Traverse City News and Events

BATA-Housing Commission Project Returns For Township Approval

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 9, 2022

Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) and the Traverse City Housing Commission (TCHC) will return to Garfield Township planning commissioners tonight (Wednesday) for final approval on plans to build a transit and housing complex on LaFranier Road that would house new BATA headquarters and a transfer station, an estimated $52 million workforce housing complex, and a café and childcare center. Planning commissioners tonight will also discuss township housing and growth trends ahead of an upcoming master plan update at their 7pm meeting at Garfield Township Hall.

BATA/TCHC Project
After receiving preliminary approval last year for a planned unit development (PUD) – or a zoning plan tailored to a specific property – for a new transit-oriented mixed-use complex on LaFranier Road, BATA and the TC Housing Commission are seeking final PUD approval from Garfield Township that will allow them to finalize the property purchase by summer and begin construction on the site.

The project partners will go first to township planning commissioners and then township trustees for final PUD approval, which requires proving that they’ve met several conditions since preliminary approval, including completing wetland delineations, engineering reviews, parking plans, and easement agreements with neighboring properties. A staff memo to planning commissioners indicates those conditions have been met and recommends final approval. The PUD calls for BATA to build a 12,000 square-foot administration and dispatch building, 16,000 square-foot bus maintenance facility, 56,000 square-foot bus storage garage, 400 square-foot bathroom facility, and a transfer station with three 300-square-foot shelters.

TCHC’s side of the project, an estimated $52 million workforce housing complex called The Flats at Carriage Commons (pictured), calls for building 210 multi-family residential units in five three-story buildings, with a tentative breakdown of 100 studio units, 70 one-bedroom units, and 40 two-bedroom units. Another 15 single-family residential lots are planned, for a total 225 residences. The partners also hope to include a childcare center and café on the property, which would be run by outside vendors.

One key outstanding issue remains the timing of construction between the transit and housing sides of the project. Garfield Township leaders have made it clear in the past – and appear poised to include it as a condition of final PUD approval, based on the staff memo – that significant progress must be made on the housing side before BATA can begin building out the transit side, as workforce housing is seen as a crucial part of the project. The TCHC project – one of the largest and costliest in the organization’s history – is dependent on outside funding sources to proceed. TCHC applied to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) for funding in October and expressed optimism at the time they’d be approved, but recently learned the applications were unsuccessful. “They just run out of money at some point,” says TCHC Executive Director Tony Lentych, referring to fierce statewide competition for MSHDA funds.

TCHC will apply again on April 1 for the next round of MSHDA funding. “We are also looking for other sources of funding from both MEDC (Michigan Economic Development Corporation) and MSHDA,” says Lentych. “We still want to start construction at some point this summer. Having the final PUD approval will really help us move forward.” BATA Executive Director Kelly Dunham acknowledges that TCHC funding uncertainties do “slow the BATA construction timeline down a little bit,” but says her organization is focused on helping TCHC secure funding for at least phase one of residential construction before turning attention to BATA’s own buildout. BATA was awarded a $13.3 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration for the new transit facility that must be used by April 2024, the primary deadline hanging overhead. “We think we can make it work,” says Dunham. “We would be focused on getting site prep done this year…and hopefully breaking ground next spring.”

Township Trends
Planning commissioners will review several housing and growth trends in Garfield Township tonight ahead of a joint February 23 meeting with township trustees and a planned update of the township master plan next year. According to a staff memo, as of January 1 Garfield Township has a population of 20,274, making it the most populated township in northern Michigan. In the last three years, the number of township property sales have been at the highest point ever, with the majority selling at or above listing price. Over 1,100 new housing units have been approved in the last three years, 97 percent of which are multi-family residential. In that same time period, 817 building permits have been issued in Garfield Township, for a total construction value of over $152 million.

According to the staff report, 42 percent of all rental units in Grand Traverse County are located in Garfield Township – more than any other community. The township has approved 14 payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements extending tax breaks to developers for constructing workforce and affordable housing; over 13 percent of all township housing units are located within a PILOT project. Staff noted the township “has stood strong in not permitting short-term rentals in residential zoning districts, which dilute housing opportunities for local owners and renters.”

In other township trends, the report notes that parks and trail development remain a priority, with over 40 miles of trails and sidewalks in place and efforts underway to redevelop the township’s sixth and newest park, River East. Staff also noted that the township’s master plan “identifies a significant opportunity for a 40-acre mixed-use town center with the redevelopment of the Cherryland Center.” The report adds that “the significant amount of new housing in the area, especially along LaFranier Road, will help support the town center” if such a project comes to fruition.

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