In a last-minute effort to obtain federal matching funds, the Greenbelt Advisory Commission has finally begun to take visible steps toward making purchases for the preservation of lands in the designated Greenbelt district. The Nov. 2003 election revealed overwhelming voter support for the Greenbelt program, as roughly two-thirds of Ann Arbor citizens voted to extend, for the next 30 years, a millage enabling the city of Ann Arbor to acquire land and the development rights to rural and undeveloped tracts of land within a designated “Greenbelt” area. However, since the millage passed, little action has been taken to purchase land or secure development rights to land in surrounding townships. Now, the stakes have risen for the Greenbelt Advisory Commission, as further delays could risk matching funds of up to $2 million from the Federal Farmland Preservation Program if purchases are not made within the next two months. Although the $4 million already raised through the millage will still be around for use after the deadline, it is disappointing that Ann Arbor, because of needless delay, might miss out on the opportunity to take advantage of such significant financial support. Unfortunately, time is working against the commission. Given the lengthy process involved with major land purchases, the commission decided, on Jan. 24, that landowners wishing to sell their land must submit the required paperwork by Feb 18 — next Friday — so that the final process could be completed by the April 5 federal matching funds deadline. To help facilitate this last-minute effort, the commission has reached out to a nonprofit agency, The Conservation Fund, for help in the advertising and purchasing process. The fund has mailed out 350 applications to landowners that live within the Greenbelt area and is planning to hold open houses about selling land within the next week. Nonetheless, for a landowner trying to make the difficult decision of whether to sell his land, these initiatives will have come far too late. The decision to sell a major plot of land is a significant one, and the constraints imposed by the Feb. 18 deadline leave little time for deliberation. Even in the event that these lackluster efforts to attract landowners succeed in obtaining a few applications, there is no guarantee that any of them will be approved. As the chairman of the Greenbelt Advisory Commission, Mike Garfield, told the Ann Arbor News, “It’s possible we’ll get 10 applications that we are not interested in and we turn them all down.” If the Greenbelt Advisory Commission fails to procure the potential $2 million in federal matching funds, it will be yet another opportunity lost through procrastination. While other neighboring townships with far fewer resources have begun to implement their own versions of the Greenbelt, Ann Arbor has languished. For the past year, the commission has been idled by internal conflict and indecision, and the citizens of Ann Arbor are still waiting for action. While it seems now that the program is finally making progress toward the eventual purchase of lands, the potential loss of $2 million only highlights the dangers of delay.

Chelsea Trull

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