with poll: 226-acre addition to Ann Arbor Greenbelt draws criticism from council member who questions cost
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
The Ann Arbor City Council voted 8-1 this week to approve the purchase of development rights on the two properties with dissent from Council Member Jane Lumm, who didn't think the city was getting a good enough deal or leveraging enough outside funding.
Courtesy of City of Ann Arbor
The Robbin Alexander Trust Farm in Webster Township came at a total cost of $394,417, including a purchase price of $342,000 plus due diligence, closing and endowment costs.
The city leveraged a $167,580 grant from the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, putting the city's share of the cost at 58 percent.
The Robert H. Schultz property in Superior Township came at a total cost of $523,567, including a purchase price of $468,000 plus due diligence, closing and endowment costs.
The city leveraged a $229,320 FRPP grant, putting the city's share at 56 percent.
The city pays for Greenbelt purchases using proceeds from its Open Space and Parkland Preservation Millage, which brings in more than $2 million annually from city taxpayers.
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.
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.
Lumm, who was elected to council last November, said there generally have been some good Greenbelt purchases in which city dollars have leveraged additional dollars. But she said she had a problem with the city paying such a large share for the latest purchases.
"In both of these instances, there are just two funding sources — the federal government and the city," she said. "There's no other state or other local participation."
Lumm, who has raised similar concerns in the past, called that a significant lost opportunity and said she couldn't support the purchases.
"I would continue to encourage the Greenbelt Advisory Commission to come forward with proposals that better leverage the Greenbelt dollars," she said.
Lumm said she thinks the townships where the farms are being preserved clearly benefit from the purchases and "they need to step up as well."
Mayor John Hieftje said the ideal situation when the Greenbelt was first proposed a decade ago was that the city would pay about a third of the costs for most purchases.
"One of the things that changed is the state used to participate in these purchases, and with the financial difficulties, that has gone away," he said. "But for the most part, the city has paid about 50 percent of costs and there are some properties where the Greenbelt Commission feels they just need to make a move on those properties even though the ideal financing may not be available."
Hieftje said the city is lucky to have the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program as a partner and should take advantage of that as long as it's around.
The city's Greenbelt Program has protected more than 3,700 acres of farmland and open space surrounding Ann Arbor and has leveraged more than $19 million through grants, landowner donations and other locally funded programs, including contributions from townships. City officials boast that the program has been able to leverage more than a dollar for every dollar it has put up.
The City Council is expected to vote Oct. 1 on another Greenbelt purchase: the 73-acre Daniel E. and Amy Hornback Farm along Pontiac Trail and Brookville Road in Salem Township.
Courtesy of City of Ann Arbor
Additionally, Salem Township and the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission each have agreed to contribute 20 percent — or $64,200 — toward the purchase.
The city also partnered with the county three months ago on the purchase of a 32.7-acre farm in Northfield Township. The county took the lead and purchased the fee title to the property with the intention of owning it. The city put up $61,312 to cover 25 percent of the purchase price.
The city also purchased the development rights to the 59-acre Newton Farm in Ann Arbor Township earlier this year. The purchase price, not inclusive of other costs, was $323,828 — $158,676 of which was covered by an FRPP grant, while the city and township each paid $82,576.
On another Greenbelt purchase this year, the city acquired the development rights to the 25-acre Van Natter Farm in Webster Township for $126,867 after getting the land owner to make a $22,000 donation, which knocked 20 percent off the purchase price.
The city also purchased the development rights on the 136-acre Boike Farm in Northfield Township for $502,307, inclusive of due diligence, closing and endowment costs.
The city was able to get a $115,860 land owner donation, knocking 20 percent off the purchase price, but did not leverage any other outside funding.
The city is inviting the public to join the Greenbelt staff on Sept. 22 for a tour of properties that have been preserved through the program. The tour also is expected to shine a spotlight on local agriculture and provide a chance to speak with local farmers.
Those interested are asked to pre-register by Sept. 14. The tour will depart at 10 a.m. from the park-and-ride lot at 3700 Plymouth Road and return at 1 p.m.
The mode of transportation will be an air-conditioned, luxury motor coach. The cost is $10 and light refreshments will be served.
To register, contact Ginny Trocchio at 734-794-6000 ext. 42798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.