Traverse City News and Events

City Approves Hall Street Apartment Complex

By Beth Milligan | March 17, 2021

Traverse City planning commissioners Tuesday gave the green light for a new 88-unit, six-story apartment complex to be built on vacant property on Hall Street in downtown Traverse City.

Innovo – the development group behind the recently constructed Breakwater apartment complex on Garland Street in the Warehouse District – plans to build a second complex nearby on two vacant parcels at 125 and 145 Hall Street between The Candle Factory and the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) transfer station. The mixed-use development will include over 2,100 square feet of commercial space on the first floor and 88 apartments on the second through sixth floors, as well as an on-site, three-story parking garage.

The project, which is an allowed use by right on the property, requires planning commission approval of its site plan due to estimates that the development will generate over 500 trip-ends per day. The project first appeared before planning commissioners at their February 17 meeting, where they requested more information on several aspects of the development before approving it, including details on lighting and landscaping plans and a legal opinion from the city attorney on how the building’s height will be measured.

Height is an important factor because of Proposal 3, a city charter provision approved by voters in 2016 that requires a public vote on any buildings over 60 feet tall. Since its adoption, the rule has prompted several developers to build just under 60 feet to avoid triggering an election; that is also the case with the new Hall Street project. But commissioners and some members of the public noted the planned building’s rooftop mechanical equipment stretches taller than 60 feet and wondered whether that would trigger the charter requirement.

In a legal analysis, City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht noted that a city policy outlining how the charter amendment should be implemented specifies that building height is to be measured according to the city zoning code. The zoning code does not count rooftop mechanical equipment, instead measuring projects like the Hall Street building at the roof deck line. Trible-Laucht said the planning commission could approve the new building without a public vote, as the city has done for other recent projects including the new 4Front Credit Union headquarters at the corner of West Front and Pine streets.

Planning commissioners talked through other aspects of the project Tuesday with David VanderKlok of Studio Intrigue, the architectural firm for the development and the same design group behind Breakwater.  VanderKlok said Innovo was committed to helping the city meet its goal of increasing downtown housing by heavily focusing on studio apartments at both Breakwater and the Hall Street property, with the smaller size increasing the number and affordability of units and thus being more accessible to downtown workers. “It’s a great win-win project for the property owners and the city,” he said. Though both developments are located in commercial zones where short-term vacation rentals are allowed, VanderKlok emphasized that such rentals are banned at Breakwater and will also be banned at the Hall Street site. “We don’t want them,” he said. “The leases absolutely forbid them.”

City staff and planning commissioners were generally supportive of the development, with Downtown Development Authority (DDA) CEO Jean Derenzy stating it would bring “12-month livability to the downtown.” Pointing to updated lighting and landscaping plans provided to planning commissioners since their last meeting – as well as proposed amenities like bocce courts and other rooftop recreation facilities – City Commissioner Christie Minervini said: “I love the way (the project) looks. l love the layout.” Planning Commission Chair David Hassing also found the building attractive and said he appreciated design components like green roofs, rain gardens, and electric vehicle charging stations. He also praised the planned ban on short-term rentals. “Instead, the project is looking to bring long-term housing at reasonable rates in small sizes that can accommodate over 100 people right there within walking distance of everything in downtown Traverse City,” he said.

Planning commissioners voted 6-1 to approve the project, with Secretary Heather Shaw opposed and AnnaMarie Dituri absent. Shaw cited concerns about a lack of detail in the site’s stormwater plan as the reason for her opposition. Shaw also expressed concern that the city would face a legal challenge over the building’s measured height, but said that did not influence her vote. VanderKlok noted that stormwater would be carefully managed on the property due to its status as a contaminated brownfield site, with city engineering having final sign-off on the stormwater plan. Planning commissioners attached several conditions to their site plan approval Tuesday, including that Innovo must work with city staff on utility extensions and service lines and work with the DDA on developing and installing new public streetscape for the full width of the property, including potential heated sidewalks.

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