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Archives for August 2014

Roots and Shoots: You Know You’re a Plant Nerd When….

August 30, 2014

By Pamela Doan

I came home from my last day of garden school, aka Master Gardener Training, with the following items: three voodoo lily bulbs, giant sequoia seeds, a bag of horse manure, a packet of native wildflower seeds, a bulb of homegrown garlic, and a soil pH test kit. And I was delighted. I also had my official name badge and enough handouts, notes, and manuals to fill a bookshelf. If all of these things sound exciting to you, then hurry and sign up for the upcoming Master Gardener Training with the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) in Putnam County now. The next class begins Wednesday, Sept. 3.

Essential garden tools (Photo by P. Doan)

Essential garden tools (Photo by P. Doan)

The 15-week training provides Master Gardeners with basic knowledge about horticulture, botany and a range of subjects to equip them to volunteer in the community and be a resource and educator. Among other things, Master Gardeners help families learn to grow their own food, answer questions on the Diagnostic Hotline, teach classes on a range of subjects, including composting, veggies, planting for bees, reducing chemical use, and so much more. After the training, Master Gardeners are expected to contribute 30 hours per year to CCE projects.

In the two years since I completed the class, I’ve taught workshops on gardening in a changing climate and edible landscaping and answered questions at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market, as well as helped with the annual Plant Sale, a major fundraiser. I also participated in a statewide committee on climate change in New York and attended a conference on the same subject at Cornell University, thoughtful learning experiences and occasions to engage with researchers and other Master Gardeners who are working on this critical issue.

One of my main motivations for becoming a Master Gardener was to find a local way to be active around global warming and the research and materials coming from Cornell create opportunities to share information that is useful to anyone with a lawn or interest in gardening. I believe that every action counts and whatever small changes we make — composting, eliminating lawn fertilizers, planting perennials that attract birds and bees — all of it matters.

When people realize how simple adjustments can tip the balance for more sustainable environments, then we all have a change for the better. Master Gardeners are in the unique position to carry this message to a wide range of people.

While my gardening and landscaping experience was limited to container gardening in Brooklyn before the training, it didn’t matter. The classes cover everything you need to know and the backgrounds of the other volunteers are diverse. Part of the fun is learning from each other and sharing tips and of course, plants. Join our Facebook page to get a sense of the many different interests and ideas that come up:

The section on soil was particularly enlightening to me. I didn’t know anything about this most essential component of gardening, but after a three-hour class on soil composition, purpose, and amendments, now I can improve my own growing material and advise others on how to do it. Soil, It’s What’s in the Dirt, that was the headline of my first column for Roots and Shoots, too. What can I say, once you can see the soil in the dirt, you become an evangelist. Organic matter is free and available right out there in the yard and it makes a huge difference to your plants. Brilliant.

There are nearly 100 Master Gardeners in Putnam County. It says a lot about the program that one of the volunteers has been involved for 30 years. It’s a rewarding program and a chance to contribute to a healthy community. Getting to know the CCE staff is another bonus. They’re knowledgeable, helpful, and super cool to hang out with.

The point of everyone’s effort is to take the research coming from Cornell, one of the top universities in the country, and make it available on a local level. Getting advice that’s backed by science, you can’t beat that. There isn’t a commercial interest behind it and not to knock Great-Aunt Gertie’s strategy for sprinkling salt on the tomatoes to ward off pests, but research methods are more strenuous at Cornell.

Plant nerds unite. For a memorable and lasting experience, get involved in the Master Gardener program. For more information and to apply, check out the website.

Article source:

New Wellness Center In The Works

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Aug. 19, 2014): Action taken by planning commissioners at its mid-August meeting will allow two projects to move forward: a new “modern lifestyle health spa” on West Liberty; and a new location for the Community Music School of Ann Arbor.

John Farah, Jackie Farah, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jackie and John Farah address the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Aug. 19, 2014 meeting. To the right is Andrew Walters of Metro Consulting Associates, who’s working on the Farahs’ project. (Photos by the writer.)

Both projects required approval of a special exception use from the commission, because the zoning doesn’t allow those uses without it.

It was the health spa/fitness center proposal that drew the most scrutiny from commissioners. John and Jackie Farah want to convert part of an existing office building at 3100 W. Liberty into a facility that would provide personalized training and guidance to help people develop healthier lifestyles. Jackie Farah stressed that the focus is on wellness, not on athletic fitness. The center would be in the same complex as John Farah’s dental practice.

Six people spoke during a public hearing on this project, including the Farahs as well as nearby residents. Concerns from neighbors included the disturbances that additional use of this site would have on their properties. Also speaking against the project was Brian Eisner, owner of the nearby Liberty Athletic Club, who expressed concern about increased traffic on West Liberty. The Farahs stressed that their effort would not increase traffic or negatively impact the residential neighbors.

During deliberations, commissioners considered putting limits on the hours of operation or restricting use to appointments only, but ultimately rejected those constraints. However, they did amend the special exception use to limit the amount of square footage that could be used for fitness center activities – to 9,000 square feet. It does not require additional city council approval.

The other special exception use was granted to the Community Music School of Ann Arbor, allowing it to operate at 1289 Jewett Ave., between South Industrial and Packard. The music school will share the building of Clonlara School, a private K-12 educational institution.

Commissioners also recommended the annexation and zoning of 2115 Victoria Circle, a half-acre vacant site west of Newport and north of M-14. If approved by the city council, the property would be annexed from Ann Arbor Township and zoned R1A (single family dwelling).

Farah Fitness Center

The Aug. 19 agenda included a request for a special exception use to create a fitness center at 3100 W. Liberty.

3100 W. Liberty, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

3100 West Liberty.

The proposal by the owners, John and Jackie Farah, is to convert part of an existing office building on the southern end of a 5.37-acre site into a fitness center that would operate similar to a physical therapy/rehabilitation facility, according to a staff report. The special exception use allows for indoor recreation on a site zoned office (O). It would be part of the Farah Professional Center, which was first developed in 1995 and expanded in 2005.

The site – on the north side of West Liberty, between Wagner and South Maple – includes a 13,000-square foot, two-story building and a 10,000-square foot, one-story building with an 89-space parking lot. The two-story building includes John Farah’s dental practice. The one-story building houses a dental consulting firm and a milling center for dentists and dental labs nationwide. The property is located in Ward 5.

The staff report stated that the proposed center “is a facility available to customers by appointment only, offering less than a dozen pieces of equipment such as treadmills, elliptical, bikes and nautilus machines. Yoga, spinning, massage therapy and acupuncture also will be offered. Hours of operation will be consistent with normal office/health practitioner business hours.” [.pdf of staff report]

The office zoning district is intended as a transition between residential areas and other types of uses that would be incompatible with neighborhoods. In addition to offices – including medical and dental – the office-zoned sites can include salons, funeral homes, artist studios, hotels, and private colleges. With a special exception use, the sites can include veterinarian hospitals and kennels, and indoor recreation.

Separately, the owners have submitted an administrative amendment to the previously approved site plan for changes to the office center’s parking lot. The proposal is to increase the number of spaces from 89 to 104 within the limits of the current parking area. The additional spaces are required to support the proposed indoor recreation use. The modified parking lot would have 70 full-sized spaces, 29 compact-sized spaces, and 5 barrier-free spaces. Of those 104 spaces, 12 would be “deferred” – meaning they will be shown on the planning documents, but not installed.

The administrative amendment does not require planning commission or city council approval. Nor is additional council approval required for the special exception use.

Staff recommended approval.

Farah Fitness Center: Public Hearing

Six people spoke during a public hearing on this project, including the Farahs as well as nearby residents. Some of them had also submitted letters to the commission.

Ira Mark, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ira Mark.

Ira Mark told commissioners that he’s a resident of the adjacent subdivision, and lives on Trego Circle. “This building is literally in my back yard.” Almost 19 years ago, he addressed the commission with other neighbors who negotiated significantly with John Farah about the first building that was constructed. He said at that time, the neighbors were guaranteed that the development would have certain hours of operation. Over the years, he’s spent thousands of dollars on landscaping and blackout shades. His neighbors have done the same, Mark said. They still hear cars and see lights from the development.

He indicated that it’s good that the parking won’t be expanded. He hoped that any additional lighting would be minimized. He said he took offense at the Farahs’ statement that the hours of operation won’t be detrimental to the neighborhood. Sometimes there are runners in the parking lot at 5 a.m. – he can hear them talk about where they’ll be running. If the new facility is by appointment only, can people make appointments for 10 o’clock at night or 5 in the morning? Even now, sometimes there are lights on in the building after regular business hours, he said.

Mark said that Farah has been willing to talk to neighbors when they’ve had issues over the years, and those issues have been resolved. He gave the example of trash pickup that used to be done in the early morning. But if there’s a lot of traffic in the parking lot at odd hours, it will be disturbing, he said, and it would potentially impact his property value. [.pdf of Mark’s letter]

Brian Eisner introduced himself as the owner of the nearby Liberty Athletic Club – it’s located on the opposite side of West Liberty, in Scio Township. His major concern was traffic. There’s already a problem along that section of West Liberty, he said, citing two very serious accidents in recent years. It’s almost impossible to make a left turn onto West Liberty from the south side, during certain times of the day. His business has been there for 40 years, and he’s seen the traffic pattern change.

Brian Eisner, Liberty Athletic Club, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Brian Eisner, owner of the Liberty Athletic Club.

Eisner said he knows how many people come to a fitness center, because he owns one. The Liberty Athletic Club has yoga classes with 40 people enrolled, “so these are not small numbers,” he said. The Farahs’ whole business model has been disguised, he said, and he’d like to know what the business model really is. He suggested that the planning commission restrict the number of people that could be in the building at any one time. “I’m just very, very leery about the very, very sketchy information that we have, and how that’s going to impact a serious, serious problem,” he said, referring to traffic. He said he represented the concerns of his club’s members as well. [.pdf of Eisner’s letter]

Bill Moorhead, another nearby resident, said his concerns were similar to those stated by Mark and Eisner. He thought that the operation needed to be defined. Is it a spa, or athletic club, or rehabilitation facility? [.pdf of Moorhead’s letter]

Andrew Walters of Metro Consulting Associates was attending on behalf of the Farahs, who were also at the meeting. The proposal is for a “modern lifestyle health spa,” he said. It would provide a combination of services that deal with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The use is consistent with some of the other uses that are allowed without a special exception use, he said, such as health practitioner or beauty salons that provide massage. There is, however, an athletic component to their proposal, Walters added, and that’s what triggered the need for a special exception use.

No parking expansion is proposed, Walters noted. New spaces will be added by re-striping the existing parking lot. Nor is there planned expansion of the parking lot lighting, he said. Ultimately, it will just be a change in tenant of the building, and it won’t be a hindrance to the neighborhood. All the uses will be indoors, and the hours of operation will mostly be during general business hours – 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Regarding traffic, the site currently has office and medical/dental office uses, he said. A health fitness club use would be expected to produce the same or less traffic than a medical/dental office, he said. The people who visit would be spread out during the day, not all at the start and end of the business day.

John Farah, Jackie Farah, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jackie and John Farah.

The Farahs also addressed the commission. John Farah said he’s lived in Ann Arbor over 50 years. He’s a runner and believes in fitness. The proposal is to really help people lead a healthy lifestyle, he said. Many of his friends who are his age aren’t in as good of shape as he is, Farah said. “I think I have ways of helping people in the community.”

The place will be limited in size and will be very personalized, Farah told commissioners. He said that Ira Mark knows that any time the neighbors had a problem, he would address it. “I hate to say this,” Farah added, talking to Mark, “but you have never seen any runners in that lot. We have never had anybody congregating there in that lot.”

Before this space became empty, the previous tenants employed up to 22 people at one point, Farah reported. “We will not employ any more than three or four people in that area.” It should not affect the traffic in any detrimental way.

Farah noted that he’s been a member of the Liberty Athletic Club for many years, and he appreciates it. He’s taken many yoga classes there, and there have never been 40 people in a class. Usually the size is 12-15 people, except on Sundays when there are up to 25. That club also has only ??23 bikes in the spinning room, he noted.

Farah said he’s contributed to this community in many ways, and he thinks this new project will benefit the community too.

Farah then introduced his wife, Jackie Farah. There are many interpretations of the word “fitness,” she noted. But their focus is on the healthy lifestyle aspect, “and not fitness in a gym where you work out to become a better athlete.” Their spinning room will have eight bicycles. There will be one private yoga room for one or two people, she said, and the other yoga room will fit 12 people. “We’re really trying to zoom in on a very personal fitness plan for people,” she said. They’re proud of trying to help people, including those who’ve finished physical therapy or are fighting debilitating illness and need to continue with yoga or other instruction. The focus is on wellness, not on being a better athlete, she concluded.

Farah Fitness Center: Commission Discussion

Kirk Westphal wondered whether the description of the operation that’s included in the staff report would be tied to the special exception use – that is, would the special exception use only be valid as long as the fitness center reflects what’s described in the report? For example, the report states that the center will have less than a dozen pieces of equipment. What if the center eventually has two dozen pieces?

Alexis DiLeo, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Alexis DiLeo of the city’s planning staff.

City planner Alexis DiLeo replied that the special exception use would be for an “indoor fitness center.” There are no limitations as to size or hours or maximum membership, she said, and the special exception use would apply to the entire site. However, it could be amended by commissioners to stipulate a limit on square footage, for example, or to put a limit on hours, she said.

Westphal wondered if city code for this zoning district puts any limit on hours of operation. No, DiLeo replied. There are city code limits on construction hours, but for not general business or retail hours.

Westphal also clarified with DiLeo that the special exception use would stay with the parcel, not the owner. “It’s not like a functional family,” she noted – a reference to a controversial request by local Jesuits for a function family special exception use earlier this summer.

Sabra Briere asked about the proposed use for the adjacent property that’s located in Scio Township. DiLeo replied that it’s owned by the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, and is part of the Sister Lakes drain. It’s open space, she said.

Briere ventured that the land creates a buffer between the residents on Trego Circle and the Farahs’ site. How wide is that buffer? DiLeo said she’d check to be sure, but she thought it was around 100 feet. Andrew Walters of Metro Consulting Associates reported that it’s at least 35 feet wide.

Sabra Briere, Ira Mark, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ira Mark gives some information to Sabra Briere, who serves as the city council’s representative on the planning commission. Mark raised concerns about a proposed fitness center near his property off of West Liberty.

Bonnie Bona pointed out that in addition to the drain property, there’s also a landscape buffer for the parking lot. DiLeo said that it’s a conflicting land use buffer, so it should be a minimum of 15 feet. She added that some additional landscaping is being put in, as part of the redesign of the parking lot, in order to meet the city’s current square-footage requirement for a “vehicular use area.” DiLeo explained how the redesign was being handled. Walters reported that three trees are being added to the landscaping, mostly on the eastern side of the site – nearest to the residential area.

Eleanore Adenekan asked about the hours of operation, confirming with John Farah that it would be from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Farah said they haven’t worked out details about whether there would be weekend activity. It might be necessary to be there a few hours, to accommodate the schedules of certain individuals. He doubted they would do anything on Sundays.

Jeremy Peters asked whether the fitness center would take up the entire building – if not, how much space would be used? Farah replied that the building is two floors. His dental clinic is on the second floor, so the center would be on the first floor, with about 6,400 square feet.

Replying to another query from Peters, Farah said there would be trainers available to work with clients by appointment.

Bona commended the Farahs, saying that they’re proposing a great business, so her comments weren’t a critique of their business plan. “Creativity and keeping people healthy is all a good thing – it’s whether or not it’s appropriate in this location,” she said.

Bona said she’s struggling with the use of an indoor fitness center. What zoning district would allow for a more traditional fitness club, like Liberty Athletic Club? DiLeo replied that the bulk of the city’s zoning ordinance was developed in the 1960s, and terms like “gym” and “yoga” are not included. The ordinance does mention indoor recreation – for court games like raquetball, which were popular at that time.

Bonnie Bona, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Bonnie Bona.

But the ordinance has to be interpreted for modern times, DiLeo said. So the staff has interpreted and applied the ordinance to allow for a gym or fitness use on sites that are zoned as commercial districts, as well as in other zoning districts – office and light manufacturing – that allow for indoor recreation as a special exception use.

Wendy Woods asked what entity is responsible for West Liberty Street? Briere responded that the road is actually in Scio Township. DiLeo noted that the road is under the purview of the Washtenaw County road commission.

No traffic study is required for this project, DiLeo explained. A study is triggered only if the Institute of Traffic Engineers manual indicates that a site’s use will generate more than 50 trips in a peak hour, she said. Based on this project’s square footage and type of use, it fell below that amount.

Bona said the concerns she’s heard relate to hours of operation, traffic, lighting, and the amount of parking. The principal uses that are allowed in an office district – such as beauty salons, institutions of higher education, hotels, health practitioners – vary widely in their hours of operation, she noted. The district allows for a lot more flexibility than what perhaps the neighbors would like, she said.

Bona added that she was struggling to figure out how the Farahs’ proposed use was different from a health practitioner. She wondered why a special exception was needed in the first place, and it didn’t make sense to limit the hours of operation when some of the other allowed uses would have even longer hours.

Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Kirk Westphal.

Diane Giannola said she saw things a bit differently. In a commercial area, there are more comings and goings during the day. For an office area – including a medical center – there would be less coming and going, she said, because people would primarily be entering and exiting at the beginning and end of the work day. So a commercial fitness center would have much more traffic than an office, she said.

Giannola’s concern with this item was that the special exception use would be attached to the property. The Farahs’ project appears to be appointment-only, she noted, which would limit the number of people coming into the site. She suggested amending the special exception use so that it would be limited to appointment-only centers. That would limit it for future uses too, so that businesses like Curves wouldn’t be allowed to operate there.

Responding to a query from Briere, John Farah said the dental consulting firm and milling center combined employ about two dozen people, who work during standard business hours. The same is true for employees of his dental office, though in that case there are also patients who arrive and depart throughout the day. Briere noted that in a way, the fitness center would be like adding dental patients, because they’d have scheduled appointments.

Farah thought the flow of people to the fitness center would be much lower than for his dental office. Walters added that the fitness center wouldn’t be adding to peak-hour traffic.

Wendy Woods, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commission chair Wendy Woods.

Briere pointed out that the entire site won’t be used for one purpose, but it will continue to be used for multiple purposes. She agreed with Bona, saying she’s hard-pressed to see why this fitness center requires a special exception use. She suggested it might be time to revisit the city code, since it’s so outdated.

Bona clarified that her intent isn’t to change the rules, but rather to define businesses that exist today that are consistent with those already allowed. “We’re not talking about allowing things that would have characteristics dramatically different from what’s already allowed,” she said.

Westphal wanted to make sure commissioners all understood what would be allowed under this special exception use, which applies to the whole site. The lot hasn’t been developed as much as it could be, he noted, so if the property changed hands, this special exception use could allow for a significantly expanded fitness center, like a Planet Fitness. He didn’t doubt that the Farahs planned a smaller operation, but he wanted to be clear that in the future, something like a large gym would be a possibility.

DiLeo noted that the staff typically recommends some kind of quantity limit on any special exception use. For example, a special exception use for veterinary kennels would typically limit the number of dogs. Most schools come with a maximum number of students. So perhaps in this case, she said, it would make sense to limit the square footage allowed for a fitness center.

Jeremy Peters, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Jeremy Peters.

Westphal said he’d be open to that, as well as to some kind of “generous” limit on hours of operation.

Peters supported a limit on square footage, and also suggested limiting the usage to appointments only. That might address at least some of the traffic concerns, he said.

Bona said she’d like to see this business operate at this location. Regarding the suggestion on limiting use to appointments only, she noted that this zoning district allows institutions of higher education – without a special exception use. Such institutions hold classes, she observed, and those are often held in the evening. “It’s a little odd to put restrictions on a use when some of the allowed primary uses can do more,” Bona said.

However, Bona added that in the interest of allowing this to move forward, the appointment limitation and square footage are reasonable, “especially since it looks like we need to have a more robust discussion about how we define primary use.” She suggested that if revisions to the city code are made, the district shouldn’t be called “office” if there are a lot of non-office uses that are allowed. It misleads the neighbors into making certain assumptions about what could be located there, she said.

Giannola asked whether Farah intended to sell unlimited-use passes for the facility.

Farah responded by saying he was trying to be creative with this project, and to accommodate people in various ways. “I mean, how many restrictions can you put, you know?” Farah asked.

Eleanore Adenekan, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Eleanore Adenekan.

They’ve thought about whether to offer classes or a lecture to small groups, on topics like nutrition. They’ll probably experiment with different ideas, he said. But in general, it would be geared toward very small numbers of people. That makes it different from places like Liberty Athletic Club, he said.

Regarding limits on hours of operation, Farah said they want to cater to individuals – so occasionally, someone might need to be there until 8 p.m. He didn’t think it made sense to put time limitations. Giannola replied that it’s not a concern with his business, but if he sold the building, someone else could put in a different operation. “I’m not selling the building,” Farah said.

Giannola noted that in 10 or 20 years, that might change. The city can’t take back a special exception use, if all of the requirements are being met, she noted. So that’s why commissioners are being cautious.

Based on the discussion, Westphal said he’d withdraw his suggestion to limit the hours. He also questioned the enforceability of restricting the use to appointments only. However, he’d continue to support a limit on square footage.

Peters proposed amending the special exception use to limit it to 9,000 square feet.

Outcome on amendment: It passed unanimously on a voice vote.

There was no further discussion.

Outcome on amended special exception use: It passed unanimously and does not require additional approval from city council.

Community Music School

The planning commission was asked to grant a special exception use to the Community Music School of Ann Arbor to operate at 1289 Jewett Ave., between South Industrial and Packard. It would allow the private music school to use the Clonlara School building with a maximum of 150 students at any time.

Jill Thacher, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jill Thacher of the city’s planning staff gave a report on the Community Music School request.

Clonlara School, a private K-12 institution, is located in a district zoned R1B (single family dwelling), which permits private schools if given a special exception use approval. Most of the surrounding properties are single-family homes or duplexes. Clonlara already has a special exception use to operate with a maximum of 150 students. No changes are planned for the exterior of Clonlara’s 16,900-square-foot, single-story building.

The music school will primarily use the facility on weekdays from 3:30-9 p.m., on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on occasional Sunday afternoons. Over the last three years, the music school has enrolled 220-250 students, but on an average day, only about 25-30 students come in for lessons.

Even if there were an overlap in classes between Clonlara and the music school, there could only be a total of 150 students in the building at the same time.

Clonlara School’s 2.46-acre site includes 22 parking spaces in a parking lot off Jewett Avenue, plus three spaces behind a rental house located north of the school building. A one-way drive runs north from Jewett to Rosewood Street.

The city’s traffic engineer reviewed this request and thought that the number of instructors and students on that site at any given time would have a negligible traffic impact. Jill Thacher of the city’s planning staff reported that there’s good public transportation access to that location, with a bus stop near the corner of Jewett and South Industrial, and other nearby stops on Packard. [.pdf of staff report]

Thacher said she’d received two calls from neighbors about this request, both of them inquiring about how loud the music would be. Clonlara windows don’t open, she noted, so that helps to contain sound. “They don’t intend to hold lessons outdoors on the site,” she added.

Community Music School: Public Hearing

Two people spoke during the public hearing, both in support of the special exception use.

Kasia Bielak-Hoops, Community Music School, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kasia Bielak-Hoops, executive director of the Community Music School (formerly the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts).

Kasia Bielak-Hoops, executive director of the Community Music School (formerly the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts), explained why the school would like to move to Clonlara. “We feel that it is an incredible capacity-building opportunity for us,” she said, and also an opportunity to collaborate with a similar organization.

The music school’s activities will not disturb the peace of the neighborhood, she said, and it might even be a resource to the community. She quoted from an email she’d received from a resident who lives on Jewett. The resident described the move as a “win-win” for the neighborhood, enlivening it with kids and families. Maybe some nearby residents would even sign up for classes.

Bielak-Hoops said she’d be happy to answer any questions that commissioners might have.

Martha Rhodes, Clonlara’s campus director, also described the compatibility of the two schools and their focus on lifelong learning. Clonlara has worked hard to become a “green” school, she said, and this change would continue that effort – because it would bring more activity to a large building that sits empty after 3:30 p.m. and on weekends.

The music school also offers the opportunity for deeper programming for Clonlara’s students, Rhodes said, “and an opportunity for both programs to grow together.” She hoped the commission would see it as a really good use of empty space, and would approve the special exception use.

Community Music School: Commission Discussion

Diane Giannola asked why the music school needed a special exception use, since there’s already an active special exception use for a school at that location.

Diane Giannola, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Diane Giannola.

Jill Thacher replied that music schools are considered to be different “because they make more noise than elementary schools,” though she joked that as someone with experience at elementary schools, she might challenge that assumption.

Jeremy Peters noted that he works in the music industry and has a degree in music, so he joked that his question will probably cause his friends to yell at him. He wondered if the school was planning to hold lessons for amplified instruments.

Kasia Bielak-Hoops replied that they do offer a jazz studies program that includes electric guitar. They also have a guitar teacher who gives lessons in both acoustic and electric guitar. “But the plan is to have it indoors,” she said.

Peters cautioned that the music school should be aware of possible concerns from neighbors over noise. He said it didn’t seem like that would be an issue, but he wanted to raise it since the city had heard from residents about it.

Responding to comments made during the public hearing, Kirk Westphal noted that the planning commission does like to see buildings used longer and parking lots filled more times during the day.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously granted the special exception use for the Community Music School.

Victoria Circle Annexation

The Aug. 19 agenda included a resolution to recommend the annexation and zoning of 2115 Victoria Circle, a half-acre vacant site west of Newport and north of M-14.

2115 Victoria Circle, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

2115 Victoria Circle.

If approved by the city council, the property would be annexed from Ann Arbor Township and zoned R1A (single family dwelling).

The owner, Abayomi Famurewa, wants to build a single-family home there and connect to the city’s public water and sanitary sewer service. The staff report notes that the city’s storm sewer system does not extend to that area at this point. [.pdf of staff report] Staff had recommended approval.

No one spoke during a public hearing on this item.

Victoria Circle Annexation: Commission Discussion

Sabra Briere noted that the city has recently annexed several properties on Victoria Circle. Homeowners in the adjacent neighborhood have concerns that driveways would lead onto Newport Creek or one of the nearby streets. She pointed out that the property under consideration looks like it could have a driveway onto Newport Creek. Briere wondered if the city has any restrictions on that type of thing.

City planner Alexis DiLeo replied that Newport Creek is a public street, and the number of curbcuts permitted for any particular property is based on the property’s frontage onto a road. She noted that the property didn’t actually connect to Newport Creek. She didn’t believe the 2115 Victoria Circle site had enough frontage to warrant two curbcuts on Victoria Circle.

Bonnie Bona observed that the property has public land on one side (the Riverwood Nature Area), as well as sites zoned for single-family dwelling (R1A) and two vacant lots zoned as planned unit developments (PUDs). She asked about the history of the PUDs. DiLeo replied those sites zoned PUD are city-owned parkland, though she could not recall why they were still zoned PUD. She explained that the sites are “virtually undevelopable,” because it would require a voter referendum to sell parkland.

Kirk Westphal asked if the city-owned PUD sites were used as cut-throughs to the nature area, and whether the property owner of 2115 Victoria Circle knew that people might use it for that purpose. DiLeo said she wasn’t sure on either count. Briere ventured that there’s not currently a trailhead at that location into the nature area. DiLeo replied that staff could mention it in the letter that would be sent to the owner after annexation is approved.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the annexation and zoning. The item will be forwarded to city council for consideration.

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Bonnie Bona, Sabra Briere, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods, Jeremy Peters.

Absent: Ken Clein.

Next meeting: Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 at 7 p.m. in council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]

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FM seniors tour Botanic Gardens

These pink-and-white glass leaves poking out of the ground are part of one of the sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly that Fort Morgan seniors got to see

One would expect to see exotic blooms, stems and branches during a trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens.

But some of the flora that 40 Fort Morgan seniors saw during their city-sponsored trip were far from natural beauty.

Through the end of November, the Botanic Gardens is hosting an art installation featuring glass sculptures by American artist Dale Chihuly, with the various sculptures placed among the plants.

Fort Morgan Special Events/Senior Center Coordinator Jane Perkins took the seniors to Denver for the special trip, which was free for the 55-and-up crowd.

They got to see Chihuly’s sculptures, which included everything from water features to towering glass sculptures, all in a bright neon colors or stark neutrals, contrasting or blending in with the natural colors of the living plants that surrounded them.

quot;Float Boatquot; is one of the art installations on display at the Denver Botanic Gardens that Fort Morgan seniors got to see during their Aug. 4

It was a long day for the seniors, though, what with wandering around the 24 acres of the gardens and seeing the flowers, plants and landscaping features, as well as the glass sculptures nestled in among plants or purposefully stealing the show from the living displays.

“People really enjoyed it, but they also said they were happy to come home,” Perkins said.

The group was there during the day, but the Botanic Gardens are open in the evening, too.

“I would love to go back and see the sculptures lit up at night,” Perkins said.

The Chihuly show is on display at the Denver Botanic Gardens through Nov. 30. For more information, visit” title=”

Another free trip

This was just one of the free trips the city’s Recreation Department is offering for seniors 55 and older.

The next one is on Sept. 16 to Greeley for a performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band at the Union Colony Civic Center.

The deadline to register for this trip is Sept. 12. Because seating for the trip is limited, the city encouraged early registration.

Fort Morgan seniors took a trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens Aug. 4. There, they had a chance to see the special show of the glass sculptures by artist

Seniors can sign up for this trip at the Fort Morgan Senior Center, 110 Sherman St., or the Armory Recreation Center, 528 State St.

For more information, call 970-542-3921 or visit www.cityoffortmorgan. com/recreation.

Contact Times Staff Writer Jenni Grubbs at, follow @JenniGrubbs on Twitter or check out

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Rain barrels help keep gardens healthy

By Patricia Faulhaber
The Suburbanite

Posted Aug. 30, 2014 @ 3:00 pm


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Ocean-friendly ideas flow during Ventura landscape tour

VENTURA, Calif. – With a serious drought in California that’s prompting water-conservation mandates, there’s a greater-than-ever need for landscaping that’s friendly to the ocean, according to the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation.

Creating landscaping that doesn’t use much water is an important part of the message of Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Gardens program, said Tyrone LaFay, of the foundation that’s devoted to protecting the ocean.

But it’s even more important to capture rainwater when it does fall so polluted runoff doesn’t foul the ocean, LaFay said.

A group of 15 people took a tour Saturday in Ventura’s midtown area to see examples, both good and bad, of what homeowners have done to address runoff issues in their yards.

LaFay, co-chairman of Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Gardens program, said workshops are offered about twice a year to introduce people to the concepts of CPR: conservation, permeability and retention.

LaFay said a variety of tools are available to homeowners, including replacing grass with mulch; planting vegetation that is native, drought-tolerant or adapted to a Mediterranean climate; and capturing rainwater. Ultimately, the idea is to retain as much water as possible before it runs off, bound for the ocean.

Southern California’s climate is marked by extended periods of drought interspersed with intense periods of heavy rain. As Ocean Friendly Gardens coordinator Paul Herzog pointed out, the idea historically in the region has been to channel rain off the streets and into the ocean as quickly as possible. But after an extended period of drought, the ground is covered with pollutants and the first three-quarters to 1 inch of rainfall carries so much pollution into the ocean that beaches are often closed because of health hazards from the runoff.

Among the features of an Ocean Friendly Garden are sloped culverts called bioswales where water will pool. The bioswales can be lined with rocks and certain types of plants that will filter the water slowly before it seeps into the ground, recharging aquifers and nourishing the soil.

As tour participants walked down Channel Drive in Ventura, they stopped at the home of Thomas and Cecilia Hanna, where the front yard was filled with a bed of mulch interspersed with various plants. Cecilia Hanna said her sons Christopher and Adrian had spent the summer tilling the yard and putting in the mulch and plants.

Herzog pointed out that the Hannas had done a good job on the yard, but there was room for improvement. There was no bioswale and some of the plants were invasive, Herzog said.

Christopher Hanna, who worked on the yard as a summer project before heading off to teach in Goleta, said it is frustrating to go to garden supply stores seeking information about plants to purchase because the salespeople often don’t know much more than he does. He was excited by the Ocean Friendly Gardens information.

Betsy Manninen, whose home on Del Camino Avenue was used as the gathering place for the neighborhood walk, said she and her husband, Scott, decided to create an Ocean Friendly Garden in their yard after working on a project at Will Rogers Elementary School. In that project, water-conservation measures were incorporated by a group of volunteers in an effort involving the Midtown Community Council, Surfrider and other organizations.

“We wanted to do that in our own yard,” she said.


For information about how to get Ocean Friendly Garden certification, maps of yards that have been transformed and more, go online to

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Gardening Tips: Renovating a fescue lawn

Matthew Stevens

Matthew Stevens

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2014 11:54 am

Gardening Tips: Renovating a fescue lawn

By Matthew Stevens

The Daily Herald, Roanoke Rapids, NC


Many types of grass can be grown in North Carolina. Warm season grasses, such as Bermuda and centipede, are most commonly found in Halifax County, due to the climate. However, cool-season grasses such as fescue can also be grown here. While not appropriate for all situations, fescue does quite well in landscapes providing the proper conditions and care. If you are thinking of seeding a new fescue lawn or renovating an existing fescue lawn, now is the time to act.

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Survival tips in the Garden City

Kaimin Arts+Culture

Kaimin Arts+Culture

Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2014 5:17 pm

Updated: 12:14 pm, Fri Aug 29, 2014.

Survival tips in the Garden City

Whether you were born and raised in the Garden City or you’ve just made it through your first week, being away from the nest can be tough.  Here are a handful of tips to survive your freshman year like a true Grizzly.

Caras Park

Located under the Higgins Street Bridge, it’s arguably the heartbeat of Missoula. With free live concerts, festivals and art shows you can expect entertainment at Caras.

24 hour dining

It’s 2:30 a.m. and you still have 60 pages of notes to go through when your stomach starts rumbling. Blackjack Pizza and Pita Pit deliver until 3 a.m., and Jimmy Johns delivers even later. If you have time to spare, the Oxford is downtown and famous for their chicken-fried steak served 24 hours.

Deals and steals

Don’t forget to flash those Griz Cards!  You’ll be surprised how many places offer student discounts like Goodwill, fitness centers and coffee shops, along with online stores like Amazon, Redbox, Adobe, Sony and even Levi’s.

Get your groceries

No one is arguing that Cup-of-Noodles isn’t a balanced meal, but it can get old.  So ask your mom for a healthy, homemade recipe and head to Albertsons, just across the Van Buren Street footbridge, or Orange Street Food Farm, also reachable by foot. If you’re a big fan of organic produce, the Good Food Store on Third Street is a local favorite.

I swear – it’s 99 cents!

No need to break the bank for back to school shopping. Missoula is home to over a dozen thrift and consignment shops. When its time to clean out the closet, Runway and My Sister’s Closet both on Brooks Street will buy certain brands of used clothing.

If you’re bored in Missoula, you’re doing it wrong. Check out for a list of everything happening in the Garden City.


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Updated: 12:14 pm.

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A late summer garden to-do list – Champaign/Urbana News


About this time of year in 2012 (after a summer of soul-sucking heat and drought), we had squat garden expectations. We craved to see a glimmer of life in our garden plants. Now in 2014 with a cooler and wetter summer, most plants are lush and lovely, except of course the plants that require hot and dry weather. Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor.

September is the month of second chances — a chance to plan and plant, dig and divide, to do all those things we didn’t do in our gardens in the spring.


— Transplant and divide most perennials. Plants not thriving? Move them to more or less sun as their requirements dictate. Check out Stepping Stones to Perennial Garden Design at

— This is the best time to divide peonies. Be sure to have three to five eyes (which resemble pink noses) per division. Replant into full sun areas so eyes are no more than 2 inches deep.

— Replant containers with frost-tolerant plants such as mums, pansies and flowering kale. Place old plants in the compost pile. No need to replace soil unless diseases were a problem.

— Plant mums into well-drained garden areas. Plant on a slight mound to provide proper drainage to get mums through the winter.

— Prepare houseplants for return trip indoors. Scout for insects. Thoroughly rinse leaves and containers. Move to a sheltered area such as porch.

— Begin two to three month dormancy for amaryllis bulbs. Do not water. Place in cool, dark place. Dormancy begins once leaves yellow.

— Purchase spring flowering bulbs for October planting.

— Discontinue rose fertilization. Remove diseased leaves.


— Harvest herbs such as sage and oregano by hanging clean stems upside down in dark space.

— Pot chives, oregano, basil or rosemary for winter use indoors.

— Order garlic bulbs for planting in mid-October. Try softneck and hardneck varieties.


— Mow to 2 inches and water as necessary.

— Fertilize in early September. This is the most important application of the year.

— Reseed bare or thin areas with improved cultivars. Consider renting a slit seeder to get seed down into soil of existing lawns.

— Reduce thatch if more than one half inch by using core aerifiers or vertical mowers.

— Core aerifiers may be used to reduce soil compaction.

— Establish turf by seed (best time). Prepare soil properly and get good seed to soil contact. Select turf mixes and blends appropriate to the site and to maintenance practices. Check out


— Continue harvesting vegetables to keep plants productive.

— Add compost to garden beds.

— Pumpkins and winter squash should have hard rind before harvesting.

— Seed bare areas with winter rye or barley for a winter cover crop.

— Spinach and other leafy crops can be planted for a fall crop.


— Plant most trees and shrubs. Be sure not to plant too deep. Trunk flare should be visible after planting.

— Water trees and shrubs if needed. Plants, especially evergreens, should be well-hydrated entering winter.

— No need to worry about white pine trees that naturally drop many of their interior needles in fall.

— Avoid severe pruning now if possible. Wait until February or March for most trees and shrubs. Spring bloomers should be pruned immediately after bloom.

— Pick bagworms from evergreens. Pesticide sprays are not effective at this time. Spray with Btk products such as Dipel or Thuricide next year in mid- to late June.


— Prepare soil now for a spring planting of blueberries or rhododendrons. A soil test will indicate how much sulfur to add to lower the pH to 4.8-5.2. Also, add plenty of organic matter such as leaf compost.

Sandra Mason is unit educator, horticulture and environment, for UI Extension, Champaign County. Contact her at 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign, IL 61821, call 333-7672, email or fax 333-7683.

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Kiun-Kaku: a garden of elegant period taste

Despite the seasonal limitations for visiting, the Atami Baien, a plum garden, is a better-known sight that the Kiun-Kaku garden, which is an all-seasons landscape also found in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture. Perhaps it is the thirst for scale that has prioritized the plum trees in their large hillside park setting. The trend toward Western-style landscapes, especially European-style ones with strong English horticultural features, draws other visitors to the town’s Akao Herb and Rose Garden.

The Kiun-Kaku is not a major garden, but neither is it obscurely minor. The ownership of decently sized plots such as this in Japan has been, and remains, the prerogative of the affluent. Japanese developers, particularly in increasingly urbanized areas like Atami, have always coveted gardens, which occupy precious real estate. The new wealthy class that commissioned the building of gardens such as Kiun-Kaku were often business leaders, an empowered nouveau riche with an interest in Western styles of gardening, but with an abiding nostalgia for late Edo Period (1603-1867) aristocratic gardens, and the early Meiji Era (1868-1912) landscapes of their youth. While it was originally built by a shipping magnate in 1919, the railroad tycoon Kaichiro Nezu, added extra touches during the 1930s.

Referring to the lush diversity of the natural landscape in this country, and its reshaping by man, the English poet James Kirkup wrote of the “neat, tremendous garden of Japan.” Creating order from the unmanaged elements of nature had a special appeal to Japan’s wealthy, who were the new architects of change.

By the time Kiun-Kaku was conceived, some of the infatuation with Western gardens and design forms had waned, and landscape designers were once again reasserting their identity by integrating both foreign and indigenous forms in their projects. This pliability is perfectly acceptable in garden design, providing the results are inspiring. Teiji Itoh, an important garden scholar, wrote that it was permissible to see “distorted versions of foreign ideas existing side by side with primitive, indigenous garden forms.”

Although lawns had been grown in Japanese gardens such as Korakuen in Okayama City, and as grass mounds in landscapes like the Suizenji Joju-en, an Edo Period garden in Kumamoto, lawns were used in the grounds of villas such as the Kiun-Kaku to promote the feeling of a parkland.

In an interesting fusion of the Heian Period (794-1185) passion for flowering plants, shrubs and trees and a comparable fondness for such things in the West, a greater diversity of vegetation appeared in Japanese gardens from the Meiji to Taisho (1912-26) years. There always seems to be something to look at in the grounds of the Kiun-Kaku, with azaleas, wisteria, Japanese quince and fragrant olive among the flowering shrubs and bushes. Many of the garden’s miniature foreground trees, and taller ones lending background and peripheral density, are evergreens.

Unlike the circuit gardens of the Edo period, or some of the better-appointed temple gardens of Kyoto, there are no shakkei (“borrowed views” of the surrounding landscape) here. The garden enfolds upon itself, promoting an air of privacy and privilege. The presence of atypically large stone lanterns, almost oversized kutsu-nugi-ishi (shoe-removing stones) and raised water basins align the garden with the touch of hubris that made such objects status symbols during the late Meiji and Taisho eras.

Parts of the garden, particularly the sloping lawns segmented by winding stone paths leading to shallow ponds, bear a striking resemblance to the Seifu-so in Kyoto, a property currently managed by Kyoto University. Clearly, there was a good deal of cross-fertilization during this period, aided by improved transportation systems, which provided designers with more opportunities to view gardens.

There are some minor lapses of taste here, such as the inclusion of a bronze crane statue, its figure stooping over the edge of a pond, but discernment wins out in the overall scheme of the garden. And the fusion of interior and exterior, a feature of Japanese gardens and structures such as temples and private homes, is skillfully managed.

Scale and congruity are as well considered in the compositions of gardens as they are in the traditional architecture of Japan. In the best instances, environment and architecture converge. The harmony between interior and exterior is achieved with some interesting materials and design touches at Kiun-Kaku. Instead of the customary expanse of tatami mats, cantilevered above the garden like an infinity pool, here we have small colored floor tiles, lending a neo-Moorish atmosphere to one room. Somehow, where you would expect opposition, symbiosis is achieved.

The garden, then, is a Taisho creation with the residual characteristics of more dominant Meiji Era designs. The period in which the garden was made is notable for its poor level of garden scholarship, which had come to a virtual standstill at the time. Japanese garden design was no longer regarded as an art. Gifted garden designers were liberated from the models of the past, the less talented free to create substandard works.

In this aesthetic and conceptual hiatus, themes, symbolism and abstraction receded, as the gardens of the newly wealthy reverted to their Heian Period purpose of being extensions of aristocratic homes. If there was any theme at all during this period of early 20th century Japanese garden design, it was the transition of nature as art to naturalism. As garden scholar Gunter Nitschke expressed it, “The selective, reductive, abstractive hand of the designer was to remain hidden so that the garden might appear a perfect icon of nature.”

Mercifully, the Kiun-Kaku is a meticulously conceived work, one that took into account not just the wishes of its owners, but the natural landscape that forms this well-ventilated plot. To design gardens such as this, fully exploiting a sloping terrain, you have to be both planner and field technician.

The use of water in townhouse gardens was something of an innovative step in the Meiji Period, retaining its novelty value up to the time when the Kiun-Kaku landscape was created. When this garden was completed, the slopes of Atami were far less congested than they are today with the effects of urban encroachment. A popular location for the second homes of the wealthy, and smaller but exquisite residential garden plots of writers such as Junichiro Tanizaki, Atami boasted at that time a good deal more evidence of nature. Kiun-Kaku, with its self-contained serenity, has managed to preserve the tastes and values of that period.

4-2 Showa-cho, Atami-shi, Shizuoka-ken; 0557-86-3101;; open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Wed.); ¥500. Stephen Mansfield’s latest book is “Japan’s Master Gardens: Lessons in Space and Environment.”

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Last week I read a short, brutally honest and refreshingly hard-hitting book titled “Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major,” by Aaron Clarey.

According to the blurb on “‘Worthless’ delivers a blunt and real-world assessment about the economic realities and consequences of choosing various degrees with a necessary and tough fatherly love. Don’t lie to yourself. And certainly don’t waste four years of your youth and thousands of dollars in tuition on a worthless degree.”

The book more than lived up to its title. Seldom have I seen the college industry laid out with such harsh honesty – and I mean that in the best sense of the word.

The big concept this author attempts to convey is to match supply with demand. Don’t waste time and money getting useless degrees for which there is no need. There are far more degreed individuals than there are well-paying jobs to employ them, which is why so many college graduates can’t find jobs commensurate with their education.

The author warns young people that it isn’t just the unemployment rate they should be worried about; it’s the underemployment rate. Y’know, the barista working at Starbucks with a master’s degree in gender studies who has $90,000 in student loans weighing her down.

Clarey lists some sample fields of study: international studies, sociology, nonprofit administration, African studies, English, psychology, elementary education, arts and architectural history. He points out that every single one of these graduates will be lucky to work as baristas at Starbucks for one simple reason: There is no demand for graduates in these fields.

I don’t care how interesting, worthy, compassionate or intellectually stimulating these areas of study are. The brutal, ugly truth is, no one is in a position to pay a living wage for them, so graduates will be cut adrift the moment they leave the artificial environment of college.

The author illustrates this point by highlighting a news article about a young art teacher who returned to graduate school and spent three years and $35,000 to get his master’s degree in – are you ready for this? – puppetry.

At best, graduates in “useless” fields may find work in what Clarey calls “the circle of why bother” in which “the primary form of employment … is to simply re-teach it to future students.” He points out that these fields have no practical application outside of academia and, therefore, have no value in the marketplace.

Learn how to achieve a simple lifestyle without “going green” or joining a monastery. Read Patrice Lewis’ helpful book, “The Simplicity Primer: 365 Ideas for Making Life more Livable”

It’s not hard to figure out what’s worthwhile studying in college. Simply look at who’s hiring. Go through the want ads and figure out what businesses or companies are shelling out $50,000 in starting salaries and benefits. I see nurses, I see accountants, I see physicians, I see engineers, I see clerical and construction and data entry and computer programming and landscaping and truck driving. I never see ads in the fields of history, gender or women’s studies, peace studies, hyphenated-American studies, theater majors or literature experts. Why is that, do you suppose?

As young people face the challenge of what to do in their adult lives, they must be practical, not idealistic. They can get away with idealism when they’re being supported by Mom and Dad (or by student loans), but once they’re out on their own, they’d darn well better have some marketable skills. And no matter how you slice it, degrees in gender studies or puppetry simply aren’t marketable. Even journalism and education, traditionally marketable subjects, are feeling the pinch of too many applicants and too few openings.

If someone isn’t inclined to study a hard STEM subject (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine) or another field with a high employment rate (such as accounting or nursing), then young people would be far better off creating their own employment or going to a technical or trade school to learn an in-demand skill.

We have many friends with children graduating high school and making decisions about their futures. One young man is learning to be a diesel mechanic. Another went to trade school to learn car upholstery. Yet another is becoming a butcher. These are highly-skilled trades that society will always need.

Yet ironically, many liberal arts graduates will actually look down at plumbers or welders or electricians or mechanics, who are making four times their salary, simply because these fields don’t have elegant letters after their names. However, as one recent grad named Andria (who has an “honors BA in social justice and peace studies” and a master’s degree in gender studies) lamented: “I have a honors BA and I’m defending my MA thesis in two weeks. I am also apply[ing] for jobs and I can only find stuff in the service industry. I applied for a hotel front desk clerk job today. My degrees mean NOTHING. I am at the end of my rope.”

Perhaps Andria should have become a plumber. Better job prospects, Andria.

The litmus test Clarey recommends is this: Take your area of interest (and/or study) and ask yourself, “Can I get the exact same education by either buying a product or doing it myself?”

Endless people have educated themselves and achieved career success without “formally” studying such things as foreign languages, journalism, business, education, leadership, advertising, theater, writing, broadcasting and sales.

The day of college just for college’s sake is past. The cost of college has surged 500 percent since 1985, making these worthless degrees even more worthless (and expensive). In the case of Andria, some degrees even have a negative value.

Perhaps this makes me sound like I loathe the liberal arts or higher education in general. Nothing could be further from the truth. My husband and I both have master’s degrees in the sciences. We have a private library of over 5,000 books. We have a lively interest in the arts, music, history, psychology, economics, politics and, yes, even feminism. We just didn’t waste our time or money getting worthless, unemployable degrees in those subjects.

Oh, and what are we doing with our science degrees? Nothing. We have a home woodcraft business. That’s reality, folks.

We’re reaching a point in our country where the economy is in deep, deep trouble. My advice for young people is this: Unless you’re entering a highly marketable field, then save yourself from acquiring the burden of debt caused by studying a useless subject. Instead, spend those four (or more) years apprenticing, attending a trade school, developing a work ethic, acquiring skills and talents and otherwise making yourself saleable in a harsh economy.

College will always be there.

Media wishing to interview Patrice Lewis, please contact

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