Traverse City News and Events

City Commissioners To Consider Tax Break For Housing Project, Treasurer Termination

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 18, 2021

Traverse City commissioners Monday will consider approving a tax break for a proposed 53-unit apartment complex on Garfield Avenue from development group Woda Cooper Companies, a project that calls for more than half of the units to be dedicated to residents making 70-80 percent of the area median income (AMI). Commissioners will also vote Monday on upholding City Manager Marty Colburn’s recent termination of City Treasurer Kelli Martin, with The Ticker obtaining personnel documents showing Colburn reprimanded Martin for performance-related issues shortly before her firing.

Annika Place Apartments PILOT Agreement
Woda Cooper Companies, which broke ground this month on a new apartment complex on Wellington Street, already has its sights set on its next project: a four-story, 53-unit apartment building called Annika Place at 947 South Garfield Avenue.

Woda is seeking a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement with the city that would allow the company to pay six percent of rental income annually in place of traditional taxes. PILOTs have been used elsewhere in the city as an economic tool to offset costs for developers building affordable or low-income housing. Under the agreement, Woda’s annual payment to the city would be approximately $5,300. Approving the PILOT “would result in a tax bill reduction of approximately $52,200 annually once the development is fully constructed, making this development possible,” Assistant City Manager Penny Hill wrote in a memo to commissioners. The PILOT would be in place for 16 years, from 2023 to 2039; construction on Annika Place is expected to start in April 2023 and be completed by June 2024.

According to Woda, the 54,310 square-foot apartment complex (pictured, rendering) – which will span three parcels – will contain 29 one-bedroom units averaging 652 square feet and 24 two-bedroom units averaging 815 square feet, with six barrier-free units offered. Thirty-four units, or 64 percent of the building mix, will be targeted to renters earning between 70 and 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). “At 80 percent AMI, a single person could earn up to $47,600 and live at Annika Place and a family of four could earn up to $68,000,” according to Woda. “Rents for the attainable workforce units are targeted at $860/$875 for the one-bedroom units and $1,000/$1,050 for the two-bedroom units.” Tenants will be responsible for utilities, with trash collection included in rent. Amenities will include energy-efficient appliances and an outdoor community space with a grill, picnic tables, benches, bike racks, and a small “tot-lot” for children.

Woda’s total estimated investment in Annika Place is $13.5 million, including construction costs of $8.6 million. The developers offered two design alternatives for the building, including one with vehicle access from a neighboring property to the south and one with vehicle access off Garfield Avenue. Staff are recommending having vehicle access from the south to eliminate an additional drive on Garfield and reduce traffic conflicts. Staff are also recommending moving the sidewalk adjacent to Garfield away from the street to align with sidewalk to the south and moving trees in between the sidewalk and curb. If Woda’s PILOT is approved Monday, the development group will next submit an application to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSDHA) for funding by the state’s October 1 deadline.

Treasurer Termination
City commissioners will vote Monday to uphold City Manager Marty Colburn’s recent termination of City Treasurer Kelli Martin. The position of city treasurer is one of two posts – the other being the city clerk – that cannot be hired or fired without the approval of at least five commissioners, as those two positions serve as a check on the city manager's spending authority. Commissioners will also be asked Monday to support the appointment of deputy treasurer and deputy finance director James Henderson to serve as interim treasurer until a hiring process can be initiated for a new treasurer.

Colburn previously declined to discuss the cause of Martin’s termination with The Ticker, saying it was city policy not to speak on personnel issues. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, The Ticker obtained Martin’s personnel file, which included two separate emails from Colburn to Martin in August reprimanding her for performance-related issues. In one email, Martin said he was writing to counsel Martin about “inappropriate comments directed towards the management team” after staff met to discuss possible options for city emergency transportation services. According to Colburn, while staff were reviewing a crucial financial report at the meeting, Martin repeatedly complained the team was “nitpicking” the report – even after Colburn said that characterization was inaccurate and emphasized the importance of the review process to Martin.

“Your comment was found to be disrespectful and rude, and I see it as an act of disrespect to the efforts of the entire team, especially when you continued to repeat the statement…as a department head, this type of behavior has a negative effect on our organization,” he wrote.

In another email, Colburn said he was reprimanding Martin for a “lack of performance” over the last few months, saying there had been a “noticeable lack of complying with direct orders for tasks given to you.” Colburn said he instructed Martin on multiple occasions to meet in person with department heads as part of the budget review process, and that she ignored those instructions. “The directive was clear and concise. I have recently learned that this directive still has not been complied with,” he wrote. “It is imperative that our department heads have a clear understanding of the budgets they are responsible for. I am justified in taking the highest disciplinary action against you due to the repeated insubordination; however, at this time, I have taken a lenient view and decided to write a letter of reprimand.”

That email was sent to Martin on August 10. Almost a month later, on September 8, Colburn sent a letter to Martin stating he was terminating her effective immediately. Noting that Martin's position was at-will and that she could be “released from employment without cause,” Colburn said Martin's firing was a “difficult decision but a necessary one in the best interest of the City of Traverse City.”

Martin’s termination was originally scheduled to be on the city commission’s October 4 agenda, but was moved up to Monday on the recommendation of City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht. When asked whether Martin’s termination is legally enforceable until the city commission votes to approve the dismissal, Trible-Laucht told The Ticker she could comment only that "the charter provides that the city manager may only terminate the city treasurer with the consent of five members of the city commission." 

While Martin could not be reached for comment, her husband – Christopher Martin – says his wife is still on the city’s payroll and has been receiving compensation after her September 8 dismissal date. Martin has the right to address city commissioners before their vote Monday, with the board having the option to go into closed session. However, Christopher Martin says his wife “has no desire to go back to that environment.” He adds: “She didn’t do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical.”

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