Meeting Minutes 03/17/2003

Minutes from the March 17, 2003 Meeting of The Friends of Dicken Woods

The Friends met at 7pm, at the Dicken Elementary School Media Center.

After brief introductions, Erik Stalhandske began the reports and updates noting that he had just called Alexis Marcarello of the Ann Arbor Planning Department to see if there was any further news on Crosswinds plans. Nobody knows what Crosswinds is planning at this point, but Mike Champion pointed out that Crosswinds is probably now paying a penalty of thousands of dollars to the Archdiocese due to the land still not being purchased.

Erik then asked Beth Loesch to provide an update on the photos she has been taking of the area. Beth reviewed the photos and the strategy of showing water problems in the neighborhood. Beth asked the group for advice on this strategy and it was agreed that a mix of photos, some showing the localized spring "flooding" and others showing less wet views, would be ideal.

Next, Stephanie Hunter reviewed the work that she and Deborah Norbotten have undertaken on the neighborhood water problems survey. After contacting over 60 homes across a number of our neighborhood streets, Stephanie and Deborah report that 76% of the neighbors said they have water problems in their yards, 33% reported water problems in their basements, and 35% reported low water pressure problems. Many neighbors reported having spent significant amounts to correct these problems, and very few, in fact only 2, reported having contacted the city regarding low water pressure problems. This last fact is particularly important in rebuttal to the City Planning Department Staff's report at the 2/4/03 Planning Commission meeting where they stated that the city believes water pressure isn't a problem in the area because they had had almost no contacts from residents about the issue. It was agreed that the responses so overwhelmingly affirmed the water problems in the neighborhood that there would be no further need to continue the water problem survey.

Stephanie then reported on her research into the process for forming a non- profit organization. Stephanie noted that the process is somewhat detailed, but completely "do-able." In fact, Stephanie has 2 sets of friends who have formed non-profit organizations with very little difficulty. It is equally easy to disband the organization if that makes sense down the road. It was agreed that we will file the paperwork to begin the process, as that may play an important role in showing how committed the Friends are to this undertaking.

Tom Ivacko then reported on the meeting that included himself, Beth Loesch, Mike Champion, and Harry Sheehan of the Washtenaw County Drain Commissioner's Office (WCDO). On Friday 3/14/03, the four took a walking tour of Dicken Woods to get input from the WCDO on the issue of wetlands as well as sanitary and storm sewer drainage concerns. Sheehan reported that it is theoretically possible for a developer to design and construct a water management system that would improve the storm water drainage system in the neighborhood, but that it would have to be done "just right." Importantly, it was noted that a developer's only requirements would be for the immediate site, not for improvement throughout the wider neighborhood, and so to assume improvement in the neighborhood water problems would be unwise. In addition, it was also noted that any new impervious surface (streets, parking lots, driveways, rooftops) would lead to higher runoff volumes than are found today. Sheehan expected that the woodland north of Stephen Terrace and South of the Pauline Blvd. condominiums would be seriously impacted by the expected higher runoff volumes: Sheehan predicted many of the trees would, in effect, drown. Sheehan also discounted the City Planning Department Staff's statement that the Dicken Woods wetlands are nothing more than remnants from drainage tiles from the old farmstead that used to occupy Dicken Woods. Instead, Sheehan said it seems much more likely that the Dicken Woods wetlands are in fact part of a wider wetlands system found throughout the area.

In addition to the storm water problems, it was noted that the sanitary sewers under both Dicken Drive and Pauline Blvd. already suffer severe surcharging problems and so any new development on Dicken Woods would simply be adding more sewage to an already over-capacity local system. Finally, Tom reported on a conversation he had with Tom Bletcher, former Deputy County Drain Commissioner, who reported that new federal regulations in the Clean Water Act have just gone into effect for Ann Arbor, requiring new developments to have plans for managing storm water *quality* as well as volume. Bletcher predicted this issue will be an area of potential difficulty for developers and municipalities. The new regulations require plans for public education, public involvement, construction-phase storm water management, and post-construction on-going storm water management.

Next, Stephanie gave an update on the issue of a 'frog survey' in Dicken Woods. The Chairwoman of the Ann Arbor Planning Commission had noted at the 2/4/03 meeting that a frog census could provide valuable information on the current quality of the Dicken Woods wetlands. Stephanie has been in contact with the City staff member responsible for such frog surveys, and the news is good: a survey has already been done, and the results show maximum frog counts for 3 different varieties of frogs, as well as further evidence of other types of frogs calling Dicken Woods home. This is great documentation that the wetlands are significant natural features today, with even greater potential for the future once they are being actively cleared of invasive species.

Jim Boyd reported next on his research into the history of ownership of Dicken Woods. Jim has spent a great deal of time tracking down leads on the sales history of this land, but has not been able to find the record of sale to the current owners: the Catholic Diocese of Lansing. Jim noted that we could always request a title search by a title insurance company, if needed. Jim has also been investigating the taxes and the taxable value of the property: the most recent taxable value of the land is roughly $288,000 (with a higher State Equalized Value, which is usually about half of the market value) and an annual tax bill of roughly $12,500 to the current owners.

Erik then discussed the information he has received to date from the environmental analyst who walked the perimeter of Dicken Woods in late February. The assessement during the walk confirms the WCDO representative's view that the woodlands north of Stephen Terrace would likely be lost if any significant new volume of storm water runoff was introduced, as would be likely under Crosswind's proposal. The assessor also noted that it seemed that the woodlands in Dicken Woods had not been fully represented in the reports to date: there is more area of woodland than has been identified in the developer's process so far. Erik will contact the assessor again to get a final report with more details.

Stephanie raised the idea that we should all be prepared to gather on short notice to help organize our presentations to the next planning commission meeting. We might only get a few days notice if Crosswinds does come back again with another modified plan, and we've accomplished so much that it would be good to coordinate our presentations to the Planning Commission. Deborah said she could probably arrange to get Dicken Elementary School space for such a meeting, even on short notice.

Mike Champion said that he had recently been contacted by the Ann Arbor News to verify that he had in fact submitted the letter to the editor on behalf of the Friends. Hopefully we will see this letter published soon. If any Friends would like to have their names added to the web version of this letter, please email tmi@umich.edu.

Finally, the group discussed how to best "spread the word" about our efforts. Stephanie noted that many of the neighbors she had spoken with during the 'water problems' survey had no idea about the threat to Dicken Woods. It was generally agreed that either a neighborhood flyer, or the placement of many yard signs (or both) would be good next steps. Stephanie will also work on getting buttons that we can all wear to the next Planning Commission meeting.

The meeting wrapped up with a review of action items:

  1. Stephanie and Deborah will summarize the water problems survey and forward to Tom for inclusion on the web site.
  2. Tom will re-contact Tom Bletcher to see if he can write some text for the web site regarding the new federal regulations on storm water quality requirements.
  3. Jim Boyd will get information from Stephanie regarding the non-profit formation process, then file the initial paperwork.
  4. Jim Cauley and Tom will investigate yard sign options and order 50 signs.
  5. Erik will contact Diane Imready to verify the number of residents in her condo association, which impacts requirements for City Council majority vs. super-majority votes, if Crosswinds takes it that far.
  6. Stephanie will contact UM ornithologists and the Audubon Society to follow up on questions of a bird census in Dicken Woods.
  7. Tom will investigate the possibilities for adding a 'counter' to the website, so we can keep track of our web traffic.
  8. Merle Johnson will try to get an original copy of the 1947 aerial photo that shows extensive surface wetlands - large ponds - on Dicken Drive and on the playfields of Dicken Elementary School. If Merle cannot get these, Jim Boyd will follow up with Alexis Marcarello.
  9. Merle and Jim will stay in touch with Alexis to make sure we know if and when Crosswinds comes back to the Planning Commission.
  10. Erik will followup with 2 meetings he is trying to arrange: first, through Margie Teall, our City Councilperson, with Ron Olson, of the City Parks Department, to see about the possibility of getting Dicken Woods added to the PROS plan of desired land acquisitions; and second, directly with Ron Olson to learn more about how the Friends of the Bluffs successfully got the Bluffs to be purchased by the city.
  11. Tom will draft the meeting minutes (this document) and forward to the steering committee for review. After a final version is ready, he will email the main mailing list to alert all to the new minutes.
  12. Beth will take more photos of the area and will also attempt to scan the sewer schematics for inclusion on the web site.
  13. Mike Champion will organize regular email updates for the main mailing list of the Friends (all@dickenwoods.org) so that all the Friends are more frequently updated on our progess.

The meeting wrapped up at approximately 8:30 pm. The next meeting of the Friends will be on 4/14/03 from 7:00-9:00 pm.

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