Commissioners Unanimously Approve Darga Project, Eighth Street Design
Feb. 14, 2017
Traverse City commissioners unanimously approved a rezoning request from developer Thom Darga for a new mixed-used development in the Warehouse District and a conceptual design for Eighth Street at their Monday night meeting.
Darga has sought city approval since August to conditionally rezone the former Fifth-Third Bank property at the corner of Union and Garland streets to build up to 60 feet instead of the 45 feet allowed by right on the parcel. The rezoning would pave the way for a new four-story, mixed-used development called Warehouse Flats (pictured) offering retail/restaurant/office space on the ground floor and rental apartments ranging from 550 to 1,200 square feet on the top three floors.
Commissioners cited Darga's ongoing willingness to improve terms for his conditional rezoning agreement - such as tightening environmental concessions, offering public parking, and dedicating a percentage of units to workforce renters who have 30 percent of the median household income of Traverse City - as the reason for their support. While city staff initially expressed concerns about continuing a pattern of "piecemeal" rezoning in the Warehouse District, Darga's offer prompted City Manager Marty Colburn to tell commissioners Monday: "At this point...I would recommend to you to support this, I would encourage you to support this, as I think it will have a positive impact to the downtown in the long run."
Commissioner Tim Werner said that while conditional rezoning is "not a pretty process necessarily...it's the process we have." He added that he was "supportive of the project" and was "glad it's stayed alive with all these many iterations, and gotten better potentially in each iteration." While Commissioner Amy Shamroe said she "even a week ago wasn't 100 percent sure" how she would vote on the project, the support of neighboring businesses and residents helped sway her vote. "This is a rare project where the neighborhood around it has been completely supportive," Shamroe said.
Traverse City commissioners Monday also unanimously voted to approve a resolution of support adopting a conceptual new design plan for Eighth Street. The plan was created by Farr Associates based on public input on the corridor's design, including a week-long public charrette process last May. The final proposed design for the road features three traffic lanes, two protected off-road bicycle tracks, pedestrian sidewalks and mid-block crossings, and green landscaping featuring flowers, bushes and trees. It also calls for alley improvements and eventually realigning Railroad Avenue and Woodmere Avenue to merge into one consolidated intersection with Eighth Street. The road is scheduled to be completely reconstructed starting in 2018.
Consultant Doug Farr of Farr Associates outlined several potential phases of improvements in the corridor with preliminary cost estimates attached based on other local projects, such as the US-31 and West Front Street reconstructions. Phases and projected costs included:
Phase 1: Alley improvements south of Eighth Street from Franklin to Wellington (600 linear feet): $275,000
Phase 2: Alley improvements north of Eighth Street from Boardman to Railroad (1,850 linear feet): $370,000
Phase 3: Road reconstruction of Eighth Street, Boardman to Woodmere (1,920 linear feet): $2.9 million, Woodmere to Barlow (760 linear feet): $1.16 million
Phase 4: Road reconstruction of Eighth Street, Union to Boardman (1,980 linear feet): $3 million
Several residents of Boardman Neighborhood expressed concerns about certain components of the plan, particularly the potential future realignment of Railroad and Woodmere avenues and what they viewed as neighborhood alleys being converted into high-traffic shortcuts. Farr noted the alley improvements would be necessary to help accommodate traffic specifically during the reconstruction of Eighth Street. Shamroe acknowledged residents' concerns, saying it wasn't the city's long-term goal to "be shoving all that traffic down (the alleys)." She also noted that while she was "on the fence" about the the Railroad/Woodmere road realignment, individual components of the design could be fine-tuned as the city moved forward with phasing, planning and engineering.
"All of that is open - that's why it's an option and not inherently part of the plan," Shamroe said, referencing the conceptual nature of commissioners' approval. "There’s still a lot to be hammered out in all of that."