s a problem, but it shouldn’t be a reason to shut down parks. The Library Lane site would be perfect, Lipson concluded, because of its proximity to the library, the AATA’s Blake Transit Center, and local restaurants.  He hoped that commissioners would listen to a large segment of the population as they considered this issue.

Conservancy member Mary Hathaway agreed with the points made by Nystuen and Lipson, and said she wanted to address the question of why the top of the Library Lane structure should be used as a park, rather than other parcels. For one thing, the city already owns it, she said. The city still owes money on the former YMCA site on William between Fourth and Fifth, and it might be good to sell it before the balloon payment is due. The suggestion that the downtown library could build on top of the Library Lane structure is impractical, she said. It’s a financial disadvantage to the library to build anywhere except its current site, at the corner of Fifth and William.

Hathaway also pointed out that city officials don’t want different ideas for each of the four surface parking lots that are part of Connecting William Street. They want a connected plan – that’s reflected in the project’s name, she said. There’s a strong desire for a pedestrian-friendly design. People should be led to enjoy walking from Main Street to State Street and beyond, with a series of green, enticing paths. The central feature of that would be right next to the library, she said. The land there is already connected with a diagonal path to Liberty Plaza and an east/west path between Fifth and Division. It would draw people in, she said. So she hoped commissioners would consider the Library Lane site as the prime location for a downtown Central Park. She brought handouts and larger drawings that showed how a park could occupy that space as well as a building, in a very attractive way – the conservancy isn’t opposed to a building there, she noted.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion

PAC chair Julie Grand began the discussion by saying she drafted the resolution based on her view of the consensus that commissioners had reached at their Sept. 4 land acquisition committee meeting. The draft resolution read as follows:

Whereas, the DDA has been charged by City Council to make recommendations regarding five City-owned lots through its Connecting William Street initiative;

Whereas, the PROS plan recommends that PAC work with the DDA to consider plans for downtown open space, including, but not limited to the Library Lane lot;

Whereas, the PROS plan reflects PAC’s commitment to, “assure citizens a voice in the decision-making process of the park, recreation, and open space system, including acquisition, planning, and development”;

Whereas, many community members have expressed a preference for a downtown park in this area;

Whereas, PAC recognizes the potential benefits of downtown density, the value of mixed-use interface with downtown open space, and the importance of creating a safe, attractive programmable space in the downtown;

Whereas, PAC is in agreement that the amount of open space currently proposed in the DDA’s plans for Connecting William Street may be insufficient;

Whereas, PAC is in agreement that there is more than one potential site for open space within the five City-owned properties;

Resolved, that PAC recommends additional input from City staff regarding the evaluation of locations for a downtown park, the best mix of amenities for the population expected to utilize a downtown park, and the costs of developing and maintaining a new addition to the Parks system.

Resolved, that PAC recommends that City Council refrain adopting plans for three of the five City-owned lots prior to resolving the question of open space within the Connecting William Street area.

Alan Jackson asked a question of Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager. Given that the resolution calls for input from city staff, Jackson said, does the staff actually have the resources to handle that?

Julie Grand

Julie Grand, chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, talks with former PAC member Gwen Nystuen prior to the start of PAC’s Sept. 18 meeting.

Smith described it as a multifaceted issue. Staff is currently providing information on multiple sites, including 721 N. Main, 415 W. Washington, the Library Lane site, Liberty Plaza and the overall issue of downtown parks, per the mayor’s request. [Mayor John Hieftje had attended PAC's August meeting and asked commissioners to help prioritize action regarding downtown parks.]

“It’s work that needs to be done,” Smith said.

Grand continued, saying that the point of the resolution is to state that no hasty recommendations should be made without the input of parks staff.

Tim Berla said that overall, he supported the resolution. But he felt they should take it a step further, and state that there should be a park in the William Street part of downtown. He believed that PAC is in agreement on that, and should go on the record about it.

Bob Galardi said he wanted to ask a procedural question. Does PAC decide where parks should be built? [In addition to serving on PAC, Galardi is a member of the  leadership & outreach committee of the Ann Arbor DDA's Connecting William Street project.]

Berla replied that PAC can advise city council on anything it wants. If PAC members agree on an exact plan, they can recommend it to council. That doesn’t mean that the council will do it, he noted.

Galardi then highlighted one of the resolution’s whereas clauses: “Whereas, PAC is in agreement that the amount of open space currently proposed in the DDA’s plans for Connecting William Street is potentially insufficient;…” He wanted to know what amount of open space would be considered sufficient: Is there some sort of ratio?

Grand noted that there are recommendations about open space in the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, and technically, the downtown area meets those guidelines. But that doesn’t mean PAC can’t evaluate what might be needed if more buildings are constructed, as proposed in the Connecting William Street scenarios.

Galardi ventured that they were being more qualitative than quantitative in their approach. That’s definitely true, Grand said – it’s fuzzy.

Berla characterized the project as a new approach for the city, and he hoped that in five years the downtown density of businesses and residents would be higher than anywhere else in Ann Arbor. But they don’t have experience in this kind of thing, he noted. He referred to a resolution that he had prepared, which he did not formally bring forward, that proposed looking at a much larger section of downtown, not just the Connecting William Street area.

Smith offered to come back at a later date with additional information about the guidelines that Grand had pointed to from the PROS plan, as well as some comparative data from other communities. He noted that there is a desire for more green space – that was reflected in responses to the DDA’s survey.

Referring to another point in the PROS plan, Grand said part of their task is to plan for the future and anticipate future needs. This resolution fits in with that mission, she said.

John Lawter felt that perhaps the final resolved clause could be stronger, and that they should mention any deadlines that might apply. Galardi clarified the next steps. There will be another public meeting in October, then the committee will develop recommendations to present to the city council. PAC’s resolution will be part of the mix when the committee evaluates all the feedback it has received.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Where to Put the Park?

Some of the discussion centered on where to focus the possible recommendations for a park or open space. Galardi wondered why the draft recommended looking at only three of the five sites for Connecting William Street?

Bob Galardi

Park advisory commissioner Bob Galardi is also a member of the  leadership & outreach committee of the Ann Arbor DDA’s Connecting William Street project.

Grand replied that in previous discussions, no one seemed enthusiastic about recommending a park at the Ashley site, on the west side of the project area. And it wouldn’t be feasible to recommend it for the large parking structure at Fourth and William.

Galardi felt that all sites should be considered, so that they wouldn’t be pre-selecting.

Tim Doyle pointed out that they also had focused on just the three sites because those were the best positioned to make a connection between Main Street and the University of Michigan campus. That goal shouldn’t be forgotten, he said.

Berla highlighted a point he’d made previously: That the city should decide where it wants to put a park before selling off any property. He’d be open to sites other than the three possibilities in the Connecting William Street area, but the main thing is to make a decision about a park location before selling or developing anything.

Smith cautioned against identifying a specific location for a park without knowing what might be located around it. That could result in an impractical, underused park, he said. Smith felt that development and a park needed to happen in a coordinated way.

The two councilmembers who also serve as ex-officio members of PAC – Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) – were asked for their opinions about what advice would be most helpful.

Taylor suggested it would be helpful to know what kind of features PAC would like to see. A tree-filled and canopy-laden park? Playgrounds? A “soft” public meeting space? The council would also be interested in knowing PAC’s rationale – why commissioners feel that a particular type of park is important.

Anglin said this discussion had been very meaningful, in terms of looking at the future of the city’s first urban park. He felt that such a downtown park would exceed the usership of even the Ann Arbor farmers market. There might be opportunities for performance art, he said, if the public art millage passes. [The mechanism of a millage would allow for more flexibility in funding certain types of projects, like temporary performance art. The current Percent for Art program, which uses capital dollars, does not allow for that.] Anglin felt a park could be an economic generator, drawing people downtown.

There was some discussion about whether to include a whereas clause about the value of an urban park for economic development, but that addition didn’t gain traction.

Galardi noted that the main message PAC wants to sent to the DDA and city council is that they need to more actively consider green space in their planning. As far as the ideas mentioned by Taylor, Galardi thought PAC still needed to “get our act together” on that. He said he’d be comfortable passing the more general resolution, to give quick feedback to the DDA.

Karen Levin noted that they could address more detailed issues at a retreat, which has not yet been scheduled.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – How Much Green Space?

Part of the discussion centered on how to quantify the amount of green or open space needed in the downtown area.

Referring to the three scenarios that the DDA had presented at PAC’s August meeting, Ingrid Ault noted that the amount of green space in each scenario was the same, although density levels for residents and businesses varied widely. She felt it was important to send a message to the council that there should be a proportionate increase in green space, as density increased.

When she referred to the scenarios as “options,” Bob Galardi quickly pointed out that these scenarios are not intended to be options or proposals. They are ideas that can be mixed and matched. He felt uncomfortable talking about proportions, because that implies a ratio or formula that somehow defines what “sufficient” means.

Alan Jackson said that even though he’s a physicist he didn’t want to formulize this approach. They should make judgments, he said. The key thing is that there’s an opportunity here because these parcels are undeveloped, so they should figure out where a park could be located. They shouldn’t lose sight of this historic opportunity.

Julie Grand noted that regardless of whether the scenarios are options or not, members of PAC still feel there is insufficient green space in all of the scenarios. Tim Doyle ventured that PAC would advocate for more open space, even if there were no population gains in the downtown area. The city doesn’t have a town square, he said, reminding commissioners that Ann Arbor is known as the “city of trees.” His sense is the city needs a park in this area.

Colin Smith asked whether their opinion would change if they factored in the possibility of adding parkland in other parts of town, like 721 N. Main (near Summit) or the DTE/MichCon property off of Broadway, near Argo Dam. Galardi threw the First & William site into the mix – would that change their opinion?

Smith said his point is to ask whether they’re considering this issue in isolation, or in the totality of the downtown area. It’s worth asking the question, he said.

Berla replied that he could imagine people walking between the library and Main Street, but not further west down the hill to First & William. He felt the DTE site could be a great community gathering space.

Grand said she’d like to consider this question in totality, but that time constraints required them to focus on the confines of the Connecting William Street project. Berla wondered why the DDA couldn’t have a scenario D, with a larger park.

Galardi observed that the Connecting William Street committee hadn’t completed its work. He promised to take PAC’s formal resolution – as well as the tenor of this discussion – and report it to the other committee members as they develop final recommendations for council.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Minor Amendments

After additional discussion, the commission reached consensus on some minor amendments to the draft resolution. The first five whereas clauses were unchanged. Changes in the remaining clauses are indicated in strike-through for deletions and italics for additions:

Whereas, PAC is in agreement that the amount of open space currently proposed in the DDA’s plans for Connecting William Street may be is insufficient;

Whereas, PAC is in agreement that there is more than one potential site for open space within the five City-owned properties under consideration;

Resolved, that PAC recommends additional input from City staff regarding the evaluation of locations for a downtown park, the best mix of amenities for the population expected to utilize a downtown park, and the costs of developing and maintaining a new addition to the Parks system.

Resolved, that PAC recommends that City Council refrain adopting plans for three of the five City-owned lots prior to resolving the question of open space within the Connecting William Street area.

[.pdf of final Connecting William Street resolution]

Outcome: On a 7-2 vote, commissioners passed a resolution urging the city council to get more input for a possible downtown park. Voting against the resolution were Ingrid Ault and Bob Galardi.

Dog Parks

At PAC’s Aug. 21 meeting, commissioners had voted to direct its dog park subcommittee to work with city staff and develop recommendations that could lead to additional off-leash dog parks.

John Lawter, PAC’s vice chair, has been leading this initiative, advocating in particular for more options in Ann Arbor’s central area. He gave a formal presentation on the topic at PAC’s Aug. 16, 2011 meeting. Currently there are 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. Lawter has 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.

Dog Parks: Public Commentary

Susan Miller told commissioners that years ago, she regularly took her dogs to a field near the former Gelman Sciences plant in Scio Township. She later found the group of dog owners who gathered on Saturdays at Slauson Middle School, but that gathering was shut down recently, she noted. Miller said she doesn’t fault anyone, but there’s still a large, unmet need for a centrally located place for dogs and their owners to congregate in Ann Arbor. The city has failed to fill this need.

Miller described in detail the different dogs and people of all ages that she’d met, noting that she isn’t able to interact with them anymore because there’s no place to gather. Her point is that dog parks are about recreation for dogs and the community. Yes, problems can arise, she acknowledged. Dogs might fight and ”pooping can occasionally go unnoticed.” But these pose no greater liabilities than a skatepark, pool “or even simply sidewalks,” Miller said. She hoped commissioners would consider putting in a more centrally located dog park.

Describing himself as a lifelong Ann Arbor resident, Harold Kirchen also spoke in favor of another dog park. He said he knew Miller because of the Slauson dog party, and that they both knew PAC commissioner John Lawter for that same reason. Lawter is PAC’s “resident scofflaw,” Kirchen joked, referring to the fact that letting dogs run off-leash at Slauson had violated a city ordinance. In the past, the city hasn’t dealt with this need, Kirchen said. One city dog park is “halfway to Whitmore Lake,” he said, referring to Olson Park on the city’s north side, and the other [Swift Run, on the southeast side of town] is almost in Ypsilanti.

Kirchen also addressed possible concerns, saying that when a lot of people are around, someone is bound to call out a “poop alert” when they see a dog defecating. So the possibility of dog poop being left in the area is a false issue, he said. Also, people are better behaved when they’re watched by their peers – “just ask any cop.” He reported that when he went for a walk in the woods this spring, he filled two buckets with dog poop that had been left near the trail. At a dog park, people would self-police, he contended.

Dog Parks: Commission Discussion

Later in the meeting, Colin Smith – the city’s parks and recreation manager – gave a report on the dog park initiative. He noted that staff had met with the dog park subcommittee and reviewed previous work that had been done on this issue. The need for a centrally located dog park is identified as part of the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, which is used to guide capital spending and funding priorities. So the idea is not a new one, he said.

The staff has also reached out to other communities to get feedback about how off-leash parks have worked, Smith reported. They talked a lot about unfenced areas in particular, he said, and didn’t get positive feedback about that approach. Concerns that were raised included dogs leaving the designated areas and going onto private property. One community reported that they wound up fencing in an area that was initially unfenced, and that both dog owners and nearby property owners preferred the fenced-in park. Based on this feedback, Ann Arbor parks staff doesn’t support an unfenced dog park, Smith said. An additional point is that establishing an unfenced dog park would require an ordinance amendment, which Smith characterized as a lengthy and cumbersome process.

John Lawter, Tim Doyle

From left: Park advisory commissioners John Lawter and Tim Doyle. Lawter is spearheading an effort to create one or more centrally located dog parks in Ann Arbor.

Smith said the staff looked at possible areas in existing parks. The field at Slauson is bowl-shaped, with fencing on one side, creating a defined space – even though it wasn’t fenced-in. But in looking at Ann Arbor’s larger “programmable” parks, there aren’t many areas that would work, Smith said. The northwest corner of West Park has some of those characteristics, but it runs up against private property and the stormwater feature.

That said, Smith reported that the parks staff supports adding another off-leash, fenced area for dogs. So the next questions to address are how many of such areas should be created, and in what parts of town? They’d need to establish criteria for ranking locations, then visit different locations and rate each one. He hoped to have a report and recommendations for PAC at their Oct. 16 meeting.

No decisions would be made in October, he stressed – this is all background work. In 2007, when the city was evaluating locations for what eventually became the two existing dog parks, other sites were also evaluated as possible fenced-in dog parks, Smith noted. Rather than reinventing the wheel, it makes sense to revisit those other locations. One of those was Riverside Park, but now that’s become heavily programmed by sports groups. Another option is the parcel in the northeast corner of West Park, where the city recently bought and demolished the house on that site, near the entrance off of Chapin.

If PAC supports the recommendations that staff brings forward, Smith said, the next step would be to hold neighborhood meetings in the areas that have been identified as potential dog parks.

John Lawter told commissioners that although it sounded like there were many hurdles in this process, he wanted to put a more positive spin on it. The staff is looking at possibilities for a fenced-in dog park, but that doesn’t mean the door has closed on an unfenced area. But he agrees with staff that it makes sense to look at a more traditional fenced-in dog park at this point, rather than spending energy pushing for an unfenced option.

Assuming they can make recommendations in October and hold neighborhood meetings after that, Lawter believed it’s possible to get site approval from the city council by December. A fence would then be put up whenever the city can identify funding for the project, he said. Lawter noted that his original concern with a fenced-in dog park is that the cost would be prohibitive, but he’s been assured that the expense wouldn’t be too great and that it might be built within a year. He’s satisfied with the process, and the important thing is that the project is moving forward.

Smith observed that the original dog park project – Swift Run, at Ellsworth and Platt – had been a true capital project, as the 10-acre site had to be reshaped for a different use. The land also posed challenges for the fencing, he said. [Located on a former landfill, it also includes a gravel parking lot.] The next fenced-in dog park would be more like fencing someone’s back yard, at a fairly low cost.

Julie Grand suggested there might be a dog lover in the city who’d be willing to donate the cost – and perhaps the dog park could be named after the donor.

West Park entrance off of Chapin

The West Park entrance off Chapin, looking west. A lot on the right side of this image is one potential location for a fenced-in dog park.

Tim Berla recalled that there used to be a group that attended PAC meetings to lobby for a dog park. Perhaps such a group could take responsibility for an unfenced dog park. He said that some of his dog-loving friends feel it’s dangerous to have an unfenced park, but perhaps an organized dog group could help with some of these issues.

Smith reported that this summer, the city’s park supervisors dropped by Swift Run and Olson dog parks to help educate residents about the need for dog licenses. Between May and mid-June, they found 107 unlicensed dogs at those parks. From mid-June until now, only 14 dogs were at the dog parks without tags. That’s a dramatic shift, Smith said.

Lawter noted that maintaining an active volunteer group is difficult. Now that there’s a volunteer coordinator for parks, that would go a long way in helping to keep such a group alive, he said.

Ingrid Ault asked whether they’d be considering just one more dog park. Not necessarily, Smith replied. One of the things that needs to be determined is how many dog parks are desired, and where they might be located. If more than one site is conducive to a dog park, they can consider that. Ault also requested that PAC be provided with a map showing the locations of Swift Run and Olson dog parks.

Outcome: This was not an action item – no vote was taken. Staff recommendations for possible dog park locations are expected at PAC’s Oct. 16 meeting.

Bioretention at Miller Nature Area & Garden Homes Park

Nick Hutchinson, a project manager in the city’s public services unit, briefed commissioners on plans to add bioretention areas – including rain gardens – in the Miller Nature Area and Garden Homes Park. Both city properties are along Miller Avenue, which will be reconstructed next year between Newport Road and North Maple. Coordinating with that road reconstruction, the city is planning this project to help improve stormwater management in the area.

Map showing planned bioretention areas along Miller Avenue

Map showing planned bioretention areas along Miller Avenue.

There are three places where the Miller Nature Area extends to Miller Avenue. The “finger” of land that’s the farthest east – between 1553 and 1575 Miller – is where one of the bioretention areas will be located. The project calls for removing vegetation, regrading the area, and planting seeds for native plants. Some of the flow from the existing stormwater pipe along Miller would be diverted into the bioretention area, and the current path would be rebuilt to go around the bioretention site.

Garden Homes Park is located further west of Miller Nature Area, north of Miller between Franklin and Fulmer. The bioretention there would be located at the northwest corner of Miller and Franklin, which Hutchinson described as an “isolated fragment” of the park. A similar approach would be taken to remove vegetation, regrade, and replant seeds of native plants. Stormwater would be diverted off Miller to flow under the sidewalk and into the bioretention basin.

A new path would be built through the bioretention area to provide better access to the park from that corner.

Hutchinson noted that public meetings have been held with residents, and the sites were selected with input of staff from parks and the natural area preservation program.

Bioretention: Public Commentary

Natalie Fulkerson told commissioners that her family lived on Miller Avenue, next to the section where the bioretention work is proposed. She thanked PAC member Alan Jackson for visiting them to see the situation. She expressed appreciation to the city for these improvements, and said she’s excited about most of the plans. However, one concern is the plan to relocate the path. The new path would abut their back yard. They have a seven-year-old son, she said, and are concerned about strangers and off-leash dogs. The plans also call for removing some of the trees and growth that currently provide screening and privacy for their property. She hoped that the plans could be modified, and she thanked commissioners for their attention.

Bioretention: Commission Discussion

Commissioners asked Hutchinson several clarificational questions about the project, and generally expressed support for the changes. Alan Jackson said he hoped the plans could be modified to respond to concerns raised by Natalie Fulkerson during public commentary. Hutchinson indicated that the project could accommodate those issues, possibly with more plantings to act as a screen – and the staff had already discussed it.

Colin Smith, Natalie Fulkerson

Colin Smith, parks and recreation manager for Ann Arbor, talks with Natalie Fulkerson, a resident who lives near the Miller Nature Area.

Jackson also wondered how wet the areas would become, especially during spring rains. Would there be standing water? Hutchinson replied that there might be some standing water after a rainfall, but as the rain garden plants take root, those plants help absorb the water.

John Lawter asked about the project’s funding source. Hutchinson said that although staff from the city’s natural area preservation program will perform the work, it will be paid for out of the city’s stormwater fund.

Mike Anglin noted that some of the lawn extensions in that area are quite large, and that residents might be encouraged to install rain gardens there as well. Perhaps the city could work some kind of deal with residents to do that, he said.

Responding to a question from Tim Berla, Hutchinson said the rain gardens are intended to help the flow of water as well as its quality. By detaining some of the stormwater, the rain gardens would slow the flow of water going downstream. The plants would also help filter out pollutants.

Berla wondered if there was any chance that this project might actually make flooding worse. He noted that he had attended a meeting of residents in the West Park area, where many expressed the opinion that flooding had worsened after the city’s stormwater project there. Hutchinson replied that the rain gardens would also have outlet areas so that during heavy rains, there are designated places for water overflow. Overall, the project is located in the upper edge of Allen Creek, he said, so it could only help the situation downstream.

Tim Doyle wondered what happened to rain gardens during drought conditions. Would the plants survive? That question was fielded by David Borneman, manager of the city’s natural area preservation program. He noted that conditions like they’ve seen this summer are hard for some plantings. The critical period is the first couple of years – after that, the plants are deeply rooted and can withstand drought conditions.

Colin Smith wrapped up the discussion by noting that this project ties in with the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, which calls for using unused portions of the parks for stormwater management. He also thought the changes at Garden Homes Park would greatly improve the “curb appeal” of that area.

Misc. Communications

There were opportunities for communications from staff or commissioners during the Sept. 18 meeting.

Misc. Communications: Objections to Whitewater Project

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, reported to commissioners that several letters of objection had been submitted to the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) regarding plans to build a section of whitewater in the Huron River, near the Argo Cascades. A permit is needed from the MDEQ before the project can move forward. Objections were filed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state Dept. of Natural Resources fisheries division, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the local Huron River Watershed Council.

For a full report on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project.”

Misc. Communications: Farewell to Chapman

Julie Grand, PAC’s chair, noted that this was the last meeting for Doug Chapman, whose term ended in September. She thanked him for his service on the commission. Chapman described it as a positive experience, and said he was sorry he didn’t have the chance to work with the new commissioners. [Within the last few months, three term-limited PAC members – Gwen Nystuen, Sam Offen and David Barrett – have been replaced by Ingrid Ault, Bob Galardi and Alan Jackson.]

Chapman’s position has been filled by Melissa (Missy) Stults, for a three-year term running through Sept. 30, 2015. Her appointment was confirmed at the Ann Arbor city council’s Oct. 1 meeting. According to her application, she is a research scientist and doctoral student at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

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

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 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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