Traverse City News and Events

City Approves Kayak Site, Coal Tar Ban; Vote Coming On Short-Term Rentals

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 4, 2020

Paddlers on the Boardman River will have a new portage spot in downtown Traverse City for the next two years after city commissioners Monday approved designating American Legion Park as an exit point during FishPass construction at the Union Street Dam. The vote also extends an agreement with river tour operator Troy Daily to continue operating brewery kayak tours on the Boardman through 2024, with Daily increasing his annual fees to the city and funding the planned improvements to American Legion Park.

City staff studied several potential sites that could serve as an exit point for kayakers on the lower Boardman while the Union Street Dam is closed for reconstruction, a project that could begin as soon as this summer and take up to two years to complete. The city is legally required to provide a portage option to paddlers around the dam area. In addition to American Legion Park, other options considered by staff included the dock near the Governmental Center, a landing near Midtown condominiums just west of the Eighth Street bridge, Hannah Park, and the riverbank near the U.S. Post Office parking lot.

City Clerk Benjamin Marentette said the last two options – suggestions made by the public – were eliminated since they’re both west of the Union Street Dam. Midtown residents overwhelmingly opposed using the landing near their homes as a public portage spot, and the Governmental Center was ruled out because of challenges meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Providing an ADA-compliant portage spot at the Governmental Center would require building a nearly 400-foot winding trail at the property due to its steep grading. The Governmental Center parking lot is also difficult for kayak trailers to navigate and is filled to capacity during weekdays, Marentette said.

American Legion Park – the last remaining option – also has its challenges, Marentette acknowledged. Neighboring residents and business owners worried at a January 23 open house that the park is “not designed for heavy use” and should be a “quiet place that honors those that have served in the military.” Nearby Cass and Washington streets experience high traffic volumes, which could pose issues with kayakers trying to portage; two on-street parking spots will also be monopolized to create a loading zone. But commissioners agreed the park was the best option of those available to the city, serving as a short-term fix until FishPass is complete.

“I don’t love the American Legion solution,” said Commissioner Christie Minervini. “It’s not as elegant as what we would all like. But it’s also a two-year patch until we have something permanent and more desirable.”

Owner Troy Daily of Paddle For Pints and Kayak, Bike & Brew – two companies that offer local brewery tours incorporating kayak trips down the lower Boardman River – first raised the issue with city staff of finding a new portage site. Daily offered to pay for approximately $4,000 in improvements to American Legion Park to make the site suitable, including the construction of public stairs down to the river, a kayak ramp, and removal of some invasive shrubs and small trees. Those improvements are set to take place this spring. American Legion will become the official exit point on the lower Boardman as soon as FishPass construction begins, which City Manager Marty Colburn said could start as soon as June. River users will also have to contend with temporary river closures when the Eighth Street and Cass bridges are replaced (start dates for those projects have not yet been finalized). But City Engineer Tim Lodge told commissioners he believed the American Legion portage site could remain in operation even while the Cass Street bridge is closed.

As part of their vote Monday, commissioners approved a new contract with Daily that will increase his annual fee from $10,000 to $40,000 this year to cover his use of city parks – a figure that will increase by five percent each year through 2024 – and also caps his annual number of tour participants at 8,200 paddlers. Past proposals with the city had that figure as high as 20,000 potential paddlers annually. Several commissioners noted that their decision to designate American Legion Park as a portage spot wasn’t based on accommodating Daily’s business operations, but rather the need to provide an exit for all public users of the river during the dam reconstruction.

“If this was just to accommodate a business owner, I wouldn’t be in favor of it,” said Commissioner Brian McGillivary. “But I see this as a benefit to the public for increasing use of this park.” Commissioner Amy Shamroe added that she believed improvements to American Legion – including those to provide shore stabilization and combat erosion – would protect the park from degradation. “My concern is the environment, and my concern is what’s going to happen over the next two years while the (dam) is closed,” she said. “I see all roads pointing to people getting out at American Legion Park whether we make it accessible for them or not…the fact Mr. Daily is willing to pony up some of the expense of making that accessible is a bonus to me.”

Also at Monday’s meeting…
Commissioners Monday also approved a new ordinance change banning the use of coal tar sealants citywide. The city has already banned its own departments from using such products, which are typically used in paving driveways, parking lots, and roads and contain hazardous chemicals linked to elevated cancer risks and other adverse human health and environmental effects. Expanding the ban citywide now means private contractors and homeowners are also prohibited from using coal tar sealants, while retailers are banned from selling them.

The new policy includes registration and penalty rules, added to address commission concerns about how the ordinance will be enforced. All commercial sealer product applicators will be required to register with the city before applying sealants on paved surfaces in city limits. The one-time process includes a $40 fee and requires companies to verify the types of products they use and agree to comply with the city ban on coal tar sealants. Any person or business found violating the policy faces a penalty of $1,000 for a first violation and $7,500 for subsequent violations. The fees are designed in part to help offset city costs for testing pavement to determine if coal tar is present when violations are suspected. The citywide ban goes into effect February 13.

Commissioners also agreed Monday to hold a study session next week (February 10) regarding proposed changes to the city’s ordinance that would ban short-term rentals in several commercial districts. Planning commissioners voted earlier this month to recommend the changes as part of an effort to stop long-term housing from being converted into more profitable vacation rentals. Several city commissioners expressed skepticism about the proposal Monday, indicating a robust debate is likely ahead. After next week's discussion-only meeting, city commissioners could vote on the changes as soon as their February 18 meeting.

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