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Ann Arbor Council to consider loosening Greenbelt program

13. October 2005 • Murph
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The City Council will hold a public hearing and second reading on Monday, 17 October, to ease the restrictions placed on land in the Greenbelt program. The change would remove the exclusion of factory feeding operations (officially: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs), and is motivated by the conditions of Federal and State agricultural land preservation grants: $1,448,042 in grant money is at stake.

The national Sierra Club takes a dim view of CAFOs, and the Ann Arbor News quotes Doug Cowherd in opposition to this proposal:

Doug Cowherd, co-chairman of the Sierra Club-Huron Valley Group, said CAFOs aren’t in the Washtenaw County area now because land is cheaper in other parts of the state, such as Hillsdale and Lenawee counties. By removing development rights from the land, the greenbelt program will create cheap property that can only be used for agricultural purposes.

Cowherd said removing the CAFO restriction puts the city at risk down the road of having factory farms.

“There is a real risk that CAFOs will move here eventually,’’ Cowherd said. “No greenbelt deals should be made that allow CAFOs to operate on these properties in the future. CAFOs are a public health and environmental disaster.’’

The News cites a spokesman for the Michigan Farm Bureau as calling the environmental argument overblown and pointing to regulations on animal waste management; the memo provided as background to the ordinance change also discusses waste regulation.

No CAFOs, a citizens’ group out of Hudson, MI, shows exactly how well these regulations work, recording 129 violations by 10 local CAFOs in the past five years into the River Raisin watershed, which would seem like undesirable behavior to allow in land acquired as part of a program intended to “preserve and protect the City’s sourcewaters as an integral part of maintaining a quality water supply and the public health and safety of the Ann Arbor community.”

  1. (Hell freezes over, pigs fly, I agree with Cowherd…)
       —Murph.    Oct. 13 '05 - 07:56PM    #
  2. Considering how poorly the state has regulated CAFOs and how harmful they are (see the NoCAFOs site for lovely images of streams running brown for liquid animal waste), I think most people are in agreement that allowing them would be a really bad idea. On the other hand, I think the likelihood of them coming to the A2 area is remote. Even with PDF, land in A2 is going to be higher cost than in the more rural counties where the CAFOs are currently locating. Plus, farmland in the area doesn’t tend to be in large blocks of ownership. That would make it more difficult for a potential CAFO operator to assemble the land needed for that scale of operation. Hopefully, a compromise can be found so that the Greenbelt program doesn’t lose out on that federal funding.
       —John Q    Oct. 13 '05 - 08:32PM    #
  3. I’m with you Murph. Nothing like loosening up the program to allow toxic waste dumps in your greenbelt. CAFO’s are horrid and Ann Arbor shouldn’t be a part of encouraging them in any way, no matter how much money is out there.
       —Juliew    Oct. 13 '05 - 08:34PM    #
  4. Err, that would be PDR. I guess I have Adobe on the brain.
       —John Q    Oct. 13 '05 - 08:39PM    #
  5. If gas costs continue to rise and the majority of the population interested the products of a CAFO are in Southeastern Michigan/Chicago/Ohio, any land will become far more attractive (especially as all land gets more expensive). CAFOs don’t necessarily need a whole lot of acreage. I just think it goes against everything the Greenbelt was intended to provide.
       —Juliew    Oct. 13 '05 - 08:52PM    #
  6. Thank you so much for posting this. I’ve never felt so motivated as to attend a public hearing, but this topic makes me physically ill.
       —FAA    Oct. 13 '05 - 09:05PM    #
  7. Y’know, I hadn’t expected the first several comments to agree with me; I rather expected accusations of being too picky…

    I would like to say that I can be convinced on this, if somebody wants to make a good case. (I don’t think, John, that the cost is necessarily a stopping issue – if you’re buying off the dev. rights, then how is Washtenaw land any more expensive than anywhere else?) In general, though, if we cared enough to put it in the original ordinance, taking it out just because we’ve encountered a grant that diagrees seems regressive. We’re going to change the terms on an $85M program because we want to use part of it as the match for a $1M grant? Just how desperate are we?

    Would it be possible (legal) to write a change into the ordinance to hold our noses and remove the no-cafo restriction just on land easemented with this grant money?
       —Murph.    Oct. 13 '05 - 09:29PM    #
  8. Murph, I agree with your statement until the last sentence. Given your very persuasive arguments: “In general, though, if we cared enough to put it in the original ordinance, taking it out just because we’ve encountered a grant that disagrees seems regressive. We’re going to change the terms on an $85M program because we want to use part of it as the match for a $1M grant?” why should we change our wording at all? At the very least, this should go back to the public for a vote. If the Greenbelt includes CAFOs, I would rather see my money go elsewhere. We have enough toxic plumes to deal with in the Ann Arbor water system, we certainly don’t need more!
       —Juliew    Oct. 13 '05 - 11:47PM    #
  9. Well, I’m trying to come up with something that is _a_ compromise, rather than something that compromises the program’s goals. I want to know more about the bit in the memo stating “2% of the land in these easements can be used for CAFOs.” Does that mean that only < 8 acres of land would be allowed for any time of CAFO-related activity whatsoever, including waste-storage/spreading? And that this 8 acres would be spread across four or five parcels? That might be enough to convince me that CAFOs would still be economically unfeasible due to lack of scale. And if enough loopholes like that can be found to ensure such damaging practices won’t be happening despite the fact that they’re technically allowed to on 8 acres of land, well, that’s something I’d be willing to technically allow for $1m in federal cash. But Mr. Garfield would need to convince me that the 1 in 10,000 chance he’s quoted on in the A2News is not just wishful thinking. Anybody want to track down an e-mail address and send him a link to here?
       —Murph    Oct. 14 '05 - 03:28PM    #
  10. Ah, the power of addiction (to money, in this case.)

    Weak. That’s the word for all of this. Too weak to succeed without outside ‘help’. Too weak to put principle (not to mention wisdom) above expediency.

    How about we don’t look for a compromise, Murph? How about we don’t look to the feds or Pfizer or the state for help and we actually stand on our own for a change? What might come of that effort?
       —Steve Bean    Oct. 14 '05 - 04:50PM    #
  11. Juliew, very astute! Wouldn’t a change of this magnitude require going back to the public? Isn’t there a lawyer around here?
       —FAA    Oct. 14 '05 - 05:09PM    #
  12. Just another example of how poorly researched and conceived the “give us your tax money and trust us to do the right thing with it” greenbelt referendum was.
       —Michael Betzold    Oct. 14 '05 - 05:49PM    #
  13. “How about we don’t look to the feds or Pfizer or the state for help and we actually stand on our own for a change? What might come of that effort?”

    A city that only the very wealthy can afford.
       —todd    Oct. 14 '05 - 06:09PM    #
  14. Neither program that is implicated by the CAFO restrictions is ever going to be a major source of revenue for PDR. So if the policy is to leave the CAFO restrictions in place, the impact on the Greenbelt funding won’t be significant.
       —John Q    Oct. 14 '05 - 06:40PM    #
  15. Would you provide some reasoning to your answer, Todd?
       —Steve Bean    Oct. 14 '05 - 06:53PM    #
  16. Sure. If we keep taking on projects like the greenbelt all by ourselves, and now we are looking at the greenway project, taxes (millages) are going to keep going up…..unless we can get some major help in the way of State or Federal grants. A million here and a million there helps out quite a bit in the long run.

    If we try and accomplish these types of “big city” amenities without major help….then the cost of living will go up, and quickly. Further, the greenbelt programs, one way or another, takes land off of the tax rolls (so will the park on 1st and William——opportunity cost). When you do this, taxes will go up, or services will be cut…..or in the case of Ann Arbor, both.

    Couple this with prop A, and this makes Ann Arbor a more expensive place to live than it was before these programs.

    How’s that?
       —todd    Oct. 14 '05 - 07:04PM    #
  17. Much as I typically agree with Todd, I can’t here.

    I understand the ‘a million here, a million there; pretty soon you’re talking about real money’ approach. However, I don’t think encouraging the growth of factory farming and essentially abrogating the original intent of the Greenbelt idea is the way to solve finance issues. No one wants to ‘enjoy’ green space potentially poisoned by a pigshit lagoon.

    There are other ways to solve the city’s financial troubles that we’ve all discussed here, ad nauseum. I haven’t been to a city council meeting in a few months, but I’m planning to be at this one to speak against the CAFO idea.
       —Marc R.    Oct. 14 '05 - 07:39PM    #
  18. (little bit of a non-sequitor, perhaps, because I’m responding to a piece of a personal e-mail…)

    So, I can understand the need to stretch our dollars by finding matching funds, but that’s a execution-level goal, and not a programmatic goal; we shouldn’t let it supercede things like “protect watershed quality”.

    If it only takes $1.4m in State and Federal dollars to ditch the CAFOs part of the program restrictions, how much would it take from Pulte or Toll Bros before we drop the “no development” part of the restrictions? Are we going to one day be told that, hey, golf courses might not be what we originally intended, but look at the matching fund we lined up!

    Nah, send the money back to the State and tell them their model city thinks their funding program is broken.
       —Murph.    Oct. 17 '05 - 12:56PM    #
  19. Way to look at the big picture, Murph. We’ve repeatedly made decisions in this community that ‘cost’ us economically, arguing that it was the right thing to do and that we hoped other communities would follow our example, for the benefit of all. If PDR programs do spread across the state, the example we’d want them to follow doesn’t include CAFOs.
       —Steve Bean    Oct. 17 '05 - 01:56PM    #
  20. The Greenbelt program was designed to attract matching funds from the state and federal governments. We envisioned that, with matching funds, we could protect about 7,000 acres of land—which would make a real impact on sprawl development in the area right around the city. Without matching funds, we’ll probably save about 2,500 acres. The state and federal farmland programs are the primary sources of matching funds that exist at this time, and those are the two programs with the “can’t-prohibit-CAFOs” provisions.

    On the other hand, it’d be a disaster to use Greenbelt dollars to help finance CAFO operations. So the City needs to find a way to keep out CAFOs without explicitly banning them in our ordinance. I think that’s possible, and the Greenbelt Commission thinks that’s possible, and we’re developing the replacement language over the next month.

    Meanwhile, we suggested that City Council temporarily delete the anti-CAFO provision at tonight’s meeting, while the new ordinance language gets developed. This will let the City finalize its first transaction, on a farm in Webster Township, which is scheduled to close October 31. In that case, the farm owners voluntarily agreed to restrictions on their land which would effectively keep it from ever being turned into a CAFO.

    Given the size of farm properties in the Greenbelt District, I think it’s highly unlikely that anyone would develop a CAFO here. But this is a potentially huge problem for land preservation activists in more rural areas across the state. To that end, I’m hoping that the new Greenbelt language can serve as a model ordinance for communities around Michigan that are also trying to deal with sprawl.

    If you’ve got any suggestions for us, please contact me at Thanks.

    Mike Garfield
    Director, Ecology Center
    Chair, Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission
       —Mike Garfield    Oct. 17 '05 - 03:31PM    #
  21. That “temporarily delete” sounds so incredibly not reassuring…

    Is there any way the city could guarantee that the replacement language, which won’t be anti-CAFO – but will sort of be effectively, will in fact be put in place soon?
       —FAA    Oct. 17 '05 - 04:04PM    #
  22. I’m going to have to agree with FAA, and say that “temporarily delete” is particularly unreassuring in this context. Remember this: “The greenbelt is only half of a smart growth program, the other half being increased density within the city [greenbelt ballot item passes] nobody ever said that the greenbelt would increase density in Ann Arbor.”

    But, hey, now we have a statement of intent from the Chair of the Greenbelt Adv. Commission that a revised, Fed-friendly but CAFO-safe ordinance is on the way, so now we have somebody to lean on.

    And, Mike, I’m happy to hear of the desire to provide something that can be duplicated across the state to get the best of the funding situation and happy to hear the assertion that this is A2 trying to get the best of the funding situation rather than letting the funding get the best of us; think you make sure Council states all that into the record tonight?
       —Murph.    Oct. 17 '05 - 05:37PM    #
  23. Yeah, “temporarily delete” is a problem for me too. Why not use existing greenbelt money (non-matched) for the one farm that has a deadline and then continue to work on wording for the other land that could potentially be matched. If we go through on one with the CAFO clause taken out, I think we may get ourselves into legal trouble putting it back in on other purchases.

    I also wonder how, exactly, this took so long to be discovered? I know it is hard to cover all bases, but if neither State nor Federal funds can be used for matching if CAFOs are not included, and we explicitly removed CAFOs from our Greenbelt program, didn’t someone think to check? Especially if we depended on State and Federal matching to actually make the program fly?
       —Juliew    Oct. 17 '05 - 08:28PM    #
  24. Since Mike Garfield knows whereof he talks, I think that some trust is in order here. After all, Mike has devoted his life to environmental causes, and if he can support a resolution to enable the city greenbelt funds to be used for this particular farm, I can support that.

    There is NO WAY that a person of Mike’s integrity would allow anything bad to happen to our environment. I know him and his work well, and support his judgement.
       —Leah    Oct. 17 '05 - 08:38PM    #
  25. Leah, I don’t know Mike personally and I certainly have no reason to doubt any of the Greenbelt Commission, but harm could be unintentional. Setting legal precedence is not something to mess around with, especially when it is big money factories on the other end of the deal. Remember, this is the same group that did not even realize this was an issue until recently so they are not infallible. Blind faith in the best intentions of others isn’t a good way to run a city.
       —Juliew    Oct. 17 '05 - 09:04PM    #
  26. “Especially if we depended on State and Federal matching to actually make the program fly?”

    While Mike made the statement that the matching funds will help the City acquire the majority of the properties and he’s well-positioned to back it up, it doesn’t sound right to me. Based on the numbers I’ve seen from those programs, they don’t generate a significant amount of matching funds. The Greenbelt program is going to generate a fairly large number of dollars over its lifespan. I’m just wondering how Mike came to those numbers.
       —John Q    Oct. 17 '05 - 09:13PM    #
  27. The proposal says $1,448,042 in federal grant money, and $5,908,000 total fair market value for the farms that received federal funds. I remember hearing that one of the landowners was donating 10% of the value on his parcel, I don’t know how much state funding was involved, and maybe A2 Township was involved in one of these purchases?

    Anyways, that all sounds like we’re maybe clawing up towards 50% in matching money – I’d like to see the math behind Mike’s almost tripling of land to be preserved with grants, especially if we see the feds as being the primary match and we can only manage a 25% match from them here.

    And, Leah, while I do trust Mike’s intentions (very much so!), there’s only so much weight you can put on the assurances of an “Advisory Commission”. They can have all the intentions in the world, but they’re not the ones making the final decisions. (I’m not even suggesting that I don’t trust the Council here – consider that Council has to worry about whether reinstating some sort of restriction later would draw the possibility of lawsuit. Everybody might have good intentions now, only to decide they’re shy at the risk later.)
       —Murph.    Oct. 17 '05 - 10:18PM    #
  28. (p.s., I won’t be showing up this evening to make a nuisance of myself; I think my opinions are now well enough known that I can stay home and nurse the hip that I bashed while helping my brother move this weekend. Oh, and, discovering a black mold infestation after moving everything into an upstairs apartment? Poor timing.)
       —Murph.    Oct. 17 '05 - 10:21PM    #
  29. TV says:

    Juliew, Marc R, and Mike Garfield spoke during the public hearing, along with somebody whose name I didn’t catch.

    Measure passed, unanimously-but-Woods, with Johnson, Greden, Easthope speaking in support and Johnson (on Greenbelt Advisory Commission) seeming to indicate a few-weeks timeline for coming up with a revision.

    Mayor Hieftje asked all opposed to CAFOs to buy free-range meats in order to also prevent CAFOs not in our backyards.
       —Murph.    Oct. 18 '05 - 12:57AM    #
  30. Questions I asked while Council was in closed session:

    1) Is there enough money in the Greenbelt funds now to buy the parcel closing on October 31 without using matching funds? Answer: Yes
    2) Could the ordinance be tightened up after that to have better wording that would prevent CAFOs? Answer: Yes.
    3) Any reason to change this amendment right now to wording that no one likes that could cause us problems down the road? Answer: um, we save about $150,000.


    And Heiftje’s comments, although true, were sort of annoying. It felt like a not-so-subtle admonishment to those who stood up to speak, and frankly, I do buy local, free-range, non-CAFO meat, eggs, and dairy so I don’t need a little lecture from the Mayor.
       —Juliew    Oct. 18 '05 - 01:41AM    #
  31. “Much as I typically agree with Todd, I can’t here.”

    Whoa, whoa, whoa!

    For the record, I made no reference to CAFO’s when I responded to Steve B.

    This is the only statement that I responded to: “How about we don’t look to the feds or Pfizer or the state for help and we actually stand on our own for a change? What might come of that effort?”

    Steve nor I made any reference to CAFO’s here… point was in discussion the turning away of federal and state grants/monies in general.

    My occupation puts me in pretty close touch with farmers, whether it’s because of crop reports (hops, malt) direct purchasing from small farmers (cherries, pears, etc.) or from the donation of animal feed (spent grain). Let me say that CAFO’s aren’t my cup of tea, to say that least…..

    Sounds like we need some good lawyerin’ to change the wording so that we can keep the funding…..that’s all I’m saying here.
       —todd    Oct. 18 '05 - 01:55PM    #
  32. Juliew, that was my reaction, too. Lactose-intolerant vegetarians who buy only farmers’ market eggs can read offense into the slightest suggestion that people try working through the market instead of bothering government…

    Who was your closed session source? Garfield?
       —Murph.    Oct. 18 '05 - 02:13PM    #
  33. Murph, there was a group of us standing around and discussing this during the break. And yes, Garfield was part of the group.
       —Juliew    Oct. 18 '05 - 03:28PM    #
  34. Juliew got a mention in today’s AA News story.
       —David Cahill    Oct. 18 '05 - 04:39PM    #
  35. Ah yes, gotta love a slow news day—seems that I had a soundbyte on WEMU this morning too. Nothing like a good quote about manure to get people going. Funny how the press seems to love this issue, but Council was pretty indifferent and hardly anyone showed up at the meeting last night.
       —Juliew    Oct. 18 '05 - 05:43PM    #