Ann Arbor Parks and Greenbelt Proposal

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Questions and Answers about Proposal B

What will the program do?


The Ann Arbor Parks and Greenbelt program that would be established by Proposal B would preserve as much as 7,000 acres of the best open space in and around Ann Arbor. The program would generate $35 million - plus $30 to $50 million in matching funds from townships and other sources - to buy both parkland within the city and conservation easements on private lands outside the city borders.


How much will this cost Ann Arbor residents?


Not one extra penny. Currently, Ann Arbor property owners pay a 0.5-mill parkland acquisition levy which costs the average household approximately 90 cents per week. This tax would remain at the exact same level, extended for 30 years, with its purpose expanded to authorize the preservation of land in a greenbelt around the City.


Why is this program needed?


It's needed for our quality of life, for the environment, and for the local economy.


• Quality of Life: One of the Ann Arbor area's best features is its rare mix of dynamic urban areas, working farms, and beautiful natural places. As the rapid pace of development changes the face of our county, the Parks and Greenbelt program will enable us to protect the character of the home we love for future generations. It's now or never.
• Environment: Building is booming in Washtenaw County. Although new residential and commercial developments provide many benefits, development is also the major cause of pollution in the Huron River and other watersheds. The Parks and Greenbelt program will help balance the impact of future developments with our need for clean air and water.
• The Local Economy: Several national studies have demonstrated the economic benefits of preserving open space. In one recent survey, small business owners ranked open space as the most important factor in their choice of where to locate their businesses because this is critical to winning the fierce competition for talented employees. The Ann Arbor area's open spaces help attract the high-tech and life sciences businesses that are essential to our economic vitality and employment base.


How will the funds be divided between city parks and land preservation outside the city?


Approximately one-third of the funds would be spent inside the city, and two-thirds outside the city limits.

 


What criteria will be used to select open space properties?


Open space properties must be located within the defined greenbelt area, and voluntarily nominated for acquisition by the property owner(s). The City will develop a scoring system to prioritize properties, The factors which will be considered as part of the recommendation process include quality of agricultural land; proximity to City limits; characteristics of the property (species diversity, age of trees, presence of streams or wetlands etc.) size, proximity to other protected land; current or projected future use of adjacent property.

 

 

Will the proposal take away any property rights or force anyone to sell?

No, though the developers who oppose Proposal B are working hard to make folks think otherwise. Here are the facts: Proposal B would give property owners more rights by giving them more choices. No one -- NO ONE -- would be forced to sell their land or offer a conservation easement.

How is this program related to the Washtenaw County natural areas program?


They are designed to preserve different types of open space. The natural areas program does not preserve farmland, which constitutes most of the open space in the greenbelt area.


Why should the City spend money to save land outside the city limits?


Unplanned development outside the City seriously undermines our quality of life. It also hurts in the pocketbook, since City residents have to pay for some of the schools, roads, and services built for new township residents. By investing in open space preservation around the City, Ann Arbor will save money and land in the long run.


Why should Ann Arbor pay for land preservation in the townships if those townships won't pay for it themselves?

 

We shouldn't, and we won't. Greenbelt funds would be prioritized for properties that offered a significant amount of matching funds. In fact, the City would pay only about one-third of the cost of preserving land in the Greenbelt, with the rest of the money coming from township, state, federal, and private sources. The program allows Ann Arbor to partner with its surrounding municipalities for land preservation.


Thirty years seems like a long-time for a millage. Is it an appropriate length?


Yes. When open space is lost, it's lost forever. By extending the existing millage to 30 years, the City can sell bonds to buy land and conservation easements in the next five to ten years, when the land is still available. These bonds will be paid off by the millage revenue over 30 years, so that people who live here in decades to come will be helping to share the cost of preserving land.


Can farming really be preserved in Washtenaw County?


Absolutely. Washtenaw County still has a vibrant agricultural economy, generating over $50 million in annual revenues. Ann Arbor residents can see this in person by visiting the Farmers' Market any Wednesday or Saturday.


Will this undermine Ann Arbor's efforts to create more affordable housing?


No. One of the country's most successful open space preservation programs - in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania - has used the same methods that are being proposed for the Ann Arbor area, and housing is among the least expensive in Pennsylvania. Anyway, building patterns over the past twenty years in Washtenaw County demonstrate that very little affordable housing is likely to be built in the greenbelt area, even without this proposal in place.


In 1998, a similar proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by Washtenaw County voters. What makes Proposal B any better?


The 1998 proposal was a good plan that was supported by Ann Arbor voters, but unfortunately not by the rest of the county. Proposal B will also have a greater impact on the quality of life in Ann Arbor than the 1998 proposal, since the funds will be used in a more targeted area close to the City. Further, the 1998 plan raised taxes, while the Parks and Greenbelt Proposal does not.


Doesn't Ann Arbor have enough parkland?


No. We're a thriving and growing city. A 2002 University of Michigan survey found that 75% of residents are deeply concerned about the loss of natural areas and open space. Ann Arbor's last Parkland Acquisition proposal passed with 64% of the vote. There are dozens of excellent parcels that would make wonderful parks for recreation and the enjoyment of nature.


The City of Ann Arbor has budget problems and City officials have mismanaged the city's finances for years. Why should they be entrusted with more tax money?


Thanks to a reorganization begun 18 months ago, Ann Arbor's financial situation is stronger than virtually all other Michigan cities. Moreover, this plan raises money for a vitally important program without raising tax bills for Ann Arbor residents and businesses.


Will this program just push sprawl further out from Ann Arbor?


Development has already pushed its way beyond the proposed greenbelt area, but Ann Arbor cannot take responsibility for everyone's land use problems. If other communities are affected by sprawl development, then it's up to them to contribute to the solutions. Ann Arbor's program may encourage other preservation programs, and it invites collaboration with other communities.

Will township land be annexed by the City of Ann Arbor through this program?


No. Land and easements can only be purchased from willing sellers. Most of the program's land in the greenbelt area will be preserved through conservation easements, will stay in private ownership, and will stay on township tax rolls.

Who will select the properties to be preserved?


The final decisions on all of the program's land preservation transactions will be made by the Ann Arbor City Council. For city park purchases, the City Council will receive recommendations from its Parks Advisory Commission, as is its current practice. For greenbelt purchases, the Council will be advised by a new Greenbelt Advisory Commission.


Who will serve on the Greenbelt Advisory Commission?


The members of the Commission shall include individuals with the following expertise or affiliation: environmental/conservation organization representative (2 members), agricultural land owner/agricultural business operator (1 member), real estate development professional (1 member), plant or animal biologist (1 member), public-at-large (3 members), Ann Arbor City Council member. A minimum of six members shall be residents of the City of Ann Arbor.

 

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