Stories indexed with the term ‘parks’

Play, Work Items OK’d for Ann Arbor Parks

Three Ann Arbor parks will be receiving upgrades to play equipment, and all of them will have better equipment for mowing and snow removal as a result of city council action on May 5, 2014.

The council approved a contract with Game Time c/o Sinclair Recreation for $132,000 to improve facilities at three parks. Arbor Oaks Park and Scheffler Park will have their play structures replaced, and North Main Park will be getting a tire swing and chess table.

[Full Story]

Outdoor Smoking Regs Get Initial OK

A new local Ann Arbor law regulating smoking in some outdoor locations has been given initial approval by the city council. The law would regulate smoking outside of public buildings and also potentially in areas of some city parks.

Action to give the ordinance initial approval came at the council’s April 7, 2014 meeting, after it had been postponed on March 3, 2014, and before that on Feb. 3, 2014. The initial approval came over dissent from Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Jack Eaton (Ward 4).

To be enacted, the new law will need a second vote from the council at a future meeting.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), sponsor of the proposed new local law, appeared before the city’s … [Full Story]

March 3, 2014: Ann Arbor Council Preview

The council’s first regular meeting in March will include several items of business leftover from previous meetings, including one resolution on affordable housing, an ordinance on outdoor smoking, and several matters related to public art.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor online agenda management system. Image links to the next meeting agenda.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor’s online agenda management system. Image links to the March 3, 2014 meeting agenda.

New to the agenda are several items related to non-motorized issues, most prominently a funding request to support the activity of an already-established task force on pedestrian safety and access.

The council will also be asked to fund requests related to city parks and other city facilities like city hall and the airport. Eighteen new vehicles will also be added to the city’s fleet, contingent on council action on March 3.

The council will also consider a resolution that urges full funding of the state of Michigan’s fire protection grant program – for cities like Ann Arbor that host state-owned facilities like the University of Michigan.

In somewhat more detail, one public art issue, embodied in two different resolutions, was postponed from the council’s Feb. 18, 2014 meeting, when councilmembers could not agree on an approach to transferring money out of the public art fund back to the funds from which the money was originally drawn. The specific point dividing the council was not so much the transfer of money but rather a plan to fund the new approach to public art – after the council eliminated the Percent for Art funding mechanism last year.

Updated March 1, 2014: The first resolution has been altered for consideration on March 3 so that it focuses exclusively on the public art program transition issue. The second resolution incorporates changes to reflect the council’s deliberations on Feb. 18: It transfers a total of $943,005 of Percent for Art money to its funds of origin, an amount that defunds the art project at Argo Cascades, but keeps funding for the Coleman Jewett memorial and for a project called Canoe Imagine Art.  [public art resolution (1) for consideration on March 3, 2014] [public art resolution (2) for consideration on March 3, 2014]

That disagreement over funding of the newly created program is also related to another public art item on the agenda – a six-month contract extension for the city’s part-time public art administrator. The item first appeared on the council’s Jan. 21 agenda, but the council postponed that vote until Feb. 3, when it was defeated. On Feb. 18 it was then brought back for reconsideration, but immediately postponed until the March 3 meeting.

Also postponed from Feb. 18 is an item that would direct the city administrator to prepare for the council’s approval a budget resolution regarding affordable housing. The resolution would allocate $600,000 from the city’s affordable housing trust fund to support the Ann Arbor housing commission’s plan to renovate its properties. That allocation would be contingent on the closing of the sale of the former Y lot to Dennis Dahlmann, as the net proceeds of that sale are to be deposited into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

Postponed from the Feb. 3 meeting was the first reading of an ordinance that would regulate smoking outside of public buildings and also potentially in areas of some city parks. Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), sponsor of the new proposed local law, appeared before the park advisory commission at its Feb. 25 meeting to brief commissioners on the proposal and solicit feedback.

New items on the March 3 agenda include a funding proposal for the pedestrian safety and access task force established by the city council late last year, with members appointed in late January. The $122,250 item includes a $77,500 contract for facilitation services from Project Innovations. That’s the same firm contracted for similar work in connection with the city’s sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation – which is expected to conclude in the summer of 2014.

Other issues on the March 3 agenda with a non-motorized connection are three stretches of sidewalk. In the context of sanitary sewer design work that Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber Inc. is being hired to do, two sidewalks are included: a stretch along Barton Drive, and a stretch along Scio Church Road. The council will also be asked to pay for the construction of a stretch of sidewalk along Ann Arbor-Saline Road near the I-94 bridge – as part of a road reconstruction project that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation is handling.

Another new item is a resolution that Jack Eaton (Ward 4) had announced at the council’s Feb. 18 meeting that he’d be bringing forward. It would waive the attorney-client privilege on a staff memo about laws governing the assessment of homes. The resolution indicates that the memo addresses the effect that reducing the assessment for one year would have on the property tax assessment for the subsequent year, based on action by the Board of Review and/or the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

In other action, the council will be asked on March 3 to approve the purchase from Signature Ford of 18 new vehicles – most of them for use by the Ann Arbor police department. Total cost of the purchase is $457,393.

City parks factor into three agenda items: (1) a resolution to establish an urban park on part of the surface level of the Library Lane underground parking structure; (2) a paving contract for the replacement of basketball and tennis courts at Clinton Park; and (3) a grant application to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Grants Management (MDNRGM) to support a universal access playground at Gallup Park. The Rotary Club has already pledged $250,000 toward such a playground.

The city hall (Larcom Building) is featured in two agenda items – to pay $160,923 for a secondary chiller unit and $28,469 for new light fixtures. An amendment to an agreement with MDOT for an already-completed fence project at the Ann Arbor municipal airport also appears on the agenda, and will cost the city $425.

After authorizing significant equipment purchases to support water main repair activity at its Feb. 18 meeting, the council will be asked to approve two additional items related to water main repair. One item is a $44,702 emergency purchase order to buy more aggregate material used for backfilling water main repairs. A second item authorizes an emergency purchase order for repairing and making a new connection for the water main at 1214 S. University. In both cases, the emergency purchase orders were authorized by the city administrator, and the work was done.

Street closures for two events are on the council’s March 3 agenda: Take Back the Night and the Monroe Street Fair.

Also on the agenda is a resolution that would encourage Gov. Rick Snyder, state senator Rebekah Warren, and state representatives Jeff Irwin and Adam Zemke to explore creative ways to fund the state’s fire protection grant program for municipalities like Ann Arbor, which host state institutions. In the last three years, the program has been only 40-55% funded.

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. [Full Story]

New Roofs for Cobblestone Farm

A $109,500 contract with Renaissance Restorations Inc. has been approved, which will allow replacement of roofs at Cobblestone Farm – on the event barn and on the Tincknor-Campbell House. The contract was given approval by the Ann Arbor City council at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting. The bid from Renaissance was the lowest of three received for the work. The contract includes a 10% contingency, bringing the total to $120,450.

The work would be funded with proceeds from the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage.

According to a staff memo, the Tincknor-Campbell House is a cobblestone farmhouse that was built in 1844. Its existing wood shingle roof was installed in 1977 and is in serious disrepair. The proposal calls for the new … [Full Story]

Park Maintenance Millage on Ann Arbor Ballot

Ann Arbor voters will be asked on Nov. 6, 2012 to renew the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage at the rate of 1.1 mills. The vote to place the question on the Nov. 6 ballot was taken by the Ann Arbor city council at its Aug. 9 meeting. It was a unanimous vote.

The city’s park advisory commission had voted at its June 19, 2012 meeting to recommend that the council put the millage renewal on the ballot. The current 1.1 mill tax expires this year. A renewal would run from 2013-2018 and raise about $5 million next year. The recommended allocation of revenues is 70% for park maintenance activities, and 30% for park capital improvement projects. Of that allocation, up to … [Full Story]

Column: Let’s Park This Meeting on Thursday

This year, primary elections fall on Tuesday, Aug. 7. So reflecting its habit and custom, the Ann Arbor city council will be meeting on Thursday, Aug. 9 this week, instead of following the more typical first-and-third-Monday-of-the-month pattern.

The Thursday meeting custom for election-day weeks appears to be traceable to the city charter and the council’s own rules – but a close reading of those documents indicates that the council should probably be convening a regular meeting on Monday, not Thursday.

And that’s ironic – because the importance of close reading, with attention to details of possible new charter language, could actually be a theme of Thursday’s meeting agenda.

Most prominently, the council’s deliberations could include a discussion of the exact language for a proposed charter amendment on parkland protections, which the council might choose to place on the Nov. 6 ballot. As considered at the council’s previous meeting, on July 16, 2012, the possible charter amendment would require that certain long-term leasing arrangements on city parkland be subject to a voter referendum. In 2008, voters had already approved a charter amendment that subjects any sale of parkland to a popular vote.

On July 16, the council had postponed action on the proposed ballot resolution until its Aug. 9 meeting. In arguing for postponement, some councilmembers cited a desire to have the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) weigh in on the proposed amendment. PAC will convene a meeting on Aug. 8 to consider the matter, and to make a recommendation to the city council.

Another reason given for postponement was the need to examine more closely the meaning and practical significance of the charter amendment language. And in the interim, councilmembers and staff have been mulling additional contractual arrangements on parkland – which could be explicitly added to the charter amendment’s text. Among those arrangements would be any contracts for construction of buildings on parkland that are not “customarily incidental to the principal use and enjoyment of such land.”

If the council chooses to postpone the resolution again, it could vote at its Aug. 20 meeting to place the parks charter amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot, and still meet the statutory deadline for certifying ballot language to the county clerk.

I’ll predict that the council postpones the resolution again, until Aug. 20. And I don’t think that would be an unreasonable outcome for the Aug. 9 meeting. Compared to the annual scheduling of regular city council meetings, the parkland charter amendment deals with topics that are far more complex. And it’s just a way bigger deal.

If the language in the council rules for scheduling meetings can be muddled – enough so that the council has not been interpreting the rule as written – then it’s easy to imagine that the parkland charter amendment could easily be muddled, too. So I think the wording of a charter amendment on parkland deserves the kind of discussion by councilmembers and vetting by the public that would result from robust deliberations on Aug. 9, followed by a vote on Aug. 20.

Spoiler alert: If you don’t want to know the result of the city council’s deliberations on Aug. 9, don’t tune in to CTN Channel 16 and don’t watch it stream live over the Internet on Thursday, starting at 7 p.m. Just watch the Olympics on NBC instead. If you do choose to view the live council proceedings, or attend in person, please note that no medals will be awarded – despite the intense all-around competition in verbal gymnastics.

After the jump, I lay out what the city charter and the council rules have to say about city council regular meeting times.  [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Punts Park Issue to Commission

At its July 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered a possible ballot question on a charter amendment affecting city parkland – which would require a voter referendum not just for the sale of parkland, but also for leases or other contracts that have a practical effect similar to a sale.

Ultimately, the council voted to refer the issue to the city’s park advisory commission (PAC), postponing its own vote until Aug. 9.

The chair of that commission, Julie Grand, had written in an email to mayor John Hieftje on July 12 that she felt “… it is critical for PAC to provide a formal resolution prior to any council vote. I therefore propose to find an alternative time for … [Full Story]

Rezoning for Bluffs Gets Initial Council OK

At its July 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to the rezoning of two parcels that were recently acquired by the city for expansion of the Bluffs Nature Area at 1099 N. Main St., north of Sunset Road. The city planning commission had recommended the rezoning at its June 5, 2012 meeting.

A 1.12-acre parcel to the north of the Bluffs – connecting the existing parkland to Huron View Boulevard – is currently zoned O (office), and had been donated to the city by a nursing home near that site. A 0.57-acre addition to the south connects the existing parkland to Sunset Road and is currently zoned R4C (multiple-family dwelling). It had been purchased by the city … [Full Story]

City Council Expands North Main Task Force

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 21, 2012) Part 1: Although the council’s meeting did not conclude until around 1:30 a.m., the late hour was not attributable to the relatively heavy agenda. It was due to the extensive deliberations on the fiscal year 2013 budget, which the council finally approved over dissent from two of its members. A breakdown of amendments to the budget is included in The Chronicle’s report filed from the meeting. Deliberations on those budget amendments are covered in the forthcoming Part 2 of this meeting report.

Left is Sandi Smith (Ward 1). Right is Sabra Briere (Ward 1). The two had co-sponsored a resolution establishing a task force to study the North Main Street and Huron River corridor.

From left: Councilmembers Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1). The two had co-sponsored a resolution establishing a task force to study the North Main Street and Huron River corridor. (Photos by the writer.)

In addition to the budget, the council efficiently dispatched with a fairly packed agenda of regular items, which are covered in this part of the meeting report. The item generating the most discussion was a follow-up to action taken at the council’s previous meeting on May 7, to establish a task force to study the North Main Street and Huron River corridor.

That resolution had provided for nine task force members representing different constituencies. At the May 21 meeting, a resolution was brought forward to add three members. A debate unfolded about whether to add a fourth member – from the Ann Arbor public art commission – to the mix. Ultimately that addition was approved narrowly on a 6-5 vote on the 11-member council.

While the North Main task force is meant to develop a vision for future land use in the corridor, the council took action on several current land use items too. Winning easy approval were a site plan for Allen Creek Preschool on Miller Avenue, and a rezoning and site plan for Michigan AAA on South Main Street. The council also quickly approved six routine rezoning requests associated with annexation from a township into the city of Ann Arbor.  And councilmembers gave initial approval to revisions of the planned unit development regulations for a Shell service station on Ann Arbor-Saline and West Eisenhower Parkway.

Associated with these land use items were a total of 10 separate public hearings. However, no one addressed the council during any of those hearings.

The city’s park system made it onto the agenda in a few different ways. First, a consent agenda item was pulled out for separate consideration to highlight the fact that renovations to South University Park were being funded with a $50,000 gift that had been made by a couple – Leslie and Michael Morris – who previously lived next to the park. The council also approved the lease of a 40-space parking lot near Argo Canoe liveries to meet additional demand for river trips that has been generated by construction of the Argo Cascades bypass around the dam.

Related to open space outside the city were the reappointments of two members of the greenbelt advisory commission – Peter Allen and Catherine Riseng. The commission overseas a portion of the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage.

Financial issues considered by the council included initial approval to increase water, sewer and stormwater rates that will together generate an additional $1.7 million in annual revenue. The council also approved a tax abatement for Sakti3, a battery technology company in Ann Arbor that is looking to expand its operation here.

Other items on the agenda included receipt of a federal grant to develop a strategy for improved energy efficiency in rental housing, as well as a grant administered for laptop computers to be used as electronic pollbooks. The computers are used for election record-keeping, not for casting ballots. The council also gave initial approval to an ordinance revision that relieves homeowners of responsibility for maintaining sidewalks adjacent to their property for the duration of the sidewalk-repair millage, which voters approved in November 2011. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Gives Initial OK to Pot Licenses

Ann Arbor city council meeting (March 21, 2011): In its highest profile business of the evening, the council finally gave its initial approval to a licensing plan for medical marijuana businesses.

Susan Pollay, Sandi Smith, Margie Teall

Susan Pollay, left, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, with councilmembers Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Margie Teall (Ward 4, sitting) before the start of the March 21 council meeting. Pollay was distributing copies of the downtown street outreach task force report. (Photos by the writer.)

The council has now been formally considering the new licensing ordinance for three months. The ordinance will next come before the council at its Tuesday, April 19 meeting for final approval. Also on April 19, the council will take a final vote on a zoning ordinance that would apply to medical marijuana businesses. The moratorium on use of property in the city for medical marijuana businesses – originally enacted on Aug. 5, 2010 to last for 120 days, but subsequently extended – was extended again at Monday’s meeting through June 30, 2011. [.pdf of medical marijuana licensing ordinance as amended on March 21, 2011]

In a lower-profile but logistically significant move, the council voted to move its second meeting of April from Monday to Tuesday, April 19, because sundown on that Monday marks the start of the week-long Passover celebration in the Jewish tradition.

Other business conducted by the council included: (1) approving a recommendation for non-renewal of a liquor license for the Fifth Quarter; (2) authorizing transfer of $90,000 to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to improve a public plaza near the Forest Street parking structure; (3) setting a public hearing to establish an industrial development district that could lead to tax abatements for the firm Sakti3; (4) authorizing a letter of support for a Washtenaw County grant application to the state for acquisition of a natural area; and (5) authorizing the city’s own application to the state for grants to support park improvement projects and a new skatepark.

Council deliberations on the park improvement grant applications resulted in the prioritization of a grant to support construction of the skatepark over one to support improvements to the Gallup park canoe livery. The city hopes both grants will be approved by the state.

The council also heard a presentation on a plan for the Millers Creek area, and later in its meeting adopted the plan. It could eventually lead to establishing the creekshed formally as a “drain,” in the sense that the county water resources commissioner (formerly the drain commissioner) uses the term. That designation will increase the area’s eligibility for various funding mechanisms to pay for projects there.

The council heard a presentation from its street outreach task force, summarizing its work over the last six months. That work includes a proposed revision to the city’s panhandling ordinance, which the council will begin considering at its April 4 meeting.

The council also passed a resolution establishing a search committee for a new city administrator. The committee will bring a recommendation to the council at its April 19 meeting on an interim administrator, who will assume responsibilities when current city administrator Roger Fraser departs at the end of April.

The city’s IT director, Dan Rainey, was on hand to receive a Digital Cities award recognizing the city’s efforts to improve services through digital technology. Fraser mentioned during his communications time that the council’s meetings are now being streamed live over the Internet: CTN Channel 16 Live. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor 2012 Budget: Parks, Plans, People

Editor’s note: The Ann Arbor city council has held two retreats to discuss the city’s FY 2012 budget – one in early December 2010 and another in early January 2011. A summary of the material covered in those retreats is provided in previous Chronicle coverage: “Ann Arbor: Engaging the FY 2012 Budget.”

Leading up to the city administrator’s proposed budget in April, the city council is also holding a series of work sessions on the budget. Their typical scheduling pattern is for the weeks between council meetings. That was the case on Jan. 31, 2011 when the council held its budget work session on the community services area, which includes human services, parks and planning. Another session was held on Feb. 7, prior to the council’s regular meeting, regarding the 15th District Court. A report on the Feb. 14, 2011 session, which focused on police and fire, will follow.

Community Services Area Ann Arbor city council budget retreat

At the podium is community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl. Partially obscured by the podium is councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Leafing through the budget impact sheets that the council had been given just prior to the meeting is Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). (Photo by the writer.)

The Ann Arbor city council’s budget work session on Jan. 31, 2011 covered a broad range of topics – from the city’s affordable housing stock, to planning and development, to parks and recreation (including golf courses), to human services funding. All these issues fall under the city’s community services area, which is led by Sumedh Bahl.

In a budget year where maintaining the same level of activity in every department is projected to result in a $2.4 million shortfall, city departments have been given reduction targets between 2.5% and 4%. Targets vary across departments depending on health care costs for employees in those departments.

So at their work session, councilmembers heard from heads of individual departments about the specific ways those targets might be met.

For example, Mary Jo Callan, who’s head of the city/county office of community development, told councilmembers that an unrealized $98,000 federal grant would pose an additional challenge. All other things being equal, Callan would meet the reduction target by reducing the city’s allocation to nonprofit human services agencies by $116,714 – from $1,275,744 to $1,159,030. The budget is planned in two-year cycles, even though it’s adopted just one year at a time, so Callan’s reduction strategy for next year’s FY 2013 budget would be to reduce the nonprofit allocation by an additional $48,700.

The planning department plans to meet its reduction target in part by charging the construction fund for 10% of the historic district coordinator’s time, factoring in projected revenue increases due to increased development activity, and leaving a rental housing inspector position vacant. The rental housing inspection activity would be maintained at appropriate levels by using construction inspectors for rental housing inspections as needed.

The city’s housing commission – which maintains more than 350 units of public housing throughout the city – is not proposing to meet reduction targets, but rather to hire what officials say are two crucially needed positions: a financial analyst and a facilities maintenance manager, which together are expected to cost an additional $154,000 per year.

Parks and recreation would meet their targets in part through savings derived from energy improvements that have been made to various recreational facilities over the past few years.

The council focused some of its session on the city’s golf courses, with a council consensus seeming to emerging that for the next two years, the council will be content to stick with the status quo – operating the Leslie Park and Huron Hills facilities as golf courses, and not changing them to other uses.

But the council was also asked to consider a question on which it could be harder to achieve consensus: Should the city continue to help fund park operations, as it has for the last four years, by tapping the city’s general fund reserve for $287,000 annually? The history of the issue dates back to the parks capital improvements and maintenance millage, which was approved in 2006, and which was followed by the council’s approval of its FY 2008 budget the next spring.

That history is rooted partly in a question that the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, addressed in a straightforward fashion at the work session: What exactly does it mean for a department to have a budget reduction target of 2.5%?  [Full Story]

Ann Arbor City Council Elections: Ward 2

On the last Monday in September, the League of Women Voters hosted a forum of candidates for Ann Arbor city council at Community Television Network studios. Ward 2 and Ward 5 are the only two wards where more than one candidate is on offer to voters on Nov. 2. The respective incumbents in Wards 1, 3 and 4 – Sandi Smith, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, who are all Democrats – are unopposed. The Ward 2 and Ward 5 forum was recorded and is available online through CTN’s video-on-demand service.

City of Ann Arbor Ward 2 Map

City of Ann Arbor Ward 2 is the magenta wedge of the pie in this map on the east side of the city.

While the five candidates for the two wards participated in the same 45-minute forum, this report covers only responses to questions from Ward 2 candidates – incumbent Tony Derezinski, who is the Democratic Party nominee, and Emily Salvette, the nominee of the Libertarian Party. Responses from Ward 5 candidates Carsten Hohnke, John Floyd and Newcombe Clark are reported in a separate account.

As stipulated in the city charter, Ann Arbor wards divide the city into roughly pie-shaped wedges. Ward 2 is a wedge covering roughly the area between the 1 o’clock and 4 o’clock positions on the “city pie.” Each ward is represented on the city council in two council seats, one of which is up for election each year for a two-year term. Stephen Rapundalo serves in the Ward 2 seat that’s not up for election this year.

The four questions posed by the League were confined essentially to two topics: the budget and parks. Candidates uniformly identified the most important challenge facing the city as the budget, and that fit thematically with a specific question about the budget. The remaining two questions focused on specific parks: Huron Hills golf course, which is currently the subject of a request for proposals for private management; and Fuller Park, part of which is a proposed location for a new parking deck to be built primarily for the University of Michigan, and which has a possible future as a train station. [Full Story]

Land Uses Expand; Plan Regs Relaxed

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (July 6, 2010) Part 2: The two main events of the council’s Tuesday meeting were consideration of a historic district on Fourth and Fifth avenues and a resolution opposing Arizona’s recently passed law requiring local law enforcement officers to follow up on possibly undocumented immigrants.


Eunice Burns and Shirley Axon, co-founders of Huron River Day, were at the podium to receive a proclamation honoring the event to be held July 11. (Photos by the writer.)

Public commentary and deliberations on those two issues sent the council’s meeting well past midnight. [Chronicle coverage of those issues is included in Part 1 of this meeting report: "Unscripted: Historic District, Immigration"]

The council transacted a lot of other business as well. Councilmembers approved a change to the zoning code that modifies the list of allowable uses for public land so that the planned Fuller Road Station can be accommodated. Also passed was a change to the site plan approval process, which relaxes the requirement that up-to-date site plans be accessible to the public on a 24/7 basis.

Parks were front and center, and not just because of the public hearing and council action on allowable uses of public land. At the start of the meeting, a proclamation was made for Huron River Day, which takes place at Gallup Park on Sunday, July 11. And the council continued its pattern at the first meeting of the month of recognizing volunteers who help maintain the city’s parks through the Adopt-a-Park program.

In other action, the council approved the $2.5 million purchase of development rights for the 286-acre Braun farm in Ann Arbor Township, as recommended by the city’s greenbelt advisory commission, and established a residential parking permit program for the South University area. [Full Story]

Better Deal Desired for Fuller Road Station

Two city commissions on Tuesday addressed two very different actions related to Fuller Road Station, a joint city of Ann Arbor/University of Michigan project that initially will entail a large parking structure and bus station, with possibly a train station for commuter rail years down the road.

Gwen Nystuen, David Barrett, Doug Chapman

Park advisory commissioners Gwen Nystuen, David Barrett and Doug Chapman at Tuesday's meeting of PAC's land acquisition committee, held at Cobblestone Farm. Nystuen has been pushing for more input into the Fuller Road Station project. (Photos by the writer.)

Spurred by concerns that Ann Arbor parks are being shortchanged, members of the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) discussed a resolution on Tuesday that would urge city council not to proceed with plans for Fuller Road Station at its proposed site on city-owned land that’s designated as parkland.

The draft resolution also states that if the city council does continue with the project, the city should renegotiate the deal to get additional revenues from the University of Michigan, with those funds being allocated to city parks. The resolution calls for an annual payment of $127,500 from the university – under the current agreement, UM would pay $19,379 per year, starting in 2012.

Park commissioners didn’t take any action, and plan to discuss the draft resolution further at their May 18 meeting.

But Tuesday evening, the city’s planning commission did take action related to Fuller Road Station. They voted unanimously to amend the list of permitted principal uses of public land – specifically, changing a “municipal airports” use to “transportation facilities.” During a public hearing on the issue, several speakers – including park commissioner Gwen Nystuen – objected to the change.

It’s expected that the project – located on the south side of Fuller Road, just east of East Medical Center Drive – will be submitted by the design team on May 17 for review by planning staff. It will likely come before the planning commission at its first meeting in July. A public meeting on the project is set for Thursday, May 6 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor city council chambers, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [Full Story]

Greenbelt, Park Commissions Strategize

Though they share oversight for portions of the same millage, the city’s park and greenbelt advisory commissions had never officially met – until last week.

Peter Allen, Scott Rosencrans, Peg Kohring

Scott Rosencrans, center, is chair of the city's park advisory commission, but will be stepping down from PAC when his term ends this month. At Rosencrans' right is developer Peter Allen, a member of the greenbelt advisory commission. In the background is Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund, which manages the land acquisition millage for the parks and greenbelt.

As members arrived at the Ann Arbor Senior Center, where their joint meeting was held on April 6, some knew each other, but many others needed to introduce themselves. Among them were an attorney, a farmer, an ecologist, a teacher, a carpenter, a developer, a research scientist, a landscape architect – and many avid users of the local parks.

Scott Rosencrans, chair of the park advisory commission, told the group he thought it was important to strengthen communication between the two commissions, given the overlap in their strategic goals. And even though he’s stepping down from PAC when his term ends later this month, “hopefully you’ll pursue that,” he said.

At last week’s meeting, commission members got overviews of the parks and greenbelt programs from staff of The Conservation Fund, which manages the greenbelt and parks acquisition programs. In some ways, the meeting was a mini-tutorial for each group on the activities of the other, and an informal discussion about some ways to partner in the future.

There was also some frustration about what they couldn’t discuss. Typically, PAC’s land acquisition committee – a committee of the entire PAC membership – and the greenbelt commission spend much of their meetings in closed sessions, to discuss negotiations with landowners. But because each group needed a six-member quorum required by the Open Meetings Act to enter a joint closed session – and only five members of GAC attended – all of the meeting remained public. There was one property in particular that some commissioners and staff wanted to discuss in private, but couldn’t. About their inability to undertake that discussion, Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund said, “It’s killing me!” [Full Story]

Sculptor Tries to Weld City, University

A William Dennisuk sculpture in progress

A student stands next to the sculpture-in-progress by William Dennisuk, in the studio of the University of Michigan School of Art & Design. When finished, the piece made of bronze rods will be flipped – its base is at the top of the photo. (Photos by the writer.)

William Dennisuk is still waiting for the state to sign off on a public art installation that could dot a stretch of the Huron River with large vase-like sculptures. As he waits, he spends most of his days in a studio, hoping to complete the project before he returns to Finland later this year.

The Chronicle first met Dennisuk – a visiting artist and lecturer at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design – when he came to the October 2009 meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission. He described his project, called Vessels, as a way to bring together the city and campus communities, and to raise awareness about how we interact with the natural world.

When The Chronicle dropped by the art school’s studio recently to get an update on the project, Dennisuk said that working through the required approval process took longer than expected. Also taking longer than projected was working through his own learning curve for some new techniques he’s trying with these sculptures.

Although he had hoped to install his artwork in April, now it looks like late May will be a more realistic goal. [Full Story]

City Restarts 415 W. Washington Process

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Feb. 1, 2010) Part II: In the first part of our report from Monday’s meeting, we covered the transportation and budget topics. This second part reports on land issues and other miscellaneous topics addressed at the meeting.

The vacant building on city-owned property at 415 W. Washington. This view is looking west – an entrance to a surface parking lot is in the foreground.

The vacant building on city-owned property at 415 W. Washington. This view is looking west – an entrance to a surface parking lot is in the foreground. (Photo by the writer.)

In its main land use business, the council approved a resolution to start a process for redeveloping the city-owned 415 W. Washington parcel. The resolution calls for the arts and greenway communities to lead fundraising and development of a vision for the parcel’s use. The site, across from the YMCA, is currently providing revenue to the city as a surface parking lot. It was previously the city’s maintenance yard.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) convinced her colleagues to add language that would make any future use of the parcel cost-neutral with respect to the general fund. But a bid by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) to add a “citizens committee” to the mix was rejected.

And while council approved several deals under the city’s greenbelt program, it postponed consideration of another – in the area of the Bluffs park and the Black Elks lodge on Sunset. The postponement was prompted by concern from Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) that the property’s appraised value seemed too high.

The council also extended an emergency moratorium on demolition and other work in a historic district study area south of William along Fourth and Fifth avenues, and adjusted permissible on-street parking locations along Baldwin Avenue in the Burns Park neighborhood.

And the council took time to thank some volunteers for its Adopt-a-Park program. The volunteers who were recognized at the meeting helped out at Ann Arbor’s parks through CHS Group Inc. [Full Story]

County Seeks Input on Parks Master Plan

Donald Staebler was without question the oldest resident to show up at a Jan. 26 public meeting on the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation master plan. And the 99-year-old farmer had a very specific reason why: He sold his farm to the county nearly 10 years ago, and he wants to see what they’re going to do with it.

The barn and out buidlings at Staebler Farm, on Plymouth Road in Superior Township. Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation bought the farm in 2001, will be developing master plan for the property in the coming years.

The barns and out buildings at Staebler Farm, on Plymouth Road in Superior Township. Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation bought the farm in 2001, and will be developing a master plan for the property in the coming years. (Photos by The Chronicle.)

“I’m open to suggestions,” Staebler told The Chronicle, “and willing to give up plenty of what I know.”

During their presentation about a five-year master plan for the parks system, county staff outlined plans for the Staebler Farm – a proposed $2.3 million investment – as well as for several other county parks, recreational facilities and preserves. It was one of three public meetings to get input on the master plan; the next meeting will be on Wednesday, Feb. 3, at the Dexter Library, starting at 7 p.m.

A draft of the master plan – which is also available online – includes items in an extensive capital improvement program that was approved last year by the county’s Parks & Recreation Commission. Several of the largest projects are planned for Rolling Hills Park, including the addition of a dog park, an expansion of the water park and construction of softball fields and an amphitheater. The county also plans to invest nearly $12 million in greenway and non-motorized trails over the next five years. [Full Story]

Budget Round 1: Community Services

In the first of a series of meetings on the budget, the Ann Arbor city council on Monday heard from community services area administrator Jayne Miller, who gave a presentation on her part of the city budget, based on information councilmembers had requested at the council’s Dec. 5, 2009 budget retreat.

Mary Jo Callan Jayne Miller

Mary Jo Callan, left, head of the city/county community development office, and Jayne Miller, the city of Ann Arbor's community service area administrator.

As to possible measures that could affect the FY 2011 budget, which begins July 1, 2010, Miller focused on several areas: (i) reorganizing the housing commission; (ii) reducing the scope for planning projects and outsourcing planning review and/or collaborating with other municipalities for construction inspection, (iii) cutting human services funding, (iv) reducing maintenance for specific parks and changing the parks maintenance/improvements millage resolution, which specifies how the millage money is allocated.

Some possibilities that were mentioned – but described as unlikely to have an impact on the FY 2011 budget – included allowing a private vendor to operate Huron Hills Golf Course as a combination driving range (where the front nine holes are currently located), plus a 9-hole golf course.

Specific parks were also identified in Miller’s report that would be recommended for sale – if parkland sale were to be used as a strategy. However, that too, said Miller, would be unlikely to have a short-term impact for two reasons: the sale of parkland requires a voter referendum, and the market for land is currently uncertain, given the overall economic climate.

The presentation also served as a bit of a tutorial on which parts of the city’s operations Miller administers, in a job she’ll be leaving on Feb. 11. Sumedh Bahl, unit manager of the water treatment plant, was also on hand Monday night – he’ll be filling in for Miller on an interim basis. [Full Story]

Parking in the Parks, Art on the River

Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission meeting (Dec. 15, 2009): If projects discussed by the city’s park advisory commission move ahead, next year will bring a series of art installations to the Huron River, and turn two city parks into parking lots for University of Michigan home football games.

This image shows how wire sculptures on the Huron River might appear, if a project proposed by a University of Michigan visiting professor gets approval from the state and city. (Image courtesy of William Dennisuk.)

This image shows how wire sculptures on the Huron River might appear, if a public art project proposed by a University of Michigan visiting professor gets approval from the state and city. (Image courtesy of William Dennisuk.)

At its Dec. 15 meeting, park commissioners raised concerns but ultimately signed off on a city staff proposal to use parts of Allmendinger and Frisinger parks for football parking during the 2010 season. The plan could raise an estimated $34,000 in net revenues for the city.

In a separate move, the commission gave the go ahead for UM to apply for a state permit that’s needed to install a series of wire sculptures at four locations along the Huron River, from Argo to Gallup. It’s an ambitious project by UM visiting artist William Dennisuk, designed to bridge the town/gown communities – assuming that the project itself gets approval from the city and state.

Commissioners also got a budget update from Jayne Miller, the city’s community services director, who told them to anticipate additional cuts over the next two years, and described how that might affect parks and recreation. [Full Story]

West Park Renovations Get Fast-Tracked

A willow tree in West Park might not survive planned renovations. The parks bandshell, seen in the background, will stay.

This is one of nine black willow trees in West Park slated for removal as part of a planned park renovation. The historic bandshell, seen in the background, will stay. (Photo by the writer.)

The Chronicle last heard an update on improvements planned for West Park about a year ago, at a community meeting led by Amy Kuras, a landscape architect with the city. Kuras was also on hand at Tuesday’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission – this time, to report that the project is being fast-tracked in hopes of getting federal stimulus funding.

In addition to being briefed on West Park, PAC commissioners got an update on the Ann Arbor Skatepark project. Trevor Staples, chair of the Skatepark Action Committee, reported on fundraising progress and said he’d be back at a later date to ask for financial support from the city. He also gave some details on an Oct. 18 design workshop that will be open to the public.

And Scott Rosencrans won an election – more on all of this after the break. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Park Gets Movie Stimulus

Tree Trimming to separate canopies

The sycamore trees were trimmed enough to get blue sky separation between the canopies. The tree on the right will be digitally removed in the film. (Photo by the writer.)

On June 18, neighbors of Virginia Park, located just north of W. Liberty Street in Ann Arbor, received a letter from the city. The note from parks and recreation services manager Colin Smith alerted them to the filming of the Rob Reiner movie “Flipped,” to take place towards the end of July. Construction of the set, according to the letter, would begin as early as June 22.

Part of the set construction involved trimming some branches on two of the park’s sycamore trees – a task that was begun the same week as the letter sent from the city.

But the trimming was interrupted, and wasn’t completed until this last Friday morning – under the scrutiny of an Ann Arbor police officer, locations staff from the movie, Craig Hupy (head of systems planning for the city), Kerry Gray (coordinator for urban forestry and natural resources planning), Kay Sicheneder (city forester), plus a half-dozen interested neighbors.

Some of the neighbors were skeptical about the trim job for the sycamore tree, which is slated for movie stardom in a story involving a little girl who’s trying to save a tree. Their interest in the the city’s approach to tree management had been piqued by the recent removal of some street trees in the vicinity. But there was no “trouble” on Friday morning.

The only incident that might qualify as “trouble” had taken place a week prior. [Full Story]

Mack Pool Could Close Earlier Than Expected

intern with Leslie Science Center

Casey Dewar, an intern with Leslie Science & Nature Center, was one of many who showed up to support funding for that nonprofit. Backers of the Ann Arbor Senior Center and Mack Pool also spoke to the Park Advisory Commission in support of funding.

After hearing more than two dozen people speak to defend three city-funded facilities facing cuts, the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission passed a resolution recommending that Mack Pool be closed earlier than proposed by city staff, and that the city use those savings to restore funding to the Leslie Science & Nature Center. PAC also is recommending a task force be formed to look at funding options for the Ann Arbor Senior Center, which the city has proposed closing permanently on July 1, 2010.

PAC will send its recommendation to city council, which in May will make the final decisions about what areas to cut in order to balance its budget.

Many of the speakers at PAC’s Tuesday afternoon meeting were passionate about the value of the places they supported, and some told poignant stories about how the Ann Arbor Senior Center, Mack Pool or Leslie Science Center touched their lives. We’ll start our report with a summary of those comments. [Full Story]

Where Are Ann Arbor’s Trees?

Tree gets measured Ann Arbor

That stick is no ordinary ruler. It's called a Biltmore stick, and has a scale that allows the user to sight the outside limits of a tree's diameter from a single point of view.

On Thursday near 7th and Madison streets, The Chronicle noticed a guy wearing a bright yellow vest with electronic gear and some sort of measuring stick. We had a pretty good idea what it was about, having recently reported on city council’s approval of a $243,500 contract with Davey Resource Group for a GIS-based inventory of trees in the public right-of-way as well as in parks.

Marcia Higgins, one of two councilmembers for Ward 4, had cast the lone vote against the contract, and had explained at Sunday night caucus two weeks later that she would prefer to see the money for the project, which is coming out of the storm water fund, spent directly on storm water.  She also wondered if the work could be completed more cost-effectively as a Boy Scout service project.

It’s not Boy Scouts who are doing the work, but rather four guys from Davey Resource Group.  One of them is Wes, the guy in the yellow vest, who chatted with us as he took down a couple of trees’ vital statistics: height, trunk diameter, type (genus and species), condition, and location. [Full Story]

A Place for Petanque in Ann Arbor?

“Oooh, shiny!” exclaimed Howard Ando and Jane Wilkinson when we unveiled our set of six petanque boules, scarcely used over a decade since they were purchased.


Petanque boules (shiny metal) bracket the cochonnet, or jack, on Howard Ando and Jane Wilkinson's court.

The couple’s own set of metal boules were dull with the wear of frequent play on the gravel surface typical for petanque. Over the last two years, much of that play has come on the rectangle of gravel in the side yard of the couple’s Ypsilanti home, just west of the Eastern Michigan University campus.

After seeing the game played during their visits to France, they developed a passion for it that led them to have their own court constructed. And now they’d like to invest in petanque for the public – they’ve offered to pony up the cash for a facility in Burns Park. A public meeting to discuss the potential facility will be held on Monday, Nov. 17 starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Senior Center at Burns Park. [Full Story]