[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]

Re: E-M:/ Ann Arbor's stalled Greenbelt

Mr. Graham and Ms. Elbing,
Thank you for your take on the Greenbelt delay, but based on your comments and affiliations, I assume that you are Ann Arbor insiders, which I'm certainly not.
You both seem pretty content with the pace and process of the Greenbelt, since it was approved by voters in November of 2003.I don't share your views on that, and I had much greater expectations for the program.
I know that the mayor of Ann Arbor was quoted in the paper after the 2003 election that he expected employees and commissioners to be appointed within a few months, and some land to be bought in 2004. That's what I've read in the Ann Arbor News, anyway.
I also remember some articles in the Ann Arbor News that the city commission played some serious insider politics by keeping people like Mr. Cowheard from the Huron Sierra Club off the Greenbelt committee.
You both may know things as insiders about why this has been so slow and so political. All I can tell you is that I know a landowner who has a beautiful farm that he may have to sell to developers. He's interested in the Greenbelt program but has gotten nowhere with the politicians and bureaucrats at the Ann Arbor City Hall. I think folks who have land and are interested in the program should have had a much better idea by now -- 15 months after the election -- about how the program is going to work.
I think it's pretty sad in a city like Ann Arbor that you have to read the student newspaper to find out what the politicians are up to. With all the smart and progressive people in Ann Arbor you would think that the politicians could have got this program running by now.
I remain hopeful things will get back on track. But I haven't seen any signs of it yet.
I have found the Michigan Daily to be a very good source of news and information in my many years here. And at least they are reporting on this stuff!
--Fred Mercer  

Christopher Graham <grahamz@umich.edu> wrote:
Hi, Fred --

Forgive me, but I don't think I would read the Michigan Daily article below in the way you do.

In the last month I have seen and read an extensive proposal from a consultant responding the Commission's Request For Proposal for someone to actually do the work of the Commission (paid staff).

The person/company applying is someone I have known for three decades, who is outstandingly qualified to help with this work, who will do it superbly -- there is not any person in the United States more capable, nor more of a delight to work with.  We will be very fortunate to have her help.

The long process of designing how this Commission will operate is nearing completion -- and it has, indeed, been done well, so far.

I join others in appreciating Doug Cowherd and Bill Hanson for a number of things -- one weakness they seem to have is not such strong respect for a due and wide open process.  If due process and open public participation and discussion are not considered of paramount importance (in sound governing they must be, and in the instance of the deliberations of this Commission, they have been), then one could certainly go much faster.  In going faster, however, one does not always end up in the best place, of course, to put it gently.  The wheels of governing just plain go slowly when done properly.

The work of this Commission will take many years to unfold.  Getting things set up properly in the first place, how ever long that takes (and it won't be more than a few months more), has been and is worth every minute -- it will mean things run smoothly, for a long time, when at last they are up and going.

Lastly, I do not share the same degree of urgency as many others on this matter.

We have years and it will take years to work out a set of purchases, easements, zoning and site plan restrictions, rights purchases and outright purchases -- all to fashion "a greenbelt" of which we can be pleased.

Some people's expectations (inherent in using the term "greenbelt") seem to suggest we should and can rush out there and stop development in the farmed lands surrounding Ann Arbor about right where it is.  We can not do that.  It would require a tax an order of magnitude larger, at least, to even contemplate it.

What we can do is a complicated, slow, long term undertaking.  The results should develop just as nicely as the park system within the City has developed, over the past 100+ years.


At 02:14 PM 1/19/2005, F. Mercer wrote:
For anyone still interested in the Ann Arbor Greenbelt, the Michigan Daily has been doing a good job covering the lack of progress in getting it going.
I supported the proposal, but from what I've been reading in the Daily, the mayor and city commission have done a poor job managing the Greenbelt protection program. What a crying shame. I thought Ann Arbor was truly green.
A recent Daily story is below.
--Fred Mercer
Greenbelt proposal has yet to preserve any land

By Anne Joling, Daily Staff Reporter
January 06, 2005

More than one year after Ann Arbor voters approved the Parks and Greenbelt Proposal to protect natural habitats in the city, the project has yet to preserve its first piece of land within the designated Greenbelt.

Ann Arbor voters approved the Parks and Greenbelt Proposal in 2003 with 67 percent of the vote. The proposal created a millage, which will be used to purchase development rights from landowners with property in the area surrounding the city of Ann Arbor. It also approved the buying of parkland inside the city in the ?parks zone.? The land will be purchased in an effort to restrict urban sprawl and promote open spaces in the area.

While Ann Arbor City Council members approved the purchase of 18.2 acres of parkland last month for $1.2 million, the purchase was a continuation of the parkland purchases that have been made in Ann Arbor for the last several decades and fall inside the parks zone, not the designated Greenbelt area.

City officials said that despite the fact that no land purchases have been made under the Greenbelt Project, they are pleased with the progress it is making.

?I think it?s going as well as one could hope. It?s a very complicated process,? said City Council and Greenbelt Advisory Commission member Robert Johnson. ?We hope to begin purchasing properties in the first half of 2005,? he added.

Additionally, those involved with the Greenbelt Project have said that in comparison to similar projects in other cities, the timeline of Ann Arbor?s project is on target.

?By every measure of what we have to compare our progress to in other cities, our plans are right on schedule or even ahead of schedule,? Mayor John Hieftje said.

But not everyone paying attention to the project shares the mayor?s optimism. Bill Hanson, a former executive of the Washtenaw Land Trust and a former leader of the initial Parks and Greenbelt Project, said he is concerned about the pace at which the commission is proceeding.

?It?s been nearly 14 months since voters approved the Greenbelt proposal, and as far as I know the city hasn?t posted any jobs or hired any permanent staff. Even by city hall standards, that?s awfully slow,? Hanson said.

Doug Cowherd, another former leader in the effort to create and pass the Greenbelt plan last year, also said it is unfair to compare Ann Arbor?s Greenbelt project to projects in other cities because of the varying circumstances in each city.

?Some conservation programs start slowly because they?re not under sprawl development pressure, they have no money in hand and they have no history of land acquisition. In Ann Arbor, we have severe sprawl pressure; we started out with around $4 million in the acquisition fund on the day the proposal was passed, and we have a 20-year history of doing land acquisition, there?s no good reason our program couldn?t have gotten off to a fast start,? Cowherd said.

Both Hanson and Cowherd said they feel the Greenbelt is no longer a priority for the City Council and that its lack of support has kept the project from moving forward in a timely manner.

?There are good people on the Greenbelt commission, but that body will only be as good as the City Council it advises, and so far, regrettably, City Council hasn?t made the Greenbelt a priority. Land isn?t getting cheaper, developers haven?t stopped developing, yet city council has spent more time on matters like couch bans than they have on the Greenbelt,? Hanson said.

Mike Garfield, chairman of the Greenbelt Advisory Commission, said he understands these concerns and believes the commission should continue to move forward and begin to purchase properties soon.

?There has not been the same kind of increase in property values that we?ve seen over the last 10 years, but I take that with a grain of salt because I think all the long-term indicators say that property values are going to escalate. I think we?re going to save money if we buy more properties soon, rather than wait,? Garfield said.

He added that over the past year, commission members have been working on a variety of tasks that need to be accomplished before the first land acquisitions can be made.

Albert Berriz, Chief Executive Officer of McKinley Real Estate Solutions and chief financial advisor to the commission, said a lot of the preparatory work has involved figuring out how to finance the project. He added that commissioners have been developing a point system by which properties can be assessed for suitability. The commission has also been searching for a consultant who will help to advise the commission and guide it in making land acquisitions.

?A lot of what goes on in the first year of a project like this is legal work, organization, structure and is certainly less visible to the voters,? Berriz said.

Commission members said one of the project?s challenges is finding properties that are for sale. But Garfield said one of the important aspects of the Greenbelt Project is that farmers and land owners are not asked to sell their properties and give up their farms. Instead, farmers may keep farming, but if enrolled in the program, they must sell their right to develop that piece of property.

Still, Garfield said he understands the concerns that some landowners have about enrolling in the program.

?People don?t just decide to sell their land or their development rights on land that?s been in the family for 100 years,? he said.

But Garfield and other members of the commission said they hope that farmers and other landowners will see the value of participating in the Greenbelt Project.

?I?m very pleased with the project. It?s going to be a great thing for our kids and grandkids. It?s a great legacy,? Berriz said.

Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Search presents - Jib Jab's 'Second Term'

Christopher L. Graham, ASLA
(734) 975-7800 (O)
email   grahamz@umich.edu

Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Mail - Helps protect you from nasty viruses.