Stories indexed with the term ‘Liberty Plaza’

Liberty & Division

Educators setting up at Liberty Plaza for a rally in support of public schools – 5:30 p.m. start. [photo]

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]

June 16, 2014: Council Live Updates

Editor’s note: This “Live Updates” coverage of the Ann Arbor city council’s June 16, 2014 meeting includes all the material from an earlier preview article published last week. The intent is to facilitate easier navigation from the live updates section to background material already in this file. Outcomes of council votes are also available in the Civic News Ticker.

The city council’s last meeting of the 2014 fiscal year, on June 16, 2014, features an agenda packed with items related to the city’s physical infrastructure like bridges (including art), the sanitary sewer system and the stormwater system, as well as several resolutions related to construction of new sidewalks.

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber includes Braille.

Related to new sidewalk construction is a resolution that would authorize a $75,000 contract with the Greenway Collaborative, to support the work of a pedestrian safety and access task force established by the city council in late 2013. Part of the task force’s responsibility is to create a tool for setting priorities for funding and filling sidewalk gaps in the city.

The $75,000 cost for the pedestrian safety task force consultant is the same amount the council will be asked to allocate to support the work of Ann Arbor SPARK, a local economic development agency. The contract with SPARK is renewed annually, as is another contract on the June 16 agenda – for lobbying services from Governmental Consultant Services Inc. The GCSI contract is for $48,000.

Also on the council’s June 16 agenda are three items with a connection to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. One is the approval of an end-of-year budget adjustment that was already approved at the DDA board’s June 4, 2014 meeting. Another is approval of a $37,500 expenditure from the city’s affordable housing trust fund to help pay for an affordable housing needs assessment. At its June 4 meeting, the DDA board authorized a $37,500 grant for the same study.

In the final item with a DDA connection, the council will be asked to authorize $69,555 for the conversion of 223 mercury-vapor cobrahead streetlights to LED technology. This project would convert streetlights that are all outside the DDA district. The project is on the city council’s agenda because the DDA board recently declined to fund a similar LED conversion project – for streetlights inside the DDA tax capture district.

Several other June 16 agenda items relate to the downtown area, even if they don’t have an explicit DDA connection. Two of them involve changes to downtown zoning ordinances that have been recommended by the planning commission. The zoning question to be given initial consideration by the council is whether to downzone the southeast corner of William and Main streets from D1 to D2, but with a 100-foot height limit.

Other downtown items on the council’s June 16 agenda include site plan approvals for First Martin’s hotel project at Ashley and Huron, and the Bank of Ann Arbor expansion at Fifth Avenue and Washington Street.

A resolution to improve Liberty Plaza, a downtown park at the southwest corner of Division and Liberty streets, also appears on the agenda – sponsored by mayor John Hieftje and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Added as sponsors since its initial appearance on the agenda are Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Margie Teall (Ward 4).

The council will be asked to approve four items related to supportive services for the criminal justice system: (1) a $76,242 contract with Washtenaw County Community Support & Treatment Services for mental health treatment services for the 15th District Court’s sobriety and mental health courts; (2) a $44,200 contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office to provide drug abuse screening and monitoring services for the mental health court; (3) a $108,174 contract with Dawn Farm for drug abuse counseling and rehabilitative services; and (4) a $40,000 contract with Reiser and Frushour PLLC to provide legal representation as court-appointed counsel to indigent defendants.

Recycling is the final topic with multiple items on the June 16 agenda. The council will be asked to approve funds for a $95,694 contract with Recycle Ann Arbor to create a multi-family recycling incentive pilot program. The council will also be asked to approve $39,480 to reimburse the city’s operator of its materials recovery facility for repair of a conveyor that feeds the baler. And finally, the council will be asked to approve $35,000 for Recycle Ann Arbor to provide solid waste services associated with student move-out activity.

The June 16 council meeting will also feature the annual historic district commission awards and the introduction of one of the Ann Arbor police department’s K-9 units, who won highest honors at a recent national certification trials event. This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items.

More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article below the preview material. Click here to skip the preview section and go directly to the live updates. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. [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]

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]

Liberty & Division

Liberty Plaza (close to the building) : Crowd assembled for a Sunday afternoon dedication of the new Ann Arbor Sensory Garden in Liberty Plaza, a project of Linda Evans and the AA Commission on Disability Issues, with the help of councilmember Sally Petersen and many other volunteers and contributors.  The Garden, dedicated to disability activist Pamela Baker-Trostle, although particularly enjoyable for persons with disabilities, will provide bright colors, textures to feel and pleasant smells for all.  I even saw a bright green hummingbird enjoying a purple cone flower during the dedication ceremony.

Liberty Plaza Fees Waived on Trial Basis

Fees for use of Liberty Plaza – a park located at Liberty and Divisions streets in downtown Ann Arbor – will be waived for the next year on a trial basis. Action to waive fees through July 1, 2014, was taken at the Ann Arbor city council’s July 15 meeting.

The park advisory commission had voted at its June 18, 2013 meeting to recommend a trial waiver of fees at Liberty Plaza. The fee waiver comes in response to a situation that arose earlier in the spring, when city staff applied fees to the hosting of Pizza in the Park in Liberty Plaza – a homelessness outreach ministry of a local church.

Members of Camp Take Notice, a self-governed homelessness … [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]

Fee Waiver for Liberty Plaza Proposed

A recommendation to waive park rental fees for Liberty Plaza was unanimously approved by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its June 18, 2013 meeting. The waiver, which requires city council approval, would be enacted on a one-year trial basis through July 1, 2014.

A staff memo accompanying the resolution describes Liberty Plaza – located on the southwest corner of Division and Liberty – as a problem park. The intent of waiving rental fees is to encourage activity there, such as the weekly Sonic Lunch series that’s sponsored by the Bank of Ann Arbor.  The memo states: “The waived rental fee can then be promoted with a goal of attracting additional musicians, performers, and other events at Liberty Plaza.”

The waiver … [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]

DDA Sends William Street Project to Council

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Jan. 9, 2013): The first meeting of the year for the DDA’s board featured a packed agenda – with items ranging from budget adjustments to the adoption of recommendations on the Connecting William Street project. Also voted on by the board were grants to the nonprofit Dawn Farm, an allocation of funds for the DDA’s energy grant program, and two monthly parking permits for The Varsity residential development.

Walkable City is a volume brought to the Jan. 9, 2013 Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting by local developer Peter Allen.

Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City” was a volume brought to the Jan. 9, 2013 Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting by local developer Peter Allen. (Photos by the writer.)

The budget adjustments to FY 2013 were made in order to account for roughly $2.6 million in construction costs associated with the Library Lane underground parking garage. They had been allocated in the previous year’s budget, but not paid last year – because the completion of the construction extended into this fiscal year.

The FY 2012 audit report, which the board also approved at its Jan. 9 meeting, shows that for FY 2012, the DDA spent about $2.5 million less than anticipated for that year – because the construction invoices were not all submitted to the DDA by the time books closed for the year.

The result of those changes leaves a budget with $22,237,924 in revenues against $26,339,555 in expenses for the year – which translates to a planned use of the DDA’s fund balance reserve of $4,101,632. That’s about half of the existing fund balance.

Not a part of the revised budget was the approval of two allocations made by the board – one of $50,000 in connection with the DDA’s existing energy grant program, and another of $150,000 for a grant to Dawn Farm, a nonprofit offering both residential and out-patient services supporting recovery for alcoholics and drug addicts. The energy allocation will essentially attempt to leverage energy audits completed through the DDA’s program for use in the Michigan Saves program, which offers low-interest financing for energy improvements.

The board also approved recommendations to be forwarded to the city council on the future redevelopment of five city-owned sites currently used for parking. The project, which is now named Connecting William Street (CWS), began with an April 4, 2011 city council resolution that directed the DDA to seek “robust public input” from experts, stakeholders and residents to develop a plan for those parcels.

In connection with the parcels in that area, the board also adopted a policy on possible grants from the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) funds to support development of the CWS properties. The policy makes clear that the DDA would not forgo its TIF capture on any property – but the amount of the grant would be calculated based on TIF revenue.

Also in connection with the CWS project, the board heard remarks during public commentary from representatives of the city’s park advisory commission as well as the State Street Area Association. The board also invited Doug Kelbaugh, a University of Michigan professor of architecture and urban planning, to share his thoughts on parks versus plazas – and why he thinks the site on top of the Library Lane parking garage is more likely to succeed as a plaza instead of a park. [Full Story]

Park Commission Focuses on Downtown, Dogs

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Aug. 21, 2012): Several items at the August monthly PAC meeting related to parks and green space in downtown Ann Arbor – improving what the city already owns, and possibly adding more to it.

Colin Smith, Bob Galardi

From right: Bob Galardi, the newest member of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, talks with parks & recreation manager Colin Smith before the start of the Aug. 21, 2012 PAC meeting. Because the PAC meeting in July was cancelled, this was the first regular session for Galardi since his appointment by city council. (Photos by the writer.)

In their main action item, commissioners voted to direct PAC’s dog park subcommittee to develop recommendations that could lead to additional off-leash dog parks, to be located in central Ann Arbor. Those recommendations will likely be presented at PAC’s Sept. 18 meeting.

The commissioner who’s been spearheading this effort for more than a year, John Lawter, didn’t attend the meeting. That disappointed one member of the public, Steve Thorp, who advocated for West Park to be considered as a potential site for a dog park. He dubbed Lawter “Citizen Canine” and said the ballfield at West Park could be a spot for a temporary dog park during certain hours of the day or times of the year.

Commissioners also heard from mayor John Hieftje, who asked PAC to help prioritize action on downtown parks. He highlighted possible improvements at Liberty Plaza and a process for moving that work forward. [.pdf of Liberty Plaza staff memo] But he also listed several other city-owned properties that he’d like to see as part of a greenway – including the 721 N. Main and 415 W. Washington sites – as well as the DTE/MichCon property that’s being cleaned up along the Huron River.

Commissioner Tim Berla asked how the Library Lane site – atop the new underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue – fits into the mayor’s vision for downtown parks. Hieftje said he’d attended a picnic there this summer hosted by the Library Green advocates. He felt it was a little disingenuous of them to show images of a possible future park with large, mature trees – because there’s only three inches of soil, he said, so if you’re looking for greenery and shade, that’s not the best place. There’s room for a plaza, Hieftje added, but the question is how large it should be.

The Library Lane site is one of five city-owned properties that are being evaluated as part of the Connecting William Street effort, which aims to coordinate planning and possible development on those properties. At the Aug. 21 meeting commissioners were briefed about that project, led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The DDA was seeking feedback from PAC on three development scenarios that, generally speaking, represent low density, moderate density and high density development.

Several commissioners expressed disappointment that the scenarios did not include more green space. Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, urged PAC to give specific feedback about where they’d like to see more green space and how they envision it being used, in the context of other downtown parks. She said the city needs to find a “sweet spot” between parks and the population density needed to support those parks.

Also on the agenda was an update from the nonprofit Community Action Network. CAN operates Bryant Community Center and Northside Community Center under contract with the city, which owns those properties. [Full Story]

A Shrine to What?

Liberty Plaza Shrine

Despite this graffiti, we're pretty sure Chuck Berry is still alive.

You never know how someone’s creative energies will be channeled in this town, and a shrine – or whatever it is – in Liberty Plaza is pretty good evidence of that.

The Chronicle came across this piece of urban art on Christmas Day. The day after Christmas, it was still there.

It is positioned on a snow-covered ledge on the Liberty Street side of the park, and includes a world globe, a coffee can with some Jesus literature inside, various plastic toy animals, some colorful Mardi Gras beads, playing cards and honestly, who knows what else is buried under that snow. Maybe we’ll find out after Saturday’s Big Melt. From yesterday to today, the number of pot-holder-sized crocheted squares has dwindled from three to one.

On the orthogonal ledge, someone has chalked “Chuck Berry RIP” and “Run Run Rudolf” onto the concrete. According to Dead or Alive, Berry is still with us. This may or may not be part of the same “installation” – we’d like to think it is, though we can’t even hazard a guess as to its meaning.

But maybe you can. More photos are after the jump. [Full Story]

Picnic in the Park, with Electric Guitar

The Sonic Lunch series has its own brown bag.

The Sonic Lunch series has its own brown bag for carryout from local eateries. The Chronicle has no idea what's inside this one.

September means transition – summer vacations end, school starts, nights get chilly, trees begin their inexorable palette change.

And on Thursday, the weekly Sonic Lunch series came to a close at Liberty Plaza, just as workers started hanging holiday lights there.

They couldn’t have ordered up better weather for their season finale, and dozens of people turned out to eat lunch in the park or just listen to this week’s band, the Dave Sharp Quintet. (Or, as Dave pointed out during a break, the Dave Sharp Quartet, plus musical guest Topaz, on sax.) [Full Story]