Traverse City News and Events

Compost Pilot Program, Tree Plantings, NEZ On City Agenda

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 27, 2023

City commissioners will discuss two projects tonight (Monday) aimed at reducing the city’s environmental impact: a pilot program backed by a federal grant to launch a city food waste composting operation and plans to plant 2,215 trees citywide by fall 2025. Commissioners will also discuss – but not take action on, as the meeting is a study session – a proposal to establish a neighborhood enterprise zone downtown that would offer tax breaks to developers in exchange for building workforce housing.

Food Composting Pilot
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded the city a $255,396 grant for a two-year pilot to launch a compost and food waste reduction program. According to City Manager Marty Colburn, the city’s department of public services – working with the city manager’s office, a city-contracted grant writer, and local nonprofit SEEDS – successfully applied for the grant aimed at educating the community on “the potential reduction of waste by using small-scale food composting operations.”

The pilot program is “intended to begin to bring together the pieces needed for a successful small-scale food composting system with the hope of inspiring/initiating future efforts within the city and the community,” according to a memo from Director of Public Services Frank Dituri. The city will purchase and host a 20-yard in-vessel composter – approximately the same size and shape as a shipping container – that can process up to 60 tons of food waste annually. The composters are “fully contained, relatively tamper-proof, and process waste materials very quickly, keeping the operation relatively odorless,” according to the grant proposal. The composter would likely be located on city property near the department of public services compound off Hannah Avenue, according to Dituri.

Dituri noted that large-scale, citywide food-composting programs “can be extremely complex and very expensive to initiate.” Taking a smaller-scale pilot approach will allow the city to build relationships with vendors and potential users – including city residents and businesses – to slowly flesh out a network that could eventually be scaled up into a larger operation, Dituri said. SEEDS will support the project with “processing management, logistics, oversight, and aid with the selection of interested vendors through RFP hauling contracts as well as food waste source identification,” according to Dituri. The end result – high-quality compost – “could be donated back by the city to support the hauling agreements and waste source producers,” Dituri wrote.

The total project budget for the pilot is $323,428. In addition to the USDA grant, the city is providing $68,032 as an in-kind match that includes staff time, permitting fees, use of city equipment, a land lease (for where the composter will be staged), and the donation of finished compost. The food waste processing program expands on the work of another city composting program. Leaves and brush collected by the city each year are composted and used on public parks and green spaces, the proposal states. “Prompting continued ecologically responsible sustainable solutions is a desire of the city commission and a benefit to our generation and those that follow,” Dituri said.

Tree Plantings
A previous city commission vote to use $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for tree plantings means 2,215 new trees could be planted in Traverse City by 2025. According to Parks and Recreation Superintendent Michelle Hunt, parks staff in the next few years “will be implementing several projects to successfully spend these dollars on a variety of tree-planting initiatives which increase canopy cover, support the health of our existing canopy, and focus on parks in need of active forest management.”

In a memo to commissioners, Hunt highlighted several ways the ARPA funds will be spent. In support of the Watershed Center’s work to implement a buffer restoration project along Kids Creek from Silver Lake Road to the Meijer property boundary, the city will purchase trees for the planting phase of the restoration. Plantings will also be concentrated at Hickory Hills, where “attention is needed for managing the current vegetation, restoring the canopy, reducing hazards for public use, and maintaining forest health,” Hunt said. Seedling and tree plantings are also planned at various parks, city-owned properties, and riparian areas. The parks department will also acquire an additional water truck and tank for its fleet to increase spring and summer watering. The tree planting schedule is as follows:

Spring/Fall 2023
> 40 balled and burlapped coniferous trees for Hickory Hills
> Kids Creek restoration plantings
> 150 two-inch bare root trees citywide
Total: 475 trees planted, $66,200 (including water tank and contracting costs)

Spring/Fall 2024:
> 40 balled and burlapped coniferous trees for Hickory Hills
> 300 two-inch bare root trees citywide
Total: 340 trees planted, $59,200 (including water tank and contracting costs)

Spring/Fall 2025
> 100 two-inch bare root trees for Hickory Hills
> 300 two-inch bare root trees citywide
> 1,000 seedlings (Fulton, Riverine, Highland, etc.)
Total: 1,400 trees planted, $74,600 (including water tank and contracting costs)

Neighborhood Enterprise Zone
Commissioners tonight will discuss creating a neighborhood enterprise zone (NEZ) in downtown Traverse City – an area where property tax exemptions would be available to developers for up to 15 years in exchange for building rental housing.

Developers could receive a 50 percent reduction in taxes on units for tenants earning 80 to 120 percent of the area median income (other parts of the development, like commercial space, are still normally taxed). The city must first establish an NEZ and have the state approve the zone. Property owners within that zone could then apply for the tax break; it’s not automatically given. NEZ projects are required to undergo an annual review to ensure tenants meet the income requirements and that the conditions for the tax break are being met. An NEZ is being considered for the area encompassing 124 West Front Street, the vacant lot between the Traverse City Record-Eagle and J&S Hamburg. Developer Jeff Smoke is proposing to build a mixed-use development on the site that would include ground-floor retail, underground parking, and rental apartments on the upper floors.

Pictured (clockwise): Downtown city trees; food composting (photo credit: USDA), 124 West Front Street

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