East Bay to Consider Gas Station Expansion Project, Zoning Changes
By Beth Milligan | Nov. 6, 2023
East Bay Township planning commissioners Tuesday will review a proposed expansion to the Shell gas station complex at the corner of Hammond and Three Mile roads, including more fuel pumps, an expanded new Truenorth convenience store, and a new car wash. Planning commissioners will also discuss several proposed township zoning changes affecting streams, overnight medical facilities, and housing density.
True North Energy will appear before township planning commissioners Tuesday for a sketch plan review – or a preliminary discussion intended to generate feedback for developers prior to submitting a formal application – on a proposed expansion to the gas station complex at the corner of Hammond and Three Mile Road. True North Energy purchased 25 gas stations/convenience stores in the Traverse City market from Schmuckal Oil Company in 2019 and has since renovated several of them, such as locations on Munson Avenue and South Airport Road.
The company aims to expand the existing Shell gas station at Hammond/Three Mile, add a larger Truenorth convenience store, and build a car wash. The property is zoned East Bay Corners (EBC), a district that allows gas stations as a use by right but requires special land use permit approval for car washes. Township Director of Planning & Zoning Claire Karner noted in a memo that the EBC district has “design standards in place that facilitate high-quality developments and civic spaces.”
One standard for the district states that “an inviting pleasant outdoor environment shall be provided as appropriate to accommodate outdoor activities. This may include attractive landscaping, lighting, outdoor furniture, and similar amenities to buffer shoppers from parking areas, roadways, and service facilities, such as dumpsters and loading docks.”
Karner noted that the township was previously working with the former property owner to “develop a vision for the parcel that included mixed use, workforce housing, a retail component, a commercial kitchen, and public amenities.” She said staff have discussed options with True North Energy representatives to enhance the appeal and public use of the site. For instance, the development team is supportive of trail expansion and easement plans along Hammond Road, Karner said, and could consider “moving the parking lot back from the road to allow for landscaping between the proposed trail and parking lot.”
Karner also said there will be “unused space on the site adjacent to the future Safe Routes to School trail that could be used for a public plaza. In initial conversations, the developer was receptive to staff suggestions of a seating area and pedestrian plaza connected to the future trail. Electric vehicle charging stations were another amenity discussed at the site.”
Other EBC standards planning commissioners will likely discuss include pedestrian circulation on the property, parking, street trees, and building design. After receiving input this week, True North Energy would “come back in front of the planning commission for formal site plan review and a public hearing on the site plan at a later date,” according to Karner.
Several proposed zoning changes are on the planning commission agenda Tuesday, some of which have public hearings attached and could be voted on this week and others that could have public hearings set for the future.
Two of the zoning changes are related to streams in East Bay Township. One would allow for vehicular bridge crossings over streams on public property. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) owns nearly 42 acres of property across two parcels at the Traverse City State Park. The DNR has an additional 29.5-acre undeveloped parcel, which it is seeking to expand on and connect to the existing park. In addition to improvements in the park like an upgraded pump-out station and new headquarters, plans also call for changes to pedestrian and vehicular circulation, possible recreation improvements like new trail, additional parking, and a bridge over Mitchell Creek.
The township’s current zoning language requires a 50-foot setback from Mitchell Creek for buildings and structures. That language itself is being addressed in a separate agenda item Tuesday, as township officials discovered during a recent review of two proposed Hilton hotels that the zoning ordinance has conflicting language about whether the setback should be 50 or 100 feet in the Regional Business District. Karner previously said the intent of the ordinance – as evidenced by maps, the language used in most sections, and the setbacks of existing businesses throughout the corridor – is that the buffer is supposed to be 50 feet. Planning commissioners agreed – noting that 100 feet would make development prohibitive on many sites – and suggested updating the ordinance to remove the conflicting language.
Planning commissioners could clarify that language Tuesday and forward the change to township trustees for approval. But even with the language clarified, the 50-foot setback still prohibits structures like bridges from being built over Mitchell Creek. The board could vote Tuesday in support of changing that language and forward the amendment to township trustees for approval. The proposed amendment would allow vehicular bridges over streams so long as certain standards are met and a permit is secured from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). Bridges must be a minimum height of five feet from the ordinary high water mark and be at least 1,000 feet apart, in addition to other proposed requirements dictating their placement, materials, and construction.
Another proposed zoning change would allow overnight medical facilities in the industrial district and potentially the professional office district. An applicant is looking to open a mental health facility with the possibility of a substance abuse clinic in the future in the Peninsula Business Park on Business Park Drive. Current zoning allows medical offices as a use by right now so long as they don’t accommodate patients overnight. Planning commissioners could make a simple modification to the ordinance to allow offices with overnight patients – and could set a public hearing on that change for December – or take a more complex approach to develop specific standards for overnight facilities, which would require more in-depth review before moving ahead.
Finally, planning commissioners will discuss a requested zoning amendment to increase the maximum dwelling units per acre in the moderate density residential (MDR) zoning district from five to eight units. The applicant requesting the change, Liv Communities, has a purchase agreement on a site near the corner of Four Mile and Hammond roads and is “interested in developing a market-rate multifamily community that includes some combination of garden-style, townhome, and single-family rental product types,” according to the application. Karner noted that the township’s recently adopted master plan supports densities of up to eight dwellings per acre, and that the township’s zoning ordinance – which is being rewritten – includes allowances for eight dwelling units per acre in its most recent draft. If planning commissioners support increasing MDR density, they can vote to hold a public hearing on the text amendment at their December 5 meeting.Comment