Traverse City News and Events

Acme Prepares to Close on Ascom Building, Considers Allowing ADUs

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 27, 2024

It’s a busy time in Acme Township as officials prepare to close on the purchase of the Ascom building on US-31 North this week  – which will serve as a new township hall and community gathering space – and are reviewing possible rule changes to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the township.

Ascom Building
After walking away several months ago from purchasing the former Bertha Vos Elementary School, Acme Township leaders voted last week to finalize a deal for the Ascom office building at 6100 US-31 North. Acme is set to close on the property purchase Wednesday, according to Township Supervisor Doug White.

Acme is buying the property for $695,000, with the goal of converting it into the township’s new hall. The Ascom building (pictured) is significantly smaller than Bertha Vos at 4,608 square feet (plus another 4,608 square-foot basement) – but has more modern infrastructure, needs significantly fewer renovations, and is almost double the size of the current township hall. The building will allow Acme to fulfill its primary goal of expanding township meeting space at a lower price tag, township officials say. The township meeting room can only hold 43 people now; if 44 people show up, meetings must be shut down. That has required the township to secure other off-site locations for meetings when high-profile topics are on the agenda. The Ascom building will double Acme’s meeting capacity.

The township has the funds in place for the building purchase – including almost a half million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds – and won’t need to borrow to cover it, according to White. With closing costs factored in, the deal is likely to end up in the low to mid-$700,000s.

Next steps will include a March 5 board meeting in which trustees will discuss a draft “action plan” for the building – created by Trustees Jean Aukerman and Dale Stevens – outlining goals for its conversion and use. There are three main components of the building, Aukerman says: the offices, the township meeting room/community room, and the lower level. The plan looks at “how we get those three parts from where they are today in a cost-effective way to be functional and move-in ready,” Aukerman explains. “When we mapped it out, we believe there’s a way that (move-in) can happen in 2024.”

Acme will also look at programming. Aukerman says community groups like Traverse Area District Library, the Grand Traverse County Senior Center Network, and Northwestern Michigan College are all still interested in offering programming in the building. Rather than have dedicated space – as was envisioned at Bertha Vos – those groups will utilize the community room when not in use for township meetings. “We will have a meeting of the minds (on programming), so that it can be community-driven,” Aukerman says. The existing tenants in the Ascom building are on month-to-month leases and are in the process of securing locations elsewhere, with the township working with them on a timeline for moving, according to White.

ADUs
Acme Township planning commissioners held a public hearing last week and will gather information from surrounding municipalities ahead of continued discussion next month on possible zoning changes to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

ADUs have increasingly been explored by communities as another tool in the toolbox to address the housing shortage. Acme’s proposed rules, which are still being drafted, would prohibit ADUs from being used as short-term or vacation rentals and require the owner to live on-site in either the primary residence or the ADU. ADUs would have a minimum size of 350 square feet and a maximum size of 600 square feet or the size of the principal residence, whichever is less. Only one ADU would be allowed per parcel – with one off-street parking space required per ADU – and require a minimum tenancy of six months.

The draft rules state manufactured homes or mobile homes can’t be used as ADUs. At least one person pushed back on that in public comment, but Planning Commission Chair Karly Wentzloff tells The Ticker that the goal of ADUs is they’re “harmonious with the existing structure. Hauling in a trailer and sticking it in the backyard and calling it an ADU is not making it an accessory to the current structure.” Other rules try to address that harmonious relationship, stating that ADU building materials and designs “shall be of a similar architectural style as that of the principal dwelling.”

The rules as drafted would cap new ADUs in Acme Township at 12 per year. Some housing advocates have argued against having a cap, pointing to communities like Traverse City that have eliminated caps in an effort to encourage more housing. But with ADUs being new to Acme – and concerns shared by residents about a possible proliferation of short-term rentals even if they’re banned under the policy – Wentzloff says township officials are trying to start slow.

“Once you let Pandora’s box open, it’s hard to shove it back in,” she says. “We’ve had people asking for (ADUs), so here’s a way to see how it ends up getting utilized. If it creates a huge problem for enforcement, or there are problems we can’t foresee, we’d have to address it – either revising the ordinance or not allowing them.”

Aukerman says some of the public input last week prompted her to ask for more discussion at the planning commission’s March 11 meeting before the draft ordinance is sent to township trustees. 

“The board is going to ask some questions, so I wanted to think ahead to what some of those might be,” Aukerman says. “I just heard in our audience that people had some ideas that perhaps hadn’t been captured in our draft...like maybe starting with (allowing ADUs) in certain parts of the township, but not all areas. I’m learning with everyone else on this, so I just want to talk to more people and see if there are any gaps that aren’t obvious to me.”

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