Stories indexed with the term ‘farmland’

County to Protect More Farmland, Nature Areas

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meeting (Feb. 12, 2013): The first meeting of WCPARC in 2013 kicked off when each member received a copy of a half-hour video history of the county park system, in honor of WCPARC’s 40th anniversary.

Miller Creek, Washtenaw County parks and recreation, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A section of Miller Creek runs through a property off of Geddes Road that the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission might help preserve, in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor. The land is located in Ann Arbor Township. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners were then briefed on what WCPARC director Bob Tetens called a record monthly expenditure for his time with the commission: $3.9 million in January 2013, including $2.9 million for parks and recreation – primarily for capital improvements at Rolling Hills, Independence Lake and Sharon Mills parks – and $1 million for natural areas preservation.

Expenditures in January for the natural areas preservation program included acquiring land from the Ford Road Property LLC on the east side of Berry Road in Superior Township; for improvements at Trinkle Marsh, Spike, Hornback, and Nagle preserves; and for phase 1 due diligence on the proposed purchase of the Trolz property in Manchester Township.

The commission also approved taking the next steps on several additional natural areas preservation proposals. Those steps include applying for (1) federal funds to help cover the purchase of development rights on farmland in Superior and Lima townships, and (2) a state grant to help develop the Staebler Farm, located in Superior Township, into an active park. Commissioners also approved the purchase of a conservation easement on 82 additional acres from the Ford Road Property LLC in Superior Township.

Also discussed was a proposal to help the city of Ann Arbor buy the 8-acre Taylor property on Geddes Road, east of Huron Parkway. The land is immediately east of the city’s Ruthven nature area, and is seen as a priority because a section of Miller Creek runs through it. The creek is subject to flash flooding during heavy rains, and has been the focus of stormwater management efforts by the city and the county water resources commissioner. Conan Smith, a county commissioner who also serves on WCPARC, questioned whether this is an appropriate project for the county’s natural areas preservation program. He indicated that it might be better for the city to partner with the water resources commissioner on this project instead.

In other action, commissioners voted to increase fees at WCPARC facilities, including the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, and Independence Lake and Rolling Hills parks. A staff report indicated that the fees would still be lower than comparable public recreation facilities in this region. [.pdf of fee schedule]

WCPARC members were briefed about applications to fund eight projects through the Connecting Communities initiative, under which WCPARC helps pay for non-motorized transportation trails throughout the county. The city of Ann Arbor is among those applicants, asking for $300,000 to fund development of trails along the Allen Creek greenway, including at the city-owned 721 N. Main site. Final decisions will be made at WCPARC’s March meeting.

WCPARC members also re-elected their officers, set the 2013 meeting calendar, and got updates on two months’ worth of activities at the county’s parks and recreation facilities – including a report on flooding at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center in January, and steps toward developing a new recreation center in Ypsilanti.

The meeting was attended by six of the current nine-member commission. One vacancy remains to be filled on WCPARC by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, which appoints all WCPARC members. A vote on that position is expected at the county board’s Feb. 20 meeting. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Praises Year-End Efforts

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Feb. 7, 2013): At their first meeting of 2013 – because the January session had been canceled – commissioners formally thanked individuals who’d made an extra effort on end-of-year land deals for the greenbelt program.

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, Laura Rubin, Archer Christian, Ginny Trocchio, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioners Laura Rubin and Archer Christian, and Ginny Trocchio (standing) of The Conservation Fund, who provides staff support for the greenbelt program. (Photos by the writer.)

A resolution of recognition was presented to Mary Fales, senior assistant attorney for the city of Ann Arbor; Matt Keir, vice president of Liberty Title; Rosanne Bloomer, a lending officer for Greenstone Farm Credit Services – and wife of GAC commissioner Tom Bloomer; and Ginny Trocchio of The Conservation Fund, who provides staff support for the greenbelt program.

GAC chair Dan Ezekiel praised their work, noting that certain factors – including a change in tax law – had added pressure to complete the deals before Dec. 31. The transactions protected a total of about 320 acres in Webster, Salem and Superior townships.

Trocchio also reported that the purchase of development rights for part of the Donald Drake farm – 124 acres of farmland in Lodi Township – had closed earlier this year, making it the first deal of 2013. More than 4,200 acres have now been protected under the greenbelt program, she noted.

Another topic highlighted at the Feb. 7 meeting was the need to recruit new members for the commission. Liz Rother resigned earlier this year, though her term runs through June 30, 2014. Ezekiel also pointed out that he and two other commissioners – Laura Rubin and Tom Bloomer – will be leaving the commission this summer, when their terms expire. All three are term-limited. He urged members of the public to consider applying.

The meeting ended with commissioners voting to approve recommendations for additional land preservation deals. Two of those items – seeking approval to apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) – are now on the agenda for the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 19, 2013 meeting. The properties are both in Lodi Township: (1) another part of the Drake farm – 72 acres along Waters Road; and (2) the Carol Schumacher farm – about 100 acres along Pleasant Lake Road. [Full Story]

More Notches in Ann Arbor Greenbelt

Two additional properties totaling 125 acres have been added to Ann Arbor’s greenbelt – land protected by acquisitions through the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage. Votes on the two pieces of land were taken at the city council’s Oct. 15, 2012 meeting.

A vacant parcel adjacent to the Kuebler Langford Nature Area with about 0.91 acres was purchased using a $123,000 expenditure from the millage. The owners had approached the city with an offer to sell. The fair market value of the land was determined to be $110,000, with the additional $13,000 accounted for through closing costs and due diligence. An environmental site assessment will be completed before closing. [.jpg image of parcel map]

A second, much larger property … [Full Story]

Hornback Farm Added to Ann Arbor Greenbelt

The Hornback farm in Salem Township has been added to the land protected by Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program. The city council approved $199,367 from the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage for the purchase of development rights on the property at its Oct. 1, 2012 meeting. The roughly 73-acre farm is located on Pontiac Trail and Brookville Road.

The appraised value of the property was $321,000, but the landowner made a 10% donation of $32,100, leaving a purchase price of $288,900. Of that, the city of Ann Arbor’s share was $160,500 after contributions from Salem Township and Washtenaw County of $64,200 apiece. The city incurred due diligence costs ($10,000), closing costs ($5,000) and made a contribution to the greenbelt endowment … [Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Updated on County Efforts

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (June 7, 2012): Collaboration was a theme that tied together several items at the most recent GAC meeting, starting with a review of farmland preservation efforts by Washtenaw County.

Liz Rother, Mike Garfield

Greenbelt advisory commissioners Liz Rother and Mike Garfield. The June 7 meeting was the last one for Garfield, whose term is ending this month. He is director of the Ecology Center, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor. (Photos by the writer.)

The county parks and recreation commission is moving toward a decision on the first farm properties to include in its land preservation program. It has about $1.6 million to work with, using a portion of proceeds from the countywide natural area preservation millage, which was renewed by voters in November of 2010. That 10-year, 0.25-mill tax also funds the county’s acquisition of natural areas and land preserves.

Susan Lackey, executive director of the Legacy Land Conservancy, briefed the greenbelt commissioners on the first round of deals. The Ann Arbor-based nonprofit is under contract to help manage the county program. Out of 57 applications, seven properties are moving forward for appraisals and final consideration, potentially covering 1,100 acres.

Though the county’s efforts at protecting farmland are relatively new, the greenbelt program has focused on farmland preservation since Ann Arbor voters approved a 30-year 0.5 mill tax in 2003. Lackey described the county’s efforts as complementary to the greenbelt program, noting that there’s more work to be done than any single entity can do.

Later in the meeting – during an discussion about efforts to update the greenbelt program’s strategic plan – Mike Garfield suggested that it might be time to shift more of the greenbelt’s efforts to natural areas or recreational projects like the Border-to-Border trail or RiverUp, and scale back the amount of farmland preservation.

One difficulty in this shift relates to matching funds. Ginny Trocchio, who serves as support staff for the greenbelt program, told commissioners that while the greenbelt has been very successful in securing grants through the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Preservation Program (FRPP), there are far fewer options for non-farmland properties. Partnerships with other local entities, like the county parks and recreation department, is one of the main ways that non-farmland land preservation dollars can be leveraged.

Another general challenge for all types of land preservation was cited by Lackey: A mild resurgence of development pressure as the economy improves, which is starting to drive up land values. She urged all groups to get as much preservation work done as possible in the next three to five years.

This month’s meeting was the last one for Garfield, who was instrumental in helping pass the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage, which funds the greenbelt program. He is term-limited. His potential replacement, Archer Christian, was introduced at the meeting. She is development director at the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, where Garfield serves as director.

At the end of the meeting, commissioners held a closed session to discuss potential land acquisitions. When they emerged, they voted unanimously to recommend action by city council on the purchase of development rights for four parcels within the greenbelt boundaries, if FRPP grants can be secured. [Full Story]

County Parks: Options for Staebler Farm

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meeting (June 12, 2012): This month’s meeting concentrated on Staebler Farm, a 98-acre WCPARC property on Plymouth Road in Superior Township.

Corn crib at Staebler Farm

A corncrib at the Staebler Farm in Superior Township. The farm isn't yet open to the public, but plans are underway to develop the site for educational and recreational use. (Photos by the writer.)

The parks and recreation commission bought the farm in 2001 and set aside more than $2 million to develop it for eventual educational and recreational uses. Possibilities include children’s gardens, a farm market, fishing, and demonstrations of farm activities.

Donald Staebler, who turns 102 in August, has lived there since he was two and has a life lease to stay in the 140-year-old farmhouse. The property is not yet open to the public.

At the June 12 meeting, commissioners heard from a consultant who described the use of similar property in three other communities: Ambler Farm in Wilton, Connecticut; the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont; and Luscher Farm in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Commissioners discussed possible uses for the land, and decided on the next steps in creating a master plan for the farm. Dan Smith, a WCPARC member who also serves on the county board of commissioners, noted that this project fits with other efforts supported by the board, including community gardens on the former juvenile detention center site and the Washtenaw Food Policy Council that was created earlier this year.

In addition to their discussion of Staebler Farm, the commission carried out its usual business of approving expenses, reviewing the budget, and getting updates on its parks, recreation facilities and natural areas. Among those updates was a report that a design team for a proposed WCPARC recreation center in Ypsilanti held its first meeting to review a possible schematic design. The team consists of faculty and students from the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. [For more details on this project, see Chronicle coverage: "More Planning for Rec Center in Ypsilanti."] [Full Story]

County Working on Farmland Preservation

As the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission moves closer to making its first decisions about farm properties to include in its land preservation program, the county board of commissioners got an update on the process at its April 5 working session.

Susan Lackey

Susan Lackey, executive director of the Legacy Land Conservancy, updated commissioners about Washtenaw County's farmland preservation efforts at an April 5, 2012 working session. (Photos by the writer.)

Susan Lackey, executive director of the Legacy Land Conservancy – an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit that’s under contract to help manage the program – told commissioners that about $1.6 million is available to preserve farmland, using a portion of proceeds from the natural area preservation millage renewed by voters in November of 2010. That 10-year, 0.25-mill countywide tax also funds the acquisition of natural areas and land preserves.

Prior to 2010, the natural areas ordinance allowed for outright acquisition of land, but not for the purchase of development rights (PDR). PDR is a common mechanism for protecting farmland, letting landowners keep their property for farming but preventing – via a conservation easement – its development. In May of 2010, the county board approved an ordinance revision that incorporated farmland into the county’s natural areas preservation program and clarified the use of PDR for that purpose.

The county received 57 applications for its first round of potential deals, Lackey reported. That list has been narrowed down to seven parcels for final consideration, covering 1,100 acres. The locations of the parcels won’t be released until a final vote by the parks and rec commission. That vote will be taken when the deals are ready to close. That’s likely to happen later this year.

Yousef Rabhi was among the commissioners who praised the program, noting how it ties in with the food policy council that the county board recently created, as well as the food-related business incubator and job training program – called Seeds for Change – focused on the eastern part of the county. Rabhi serves on the Agricultural Lands Preservation Advisory Committee (ALPAC), which makes recommendations to the parks and rec commission about farmland deals.

The April 5 working session also included a briefing on the county’s community corrections unit. This report focuses just on the farmland preservation update. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Commission Terms Revised

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (May 11, 2011): Wednesday was the last regular meeting for two greenbelt commissioners – terms end on June 30 for chair Jennifer S. Hall and Gil Omenn, who were both active in efforts to launch the program. Both have reached the term limits for serving on GAC.

Jennifer S. Hall

Jennifer S. Hall, chair of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, presided over her last regular meeting on May 11. Her term ends on June 30; GAC's June meeting will be a joint session with the city's park advisory commission.

Instead of holding their regular meetings in June, the greenbelt and park advisory commissions have scheduled a joint working session to discuss common goals and priorities – they last met jointly in April 2010.

Term limits were raised in another context during Wednesday’s meeting, when commissioners were asked to recommend that city council restate current GAC membership terms. Mary Fales of the city attorney’s office has been working on the revisions, after inconsistencies were discovered for current appointments. For example, a term for Ecology Center director Mike Garfield ended on June 30, 2009. Though he continued to serve, he was not officially reappointed to another three-year term until Sept. 21, 2010. Under the resolution recommended by GAC, all terms would end on June 30, over staggered years.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners got an update about Michigan budget-related legislation that would cut tax credits for farmers. They were also briefed by staff about changes to the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program – the city has received millions of dollars worth of FRPP grants over the years to offset the cost of development rights purchased in the greenbelt.

Ginny Trocchio, support staff for the greenbelt program, told commissioners that June 16 is the date for a greenbelt celebration, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Braun farm in Ann Arbor Township, which was added to the greenbelt in 2010. The event will be open to the public, and will include a presentation to highlight the program’s accomplishments.

Dan Ezekiel, GAC’s vice chair, reported that the subcommittee he’s leading to look at possible changes in the greenbelt boundary will be making a proposal at the commission’s July 13 meeting.

And in its final action of the meeting, commissioners emerged from a closed session and voted to recommend that Ann Arbor city council make a $127,200 offer for the purchase of development rights on a property within the greenbelt. Before appearing on the city council’s agenda, details of these greenbelt acquisitions are not made public – parcels are identified only by their application number. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Applies for Greenbelt Matches

At its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to approve applications to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRLPP) for matching grant funds for the purchase of development rights on two properties: 110 acres on the Lindemann-Weidmayer farm in Lodi Township, and 92 acres on the Grosshans farm in Superior Township.

The city’s cost would be paid out of the greenbelt millage funds. The federal match would be up to 50% of the appraised fair market value of the development rights, up to a maximum of $5,000 per acre. The greenbelt advisory commission recommended at its Dec. 8, 2010 meeting that the city make the applications to the FRLPP.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Leveling the Field for Small Farms

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (July 14, 2010): Small farms and local food production again was a focus of the greenbelt advisory commission (GAC), as they considered revisions to easement language and scoring criteria for the greenbelt program.

Jennifer S. Hall

Jennifer Santi Hall was elected chair of the city's greenbelt advisory commission at their July meeting, replacing Laura Rubin in that role. (Photos by the writer.)

The discussion prompted one commissioner, Dan Ezekiel, to underscore that they weren’t trying to favor small farms – they were simply trying to offset the advantages that the program has previously afforded to larger farms.

A review of revisions to the greenbelt program’s scoring criteria included a robust discussion about the meaning of “local food economy.” One of the proposed revisions would award points to farms that produce local food and contribute to the local food economy.

Commissioner Tom Bloomer, a Webster Township farmer, argued that all farms in Washtenaw County contribute to the local food economy, either directly or indirectly. Jennifer Santi Hall, who had proposed the change, agreed to withdraw the item from the scoring criteria so that they could refine the language. But she noted that it was important to find some way of including criteria for local food production, to align the scoring of applications with the greenbelt program’s strategic plan, which includes a section on the local food economy.

Later in the meeting, after nearly an hour in closed session to discuss land acquisition, the commission recommended allocating nearly $3 million in five separate deals, the majority of them for the purchase of development rights of local farms. Those recommendations will be forwarded to city council for final approval. [Full Story]

Greenbelt: How Best to Support Small Farms?

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (June 9, 2010): Under typical agreements crafted for the city’s greenbelt program, only 2% of land protected by a greenbelt conservation easement is allowed to be covered by an impervious surface – a house, for example, or roads.

A hoop house at Sunseed Farm

A hoop house at Sunseed Farm, northwest of Ann Arbor. (Photo by Marianne Rzepka.)

To date, that hasn’t been an issue for most parcels in the program, which are fairly large – more than 40 acres. But as the greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) considers ways to support small farms – in the 15-20 acre range – some challenges have emerged. A farm of that size with hoop houses, for example, might easily result in covering more than 2% of the land.

During the public portion of this month’s GAC meeting, commissioners discussed how to address this and other issues that might require modifying the language in conservation easements for the city’s greenbelt program. Also addressed were strategies to ensure that the land stays in agriculture for future generations.

No action was taken at the June 9 meeting, and comments from commissioners indicate there’s also no clear consensus yet for how to handle this relatively new greenbelt focus. [Full Story]

Column: The 10% Local Food Challenge

Eating Thin Mints recently got me thinking about locally produced food.

Two buttons supporting locally grown food

Many participants in the March 2 Homegrown Food Summit wore buttons like these, supporting locally grown food. (Photos by the writer.)

It’s Girl Scout cookie season, and on Saturday – after swinging through the Ann Arbor Farmers Market – I encountered a Brownie and her dad set up at the corner of Main and Liberty, their table loaded with boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs and an assortment of other cookies that I remember selling too, back in the day. I bought three boxes.

At $3.50 per box, the cookies aren’t outrageously priced – though the boxes seem to get smaller every year. But later, in doing a quick calculation of all the food I’d bought that day, I realized that in buying those cookies, I’d failed to meet a challenge I’d heard earlier in the week: Spend 10% of your food budget on locally produced food.

The “10% Washtenaw” challenge was issued at the Homegrown Local Food Summit, a day-long event on March 2 that drew over 200 people to the Dana Building on the University of Michigan campus. Many of the people at the summit already surpass that goal in a fairly dramatic way. The real challenge, organizers acknowledge, is how to convince the rest of us to do the same. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Commission Backs County Tax

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (Feb. 10, 2010): Citing benefits to the city’s own greenbelt program, members of the greenbelt commission at their Wednesday meeting voiced support for a county land preservation millage, which is up for renewal this year.

The commission passed a resolution urging the city council formally to endorse the millage, though it’s up to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners to decide whether to put the millage on the ballot. It’s not yet clear the board will do that.

Greenbelt commissioners also discussed the implications of new, lower appraisals that had just been received on the Braun and Gould properties in Ann Arbor Township. The city already has binding purchase agreements with the owners based on older, higher appraised values, but recently learned that new appraisals will result in fewer federal matching funds for the acquisitions. The city could be on the hook for more money than was anticipated to close these deals.

Related to that, some commissioners raised concerns over information they’d received last month from the city attorney’s office, which appeared to be in conflict with what they were being told by staff at Wednesday’s meeting. [Full Story]

Dispute over Superior Township Settlement

There’s broad consensus on open space and farmland preservation among Superior Township’s roughly 13,000 residents.

A sign opposing property rezoning in Superior Township

A sign opposing property rezoning in Superior Township. (Photos by the writer.)

It’s evident in words like those on a banner in the township hall touting a commitment to preservation. It’s evident in actions like voter approval of a special tax to defend the community’s growth-management plan.

But for all the agreement, there’s discord over the means to that end.

Rather than fighting a lawsuit they say they expected to win, township officials have struck a deal with a development group that sued after a zoning change was denied.

Disappointed residents say the settlement bails out the developers, and is a retreat from a strategy of enacting and defending a strong master plan and zoning. Township officials say buying land and development rights – as the $400,000 settlement deal will do – is the only sure way to end the battle for good.

The real goal isn’t a legal victory, but the conservation of the community’s rural character, says township supervisor Bill McFarlane. “I feel we would have won the lawsuit this time, but land values will eventually go up again and we could be fighting this again in a year, or two years or five years.” [Full Story]

Frederick Farm in Line to Join Greenbelt

The distinctive red barn at Frederick Farm on Wagner Road.

The distinctive red barn at Frederick Farm on Wagner Road. (Photo by the writer.)

Not many people attended the September meeting of the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission, so it was easy to figure out who was there, and why. Scott Rosencrans, for example, came to introduce himself to the commission – he’s the new chair of the city’s Park Advisory Commission. He said he hoped the two groups could find ways to work together, given their common interests.

Others attending had a more specific goal in mind: To see whether GAC would approve the purchase of development rights to the Frederick Farm.

The commission did approve the PDR, sending it on to Ann Arbor’s city council for a vote to authorize the deal – it might be on the council’s agenda as early as November. If approved, it would be the first time the city’s greenbelt program has undertaken an agricultural project without federal funding, and the first time they’ve made a purchase in Lodi Township. If the Legacy Land Conservancy joins in on the deal as expected, it also would mark that nonprofit’s first participation in the city’s greenbelt initiative. [Full Story]