Stories indexed with the term ‘land preservation’

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]

Ann Arbor Adds 160 Acres to Greenbelt

At its March 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized the purchase of development rights for two additional properties under its greenbelt program – the Van Natter Farm in Webster Township (about 25 acres for $126,867) and the Boike Farm in Northfield Township (about 136 acres for $502,307). Both owners agreed to make a donation of 20% of the fair market value of the property as part of the deals.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

Ann Arbor Adds More Greenbelt Land

At its March 5, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized the use of $82,576 from its greenbelt millage to acquire development rights to the Newton Farm property – 58.85 acres in Ann Arbor Township. The city’s contribution will be paired with an equal amount from Ann Arbor Township and matched with a federal farm and ranchland protection program grant of $158,676 for a deal worth a total of $323,828.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

Greenbelt Grows by 170+ Acres in December

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Jan. 5, 2012): At Wednesday’s GAC meeting – the first of the new year – commissioners got an update from staff on three deals in December that added more than 170 acres of protected land within the city’s greenbelt boundaries.

Tom Bloomer, Mike Garfield

From left: Greenbelt advisory commission members Tom Bloomer and Mike Garfield. (Photos by the writer.)

The properties include 32 acres in Northfield Township along US-23, 30 acres in Scio Township near Wagner and Scio Church roads, and 111 acres in Lodi Township along Pleasant Lake Road. By year’s end, the new additions brought the total of property protected by the city’s greenbelt program to 3,430 acres since its inception in 2007.

Most of Wednesday’s meeting was spent in closed session to discuss possible future land acquisitions, but the main action item involved land that’s not part of the city’s greenbelt program. Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution urging Webster Township to strictly enforce all of its conservation easements – the resolution will be forwarded to township officials as they weigh a request from the Dexter Area Historical Society to amend an easement that would loosen restrictions on parking.

The society wants permission to allow spectator parking for Civil War re-enactments on a site where the historic Gordon Hall is located. Land preservation activists are concerned that parking would damage the land, and that amending the easement would set a bad precedent, calling into question the trustworthiness of regional land preservation efforts. The resolution was brought forward by Tom Bloomer, a GAC member who also serves on Webster Township’s land preservation board. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Weighs Gordon Hall Issue

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Dec. 14, 2011): The main discussion at December’s GAC meeting focused on land falling outside of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt boundaries – but with possible broader implications for all regional land preservation efforts.

Dan Ezekiel, Tom Bloomer

From left: Dan Ezekiel, chair of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, talks with commissioner Tom Bloomer. (Photos by the writer.)

The land in question, outside the greenbelt boundaries, is owned by The Dexter Area Historical Society. The society is seeking a change to the conservation easement for a parcel that includes the historic Gordon Hall – a change that would allow parking for several hundred vehicles on the land for spectators of Civil War re-enactments that the society intends to hold. Webster Township trustees will ultimately vote on the request, but the township’s land preservation board – which includes Tom Bloomer, who also serves on GAC – has recommended denying it.

Bloomer told GAC commissioners that altering the agreement in this way would set a bad precedent, and call into question the trustworthiness of regional land preservation efforts. Bloomer asked for GAC to weigh in with support for the land preservation board’s position, prior to the trustees’ vote. GAC will likely take up the issue again at its Jan. 5 meeting.

Other action at GAC’s Dec. 14 meeting included passing a resolution of appreciation for Tom Freeman, deputy director of Washtenaw County parks & recreation, who is retiring at the end of the year. GAC chair Dan Ezekiel said Freeman has been “absolutely indispensable” to land preservation efforts in the county, including deals in which Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program has participated.

Ezekiel also presented a letter to the editor that he drafted, in response to misinformation expressed by commenters on articles regarding the greenbelt boundary expansion. He plans to send the letter sometime next week, pending feedback from other commissioners. [.pdf of draft letter to the editor]

During Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners also welcomed the newest commissioner, Shannon Brines, to his first meeting of GAC. Brines, who’s active in the local food movement, was appointed by the city council at its Nov. 21 meeting. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Adds Notches to Eligible Greenbelt

At its Dec. 5, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to a change in the boundaries for the city’s greenbelt program – an open space preservation effort funded by a 0.5 mill tax approved by voters in 2003.

The area in and around Ann Arbor eligible for land preservation under the greenbelt program is defined in Chapter 42 of the Ann Arbor city code. The council has expanded the boundaries once before, in 2007. The current proposal is essentially to square-off the area by adding a mile to the southwest in Lodi Township, and one mile to the northeast in Salem Township. [.jpg of map by The Chronicle showing original boundaries, the 2007 expansion and the currently proposed expansion]

As part of the amendment to Chapter 42, the council approved a change that allows a parcel of land adjacent to the greenbelt boundary to be eligible for protection, if it is also adjacent to a parcel under the same ownership within the greenbelt boundary. The greenbelt advisory commission had voted to recommend the ordinance changes at its Sept. 14, 2011 meeting. The council gave the changes initial approval at its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting.

Since the start of the greenbelt program, roughly $18 million has been invested by the city of Ann Arbor in protecting open space. That has been matched by roughly $19 million from other sources, including the federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, surrounding townships, Washtenaw County and landowner donations. That funding has protected roughly 3,200 acres in 27 separate transactions.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Recommends Land Deal

At a special meeting called for Nov. 30, 2011, the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission spent most of the 30 minutes in a closed session to discuss possible land acquisition. When commissioners moved back into the public portion of their meeting, commissioners unanimously passed a resolution recommending that the city partner with the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy and Washtenaw County to preserve a parcel of land within the greenbelt.

The property was identified only by application number – #2005-27. The location of the properties and their owners aren’t revealed until resolutions are voted on by the Ann Arbor city council. However, the property discussed by GAC at its Nov. 30 meeting was likely part of an initiative mentioned briefly at GAC’s … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Eyes Future Land Deals

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Nov. 9, 2011): Skyline High School students on class assignment outnumbered commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting. More students might have attended, but some learned of a meeting of the city’s medical marijuana advisory board scheduled for the same time, and were drawn to that instead.

Skyline High students, Dan Ezekiel

Skyline High students get their attendance sheets signed by Dan Ezekiel, chair of the greenbelt advisory commission. Some students recognized Ezekiel from his other job – a science teacher at Forsythe Middle School.

Those who did stay witnessed a brief meeting that included a recess to wait until a sixth commissioner arrived – GAC requires six members to hold a closed session, which they needed in order to discuss possible land acquisition.

Briefly participating in that closed session was Jack Smiley, former executive director of the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy. The conservancy hopes to partner with Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program on property in the Superior Greenway – land between Ann Arbor and Detroit that’s protected from development.

In other business, commissioners briefly discussed ways to communicate better about the greenbelt program with the public, building on what they viewed as a successful bus tour of protected greenbelt land in October. One possibility is a forum this winter at the Ann Arbor District Library, where the public could meet with landowners whose property is part of the greenbelt.

The one action item at Wednesday’s meeting was a vote to pre-authorize staff of The Conservation Fund, which manages the greenbelt program under contract with the city, to conduct appraisals for potential land acquisitions through Dec. 31.

Typically, GAC votes to authorize appraisals on specific parcels, as part of the application process that landowners make for being part of the greenbelt. But the city council is expected to vote on a possible expansion of greenbelt boundaries in December, after GAC’s meeting that month. GAC voted to recommend the expansion at its September 2011 meeting. It’s expected that some landowners within the expanded boundaries might want to apply for the greenbelt, and a February deadline to seek matching federal dollars makes the timeline for getting appraisals shorter than usual. Pre-authorization gives staff flexibility to move forward with the process.

Commissioners are also awaiting finalization of Shannon Brines’ appointment to GAC. The city council was expected to vote on his appointment at its Nov. 10 meeting. But the council postponed the vote to Nov. 21 – due to a procedural issue, not any substantive concern about his appointment. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Briefed on Pittsfield Plan

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Aug. 10, 2011): Possible partnerships with other local communities – including Pittsfield and Salem townships – were the focus of this month’s greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) meeting.

Paul Montagno, Anissa Bowden

Pittsfield Township planner Paul Montagno helps Anissa Bowden of the Ann Arbor city clerk's staff set up his presentation for the greenbelt advisory commission at its Aug. 10, 2011 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Township planner Paul Montagno briefed commissioners on Pittsfield Township’s updated master plan, which the township board approved late last month. Specifically, he focused on the section concerning open space, natural features and agricultural land use. He described efforts to balance denser development along corridors like State Road and Michigan Avenue while protecting more rural land, especially in the central and southern parts of the township.

Pittsfield Township has partnered with Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program on just one property – the Hilton farm, near the township’s large Pittsfield Preserve nature area. However, Montagno indicated that township officials are open to future land preservation deals with the greenbelt.

Also during the Aug. 10 meeting, Ginny Trocchio of The Conservation Fund, which manages Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program, reported that the previous day, the Salem Township board had approved an ordinance that created a purchase of development rights (PDR) program, and allocated $200,000 annually for land preservation. GAC is considering possible expansion of the greenbelt boundaries, including an expansion in Salem Township. The boundary proposal was discussed at the commission’s July meeting, and will be on the agenda again in September.

The commission took one formal vote on Wednesday, after emerging from a closed session to discuss land acquisition. Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution recommending that city council move forward with application 2010-09 if at least 50% matching funds are secured. Properties are identified only by application number at this stage, and the resolution did not indicate what type of land acquisition this would entail. Typically, greenbelt monies are spent on the purchase of development rights (PDR).

There is currently one vacancy on GAC. Shannon Brines, owner of Brines Farm and a member of the city’s public market advisory commission, attended Wednesday’s meeting and expressed interest in applying for the seat. Nominations to GAC are made and approved by the city council. [Full Story]

Proposal Would Expand Greenbelt Boundaries

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (July 13, 2011): After discussing several options to expand the boundaries of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program, members of the greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) ultimately voted to postpone action until their next meeting. Several commissioners expressed a desire to give the proposal more thought. One issue raised was whether extending the boundaries would cause Ann Arbor taxpayers to feel that their dollars are being spent to preserve land too far away from the city.

Liz Rother

Liz Rother attended her first meeting as an Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioner on July 13. Her appointment was approved by the city council in June – she replaced Jennifer S. Hall, whose term had expired and who was term limited.

A subcommittee of GAC has been evaluating a potential greenbelt boundary change since November 2010. Options included expanding in Salem Township and Lodi Township to “square” off the boundaries, and allowing properties adjacent to the greenbelt to be eligible for the program. Another option would be to create a one-mile “buffer” around the existing boundaries, and include properties within that buffer if they met stricter criteria. Whatever recommendation GAC eventually makes would require Ann Arbor city council approval.

Also at July’s meeting, commissioners got an update on Scio Township’s land preservation efforts from Barry Lonik (a consultant who works with the township) and Bruce Manny (a member of the township’s land preservation commission). Lonik noted that the township’s 10-year, half-mill land preservation millage expires in 2014. The land preservation commission would like to get a renewal on the November 2012 ballot, to coincide with higher voter turnout for the presidential election.

It was the first meeting for GAC’s newest commissioner, Liz Rother, who was appointed by the city council in June to replace term-limited Jennifer Santi Hall. Another position, held by former GAC member Gil Omenn, remains vacant. Dan Ezekiel – who was elected GAC’s chair at the meeting – urged anyone who’s interested in serving on the commission to contact their city councilmember.

During his communications to fellow commissioners, Ezekiel noted the recent death of “Grandpa” Don Botsford, calling him a real pioneer and champion of land preservation in this area. Botsford was man who lived in poverty rather than sell his land to developers, Ezekiel said. He eventually sold part of his property’s development rights to Scio Township, in partnership with Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program – it’s now known as the Botsford Recreational Preserve, near M-14 and Miller Road. Botsford introduced thousands of people to the natural environment, Ezekiel said, so it was fitting to note his contribution and his passing. [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]

Greenbelt, County Look to Partner on Farms

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (March 9, 2011): Changes to Washtenaw County’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP) now allow the county to buy development rights for farmland – a land preservation strategy also pursued by Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program.

Ginny Trocchio, Tom Freeman

Tom Freeman, deputy director of Washtenaw County parks & recreation, and Ginny Trocchio of The Conservation Fund distribute handouts to the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission at GAC's March 9, 2011 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Tom Freeman, deputy director for the county’s parks & recreation department, gave commissioners an update on this new aspect of NAPP, which is funded by a 10-year millage that voters renewed in November 2010. He discussed with commissioners areas of overlap between the two programs, and the potential for future partnerships as NAPP’s farmland protection efforts ramp up.

Prompted by a question from GAC chair Jennifer S. Hall, Freeman also updated commissioners about the county’s plans to apply for a grant from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund. The grant would help the county buy a parcel in Ann Arbor Township now owned by a subsidiary of Domino’s Farms. The land, which has water and sewer hookups that make it prime for development, is near three other parcels of already preserved property: the county’s Goodrich Preserve; the University of Michigan’s Horner-McLaughlin Woods; and the city-owned Marshall Nature Area. Freeman explained some complicating factors in the acquisition, including two widely divergent appraisals – for $1.9 million and $3.25 million – and the fact that the land is at the center of ongoing litigation between the township and the landowner.

When Hall floated the idea that the greenbelt commission could send a letter of support for the county’s application, Carsten Hohnke cautioned against it. Hohnke, who serves on both GAC and city council, said the city also plans to apply to the trust fund for two projects. [He didn't identify the projects during the meeting. In a follow-up email to The Chronicle, Colin Smith, the city's parks & recreation manager, reported that the applications would be for a skatepark and upgrades to the Gallup canoe livery and park.]

Hohnke felt the county’s application could dilute the city’s chances for success, though it was pointed out to him that the county and city would be applying to two separate pools of funding – the county plans to ask for a grant available for land acquisitions, while the city’s projects are in the category of project development grants. Ultimately, commissioners voted to recommend that the city council consider sending a letter of support for the county’s application. Councilmembers would need to act at their next regular meeting on March 21 – the deadline to apply is April 1.

Also at GAC’s March 9 meeting, commissioner Tom Bloomer – who owns Bur Oaks Farm in Webster Township – reported on a plan to eliminate state tax credits for farmers. It’s part of a broader budget proposal by Gov. Rick Snyder to cut many of the tax incentives currently offered by the state – the most high profile of which is for the film industry. Eliminating the credits for farming could make it unprofitable to farm in this area, Bloomer said. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Gets Mid-Year Financial Review

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (Feb. 9, 2011): The main event of the commission’s Wednesday meeting was a review of the second-quarter financial picture. The review was presented  by Ginny Trocchio, who works for The Conservation Fund, a consultant the city employs to assist with administering the greenbelt millage. Highlights of the presentation included the calculation of administrative overhead costs – including The Conservation Fund’s work – which are well below the legal maximum of 6%.

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Map, boundaries and property

Blobs inside the squarish boundaries represent properties or development rights acquired with greenbelt millage funds. The darker squarish area is the original area where millage funds could be spent. The lighter strips to the east, south, and west were added in 2007. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Though not included explicitly in the millage language, the city approaches the administration of the millage as a one-third/two-thirds split between a portion for parks and a portion for the greenbelt program. So as part of the financial review, commissioners also looked at current fund balances as analyzed based on the one-third/two-third split between parks and greenbelt projects. Noting that the greenbelt fund balance might be on track to be drawn down before the parks portion is exhausted, commissioners seemed to agree that now is a good time to begin mulling what should happen if that scenario played out. The group discussed holding a joint meeting between the park and greenbelt advisory commissions – their last joint session was held in April 2010.

Also discussed on Wednesday was the scheduling of a first meeting of a commission subcommittee that will look at the question of changing greenbelt boundaries. The boundaries define the region where land or development rights on land might be acquired by the greenbelt program. Any change to those boundaries would ultimately require approval from the Ann Arbor city council. [Full Story]

Time to Expand Greenbelt Boundary?

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Nov. 10, 2010): At this month’s meeting, commissioners unanimously approved forming a subcommittee to explore possible changes to the existing boundary of the greenbelt district. Led by GAC vice chair Dan Ezekiel, the group will look for ways to protect properties that might be appropriate for the greenbelt, but that lie just outside of the current district. A similar effort in 2007 resulted in bumping out the boundary by a mile.

Lisa Gottlieb

Lisa Gottlieb, organizer of the Selma Cafe, made a presentation with her husband, Jeff McCabe, at the Nov. 10 meeting of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. (Photos by the writer.)

Noting that this was the second time they’d looked at the issue, GAC chair Jennifer S. Hall suggested exploring other ways that the greenbelt program might achieve the same result, but that wouldn’t involve regularly moving the program’s fixed boundary.

Another theme of the meeting was local food. Two local food advocates – Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe – gave a presentation about their work raising money to fund construction of hoop houses at local farms. Gottlieb and McCabe host the weekly Selma Cafe, a breakfast gathering every Friday morning at their home that regularly draws more than 120 people. Commissioner Dan Ezekiel praised their work, and GAC chair Jennifer S. Hall expressed the hope that they could find ways to work together in the future.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners voted to recommend an agreement with Webster Township, which is offering to contribute $50,000 to the purchase of development rights for the 146-acre Whitney farm. The city council has already agreed to pay $707,122 toward that purchase.

Greenbelt program manager Ginny Trocchio reported that the city has closed on the 51-acre Gould property, adjacent to the recently protected 286-acre Braun farm – both farms are located in Ann Arbor Township. The Braun acquisition bumped the greenbelt program over the 2,000-acre mark, she said – about 2,200 acres are now part of the greenbelt. The Brauns have agreed to open their property for a celebration in the coming months.

In other action, GAC voted unanimously to set public commentary rules in alignment with other city boards and commissions. And Hall noted that two vacancies will be opening up next year on GAC – she encouraged local residents who might be interested in serving on the commission to attend some of their meetings, or talk to their city councilmember about their interest.

The commission also got an update from city treasurer Matt Horning, who was responding to questions that commissioners had raised regarding a drop in investment income on the latest year-end financial statement. [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]

Washtenaw Natural Areas Tweaked for Ballot

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners working session (April 22, 2010): At their Thursday meeting, commissioners were briefed on proposed changes to the county’s Natural Areas Preservation Program, which would help the county protect more land that’s being used for farming.

Bob Tetens, Susan Lackey

Susan Lackey, executive director of the Legacy Land Conservancy, confers with Bob Tetens, director of Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation, before the start of Thursday's working session of the county board of commissioners. (Photo by the writer.)

The proposal comes as the board prepares to place a renewal of the 10-year NAPP millage on the November ballot. The current millage, which raises about $3 million annually to preserve natural areas in the county, expires at the end of 2010.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, commissioners heard a report on internal controls used within the county government, both in finance and other areas. This has been topic that commissioner Wes Prater has pushed the board to address for several months.

Highlights from a draft report were presented by staff of the county’s new energy and economic development department. The report includes data on job losses, education, housing, transit and other factors, and presents four strategies for improving the county’s economy. Tony VanDerworp, who leads the department, explained that the report is required by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration so that the county can apply for grants from the EDA.

Finally, Verna McDaniel, incoming county administrator, said she plans to hold a meet-and-greet for candidates of the deputy administrator job on May 5 before that evening’s board meeting, to get commissioners’ feedback on a potential hire. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Supports Ann Arbor Twp. Deals

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (March 10, 2010): After hearing from Ann Arbor Township supervisor Mike Moran, and meeting in closed session with Mary Fales of the city attorney’s office, commissioners passed a resolution of support for the acquisition of development rights on the Braun and Gould properties in Ann Arbor Township.

These deals have been in the works for more than two years. The city has binding purchase agreements with the owners based on appraisals taken when land values were higher. New appraisals, required to get funds from a federal program, came in with much lower values. That means fewer-than-expected federal funds will be available, and the city would be required to come up with the difference.

Saying that Ann Arbor Township was their partner, Moran urged commissioners to support the purchase of development rights. He called the Braun farm a “poster child” for the township’s land preservation movement, and said it would be a significant error to reject the deal simply because of the new appraisals.

Later in the meeting, commissioners also got an update on committee work being done to help support small farms in the greenbelt. [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]

County Natural Areas Tax Up for Renewal

A resolution to hire Verna McDaniel as the next county administrator is on the Feb. 3 agenda for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, and commissioners gave her a round of applause on Wednesday when that agenda item was announced at their administrative briefing.

But it was an item not on the agenda that yielded the most animated discussion on Wednesday: A countywide millage for Washtenaw County’s Natural Areas Preservation Program. The tax, which was first approved by voters in November of 2000 and took effect in 2002, will expire in 2011 and would need to go back to voters this year for renewal. Based on comments at Wednesday’s briefing, the millage renewal might face resistance from some commissioners. [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]

Northfield to Greenbelt: Keep Out

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (Dec. 9, 2009): During a relatively brief final meeting of 2009, members of the greenbelt advisory commission got reports on the program’s finances and its preservation activity for the last fiscal year.

Preserve Washtenaw sign

Signs like these will be used to mark land that's preserved through a variety of programs, including the Ann Arbor greenbelt. (Photos by the writer.)

Also discussed was a direct rebuff to the greenbelt program from Northfield Township’s supervisor, who wrote that the township wasn’t supportive of “an outside community exerting its influence on our community.”

Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund, which manages the greenbelt program for the city, had approached the township on behalf of landowners who were interested in participating in the greenbelt.

Commissioners strategized over how to respond, and are forming a group to talk with township officials about their concerns. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Explores Support for Small Farms

The main topic of discussion for the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission’s November meeting could be distilled into this: How can the greenbelt program support the development of small farms, and ensure that farm properties remain farms, even when the property changes ownership?

It’s an unlikely resource that might actually be able to help answer those questions: the federal housing programs administered by the Office of Community Development, a joint county/city department.

Jennifer Hall, OCD housing program coordinator, attended the Nov. 4 meeting of the greenbelt group and floated some ideas for how federal funding might provide resources to retain land for the farming community.

The commission also heard from the managing organization of the greenbelt program, The Conservation Fund, about strategies for preserving small farms. [Full Story]

Land Trust’s New Name Unveiled

Legacy Land Conservancy Mugs

During an event at Cobblestone Farm on Thursday, Mark Patrick and Suzie Heiney unveil the Washtenaw Land Trust's new name and logo: the Legacy Land Conservancy.

As the nearly 160 guests started dinner Thursday evening, Susan Lackey urged them to continue making bids on the silent auction items – including, she said, “heirloom” Washtenaw Land Trust mugs. “The value of those will go up significantly before the evening is over.”

Those mugs are the last of their kind, as the land trust now has a new name: Legacy Land Conservancy. Lackey, the nonprofit’s executive director, says the name reflects a broader mission and geographical reach beyond the boundaries of Washtenaw County. In the past few years, the trust has helped protect 337 acres in Jackson County, to the west of Washtenaw. Its logo includes the charge of “protecting and preserving Southern Michigan.” [Full Story]

Meeting Watch: Greenbelt Advisory Commission (5 Nov 2008)

Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund talks to members of the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission, as commissioners Gil Omenn and Peter Allen (far right) look on.

Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund talks to members of the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission on Wednesday, as commissioners Gil Omenn and Peter Allen (far right) look on.

The Greenbelt Advisory Commission met Wednesday, spending about 45 minutes in their public meeting before going into a closed session to discuss land preservation proposals.

Field trip: The first major item on the agenda was a presentation by Peg Kohring, Midwest director of The Conservation Fund, which manages the city’s greenbelt program. She gave a brief talk about the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy, describing it as a think-and-do tank focused on local land use and food systems. Kohring said that she, city staffer Ginny Trocchio and Susan Lackey of the Washtenaw Land Trust made a trip to northeast Ohio to take an up-close look at this organization, and glean ideas that might be applicable to the Ann Arbor area. [Full Story]