Traverse City News and Events

City Approves Traverse Connect Contract, Liquor Licenses, Butterfly Garden; Recreational Marijuana Rules Coming

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 8, 2021

Traverse City commissioners Tuesday approved a $50,000 annual contract with Traverse Connect for economic development services, liquor license applications that will allow the Green House Café and Millie & Pepper Crêperie to start serving alcohol in downtown Traverse City, and a donation from a city resident that will establish a new butterfly garden in Hull Park. Commissioners also revisited a discussion about rules that would allow recreational marijuana businesses to operate in the city, with a proposed ordinance planned to come before the board for review and possible approval in October.

The City of Traverse City will now join two of its divisions – the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Traverse City Light & Power – in contracting with Traverse Connect for economic development services. Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve a $50,000 contract with Traverse Connect to help drive economic growth in the city, including supporting existing businesses, attracting new entrepreneurs, and assisting in recruiting and retaining talent. Among the projects Traverse Connect will tackle is producing a catalog of development and redevelopment-ready sites in the city, fielding inquiries from businesses interested in relocating to the area, expanding the Michigan’s Creative Coast entrepreneur and talent attraction program, helping facilitate key projects in the areas of housing and child care, coordinating and collaborating with other municipalities, and producing content and marketing campaigns showcasing the region as a year-round economic and cultural destination.

City Commissioner Christie Minervini said Traverse Connect “did an excellent job” proving its value during the pandemic as part of its DDA contract, keeping businesses apprised of COVID safety requirements and regulations and working to connect owners with funding opportunities and grant support. Minervini said it was her “sincerest hope” that having a citywide contract with Traverse Connect could help city leaders better address some of the pressing issues facing the community, particularly labor shortages affecting employers. “We’ve got businesses that are booming, but of course we don’t have the workers that we need,” she said.

Other commissioners who previously expressed skepticism about contracting for economic development services also praised Traverse Connect’s efforts during the pandemic and voiced support for moving ahead with a contract. Mayor Jim Carruthers was the sole ‘no’ vote against the proposal, saying he thought the city was shouldering too much of the burden for economic development services that benefited the entire region. “We need our regional partners to start stepping up to the plate,” he said, adding he was “tired of the townships and the county riding our coattails without ponying up something. They’re just letting us do it all.” While Commissioner Roger Putman agreed that other regional partners should contribute, he said investing in economic development was still the right thing for the city to do, and that by being a leader others could be inspired to follow suit.

Also at Monday’s commission meeting…
> Commissioners approved a request to transfer a liquor license from the defunct West Front Street restaurant Anthony’s Little G’s to the Green House Café on East Front Street. “With a liquor license, the Green House Café will provide a very limited alcohol beverage service for breakfast and lunch with service inside and on the sidewalk café during applicable seasons,” Green House Café owners Todd and Michelle Jones wrote in their application.

Owner Julia Hearne also plans to add daytime alcohol service to her business Millie & Pepper Crêperie on Union Street, with slightly expanded hours of 7am-5pm at least five days a week. Commissioners narrowly voted 4-3 to approve the new liquor license application, with Carruthers, Putman and Commissioner Brian McGillivary opposed, citing a general resistance to approving new liquor licenses until a Healthier Drinking Culture study underway is completed. A report on that study is expected to come to city commissioners for review on September 27, with the board potentially voting in October to adopt its findings and recommendations.

> Commissioners voted to accept a donation of just over $31,000 from city resident Nelson Asper to install a butterfly garden in the city’s Hull Park on Boardman Lake behind the Traverse Area District Library. Nelson is making the donation to honor his late wife Cindy Asper, covering all costs associated with the garden’s installation and landscaping and providing ongoing maintenance support with a group of volunteer master gardeners who will assist the city’s Parks and Recreation department with upkeep. A section of existing turf grass near Boardman Lake will be replaced with deep-rooted native plants designed to attract a variety of insects and birds and help keep runoff nutrients out of the lake. The design of the garden will include pathways allowing the public to walk through it, along with benches and other landscaping features. The garden is slated to be installed next spring.

> Commissioners could be ready as soon as next month to take another stab at passing a recreational marijuana ordinance in the city. Judge Thomas Power recently ruled in the city’s favor in a lawsuit in which several medical dispensaries challenged the city’s proposed rules for recreational retailers, notably plans to limit the number of dispensaries allowed in Traverse City to four. Power determined the city had the right to limit its number of recreational licenses, and that the 13 medical dispensaries in the city never had a guarantee of getting a recreational license. However, Power agreed with the plaintiffs that the city’s proposed scoring rubric for determining which businesses would get licenses wasn’t legal.

An ad hoc committee of city commissioners and staff are now reworking that scoring rubric and other parts of the proposed recreational marijuana ordinance, with the city hosting an open house today (Wednesday) at the City Opera House from 3:30-6:30pm to collect public feedback on “zoning districts, number of retail facilities, and factors that should be considered when allowing retail facilities,” according to a city release. That input will help shape the final draft ordinance that could come to commissioners for review and potential adoption in October.

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