Traverse City News and Events

Development Proposed For South Airport/Townline Intersection

By Beth Milligan | July 8, 2019

A new development is being planned for the busy intersection of South Airport Road and Townline Road in East Bay Township, with construction likely to begin in 2020.

The project is proposed to go on 3.74 vacant acres of land on the southeast corner of the South Airport/Townline intersection (pictured), which sits at the entrance to Cherry Capital Airport. Developer Dave Loomba is planning to build a 13,000 square-foot commercial building at the front of the property along South Airport Road, with a 32-unit apartment complex called Mitten Apartments slated for the southern back half of the property.

The project calls for four residential apartment buildings to be built, each 4,000 square feet in size and containing eight one-bedroom apartments. Thirty-two parking spaces would service the apartment complex. Realtor Dave Cutler of Twin Bay Properties, which represents the property, told East Bay Township planning commissioners last week that Loomba has a similar project in Muskegon and would be looking to “keep the rents down” while still making the apartments “really nice and affordable.”

“I know that his intent is not to make it high-end,” said Cutler, adding he did not yet know Loomba’s planned rental rates for the units. Cutler referenced other area apartment complexes that feature luxury interior fixtures and amenities that push rent to the $1,100 range for one-bedroom apartments, saying that was not Loomba’s goal for the project. “If you’re in a service-industry job, I have no idea how you’re affording (that),” Cutler said. He added that the long-term plan for the site could eventually see the apartments converted into condominium units with individual owners.

Engineering consultant Jeff Cockfield of Grand Traverse Engineering told commissioners the residential portion of the project would be built first, with approvals and permits obtained over the next few months and construction beginning in the 2020 season. Representatives didn’t specify what type of commercial usage they anticipated in that building, though they noted sidewalks would be built and landscaping installed along South Airport and Townline roads when the second phase was developed.

Planning commissioners expressed general support for the project, though outlined several concerns they’d like to see addressed before a final site plan is approved – a process that could happen as soon as the board’s August 6 meeting. Chief among the concerns was constructing some type of privacy barrier between the development and neighboring residential houses. Townline Road resident Sally Borrero said the buffer was also one of her primary concerns with the project.

“What I was concerned with was…the wall,” she said. “I think a higher wall would be nice.” Team representatives agreed to meet with neighbors to discuss their preferences for privacy screening options, including a fence, wall, and/or landscaping that would provide separation between the apartments and neighbors.

Commissioners also asked the development team to provide architectural renderings to show what the buildings would look like. The Mitten Apartments project sits in the airport services zoning district, which requires that buildings aesthetically mirror the look of the airport to provide consistency in that district. Cockfield questioned the applicability of that standard to apartments that are going to be “so far south on the property” away from the airport, but said the team was “certainly willing to look at the façade.” He also acknowledged the importance of signage that will be installed at the development's entrance when the commercial portion of the project is built.

“It’s really the welcome mat to Traverse City in a lot of ways,” he said of the South Airport/Townline intersection. “You get off the airport access drive, and this is the first thing that you’re going to see as a person coming into the community for the first time. So we’re very cognizant of that, and are welcoming future comments on that sign.”

Planning Commissioner Mindy Walters pointed out that township officials have been told by other developers that one-bedroom units are needed in the community, and the Mitten Apartments project “fills that need right away.” But after project representatives indicated they didn’t know how long of a timing gap there would be between construction on the residential and commercial portions of the development, Walters expressed concern about a long delay leaving a vacant hole at the front of the site with no sidewalks or landscaping.

“I’m concerned about the timing of the commercial…I don’t want it to be an eyesore,” she said. “If we’re going to hit another recession, and we’re going to be sitting with an eyesore at our gateway, I’m concerned about that.” Planning Commission Chair Robert Tubbs and Arthur Mullen, whose firm Wade Trim is assisting the township with planning services, both suggested that developers be required to submit a phasing plan that would detail when residential and commercial construction would take place. Mullen said the plan could require Loomba to start installing sidewalks and landscaping within a set amount of time – such as 24 to 36 months – to ensure the project stays on track and doesn’t languish on the front half of the property. Tubbs agreed phasing was an “important” component of the project.

Mullen said the development team has been working well with staff on trying to address all of the issues raised during the site plan review process to bring forward a project that would earn the township’s support. Developers agreed to look at the additional issues raised by the board and bring back a site plan addressing their concerns. “We’ve made significant headway,” Mullen said. “I do think the applicant has heard (your) comments…they have a lot of direction (to finish the site plan).”

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