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Posted on Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 2:45 p.m.

Ann Arbor City Council gives preliminary approval to Greenbelt expansion

By Ryan J. Stanton


This proposed expansion of Ann Arbor's Greenbelt district into Lodi and Salem townships is being considered by the City Council.

Ann Arbor officials are considering an expansion of the Greenbelt district boundaries one mile east into Salem Township and one mile west and south into Lodi Township.

The Greenbelt Advisory Commission recommended the expansion plan at its Sept. 14 meeting, and GAC Chairman Dan Ezekiel, a local science teacher, appeared before the Ann Arbor City Council Monday night to lobby for its approval by council.

"The result would be to add seven sections in Lodi and three sections in Salem, and a section is a square mile," Ezekiel told council members.

The council voted 9-1 to give initial approval to the expansion, with dissent from Council Member Jane Lumm, an Independent representing the 2nd Ward.

The plan comes back for final approval Dec. 5.

Ezekiel said Lodi Township has partnered with the city on purchase of conservation easements, and Salem Township recently passed a purchase of development rights ordinance and allocated a sum of money for land preservation.

By expanding the Greenbelt boundaries in those townships, Ezekiel said, there is potential for more partnerships to leverage the city's Open Space and Parkland Preservation millage funds.

He said the townships support the expansion.

"Lodi Township doesn't have a lot of money, but they helped to make those PDRs happen," he said of the purchase of development rights on two farms. "And Salem Township, believe it or not, has committed $1 million of their own money over the next five years."


Carsten Hohnke

Ezekiel said GAC actually thought about bringing forward a more ambitious expansion proposal, which he supported, but Council Member Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward and a member of GAC, cautioned against that. Hohnke spoke in favor of the more modest expansion plan at Monday's meeting.

"The original boundaries were not determined by a great deal of science," Hohnke said, adding the city has learned a lot since the boundaries were formed. "This again just smooths out the boundaries that were amended by this body in 2007."

Ezekiel noted there were no set boundaries for the Greenbelt dictated by the millage voters approved in 2003. Rather, the boundaries were set by council under ordinance and last expanded in 2007 by one mile in four townships: Scio, Superior, Webster and Pittsfield.

The city's Greenbelt program has preserved about 3,200 acres of land surrounding Ann Arbor, the goal being to counter urban sprawl and preserve sustainable farming.

The city pays for Greenbelt purchases using proceeds from the Open Space and Parkland Preservation millage, which brings in more than $2 million annually from city taxpayers.

The Greenbelt program was approved by Ann Arbor voters in November 2003, at a time when a significant amount of development activity was occurring around Washtenaw County and farmland was being sold for development.

Ann Arbor voters authorized a 0.5-mill tax for 30 years, which provides funds for parkland acquisition within the city and the preservation of open space, agricultural land, and other natural habitats outside the city in a designated Greenbelt district.

The purchase of development rights keeps the property in the hands of the owner but ensures the land can't be developed and will remain preserved as open space.

Ezekiel said the Greenbelt program has exceeded all expectations and the expansion of the district is another positive step forward.

"I really believe the Ann Arbor Greenbelt will be a treasured asset 100 years from now and real legacy from today's Ann Arborites," he said. "Together, we have preserved 27 properties around the near periphery of the city. We've currently preserved 3,200 acres, which is five square miles. The amount of city funds spent so far is approximately $18 million."

With that money, Ezekiel said, the city has leveraged another $19 million in matching funds from various sources, including the federal government, Washtenaw County, several townships, nonprofit land conservancies, land owners and private organizations.

"The 3,200 acres preserved so far counts only the land using city funds," Ezekiel noted. "But as the city helped get the ball rolling, many other agencies have either stepped up or initiated land preservation efforts within the Greenbelt area, so there are thousands of other acres that have been preserved without city funds."

Ezekiel said most of the properties preserved with city funds are farms, which remain under private ownership and in active cultivation. There are three properties under the county's ownership that have public access and were preserved partially with city funds, he said.

"That's the Meyer Preserve in Superior Township, the very popular Scio Woods Preserve in Scio Township, which is new, and also the Fox Science Preserve in Scio Township," he said.

He said thousands of school children from Ann Arbor Public Schools, including his students, visit the Fox Science Preserve every year on field trips to collect rocks and fossils.

The city accepted a $2,500 donation toward the Greenbelt program Monday night from Cherry Republic, which recently opened up a new shop in Ann Arbor.

A representative for the company said Cherry Republic, a Michigan-based retailer established in 1989, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support farmland efforts, whether that be preservation or helping young farmers start up an agricultural business.

Council Member Margie Teall, who was present for part of Monday's meeting, was not in attendance when the vote was taken on the Greenbelt expansion.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.


Macabre Sunset

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 7:29 p.m.

Ah, yes, welfare for rich people with connections in City Hall, paid for with money that should be used on our crumbling roads.

John Q

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 9:53 p.m.

How many false statements can you pack into one sentence? What rich people are getting welfare? How many of them have connections to city hall? How is money voted for parks and farmland protection supposed to pay for roads? Not a single factual word in your comment!


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 5:06 p.m.

Maybe Ryan can clarify how purchase prices are determined and how recent purchases compare and relate to the recent down turn in real estate prices in order to ensure taxpayer dollars are not being used to enrich landowners for property at inflated prices that holds no, or limited development value.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:51 p.m.

Thank you Jane for voting no!


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

What a terrible waste of money. The general public doesnt even know where the 3200 acres are located or even what an "acre" is. Some of properties could not even be developed at all because of the type of soil on the property. Just because a field is empty farmland doesnt mean it could be neighborhood. It sounds good in theory to protect the open space, but I don't think Ann Arbor has an urban sprawl problem. Maybe Ann Arbor should look within the city limits for improvements. With this kind of money the city parks could be improved not just maintained at a minimum level. Ann Arbor used to be tree city now it should be classified as street sign city.

John Q

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 9:56 p.m.

What you wrote makes no sense. Try again.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 7:28 p.m.

Preserve farmland...for what purpose. The federal government paid crp money to reduce the amount of production. It takes more fossil fuel to produce ethanol than you get out of it. Drive more than five miles out of Ann Arbor to the great plains and you'll see farms that are 3200 acres, and farmers that have more respect and understanding of the farmland. Many people of ann arbor think water comes from the faucet, toilet water disappears and food comes from the grocery store. Lots of ideas sound good, but maybe worry about the 99% of your taxpayers and not another feather in your cap.

John Q

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:45 p.m.

A portion of the money is being spent to acquire parkland within the city. The land isn't being acquired to stop development per-se. It's being acquired to preserve farmland and natural resources, as was stated in the millage request to voters.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

I am in favor of the greenbelt, cemeteries and golf courses. We need to preserve open spaces. Once they are lost, we can never regain them. A2's 144 parks are the jewels of our town.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 1:56 p.m.

Thank you Ann Arbor greenbelt, for making folks who live out of town burn millions of gallons of gas driving around you!

John Q

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

Ride a bike.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 2:40 a.m.

Gawd, I want to poke my eyes out with pencils. And this, on the day we were christened the "smartest city in the country". Un-freakin'-believable.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 2:25 a.m.

Bravo to the GAC for preserving over 3,200 acres of land surrounding Ann Arbor. Keep up the great work!!!


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 1:40 a.m.

And why are city tax $$'s used to purchase rights outside of the city limits?

John Q

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 4:23 a.m.

Because that's what city voters gave the city council the approval to do.

sojourner truth

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 1:10 a.m.

I am for the Greenbelt per se, but when the city considered selling Huron Hills Golfcourse (or entering into a long term lease) because it was not making money for the City, I couldn't believe the irony in buying land OUTSIDE the City and then considering selling some of the most visable and beautiful land INSIDE the City. John Q: If some of the Greenbelt monies is earmarked for parkland inside the City, then we must keep what we have, and hands off the parkland that we have owned for over 50 years and that banks the Huron River. In 100 years, what if that land were all houses and condos; where would the green space be within the city? And how about the parking garage that the Council seems dead set on developing on another piece of our inner city parkland?


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 11:42 p.m.

I think the city has paid way too much for some of this land. I am skeptical of the appraisal process and feel there should be an independent appraisal from non government personnel as well.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 12:56 a.m.

And who are they done by?

John Q

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 9:57 p.m.

It seems to you?


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 5:01 p.m.

John Q, it seems to me that past purchase prices were determined by assessor appraisals not independent appraisers.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 12:29 a.m.

Trust me, the land owners are not making the kind of cash they could from developers. Oh, yeah... well, the kind of cash they used to make from developers.

John Q

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 12:20 a.m.

The appraisals aren't done by government personnel.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 11:24 p.m.

I'd love to see the SE boundary expand as well - right now it's Munger Rd. to the east, and there's a large tract of land on the non-greenbelt side of Munger between Textile and Michigan Ave. that would be lovely to preserve.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 10:47 p.m.

I'm all for it.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 10:37 p.m.

Hey, I bought 40 acres in Scio Township to do a little farming and help preserve some open space for me, my family and the surrounding neighbors. And my taxes just keep going up and up. Why are my almost non-developable lands (no sewer) taxed at the same rate as houses in a neighborhood? You'd think they'd have a lower rate for us land preservers.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 12:39 a.m.

I found this, maybe it's simpler than it looks? Michigan Michigan is one of three states that has a circuit breaker farmland tax program. Farmers claim state income tax credits to offset their local property tax bills. They must sign 10-year agreements with their local government requiring them to keep the land in agricultural use.(9) Michigan assesses a recapture tax on property converted from agricultural use while receiving a farmland tax break from the state. Under the Agricultural Property Recapture Tax Act, a recapture tax is owed for up to 7 years immediately preceding the year in which the qualified agricultural property is converted by a change in use, either by sale or development. The recapture tax equals the tax benefit obtained with respect to the property as the result of the cap in the period between the date of the first exempt transfer and the subsequent change in use, which is not to exceed 7 years.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 10:31 p.m.

Since Ann Arbor is roughly inside a circle of expressways, why would a perfectly square shape of land be the ideal target for preservation instead of a circular ring of land around Ann Arbor? The amendments make it more of a square and less of a circle which to me is the wrong way to expand this boundary. For example, I would suggest adding blocks of land in Scio Township South of Dexter and remove blocks 21, 22 and 28 in Webster which are at best a 30 minute drive from Ann Arbor.

Seasoned Cit

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 10:16 p.m.

Hey, We'll need the extra space to display all the Public Art that will have to be commissioned. We sure can't use those funds for something like a bridge.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 9:56 p.m.

If I had the money of my own, I'd buy some farmland on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. But I don't, so I'm delighted to make my small contribution to stop the spread of sprawl. Once enough contiguous tracts of land are accumulated, perhaps we could petition for some more hiking/biking trails, even along the edge of a crop field.

Bob W

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 9:14 p.m.

Economics, macro or otherwise is very complex. Other than the obvious, a visually attractive greenbelt (no building in certain areas) has anyone proof of other impacts this might have? Let's assume the would-be builders are employed or otherwise linked to AA and move further out. What are "those" impacts? Will we end up adding, and being taxed for, more lanes to I-94, US-23 and gateway entry points to the city?? Could this be nothing more than taxpayer funded NIMBY project?


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 8:59 p.m.

SonnyDog - PDR is Purchase of Development Rights - similar to a conservation easement.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 8:53 p.m.

"but they helped to make those PDRs happen..." Can someone please explode the acronym PDR for me? I assume that it is not Physician's Desk Reference.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 1:52 a.m.

PDR = "Purchase of Development Rights". Generally speaking, the owner retains the land itself and the ability to maintain and use it in its current "open space" state (agricultural use, woodland, etc.), but gives up the right to develop it (build tract housing, strip malls, whatever). As several commentors here have kvetched, a PDR generally does not allow you or I to go walk across the land in question (because the only way to benefit from something is to stand on it?), but it helps maintain Greater Ann Arbor as distinct from Plymouth-Canton-Livonia in perpetuity.

Rork Kuick

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

The "100 years from now" attitude has my great admiration. Thankyou to the folks with long term thinking about land use. I agree with Ezekiels "other agencies" quote too - it appears to be contagious, so please infect everyone.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 8:43 p.m.

Cut back on public art. Expand the Greenbelt. Who said Ann Arbor is not a hick town?

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 8:42 p.m.

If there's ever an upswing in development again, perhaps even Ms. Lumm will see the value of saving these green spaces with their trees and creeks and breathing room for humans and wildlife alike. Spare us a wall to wall cement and asphalt environment. It is the most wondrous form of that "outdoor art" everyone talks about and its creator the supreme artist - who doesn't send a bill.

John Q

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:52 p.m.

That's what people said in Canton when development started creeping westward from Detroit.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 9:20 p.m.

An upswing in devlopment will never create a solid city from Ann Arbor to Jackson. This is a waste of taxpayer funds.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 8:33 p.m.

I just love giving my hard earned tax dollars to the city to hav them purchase land that I cannot use. What a bill of goods that was sold to the voters. I voted against it then and would gladly have it repealed today.

John Q

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 12:25 a.m.

The program has worked exactly as it was proposed to the voters. It's been even more successful than most people expected as more local communities have partnered with the city than were on board when the Greenbelt was first proposed. You were in the minority when it was approved by voters and are in the minority today.

Rod Johnson

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 11:13 p.m.

Elaine: Not really. If it's just conservation easements and PDRs, that doesn't open it to the public. But the greenbelt does protect the views, wildlife and groundwater for the whole area. There are more ways to "use" land than walking on it.

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 10 p.m.

You can take a hike in most of the land in the green space.

Top Cat

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 8:24 p.m.

This program made a little sense during the Freddie/Fannie housing bubble and makes absolutely no sense today or anytime soon. "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" Ronald Reagan

John Q

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 8:14 p.m.

Jane Lumm's as wrong today as she was back when the Greenbelt was originally proposed. It's been more successful than even the advocates expected despite Lumm's attacks against the idea over the years.

John Q

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 12:23 a.m.

The greenbelt millage includes the purchase of park land, which city residents can and do use and the purchase of development rights on farmland. But don't let the facts get in the way of your rant.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 8:35 p.m.

Successful in what way? Purchasing land that no city resident can use? Many complain about the city owned golf courses and that they lose money. Well at least the golf courses are not a 100% loss and citizens can use the golf courses.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 8:11 p.m.

Why limit the Greenbelt at all? GO GLOBAL!

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 2:26 a.m.

I think Carsten Hohnke is still reeling from the City Place debacle and is just being cautious.