Additional Thoughts (Jan 30, 2021) – Three Greenbelt Purchases

Jan 30, 2021 | City Council

The following was originally published in my Jan 30, 2021 Newsletter in the “Additional Thoughts” section.

Additional thoughts…

The Consent Agenda this week includes three significant purchases of park land for a total cost to the City of $2.8 million – one purchase outside of the city (CA-7) and two purchases within the City limits (CA-10 and CA-11). All purchases will use Open Space and Parkland Preservation Millage funds that are designated for this purpose.

CA-7 (21-0041) Resolution to Approve the Purchase of a Conservation Easement on the Hamilton Family Living Trust Property in Salem Township, Approve a Participation Agreement with Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, and Appropriate $2,871,667.00 (8 Votes Required)

CA-10 (21-0044) Resolution to Approve Purchase of Park Land at Cardinal Avenue and Appropriate $1,507,500.00 (8 Votes Required)

CA-11 (21-0045) Resolution to Approve Purchase of Park Land at 2570 Dexter Road and Appropriate $211,500.00 (8 Votes Required)

Agenda item CA-7 would purchase 375 acres in Salem Township, ultimately costing the City $1,122,367 (30% of the purchase price). This would be the largest Greenbelt purchase in the history of the program. Cost-sharing terms with the County and use of grant funds (to reimburse the City) make up a total purchase price of $3,570,000.

The two proposed purchases within the City limits in agenda items CA-10 and CA-11 are remarkable in terms of context. In my written questions to the agenda (Legistar Link) I asked about recent parkland purchases within the last five years: how much money has been spent on such purchases within the City? Staff’s response include this chart on page 7 of “parkland acquisitions funded in whole or part by the Open Space & Parkland Preservation millage within the city limits since 2015.” (note that “FMV Price” = Fair Market Value of the property, and “Total Parks cost” = amount the City actually paid)

City of Ann Arbor parkland purchases 2015 through Jan 2021

Summing the columns, the total Fair Market Value of the 8 properties purchased since 2015 is $1,246,172, but the City only paid a total of $562,661 (averaging 45% of market value). On this week’s agenda, items CA-10 and CA-11 total over $1.7 million in spending on parkland within City limits. This will be paid to private developers who have offered no price discounts in their terms of sale.

Agenda item CA-10 would spend $1,507,500 on a woodland parcel of 3.77 acres adjacent to Mary Beth Doyle Park, with frontage on Cardinal Avenue. This purchase would marginally extend a park that is already quite large (80+ acres), for the benefit of “improved access.” This parcel is currently zoned as a PUD, which would permit the construction of nineteen homes. In response to questions this week, Council received the following explanation: “The City has negotiated a discounted sale price on some parkland acquisitions, but in this particular case the applicant was unwilling to entertain a discount.” Presumably, the developer has abandoned a plan to build homes there and now asks the City to pay the full value of the investment.

Map of the proposed park purchase in CA-10 (Legistar Link)

Cardinal Ave Ann Arbor parkland purchase map Jan 2021

Agenda item CA-11 would purchase 0.6 acres of land at 2570 Dexter Road for $211,500. The intended use of this property is very specific: park amenities that don’t exist at nearby Veterans Park (e.g. basketball courts) can be constructed there to serve the needs of residents at West Arbor affordable housing development. Like CA-10, this purchase fully compensates an individual developer with no negotiated discount on price. City staff explains that the developer “would not be interested in a discount on the sale price.”

Map of the proposed park purchase in CA-11 (Legistar Link)

St Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor parkland purchase Jan 2021

I look forward to conversation at Council regarding these three purchases – they are a good example of how our Consent Agenda often contains issues worth discussing further.