Traverse City News and Events

City Commission Approves Recreational Marijuana Ordinance, Letter Of Understanding For Grandview Parkway Redesign

By Craig Manning | May 17, 2022

In a marathon meeting that stretched from 7pm to nearly midnight on Monday evening, Traverse City commissioners made long-awaited decisions regarding Grandview Parkway and recreational marijuana, held a public hearing on the 2022-2023 city budget, and heard public comment on subjects ranging from fire department staff shortages to pedestrian safety and accessibility. The decisions made at the meeting pave the way forward for both the finalization of a new Grandview Parkway design and the long-delayed adoption of adult-use marijuana within city limits, as well as for a longer and more in-depth budget discussion scheduled for next week.

Grandview Parkway 

Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of adopting a resolution approving a letter of understanding between the City of Traverse City and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), regarding the reconstruction of Grandview Parkway.

The letter of understanding effectively affirms a partnership between the city and MDOT to move forward with the design, bid letting, and reconstruction of the roadway. The approval comes after months of back and forth between the city and MDOT, including a disagreement about whether MDOT had full authority over the roadway or if the City of Traverse City had any say in the redesign and reconstruction of the state trunkline. In March, an outside attorney hired by the city determined that a 1947 agreement between the city and MDOT was still valid and meant that neither party could undertake construction of the roadway “without full approval and consent by the other interested party.”

Since that determination, the city and MDOT have “engaged in the planning and design of said improvements with the intent to slow traffic and improve the infrastructure for all users and for the community,” per the resolution put before city commissioners on Monday evening. The resolution states that the city and MDOT “will continue advancing good faith efforts currently underway for this mutually beneficial project,” and that both parties will look specifically for opportunities to incorporate both “pedestrian scale lighting and sidewalks along the project corridor” and “elements…intended to slow traffic and increase safety for all users.”

The approval of the letter of understanding proved to be a controversial topic at Monday’s evening, igniting considerable back-and-forth amongst commissioners and impassioned public comment from locals on both sides of the debate. Commissioner Tim Werner, who cast the lone “no” vote for the resolution, argued that the design plan for the new Grandview Parkway as it currently stands does “very little for our most vulnerable users,” meaning cyclists and pedestrians. While the design incorporates pedestrian islands, a new stoplight and pedestrian crossing at the Grandview Parkway/East Front Street intersection, and the potential for narrower 10.5-foot lanes (pending approval from the Federal Highway Administration), Werner felt it didn’t do enough to change the status quo of Grandview Parkway from the high-speed, pedestrian-unfriendly roadway it is today. “From Garfield all the way to Division, there’s only one win [for non-motorists],” he said, referring to the new crossing at Grandview and East Front.

Several public commenters agreed with Werner, including prominent pro-bike, pro-walk advocates like Ty Schmidt (formerly of Norte) and Bob Otwell (a former TART Trails executive director). Schmidt called the matter “the decision of a generation” and something that “is going to shape our town for 60 years,” and suggested that approving the letter of understanding would cost the city any remaining leverage it has to demand changes to the tentative design plan. “If you’re not confident that we can get that variance [for 10.5-foot lanes], do not vote yes on this tonight,” Schmidt urged. Otwell, meanwhile, said the Grandview Parkway redesign as it stands right now is “mostly the same road we’ve had for decades” and encouraged the city to push for more changes.

Despite the pushback, commissioners ultimately voted to approve the letter of understanding. Most admitted that the design wasn’t perfect – and that they shared Werner’s wish for a more pedestrian-friendly Grandview Parkway than what MDOT has outlined – but also stressed the importance of compromise. Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe, for instance, noted that “This is money that is gone, this is an opportunity that is gone” without approval of the letter of understanding. MDOT has indicated that, without a mutual agreement to move forward, it would walk away from this project and reallocate the approximately $20 million it has budgeted for Grandview Parkway to other needs throughout the region. With MDOT’s budget and project slate tentatively sketched out to 2028, that would likely mean another chance at revamping Grandview Parkway wouldn’t come around until the end of the decade at the earliest.

The city and MDOT will now work to finalize the redesign plan for Grandview Parkway, which consultant Chris Zull told commissioners is 95 percent complete at this point in time, with only minor tweaks and changes likely going forward. MDOT’s goal, Zull said, is to target November 2022 for a bid letting on the project, with construction commencing post-Labor Day 2023 – though the bulk of the work will happen in the summer of 2024.

Recreational Marijuana 

After making and voting down multiple motions on the subject of recreational marijuana, commissioners ultimately approved an adult-use ordinance that provides for 24 licenses spread across five overlay district zones. The ordinance, as approved, is very similar to the one previously drafted by an ad hoc committee and recommended by the planning commission.

Commissioners briefly debated making changes to the planning commission’s recommended ordinance, whether by eliminating a cap on license numbers, or by tweaking the scoring rubric for awarding licenses to give less priority to existing medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. But with some commissioners staunchly opposed to an uncapped permit situation – Werner wanted 8-10, Mayor Richard Lewis wanted four, and Shamroe said she was unwilling to vote for anything without a limit – the commission eventually circled back to the planning commission’s original draft ordinance.

With the approval, the city will likely be ready to start accepting applications for recreational marijuana dispensaries in June or July, with permits issued by late summer or early fall.

Budget 

The public hearing for the city’s budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23 consisted largely of public comment, with commentors zeroing in on two core topics. The first was a request from the Traverse City Fire Department to put dollars in the budget for three more firefighters. The second was to allocate funding for two new volleyball courts at West End Beach. The city is required to adopt a budget by no later than June 6, and will discuss last night’s public input – among other considerations – at a study session scheduled for next Monday, May 23. Commissioners will vote formally on the budget at a meeting on June 6.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that MDOT was seeking a federal variance for 10-foot lanes on Grandview Parkway. MDOT North Region Communications Representative James Lake tells The Ticker that the variance the department is seeking is in fact 10.5 feet, not 10 feet.

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