Traverse City News and Events

City Commissioners To Talk FishPass, Rental Enforcement, Sewer Repairs, Parks

By Beth Milligan | June 10, 2019

Traverse City commissioners will tackle a busy agenda at tonight’s (Monday’s) study session that includes an update on the FishPass project set to begin construction next year, enforcement efforts for short-term rentals, a state mandate to make repairs at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and a possible ballot proposal to renew parks funding.

FishPass
A final design has been released (pictured) on a planned FishPass system that will replace the deteriorating Union Street dam in downtown Traverse City and provide a “living laboratory” for scientific research on fish-sorting technology.

Great Lakes Fishery Commission team members will appear before commissioners tonight to give an update on the project, which is slated to break ground in early 2020 and be completed by 2021. The FishPass system will feature a fish-sorting channel and a nature-like bypass channel, as well as a research and educational center with public restrooms, ADA-compliant pedestrian bridge, kayak portage rail, outdoor classrooms and amphitheater, and park benches and landscaping upgrades. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission has released a new three-minute, three-dimensional animated virtual tour providing an overview of the planned design. The educational center will be located on the former Consumers Energy lot on the north side of the property, which was recently purchased by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to accommodate the building.

According to project documents, technical and safety assurance reviews of the design plans are now 65 percent complete, with engineering scheduled to be 100 percent finished by October. The project will go out to bid in December. Three phases of construction staging are planned, including: installing temporary sheet piling, passing water through the main spillway, and constructing the new nature-like channel (phase one), passing water over the new nature-like channel, installing temporary sheet piling, and constructing the fish-sorting channel (phase two), and removing all temporary sheet piling, constructing the research building, and constructing the pedestrian bridge and all other features (phase three). The project is estimated to cost $18 to $22 million, with anticipated funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the State of Michigan coming in at roughly $16 million. Other local, state, and federal funding sources – including both public and private – are expected to make up the difference.

“The final design for FishPass reflects the project’s engineering requirements, the agencies’ fishery management goals, and the community’s desires,” says Great Lakes Fishery Commission Vice Chair Doug Stang. “The Commission and its partners have held scores of public meetings and workshops over the past few years to ensure the project is sound and is a welcomed addition to Traverse City.”

Rental Enforcement
Traverse City is now working with consulting company Harmari Short Term Rental Compliance to crack down on illegal short-term rentals in the city, with commissioners receiving their first report from the firm at tonight’s meeting.

According to the first month of data, Harmari identified 153 rentals in the city – a majority of which appear to be legal short or long-term rentals, but others of which are either illegal or legal but lacking required permits. Six were unlicensed tourist homes, while 25 were short-term rentals in commercial districts where such units are allowed. The city recently changed its rules, however, to require those units to obtain a city permit. City Planning Director Russ Soyring says letters went out to property owners to remind them to obtain permits. Four violation notices were sent out to illegal rental units, with one owner issued a citation. “Notices are generated to these properties, and then we give them an opportunity to correct the situation – to either stop renting or apply for a tourist home license – and if they don’t do that, we’ll start issuing fines,” says Soyring. “Those fines can be daily fines, so those can really add up.”

Harmari’s first report – a second is due this week – prompted planning staff to realize short-term rentals should be allowed in hospital districts, which allow other types of commercial usages and would thus be similar to other commercial areas in the city where vacation units are allowed. Allowing short-term rentals by hospitals could also help accommodate families of individuals who are hospitalized, Soyring says. Soyring says he plans to bring a recommendation to the planning commission soon to update the policy.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Repairs
A state order will require Traverse City to update its ultraviolet disinfection system at the city’s wastewater treatment plant – technology that instantaneously neutralizes microorganisms as they pass by ultraviolet lamps.

In order to function properly during high-flow periods, the system will require short-term upgrades to the tune of $150,000 that must be completed by the end of 2020. Longer-term, the state is requiring Traverse City to install a brand-new UV disinfection system, a project that will cost approximately $3 million and must be completed by 2026. According to plant operator Jacobs (formerly known as CH2M), surge events in 2016 “damaged electronics in the UV modules,” which were first designed in 1995. Thought the plant is operating safely, the UV system does not meet the facility’s peak flow requirement. After back-and-forth discussions with state officials about possible solutions to the issue, the state finally issued an administrative consent order mandating the changes, according to Jacobs.

Parks Ballot Proposal
Finally, commissioners tonight will consider seeking voter approval this fall to renew funding for city parks projects. Residents in 2014 approved establishing the Brown Bridge Trust Parks Improvement Fund, a fund that uses money from oil and gas royalties to pay for park upgrades. The fund has provided nearly $2 million for projects in the last five years. Commissioners tonight will consider putting the fund renewal on the ballot this fall, including potentially detailing a list of specific parks that would receive top priority for the next round of funding. Suggested parks include Indian Woods, Jupiter Gardens, Boon Street, Ashton, F&M, Arbutus Court, and Highland, though commissioners could alter that list as part of their discussion.

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