The federal government allocated $1.7 million to the Greenbelt Program, pushing Ann Arbor one step closer to obtaining the land necessary for the project.

The Greenbelt Program is run by the city of Ann Arbor and provides money to preserve land in eight townships around the city.

The Greenbelt would be a system of undeveloped open spaces, including farmland and parks. The areas would provide leisure space for residences and try to combat urban sprawl.

The project has been working to buy land, or the rights to land that surrounds the city limits since 2003.

Of the $3.1 million given to Michigan for conservation, $2.7 million was given to Washtenaw County for the Greenbelt.

A single county receiving federal funding of this amount is unprecedented, said Mike Garfield, chairman of the Greenbelt Advisory Commission.

“Land preservation has never been done on the scale that we’re trying to do it in Washtenaw County,” he said.

However, Garfield said that the uniqueness of the project made it worthy of the extraordinary funding.

“All together, Washtenaw County had six of the top seven properties that were funded by the federal government. That is because Washtenaw County is head and shoulders above the rest of the state facing one of the state’s biggest problems — urban sprawl,” Garfield said.

The federal government approved the county’s conservation projects, Garfield said.

“The federal (government) says that we are headed in the right direction and we are doing all of the difficult, behind the scenes work,” he added.

Garfield said the overwhelming support for the Greenbelt can be attributed to the fear of urban sprawl consuming the beauty that Ann Arbor has to offer.

“People in Ann Arbor don’t want this place to become just like Oakland county or a suburb of Detroit,” Garfield said. “We don’t want strip malls or wall to wall subdivisions. One of the things people like about Ann Arbor is the surrounding natural areas where people can bike, run and be outdoors.”

Funding will also help ease the taxpayer burden that would have been required to purchase and preserve some of the Greenbelt land.

Garfield stressed that the project is still fairly far away from being completed.

“We haven’t finalized the deals with all of the landowners and I don’t want to celebrate these transactions until the ink is dry,” Garfield said. “There are several steps that have to be gone through before we can do that. We have money to spend, but there is going to be a lot of work that needs to be done before we get close to our goals. It’s going to take several years.”

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