In the continuation of a debate you probably thought ended long ago, the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission is once again throwing around new ideas for its long-awaited project. By stiff-arming development that contributes to urban sprawl, the Greenbelt is designed to protect nature while giving those who live or work in Ann Arbor beautiful space for leisure. A break from the pollution and traffic congestion that has come to characterize even our own quasi-urban town is an initiative worth supporting. The Greenbelt must finally move off the drawing board more than three years after its approval by voters.
Funding for the Greenbelt program has staggered for two main reasons. Federal funds dedicated to the project have dropped from $3.2 million in 2005 to $1.8 million in 2006, and there have been too few contributions of land and funding from landowners. Pre-election calculations predicted that landowner contributions would account for 25 percent of the land value, but recent studies have shown that contributions have only accounted for 6.4 percent.
To combat the funding problems, the commission plans to stir more interest among farmers inside and outside of the current boundaries with the latest expansion proposal. One commission member believes that with more farmers within the boundaries, there would be heightened competition among the farmers to apply for the program. With funding lagging, this is certainly an option to consider.
Another member of the commission expressed his concern that the expansion is not what the Ann Arbor residents voted for. When they overwhelmingly approved the 2003 Greenbelt millage, voters expressed clear interest in a patch of protected land to fight urban sprawl. By extending the boundaries in crucial areas, the public’s wish will still be met. It’s unimportant – and at this point counterproductive – to stall over trivialities of the plan because unless the Greenbelt becomes a reality the entire mandate of the voters will be left unfulfilled.
Alternative ideas suggested include expanding westward into Dexter and northward into Whitmore Lake or searching for other land around the current boundaries. We urge the advisory commission to carefully study this issue as well as broaden the debate to the public. Voters who approved of the program should not reject the idea of an expansion because its aim is to facilitate what they voted for. With landowners not contributing land and federal funds stagnant, it makes sense to try and extend the boundaries in order to find more properties. Logistics must be worked out, of course, but the project must move into actuality sooner rather than later.