Ann Arbor Area Parks and Greenbelt Proposal
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By Albert Berriz and Mike Garfield
(Albert Berriz is the Chief Executive Officer of McKinley. Mike Garfield is the Director of the Ecology Center.)

The two of us don't agree on many things. One of us is an anti-bureaucracy, lifelong Republican and Ann Arbor business community leader who runs one of the country's largest real estate investment firms. The other is a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat and nature lover who leads one of Michigan's largest environmental organizations.

But there is one thing on which we strongly agree. We both enthusiastically endorse Proposal B, the Ann Arbor Parks and Greenbelt Proposal. The plan is good for clean air and water, and it's good for business too.

Open space preservation is vital for clean water. In Washtenaw County, the primary source of water pollution is run-off from "impervious surfaces" - the roads, driveways, parking lots, and other developed lands in our urban and suburban areas. Scientists have found that when a watershed, or a "sub-watershed," gets built up enough that 8-10% of the surface is impervious, then water quality begins to seriously decline. According to research by the Huron River Watershed Council, several sections of the Huron River are now near that tipping point, including sections in the proposed greenbelt area.

Ann Arbor's air quality is also near the tipping point. During the summer months, ground-level ozone (a cause of smog) in Washtenaw County now reaches levels that violate new federal safety standards. The number one source of ozone and other criteria pollutants in Washtenaw County is vehicle exhaust, and increases in tailpipe exhaust are directly linked to the longer distances residents need to travel to work, to school, and to stores. By guiding new growth to already-developed areas of the county, Proposal B will help protect the air we breathe.

Proposal B is also critical to the success of Ann Arbor businesses.
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. In a National Park Service study of the economic impacts of protecting greenway corridors, the authors found that "corporate CEOs say quality of life for employees is the third-most important factor in locating a business, behind only access to domestic markets and availability of skilled labor." 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.

In addition, the proposal will guide development to where it belongs - to the City and to neighboring areas where infrastructure already exists. The plan lays the groundwork for increased development density in downtown Ann Arbor, commercial thoroughfares, and some neighborhoods. It is a critical component of the economic engine that can drive the Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County area forward.

We are not the only business and environmental leaders who are willing to stand together in strong support of Proposal B. It's endorsed by every major environmental organization in Washtenaw County - the Huron River Watershed Council, the Washtenaw Land Trust, the Ecology Center, and the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club - and by numerous state and regional groups. [see complet list here]

It's also endorsed by our area's most prominent business leaders: Bill Ford Jr., Bill Martin, Joe Fitzsimmons, David Canter of Pfizer, ProQuest CEO Alan Aldworth, Richard and Norma Sarns, Gilbert Omenn, Bill Milliken Jr., Howard Holmes, and many others. Proposal B is endorsed by Ann Arbor's Downtown Development Authority, the State Street Area Association, and by Paul Saginaw of Zingermans'.

Of course, there are B supporters beyond Ann Arbor's business and environmental communities. Farmers and farm preservation groups support it. Parks and recreation organizations support B. Several neighborhood groups and labor unions back the plan. All of the adjacent township governments support it. Virtually all of Ann Arbor's elected officials are united behind Proposal B.

In fact, the only active opposition is coming from the Homebuilders Association of Washtenaw County, which has pledged to spend at least $400,000 to defeat the proposal. The HBA has tried to appeal to Ann Arbor voters by arguing that the plan will take money away from parks. The only flaw in that argument is that it's not true - Proposal B actually adds money to the City's parks acquisition fund. The HBA argued that the plan was rushed to the ballot, even though a nearly identical plan was put before county voters five years ago. While that plan was defeated countywide, it was approved by City voters.

Over one hundred years ago, a visionary Ann Arbor leader bequeathed Nichols Arboretum to the University of Michigan, and the land was preserved for posterity. Today the Arb remains one of Ann Arbor's great treasures. On November 4, Ann Arbor residents can cast their vote for a visionary new plan to save our most important open spaces. If the proposal succeeds, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will thank us for our foresight.

It's rare that business and environmental leaders unite so strongly behind one proposal, but in this case, we're proud to send one unified message. For the good of the Ann Arbor community, we strongly urge you to vote YES for Proposal B.

Paid for by Friends of Ann Arbor Open Space, 1308 E.Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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