More Land Preserved in Superior Township

Washtenaw County parks & rec commission to purchase conservation easement along Ford Road; also, WCPARC to buy land in Bridgewater Twp., agrees to participate in Pittsfield Twp.'s State Road CIA

Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting (Oct. 8, 2013):  WCPARC’s October meeting saw the commission taking final action on the acquisition of a conservation easement on 82 acres in Superior Township, northeast of Ann Arbor. The land is adjacent to 65 acres that are already part of the county’s natural areas preservation program.

Ford Road, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map of showing the location of 82 acres of mostly agricultural land in Superior Township that the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission is preserving through a conservation easement.

The new parcel of mostly agricultural land, on the north side of Ford Road a bit east of Berry Road, is owned by Ford Road Property Company LLC. The intent is to provide a buffer between Ford Road and the land that WCPARC previously purchased, as well as Superior Township’s nearby Schroeter Park. WCPARC authorized purchase of the easement for $413,000, which will prevent the land from being developed.

In a separate vote, commissioners authorized moving ahead on the purchase of 10 acres in Bridgewater Township – located near the southern border of Washtenaw County on the south side of WCPARC’s 43-acre Riverbend Preserve. Commissioners approved the preparation of a purchase offer of $92,500 contingent on completing all necessary due diligence and WCPARC’s final approval.

Also on Oct. 8, WCPARC director Bob Tetens provided an update on the proposed recreation center near downtown Ypsilanti, a project that WCPARC began almost two years ago. The proposal is to build a multi-purpose recreation center on part of the 38-acre Water Street redevelopment area on the south side of Michigan Avenue, next to the Huron River. The project would be a partnership, with the city providing the land, the county constructing the building, and the facility to be managed by the Ann Arbor YMCA.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber attended the Oct. 8 meeting, to emphasize the city’s strong support for this project. Discussion focused on possible changes to the design developed by a team of University of Michigan architects and students. The need to make changes arose from the city of Ypsilanti’s 2013 master planning and rezoning project, which is nearing completion.

In addition to the regular financial reports and updates, other actions at the Oct. 8 meeting included approving WCPARC’s participation in Pittsfield Township’s State Road corridor improvement authority. The CIA to improve State Road would entail capturing a percentage of taxes from several local entities, including taxes that support WCPARC.

Natural Areas Preservation Program

Nearly every WCPARC meeting includes discussion or action related to 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 buy land worth preserving because of its natural features, and to purchase development rights on agricultural land.

The Natural Areas Technical Advisory Committee (NATAC) advises WCPARC on acquisitions for nature preserves. The Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Committee advises WCPARC on the purchase of development rights, primarily for farmland.

NAPP: Ford Road Property

Tom Freeman, former WCPARC deputy director who now serves as a consultant for the natural areas preservation program, made a presentation about the property on Ford Road. He reminded commissioners that this proposal was related to WCPARC’s February 2013 acquisition of several nearby parcels, totaling 67 acres.

Nelson Meade, Fred Veigel, Washtenaw County parks & recreation, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Nelson Meade and Fred Veigel of the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission’s Oct. 8, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Ford Road Property Company LLC owns the additional 82 acres, largely agricultural, that are now being considered. NATAC did not recommend outright acquisition of this parcel. Rather, the proposal calls for purchasing a conservation easement so that a farmer could continue to own, use and pay property taxes on the land.

Freeman’s written pointed out highlights of the property, including “a nice perennially wet area along Ford Road, and an old hedge row running down the middle of the property that hasn’t ever been farmed.”

Adjacent areas, he pointed out, include the Kosch preserve, the Superior Greenway, and other properties that are protected by Superior Township. Regarding the land’s topography, Freeman highlighted a significant change in elevation rising up from Ford Road. “It’s a gorgeous piece of property that is also a very productive agricultural site.” He added “We saw a magnificent buck when we last visited.”

Superior Township has provided a letter of support for this deal, Freeman said. He also described the three due diligence steps that WCPARC staff had taken:

  • An appraisal by Bosserd Appraisal Services placed a value of $413,000 for a conservation easement on the 82-acre parcel, at $5,037 per acre.
  • A phase 1 environmental site assessment prepared by Mannik & Smith Group found no evidence of recognized environmental concerns.
  • A boundary survey with legal description and sealed survey drawing was completed.

NAPP: Ford Road Property – Commission Discussion

Commission member Fred Veigel asked about the use of active agricultural fields within properties that NAPP purchases [although this proposal was to purchase a conservation easement, not to buy the land outright]. Freeman responded that when NAPP purchases a property with fields in active use, the intent is to try to keep those fields in active use through a contract with a local farmer. In return for use of the land, the farmer is required to follow an agriculture management plan developed along guidelines established by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Services.

[Responding via email to a follow-up query from The Chronicle, Freeman explained that allowing a field to go fallow often results in invasion by nuisance plants and weeds.]

The conservation easement allows the owner to continue to use the property in a fashion consistent with the terms of the easement, Freeman told commissioners. The Ford Road property will continue to be farmed, he said.

Outcome: On a roll call vote, WCPARC gave unanimous approval to purchase a conservation easement on the 82-acre Ford Road LLC property for $413,000.

NAPP: Dindoffer Property

Freeman also presented the recommendation to take the first step toward purchasing a 10-acre property in Bridgewater Township, near the southwest corner of Washtenaw County on the west side of Allen Road. The property is immediately south of WCPARC’s Riverbend Preserve. [This preserve is not yet equipped with parking for public access. WCPARC issued an RFP (request for proposals) in September 2013 to build a parking lot, bench and overlooks.]

Dindoffer, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of Dindoffer property in Brigewater Township.

Freeman provided background on this proposed purchase. In 2006, the Tackett family nominated the property for consideration by NAPP, but the deal did not move forward. The property subsequently changed hands and the current owners, Johnathan and Kristin Dindoffer, decided to nominate the 10 acres for consideration by NAPP.

Freeman’s report highlighted the desirable qualities of the property: a wetland that’s the source of a seasonal stream running north across the property boundary and then into the River Raisin. “The most significant natural feature,” he continued, “is the frontage along the River Raisin … along the western boundary of the property.”

The land’s immediate adjacency to the Riverbend Preserve would provide a chance to expand the trail network being developed in the preserve. Freeman concluded by stating that an Oct. 2, 2013 Bosserd Appraisal Services assessment put the value of the property at $92,500, or approximately $9,158 per acre.

There was no substantive discussion, although a question about whether there is a house on the property revealed that there is not. The Dindoffers had intended to build on the land but had “decided otherwise,” Freeman said. He added that WCPARC was offering only $2,500 more than the Dindoffers had paid for it – “not enough to cover their taxes,” he said.

Outcome: A unanimous voice vote approved authorizing the WCPARC staff to prepare a purchase offer for the Dindoffer property for $92,500, contingent on completion of all necessary due diligence examination of the property and the commission’s final approval.

East County Recreation Center

During the Oct. 8 meeting, Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber spoke briefly to commissioners about the city’s strong interest in the East County Recreation Center.

By way of background, WCPARC has been working 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. The 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."]

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber.

On Oct. 8, Schreiber talked about a meeting he’d had with WCPARC president Bob Marans and WCPARC director Bob Tetens. “The city is enthused – we need to keep working on it,” Schreiber told commissioners. “I’m here to facilitate communication. Let’s do it!”

Tetens reviewed the two-year process of planning for an east county recreation center. It began, he said, when WCPARC collaborated with the city of Ypsilanti to plan the piece of the Border-to-Border (B2B) trail that will run along the Huron River in Ypsilanti, crossing Michigan Avenue to continue on the east side of the river. [The trail is proposed for the west side of the 38-acre Water Street area, which the city is trying to develop.]

It became clear, Tetens continued, that the city’s interest was in the need to maximize commercial frontage along Michigan Avenue, in how to handle stormwater, and in providing enough parking. Tetens said that WCPARC staff worked with Ypsilanti city planner Teresa Gillotti, city manager Ralph Lange and University of Michigan professor of architecture Craig Borum. Borum – with a team of UM faculty and students – had developed a plan for the center that was discussed at a public session in September 2012.

There is now increased interest in the Water Street site, Tetens said, “perhaps from our interest, perhaps from the economy turning around.” He then described how the plan for the rec building was evolving. “So now we are ‘heading south’ [elongating the building to the south to minimize the Michigan Avenue frontage] and seeing how compact we can make our site.”

Coy Vaughn, WCPARC planner, continued the description by reciting basic facts about the area. The whole Water Street site is 38 acres. A strip 100 feet wide along the river might be set aside for a non-motorized trail; it could narrow as it leaves Michigan Avenue. Initially, about 12 acres was considered for the rec center site, he said. A marketing study done by the Ann Arbor Y brought the size of the building down from about 50,000 square feet to about 40,000.

Now, WCPARC staff are negotiating a development agreement with the city that will cover several aspects:

  • Exact location and size of the parcel.
  • Size and orientation of the structure.
  • Proposed site plan and building design.
  • Timeline for approval, permits, and construction.
  • Plan for infrastructure development.
  • Roles and responsibilities.
  • Terms of a parcel transfer.

Tetens told commissioners that he had planned to bring a conceptual drawing to WCPARC that night, but discussions with the city in the last few days have revealed a “lot of moving parts in this project.” [The city is in the midst of rewriting its master plan and will follow that with rezoning. The Ann Arbor Y is studying the feasibility of managing the building. The county has to decide whether to pay for the building. And the city of Ypsilanti has to decide whether to give the land to the project.]

Tetens described another angle: the city is getting some interest from developers, who might want to put more residential uses on the site. He characterized that potential as “exciting, and if there is an interested developer we want to work with him.”

Vaughn described three new options for the rec building site, and explained that the UM architectural team is still helping with the project, for another $5,000. Those options include:

  • Option A: Using 6.14 acres with a 304-foot frontage on Michigan Avenue, with parking to the rear of an elongated building massed on Michigan Avenue. Entrances would be on the west (from the B2B trail) and the east. The plan allows room for expansion of the building, and for a fishing dock on the river.
  • Option B: 4.6 acres, 131 parking spaces, 348 feet along Michigan Avenue, and a building with a more square shape to free up desirable land along the river for residential use. Developers, Vaughn said, are excited about the prospect of building housing near the rec center.
  • Option C: 5 acres, 170 parking spaces and 332 feet of Michigan Avenue frontage. This would save even more river frontage for residential.

East County Recreation Center – Commission Discussion

Commissioner Rolland Sizemore, Jr. – who also represents District 5 on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – began the discussion by expressing his impatience with the pace of the project. He asked whether there is an agreement yet with the city about the B2B trail and the pedestrian crossing on Michigan Avenue. “I don’t see why we are being wagged around. We have to take this to the county board [of commissioners],” Sizemore said. “We started this at 10 acres and now we’re down to 4.” He said he could wait until the end of December, but after that he suggested that “we tell the city what we want and let them decide whether to accept it.”

Commission member Pat Scribner urged patience and trying to work with the city, “since there seem to be new possibilities and we want to get this right without being rigid.”

Tetens pointed out that a smaller building would be less expensive to build and operate – an example of a new development that makes the project easier and more likely to be deemed sustainable by the YMCA. He added a note of understanding for Sizemore’s impatience: “We have all overheated at one time or another. It won’t go on forever.”

Outcome: The topic was for discussion only; no vote was taken.

Pittsfield Township Corridor Improvement Authority

Director Bob Tetens brought up the issue of whether WCPARC wanted to participate in Pittsfield Township’s proposed State Road corridor improvement authority (CIA).

Dick Carlisle of Carlisle/Wortman Associates Inc. and Craig Lyon, director of utilities and public services for Pittsfield Township, had given WCPARC a presentation about the proposal at WCPARC’s Aug. 13, 2013 meeting. The project would entail capturing a percentage of taxes from several local entities, including taxes that support WCPARC.

Tetens briefly reviewed the aspects of the project that would overlap with what WCPARC would do – such as building non-motorized pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists. He also noted the potential loss of $600,000-$700,000 in WCPARC tax revenue over the 20 years of the project, but said it was “a good deal” for WCPARC because of “mission alignment.”

Curtis Hedger, Washtenaw County’s corporation counsel, had told Tetens that WCPARC should write a letter indicating whether the commission agreed to the reduction in taxable revenue. [All taxing entities in the CIA have 60 days to indicate whether they intend to participate. That 60-day "opt out" period began after a public hearing held on Oct. 9 by the Pittsfield Township board of trustees.]

President Bob Marans commented that he had heard no objection to participation during the presentation. There was no further discussion.

Outcome: Unanimous approval to write a letter agreeing to the reduction in taxable revenue.

Projects and 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.

  • Rolling Hills Dog Swim: Staff reported that attendance at the 8th annual event was the best ever, with 119 dogs swimming on Sept. 7.
  • Hudson Mills B2B trail: The trail will be done within weeks, from the Westridge subdivision north for 3 miles.
  • Ann Arbor Skate Park: The contractor has formed and installed reinforcement systems for the pools and some other skate park features, with concrete to be poured later in the month. Bob Tetens told commissioners that “short of going out to California, I don’t know what’s like it.” [WCPARC contributed $400,000 toward the skate park in September 2012. It's located in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park in Ann Arbor.] Commissioner Fred Veigel expressed concern about safety and supervision at the park. Tetens responded that it will be a city of Ann Arbor park, and that skate parks normally are not staffed. Signs warn users about safety measures.
  • Staff events and achievements: Three WCPARC staff took part in the first annual United Way kickball challenge for county employees. Thonda J. Petty received an award from the county for “service and program enhancements” at Rolling Hills Park.
  • Sharon Mills Park: The new pedestrian bridge project is complete.

Communications & Commentary

Throughout the meeting there were several opportunities for staff and commissioners to share communications or bring up items of discussion about matters not directly related to the agenda. Here are some highlights.

Communications & Commentary: Swift Run Dog Park

Commission member Rolland Sizemore Jr., who had spoken at the September meeting about problems at the Swift Run Dog Park, said he continued to get complaints about the park.

Swift Run Dog Park, Washtenaw County parks & recreation, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sign at Swift Run Dog Park, a joint venture of the city of Ann Arbor and the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission.

Coy Vaughn responded, saying he had met with city of Ann Arbor parks and recreation staff about making improvements: adding benches, shade trees, and making the paths easier to walk on by adding finer gravel. They also talked about possibly paving the parking lot, but Vaughn reported that this cannot be done because the dog park is on top of a landfill.

In response to a question from commissioner Bob Marans about who is responsible for making improvements, Vaughn reminded the group that the dog park is a joint project between WCPARC and the city of Ann Arbor, and WCPARC owes money to the city as a partner. Once that is paid off, sometime in the next year, Vaughn said, “we could divest.”

Ann Arbor’s parks and recreation department is, he said, planning for other dog parks. [An update on that effort was provided at the Sept. 17, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission.] WCPARC director Bob Tetens commented: “This was our first dog park and it was polarizing – people who feared attacks from dogs, people who think dogs can do no wrong. Over the years, though, the park has been a success, with people and dogs out there all the time.”

Sizemore returned to his point: He hears complaints, and he wants to be sure the park is kept up to WCPARC’s standard. “I don’t want this to fall by the wayside just because we have to partner with Ann Arbor. If we can’t partner with them, let’s walk away from it.”

Communications & Commentary: Rutherford Pool in Ypsilanti

Commissioner Fred Veigel noted the appreciation that WCPARC had earned by contributing to the renovation of Rutherford Pool. He described a couple of items that still needed attention – a fence and some electrical work – for which he had obtained volunteer help to complete.

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 October meeting reviewed reports for September. 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 $207,443 in September – including $20,430 for capital improvements, primarily at Rolling Hills and Independence Lake parks. WCPARC director Bob Tetens told commissioners, “You can see we are out of our capital improvements activity. The only expense was to remove the old spray zone at Independence Lake.”

NAPP claims exceeded that with $468,456, almost entirely the cost of acquiring land.

Total claims paid by WCPARC in September 2013: $675,899. [.pdf of September 2013 claims report]

Financial Reports: Fund Balance – Parks and Recreation

A report on the parks and recreation fund balance showed the projected fund balance of $8,455,552 by the end of the year – Dec. 31, 2013. The fund balance started the year at $12,950,815.

As of Sept. 30, 2013, revenue totaled $9,415,170 – primarily from property taxes ($6,408,702) and fees and services ($2,982,038). Expenses year to date were $10,386,711.

In addition, the parks budget includes an operating reserve of $6.7 million and ”partnership” funding commitments of $925,000. [.pdf of parks and recreation fund balance report]

Financial Reports: Fund Balance – NAPP

The Jan. 1, 2013 fund balance for NAPP was $10,263,644. Through Sept. 30, 2013, revenue was $3,460,249 and expenses were $4,095,192. The projected year-end fund balance for NAPP is $10,200,558. [.pdf of NAPP fund balance report]

There was no substantive discussion of the reports.

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

Recreation Reports

These monthly reports include attendance at WCPARC facilities where attendance can be counted, with information about participation in measurable activities and revenue received at those facilities. The reports include the current year-to-date summary as well as comparable information for the prior two years.

Recreation Reports: Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center

The Meri Lou Murray rec center is doing better financially this year than the prior two years, according to a report by WCPARC director Bob Tetens, even though participation is down. Year-to-date participation as of Sept. 30, 2013 was 240,978 and revenue was $953,424. In 2012, year-to-date participation was 241,052 and revenue was $894,742. In 2011, participation was 254,755 and revenue was $906,187. [.pdf of MLM Rec Center report]

Recreation Reports: Pierce Lake Golf Course

As he has for the last several months, Bob Tetens recommended comparing Pierce Lake Golf Course’s use in 2013 to 2011 rather than 2012 because of the hotter weather in 2012, when the golf course opened two weeks earlier than normal.

Through the end of September 2013, 15,412 people had paid greens fees totaling $347,503. That compares with 18,376 people and revenues of $382,964 in 2012. In 2011, 14,403 people paid $313,016. Programming and retail operations brought in $101,807 in 2013; $105,311 in 2012; and $82,383 in 2011.

Total revenue in 2013 was $547,330, compared to $588,426 in 2012 and $479,345 in 2011. [.pdf of Pierce Lake Golf Course report]

Recreation Reports: Rolling Hills Park and Water Park

There is an entrance fee, and gate count, for everyone who enters Rolling Hills Park. There is a separate fee, and gate count, for those who go on to enter the water park there.

Through the end of September 2013, 30,305 people paid $237,838 to enter Rolling Hills Park. That’s down from a gate count for the same period in 2012 of 34,132 people, who paid $264,825. In 2011, 34,612 people paid $265,933.

The water park draws greater attendance, but both attendance and revenues are down in 2013 compared to the same period in previous years. So far in 2013, 94,266 people paid $715,239. That compares to attendance in 2012 of 114,522 people and $780,122; and a 2011 count of 115,012 people and $780,995 in revenues.

Total year-to-date revenue for all operations at Rolling Hills was $1,201,672 in 2013, compared to $1,317,599 in 2012 and $1,309,007 in 2011. [.pdf of Rolling Hills report]

Recreation Reports: Independence Lake Park and Blue Heron Bay

Blue Heron Bay is a water-feature area separate from the rest of Independence Lake Park. Because Blue Heron Bay opened in 2013, there are no comparisons to earlier years.

By the end of September 2013, 15,392 people paid $122,022 to use Independence Lake Park. That compares to 2012 attendance of 17,743 people and $137,217 in revenues. In 2011, 16,846 people attended the park, with revenues of $131,504.

Attendance at Blue Heron Bay was 17,668 through September 2013, for $69,787 in revenues.

Total revenue for all of Independence Lake Park was, through September 2013, $295,370 in 2013. That compares to $211,458 in 2012 and $208,474 in 2011. [.pdf of Independence Lake report]

Outcome: The recreation reports were received and accepted for filing unanimously.

Present: Janis Bobrin, Robert Marans, Nelson Meade, Evan Pratt, Patricia Scribner, Dan Smith, Rolland Sizemore Jr., and Fred Veigel. Also director Robert Tetens, deputy director Coy Vaughn, and consultant Tom Freeman.

Absent: Jan Anschuetz, Conan Smith.

Next meeting: Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the county parks and recreation department’s office at 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor.

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