A year after voters approved the Greenbelt proposal for Ann Arbor to buy up land and save it from development, city residents have yet to see a single acre of land purchased for the purpose of conservation, and the city remains months away from any potential acquisition. According to the Ann Arbor News, those familiar with the plan claim initial land procurements will begin by this summer. However, the squabbles between program administrators that have caused delays show no sign of subsiding. With a $4 million endowment and a well-staffed advisory commission finally in place, there is little justification for a further lag in Greenbelt implementation. Taxpayers do not deserve to watch such an important venture be sidetracked by administrative infighting.
Since the program’s inception, a series of disagreements over the Greenbelt’s budget have intensified — culminating in a debilitating political fallout among its top leadership officials. Doug Cowherd, the co-chairman of the Sierra Club’s Huron Valley Group and one of the Greenbelt’s first major proponents, has publicly split with Mayor John Hieftje over the pace of the project’s implementation. “Every week,” Cowherd told the Ann Arbor News, “agents for developers are out knocking on doors in the townships looking for landowners who will sign options to lock up their property for future development.” The longer the program is stalled, the more time developers have to acquire vacant and agricultural land.
Enthusiasm for the Greenbelt and other anti-sprawl initiatives was one of the main reasons voters in Ann Arbor and the surrounding townships elected so many pro-environment candidates this November. But a year before that, in November 2003, Hieftje expressed his hope to have the Greenbelt Advisory Commission appointed by the following January and the first piece of land purchased by 2004. Unfortunately, the City Council did not appoint the nine-member advisory commission until June and has yet to secure any land from the regrettable fate of development.
While Hieftje attributes the slowdown on bureaucratic delays within the city’s ordinance approval process, it seems quarreling among council members has also been a source of the setbacks. Some key Greenbelt backers expected to be appointed to the advisory commission and were overlooked, raising internal divisions. Once the commission’s members were finally put into place, they then had to pass bylaws and come up with criteria for assessing which land to buy and preserve — which the commission just approved last month. Before any land can be purchased, members of the City Council must hire an administrator; it hopes to fill the position by early January. The pace of this bureaucratic process contrasts sharply with the urgent need to preserve land from going to developers that is commonly cited in support of the Greenbelt.
After a year of unnecessary holdups, it is time for the Greenbelt proposal to be put into action. Ann Arbor voters enacted the Greenbelt to see land conserved, not to watch developers grab more land while residents wait for the City Council to act.