Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting (Dec. 10, 2013): WCPARC’s December meeting included appreciation and thanks to retiring commissioner Nelson Meade, who has served on WCPARC from its formation in 1973.
To commemorate his service, commissioners passed a resolution to rename the County Farm Park in Meade’s honor. The 141-acre park is at the southwest corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Platt Road in Ann Arbor, where WCPARC’s Meri Lou Murray recreation center is located. The meeting also included a video of remarks by county commissioner Ronnie Peterson, who described Meade as “a man of few words but unquestionable commitment.”
Applications are being accepted for Meade’s replacement on WCPARC, with a deadline of Jan. 12. The appointment will be made by the county board of commissioners.
Most of WCPARC’s other main action items related to potential acquisitions through its natural areas preservation program. The commission took the first step toward acquiring title or conservation easements on five parcels of land. Those properties include: (1) the 6.4-acre Heumann property on the west side of Sylvan Township, west of the Chrysler proving grounds with access from Sylvan Road south of old US-12; (2) 129 acres of the Bloch-Vreeland Road property, at the southeast corner of Leforge and Vreeland Roads in Superior Township; and (3) three parcels on Marshall Road in Scio Township, in partnership with the Scio Township land preservation program.
Action to finalize acceptance of a donation of the 10-acre Geddes Mill Ltd. property in Ann Arbor Township – valued at $1.27 million – was postponed pending completion an environmental assessment. The property is on the north side of the Huron River, immediately east of the US-23 northbound off ramp. There is a bit of frontage on both Dixboro Road to the east and Geddes Road to the north.
Items not requiring action included updates on the proposed Eastern County Recreation Center on Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti, with details about terms of a development agreement as well as the latest proposal for site development. Updates also included a status report on the Ann Arbor skatepark. Construction is now 65% complete, but work has ceased for the winter.
The Nelson Meade County Farm Park
The December meeting was the last for Nelson Meade, and the meeting was preceded by an informal supper in honor of Meade’s more than 40 years of public service, with focus on his role in establishing WCPARC and serving on the commission from its beginning in 1973.
Meade had announced his plans to step down from WCPARC at its Nov. 12, 2013 meeting. A party in his honor was held at WCPARC headquarters on Dec. 6, and the county board of commissioners had honored him at their Dec. 4, 2013 meeting.
Meade served as president of WCPARC for over 14 years and is currently its secretary. During the Dec. 10 meeting, commissioners passed a resolution honoring him, which commission member Jan Anschuetz read. It referred to his energy and enthusiasm in a wide range of community service, including terms on the Ann Arbor city council and city planning commission, the Packard Community Clinic, and his involvement in starting the nonprofit Project Grow.
Meade appeared surprised and touched by the conclusion of the resolution: “Now therefore be it resolved, that the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, in a respectful tribute to the lifelong dedicated public service of Nelson Meade, hereby renames County Farm Park in his honor – the Nelson Meade County Farm Park.”
The presentation included a video of Washtenaw County commissioner Ronnie Peterson praising Meade’s ability to “work closely and respectfully with others to create one of the best park systems in the state.” Peterson described Meade as “a man of few words but unquestionable commitment.” He said that the late Meri Lou Murray – after whom the recreation center in the County Farm Park is named, and who was a county commissioner during the creation of the park system – took Peterson aside when the county was having financial difficulties to tell him “no matter what else you wreck, don’t hurt Nelson Meade.”
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously passed the resolution recognizing Nelson Meade and his service, and naming the County Farm Park in his honor.
Applications are being accepted for Meade’s replacement on WCPARC, with a deadline of Jan. 12. The appointment will be made by the county board of commissioners. Applicants can submit material online, or get more information by contacting the county clerk’s office at 734-222-6655 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eastern County Recreation Center
This project to build a new recreation center on the east side of Washtenaw County began almost two years ago. It contemplates a partnership between the city of Ypsilanti and WCPARC in which the city would supply the property and WCPARC would provide the building. The Ann Arbor Y would then contract with WCPARC to manage the center, which would be located on part of the 38 acre Water Street redevelopment area. [For additional background, see Chronicle coverage from WCPARC's November 2013 meeting.]
Eastern County Rec Center: Site Planning Update
Coy Vaughn, deputy director of WCPARC, updated commission members on this project. He told commissioners that the presentation would be similar to what he and Craig Borum would present to the Ypsilanti city council on Dec. 17, 2013. Vaughn reviewed the background of this project, which began about two years ago. He said that WCPARC has long wanted a recreation center for the eastern side of the county, and that it made sense to put it where the most people are, in downtown Ypsilanti, adjacent to the Huron River and the proposed extension of the Border-to-Border (B2B) trail which now terminates in an overlook at Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park.
The plan is to extend the trail across the river and Michigan Avenue, through the Water Street site, to Waterworks Park and eventually to Grove Street – an idea first presented in the Olmsted Brothers 1913 plan for the city. Vaughn noted that the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources trust fund has provided two grants for this part of the trail, and that the city of Ypsilanti recently closed the purchase of a triangular piece of property from Fischer Honda for one end of the bridge over the Huron River from Riverside Park. He hoped that WCPARC could work with the Y to provide outdoor recreation on the site, such as a soccer field.
Vaughn’s slides of the current site plan showed a 100-foot-wide greenway, which would hold a 10-foot-wide asphalt trail for non-motorized use. Ypsilanti’s master plans, he said, have for the last 20 years shown such a greenway.
The initial plans for the rec center showed a 12-acre site with 400 feet of frontage along Michigan Avenue, but this has now been pared down. The current proposal is for 4.1 acres (about 300 by 620 feet), or 5 acres including the greenway. By comparison, the Ann Arbor Y sits on about two acres, Vaughn noted. The presentation indicated a plan for future residential use on the southern 75% of the rest of the Water Street site, and future mixed use along Michigan Avenue.
Vaughn highlighted the purpose of the project: that WCPARC and the city would make an investment that would attract private developers, and that is happening because WCPARC has used a very public process, he said. Although interest has increased, there are no real solid proposals from the private sector yet, he concluded.
Craig Borum of PLY design – who also is a professor of architecture at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning – then described the building in more detail. [Jen Maigret and Maria Acquero, also on the Taubman College faculty, attended and have helped with the plan, but they did not speak to the commission. The design won a 2013 honor award from the American Institute of Architects for an unbuilt project.] Borum’s presentation was essentially the same as the one made at a public presentation in September 2012. The most significant change is that the building now being proposed would be about 45,000 square feet. The original proposal was for one about 10,000 square feet larger. The downsizing reflects a Y-sponsored survey about potential membership, which indicated support for a smaller facility.
Borum emphasized that his team had worked with staff from WCPARC and the city of Ypsilanti, so that “now everyone is happy with the location we’re proposing.” There will be parking for 152 cars in a lot that has generous landscaping and “leading edge” water management, he said. All the streets on the site will have parallel parking. The building will have entrances on three sides all leading to a single entry point. Other features include a running track; exercise facilities; a basketball court; and a swimming pool similar to the one at the Ann Arbor Y.
Borum closed by responding to a question about what the building would look like: “It won’t be a Gary Owen building; that’s one of the worst buildings in the city.” [The Owen Building houses Eastern Michigan University's College of Business at 300 West Michigan Ave.]
Eastern County Rec Center: Update on Development Agreement
The project has always contemplated a development agreement between the city of Ypsilanti and WCPARC. Vaughn’s presentation was the most detailed description to date of the possible terms of the agreement.
Vaughn laid out the major points of the five components of the agreement:
- Parcel size and location:Defines the parcel size of 4.1 acres and location at the northwest corner of the Water Street site; the 100-foot-wide greenway would be a separate parcel. There is flexibility to modify the parcel configuration or the infrastructure commitment if opportunities arise to coordinate with the developer of adjacent property.
- Purchase price: WCPARC proposes to purchase for site for $1. According to Vaughn, the city of Ypsilanti has assigned values to all parcels in the site. WCPARC’s offer of $1 is less than what a private entity would pay. To offset that loss, WCPARC will agree to provide funding for the development of the linear park (about $600,000) and construction of streets and utilities (about $300,000). WCPARC is already committed to spend $600,000 on the B2B trail, and the additional site infrastructure could bring its investment to an approximate total value of $900,000. Those values are, he added, still very much an estimate.
- Building parameters: The building will be approximately 35-feet high. The agreement will also specify the building’s orientation and setbacks. The city wants to continue the qualities in downtown Ypsilanti, such as a 10-foot setback from the street, with variation if needed to accommodate a brownfield hot spot that remains on the site. Parking will be at the rear of the building with an entry at the rear, as well as an entry from Michigan Avenue and from the river side.
- Infrastructure improvements: The proposed infrastructure improvements associated with the project, specifically water and other utilities and extending Parsons Street west, will be provided by WCPARC and will meet city standards.
- Timelines: The agreement will include a 270-day contingency period to secure all governmental approvals, including a site plan, zoning approval, and state permits. It provides both parties an “out,” Vaughn said, if at any point approvals aren’t obtained. Construction must start within six months of closing and be done within 24 months.
- Waiver: Both parties waive the right to seek monetary damages.
Eastern County Rec Center: Commission Discussion
Rolland Sizemore, Jr. – who represents District 5 on the county board of commissioners, which will have to approve the project’s bond funding – said he couldn’t “wait around forever until you ask for the county’s full faith and credit. That has to happen in the first quarter.”
WCPARC director Bob Tetens assured him on that point. Sizemore then asked whether the city was committed to maintain the B2B trail. Tetens said yes, the state Dept. of Natural Resources requires that, and if the city doesn’t maintain the trail, DNR will require return of its funding.
In response to a question from Bob Marans, Tetens said WCPARC staff and the architects had worked closely with city staff, especially planner Teresa Gillotti. Borum added that “the more feedback we get, the better the building will be – a public building should result from a public process.”
Outcome: This was an informational item only. No action was needed.
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 (NATAC) advises WCPARC on NAPP acquisitions. The Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Committee advises WCPARC on the purchase of development rights.
NAPP: Geddes Mill Ltd. Property
At the November meeting, WCPARC had authorized staff to perform the due diligence necessary to support accepting a donation of this 10 acres in Ann Arbor Township, located on the north shore of the Huron River south of Geddes Road between US-23 and Dixboro Road. The property was appraised at $1.27 million, and consists of four parcels: five acres, two acres, and two of one acre each.
This matter was on the WCPARC December agenda for final approval, but was pulled from the agenda because the environmental assessment was not yet complete. It will come back when that is done.
NAPP: Heumann Property
County planner Meghan Bonfiglio presented the case for purchasing this 6.4-acre site in Sylvan Township, calling it a “no-brainer” because of its geologic and botanical diversity.
The primary landform is wetland – the parcel is part of a larger wetland system in the area, according to her report. Two upland areas, which Bonfiglio indicated offer excellent viewing points of the wetland, extend into the wetland in two lobes – these are wooded with essentially no invasive plant species.
The property, west of Sylvan Road and south of old US-12, is not far from the county’s Squiers Preserve a bit to the south. Both Squiers and this property are “high value” areas on the Huron River Watershed Council’s bioreserve map. Also, NATAC identified the property as high priority for acquisition.
There was no substantive discussion.
Outcome: A unanimous vote to approve authorizing WCPARC staff to prepare a purchase offer for the Heumann property at a price of $16,000, or $2,500 an acre, contingent upon completion of all necessary due diligence examination of the property and the commission’s final approval.
NAPP: Bloch-Vreeland Road Property
Bonfiglio presented the report on this Superior Township property, 129 acres on the south side of Vreeland Road and the east side of Leforge Road. Most of the land is in active agricultural use, but it holds a number of significant features, she said, including a seasonal stream and wetland areas, especially on the north edge of the property along Vreeland Road.
NATAC has recommended its purchase. The property might seem familiar to commission members, she continued, because in 2010 WCPARC purchased, from the same owner, 40 adjacent acres for the Meyer Preserve immediately east of this property. The proposal is to purchase a conservation easement for $613,500 ($4,750 per acre) on the property, consistent with NATAC’s recommendation.
There was no discussion.
Outcome: Unanimous approval to authorize staff to prepare a purchase offer for a conservation easement on the Bloch-Vreeland Road property in Superior Township at a price of $613,500, contingent upon completion of all necessary due diligence examination of the property and the commission’s final approval.
NAPP: Marshall Road Properties
Bonfiglio continued the NAPP presentation with a description of three contiguous properties in Scio Township north of Marshall Road and east of Baker Road: 70 acres belonging to the Egeler Trust, 20 acres of Sloan property, and 35 acres owned by Dexter Land Holdings. NATAC had recommended the acquisition because much of the property is wooded and has steep slopes, and also has scattered wetlands.
WCPARC director Bob Tetens noted that the woodlot is one of the few remaining in this otherwise developed area. Bonfiglio described the proposal as more complicated than most, involving a partnership with the Scio Township land preservation program. The properties owned by Sloan and Dexter Land Holdings, she said, would be purchased outright by Scio Township for $103,000 and $178,000 respectively; WCPARC would contribute half the cost of each, of $51,500 and $89,000.
Scio Township would purchase on conservation easement on the entire Egeler Trust property and WCPARC would pay half the cost ($45,000) of the easement on 30 acres, a wooded area on the north side, adjacent to the Dexter Land Holdings property.
The total cost to NAPP would be $185,500, she concluded. It would assure that the property is preserved and made available for use by the public as a passive recreation area. Scio Township would assume responsibility for management and stewardship, and WCPARC would have a right of first refusal should the township decide to the sell any of it. The prices are based on appraisals of the three properties.
NAPP: Marshall Road Properties – Commission Discussion
The discussion highlighted Marshall Road’s “natural beauty status,” and the plan to provide access to the otherwise-landlocked Sloan, Dexter Land Holdings, and north side of Egeler properties through a subdivision to the west, and eventually through property now owned by University Bank on the east.
Outcome: Unanimous approval to authorize staff to prepare a participation agreement with Scio Township for protection of the Egeler Trust, Sloan, and Dexter Land Holdings properties at a total cost of $185,500, contingent on completion of all necessary due diligence examination of the property and the commission’s final approval.
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 when they are significant.
The December meeting reviewed reports for November. 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. WCPARC’s fiscal year is the calendar year.
Financial Reports: Claims Report
Parks and facilities paid a total of $100,687 during November, according to the claims report. Unlike the last several months, only $15,400 of that was for capital improvements. NAPP claims far exceeded that with $597,507, the cost of completing purchase of property earlier approved by WCPARC. Total claims paid by WCPARC in November 2013: $698,193. [.pdf of November 2013 claims report]
Financial Reports: Fund Balance – Parks and Recreation
WCPARC director Bob Tetens introduced this fund balance report by saying the bottom line is better than expected. The fund balance projected for the year’s end is $7,766,901. The fund balance started the year at $12,950,815.
As of Nov. 30, 2013, revenue totaled $3,219,963 – primarily from property taxes ($6,408,702) and fees and services ($2,685,995). Expenses year to date were $11,523,297. In addition, the parks budget includes an operating reserve of $6.7 million and ”partnership” funding commitments of $925,000. Through November, $75,000 was provided to Ypsilanti to help rebuild Rutherford Pool, and $100,000 to Ypsilanti Township for a connecting communities trail on Textile Road. [.pdf of parks & recreation fund balance report]
Financial Reports: Fund Balance – NAPP
The Jan. 1, 2013 fund balance for the natural areas preservation program (NAPP) was $10,263,644. Through Nov. 30, 2013, revenue was $3,513,641 and expenses were $5,065,543. The projected fund balance for NAPP at the end of 2013 is $10,410,585. [.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.
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 similar information for the prior two years. As he has for the last several months, WCPARC director Bob Tetens introduced the December reports with an explanation about the impact of weather on attendance, especially in comparison to 2012, which was much hotter and drier than this year.
Recreation Reports: Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center
The Meri Lou Murray rec center is doing better financially this year than the prior two, Tetens told commissioners. Year-to-date participation as of Nov. 30, 2013 was 296,042 and revenue was $1,143,360. In 2012, year-to-date participation was 296,888 and revenue was $1,084,563. In 2011, participation was 311,020 and revenue was $1,096,553. [.pdf of MLM rec center report]
Recreation Reports: Pierce Lake Golf Course
Again, 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 November 2013, 17,008 people had paid greens fees totaling $372,901. In 2012, 19,278 people paid $399,192. In 2011, attendance was 15,075 with $336,309 in revenues.
Programming and retail operations brought in $110,874 in 2013; $110,589 in 2012; and $89,394 in 2011. So total revenue in 2013 was $590,653, compared to $614,570 in 2012 and $516,632 in 2011. [.pdf of Pierce Lake golf course report]
Recreation Reports: Rolling Hills Park and Water Park
In 2013, 30,699 people paid a total of $240,066 to enter Rolling Hills Park. In 2012 there was a gate count of 34,373 people with revenues $266.083. That compares to a gate count of 34,844 people in 2011 and $267,130 in revenues.
Attendance at the water park was significantly higher: 94,266 people with revenues $715,239 in 2013. That compares to a gate count of 114,522 people in 2012 with $780,122 in revenues; and 115,012 people in 2011 with revenues of $780,995.
Total revenue for all operations at Rolling Hills was $1,204,094 in 2013; $1,318,917 in 2012; and $1,310,515 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. In the past, Tetens has indicated that Blue Heron Bay’s water features appeal to younger children but it’s “not the type of facility where parents leave their kids all day” as compared to Rolling Hills Water Park, which attracts older children.
Because Blue Heron Bay opened in 2013, there are no comparisons to earlier years. In 2013, attendance at Independence Lake Park was 15,543 with revenues of $122,293. That compares to 2012 attendance of 17,743 people with $137,717 in revenues. In 2011, 17,008 people paid $132,527 to enter the park.
Attendance at Blue Heron Bay was 17,668, for $69,787 in revenue. Total revenue for all of Independence Lake Park was, through November, was $295,648 in 2013; $211,578 in 2012; and $209,885 in 2011. [.pdf of Independence Lake report]
Outcome: The recreation reports were received and accepted for filing unanimously.
Projects and Activities
Staff of WCPARC provide monthly updates to commissioners about ongoing improvements at facilities, and activities at parks and natural areas.
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 at the Dec. 10 meeting.
Bob Tetens reported that construction of the Ann Arbor skatepark has stopped for the winter, and the project is bit behind schedule: it is 65% complete. [WCPARC contributed $400,000 to the project, which is located in the northwest corner of Ann Arbor's Veterans Memorial Park; Ann Arbor city council gave final approval in July, 2013 with costs that total $1,224,311.]
Tetens reviewed several other highlights from the update:
- Rutherford Pool: The rebuilt pool will open next summer; WCPARC contributed $150,000 to this project at Ypsilanti’s recreation park on North Congress Street.
- Year in review: WCPARC staff provided a lengthy presentation highlighting the year’s accomplishments, all of which were covered in earlier Chronicle articles. These included expanding and improving the Rolling Hills water park; installing a new spray park, denominated Blue Heron Bay, at Independence Lake county park, which won a design award from the National Association of Park & Recreation Officials; installing a new pedestrian bridge at Sharon Mills park; completing the final year of the “connecting communities” project with grants to Dexter, Ypsilanti Township and others; adding 12 properties to the natural areas preservation program, which now has 27 preserves; providing funds for a paved trail beside the Argo Cascades in Ann Arbor; putting on 193 programs and hikes and 23 mill tour days, with a collective 5,351 participants; and improving the bed of Mallett’s Creek as it flows through the County Farm Park.
- Border-to-Border trail: Staff continue to work on the final 1/8 mile of the River Terrace trail in Dexter, but all the rest is completed. New maps of the B2B trail will be produced with help from the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study.
- Lima Woods Preserve: The entry drive and parking lot construction has begun; preliminary trail layouts are done. This work is needed before the preserve can be open to the public.
- 2015-2019 parks and recreation plan: A preliminary draft is nearly done.
- 2014 meeting calendar: Commission members approved a calendar with meetings on the second Tuesday of each month with two exceptions: no meeting in July, and the November meeting will be on Nov. 18 instead of the 11th, which is a county holiday (Veterans Day).
Present: Jan Anschuetz, Robert Marans, Nelson Meade, Evan Pratt, Patricia Scribner, Dan Smith, Rolland Sizemore Jr., and Fred Veigel.
Absent: Janis Bobrin, Conan Smith.
Staff: Director Robert Tetens, deputy director Coy Vaughn, planner Meghan Bonfiglio.
Next meeting:Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the county parks and recreation department’s office at 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor.
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