Land Added to County Preservation Efforts

Washtenaw County parks & rec commission also extends letter of intent with Ypsilanti for recreation center at Water Street; gets briefed on Pittsfield Township corridor improvement authority along State Road

Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting (Aug. 13, 2013): After skipping the July meeting for a summer break, WCPARC tackled a full agenda at its August session. Commissioners took action related to land preservation and the east county recreation center in Ypsilanti, and were briefed about a proposed corridor improvement authority along State Road in Pittsfield Township.

East County recreation center, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view showing proposed location of a county recreation center in downtown Ypsilanti, in the city-owned Water Street property next to the Huron River and south of Michigan Avenue. (Image from the WCPARC Aug. 13, 2013 meeting packet.)

Commissioners approved expenses totaling $1,760,780 to acquire complete or partial interests in 140 acres for the natural areas preservation program (NAPP), and took the first step to approve acquisition of conservation easements on 170 acres of farmland for $258,500.

The NAPP purchases include 71 acres in Ann Arbor Township presently owned by DF [Domino's Farms] Land Development, west and north of the intersection of Plymouth and Dixboro Roads. The purchase includes 54 acres – known as Arbor Vistas – on the south side of Ford Road. WCPARC will contribute $928,780 of the total price of $2.167 million, with the remainder of funding coming from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund ($1.088 million) and Ann Arbor Township ($150,000).

Two other parcels – 5 acres and 12 acres – are located near the larger site. In total, these three acquisitions will enhance access to existing preserves, according to staff, and will benefit from the parking areas and trails already built in those preserves.

The WCPARC also gave final approval to purchase the 66-acre Primeau property in Freedom Township for $420,000, and to buy the 3-acre Holley property in Pittsfield Township for $90,000. The Holley property – on the south side of Textile Road, north of Michigan Avenue – is important because of its woods and its adjacency to three other heavily wooded parcels that WCPARC has given tentative approval to purchase. The 8-1 vote for the Holley purchase came over dissent by commissioner Fred Veigel, who questioned paying $30,000 an acre for property that could be developed.

The WCPARC also administers the agricultural land preservation program, which protects farmland by purchasing development rights (conservation easements) rather than title to the land. At the Aug. 13 meeting, commissioners gave preliminary approval for two such purchases: (1) the 101-acre Cort property in Salem Township, for $100,000; and (2) the 69-acre Schneider property in Lodi Township at the southeast corner of Scio Church and Parker Roads, for $158,500.

The commission was briefed on one ongoing project: the proposed recreation center in downtown Ypsilanti‘s Water Street area. The presentation included a summary of a survey about how such a new facility might be used. The survey had been commissioned by the Ann Arbor YMCA with some funding from WCPARC, and showed that there is sufficient demand and willingness to pay for the center. The results also provided details to guide decisions about fees and the size and nature of facilities in the building.

In action related to the center, commissioners approved extending for six months a letter of intent to reach a development agreement between WCPARC and the city of Ypsilanti. The plan is to use that time to negotiate a full development agreement so that the city can transfer the property – up to 8 of the 38 acres on Michigan Avenue east of downtown Ypsilanti – before Jan. 4, 2014.

Commissioners were briefed about a proposed Pittsfield Township corridor improvement authority along State Road. It would use tax increment financing (TIF) to provide funding for upgrading South State between Ellsworth Road and Michigan Avenue.

The commission also approved several financial reports for June and July, and received updates on various projects and activities. Director Bob Tetens distributed a draft of the WCPARC budget for 2014-2017, but there was neither description nor discussion of the document, which will be on the September agenda.

Natural Areas Preservation Program

The county’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP) is funded by a 10-year countywide millage of 0.2409 mills, which brings in about $3 million annually. Voters renewed the millage most recently in 2010, through 2020. The program enables WCPARC to purchase land worth preserving because of its natural features, and to purchase development rights on agricultural land. The Natural Areas Technical Advisory Committee advises WCPARC on NAPP acquisitions. The Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Committee advises WCPARC on the purchase of development rights.

Several items were on the Aug. 13 agenda related to purchases for NAPP.

NAPP: DF Land Property (54-acre parcel)

Tom Freeman, retired deputy director of WCPARC who now serves as a consultant on NAPP activities, presented supporting material for all NAPP purchases at the August meeting. He began with three parcels owned by DF [Domino’s Farms] Land Development. WCPARC had given conditional approval to purchase those parcels at its June meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "County to Acquire More Nature Preserves."]

DF Land Development LLC, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Within the black circle, three parcels outlined in black are owned by DF Land Development LLC and are being acquired by the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission for nature preserves.

The largest parcel is 54 acres immediately west of the city of Ann Arbor’s 79-acre Marshall Nature Area and also near WCPARC’s 35-acre Goodrich Preserve and the University of Michigan’s 90-acre Horner-McLaughlin Woods. [.pdf of DF Land (54 acres) staff memo]

NATAC recommended this purchase, Freeman reported, because of the parcel’s proximity to other preserved areas and its significant natural features. It is entirely wooded, with areas of mature oaks, maples and other hardwoods. The western side of the property houses Kirk’s Brook, a tributary to Fleming Creek that flows south and east to the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens. More significant are the steep slopes throughout the property, he said.

Freeman then described the financial aspects of this acquisition, which was appraised at $3.25 million. To facilitate the purchase, the owner reduced the price by $1.083 million. The Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund (MDNRTF) accepted an application from WCPARC for $1,088,220 toward buying the property, and most recently, Ann Arbor Township agreed to contribute $150,000. That left only $928,780 required from WCPARC to reach the final price of $2.167 million. The contribution from Ann Arbor Township was only finalized last month.

This process, Freeman noted, “generated more paperwork – from the state, the city, the township, the owner, and WCPARC – than any other WCPARC acquisition.” But, he added with a smile, “our [WCPARC’s] sign will be on the land.”

Freeman’s written report documented completion of the three due diligence steps required by WCPARC’s earlier conditional approval of this purchase: a phase 1 environmental site assessment by Mannik & Smith that found no evidence of recognized environmental concerns; a boundary survey with legal description and sealed survey drawing; and Bur Valuation Group’s appraisal, which valued the property at $3.25 million.

There was no substantive discussion.

Outcome: Unanimous approval, on a roll call vote, to purchase the 54 acres from DF Land Development for a net price of $2.167 million, of which $928,780 would come from WCPARC.

NAPP: DF Land Development (5- and 12-acre parcels)

Freeman then presented information on two other DF Land Development parcels, for 5 acres and 12 acres. He referred to the smaller property as the “dependent” parcel that would connect several others and allow access to and use of the Marshall and Goodrich preserves, a total of 290 acres under multiple ownerships. Both properties are almost entirely wooded, with areas of mature oaks, maples, hickories and other hardwoods. Freeman called out a “gorgeous buttonwood swamp” and shagbark hickories, but lamented the absence of beeches on the 12-acre parcel, which abuts the Goodrich Preserve along its southern border. The 5-acre parcel is adjacent to the University of Michigan Horner-McLaughlin Woods and will connect that property with other protected land to the south. [.pdf of DF Land (5, 12 acres) staff memo]

Bosserd Appraisal, Freeman reported, valued the 5-acre parcel at $100,000 and the 12-acre parcel at $222,000. Mannik & Smith Group did a phase 1 environmental site assessment of each property and found no evidence of recognized environmental concerns. Finally, boundary surveys including legal descriptions and sealed survey drawings were done, completing the requisite due diligence.

NAPP: DF Land Development (5- and 12-acre parcels) – Commission Discussion

Robert Marans, president of WCPARC, asked about the potential for trails on the parcels. Freeman described several possibilities, and emphasized the ability to use an existing parking area. The topography, he said, provides opportunity for many loop trails, at least two miles of them. Freeman also pointed out the opportunity to put up signs for the new and existing parcels, with the increased accessibility of the proposed purchases.

Outcome: WCPARC unanimously approved, on a roll call vote, purchase of the 5-acre parcel for $100,000 and the 12-acre parcel for $222,000.

NAPP: Primeau

Tom Freeman presented information on this fourth proposed NAPP acquisition: 66 acres in Freedom Township, comprising two adjacent parcels on the north side of Ellsworth Road between Parker and Haab roads in the northeast part of the township. NATAC, he reported, had declared the site a high priority because of its diversity of land types, the perennial stream that runs to Mill Creek, its steep slopes, high quality woodlot, and wetland areas around the stream. The Brauer Preserve is less than half a mile to the east. Both Brauer and this property are ranked as “high value” on the Huron River Watershed Council’s bioreserve map. [.pdf of Primeau staff memo]

Freeman’s report noted that due diligence had been done: Bosserd Appraisal Services identified a value of $420,000, or about $6,363 per acre; Mannik & Smith’s phase 1 environmental site assessment found no evidence of environmental concerns; and a boundary survey, legal description, and sealed survey drawing were in hand.

Director Bob Tetens added that this acquisition was consistent with one of WCPARC’s basic concepts: to add land that would expand existing preserves and avoid the need to build new parking.

There was no substantive discussion.

Outcome: Unanimous approval on a roll call vote to acquire the Primeau property’s 66 acres for $420,000.

NAPP: Holley Property

The fifth acquisition Freeman presented was the Holley property, roughly 3 acres in Pittsfield Township. At WCPARC’s April 9, 2013 meeting, commissioners had given conditional approval to prepare an offer on several properties in that same area: the Holley property, 3 acres south of Textile Road; the 2-acre Kim property, which notches into the south and west sides of Holley and fronts on Michigan Avenue; the 4-acre M. Harwood property west of Kim, which also fronts on Michigan Avenue; and the 9-acre A. Harwood parcel, an adjacent site at the west of these properties, also on Michigan Avenue. [.pdf of Holley staff memo]

Pittsfield Township, natural areas, Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view showing boundaries of four properties along Michigan Avenue in Pittsfield Township that are being considered for purchase by the county’s natural areas preservation program.

Together, these four parcels would preserve a heavily wooded area, part of the larger woods that comprises much of the Pittsfield Preserve south of Textile Road. However, Freeman reported that while all four properties are still in consideration, the other three are in the midst of due diligence proceedings and only Holley is coming forward now.

NATAC identified the Holley property as high priority to protect and acquire. Freeman reported that the parcel is unusual because it is in an urban area, and the woodlot is a “character property” for the township and the county. Because the woods are dry – he pointed out the wet woods to the north of the property – they are “eminently develop-able.” Clearing the Holley property would, Freeman held, have a serious, detrimental impact on the Pittsfield Preserve, which has a large heron rookery in the preserve north of Textile. Freeman hoped to bring the two Harwood parcels to WCPARC for final approval in September. The Holley family wants to close as soon as possible.

Freeman’s written report documented an appraisal by Bosserd Appraisal Services at $90,000, or $30,000 an acre; Mannik & Smith’s phase 1 environmental site assessment that found no evidence of recognized environmental concerns; and a boundary survey with legal description and sealed survey drawing.

NAPP: Holley Property – Commission Discussion

Director Bob Tetens pointed out that this purchase is consistent with WCPARC’s strategy of building up existing preserves, both its own and those of other entities. This makes the best use of resources, he added, while creating more meaningful, larger preserved areas, and avoiding the need to build more parking areas.

Commissioner Fred Veigel – a current member and former chair of the Washtenaw County Road Commission – began the discussion by stating that he would vote against it: “Why would you pay $30,000 an acre for property that is develop-able? Why not let it be developed and generate tax revenue for the township, the county, and the schools? It just galls me that you would pay that much.”

Commissioner Patricia Scribner, who also serves as treasurer of Pittsfield Township, pointed out that the land is zoned residential and changing that to commercial, as Veigel suggested, is not part of the township’s master plan.

In response to Veigel’s concern about the cost of the property, Freeman said there are a number of elements to consider. For example, when land is in a municipal service area, the price naturally goes up. Also, smaller parcels cost more per acre than larger ones. Yet, for preservation purposes, a small parcel can “move the edge and change the habitat.” Freeman added: “We have had a series of appraisals done on it – it was valued higher two years ago.”

Commissioner Janis Bobrin weighed in: “Having worked on [NAPP] millage campaigns, I know that the object was to have high-quality land preserved not just way out in the county, but where people can get at it, to procure high quality [land] and to provide access to people who value having green open space adjacent to them. We are doing what the voters told us they wanted done.”

WCPARC member Dan Smith, who also serves on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, picked up on this point: “The voters approved us spending money this way. We have a rigorous process and criteria. Owners have to nominate property – we don’t solicit or make offers out of the blue. This proposal is a result of our process and criteria operating.”

Tetens made a related point: “We like to provide geographic equity. We get a lot in tax revenue from Pittsfield Township, perhaps more than what we have given back so far in recreational facilities or services.”

Outcome: On a roll call vote, the motion to purchase the Holley property for $90,000 passed 8-1, with Veigel voting against it.

Agricultural Land Preservation

Washtenaw County’s ordinance No. 128, which established the natural areas preservation program, also established the Agricultural Lands Preservation Advisory Committee (ALPAC) to advise WCPARC about whether to purchase development rights on a particular parcel of agricultural land, and how much the county should pay for those rights. More specifically, ALPAC looks to acquire development rights on lands that:

  • Preserve working farms, particularly those including prime and unique soils;
  • Preserve working farms that support the ecological integrity of wildlife habitat or important natural habitats;
  • Complement the existing network of publicly and privately preserved lands;
  • Maximize the public benefit.

The Ann Arbor-based Legacy Land Conservancy (LLC) assists WCPARC as well. Susan Lackey, the conservancy’s executive director, and Robin Burke, its land preservation coordinator, provide staff support to ALPAC under contract with the WCPARC. Burke presented two proposals at the Aug. 13 meeting.

Agricultural Land Preservation: Cort Property

This property in Salem Township lies on both the north and south sides of Six Mile Road just west of Towner Road in the northeast corner of the county. The original nomination was for 101 acres. However, LLC has decided to purchase the development rights on 17 acres – land that includes wetlands and that is not agricultural – and the Cort family has decided to retain 5 acres for its own use. So only 79 acres were part of the Aug. 13 proposal. The 5 acres retained by the family, while not covered by the conservation easement, will be permanently tied to the protected land – the two parcels cannot be separated and hence cannot be developed. [.pdf of Cort staff memo]

Cort, Salem Township, Washtenaw County parks & recreation, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map of Cort property (outlined in orange) in Salem Township.

The proposal will compensate the landowner for the cost of development rights and establish an agricultural conservation agreement between the landowner and WCPARC. The land will remain in private ownership.

Burke’s report described the somewhat complex history of this proposal. The parcels were originally submitted to both NAPP and to Salem Township’s land preservation and conservation board, which sought and received a federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) grant in 2012 for 49% of the cost of purchasing development rights.

Then, a change in township board membership resulted in a decision not to pursue conservation easements. ALPAC was approached, Burke said, to be a partner by contributing money and to be the successor holder of the easement. The township will receive the grant and hold the easement first in the chain of title, and then immediately pass the easement to WCPARC to hold.

Salem Township had already concluded due diligence: a phase I environmental assessment that found no evidence of recognized environmental conditions; an American Land Title Association survey; and an appraisal by Williams & Associates, which put the value for the development rights at $206,000. The FRPP grant will cover $100,940. The remaining $5,060 is being supplied by a private donor. Salem Township will cover the closing costs.

According to Burke, ALPAC recommended the Cort property because much of the soil is prime and locally important agricultural soil, and because nearby areas have a fair amount of residential development. The Bailo conservation easement held by WCPARC is to the west, across Pontiac Trail. As farmland, she said, it is “not topographically exciting, not even very photogenic,” but her photos showed it to grow ample corn and hay.

Agricultural Land Preservation: Cort Property – Commission Discussion

Dan Smith pointed out that this property is close to Pontiac Trail, a major traffic route between Ann Arbor and points north and east. In the future, there will be pressure for development, he noted.

Outcome: On a roll call vote, commissioners gave unanimous approval for WCPARC to: (1) contribute $100,000 to the conservation easement on the Cort property; and (2) serve as successor holder of the Cort easement, after Salem Township.

Agricultural Land Preservation: Schneider Property

Robin Burke also made a presentation about the Schneider property, to support the recommendation that WCPARC authorize preparation of a purchase offer of $158,500 for a conservation easement on 69 acres of farmland in Lodi Township, at the southeast corner of Scio Church and Parker Roads. ALPAC identified this property as one of nine highest priorities. The property has some wetland at the northwest corner but is predominantly farmland, and all the land is prime, unique, or locally important agricultural soils, as identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service. [.pdf of Schneider staff memo]

It is highly active farmland, Burke continued, part of the “historical richness of Washtenaw County. Once land like this is developed, it is irretrievable as farmland.” An additional valuable quality of the parcel is its proximity to a number of other protected properties, so that protecting Schneider would create a block of 170 acres of protected farmland. The WCPARC’s Brauer Preserve is less than half a mile south on Parker Road.

Burke’s photos illustrated that there is wetland at three of the corners of the Parker/Scio Church intersection. A pair of (protected) trumpeter swans nest here each spring. Protecting this corner would mean all three corners are protected: the corner to the north by Scio Township, and the property to the west by Legacy Land Conservancy. Parker Road is starting to become a protected corridor, she pointed out.

There was no discussion.

Outcome: Unanimous approval of the recommendation that WCAPRC authorize preparation of a purchase offer for a conservation easement at a price of $158,500 ($2,300.44 per acre), contingent upon the completion of all necessary due diligence and the commission’s final approval.

East County Recreation Center

For almost two years, WCPARC has engaged in a partnership with the city of Ypsilanti, the Ann Arbor YMCA, and faculty and students of the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning to develop a plan for a recreation center in the eastern part of the county. Focus has been on a 12-acre site located within Ypsilanti’s Water Street area, on the south side of Michigan Avenue just east of downtown and next to the Huron River. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Pursues Major New Parks & Rec Deal."] [.pdf of East County Rec Center staff memo]

Bob Marans, Bob Tetens, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Bob Marans, chair of the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, and WCPARC director Bob Tetens.

At the Aug. 13 meeting, deputy director Coy Vaughn summarized a market study by FourSquare Research Inc. that had been presented to WCPARC members at a lunch on June 25, 2013. [Summary of presentation at June 11, 2013 WCPARC meeting.]

Vaughn explained that YMCAs across the county use FourSquare for studies on the feasibility of establishing new recreation centers, including many for partnerships between a city and a Y. FourSquare is not hired, he said, to say “yes on any study – they take a critical look at whether a center can be supported.” Director Bob Tetens added that “they come back to see how well their predictions turned out, because sometimes their clients act against their advice and try to establish a center when FourSquare does not find support.”

Vaughn summarized the main findings, which were the result of a study of 600 random phone calls to cell and landlines across Washtenaw County. As background information, FourSquare provided context:

  • There is slow population growth in the area, just 3%.
  • 27% of households have kids, about the national average.
  • However, only 9% are senior citizens, lower than nationally. There is low household income, $41,000 to $57,000.
  • The area is relatively stable, as shown by the 63% who are homeowners.
  • 57% are not physically active. Of those who are physically active, only 18% are affiliated with a place to exercise; 25% are not. This leads to favorable projections of membership.

The survey also sought to learn what the preferred location for a rec center would be. Downtown Ypsilanti was favored over Rolling Hills.

Vaughn gave a bullet-point summary:

  1. There is significant interest in a new east county rec center, double the national average level of interest.
  2. A location east of downtown Ypsilanti works better than locating at WCPARC’s Rolling Hills.
  3. The profile of prospective members includes families with children, aging baby boomers, and health seekers, many who desire a “third place” [i.e. neither home nor work].
  4. An indoor facility of about 44,000 square feet is recommended, smaller than the originally estimated 55-60,000 square feet.

East County Recreation Center: Commission Discussion

Discussion covered the question of whether there would be enough parking. According to staff, the site has plenty of room for parking, both for the rec center and future retail development. Also discussed was whether this facility would compete with the existing Meri Lou Murray Rec Center on Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor, or be hurt by the renovated outdoor Rutherford Pool in Ypsilanti. WCPARC director Bob Tetens didn’t think these facilities would compete. Each existing facility is aimed at a different group, and none are directly targeting residents in the eastern part of the county.

Commissioners also discussed the overall result of the survey. Vaughn noted that there was strong support for a rec center. He indicated that feedback from the survey would allow the building planners to reconfigure the building’s design to suit the needs revealed in the survey.

The survey was simply to inform WCPARC, according to staff. The results are confidential at this point, Vaughn said; the Ann Arbor YMCA board has yet to discuss them, and there are no public copies of the survey yet.

East County Recreation Center: Letter of Intent

An item of business before WCPARC was a proposal from Tetens to extend by six months the letter of intent between WCPARC and the city of Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti’s city council has already voted such an extension. According to Tetens’ report, “the intent is to negotiate a full development agreement and present it to the Ypsilanti city council and WCPARC to transfer the property before Jan. 4, 2014.” The agreement will include at least:

  • Exact location and size of the site.
  • Size and orientation of the recreation center structure.
  • Proposed site plan and building design.
  • Timeline for approvals, permits, and construction.
  • Plan for infrastructure development beyond parcel footprint.
  • Roles and responsibilities.
  • Terms of parcel transfer or long-term lease.
  • Other legal responsibilities for development and opening of the recreational facility.

There was no commission discussion on this item.

Outcome: The motion to extend the letter of intent succeeded 8-1, with Dan Smith voting no.

State Street Corridor: Pittsfield Township

Director Bob Tetens introduced Dick Carlisle of Carlisle/Wortman Associates Inc. and Craig Lyon, director of utilities and public services for Pittsfield Township, to give a presentation about Pittsfield Township’s plan to create a corridor improvement authority (CIA) with powers to improve the State Road corridor in Pittsfield Township, from Ellsworth Road to Michigan Avenue. [.pdf of CIA report] State Road is now rated as D and F level of service, and the bad condition of the road severely constrains development and connections in the southern part of county. It creates gridlock.

Craig Lyon, Dick Carlisle, Carlisle Wortman, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Craig Lyon, director of utilities and public services for Pittsfield Township; and Dick Carlisle of Carlisle/Wortman Associates.

Pittsfield Township proposes to improve the road, somewhat as Scio Township improved Jackson Road. The CIA, Carlisle explained, would use tax increment financing to enable the township to provide the local funding match – 20% of the total cost – needed to obtain state and federal funds that would pay for most of the project. The ways that local governments can raise these funds are limited, he said, and a CIA with tax increment financing authority, which Pittsfield Township could create, is one of the most promising.

Carlisle said he was making this presentation to all taxing authorities in the affected area along State Road: Pittsfield Township, Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Community College, WCPARC, Huron Clinton Metropark Authority, Saline District Library, and Ann Arbor District Library.

Pittsfield Township wants to improve the road to facilitate and encourage further development in the corridor, which is mostly zoned commercial but is only about 60% developed. The intent is to build according to the “Complete Streets” model, he said: a four-lane roadway with a central median, a 10-foot pedestrian pathway, bike lanes, and roundabouts at the Morgan and Textile Road intersections with State Road, like the one now being installed at Ellsworth and State. The corridor would link to and enhance existing multi-modal networks, he said, and promote local and regional economic development. The Washtenaw County Road Commission has estimated the project’s cost in 2012 dollars as $30 million.

Carlisle then explained how tax increment financing works. A base year is established, by which to measure the increase in taxable value in the future, which would presumably be the result of the corridor improvements, in this case. After that, a TIF district can capture all or a portion of the increase in taxable value over the base year, he said. Pittsfield Township is proposing to capture only half of the increase. In addition, he said, the other taxing authorities would have the chance to “opt out” of the arrangement, during a 60-day window after the date when Pittsfield Township establishes the development plan and tax increment financing plan. “By formulating this as a partnership, each jurisdiction has a vested interested in the improvements,” he said. Further, “TIF funds can only be spent in the district and only on the projects included in the development plan.”

State Street Corridor: Pittsfield Township – Commission Discussion

This was not an action item for WCPARC at the Aug. 13 meeting. Nevertheless, there was discussion. Major points included:

  • Reiteration of the ability to opt out.
  • Clarification of the overlap in objectives between WCPARC’s “Connecting Communities” program and the non-motorized elements in the corridor improvement plan – a roadway improvement that also improves walkability and recreation.
  • Estimates of the financial impact on WCPARC, which commissioners termed “minimal.”
  • Distinguishing tax increment financing from tax increases.

Carlisle emphasized that Pittsfield Township would “memorialize limits and what we will use the money for, for every penny we collect will go to the road improvement project.” Any money left over at the end will be returned to the taxing jurisdictions, he said. He also noted that he could provide a more detailed analysis of the financial impact on WCPARC – he had done that for Washtenaw Community College.

Lyon told commissioners that Pittsfield Township officials hope to complete the project without the need to sell bonds.

Dan Smith had two comments. First, he cautioned that some of the projections depend on voter-approved millages that might not be renewed. He also expressed concern about the number of TIF districts in Washtenaw County. “We need to get a handle on what we are doing with TIFs in the county,” he said. “We are doing them in a haphazard manner and the problem is that the money does add up over a large period of time.”

Commissioners also noted that corridor improvements related to non-motorized trails are ones that WCPARC would be looking to do anyway, regardless of this project.

Financial Reports

Staff provide several different financial reports to WCPARC each month, focused on the past month’s expenses (the “claims” report), monthly and year-to-date reports on expenses and revenues in the form of “fund balance” reports, and a listing of “major non-recurring expenses.” The August meeting reviewed reports for both June and July. There are separate reports on parks and facilities, and on the natural areas preservation program (NAPP), which includes preservation of agricultural lands. Each of these has its own, separate funding, although WCPARC administers all of these programs.

Financial Reports: Claims Report

Parks and facilities paid a total of $589,370 in June, and $1,647,706 in July. In both months, director Bob Tetens explained, the largest expenditures were on capital improvements, especially at Independence Lake and Rolling Hills. At Independence Lake, expenses related primarily to a new water park. Rolling Hills saw major expansions and improvements to its water park.

The June reports for NAPP showed small expenses, only $14,430. July was more costly at $57,845.

Financial Reports: Non-recurring Major Expenses Report

The non-recurring major expenses reports for parks and facilities in June shows $140,361 paid to O’Boyle, Cowell, Blalock, & Associates Inc. for construction management at Independence Lake as the largest single expense. OCBA a landscape architecture and land planning firm, with offices in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Second highest was the $75,000 provided to the city of Ypsilanti to help restore Rutherford Pool, part of what WCPARC considers its “partnership” program. See Chronicle coverage: “County Gives More Support to Rutherford Pool.“]

The same report for July shows the largest parks and facilities expense was $1,148,250 paid to Flint-based Sorenson Gross for construction at Rolling Hills. The second-highest expense was another “partnership” expense: $100,000 to Ypsilanti Township for the “Connecting Communities” program, to build three segments of trail along Whittaker, Tuttle Hill, and Textile Road. See Chronicle coverage: “County Awards Trail-Building Grants.”]

For NAPP, the June report showed $8,211 paid to Carver Construction for work at the Trinkle Preserve, and $1,200 to Bosserd Appraisal Services in Ypsilanti for work at the Clark-Avis Spike Preserve. The July report showed the largest single expense as $18,871 to the Legacy Land Conservancy for work with ALPAC, followed by $15,000 to Nagle Paving of Novi for work on the Squiers Preserve parking lot. Squiers Preserve is not yet open to the public.

Financial Reports: Fund Balance Reports

The fund balance for parks began the fiscal year on Jan. 1, 2013, with a balance of $12,950,815. As of July 31, year-to-date revenue totaled $8,150,158 – primarily from property taxes ($5,811,913) and fees and services (2,294,588). Expenses year-to-date were $7,277, 490. The projected fund balance at year-end is $10,299,761. In addition, the parks budget includes an operating reserve of $6.7 million and “partnership” funding commitments of $925,000.

The July 31 fund balance statement for NAPP shows a beginning fund balance on Jan. 1, 2013 of $10,283,644. Through July, revenue was $3,184,873 and expenses were $1,013,797, for a projected year-end fund balance of $13,006,576.

There was little discussion about any of the financial reports.

Outcome: WCPARC unanimously voted to receive, accept, and file the financial reports.

Recreation Reports

Each month, staff provide WCPARC with reports on attendance at its facilities where attendance can be counted, with information about participation in measurable activities and revenue received. The reports include the current year-to-date and comparable information for the last two years.

As he did at the June meeting, director Bob Tetens prefaced his presentation of the reports with comments about the difference between the weather in 2013 and 2012, suggesting that 2011 was more comparable to the current year because 2012 was unusually hot, and 2013 has been much cooler and wetter. This affects attendance. “Last year, the weather was our friend,” he said. “But some years it rains, and our revenue goes down. That’s what a fund balance is for.”

On the positive side, he pointed out the success, measured by attendance, of the new water park – Blue Heron Bay, at Independence Lake Park – where “we made $6,000 on food.” He also highlighted the popularity of day camps at Independence Lake, Rolling Hills, and the County Farm Park.

Tetens also noted the difference between the water parks at Rolling Hills and Independence Lake’s Blue Heron Bay. People stay all day at Rolling Hills, but there’s more turnover at Blue Heron Bay because the facilities are aimed at younger children, so families tend to stay for shorter periods. He noted WCPARC has made some good investments in these two parks that will pay dividends many years into the future.

Recreation Reports: Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center

Tetens reported that attendance at the Meri Lou Murray rec center has improved a little – in daily passes, revenue, and recreation programming. “It looks better than for the past 3-4 years,” he said.

Year-to-date participation as of July 31, 2013 was 205,933 and revenue was $770,627. In 2012, year-to-date participation was 205,392 and revenues $707,755. In 2011, participation was 215,529 with revenues of $723,278.

Recreation Reports: Pierce Lake Golf Course

The Pierce Lake Golf Course’s use and revenue reflected the impact of the weather. In 2012, the course opened on March 15; in 2013 and 2011, the opening did not occur until April 1.

Through July this year, there were 10,456 users and total revenue of $359,710. In 2012, the course drew 13,449 users and $423,732 in revenue. In 2011, there were 10,110 users and $318,102 in revenue.

Recreation Reports: Rolling Hills Park and Water Park

There is an entrance fee, and gate count, for everyone entering Rolling Hills park. There is a separate fee, and gate count, for those who use the water park there.

As of the end of July 2013, the park’s gate count was 20,509 ($169,474 in fees), compared to 25,654 ($207,249) in 2012 and 25,330 ($202,384) in 2011. This count includes individuals as well as buses and minivans, for which individuals are not counted.

The gate count for the water park was 61,770 ($460,326) in 2013; 85,584 ($583,664) in 2012, and 82,433 ($556,710) in 2011.

Revenue from programming and retail operations throughout the park and water park – including the above entry fees plus day camps, birthday packages, and facility and equipment rental – was $808,550 in 2013; $1,002,754 in 2012; and $950,814 in 2011.

Recreation Reports: Independence Lake Park and Blue Heron Bay

Blue Heron Bay opened this year, adding a real water park to Independence Lake park and nearly doubling use and revenue compared to 2011. As at Rolling Hills, there is an entry fee for the park, and an additional fee to use Blue Heron Bay.

Entrants to the park (individuals, buses, and minivans) and the fees paid in 2013 were 10,428 ($90,619); in 2012, 6,947 ($64,475); and 5,038 ($47,820) in 2011.

Blue Heron Bay saw 11,229 users and $44,127 in revenue. Total revenue at Independence Lake (entry fees, rentals, day camp, and food concessions) was $215,361 in 2013; $103,429 in 2012; and $81,557 in 2011.

Projects & Activities

Each month, WCPARC staff provide updates to commissioners about ongoing improvement to WCPARC’s facilities, and activities at parks and natural areas. The staff also share communications from users, whether individuals or groups. Some of this information is provided in writing in the board packet; more is provided with visuals and informal commentary. This report summarizes the most significant items.

  • Ann Arbor Skatepark: The Ann Arbor city council awarded a construction contract to Krull Construction of Ann Arbor and groundbreaking occurred on Aug. 9. Work should be complete by next spring. WCPARC contributed $400,000 to construction of the skatepark, located in the northwest corner of Ann Arbor’s Veterans Memorial Park.
  • County Farm Park: Repairs to the pathway have stalled, so corporate counsel is pursuing legal action against the contractor for failing to complete the project. See Chronicle coverage: “County Parks Commission OKs $6M in Projects.”
  • Border to Border Trail (B2B): Work on segment D1, River Terrace Trail in Dexter, is substantially complete. Staff are working with the village of Dexter and Michigan Dept. of Transportation on the final 1/8-mile extension that will connect the trail to the village at Central Street. Completion is hoped for in September.
  • Public appreciation: WCPARC director Bob Tetens summarized several letters of thanks and congratulations received over the last two months. Dan Smith commented that the goal is “making sure that a broad base of taxpayers in Washtenaw County know how much good WCPARC does.”
  • Food service at Pierce Lake: The facility got a perfect score from the county inspector.
  • Eastside Rec Center AIA award: Craig Borum of PLY Architecture along with Maria Arquero and Jen Maigret of MAde studio were awarded a 2013 Michigan AIA Honor Award in the category of “unbuilt work” for their schematic design of a recreation center on the Water Street redevelopment site in Ypsilanti.
  • Washtenaw County sheriff’s office: A new method of contracting for patrol services for parks, including dog parks and natural areas, is “far superior” to the past, Tetens reported. Now there are two people on patrol and they overlap at busy times.
  • Staebler Farm: The sidewalk and porch at the residence are being replaced for Donald Staebler, who still lives on the premises. See Chronicle coverage: “County Parks: Options for Staebler Farm.”
  • Marketing: Several marketing efforts were described, including: (1) signs on an AAATA bus, on varying routes for two months, to advertise the water parks, costing less than $1,300; (2) Ann Arbor Family blog awards for five of WCPARC facilities; and (3) aerial photos of facilities by Victor Banta Photography.

Present: Jan Anschuetz, Janis Bobrin, Robert Marans, Nelson Meade, Evan Pratt, Patricia Scribner, Conan Smith, Dan Smith, and Fred Veigel.

Absent: Rolland Sizemore, Jr.

Staff: Director Robert Tetens, deputy director Coy Vaughn, planner Meghan Bonfiglio, and consultant Tom Freeman.

Next meeting: Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the county parks and recreation department’s office at 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor, in the County Farm Park property.

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  1. By Eric Boyd
    August 19, 2013 at 7:55 am | permalink

    “The plan is to use that time to negotiate a full development agreement so that the city can transfer the property – about 38 acres on Michigan Avenue east of downtown Ypsilanti – before Jan. 4, 2014.”

    I think this is incorrect. I don’t believe the full 38 acres is not going to WCPARC.

  2. By Mary Morgan
    August 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm | permalink

    Re. the amount of land for the proposed rec center:

    Thanks for flagging that error. You’re correct – up to 8 acres might be used for the center, out of the full 38-acre Water Street area. We’ve corrected the article and filed a Missed Tick.