Traverse City News and Events

City Commissioners To Pursue Master Plan Rewrite, Land Acknowledgement Policy

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 25, 2022

Traverse City commissioners agreed Monday to seek proposals for a consultant to help rewrite the city’s master plan – the key document that outlines the city’s vision for its future and guides planning and development decisions – and to consider adopting a land acknowledgment policy that would honor Indigenous peoples and tribal lands in a statement to be read at city commission meetings.

City Planning Director Shawn Winter reviewed a draft request-for-proposals (RFP) with commissioners that the city intends to post to find a consulting firm to help with the city’s master plan rewrite. Every five years, communities in Michigan like Traverse City must review their master plan – a document that describes a vision for how the community will look and grow in the coming decades – and determine if it needs to be updated or replaced. Master plans not only guide local zoning and decision-making, they also prioritize how money is spent in areas like infrastructure and capital improvement projects. The city adopted its current plan in 2009 and has amended it just once since, in 2017. Last year, Winter suggested the time is right for the city to consider adopting a new vision for the future, with commissioners agreeing to budget $100,000 in the 2021-22 budget to go through a rewrite process.

City Manager Marty Colburn reminded commissioners Monday that the goal is not just to update but completely redo the city’s master plan, a “significant effort” that will realistically take 18-24 months to complete. Colburn said the rewrite was “overdue” and would involve an extensive public input process lead by a consultant group working with staff, city commissioners, and planning commissioners. Winter said the master plan is a “critically important document” that will guide city decisions, actions, and policies. Once the RFP is publicly posted, Winter said the city would accept proposals for a month, conduct an internal review of bids, invite a handful of finalists for interviews, and then select a recommended firm and contract that will be brought back to commissioners for approval.

According to the RFP, Traverse City hopes to address several key topic areas in its new master plan. Those areas include housing and affordability; land use patterns and intensities; economic development, job growth, and economic resiliency; cultural and historic resources; recreation and civic spaces; community services and facilities; transportation and circulation, including a mobility/bicycle network plan; sustainability, natural resources, water, and energy; diversity, equity, and inclusivity; and incorporation of The Village at Grand Traverse Commons – which has its own master plan – into the broader framework of the city.

“The plan should evaluate the drivers for change and trends that will influence Traverse City within the next 30 years,” according to the RFP. “It should assess how environmental, climate, public health, demographic, and technological changes will impact the community and the steps we will need to take to address and guide those changes. It should identify strategies to enhance the human, social, economic, and environmental sustainability of the community as it develops toward a full build out.” The selected consulting firm is expected to analyze demographic trends, seek local feedback on desired development trends in commercial and residential areas, and provide an implementation schedule with short, medium, and long-term action items for the city. The new master plan is “to be concise, written in a non-technical format and highly visual. The document will ideally be less than 80 pages in length, innovative, engaging, action-oriented, and user-friendly,” according to the RFP. Mayor Richard Lewis said creating a new master plan “is probably one of the more important things” city commissioners will undertake in their tenure on the board.

Commissioners Monday also expressed support for exploring changes to commission meeting rules, including shortening public comment times from five to three minutes per speaker and adopting a land acknowledgment policy that would honor Indigenous peoples and tribal lands in a statement to be read at city commission meetings. Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe noted that most public comment speakers already keep their remarks to under three minutes and recommended adopting that as a formal policy, a change that will return for an official vote at a future meeting. Meanwhile, Commissioner Mi Stanley shared that numerous cities across the U.S. – including recently Sacramento – have adopted land acknowledgement policies that call for reading a short statement immediately following the Pledge of Allegiance at commission meetings to honor Native peoples and recognize that meetings are occurring on historic tribal grounds.

Given the city’s collaboration with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians on multiple projects, including the Boardman River dam removal project, Colburn said it “felt like it was an opportune time” to explore such a policy and thanked Stanley for bringing it forward. Commissioner Mark Wilson, who is also the vice chair of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians Tribal Council, agreed to be a liaison on behalf of commissioners and work with the Tribe on a potential statement that could be read at commission meetings. Wilson said an ideal statement, which will be brought back to commissioners for approval at a future meeting, would likely be “short and succinct” and reference the 1836 Treaty of Washington. Under that treaty, the Indigenous Anishinaabe people ceded nearly 14 million acres of territory – or 40 percent of modern-day Michigan – in exchange for reservation lands and hunting and fishing rights.

Also at Monday’s commission meeting…
> Commissioners received a presentation from CPA Douglas Vredeveld of accounting firm Vredeveld Haefner LLC on an audit of the city’s fiscal year ending in June 2021. Vredeveld called the company’s findings a “good clean report from front to back,” showing continued increases in property tax revenues and a surplus in the city’s general fund balance of $5.7 million. That equals a 26.9 percent unassigned fund balance, with city policy generally dictating that commissioners keep that figure in the 15-20 percent range. Colburn noted there were extra funds in the account because the city held off spending down the fund balance during the pandemic in case of emergency needs. Commissioners will likely at some point weigh in on allocating some of those funds so that the balance is drawn back down to the targeted range of under 20 percent.

> Commissioners went into closed session for a performance review with Colburn related to a reprimand he received in October after firing City Treasurer Kelli Martin without city commission approval, as required by the city charter. The formal reprimand required Colburn to take several corrective actions with HR and other city department heads. As part of that process, the city manager was required to meet again with city commissioners at a future meeting to review his job performance and progress on the required steps, which he did with the board in closed session Monday. 

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