Concerns Voiced over Urban Park Proposal

Ann Arbor park advisory commission pushes back on council resolution for Library Lane site; also, PAC gets briefed on outdoor smoking ordinance, urban forest management, golf courses

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Feb. 25, 2014): Of the four briefings given at PAC’s February meeting, drawing the most discussion was a proposal to build an urban park on top of the Library Lane underground parking structure.

Will Hathaway, Library Green Conservancy, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Will Hathaway gave a presentation about a proposal to build an urban park at the Library Lane site. He spoke on behalf of the Library Green Conservancy, which is working with some city councilmembers on the proposal. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners were briefed by Will Hathaway on behalf of the Library Green Conservancy, which has been advocating for a large section of the site to be designated as a park. He described a resolution that was later brought forward by Jack Eaton (Ward 4) at the council’s March 3, 2014 meeting.

Hathaway highlighted aspects of the proposal that drew on recommendations made by PAC to the city council last fall. He said he wasn’t asking for PAC to take any specific action on this proposal, but asked for feedback. Several commissioners raised concerns, including some that focused on the process of bringing this resolution forward without specific direction from the council. Hathaway noted that the resolution is intended to start the process, with council direction, to begin working with stakeholders, PAC, the public and others in the design and development of this park.

Subsequently, at the March 3 council meeting, PAC chair Ingrid Ault and former chair Julie Grand both spoke during public commentary and urged postponement of the resolution. Mayor John Hieftje, responding to the initiative, gave his own presentation on March 3 with a different vision for connected urban spaces downtown.

And Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) told councilmembers that he wanted a postponement to have time to meet with Ann Arbor District Library board members about moving the library over to the surface of the Library Lane structure. He also plans to bring forward a resolution that would move towards hiring a broker to list development rights on the Library Lane surface for sale.

Ultimately, the council voted to postpone action until its March 17 meeting. At that meeting, it’s likely that Eaton will bring forward a revised resolution, a copy of which was provided to The Chronicle on March 13. The revised resolution indicates that the area designated as a park would be 12,000 square feet, compared to 10,000 square feet in the original resolution. That square footage reflects the actual dimensions of the proposed boundaries, according to a staff memo. The revised resolution also eliminates an October 2014 deadline for making design recommendations to the council, and deletes any reference to PAC. [.pdf of revised resolution for March 17 council meeting]

In other action at PAC’s Feb. 25 meeting, commissioners heard three other presentations related to city parks. Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) described a proposed ordinance that he’s brought to council regarding outdoor smoking in public places, including parks. Elements of the ordinance include authorizing the city administrator to have signs posted designating certain parks or portions of parks as off limits for outdoor smoking.

Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forest & natural resources planning coordinator, gave a presentation to PAC about the urban and community forest management plan. The city recently released a draft and is seeking input. And Doug Kelly, Ann Arbor’s director of golf, gave an update on the city’s two golf courses at Huron Hills and Leslie Park.

In voting items, PAC recommended approval of an amendment to the city’s golf cart lease with Pifer Inc., and supported approval of contracts for work at Windemere and Clinton parks.

Commissioners also got a brief financial update for the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30, 2014. Bob Galardi, chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee, summarized the status this way: “Basically, we’re in great shape.”

Urban Park Proposal

Will Hathaway, on behalf of the Library Green Conservancy, presented a proposal to PAC to build an urban park on top of the Library Lane underground parking structure. He noted that the conservancy has been working with a group of city councilmembers on a resolution that would be brought forward at the council’s March 3 meeting. [.pdf of March 3 resolution] [.pdf of proposed site boundaries presented to PAC]

Library Lane, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Library Lane park proposal as presented to PAC on Feb. 25.

Ann Arbor used to have a town square, Hathaway said – it was the lawn of the old Washtenaw County courthouse, which served as a gathering place for events like speeches by presidential candidates. When that courthouse was torn down, the city lost its town square, he said, so there’s been a need since then.

In the late 1980s, city council formed a task force to make recommendations for developing what’s known as the “library block,” Hathaway said – an area bounded by Fifth Avenue, William, Division and Liberty streets. That effort culminated in the Luckenbach/Ziegelman report of 1991. [.pdf of Luckenbach/Ziegelman report] The report includes a concept drawing for a town square-type park on South Fifth Avenue.

More recently, the city went through an initiative called the Calthorpe process, Hathaway said, which yielded another vision for a city plaza that spanned the entire library block, connecting to the existing Liberty Plaza park. [That process resulted in the rezoning effort called Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2).]

Then, during the city’s 2009 RFP (request for proposals) process for the top of the Library Lane site, two concepts for parks were proposed, he said: a town square concept, and the community commons concept. Neither of those two ideas for a park – nor for any other development – were ultimately deemed by the city to meet the criteria set forth in the RFP, he said.

Since 2009, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has completed the Library Lane underground parking structure. That project was finished in 2012, with over 700 spaces. Prior to that, the surface lot had about 200 spaces, Hathaway said. The DDA envisioned future development atop the underground structure, and included an area with reinforced footings for a tall building. The DDA plan called for a modest public plaza, he noted, which could be extended by closing the Library Lane street that runs between Fifth and Division. The DDA plan also envisioned that the Ann Arbor District Library entrance would be reoriented to face north, onto Library Lane. The current entrance faces west, onto Fifth Avenue.

Until the top was developed, the DDA’s default plan was to use the surface for parking, with about 40 spaces, Hathaway said. It was meant as a temporary placeholder.

Gwen Nystuen, Library Green Conservancy, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Gwen Nystuen, a former Ann Arbor park advisory commission, is a member of the Library Green Conservancy. She was one of several conservancy members who attended PAC’s Feb. 25 meeting.

Hathaway described the Connecting William Street project, which the DDA oversaw at the direction of city council, as a way to find consensus for developing five city-owned lots in the downtown area, including the top of the Library Lane structure. After the CWS process found strong interest in public parks, he said, the council turned to PAC to make recommendations. PAC formed a downtown park subcommittee, which developed recommendations during an eight-month process.

Those recommendations, which also called for developing a park or open space on top of the Library Lane structure, were approved by PAC at its Oct. 15, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of 21-page full subcommittee report] [The subcommittee's report was accepted by the Ann Arbor city council on Nov. 7, 2013 over dissent from councilmember Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who serves on PAC as an ex officio member.]

Several findings from the subcommittee’s work stand out, Hathaway told commissioners. Public opinion strongly favors more urban parks, he noted, with 76% of respondents to an online survey stating that Ann Arbor would benefit from having more urban parks and open space. The first choice of locations was the Library Lane lot, he said.

PAC’s recommendations listed additional possible locations for downtown parks. The Library Green Conservancy pulled out PAC’s criteria that were specific to a park on the Library Lane site, he said, noting that the PAC recommendations were a thoughtful attempt to anticipate what factors would lead to the success of an urban park.

Hathaway then listed the specific PAC recommendations that the conservancy used to develop its proposal. PAC recommended that a park on the site should make use of the closure of Library Lane, and the size should be larger than the DDA’s recommended minimum of 5,000 square feet.

The draft proposal for council was to reserve about 10,000 square feet of the Library Lane site for an urban park, to be “bounded by the Fifth Avenue sidewalk on the west, the Library Lane Street sidewalk to the south, the western entry to the central elevator to the east, and the southern curb of the service alley on the north.” It would be about the same size as Liberty Plaza, which Hathaway described as a “companion” park on the northeast corner of the library block, at Liberty and Division. [The revised resolution on city council's March 17 agenda now indicates dimensions of 12,000 square feet, with the southern boundary extending to the Library Lane curb.]

The Library Lane park could be expanded on occasion by closing the Library Lane street. Hathaway noted that this was also part of the recommendations in the DDA’s Connecting William Street report.

Colin Smith, Missy Stults, Will Hathaway, Library Green Conservancy, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Colin Smith, the city’s parks & recreation manager, and park commissioner Missy Stults tried to solve a computer glitch in the presentation by Will Hathaway of the Library Green Conservancy.

PAC also had recommended that a park on that site should use the city’s investment in “development-ready infrastructure,” Hathaway noted, including reinforced footings and other elements. But he said much of the infrastructure could be used for development of adjacent sites too, not just on top of the underground parking structure. So “the value of it is not linked completely to what happens on site,” Hathaway said.

Hathaway also noted that PAC had recommended that development of the Library Lane site and adjacent parcels, with accompanying increases in activity, is essential for the future success of the site, and that future improvements should work to create a highly visible connection between Library Lane and Liberty Plaza.

Some of the development of the library block is constrained by historic preservation, Hathaway said. Some historic buildings can be modified in certain ways, for example, but not removed. Historic buildings along South Fifth now house Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden restaurants. On Division, the historic buildings include the Kempf House Museum and the Noble house and its carriage house. Hathaway also reviewed the buildings in the block that could be renovated or replaced, as well as potential new paths that could be created to encourage pedestrian flow through the block.

Hathaway referred to other PAC recommendations as well, including: (1) any additional park/open space would require robust public input regarding the design, features, and proposed activities; and (2) the Ann Arbor District Library must also be strongly represented in the planning process.

The council resolution anticipates additional public process, Hathaway said, with the library’s involvement being essential to the process, as well as involvement of other stakeholders on that block.

The original resolution also called for financial support as well as an allocation of staff time to design and create the park. The resolution asked PAC and the parks staff to prepare preliminary recommendations for the park’s design, to be presented at the council’s first meeting in October of 2014.

Other aspects of the resolution described for PAC included:

  • adding the designated portion of the Library Lane structure’s surface to the city’s parks & recreation open space (PROS) plan, and stating that it will remain a city-owned, public park;
  • asking the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to prepare for an eventual transition from parking to non-parking on the surface of the Library Lane structure;
  • asking the DDA to conduct a structural analysis of the Library Lane structure to determine if any modifications are needed to safely support design features, such as soil, plantings of various sizes, water features, a skating rink, a performance stage, and play equipment;
  • asking that the city’s community services and parks staff work with DDA and the Ann Arbor District Library to facilitate public programming with activities including craft fairs, book fairs, food carts, and fine arts performances;
  • asking the DDA to work with the city to explore possible above-ground private and/or public development of the remaining, build-able portion of the surface level north of the central elevator and above the central exit/entrance ramp.

The proposed resolution also specified certain conditions for development rights on the remaining surface of Library Lane, including additional public open space and pedestrian access as features of any private development. The resolution also calls for close collaboration with neighboring properties and businesses, including the Ann Arbor District Library, First Martin Corp., the University of Michigan Credit Union, the Inter-Cooperative Council, and the businesses facing Fifth Avenue and Liberty Street.

“There are lots of questions that still need to be asked and answered before the vision for a park becomes reality,” Hathaway said. “This is really I guess what we would characterize as Step One.”

He likened the process to the one that led to the Ann Arbor skatepark being built at Veterans Memorial Park. Designating the Library Lane site as a future park would allow the rest of the process to move forward, he said. It would also create clarity for adjacent development.

Hathaway described PAC’s leadership last year, with its downtown park subcommittee, as a key step in a long process. ”We look forward to working with you to create a new urban park for Ann Arbor,” Hathaway concluded.

Urban Park Proposal: Commission Discussion

Ingrid Ault began the discussion by saying it wasn’t clear to her what Hathaway was asking for from PAC. Hathaway replied that the conservancy wanted to touch base with PAC, but he didn’t have a request. As news of the conservancy’s efforts on this council resolution emerged, he said some park commissioners had been curious about it. He said he’d welcome feedback, because the resolution was still a draft.

Hathaway said they’d been working closely with councilmember Jack Eaton (Ward 4), who had shared an earlier draft with city staff. The draft that PAC was seeing reflected input from parks staff. Hathaway said they’d like to move forward as soon as possible, because designating the site for a park will allow other steps to occur.

David Santacroce, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Park advisory commissioner David Santacroce.

David Santacroce wondered if any thought was given to designating a range of space, but not a specific parcel. Santacroce said that if he owned a vacant parcel, the natural process would be to decide what gets built there, and then decide how open space could complement that. In the conservancy’s proposal, the fixed park space really dictates the rest of the development on that site, he said, and it feels a little “like cart, then horse.”

Hathaway replied that a portion of the site, in the southwest corner, is already designated for a plaza or open space – in all of the plans, including the DDA’s. So that already dictates where a plaza or public park could be located, he said. The DDA did not include reinforced footings in that area, because they knew that no building would be constructed there, he noted. “In some ways, we’re sort of working within the design that the DDA created with the Library Lane project.”

Over the past few years, the conservancy has considered a lot of different ways that a park could be designed, Hathaway said. And there are people in the conservancy who are very disappointed in the size of the proposal – they’d prefer to see the entire surface of the Library Lane site turned into a public park. The conservancy tried to figure out what was doable within the framework that the DDA created, he said, and within the reality of city council.

Graydon Krapohl asked whether the intent was to take this proposal directly to city council, without going through PAC, the DDA or the planning commission. “I’m a little troubled by the process,” he said. PAC’s report on downtown parks had been accepted by the council, Krapohl noted, but PAC hadn’t received any additional direction from council to examine the use of the Library Lane site as a city park, or to begin the public process for design and use. So presenting a resolution to council seems to circumvent the public process, he said. “In that regard, I would be very troubled as a citizen that a resolution would go forward without the public process having been fully done.”

Hathaway replied that this might not be the normal process, but “I would say that actually this has gone through an exhaustive process.” The DDA’s Connecting William Street process in 2012 was a chance to look at it and report to city council, Hathaway said. Then PAC’s downtown park subcommittee studied the issue and made recommendations last fall, which the council accepted. So this has gone through a lot of public process, Hathaway said, “probably more than a lot of other parks before they’re approved.”

The designation of the space isn’t the final word, Hathaway added. It’s really the first step.

Graydon Krapohl, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Graydon Krapohl, vice chair of PAC.

Krapohl argued that the next step should be direction given by council, asking PAC to look at establishing a park. The public process so far hasn’t determined the exact dimensions or location of a park, he said. The proposed resolution makes certain assumptions “that may or may not be true,” Krapohl added. He noted that the conservancy doesn’t act in an official capacity for the city in any way.

That’s why the conservancy is working with members of city council, Hathaway replied. The resolution is doing exactly what Krapohl described, he added, by asking the council to give direction to PAC, and designating the Library Lane site for a park.

Krapohl described the resolution as being very specific, with very little leeway in terms of additional public input about the park’s location. It’s being done outside the typical public process, he said. It’s premature to take the resolution to council without it first being reviewed and endorsed by PAC and the planning commission. “I don’t think it serves the best public interest,” Krapohl said.

Hathaway replied, saying “I guess we just are looking at it in a different way.”

Alan Jackson said his concern related to activation of the space on multiple sides. The conservancy’s proposal takes the park up to the edge of the alley on the site’s north side, which might not be a great way to activate that side, he said. Jackson also said it was hard to deal in generalities, and that dealing with a more specific proposal would be more useful. The best time to consider a park on this site is when a developer has made a proposal for the site, Jackson said, and to have the park plan be built in concert with a development. Jackson was interested in a longer-term view, waiting until the site was being developed.

Hathaway said the resolution attempts to lay out exactly the kind of process that Jackson described. The resolution lays out several steps before the site would be used as a park, Hathaway said, and for now it would continue to be a surface parking lot. Some of the steps include having the city and DDA find a development for the site that would accomplish the goal of mixed-use development.

Karen Levin, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Park advisory commissioner Karen Levin.

Responding to Jackson’s concern about activating the north side of the site, Hathaway said the conservancy has thought about it but it’s not something they can control. There’s outdoor seating at Earthen Jar when the weather is warm, he noted. An awning could be put there, similar to the type of seating at Sculpture Plaza, he said, so an adjacent business could begin to activate that space.

Hathaway also pointed out that the library is talking about renovating its front entrance. He hoped the library would still be open to re-orienting the entrance to the building’s north side, rather than investing in the current entrance facing west. [At the library board's Feb. 17, 2014 meeting, the facilities committee indicated that they had reviewed and rejected the option of relocating the entrance to the north side. Hathaway attended a March 13 public forum at the downtown library regarding the front entrance, and advocated again for re-orienting it to the north.]

Mike Anglin noted that the city had decided to sell the nearby former Y lot, in a deal that was reached rather quickly, he said, to the satisfaction of many people. [Anglin was referring to an offer from hotelier Dennis Dahlmann. The council had approved a $5.25 million purchase agreement with Dahlmann for the city-owned land, located on William between Fourth and Fifth avenues. That approval came at the council's Nov. 18, 2013 meeting. However, the deal hasn't yet closed. The date set for closing, according to a March 12 communication from city administrator Steve Powers, is April 2.]

Anglin also mentioned that the library had previously put forward a plan to rebuild its downtown location, south of Library Lane. The plan hadn’t been public discussed enough, he said, so there was a lot of opposition. [The library had put a bond proposal on the November 2012 ballot to pay for a new building, but it was rejected by a majority of voters.]

Now, Anglin continued, “I think what we’re seeing here is a little something different.” He said people argued over how much money was spent at the Library Lane site on infrastructure for future development. It had been a major investment, he said, “and surely the city is going to use it for something that should benefit the community.”

Anglin said he has supported using some of the Library Lane space as a park. He thought that designating this space for a park was following PAC’s recommendation. People want a downtown park, he said. More people would move downtown, Anglin added, but the city needs to provide amenities. He referenced four other city-owned downtown parcels that were part of the Connecting William Street study. Anglin thought that designating part of the Library Lane site as a park would actually enhance its appeal for developers.

There would be additional time to figure out what would actually go there, Anglin said. Should it be a big rose garden or a place where kids can swim or a walkway with “pretty lights”? There are lots of opportunities, he said. “So I do not find this process offensive.” Rather, he thought Hathaway “was stepping up as a private citizen.” The council hasn’t given direction, Anglin added, because councilmembers couldn’t agree.

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Colin Smith, the city’s parks & recreation manager.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, said that the one thing in the resolution that gives him pause as a staff person was this part of the second resolved clause: “The City Council requests that the PAC and Parks Department staff prepare preliminary recommendations for the design of the new urban park for consideration by City Council at its first meeting in October, 2014; …”

It’s not just the timeframe that’s a concern, Smith said. There’s agreement in general for a park on the Library Lane site, he noted. But the subcommittee report that PAC approved and that council accepted is at odds with the current resolution directing staff and PAC to design a park that wouldn’t be done in concert with any other development on the site. “And that’s where I feel we’re getting pulled in two different ways here,” he said. Staff will do what they’re directed to do, he added, “but that is not without some conflict in my mind right now.”

Ingrid Ault, PAC’s chair, weighed in. She said the draft resolution was very long “and really difficult to read.” It was hard for her to understand what the resolution was trying to accomplish. If the resolution was supporting PAC’s recommendations, she said, then it should state that clearly. She didn’t think that there was supporting documentation for many of the statements in the resolution. Ault didn’t think anyone on PAC would be ready to make a statement about the resolution at that meeting.

Krapohl said it seems like the next step from council should be to create a task force, similar to what happened for the North Main/Huron River corridor project. Members could include representatives from the conservancy, from PAC, from the planning commission, staff and others, he said, to talk about what the process should be. It was important not to rush this through, he added.

Hathaway replied that a portion of the Library Lane site has been designated as a public plaza since the start of planning for the underground parking structure. The draft resolution was just recommending that the area be extended to the north, he said, at the discretion of city council. He thought it flowed from the work of PAC last year.

He realized the resolution was long, saying he modeled it after others that had come before council, especially some by Christopher Taylor. Taylor’s resolutions use the whereas clauses to “tell the story of how we arrived at the resolved clauses,” Hathaway noted.

The Library Lane park resolution has a lot of whereas clauses because there’s a lot of information that feeds into the resolved clauses, Hathaway explained. So the whereas clauses “are the legislative history of how we got to this point,” he said. The whereas clauses include references to other documents used “throughout this long process,” he added. “It does sort of add up to an understandable conclusion.”

Christopher Taylor, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Christopher Taylor, who serves on city council and is an ex officio member of PAC.

It’s a delicate balance, Hathaway said, to provide enough direction without micromanaging.

Ault replied that the resolution struck her as “a little micromanaged.” She again stated that the number of resolved clauses made it really hard for her to read.

Jackson said it wasn’t clear to him that this was the best way to proceed. He wanted to focus on moving the process forward, and he liked Krapohl’s suggestion about creating a task force.

Taylor appreciated that Hathaway had acknowledged the conservancy’s internal conflict regarding the amount of space. The resolution is a departure from the DDA plan, Taylor said, “but it is not a wholesale departure.” Taylor wanted to acknowledge that.

Taylor then noted that PAC’s recommendations had mentioned parks and open space, but the proposed resolution only talks about parks and seeks to move the identified parcel straight to the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan. That approach is “answering the question before it’s even asked,” Taylor said. If a parcel were incorporated into the PROS plan as parkland, then if the city wanted to sell the rights to develop the parcel, “that requires a plebiscite,” Taylor said.

In the end, Taylor contended, the public doesn’t care who owns the site, as long as the public can use it. Questions about who owns the site or manages it or pays for it – these questions are “up in the air,” he said. He suggested an RFP process that would seek development along with plans for open space, rather than “locking down” the site for a park. The creativity would not merely be in the design of a park, “but its integration as well,” Taylor said. Also, designating it as a park “presupposes who’s going to pay for it.”

Hathaway then indicated that the discussion might have reached its end “within the limits of your agenda.” Ault said she hoped PAC had provided some feedback that Hathaway could use.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Urban Park Proposal: Council’s March 3 Meeting

At the city council’s March 3, 2014 meeting, Jack Eaton (Ward 4) brought forward the urban park proposal that Hathaway had presented to PAC. Other sponsors of the resolution were Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). It was Eaton’s first resolution since being elected in November 2012.

Several people spoke about the issue of downtown parks during public commentary on March 3, including the current PAC chair, Ingrid Ault, and former PAC chair Julie Grand. They highlighted the PAC recommendations on downtown parks, and urged the council to postpone action on the resolution.

Library Lane, John Hieftje, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sketch of possible park at the Library Lane site, presented by mayor John Hieftje during the city council’s March 3, 2014 meeting.

Also at the March 3 meeting, mayor John Hieftje presented his own vision for urban parks to counter Eaton’s proposal. Hieftje argued for considering several open spaces downtown, including the surface lot on the northeast corner of Main & William, next to Palio restaurant. [.pdf of slides presented by Hieftje on March 3] The concept included putting decorative pavement in the sidewalks to create something like a “yellow brick road” that would lead people from a re-imagined and re-done Liberty Plaza, down Library Lane to a park on top of the Library Lane parking structure, then further west to the proposed Allen Creek greenway. Going in the other direction, heading east, the walk would go all the way through – with marked special pavement – to the University of Michigan Diag, which Hieftje called the largest park in the downtown.

During deliberations on Eaton’s resolution later in the March 3 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he wanted a postponement to have time to meet with some Ann Arbor District Library board members. He wanted to talk to the library board about moving the library over to the surface of the Library Lane structure. He didn’t think the city would break even on the building rights for the top of the parking structure, given the amount of investment for development that has already been made. So he thought that partnering with a public entity might make more sense.

Kunselman also said he wanted to list the Library Lane surface for sale. He planned to bring a resolution forward that would direct the city administrator to hire a broker to sell the rights to build on top of the parking structure.

Ultimately, councilmembers voted to postpone the Library Lane park resolution until their March 17 meeting.

A report on deliberations during the March 3 council meeting is provided in The Chronicle’s live updates filed from council chambers. A full report of the issue – including public commentary and Hieftje’s presentation – is included in the March 3, 2014 meeting report.

Urban Park Proposal: Revised Resolution for March 17 Council Meeting

The resolution that the city council will consider on March 17 will differ from the one considered on March 3. In an email to The Chronicle on March 13, Will Hathaway sent a revised resolution that has been placed on the March 17 agenda. [.pdf of revised resolution] The revised resolution is now a part of the council’s online agenda.

The revised resolution indicates that the area designated as a park would be 12,000 square feet, compared to 10,000 square feet in the original resolution. That square footage reflects the actual dimensions of the proposed boundaries, based on additional information from city staff. The revised version also eliminates the October 2014 deadline for making design recommendations to the council, and deletes any reference to PAC.

The number of resolved clauses has been decreased from seven to four. From the revised resolution:

Resolved, That City Council approve the reservation of the site for an urban public park of approximately 12,000 square feet on the surface of the Library Lane Structure bounded by the Fifth Avenue sidewalk on the west, the Library Lane Street curb to the south, the western entry to the central elevator to the east, and the southern curb of the service alley on the north (see two related site plans). This portion of the surface of the Library Lane Structure shall be added to the PROS Plan and remain a City-owned, public park;

Resolved, that the City will encourage the creative use of this space to commence on an occasional basis during the transition from parking to public park even before the urban park design and installation work is complete, and hereby requests that Community Services and the Park Department work together with DDA and the AADL to encourage groups to reserve the space for public activities including, but not limited to, craft fairs, book fairs, food carts, fine arts performances, and other activities and consider modification of permit requirements in order to eliminate fees for those seeking to put on public programs on the Library Lane site;

Resolved, that the City will work with the developer of the remaining portion of the Library Lane site to ensure that the designs for both spaces, an urban public park and the adjacent development, complement and support each other’s successful uses;

Resolved, That all development on the Library Lane site, whether public or private, will proceed in close collaboration with neighboring properties and businesses including, but not limited to the Ann Arbor District Library, First Martin Corporation, the University of Michigan Credit Union, the Inter-Cooperative Council, and the businesses fronting on Fifth Avenue and Liberty Street. Possible goals of this collaboration include:

  • Reorientation of the physical design and uses of these adjacent properties so that they help to create pedestrian interaction with the public park on the Library Lane Structure,
  • Creation of pedestrian walkways that connect the Library Lane Structure and public park to Liberty Plaza, Liberty Street and William Street;
  • Discussion about incentives, such as premiums or subsidies, that the City or DDA might offer to encourage both physical reorientation and pedestrian access/easements through adjacent properties, and
  • Consideration of possible joint development on the Library Lane Structure’s remaining build-able portion.

A memo from Jack Eaton to the council, dated March 11, 2014, summarizes the most significant changes between the original resolution and the revised version that’s on the March 17 agenda. [.pdf of Eaton's March 11 memo]

Outdoor Smoking Ordinance

Chuck Warpehoski, a city councilmember representing Ward 5, spoke to PAC on Feb. 25 about a proposed ordinance regarding outdoor smoking in public places. He said the proposal came about because of concerns he’d heard from the community. [.pdf of proposed ordinance]

The proposed ordinance would set a $50 civil fine that could be imposed for smoking within 20 feet of: (1) bus stops; (2) entrances, windows and ventilation systems of the Blake Transit Center; and (3) entrances, windows and ventilation systems any city-owned building.

The ordinance would also authorize the city administrator to have signs posted designating certain parks or portions of parks as off limits for outdoor smoking, and to increase the distance from entrances to city buildings where outdoor smoking is prohibited. Where no signs are posted noting the smoking prohibition, a citation could be issued only if someone doesn’t stop smoking immediately when asked to stop.

Chuck Warpehoski, Ann Arbor city council, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Chuck Warpehoski, a Ward 5 city councilmember, spoke to park advisory commissioners about a proposed ordinance to regulate outdoor smoking.

Warpehoski told PAC that he was speaking to the commission because the ordinance would allow the city administrator to designate parts of Ann Arbor parkland as smoke-free zones. Currently, people can smoke in public parks, playgrounds or natural areas.

Warpehoski reported that he’d spoken to board members of the People’s Food Co-op regarding concerns about smoking in Sculpture Plaza, a city park at the southeast corner of Fourth & Catherine. The co-op’s storefront faces the plaza, and there are concerns that smokers in the plaza are affecting business. Warpehoski said that one of his constituents had to relocate her office from the space above the co-op due to people smoking outside. He said he’s also heard concerns from people who wait for buses, and have to stand near smokers.

He told PAC he was interested in getting feedback before the city council voted on the ordinance.

Warpehoski pointed out that the PAC meeting packet also include materials developed by people at the University of Michigan who are involved in nationwide efforts to reduce smoking in public places. [.pdf of tobacco fact sheet] The material includes a list of over 900 municipalities across the country that have a blanket ban on smoking in parks, including several municipalities in Michigan. [.pdf of no-smoking municipalities]

He noted that the proposed ordinance for Ann Arbor “is not that aggressive.” Although it would allow for the city administrator to ban smoking in all parks, he said, the intent is to be more incremental and address specific areas, like the plaza in front of People’s Food Co-op. He noted that another councilmember, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), told him that when she participates in the annual clean-up of Plymouth Park, they always find cigarette butts in the playground. So this ordinance would give the city some ability to “rein that in,” he said.

Outdoor Smoking Ordinance: Commission Discussion

Graydon Krapohl observed that the ordinance gives the city administrator a lot of authority to make decisions. He wondered if there were any guidelines, framework or process for determining where the smoking ban would be applied.

Chuck Warpehoski said he couldn’t imagine that the decision would be made without consulting PAC, but a process wasn’t written into the ordinance.

Alan Jackson asked if the ordinance would apply to e-cigarettes. He also wondered how the ban would be enforced, whether enforcement would be effective, and what the cost would be. Jackson joked that his concerns might be because he’d just watched the Ken Burns’ series on Prohibition. He observed that in the case of the People’s Food Co-op, someone could just smoke on the sidewalk instead of in the public plaza.

Warpehoski replied that the ordinance doesn’t address e-cigarettes, although there are concerns about toxicity from that product and it’s within the city’s regulatory authority to take that on.

Regarding enforcement, Warpehoski noted that the goal is not to write a lot of tickets and take in a lot of revenue from that. The language in the ordinance is being changed to allow ticketing only if someone refuses to move to a smoking area or refuses to extinguish the cigarette. “We’re not trying to be punitive in this,” he said. He envisions that it would be largely self-policing. No-smoking signs will deal with most of the problem, he said, without needing the threat of someone writing tickets.

The ordinance will give the administrator and staff a tool to address these problems, Warpehoski said.

David Santacroce referred to this section of the proposed ordinance:

6:2. Smoking Prohibited in Outdoor Public Places.

(2) A person who violates subsection (1) where no signs are posted is subject to being cited with a violation only if he or she ceases smoking immediately upon being requested or ordered to do so.

Warpehoski noted that there’s a missing word: It should be “…only if he or she doesn’t cease smoking immediately…” Santacroce said that wasn’t his question. He wanted to know who would be making the request, saying there was ambiguity on that issue. Does it refer to law enforcement, or someone from the parks staff? With the current language, Santacroce said, it could be a request from another citizen.

Santacroce also said he could see why it would be more palatable to take an incremental approach rather than a blanket ban. But it’s possible that the administrator could simply prohibit smoking in all parks as soon as the ordinance is enacted. Santacroce said he supported the ordinance, “but it seems like it’s a little bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Warpehoski said he had a hard time imagining a city administrator in this city immediately banning all smoking in all parks. “We love our process here, right?” Warpehoski said, so it’s hard to imagine that kind of sudden action happening without public engagement.

Krapohl picked up the question about enforcement. Would a police officer need to come whenever a smoking violation is reported?

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, said that tickets could be written by either police officers or community standards officers. It would be possible to provide other staff with the authority to write tickets as well, he said, but it would be important to provide appropriate training for that. “It’s not as straightforward as one might think,” Smith said. He added that he didn’t think it would be a high priority for the police department.

Santacroce, a law professor at the University of Michigan, noted that a violation of the ordinance would be a civil infraction, which he described as a misdemeanor. “So that stays on someone’s record for their life,” he said. [At the city council's March 3, 2014 meeting, councilmember Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who is an ex officio member of PAC, asked city attorney Stephen Postema if a violation of the ordinance would be a misdemeanor. Postema didn't answer the question with a direct yes or no, instead stating that a civil infraction is not a violation of the criminal code.]

Alan Jackson, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Park advisory commissioner Alan Jackson.

Warpehoski replied that he’d work with the city’s legal staff to clear up any ambiguity. He said he hoped there would never be a citation written. But he wanted someone to have that ability, if a smoker is being obnoxious and refusing to move or put out the cigarette. Other municipalities aren’t writing a lot of tickets for this kind of thing, he added.

Jackson asked what officers in the Ann Arbor police department think about the proposal, “since they’re the ones who’re going to really bear the brunt of dealing with this.” Jackson also wondered if this ordinance was really about smoking, or was it “about not wanting homeless people around.” Ordinances of this type are often used to target certain populations, he said.

Ingrid Ault, PAC’s chair, responded by saying she’s had many conversations with Lesley Perkins, the co-op’s general manager. The concern is about smoking, Ault said. The co-op has received many complaints, she added, noting that as a co-op customer she’s also experienced the situation.

Warpehoski said the co-op has been very welcoming to the people who stand outside and sell Groundcover News, a publication sold by homeless or low-income residents. The co-op puts an ad in the publication each month with a $1 off coupon, he noted. Vendors are allowed to use the co-op’s bathrooms, Warpehoski said. The co-op has been very hospitable, so he didn’t think the issue was about the homeless. It was about not wanting to have smoke outside the door.

Smith said he fundamentally agreed with the proposed ordinance. From a staff perspective, it needs to be applied equitably. It’s important to develop a standard approach to implementing the ordinance. Although the focus has been on Sculpture Plaza, Smith said he’d be more comfortable applying it to all parks in the downtown, for example, so that when the staff is questioned about why there’s a ban in certain places, they have a clear answer.

Smith also noted that there are over 150 parks in the city, and there are times and places when smoking is appropriate. When there are weddings at Cobblestone Farm, for example, “I’m quite sure cigars are lit up,” he said. It might not be bad if the city administrator were to ask for PAC’s recommendation about where to apply the ban, Smith said.

Warpehoski said he’d be comfortable adding a provision to the ordinance that includes getting advice or recommendations from PAC. Krapohl suggested adding a bullet point under the section that describes the city administrator’s authority, to include a public process that explains how decisions will be made.

Ault asked Warpehoski if he’d return to PAC to give an update as the ordinance approval process progresses. Christopher Taylor, a councilmember who serves as an ex officio member of PAC, suggested that either he or Anglin could give updates instead.

Warpehoski explained that the proposed ordinance was on the March 3 council agenda for first reading. If it was passed, it would come back to council for a second reading at a future meeting, when a public hearing would be held.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

At the council’s March 3, 2014 meeting, councilmembers voted to postpone action on the proposed ordinance until April 7. [.pdf of resolution considered on March 3] The March 3 resolution was a slightly different version than the one presented to PAC, but did not include Krapohl’s suggestion to outline a public process for decision-making.

The council vote to postpone came over dissent from mayor John Hieftje and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Questions at the council table focused on how enforcement would be handled and where the ban would be in effect. During deliberations, Warpehoski expressed frustration that councilmembers hadn’t raised their questions and concerns sooner. He first introduced the resolution on Feb. 3.

Urban Forest

Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forest & natural resources planning coordinator, gave a presentation to PAC on Feb. 25 about the urban and community forest management plan. After working on the plan for a couple of years, the city recently released a draft and is seeking input, she said. [.pdf of Gray's presentation] [.pdf of draft plan]

Kerry Gray, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forest & natural resources planning coordinator.

An urban forest is defined as all the trees, shrubs and woody vegetation growing along city streets, in public parks and on institutional and private property. In Ann Arbor, about 25% is on public property, with 75% on private property.

Based on a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service i-Tree Eco Analysis done in 2012, Ann Arbor’s urban forest has an estimated 1.45 million trees. It creates a 33% tree canopy – the layer of leaves, branches and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above.

The city manages 43,240 street trees and about 6,900 park trees in mowed areas. A tree inventory conducted in 2009 didn’t include natural areas, she noted, so there are thousands of trees that aren’t counted. The urban forest includes over 200 species, representing 82 genera.

Gray described a range of benefits provided by the urban forest, estimating that the benefits in stormwater management, air quality, energy conservation and quality of life total $4.6 million annually. As an example, studies show that people tend to spend more money in shopping areas that have more trees, she said.

Over the last decade, the urban forest has faced two major challenges, Gray told PAC: the emerald ash borer, and budget reductions. The city lost over 10,000 ash trees, and had to focus its constrained resources on removing those trees. That resulted in deferred maintenance for other aspects of the urban forest, she said.

That deferred maintenance didn’t affect park trees, because the parks millage provided funding, she said. But for street trees, she reported a significant backlog issue. As of July 1, 2013 – the start of the city’s current fiscal year – there was a backlog of 1,412 street trees that needed removal; 3,110 trees that needed priority pruning; 38,471 trees that needed routine pruning; and 1,371 stump removals. Gray reported that the city removes about 550 trees each year, and plants about 1,000 trees annually. No routine pruning cycle or proactive maintenance occurs at this time, she said.

To address these challenges, the city began developing its first-ever urban and community forest management plan. Gray described the planning process and public outreach, using the consultant Smith Group JJR. The process included staff, a working group, an advisory committee, stakeholder groups and the general public, she said, as well as feedback from an online survey.

Based on that input, draft goals and recommendations were developed, Gray said. The overarching goal is ”the sustainable protection, preservation, maintenance and expansion of the urban and community forest.”

There are 17 recommendations, listed in priority based on community feedback for implementation:

  1. Implement proactive tree maintenance program.
  2. Strengthen tree planting and young tree maintenance programs.
  3. Monitor threats to the urban and community forest.
  4. Increase landmark/special tree protections.
  5. Secure adequate city‐funding for urban forestry core services.
  6. Develop street tree master plans.
  7. Pursue grant and philanthropic funding opportunities.
  8. Strengthen forestry related ordinances.
  9. Update tree inventory and canopy analysis.
  10. Develop urban forest best management practices.
  11. Increase urban forestry volunteerism.
  12. Strengthen relationships with outside entities who impact trees.
  13. Implement community outreach program.
  14. Obtain the best use of wood from removed trees.
  15. Create city staff working groups to coordinate projects that impact trees.
  16. Engage the city’s Environmental Commission in urban and community forestry issues.
  17. Review the urban forest management plan periodically and update as needed.

Regarding recommendation #16, Gray said the idea is to create a resource committee devoted to urban and community forest issues on both public and private property. The proposal would include two representatives from PAC.

Each of the 17 recommendations includes action tasks and implementation ideas, case studies, and resources that are needed, including funding.

In terms of next steps, Gray noted that the city is accepting public commentary on draft plan through March 28. The plan will be finalized in April, then reviewed by both the environmental and park advisory commissions at their April meetings. Each of those commissions will be asked to pass resolutions recommending that the city council adopt the plan, she said. It’s expected to be on the council’s agenda in June or July.

Urban Forest: Commission Discussion

Acknowledging that Ann Arbor is known as Tree Town, Alan Jackson noted that the city’s natural areas preservation staff sometimes promotes other types of ecosystems, like prairies. He asked how that fits in with the urban forest plan. Kerry Gray replied that trees aren’t always the best vegetation for a particular location, and the plan addresses that issue.

Christopher Taylor wondered whether the community priorities, as reflected in the urban forestry plan, are parallel with the professional judgment of staff. Absolutely, Gray replied.

Paige Morrison asked how the goals for canopy coverage had been developed. She was referring to the goals on this chart:

Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Chart of urban forest canopy goals.

Gray replied that the goals were developed through a process that involved the plan’s advisory committee. American Forests, a nonprofit conservation group, recommends that communities in the Midwest have 40% tree canopy cover. “But we couldn’t find the science behind how they arrived at this 40%,” she added. So the advisory committee and staff looked at where areas would be best suited for increased canopy cover.

Mike Anglin asked how many more employees would be needed to fulfill the goals in this plan, “in a perfect world.” He noted the importance of maintaining trees, and said that people who own property with trees generally spend $1,000 annually to maintain them. Gray replied that the draft plan does include staffing recommendations for about 12 qualified forestry staff members. Currently, the city employs eight staff in forestry. But she noted that the city’s forestry operations have always used contractors for much of the work, and that would continue.

Anglin also thanked Gray for how the city is handling the removal of silver maples. He called the trees a hazard. Residents had been complaining because trees were being removed from city streets, he noted, particularly silver maples. He described that situation as the impetus for developing the urban forest management plan. He thought Gray had handled the situation very well.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Golf Courses Update

Doug Kelly, Ann Arbor’s director of golf, attended PAC’s Feb. 25 meeting along with Scott Spooner, the city’s golf course maintenance superintendent, and Andrew Walton, recreational supervisor for the golf courses. They were on hand to give an update on the city’s two golf courses at Huron Hills and Leslie Park. The presentation was similar to one that PAC had received at its March 19, 2013 meeting.

Doug Kelly, golf, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Doug Kelly, Ann Arbor’s director of golf. In the background is Andrew Walton, recreational supervisor for the golf courses.

Kelly described Huron Hills as a shorter layout that’s about 5,000 yards long, compared to 6,200 to 7,500 yards for a typical course. That shorter length makes it very accessible for the entire golfing community, for people of all ages, abilities and economic backgrounds. It’s also very affordable, he said, where juniors and seniors can pay $9 for 9 holes or $14 for 18 holes. It was one of the first courses in the area to offer a parent-child rate, trying to get more families out. There are “wee tees” on the first seven holes – located on the east side of Huron Parkway, so that kids don’t have to cross the road.

During the winter months, Huron Hills also provides one of the area’s best sledding hills, he said.

Leslie Park is a very well-respected and busy course, Kelly said, attracting golfers from across southeast Michigan and beyond with its layout that is challenging, yet playable. Golf Digest magazine has rated it as the best municipal course in the state, he said. The course has also received national awards from Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

In total, both courses employ about 44 seasonal workers and three full-time staff. The courses are open seven days a week during the season, which some years runs from March until December. This year it’s more likely to start in April, he said. The hours are usually 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are over 280 acres between the two courses, and 170 of those are maintained. About 54,000 golfers use the courses each year, with revenue of about $1.2 million.

As background, in 2007, the city council and staff examined the golf courses closely, hired a consultant and made some decisions about the future of the courses. As a result of that evaluation, the city decided to invest in infrastructure and staff.

Those changes have led to an increase in the number of golf rounds at both courses. At Huron Hills, rounds grew from 13,913 in 2007 to 23,842 rounds in the 2012 season, then dipped to about 21,000 in 2013. Kelly attributed the 2013 decline to weather, including a “really terrible” spring and an early winter.

The same pattern is seen at Leslie Park. In 2007, 21,857 rounds were played, compared to 32,628 in 2012. The rounds dipped to 29,400 in 2013.

So rounds at Huron Hills and Leslie Park have increased 70% and 50% since 2007, respectively, during a period when rounds of golf in Michigan have been flat, Kelly said.

Correlating to the increased number of rounds, revenues have also increased during that period, Kelly reported. In fiscal year 2007, Huron Hill reported revenues of $242,577. Those increased 55% to $375,068 in fiscal 2012, then dipped to about $332,000 last year. At Leslie Park, revenues grew from $623,942 in FY 2007 to $929,071 in FY 2012 – an increase of 49%. Last year, revenues were about $801,000.

Spooner gave an update on a major Traver Creek reconstruction project, which ran through Leslie Park golf course. The $1.4 million project added about 6.5 acres of wetland habitat, and added about 1,000 feet to the length of the creek, which slows it down, he said. Native plant species were added, and creekbeds were regraded to be less vertical. The intent is to better manage stormwater and decrease flooding. The project lasted from October 2012 until May of 2013.

Scott Spooner, golf, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Scott Spooner, the city’s golf course maintenance superintendent. His blog is called Tree Town Turf Guy.

Leslie Park golf course has been certified by the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program, which requires that the course exceed requirements of environmental laws, protect water resources and enhance the maintenance of turf grass and open spaces. The course also was designated as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, part of a national program that focuses on enhancing the habitat for wildlife on golf courses. Huron Hills is currently working to get both of these certifications.

Spooner reported that an Eagle Scout named Isaac built a tower for the chimney swift on the 14th hole. The bird isn’t endangered, but it’s of special concern in Michigan, he said. The tower is a place for the birds to roost. He also showed slides of four mallard duck nesting tubes that were built with the help of elementary school children. He said the golf course also works with the Leslie Science & Nature Center. [Spooner keeps a blog called Tree Town Turf Guy that describes these and other projects.]

Kelly continued the presentation, noting that he, Spooner and Walton were all hired at about the same time, soon after the consultant’s report was completed about the golf courses. For the past five years, they’ve been working to implement recommendations in the report, he said, and they’ve had a lot of success.

Looking ahead, they’ll continue their efforts to focus on environmental best practices, Kelly said, as well as to improve course conditions. Kelly also wants to increase the focus on family and junior golf, and continue an emphasis on customer service.

Golf Courses Update: Commission Discussion

Alan Jackson praised the stormwater improvements at Leslie Park golf course, saying it’s good to reduce environmental problems on the golf course rather than just add pesticides. He noted that the golf courses are used in the winter for other activities, and he wondered if there were any plans related to that.

Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

During the golf presentation, a slide showing sledding at Huron Hills in 1939. At the left is Ingrid Ault, PAC’s chair.

Doug Kelly replied that parking and accessibility are challenges for winter activities at Leslie Park, though the hill on hole 11 is one that’s used by people in the neighborhood, he said. At Huron Hills, it’s open and there’s plenty of parking. It’s continuously voted as one of the best sledding hills in the area, he noted. He showed some historical photos from 1939, when Huron Hills was a private club. There were built-in toboggan runs and a ski jump at the time.

Kelly said there’s a lot of potential at Huron Hills during the winter months. A lot of cross country skiers use the course as well, he added, and it’s been a great winter for that.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, said he’s asked Kelly to develop a proposal for how Huron Hills could be used in the winter. Now that the golf courses are part of the general fund, rather than a separate enterprise fund, “we kind of look at them differently,” Smith said. The infrastructure is in place to provide more winter amenities, he noted. Smith joked that he didn’t envision another ski jump, though he said he’d relish trying to get such a project through the city attorney’s office.

Karen Levin said she thought there was cross country skiing at Leslie Park golf course, too. Kelly replied that some people do cross country ski there. The pedestrian gates are unlocked to allow access, he said, but it’s not something that the city promotes. Smith noted that the city stopped providing equipment for cross country skiing several years ago. It would be very expensive to buy the equipment again, he said, adding that not every winter is suitable for that sport.

Mike Anglin thanked Kelly and his staff for their work, saying that the community now accepts the golf courses as a tremendous resource. There were people who didn’t appreciate the courses in the past, he said. Anglin praised the growth in revenue, and the number of jobs that the courses provide for young people in the summer. “You should be very proud of what you’ve done with your team,” Anglin said.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Golf Cart Lease

An amendment to a two-year golf cart lease with Pifer Inc. was on PAC’s Feb. 25 agenda. The agreement would increase the original number of 65 leased carts by 34 carts, for a total of 99 carts. The city leases golf carts from Pifer for the Huron Hills and Leslie Park golf courses.

Paige Morrison, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Paige Morrison attended her first meeting as a park advisory commissioner on Feb. 25, after city council appointed her on Feb. 3 to replace Jennifer Geer. In the background are students who were attending the PAC meeting as part of a class assignment.

The lease amendment would be for two years, for an amount not to exceed $50,340 over the length of the lease amendment term. Funding for FY 2014 would come from the parks and recreation services general fund and would be in the proposed budget for FY 2015, according to a staff memo. In FY 2013, the city generated about $225,000 in revenue from golf cart rentals.

The resolution also recommended the sale of 32 city-owned golf carts to Pifer for $50,340.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, reported that the city bought the carts five years ago for $975 apiece, and are re-selling them for $1,475 each.

He noted that the city has seen an increase in the use of carts at Huron Hills. It’s not only a good revenue-generator, he said, but it also provides an opportunity for a wider range of people to play the course, who aren’t able to walk it.

PAC had recommended the original lease a year ago, at its Feb. 26, 2013 meeting. The city council subsequently approved the agreement in March of 2013. The current amendment exercises the renewal option in that original deal, and establishes the qualities for new carts and trade-ins. The original terms remain in effect regarding sale price offered for acquiring the city’s old carts and the cost per new cart leased. [.pdf of staff memo and resolution]

During the brief discussion on Feb. 25, Alan Jackson asked about acquiring electric carts that would be rechargeable. The concern in the past was whether such carts would work over a long period, and whether there was adequate infrastructure. Smith replied that the city is planning to have a cart shed at Leslie Park for electric carts. That’s in the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) for fiscal 2015, which begins July 1, 2014. The amendment to the current lease would allow for a transition from the gas carts to electric carts, he said. Earlier versions of electric carts “struggled” with the hilly terrain of Leslie Park, Smith noted, but the carts have improved over the past decade and now perform well.

In response to a query from Jackson, Smith said that over the next year the staff will be looking for grants to help build the cart shed – perhaps by making the shed solar-powered.

Outcome: PAC unanimously passed the resolution regarding golf carts. The agreement will require approval from the city council.

Windemere Park

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, introduced this item by saying: “So, here it is.” The statement elicited laughs from commissioners, because the project has been in the works for about two years and had been someone controversial. The resolution was to recommend approval of a $134,297 contract with Nagle Paving Co. to relocate and rebuild the tennis courts at Windemere Park.

Mike Anglin, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Mike Anglin.

On Jan. 28, 2014, PAC had approved a revised new location for tennis courts at Windemere Park, on the city’s northeast side. The final location approved by PAC was one put forward at a public meeting earlier this year.

The new location for the tennis courts has been disputed among neighbors who live near Windemere Park, a nearly four-acre parcel north of Glazier Way between Green and Earhart roads. The tennis courts there have deteriorated, and the city has been looking at options for replacing them. Neighbors had originally advocated keeping the courts in the same location, but the soil there is unstable. Before the area was developed, the current location of the courts was a pond.

Nagle Paving was the lowest of five responsible bidders on the project, according to a staff memo. Including a 10% construction contingency, the entire project budget is $147,727. Funding will come from the FY 2014 park maintenance and capital improvement millage revenues. [.pdf of staff memo and resolution] [.pdf of cost comparison chart]

Smith said that parks staff were happy with the number of responses they received. Nagle is the same firm that restored the tennis courts at Veterans Memorial Park in 2010, and the staff had been very happy with that work.

Ingrid Ault thanked park planner Amy Kuras, saying she knew that Kuras had worked hard on this project.

Alan Jackson observed that no one was attending the meeting to complain about this project, “so I consider that a tremendous accomplishment on the parks staff part.”

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the recommendation for selecting Nagle to do the work at Windemere Park. The item will be forwarded to city council for consideration.

Clinton Park

PAC was asked to recommended approving a $133,843.00 contract with Best Asphalt to rebuild the tennis and basketball courts at Clinton Park. The park is located on the west side of Stone School Road, south of Eisenhower Parkway.

Including a 10% construction contingency, the project’s total budget is $147,227.

Best Asphalt provided the lowest of five bids, according to a staff memo. The project will be funded with revenues from the park maintenance and capital improvement millage. Colin Smith, manager of parks & recreation, described it as a “straightforward rebuild.” He thought the residents in that area will be pleased to see the improvements.

There was no discussion among commissioners.

Outcome: Commissioners voted to recommend approval of the contract. The council subsequently voted to approve the work at its March 3 meeting.

Financial Report

Bob Galardi, chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee, gave an update on the financial status of the city’s parks and recreation operations for the current fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014. [.xls file of financial update]

Bob Galardi, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Bob Galardi, chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee.

The results so far are in line with projections, Galardi said. Revenues will be affected by the weather, however. This spring, the golf courses won’t be opening as early as they have in recent years, he noted, so there will be a slight reduction in revenues.

In other highlights, Galardi pointed to Mack Pool, which is showing a forecasted $25,000 increase in revenues this year compared to what was projected in the budget. That’s because of actions that have been taken, like creating a swim team there, he said.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, reported that almost 100 people have signed up for the Mack Pool swim team, which accounts for part of the revenue increase.

In general, Galardi said, the update is that parks and recreation is on target to meet its budget projections. “Basically we’re in great shape,” he concluded.

Smith added that overall expenses are also in line with budgeted amounts. Certain facilities will have higher-than-projected expenses, he said, but other facilities will have lower-than-projected expenses. The same is true for revenues, he said.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Present: Ingrid Ault, Bob Galardi, Alan Jackson, Graydon Krapohl, Karen Levin, Paige Morrison, David Santacroce, Missy Stults, and councilmembers Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor (ex-officio members). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.

Next PAC meeting: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

The Chronicle survives in part through regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. If you’re already helping The Chronicle with some financial green, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.