Stories indexed with the term ‘downtown parks’

Push to Program Liberty Plaza, Library Lane

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Aug. 19, 2014): Liberty Plaza was the focus of two items that appeared on PAC’s Aug. 19 agenda: (1) extension of a fee waiver for events held at Liberty Plaza; and (2) feedback in response to city council action, which addressed Liberty Plaza and the potential park atop the Library Lane underground parking structure.

Paige Morrison, Colin Smith, Bob Galardi, Graydon Krapohl, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Paige Morrison, Colin Smith, Bob Galardi and Graydon Krapohl before the start of the Aug. 19, 2014 Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Regarding feedback on Liberty Plaza and Library Lane, PAC unanimously passed a resolution to form a subcommittee to study issues related to those urban parks, and to allocate or obtain resources to oversee programming there for up to a year.

Based on that effort, the subcommittee would analyze the outcome and deliver recommendations to council next year – no later than October 2015. This resolution, drafted by PAC chair Ingrid Ault and vice chair Graydon Krapohl, had been emailed to commissioners earlier in the day but was not available to the public prior to the meeting. [.pdf of Aug. 19, 2014 Liberty Plaza resolution]

The Aug. 19 discussion also included comments from Matthew Altruda, who programs the Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch weekly summer concert series at Liberty Plaza. Ault had invited Altruda to the meeting to describe that effort, which is widely cited as a successful use of Liberty Plaza.

Regarding the fee waiver, PAC voted unanimously to extend the waiver through October 2015 – coordinating with the subcommittee work on Liberty Plaza and Library Lane.

Both Aug. 19 items – the feedback to city council (but with no accompanying resolution) and fee waiver – had originally appeared on PAC’s July 15, 2014 agenda, but were postponed because three commissioners were absent at that meeting.

In other action, PAC recommended approval of three three-year professional services agreements (PSAs) for engineering services in the parks and recreation unit – with SmithGroupJJR, Stantec Consulting Michigan Inc, and Tetra Tech Inc. The amount was not to exceed $150,000 annually per agreement.

The commission also elected David Santacroce as chair for the coming year, replacing Ingrid Ault in that position. Paige Morrison was elected as vice chair. Each vote was conducted by “secret ballot” as stipulated in PAC’s bylaws. The one-year terms begin Sept. 1.

One topic that did not appear on PAC’s Aug. 19 agenda was a review of the proposed four-year extension on a University of Michigan lease of three parking lots at Fuller Park. The city council – at its meeting the previous night, on Aug. 18 – had indicated an interest in having PAC take another look at the lease renewal, but parks and recreation manager Colin Smith told commissioners that he didn’t have additional details on the request.

During deliberations on Aug. 18, mayor John Hieftje had recommended postponing council action until early October, in order to give PAC two meetings during which they could reevaluate the lease agreement. PAC had already recommended approval of the lease, after discussing it at their July 15, 2014 meeting. The parliamentary option chosen by the council was to postpone, not to refer to PAC.

The two council representatives on PAC – Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) –  chose somewhat different points of emphasis in their characterizations of the council’s Aug. 18 action on the Fuller Park lease. When Anglin told commissioners that the council wanted PAC to review the lease again, Taylor stressed that the council action was “a straight postponement” – not a vote to refer the item back to PAC. He added that the council was interested in hearing if PAC has any further thoughts on the use of the site. [Full Story]

Parks Group Strategizes on Liberty Plaza

Liberty Plaza was the focus of two items that appeared on the Aug. 19, 2014 agenda for the Ann Arbor park advisory commission: (1) extension of a fee waiver for events held at Liberty Plaza; and (2) feedback in response to city council action, which addressed Liberty Plaza and the potential park atop the Library Lane underground parking structure.

The surface of the Library Lane parking structure is highlighted in yellow. The surface of the Library Lane parking structure is highlighted in yellow. The city council has designated 12,000 square feet of that lot, on the west … [Full Story]

Parks Group Weighs Fuller Parking Lease

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (July 15, 2014): The main action item at the July Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting related to renewal of a lease for parking at a Fuller Park surface lot.

Gwen Nystuen, Eric Lipson, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Former park advisory commissioner Gwen Nystuen and former planning commissioner Eric Lipson of the Library Green Conservancy spoke during public commentary. They advocated for integrated planning of public space in the Library Block, which includes Liberty Plaza and the Library Lane site. (Photos by the writer.)

An existing lease to the University of Michigan expires on Aug. 31, 2014. PAC recommended that the city renew the lease for two years, with an additional two-year option for renewal beyond that. Annual revenue will be $78,665, and will be included as part of the parks and recreation general fund budget.

The three lots are: (1) the parking lot south of Fuller Road, next to the railroad tracks (Lot A); (2) the paved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot B); and (3) the unpaved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot C). The lots are used by UM during restricted hours.

Three people spoke during public commentary regarding Fuller Park, though most of their focus was on the possibility of locating a train station at that site, which they opposed.

Responding to concerns raised during public commentary, commissioners discussed and ultimately amended the recommendation, adding a whereas clause that stated the “resolution does not commit PAC to support or oppose the use of Lot A as a rail station.”

The July 15 agenda also included two items related to Liberty Plaza: (1) extension of a fee waiver for events held at Liberty Plaza; and (2) feedback in response to city council action, which addressed Liberty Plaza and the potential park atop the Library Lane underground parking structure.

The existing fee waiver, which had been in place for a year, expired on July 1. The feedback to the city council related to action at the council’s June 16, 2014 meeting, which took place after a contentious debate over a resolution co-sponsored by Christopher Taylor, who also serves as an ex officio member of PAC.

On July 15, the commission also heard public commentary related to this area, as Library Green Conservancy members advocated for PAC to consider the entire block – both Liberty Plaza and Library Lane – when making recommendations to the council.

But because three PAC members were absent, chair Ingrid Ault suggested that the two items be put off until more commissioners could participate in a discussion. Absent on July 15 were PAC vice chair Graydon Krapohl, Alan Jackson, and Bob Galardi, who also serves as chair of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy board.

There was no formal vote to postpone, but it’s likely that the items will appear on PAC’s Aug. 19 agenda. That date falls after the Aug. 5 primary elections. Krapohl, a Democrat, is the only candidate running for Ward 4 city council. Christopher Taylor – a councilmember who serves as an ex officio member of PAC – is one of four Democrats running for mayor.

During the July 15 meeting, PAC also received a briefing on activities at Mack Pool, the city’s only indoor pool. Although the city had considered closing it just a few years ago, new programming has resulted in increased revenues for that facility. [Full Story]

Liberty Plaza Redesign Referred To Parks Group

The future of Liberty Plaza, a park in downtown Ann Arbor at the corner of Division and Liberty streets, will receive some added attention from the park advisory commission, as a result city council action on June 16, 2014.

The resolution considered by the council would have directed the city administrator to “work collaboratively with the property owners adjacent to and near Liberty Plaza, the general public, PAC [park advisory commission], the Ann Arbor District Library, and the DDA to develop a conceptual design for an improved Liberty Plaza…” The resolution was sponsored by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), mayor John Hieftje, Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

But after nearly an hour of debate, the council voted to refer … [Full Story]

Park Commissioners Question Council Action

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.” [Full Story]

Library Wary of Downtown Park Proposal

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Oct. 21, 2013): Expressing concerns over the possible addition of a downtown park on the city-owned Library Lot site – adjacent to the downtown library – AADL trustees discussed but took no formal action related to a recent recommendation of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission.

Library Lot, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

View looking north toward the city-owned Library Lot, taken from the fourth floor of the Ann Arbor District Library building. (Photos by the writer.)

The idea for a new park was among several recommendations approved by the commission at its Oct. 15, 2013 meeting, to be forwarded to the city council for consideration. The AADL was specifically mentioned in the Library Lot recommendation: “In order to adequately address issues of safety and security, the Ann Arbor District Library must also be strongly represented in the planning process.”

AADL director Josie Parker stressed that neither she nor board president Prue Rosenthal had indicated that the library is in any way capable of advising the city regarding security and safety of a park. They had attended a meeting of the downtown park subcommittee, she said, and had related the library’s experiences regarding a range of security issues at the downtown building. Parker reported that so far in 2013, the library has made police requests to its downtown building on average every 3.5 days.

Trustees generally expressed caution and noted that many questions remained about whether a downtown park at that location would be viable, without adequate oversight and additional development. Parker planned to relay the board’s concerns to the park advisory commission.

Another major item of discussion at the Oct. 21 meeting related to Pittsfield Township’s proposed State Street corridor improvement authority (CIA). Craig Lyon, director of utilities and municipal services for Pittsfield Township, and Dick Carlisle of Carlisle Wortman Associates were on hand to answer questions, as was CIA board member Claudia Kretschmer of Gym America. Trustees asked a range of questions, covering other financing options, the process for receiving federal funds, and the procedure for opting out of this new tax increment financing (TIF) authority.

If the board decides that AADL will opt out, a resolution would need to be passed. Taxing entities have a 60-day period in which to make an opt-out decision. That period began with an Oct. 9 public hearing held by the Pittsfield Township board, and will end in early December. The only AADL board meeting currently scheduled before then is on Nov. 11.

In its one main action item on Oct. 21, the board authorized a $40,000 adjustment to AADL’s 2013-14 budget to cover costs of repairs and testing of the downtown library roof. The adjustment transfers $40,000 from the library’s fund balance to the repair and maintenance line item. According to the most recent financial report, the library had a fund balance of $8.03 million as of Sept. 30, 2013.

During her director’s report, Parker highlighted some of the niche services that the library provides – such as hosting a Minecraft server and a recent Oculus Rift Hackathon. She said she wanted the board to think about the things that go beyond just lending books – services that are important to some but completely irrelevant to others. “The combination of it all is what makes the Ann Arbor District Library the amazing library system that we all know it is,” Parker said. “It’s the sum of all these parts, not one aspect or service.”

During committee reports, Nancy Kaplan noted that the communications committee hopes to receive a report later this month from Allerton-Hill Consulting to review. The consultants were hired earlier this year to conduct a communications audit for the library – a move that’s been criticized by some residents who believe the work is positioning AADL for another bond proposal to build a new downtown library.

For the first time in several months, no one spoke during public commentary at the board meeting. [Full Story]

Downtown Park Proposal Moves to Council

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Oct. 15, 2013): Commissioners who’ve been evaluating possibilities for downtown parks and open space delivered their recommendations at this month’s meeting, wrapping up an effort that traces back over a year.

Bill Higgins, Harry Sheehan, Mike Anglin, Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Bill Higgins, Harry Sheehan and Mike Anglin, a Ward 5 Ann Arbor city councilmember. Sheehan is environmental manager with the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, and gave an update on the Upper Malletts Creek stormwater management project. Higgins lives in the neighborhood that’s the focus of the project. (Photos by the writer.)

The report of the downtown parks subcommittee includes several broad recommendations based on feedback gathered over the past few months, with an emphasis on “placemaking” principles that include active use, visibility and safety. The most specific recommendation calls for developing a park or open space on top of the city-owned Library Lot underground parking structure, adjacent to the downtown library.

A park at that location should exceed 5,000 square feet, according to the report, and connect to Library Lane, a small mid-block cut-through that runs north of the library between Fifth and Division. That connection offers flexibility, because the lane can be closed off for events to temporarily increase the size of a park or open space at that location.

Commissioners discussed and made some minor amendments to the subcommittee’s recommendations, which they then unanimously voted to approve. Most of the discussion focused on the Library Lot site. The recommendations will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Also on Oct. 15, Harry Sheehan briefed PAC about how a stormwater management project for Upper Malletts Creek might impact three city parks: Eisenhower, Churchill Downs and Lawton. The project, overseen by the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, is still in the planning phase. It’s intended to help control flooding in a neighborhood that’s roughly bounded by I-94, Scio Church Road and Ann Arbor-Saline Road, on the city’s southwest side.

Park planner Amy Kuras updated commissioners on capital projects throughout the parks system, highlighting projects that were completed this summer as well as work that’s ongoing, like construction of the Ann Arbor skatepark.

Missy Stults, PAC’s representative on the city’s environmental commission, reported that the commission has developed a work plan with strategies that are mostly tied to the city’s sustainability framework and climate action plan. For example, the plan includes work to promote re-useable water bottles and to discourage the use of plastic water bottles. One idea is to develop an app that would show people where to get public water, including water fountains in city parks. Tying in with that work plan item, Colin Smith – the city’s parks and recreation manager – reported said the city is looking to replace several water fountains at parks and recreation facilities with fountains that indicate how many plastic bottles have been saved by people using the water fountains. He noted that similar fountains are used at the University of Michigan.

Oct. 15 was the final meeting for Julie Grand, who is term limited after serving six years on PAC. Grand, who served on the downtown parks subcommittee, thanked commissioners for passing the recommendations, saying “it’s a great way to go out.” [Full Story]

Library Lot Recommended for New Park

A group that’s been meeting since early 2013 – to explore the possibilities for a new downtown park – delivered a set of recommendations to the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its Oct. 15, 2013 meeting.

The eight recommendations of PAC’s downtown park subcommittee are wide-ranging, but include a site-specific recommendation to develop a new park/open space area on the top of the Library Lot underground parking structure. Now a surface parking lot, the site is owned by the city and is situated just north of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building. The recommendation calls for only a portion of the site to be used for a new park/open space, and stresses that AADL should be involved in … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Considers Broad Park Fee Waiver

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Sept. 17, 2013): With about a half dozen Camp Take Notice supporters watching, commissioners recommended approval of a broad park fee waiver for charities that distribute “goods for basic human needs” in Ann Arbor parks.

Ingrid Ault, Alonzo Young, Camp Take Notice, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ingrid Ault, who was elected chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission on Sept. 17, shakes hands with Alonzo Young of Camp Take Notice. (Photos by the writer.)

The waiver, which would require approval by the city council before taking effect, follows action by the council this summer to waive all park rental fees for the use of Liberty Plaza during a one-year trial period, also based on a PAC recommendation. The goal of that waiver is to spur more activity in that urban park, at the southwest corner of Liberty and Divisions streets.

The issue of fee waivers arose earlier this year when city staff considered charging a rental fee to the church that hosted Pizza in the Park, a weekly homelessness outreach ministry. Members of Camp Take Notice, a group that advocates for the homeless, has been urging the city to apply a broad fee waiver throughout the entire park system for entities that provide humanitarian aid. The recommendation approved on Sept. 17 is a compromise worked out with city staff and Camp Take Notice representatives.

Discussion among commissioners focused on how the waiver would be handled. Parks & recreation manager Colin Smith stressed that all park rules would still apply, and that applicants would need to go through the standard permitting process in order to receive a waiver.

During their Sept. 17 meeting, commissioners also discussed the issue of releasing raw data to the public, in the context of two recent surveys – on dog parks and downtown parks. Tim Berla and others advocated for making the survey results available in a form that could be used by the public for analysis. [The data from both of those surveys had been available in a .pdf format, and can now be downloaded from the city's website as Excel files.] Other commissioners pushed for the city to develop a policy regarding the release of data – a standardized approach that would be approved by the city council.

The Sept. 17 meeting also included PAC’s annual election of officers. Commissioners unanimously selected Ingrid Ault as chair and Graydon Krapohl as vice chair. Bob Galardi was re-elected chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee. There were no other nominations. Current PAC chair Julie Grand is term limited and will be cycling off the commission in October.
[Full Story]

Downtown Parks Group Seeks More Input

The subcommittee of Ann Arbor’s park advisory commission, which has been working on recommendations for a possible new downtown park, will hold a public forum on Monday, Sept. 9 to get additional input. The forum runs from 7-8:30 p.m. at the lower level multi-purpose room of the downtown library at 343 S. Fifth Ave.

At a subcommittee meeting on Sept. 3, members discussed the presentation and format for the Sept. 9 forum, which will include a review of responses from an online survey conducted this summer. [.pdf of survey responses, a 110-page document] [.pdf of slide presentation showing survey results]

Highlights from the survey, which received about 1,600 responses, include:

  • 76.2% of respondents believe Ann Arbor would benefit from more downtown … [Full Story]

WBWC Urges Work on Border-To-Border Trail

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Aug. 20, 2013): In a session that one member described as the “shortest meeting ever,” park commissioners heard presentations and updates, but had no action items on their agenda.

Larry Deck, Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, Ann Arbor park adivsory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Larry Deck of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition gave a presentation to the Ann Arbor park advisory commission about the Border-to-Border trail. (Photos by the writer.)

The main presentation focused on the Border-to-Border trail connections in Ann Arbor. The trail runs roughly along the Huron River from Livingston County in the north to Wayne County in the east, using paved shared-use paths, unpaved paths and bike lanes.

Larry Deck from the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition highlighted three areas that WBWC has identified as high priorities: (1) between Bandemer Park and Barton Park/Huron River Drive (the B2B trail ends at the north edge of Bandemer Park); (2) near the intersection of Fuller Road and Maiden Lane; and (3) near the Fuller Road bridge over the Huron River.

Another WBWC priority is to improve the bicycling connections between the University of Michigan’s central and north campuses.

Deck suggested that PAC consider a resolution recommending to city council that these projects be designed and funded, and in general renew the priority of the B2B trail along the Huron River greenway. It’s been a city priority for decades, he noted, but it’s good to have a reminder of that.

Discussion among commissioners focused on the challenges of crossing railroad tracks at various points along the B2B route, as well as interest in coordinating with other projects like the recommendations of the North Main Huron River corridor task force.

During the meeting, commissioners also got an annual update from George Taylor, president of the Cobblestone Farm Association, as well as briefings from PAC’s dog park and downtown park subcommittees. Results from surveys to solicit public input for both subcommittees are now available, and will be analyzed by commissioners and staff in preparation for upcoming public forums. [.pdf of 306-page dog park survey results] [.pdf of 110-page downtown park survey results]

Two public forums are scheduled for the downtown park project: On Monday, Sept. 9 in the basement of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., and on Wednesday, Sept. 18 at city hall’s basement conference room, 301 E. Huron, from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

The dog park subcommittee – which is looking for a possible location for a third dog park – will hold a public forum on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. at Cobblestone Farms, 2781 Packard. In noting the history of opposition to proposals for a dog park at West Park, Tim Berla wondered whether it would be possible to locate a dog park anywhere near a residential neighborhood. It’s a “classic Ann Arbor trap,” he said – everyone is in favor of it, until something specific is proposed and the neighbors say no.

In his manager’s report, Colin Smith highlighted several upcoming events. The annual season-closing “dog swim” at Buhr Park pool will be held on Sept. 4 and Sept. 5 from 3-8 p.m. On Sunday, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. in Liberty Plaza – the downtown park at Division and Liberty – a grand opening will be held for the “sensory garden” there. It’s a project of the Ann Arbor commission on disability issues, in collaboration with the city’s adopt-a-park program and the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Smith also noted that the popularity of Argo Cascades has led to a shortage of parking in that area. As a result, beginning Labor Day weekend the staff will start using a portion of Longshore Park to park cars. It’s a short-term measure while the staff seeks longer-term solutions, he said. [Full Story]

Skatepark, Liberty Plaza Waiver Go to Council

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (June 18, 2013): Commissioners took action on two major projects in the city’s park system: A new skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park, and efforts to improve downtown’s Liberty Plaza.

Jen Geer, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jen Geer is the newest member of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. (Photos by the writer.)

PAC unanimously recommended approval of a $1,224,311 budget for the Ann Arbor skatepark, including a construction contract of $1,031,592 with Krull Construction of Ann Arbor. Also approved was an operating agreement between the city and the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. [.pdf of operating agreement] The project, which has been years in the works, will move to the city council for final approval, possibly at its July 15 meeting.

Parks staff and commissioners praised the project, specifically citing the work of the Friends for their tenacity and ability to overcome challenges as the skatepark was developed. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, noted that people talk a lot about collaboration, but “you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of it than this.”

If the council approves the contract, construction could start in early August, with completion of the concrete portion of the skatepark by this November – weather permitting.

Also getting a recommendation of approval from PAC was a proposal to waive park rental fees for Liberty Plaza, a downtown park at the corner of Liberty and Division. The waiver, which requires city council approval, would be enacted on a one-year trial basis through July 1, 2014. It’s intended to help encourage more activity in what’s been described as a problem park. Several supporters of Camp Take Notice and Pizza in the Park – a weekly outreach effort to the homeless – attended the meeting, and advocated for broader fee waivers in other city parks, tied to humanitarian aid.

Commissioners also heard two presentations during the June 18 meeting. Jenna Bacolor, the director of Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, gave an update on that program, including collaborations with the city parks system. One of those collaborations is tied to the decision by the Ann Arbor Public Schools board to close middle school swimming pools, as part of broad budget cuts. Tim Berla, who serves on PAC as a liaison from the Rec & Ed recreational advisory commission, reported on discussions to explore the possibility of a new recreation millage or an enhancement millage – something that AAPS might consider putting on the ballot.

A second presentation was from two members of the city’s public art commission, seeking input on proposals for artwork at the East Stadium bridges. John Kotarski and Bob Miller highlighted proposals from four finalists: Rebar Group of San Francisco; Sheila Klein of Bow, Washington; Volkan Alkanoglu, based in Atlanta, Georgia; and Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass. The project has a $400,000 budget and includes the possibility of artwork at Rose White Park, located east of the bridges.

In items of communication, PAC chair Julie Grand noted that parks and recreation manager Colin Smith had been named Do-Gooder of the Year in Current magazine’s 2013 Readers Choice Awards. He received a round of applause from commissioners.

It was the first meeting for PAC’s newest commissioner Jen Geer, whose appointment was confirmed by the city council on May 20, 2013 to replace Tim Doyle. Geer, a Burns Park resident, is the daughter of Kirk Profit, a lobbyist for the city with the Lansing firm Governmental Consultant Services Inc. (GCSI). She is married to Christopher Geer, who serves on the Ann Arbor housing commission board. [Full Story]

Survey Drafted for Input on Downtown Parks

At a May 28, 2013 meeting interrupted by a tornado warning, members of the Ann Arbor downtown parks subcommittee reviewed a draft survey to gather input as the group develops recommendations for the city council.

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

Alan Haber takes notes on a draft survey about downtown parks. He was attending the May 28 meeting of a subcommittee of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, which is putting together a survey that will be released in June. The subcommittee will be making recommendations regarding downtown parks and open space. (Photos by the writer.)

In a variety of ways, the survey attempts to gauge interest in downtown parks and open space, and to identify the types of activities and features that people might want, such as playgrounds or performance space. The survey also includes questions about assessing the existing downtown parks, including the farmers market, Liberty Plaza at Liberty & Division, and Sculpture Plaza at Fourth & Catherine.

This subcommittee of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission has been meeting regularly since early February. Their work relates in part to a request that mayor John Hieftje made last summer. It’s also meant to supplement the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project. For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “Parks Group To Weigh In On Downtown Need,” and “Committee Starts Downtown Parks Research,” as well as coverage included in the PAC meeting reports for March 19, 2013 and May 21, 2013.

Several leaders of the Library Green Conservancy attended the May 28 meeting, and gave input on the survey throughout the discussion. The conservancy previously has criticized a survey conducted by the DDA as part of Connecting William Street, saying that the DDA survey did not give respondents the option of supporting downtown parks and open space.

Based on feedback at the May 28 meeting, parks staff will revise the survey for final review at the subcommittee’s June 11 meeting. The intent is to launch the survey soon after that meeting. The goal is to incorporate survey results as recommendations are developed for downtown parks/open spaces, which will likely be delivered to the city council in August. [Full Story]

Parks Agenda: Downtown, Dogs, Dams, DTE

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (March 19, 2013): A packed agenda for this month’s PAC meeting included several items related to downtown parks and the Huron River.

Amy Kuras, Andrew Walton, Doug Kelly, Stewart Gordon, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, Library Green Conservancy, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Park planner Amy Kuras, left, talks with Stewart Gordon, an advocate for putting an ice-skating rink atop the Library Lane site. In the background are Andrew Walton, left, and Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf. Walton supervises the Huron Hills golf course. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners discussed a proposal to build an ice-skating rink atop a portion of the city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure. They took no action on the item, but were briefed on the proposal by two advocates of the effort: Alan Haber and Stewart Gordon. The two men also attended a subsequent March 26 meeting of a PAC downtown park subcommittee. This report includes a summary of that session as well.

River-related items on PAC’s March 19 agenda included a resolution to recommend awarding a $295,530 contract to Gerace Construction Co. for repair work and repainting at Argo and Geddes dams, as well as site improvements around Argo Dam. Brian Steglitz, an engineer with the city, told commissioners that the work is being done in response to the most recent inspection by state regulators.

Commissioners also recommended awarding a $512,180 contract for improvements at the Gallup Park canoe livery to Construction Solutions Inc., which will be funded in part by a $300,000 state grant. Cheryl Saam, facility supervisor for the Argo and Gallup canoe liveries, gave commissioners a presentation on those operations, in preparation for budget recommendations that PAC is expected to consider at its April 16 meeting.

As part of her report, Saam noted that the city plans to issue another request for proposals (RFP) to design a whitewater section along the Huron River, downstream from the Argo Dam near the Argo Cascades. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith reminded commissioners that the first attempt at this project wasn’t successful. The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality did not approve the initial design, and would not issue the necessary permit for the project. The staff is working with the state to address MDEQ’s concerns, he said. Smith also reported that DTE Energy still intends to pay for the project, which is located adjacent to property that the utility company is cleaning up.

DTE representatives were on hand at the meeting because of a different project: To request an easement on city-owned land in Riverside Park, where utility poles are located. The easement is needed as part of an $8 million new electrical substation that DTE is building on land adjacent to the park. Commissioners unanimously recommended that the city council approve the easement.

In another presentation to set the stage for next month’s budget discussion, PAC heard from Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf, and Andrew Walton, recreational facility supervisor at Huron Hills. They reviewed the status of the city’s two golf courses – at Huron Hills and Leslie Park – and noted that both courses have seen significant revenue gains over the past five years.

The issue that drew the most public commentary during the meeting wasn’t on the March 19 agenda: a possible dog park on a knoll in West Park. Residents in that area aren’t happy about the prospect of barking dogs in their neighborhood. [Full Story]

Special Public Art Meeting Set; Others Canceled

A special meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission has been called for Thursday, March 7 starting at 4:30 p.m. in the fifth floor conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron. The possibility of a special meeting had been discussed at AAPAC’s regular meeting on Feb. 27, 2013. The main agenda item will likely be a possible memorial to Coleman Jewett – a bronze Adirondack chair at the Ann Arbor farmers market. Although a donor has come forward with funding for the project, it has not yet been formally accepted by AAPAC.

Separately, two meetings related to the city of Ann Arbor’s parks and open space programs were canceled this week. A subcommittee of the park advisory commission … [Full Story]

Parks Group Explores New Dog Park Site

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Feb. 26, 2013): An item generating the most discussion at this month’s PAC meeting related to two potential locations for a new fenced-in dog park: about 2 acres in and near South Maple Park, on the city’s west side off of West Liberty; and a roughly 1-acre section of West Park, on a knoll in the south-central area.

West Park, dog park, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial map showing a possible location – the purple trapezoid outline – for a dog park in West Park. The image is oriented with south at the top. North Seventh Street runs on the right side of this image, on the west side of the park. (Map by city staff, included in the park advisory commission’s meeting packet.)

No action was taken, and a PAC committee will continue to evaluate these options with parks staff before making a formal recommendation to the full commission. The previously recommended site – at a different location within West Park, near the parking lot off Chapin Street – was ultimately not presented to the city council, following protests from the nearby New Hope Baptist Church.

Another PAC committee, focused on developing recommendations for a possible downtown park, gave only a brief update. Its next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5. However, commissioners heard from four people during public commentary who advocated for a new park atop the city’s Library Lane underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue. Part of the commentary covered a proposal to build a temporary ice-skating rink on that site.

Commissioners also recommended approval of several contracts totaling over $180,000. The contracts cover landscaping work at multiple locations, golf cart leases, custodial work at Cobblestone Farm, renovations at Esch Park, and rental of an overflow parking lot for the Argo canoe livery. The landscaping work is being funded through a donation from the Henrietta Feldman Trust.

And in his monthly report, parks and recreation manager Colin Smith informed commissioners about a strategy the city is pursuing to deal with invasive aquatic plants – primarily Eurasian watermilfoil – at Geddes Pond. [Full Story]

Committee Starts Downtown Park Research

Ann Arbor park advisory commission’s downtown parks subcommittee meeting (Feb. 5, 2013): Following up on an informal request from the city council, a subcommittee of Ann Arbor’s park advisory commission began work to develop recommendations on the need for downtown parks.

Ann Arbor park advisory commission, Mike Anglin, Alan Jackson, Julie Grand, Ingrid Ault, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Mike Anglin, Alan Jackson, Julie Grand, and Ingrid Ault at a Feb. 5, 2013 meeting of the park advisory commission’s downtown parks subcommittee. (Photos by the writer.)

Much of the discussion on Feb. 5 involved setting a process for their work. As a first step, the group agreed to read background material from a variety of sources, including the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, elements of the city’s master plan, and reports by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project.

They also discussed the possibility of hiring an outside consultant. The nonprofit Project for Public Spaces was cited as one option for a consultant.

Several commissioners stressed the need for strong public engagement, and they will likely ask for specific input from groups like Library Green, downtown merchant associations, the Ann Arbor District Library and others.

This meeting followed an extensive discussion at the Jan. 15, 2013 session of the full park advisory commission. [See Chronicle coverage: "Parks Group To Weigh In On Downtown Need."] And on Sept. 18 2012 PAC passed a resolution urging the council to seek additional evaluation on locations for a downtown park. That resolution came in the context of Connecting William Street, a DDA project undertaken at the request of the council to help guide the future use of five city-owned downtown properties.

The goal of this PAC subcommittee is to draft recommendations that the full commission can consider and approve, which could be delivered to the city council in about six months. Members include Ingrid Ault, who is serving as the subcommittee chair, PAC chair Julie Grand, Alan Jackson, and Karen Levin. However, any park commissioner can participate. So the Feb. 5 meeting was also attended by Tim Doyle, Bob Galardi, Graydon Krapohl and councilmember Mike Anglin, an ex-officio member of PAC.

The subcommittee’s next meeting is set for March 5 following the commission’s land acquisition committee meeting, which begins at 4 p.m. at city hall. The next meeting of the full park advisory commission is Tuesday, Feb. 26, also at 4 p.m. in the city hall’s council chambers. All of these meetings are open to the public and include opportunities for public commentary. [Full Story]

Parks Group To Weigh In On Downtown Need

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Jan. 15, 2013): The city’s park advisory commissioners are embarking on a process to analyze the need for a possible downtown park or open space, with the goal of delivering recommendations to the city council later this year.

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

From left: Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners Tim Doyle and Graydon Krapohl at PAC’s Jan. 15, 2013 meeting. It was the first session for Krapohl since being appointed to replace John Lawter, whose term expired on Dec. 31. (Photos by the writer.)

In a 90-minute discussion at PAC’s January meeting, commissioners talked about how they’d like to approach this effort, which stemmed in part from a request that mayor John Hieftje made last summer. Momentum for PAC to weigh in has accelerated in light of recommendations recently delivered to the city council on the Connecting William Street project.

Several councilmembers have expressed concern that those recommendations – made by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on five city-owned sites – don’t include sufficient green space. PAC has already weighed in on that specific project, passing a resolution on Sept. 18 2012 that urged the council to seek additional evaluation on locations for a downtown park.

During public commentary, several residents – including supporters of the Library Green Conservancy – spoke in support of a substantial downtown park.

A PAC subcommittee plans to draft a plan for how to proceed, with the full commission continuing the discussion at their land acquisition committee meeting on Feb. 5. The process is expected to take 4-6 months.

Also at their Jan. 15 meeting, commissioners got an update on plans for locating a dog park at West Park, across from New Hope Baptist Church. PAC had recommended that location for a dog park, but – as The Chronicle previously reported – objections from church members have resulted in a decision to look for another location. The project had been slated for consideration by the city council on Jan. 22, but has been removed from the agenda.

PAC chair Julie Grand told her fellow commissioners that she was still committed to the concept of a centrally-located dog park, and that PAC and parks staff would pursue other options. A PAC subcommittee that had worked on identifying a new dog park location will be reconvened to bring forward another recommendation.

In other action, commissioners received a mid-year budget update. The parks system is doing better than planned, thanks to a combination of better-than-expected revenues and lower expenses. [.pdf of budget summary] The city’s fiscal year 2013 runs from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013. [Full Story]

PAC: Downtown Park, More Input Needed

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Sept. 18, 2012): Reprising issues they discussed in August, commissioners heard from several residents about the need for: (1) more downtown green/open space; and (2) one or more centrally located dog parks.

Eric Lipson, Mary Hathaway

Eric Lipson and Mary Hathaway attended the Sept. 18, 2012 Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting to advocate for more green space in the downtown area, specifically on top of the Library Lane parking structure. (Photos by the writer.)

PAC took action on one of those topics, passing a resolution to give formal input on the Connecting William Street project. That effort, led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, is process to examine five city-owned parcels for possible redevelopment. All but one of the sites are now used as surface parking lots.

PAC did not advocate that a particular site be turned into a park. Rather, the resolution recommends that the Ann Arbor city council seek additional evaluation of locations for a downtown park, the best mix of amenities for the population expected to use a downtown park, and the costs of developing and maintaining a new addition to the parks system. PAC also recommends that the council refrain from adopting plans for the five city-owned lots before resolving the question about open space in the Connecting William Street area. [.pdf of final Connecting William Street resolution]

At the start of the meeting, three members of the Library Green Conservancy – advocates of creating a commons on top of the Library Lane underground parking structure – spoke during public commentary. [The Library Lane site is one of the five properties included in the Connecting William Street project.] They urged commissioners to support their plan for a park at that location, adjacent to the library. The underground structure was built with a foundation to support a high-rise building on the site, in addition to a plaza area. PAC’s recommendation to the city council did not highlight that particular site.

Also during the meeting, commissioners heard from two speakers during public commentary who supported the creation of more dog parks. One speaker noted that despite potential problems – such as dog fights and the fact that ”pooping can occasionally go unnoticed” – a dog park poses no greater liability than a skatepark, pool or “even simply sidewalks.”

Colin Smith, the parks and recreation manager, told commissioners that staff did not support an unfenced option, but indicated that they’re exploring possible locations for one or more fenced-in dog parks. One possible site: A parcel on the east side of West Park, near the entrance off of Chapin.

PAC also was briefed on plans for rain gardens and other biodetention measures at Miller Nature Area and Garden Homes Park, in connection with a major reconstruction of Miller Avenue next year.

Smith also updated commissioners on letters of objection that had been submitted to the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) regarding plans to build a section of whitewater in the Huron River, near the Argo Cascades. A permit is needed from the MDEQ before the project can move forward. For a full report on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project.”

It was the last meeting for commissioner Doug Chapman, whose term ended on Sept. 30. At the city council’s Oct. 1 meeting, his replacement was confirmed: Melissa Stults, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. [Full Story]

PAC Wants More Downtown Green Space

On a 7-2 vote, Ann Arbor’s park advisory commission passed a resolution urging the city council to get more input for a possible downtown park. The action, taken at PAC’s Sept. 18, 2012 meeting, comes in response to a request from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which had asked park commissioners for input on the Connecting William Street project. That effort is focused on developing a plan for five city-owned properties along William Street, between Ashley and Division. Four of the parcels are surface parking lots; the fifth is a parking structure at Fourth & William.

Voting against the resolution were two of PAC’s newest members: Ingrid Ault and Bob Galardi. Galardi also serves on the DDA’s leadership and outreach committee for the … [Full Story]

AADL Hears from “Library Green” Advocates

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Aug. 15, 2011): A brief library board meeting on Monday night included a relatively rare occurrence – multiple people spoke during the time allotted for public commentary.

Mary Hathaway

Mary Hathaway spoke to the Ann Arbor District Library board about efforts to create a public gathering place atop the underground parking structure adjacent to the downtown library. (Photo by the writer.)

The commentary focused on what’s now being called the “Library Green” – an effort to create a public park atop the underground parking structure that’s being built on South Fifth Avenue, adjacent to the downtown library building. Advocates for the park conveyed that they’ve taken to heart the concerns of the library, and hope to partner with AADL to develop an area that benefits the public and helps the library to thrive.

The board began its meeting with a closed session, in part for the purpose of getting advice from AADL’s legal counsel. In her written report to the board, AADL director Josie Parker noted that the library is considering the legal and financial implications of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s decision regarding “excess” taxes captured in the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) district.

Board members did not discuss this issue, but voted to schedule another closed session at their Sept. 19 meeting again to hear advice from legal counsel. [Full Story]

Zoning, Design Guides on Council’s Agenda

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday Caucus (Nov. 15, 2009): Around two dozen residents came to city council chambers Sunday night to convey their thoughts on two major planning issues on the city council’s agenda for Monday.

two women leaning over a drawing discussing it

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) confirms with an Ann Arbor resident at the city council's Sunday caucus that the map she's sketched reflects accurately the block bounded by Huron, State, Washington, and Division streets. In the background, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). (Photo by the writer.)

The downtown zoning ordinance package – known as A2D2, which the council has approved on two prior occasions at a “first reading” – will be given a public hearing, with a vote also scheduled for Monday night. In addition, the downtown design guidelines will have its public hearing continued, which started on Oct. 5. No vote on design guidelines is scheduled for Monday.

Also receiving discussion at caucus were the six projects that were submitted before last Friday’s Nov. 13 deadline, in response to the city’s request for proposals to use the space on top of the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage.

Also the council’s agenda, but not receiving discussion among councilmembers who attended the caucus, is the council’s formal acceptance of the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP) from the city’s environmental commission – but not the plan’s recommendations related to Argo Dam.

And a consent agenda item that requests funds to purchase additional electronic parking meter equipment contains in its description a plan to install meters in new areas that have not been previously identified.

Finally, there’s a whole new category of item on Monday’s agenda – a category that raises questions. [Full Story]