Traverse City News and Events

City Park Projects: Hickory Hills, Dog Beach, Senior Center

By Beth Milligan | Nov. 13, 2019

Several changes could soon come to Traverse City park properties as city leaders consider new event rules and food service partnerships for Hickory Hills, a potential new dog beach at Sunset Park, and a design for the planned new Traverse City Senior Center on city parkland on East Front Street.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent Derek Melville tells The Ticker he’ll bring a proposal to city commissioners Monday to begin food service at the Hickory Hills Ski Area lodge this winter – a project that would also offer job training to young adults through the nonprofit Child & Family Services of Northwestern Michigan. The city would manage and run Hickory’s kitchen operations in-house – with revenue benefiting the parks budget – but would partner with Child & Family Services’ YouthWork AmeriCorps program on staffing. YouthWork offers young adults ages 16-26 – many of whom come from the foster care system – training in job and life skills while earning income working on community projects. Many of those projects are based in conservation and the outdoors; Melville says Hickory could help diversify training opportunities by expanding into the food and restaurant industry.

Parks staff will also appear before Garfield Township planning commissioners tonight (Wednesday) to seek an upgrade to the city’s special use permit (SUP) for Hickory Hills that more clearly outlines allowed uses at the park and rules for events there. While Hickory Hills Ski Area is owned by the City of Traverse City, the park itself resides within Garfield Township, making it subject to the township’s oversight. As part of Hickory’s multi-million transformation, staff are eyeing a variety of new activities at the park, ranging from ropes and zip line courses to climbing walls to weddings and corporate retreats. As those ideas became public, township officials started expressing concern about potential neighborhood impacts like parking and noise, along with a desire to specifically address those issues within the city’s SUP.

The proposed updated rules limit the number of non-winter events that can take place at Hickory to 26 (with attendees limited in most cases to 325), creates a parking plan that uses shuttle services to off-site parking for certain major events, and requires event organizers to follow the city’s noise ordinance, limiting event hours and amplified sound to between 10am and 10pm. “I think we found a good balance with what we’re comfortable with and what (township officials) are comfortable with,” Melville says of the new rules. “The positive part about circling back and having things more defined (in the SUP) is that five, ten, twenty-five years down the road when there are different staff and board members in place, we’ll have this ironed out. If we hadn’t gone through this process, there would have been a lot of gray areas.”

Another parks project soon headed to city commissioners is the establishment of the city’s first designated dog beach. The city’s ordinance currently prohibits dogs on any groomed beach areas, which essentially constitute all beachfront parks. After studying the issue for several months – and looking at other communities like Ludington that operate popular dog beaches – the Parks and Recreation last week supported moving forward with designating Sunset Park as a dog-friendly beach.

“Dog lovers enjoy having their pets on the water’s edge with them,” Melville says, adding that the city is “trying to use carrots instead of sticks” to encourage stricter enforcement at other city beaches by providing an alternate option in town. Commissioners also supported loosening a previous regulation that banned dogs in the Open Space during the National Cherry Festival. Noting that the festival hosts dog-specific events – such as Ultimate Air Dogs at the adjacent West End volleyball courts – Parks and Recreation commissioners wanted to offer the festival more flexibility in allowing dogs at certain times during the week, while still having the ability to ban them when appropriate (ie, during concerts). “It really didn’t make sense to just have an overall ban,” Melville says. Both changes to the dog ordinance will head to city commissioners for final approval.

Finally, Parks and Recreation commissioners weighed in last week on a conceptual design for the new Traverse City Senior Center building planned for city parkland property on East Front Street. The city and Grand Traverse County – which oversees Senior Center operations – have mutually agreed to move forward with building a new facility that would replace the existing deteriorating Senior Center.

Four different design options were presented at a joint meeting of city and county Parks and Recreation commissioners by architect Ray Kendra of Environment Architects, a local firm that has also assisted with a public outreach effort to get feedback from residents on design options. Commissioners backed a conceptual option that calls for constructing the new building on the northeast corner of the property, opening up views and access to Grand Traverse Bay. But commissioners recommended adjustments on several aspects of the design, including on parking (reconsidering excessive spaces and using permeable pavement where possible) and the layout of facility amenities.

“One adjustment is that even though the minimum setback (of the building from the water) is 50 feet, with what we’re seeing with high water levels, we thought maybe we shouldn’t be going with the minimum,” says Melville. “We’re hoping to have at least 75-foot setbacks. We’re also looking to have a good balance of moving things around on the property while still protecting the tree canopy that’s there.” The conceptual design is expected to go through more detailed refinement based on public, city, and county feedback before a final rendering returns for approval from local boards.

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