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Elizabeth Nelson's City Council Blog

I write a City Council newsletter with my summary of agenda items coming before City Council. Sign up to receive it first via email, or read it here later on this blog.

Runnymede Path: Proposal for City Easement

Residents in the Dicken neighborhood of Ward 4 tell me that they are happy to see agenda item DC-4, which is a first step toward repairing a pedestrian path between Runnymede and Pauline.


DC-4 (22-0803) Resolution to Negotiate an Easement for Runnymede-Pauline Path


I am especially excited to see this item on our agenda because it is the result of many emails, conversations, and meetings I have had over the last three years with City staff, AAPS staff, and local residents. Like so many local issues, the best solutions happen when all stakeholders are engaged.


Below is a map with the Runnymede path highlighted in yellow:


BACKGROUND

I started meeting with City staff about this path in 2019. City staff was generous with their time, meeting with me to discuss the history of this path as well as the estimated cost of repair. Given its proximity to Dicken Elementary, I also reached out to Ann Arbor Public Schools, who confirmed that improvements would create a safer walking zone for Dicken students and AAPS would be “grateful” for any City efforts toward repairing it. By 2020, conversations about this path had stalled and we were in the midst of the pandemic — at that time, Council Members were urged not to propose any new projects because staff was so overwhelmed and our budget was uncertain.


Last summer, I revisited the topic of this path. I went to the County building downtown and looked up the original 1973 master deed in their archives. City attorneys later confirmed: the path was not in a City right-of-way and it originated with the condo complex on Pauline Boulevard.


The path is not currently a City right-of-way, but it appears on page 61 of the 2021 Moving Together Toward Vision Zero Comprehensive Transportation Plan as a proposed “all ages and abilities” route.

https://www.a2gov.org/departments/engineering/Documents/Ann%20Arbor%20Moving%20Together_Final%20Plan_June%202021.pdf


This transportation plan was approved by Council on June 7, 2021:

https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4966626&GUID=6BCBF77F-9907-4F14-91D1-0AE06280AD85&FullText=1



This path is recognized as an important connector in the neighborhood, but the City is not currently responsible for its maintenance or upkeep. Repair of this path has been estimated to cost upwards of $400,000.



PUBLIC FUNDING

The City of Ann Arbor recognizes the value of public funding for infrastructure to support non-motorized transit. In 2011, voters in Ann Arbor approved a millage to fund the repair of sidewalks in the public right-of-way. In 2020, voters in Ann Arbor approved a millage to fund the construction of new sidewalks. The premise of both of these millages: the community benefit of safe pedestrian access should not depend on a property owner’s ability to pay a City assessment. Most recently (and for similar reasons), Council has discussed City-funded sidewalk snow removal.


There is precedent for the City negotiating easements to improve pedestrian access: last October, Council unanimously approved an easement on Stimson Street, to fill a significant sidewalk gap in Ward 4. In that case, the City actually spent $5,000 to compensate the property owner for the easement. You can read about that here:

https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5161513&GUID=E16FB572-E137-437F-87F8-BA2E4FCD8D22


City responsibility for neighborhood connectors like the path between Runnymede and Pauline also has precedent: last summer, City Council voted to accept four such connectors in Ward 4:

https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5077336&GUID=AF952883-466D-4B8C-9488-6432A0B4831E


I wrote about these connector walks at the time, including a copy of the letter that was sent to affected residents:

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/proposed-city-acceptance-of-connector-walks-delaware-morehead Staff summary of that action included explanation that:

Acceptance by the City of these sidewalks will enable the City to utilize the Street, Bridge, and Sidewalk Millage approved by voters in 2020 to make future repairs as needed to these connector walks. The acceptance would specifically exempt adjacent owners from responsibility for repair and snow and ice removal on such connector sidewalks.

PROBLEM SOLVING

A few weeks ago, I had conversations with two board members for the condo association that owns this path. They explained that a representative from the City had contacted their association about the path and demanded that the association spend $400,000 to fix it. When the condo association president proposed a transfer/easement so that this path could become a City right-of-way, he was told that the association must first spend $400,000 to fix it. Members of the condo association made clear: foisting this overwhelming expense on this particular community (one of the more moderately priced housing communities in Ann Arbor) basically guarantees that the path will never actually get fixed.


This month, I met with our City Administrator, Milton Dohoney, to talk about the Ward 4 interest in seeing this path come under City control so that we can rehabilitate and maintain it as a neighborhood connector. He directed me to work with City CFO Marti Praschan on a budget amendment.


This past week, Ms. Praschan organized and led a meeting with me and City engineer, Nick Hutchinson — Mr. Hutchinson lives in Ward 4 and is well aware of the Runnymede/Pauline path and its poor condition. He explained that the City has already prepared a legal description of the path for the purposes of an easement, and he had discussed it with the head of our Transportation department, Raymond Hess (also a Ward 4 resident!). Mr. Hutchinson and Mr. Hess agree that the location of this path makes it eligible for funding through state Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grants. Ms. Praschan confirmed: we have City Budget available to cover matching funds for these TAP grants. However, in order to get this grant funding (and prioritize rehabilitation/repair), the path must be under City control in advance of grant application deadlines at the end of June.



CONCLUSION

Agenda item DC-4 is an example of what can be accomplished when your local government is focused on meeting the needs of residents. I am grateful for all the work of City staff in crafting a solution to the long-standing problem of this deteriorated path. A City easement will put this path under City control so that we can apply for grant money and actually get it fixed! I am eager to see this path fixed for the benefit of many neighborhood residents who use it to access Dicken Elementary and bus stops on Pauline.