Park Commissioners Question Council Action

City council's decision to reserve part of the Library Lane site as an urban public park causes "hurt feelings," concerns about PAC's role; commissioners also get briefed on volunteer efforts in the parks system

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (March 18, 2014): The main discussion at PAC’s March meeting focused on implications from city council action the previous day regarding the Library Lane site – the surface of an underground parking garage.

Tina Rosselle, Becky Gajewski, Erika Pratt, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Tina Rosselle, Becky Gajewski, Erika Pratt. All three are city staff who are involved in volunteer and outreach efforts for the parks & recreation unit. (Photos by the writer.)

But the council followed up at its April 7 meeting by considering a total of four resolutions on the Library Lane site – including the reconsideration of the two March 17 resolutions. At the end of the April 7 meeting, a portion of the site was still reserved for an urban park, and the city administrator was still directed to hire a broker to list the property for sale. A vote on how to use the proceeds of a possible sale was put off until June. For more details on the council’s April 7 actions, see Chronicle coverage: “Council Wrangles on Library Lot – Proceeds, Process.”

On March 17, the city council had passed two resolutions regarding the site: (1) reserving a portion of the west side, along South Fifth Avenue, as the site for an urban public park; and (2) directing the city administrator to hire a broker to explore the sale of development rights on that site. The council’s meeting, which adjourned at about 1 a.m., included debate that lasted more than 2.5 hours on the future of this city-owned property, located north of the downtown library.

The following day, at PAC’s March 18 meeting, commissioners were briefed by the two councilmembers who also serve on PAC as ex officio members: Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

Anglin, who had co-sponsored the park resolution along with Jack Eaton (Ward 4), told commissioners that he’d been comfortable with both resolutions, and that he had voted for both of them.

Anglin said he hoped PAC would now start working on guidelines for developing a portion of the site, and to make sure all stakeholders are well-represented. “Feelings were hurt last night,” he said, “and so now we’re in damage control, and we’re also in the idea of further discourse. And we need to do that.” There needs to be a real dialogue, including the library, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, PAC and others in the community, he said – all stakeholders need to help decide what to do as a town.

For his part, Taylor pointed out that the council’s urban park resolution doesn’t actually ask PAC to do anything. The “resolved” clauses make no mention of PAC. He said he didn’t know the rationale for that – whether it was an attempt to go around PAC, or whether there’s an expectation that PAC will be brought in. “There’s a measure of uncertainty there,” Taylor said, so PAC’s role is unclear.

Taylor also noted that there’s complete consensus on the idea that there will be public space on the Library Lane parcel, to which the public has full access. “There is not complete consensus on who owns that element of the parcel,” he added. “Nor, I think, is there complete consensus on who will maintain and provide security for that part of the parcel.”

Ingrid Ault, PAC’s chair, noted that the commission had developed recommendations for downtown parks, adding that it was “very disappointing to feel that we weren’t listened to” as the council resolution was developed. If that had happened, she added, “we wouldn’t have hurt feelings.”

Though Anglin had supported the council’s March 17 actions, subsequently – at the council’s April 7 meeting – he co-sponsored another resolution that would have delayed hiring a broker until additional public process had been undertaken, including the possibility of reserving the entire site for a park. After a 40-minute debate and a recess to discuss a possible compromise, the council unanimously voted down that resolution – though it could be brought back for future consideration.

Anglin also supported another action on April 7, which passed, that increased the amount reserved for a park to 12,000 square feet, along the entire west side of the South Fifth Avenue parcel. Previously, the council had indicated a range for the space – between 6,500 and 12,000 square feet, with a northern boundary to be determined. A range, instead of 12,000 square feet, had been the result of an amendment made at the council table on March 17. During deliberations on April 7, Anglin said he hoped for an even larger park at the site.

PAC’s March 18 meeting agenda also included a resolution to recommend that the city apply for a grant to help renovate the Gallup Park pathway, which is part of the countywide Border-to-Border Trail. The grant application is to the federal transportation alternatives program (TAP), which is administered in this region by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and statewide by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT). At its April 7 meeting, the city council authorized the grant application.

Also on March 18, Dave Borneman, parks and recreation deputy manager, gave an overview of volunteer efforts within the parks, recreation facilities and natural areas, and talked about how people in the community can participate. Ault encouraged others to volunteer, saying she’s taken part in the frog and toad survey for the past couple of years. “I’ve gone to places that I didn’t really know existed,” she said. “And I can tell you what a spring peeper and a leopard frog sound like.”

Park at Library Lane

PAC’s March 18 meeting occurred the day following a city council meeting when councilmembers took action that directly affected the parks system and PAC. The council had engaged in a lengthy debate – two and a half hours of sometimes heated commentary – over a proposal reserving part of the surface of the Library Lane underground parking structure for an urban public park. That resolution passed, over dissent from mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4). The council also passed a resolution directing the city administrator to hire a brokerage service to explore selling development rights to the Library Lane surface.

Regarding a park at Library Lane, the council resolution’s key resolved clause from March 17 stated:

Resolved, That City Council approve the reservation of the site for an urban public park of between approximately 6,500 and 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, with the northern boundary to be determined at a future date;

Prior to the council’s action on this proposal, Will Hathaway of the Library Green Conservancy had presented the plan to PAC at its Feb. 25, 2014 meeting. See Chronicle coverage: “Concerns Voiced over Urban Park Proposal.”

Library Lane parking deck

The Library Lane parking deck is highlighted in yellow. The name “Library Lane” is based only on the proximity of the structure to the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The library does not own the structure or the mid-block cut-through. (Base image from Washtenaw County and City of Ann Arbor GIS services.)

At PAC’s March 18 meeting, Ingrid Ault – who chairs the commission – reported that she and parks and recreation manager Colin Smith had attended the March 17 council session, which lasted until about 1 a.m. She noted that councilmembers Christopher Taylor and Mike Anglin, who serve as ex officio members of PAC, had also attended.

Park at Library Lane: Council Update

Ault asked Anglin, who had co-sponsored the March 17 council resolution, to provide an update on the council action. Anglin urged PAC members to watch the council discussion on video. [A link to Community Television Network's recording of that meeting is online. The Library Lane discussion begins at about the 43-minute mark. A report on council deliberations also is included in The Chronicle’s live updates from city hall during the March 17 meeting.]

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

Mike Anglin, who serves on both city council and PAC.

Anglin said there had been “quite a bit of dialogue.” He reported that a group has been advocating for the city to designate the entire top of the underground parking structure as a park. [That group is the Library Green Conservancy.] “As in a democracy, we compromise,” Anglin said. “This is the compromise.”

About $56 million was spent on the underground parking garage, Anglin noted, “and we have to get something out of it.” So the council wanted to have the opportunity to define some of the surface space for a park, he said, as well as space for development.

“Unfortunately, things get convoluted and difficult,” Anglin said. “It’s like a difficult math problem. There’s probably many solutions but many different ways to get there.”

Anglin said that supporters have known for a long time that they had the six votes to pass this resolution. They wanted to both set some of the land aside for the public, as well as develop part of that site, he said. “This is the result of that compromise, I believe.” He said he was comfortable with the result, and that he voted both for designating a park and for moving forward with development [by hiring a broker].

Anglin said he hoped PAC would now start working on guidelines for developing a portion of the site, and that all stakeholders are well-represented. “Feelings were hurt last night,” he said, referring to the March 17 council meeting. “And so now we’re in damage control, and we’re also in the idea of further discourse. And we need to do that.” There needs to be a real dialogue, including the library, DDA, PAC and the community. All stakeholders need to help decide what to do as a town, he said.

The council resolution wasn’t directing PAC to do a specific task, Anglin said. Rather it was saying “here’s the land – what do you think?” he told commissioners. He suggested having activities on the site to get a response about how the site might be used. There had been a couple of attempts to do this last year, Anglin noted – someone put a temporary lawn there, he said, with food so that passers-by could stop. But it hadn’t been well-advertised, he added, and it wasn’t sponsored by the parks, “so it was very difficult for the community to get totally behind it.”

Anglin thought the March 17 council resolution had been a good compromise, with most interests addressed. “At least we know what we have to do now for further dialogue,” he said, adding that he was confident they could do this and overcome any problems they might have. Some people say that this proposal has bypassed PAC’s authority, he continued, adding that’s one way to look at it. But elected officials have the ability to act independently, Anglin said, “and that’s what a group did.”

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

Christopher Taylor, who serves on both city council and on PAC.

Christopher Taylor, who had voted against the March 17 resolution, also described the council’s action. He stressed that it wasn’t accurate to call the council’s resolution about brokerage services a “sale.” There’s been no decision made to develop the site, he said, and the resolution simply gave direction to retain a broker to explore development on the site.

Taylor pointed out that the Ann Arbor District Library board had weighed in with what the board had described as an unprecedented action, he said. The AADL board voted to request that the council reject the resolution about designating part of the site as a public park. [The AADL board took that vote at its March 17, 2014 meeting – the same night as the council's meeting. AADL director Josie Parker attended the council meeting and read aloud the board's resolution.]

The council’s resolution about the public park had been amended during the March 17 meeting, Taylor noted. It originally designated the entire west side – 12,000 square feet – as a park. But the resolution that ultimately passed gave a span of between 6,500 to 12,000 square feet, with the northern boundary to be determined. [That amendment was reversed at the council's April 7 meeting, supported by Anglin and opposed by Taylor. The area designated is now 12,000 square feet. Taylor called the council's action on April 7 "borderline contemptuous of the library's position.]

The request to designate the site as a park in the city’s parks, recreation and open space (PROS) plan had been pulled out of the March 17 resolution, Taylor said. That means it would not yet be designated as a park in terms of the city’s master plan.

Taylor said that in his view, the amendments improved the March 17 resolution, but he still voted against it – citing the library board’s request and PAC’s “discomfort.” Ultimately, everyone wants the site to be active, useful and successful, he said, with open space somewhere on the site.

Taylor also pointed out that the resolution doesn’t ask PAC to do anything. The “resolved” clauses make no mention of PAC. He said he didn’t know the rationale for that – whether it’s an attempt to go around PAC, or whether there’s an expectation that PAC will be brought in. “There’s a measure of uncertainty there,” he said, so PAC’s role is unclear.

Ault reported that she had attended the council’s March 17 meeting and had spoken during public commentary to reiterate issues that had been discussed at PAC’s Feb. 25, 2014 meeting, following Hathaway’s presentation to PAC. She said she equated the council’s action to buying a wedding dress before you’ve gone out on a date. The council resolution was making decisions about a process that should be inclusive of both partners, she said – the council and PAC.

Park at Library Lane: Commission Discussion

Alan Jackson said he wasn’t sure what PAC was supposed to do now. It wasn’t clear whether PAC should engage in any work to move this forward. He said he’s happy to help if that’s what council wants, and if councilmembers will listen to what PAC has to say.

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

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor’s parks and recreation manager.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, said that while the resolution doesn’t specifically direct PAC to do anything, it does refer to the city. He read one of the “resolved” clauses: “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;…”

It’s fair to suggest that in this context, Smith said, “the city” would include PAC and parks staff, along with many others. Smith noted that PAC has already weighed in on the issue of what makes downtown parks successful, and he didn’t think those recommendations had changed substantially. [PAC had passed a set of recommendations regarding downtown parks at its Oct. 15, 2013 meeting.] Those recommendations would be conveyed to any eventual developer of the site, Smith said.

Graydon Krapohl, PAC’s vice chair, thought that any action on the site would be premature until there’s a developer and some kind of site plan, to ensure that any kind of park would fit with what a developer was doing. It will be months until that might happen, he said, and any plans to develop a park before then would be “very premature.”

David Santacroce clarified with Taylor that the council resolution would result in the development rights being listed for sale. Taylor said that it didn’t mean the city would “pull the trigger” on a sale, however. “And the level of commitment to actually getting the deal done is open and in flux,” he said. “I think it’s fairly characterized as exploratory.”

Karen Levin indicated that a park couldn’t be developed without funding from development of the site. Taylor agreed, saying that anyone who purchased rights to the site would come forward with a proposal for the open space/park side of the parcel. After such a proposal is received, he added, he’d expect PAC to weigh in about whether the proposed open space met the criteria laid out in PAC’s downtown park recommendations.

Taylor said there’s complete consensus on the idea that there will be public space on the parcel, to which the public has full access. “There is not complete consensus on who owns that element of the parcel,” he added. “Nor, I think, is there complete consensus on who will maintain and provide security for that part of the parcel.”

Responding to a query from Jackson, Taylor said the plan is for the city to explore selling condominium rights to the site, but that the city would continue to own the parcel. Smith gave the example of Liberty Square [the former Tally Hall] as a condominium arrangement, where one of the units is the city’s parking structure. Other units are office condominiums, and there are common spaces as well.

Anglin said that it’s difficult “because this is the first urban park that we have.” [His remark caused some commissioners to exchange puzzled looks, given that there are other downtown sites designated as parks – most notably the nearby Liberty Plaza.] He said you could consider the Ann Arbor farmers market as a park. But it’s not on top of something else that the city owns, he noted. Anglin said it’s a process that will require a lot of attention.

Anglin pointed to the resolution’s second resolved clause as giving direction:

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;

The idea is to start to get a feel for what this spot might be used as, Anglin said. Councilmembers made some suggestions, he said, but were leaving it up to PAC to decide what kinds of things might occur on the space. Anglin pointed out that Alan Haber has suggested that it would be a great site for an ice-skating rink. The hope, Anglin said, is that groups would come forward to use the space for concerts or other activities. That’s the kind of thing that the city is inviting, he said.

Missy Stults, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

PAC member Missy Stults.

The downtown library has 600,000 visitors each year, Anglin noted. At the council’s March 17 meeting, he said, the discussion “got a little bogged down in the negative parts associated with the library, perhaps.” But 600,000 is a lot of people with a lot of different needs, he said. The goal is to make a nexus there between the public and the library as a community-supported entity. “I think the possibilities are tremendously powerful there,” Anglin said. He cited swing dancing as a possibility.

Anglin indicated that the city has been caught in the “negativity of Liberty Plaza.” He described generally the history of that public plaza at the southwest corner of Liberty and Division, noting that originally, there was a business that opened up directly onto the plaza. It failed, he said, and “became something else.” There’s a question of “where do we push our problems with people who are in the streets a lot,” Anglin said. That’s a concern for PAC, he said, because “Liberty Plaza is one of our parks.”

Now, a portion of the Library Lane site is also part of the parks system, Anglin contended, adding that it’s because the council has designated it as part of the parks system.

Smith replied that the council action reserved a portion of the site for a park. But at the start of the day on March 17, he said, the city had 158 parks, and that hasn’t changed. The parks system isn’t responsible for that site yet. If the city reaches an agreement with a developer and the land is added to the PROS plan, then it becomes a park.

Missy Stults said this process seemed unprecedented, in terms of collaboration between the planning commission and PAC. Smith replied that it would require a lot of collaboration among a lot of groups. The parks and planning staff already work very well together, he said, so that’s a good partnership.

Levin said it sounded like programming and activities on that site would start almost immediately. How would that happen? she asked. Smith noted that the resolution indicates the parks staff should work with other groups, including the library and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, to encourage the use of the site for public activities. So that will be a responsibility that the parks staff takes on, he said. At some point, representatives from these groups will have to discuss how that happens. It might require permit requirements to be modified, for example.

This effort will take staff time and resources, Smith noted, depending on the level of activity. It doesn’t take as much to handle sporadic event requests, he said, but to do actual programming takes time.

Santacroce noted that the programming mentioned in the council resolution refers to a transition period. He also highlighted the tension between the use of the word “park” in a legal sense as a park owned by the city, and in the lay sense as a public space of some sort. Since the site was not added to the PROS plan, he said, that indicates that the word “park” is being used in the lay sense, and that there’s still a decision to be made about whether it will be a city park or a public space.

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

From left: PAC member Graydon Krapohl and Mike Anglin, a city councilmember who also serves on PAC.

Smith pointed out that one reason why a reference to adding the site to the PROS plan was removed from the resolution is because the council can’t unilaterally add it. The PROS plan is part of the city’s master plan, and there’s an extensive process required for amending it – including the need for approval from the planning commission. The process would take months, Smith explained.

Krapohl said it goes back to the development of the site. An eventual site plan would determine how that portion of the property is used – whether it’s green space or an urban plaza. He noted that if someone wanted to reserve the space for programming, they could do that now through the process that exists.

Anglin replied that PAC could start thinking about the discussion of public versus private. The distinction is pretty clear, he said. A developer might agree to certain conditions about keeping a space for the public, but years could pass and “people could forget totally what that commitment was,” he said. Since the public owns the city’s parks, he added, that gives parks a great deal of protection and versatility of use. That’s been seen at Liberty Plaza, Anglin said, where people have offered social services to those in need. That had been a new concept that PAC had dealt with, he noted.

Regarding how people might be encouraged to use the Library Lane site, Anglin suggested putting a sign there to advertise it. “There are groups that would come in from Chelsea, with their fiddlers and things of that sort, who would love a venue,” Anglin said. “There are people at the university who do swing dance, who would love this venue.” The council resolution is asking the community, with its creativity, to move forward with this, he said.

Anglin cited music at Liberty Plaza, saying he thought someone paid to have groups perform there. Smith clarified that Bank of Ann Arbor sponsors the Sonic Lunch summer concert series at Liberty Plaza, though he wasn’t sure if the groups that perform there are paid. [They are paid.]

Anglin also mentioned the Water Hill Music Fest, saying that groups from that neighborhood might also like Library Lane as a performance space. There are choral groups in the schools that would love a venue, he added, and plenty of musicians and other talented people. “I could see skits being put on there,” Anglin said. “I could see it being a place where someone who really wants to do something for little children comes on a Saturday morning and puts something out there.” So lots of kids and their parents would show up on a Saturday morning to enjoy the outside show, he said.

That’s the concept, Anglin continued. The idea of a commons is to be a place where people gather, he said, “and their own energy creates the source of things.”

Smith said the parks staff could use some advice from PAC. The staff now have an assignment to encourage the creative use of this Library Lane space, he noted. He reminded commissioners that last year, the city – acting on PAC’s recommendation – had waived rental fees at Liberty Plaza, to try to activate that space in a similar way. If a band approaches the parks staff and is looking for a place to perform, “which place do I sell?” Smith asked. It’s a bit of a conundrum, he added, and “it is a little bit of a head scratcher for me at the moment.”

Ingrid Ault, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ingrid Ault, chair of PAC.

Taylor pointed out that the Library Lane surface currently has parking spaces there, which are under the control of the DDA by virtue of a parking agreement with the city. “That’s got to interface in here somehow,” he said.

Santacroce worried about the competition between the two sites – Library Lane and Liberty Plaza. Would programming be moved from Liberty Plaza to Library Lane?

Santacroce also noted that the difference between a city-owned park and a public space that’s owned by a developer “is zero, if we choose it to be zero.” The only difference could be that the city wouldn’t pay to maintain the space, he said. The same kinds of activities and events that have been described could still take place.

Jackson wanted direction from parks staff about what PAC should do next, saying it’s probably something that will be discussed again at future meetings.

Ault wrapped up the discussion. One of the things that’s been troubling about this process, she said, is that “we are now in damage control.” There are hurt feelings, she said. There are groups that feel they weren’t listened to – “and this is one of them,” she added, referring to PAC. She requested that Anglin and Taylor communicate PAC’s desires to other councilmembers, “and that you consider talking to us when crafting these kinds of resolutions.” She noted that everyone, including PAC, has agreed that there will be open space on that site. If PAC had been involved, it could have been a resolution that everyone bought into, she said.

Ault noted that last year, the downtown park subcommittee – which she chaired – worked hard to do outreach before developing its recommendations. Regarding development of the council resolution, she said, “it was very disappointing to feel that we weren’t listened to in that process.” If that had happened, “we wouldn’t have hurt feelings.”

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Park at Library Lane: April 7 Council Action

The issue of the Library Lane site was again the focus of action by city council during its April 7, 2014 meeting, which adjourned at 1:30 a.m. The result is that a significant portion of the surface – 12,000 square feet – is reserved as an urban park, and the property will be listed for sale without any delay for a public process. A decision on how to use the net proceeds of a potential sale of the land will be put off at least until June.

Anglin supported the April 7 action to set the size of the Library Lane park at 12,000 square feet, extending across the entire western border of the property on South Fifth Avenue. Taylor opposed that increase. Anglin also was a co-sponsor – along with Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – of a resolution that would have delayed listing the development rights on the property until additional public process was taken, including a community discussion about possibly designating the entire Library Lane surface as a park. That resolution was debated but ultimately voted down unanimously – though it might be brought back for consideration in the future.

Ault spoke to councilmembers during public commentary on April 7, saying that significant public process had already been done on this issue and asking “When will the madness stop?” She said a “special interest group” can’t take no for an answer, and she asked the council to “end the hamster wheel ride tonight.” Will Hathaway of the Library Green Conservancy contacted The Chronicle during the April 7 council meeting, saying that while some members of the conservancy were certainly in favor of the resolution to delay listing the property, the group has not taken a position on it.

More details on the council’s debate to increase the square footage of a park is provided in The Chronicle’s live updates from the April 7 meeting. The live updates also cover deliberations on reconsidering the resolution about listing the Library Lane site for sale, and on a move to delay hiring a broker.

Grant for Gallup Park Pathway

PAC’s March 18 agenda included a resolution to recommend that the city apply for a grant to help renovate the Gallup Park pathway, which is part of the countywide Border-to-Border trail. The grant application is to the federal transportation alternatives program (TAP), which is administered in this region by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and statewide by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT).

Gallup Park, Border to Border trail, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view showing location of trail improvements at Gallup Park. (Links to larger image.)

Funds would be used to renovate the path from the Geddes Dam at the east end of the Gallup Park pathway, to the parking lot east of Huron Parkway. The project also entails renovations to the large loop that encircles that portion of the park, totaling about 2 miles of trail. The application amount hasn’t yet been determined, but will likely be for $400,000 to $500,000. The entire project budget is in the $600,000 range, with likely about $200,000 in matching funds to come from the city’s parks and recreation maintenance and capital improvements millage.

In describing the project, park planner Amy Kuras told commissioners that it’s being undertaken in conjunction with a major “universal access” playground that’s being developed at Gallup, using a $250,000 contribution from the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor. For background on that effort, see Chronicle coverage: “Rotary to Fund Universal Access Playground.”

Kuras also noted that the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens is putting in a grant application for a new non-motorized path along Dixboro Road from Plymouth to Geddes. That trail will connect very well to the Gallup Park pathway, she said. [The Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission is also contributing to these trails. At its March 11, 2014 meeting, the WCPARC approved a $250,000 grant to Ann Arbor Township for trail in that area.]

The application will next be considered by the city council at its April 7 meeting. The deadline to apply for the current round of funding is April 21.

Grant for Gallup Park Pathway: Commission Discussion

Bob Galardi said he’s ridden along that trail often, and it’s in need of fixing up. When would the project begin, assume that the city gets it? he asked. Kuras indicated that the work would likely be done in 2015-2016.

Alan Jackson clarified with Kuras that there isn’t a specific plan that needs approval at this point – it’s just the grant application that PAC is addressing.

Outcome: PAC recommended that the city apply for the grant to build trail improvements. The city council subsequently authorized the application at its April 7 meeting.

Volunteerism in the Parks

Dave Borneman, parks and recreation deputy manager, oversees the city’s natural area preservation (NAP) program and volunteer efforts for the entire parks & recreation department. He briefed commissioners on volunteerism in the parks.

Dave Borneman, Ann Arbor parks advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Dave Borneman, manager of the city’s natural area preservation (NAP) program.

Borneman began by introducing three other staff members: Tina Rosselle, NAP’s volunteer and outreach coordinator; Becky Gajewski, NAP stewardship specialist; and Erika Pratt, the city’s Give 365 volunteer and outreach coordinator.

Giving an historical overview, Borneman noted that volunteer programs began with NAP in 1993, starting with individual work days that led to a park stewardship program. Park stewards are dedicated long-term volunteers for the natural areas within specific parks, typically near where they live.

A few years later, the city’s Adopt-a-Park program was created, focusing not just on natural area issues, but on the broader needs of the city’s 158 parks. In turn, that led to several other programs, including a citizen pruner program, to help residents take care of trees within the parks; and Adopt-a-Median for traffic islands and medians within the city.

More recently, the Give 365 program was started to help formalize volunteers for a range of programs and activities, including volunteer opportunities at the city’s recreation facilities.

Borneman also noted that volunteers are used in taking inventories of salamanders, frogs and toads, mudpuppies, and breeding birds. Those activities will be happening this spring, he said, “to help us see what’s living in the parks.” Volunteers help with controlled burns, community outreach, office work, research projects, and photo monitoring, to get visual documentation of how the parks change over the years. Volunteers also help translate newsletters into different languages, including Japanese. “We’re trying to broaden our message to get to a lot of folks that we haven’t traditionally gotten to,” he said.

The largest number of NAP volunteer hours are logged working on control of invasive plant species, followed by trail work, Borneman reported.

NAP has been located at the Leslie Science & Nature Center for about 20 years, but is relocating to an office on Huron River Drive that will bring all staff – including the volunteer coordinators – under the same roof, Borneman said. The office will be located in a recently donated house near the South Pond Nature Area off of Huron River Drive. More details are in NAP’s spring newsletter, he said.

Borneman noted that there were lots of ways to connect with the NAP and parks volunteer programs, including Facebook and Twitter. He also described activities of Give 365, which is more focused on recreation facilities. Give 365 has Facebook and Twitter accounts too, as well as a presence on Pinterest.

Volunteerism in the Parks: Commission Discussion

Bob Galardi asked about plantings in traffic islands and medians. Is there any thought to putting in plants that attract honey bees? Borneman replied that plantings take into account several factors, including what types of plants will grow in a particular site. Some sites are “pretty inhospitable,” he noted.

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

PAC members Bob Galardi and Paige Morrison.

In those locations, the staff try to choose plants that will be colorful and not too tall. There is a growing movement to attract native pollinators, Borneman said, including honey bees and bumblebees.

Tina Rosselle, NAP’s volunteer and outreach coordinator, said planting native flora to attract bees is definitely something NAP is thinking about. But she indicated that planting such things in traffic islands might not be the best idea, since the bees or butterflies would have to fly across traffic.

Christopher Taylor said he was glad there was a focus on the height of plants in medians and traffic islands. Last year on Liberty, sunflowers were planted, he said. They looked beautiful, but got a little obstructive.

Alan Jackson wondered how NAP prioritizes its activities. He asked if there was a mission that guided the work. Yes, Borneman replied. With 158 parks and over 1,200 acres of natural areas, the staff can’t possible get out to all the sites – even with a corps of volunteers. Over the past 20 years, NAP has done a lot of inventory work, he said, to identify areas that are high-quality native forest remnants, for example, compared to sites that might have less quality native flora. That helped in doing a priority ranking of all the city’s parkland acreage. The staff schedules most of its work in those higher-priority sites, Borneman said. However, volunteer preferences also play a role, he added.

Ingrid Ault encouraged others in the community to volunteer, saying she’s taken part in the frog and toad survey for the past couple of years. “I’ve gone to places that I didn’t really know existed,” she said. “And I can tell you what a spring peeper and a leopard frog sound like.” It’s very rewarding, she said.

More information about volunteering is on NAP’s website.

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, April 15, 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]

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  1. By Larry Baird
    April 9, 2014 at 5:57 pm | permalink

    Interesting that today’s PAC seems much more concerned about building a park/public space on top of a parking structure.

    Where was the outcry and hurt feelings when council wanted to do the exact opposite and build a parking structure on top of a park?

  2. By John Floyd
    April 11, 2014 at 4:52 pm | permalink

    Is Mr. Borneman going to try to attract the birds as well as the bees?

    I’m not sure who Ms. Ault refers to when she speaks of “Special interests”, or what she means by “The hamster on a wheel”. I gather there is some community voice she wants silenced, that she thinks that there should be a limit on the right to petition government for the redress of grievances. Can someone more knowledgeable than me clue me in on what her lingo means?

    Much obliged, in advance.

  3. By Eric Boyd
    April 14, 2014 at 2:49 pm | permalink

    I wish the Council would spend more time figuring out how to build the Ann Arbor Greenway and less time on how many square feet there should be of a tiny park next to the library.