Garfield Township Eyes Housing, Development Goals
By Beth Milligan | March 30, 2023
Improving the east side of Garfield Township, expanding water and sewer infrastructure to support development, and diversifying housing options – including promoting more single-family starter homes and exploring density tools like duplexes and accessory dwelling units – are emerging as priorities in Garfield Township’s master plan rewrite. Township planning commissioners recently discussed housing recommendations for the plan, as well as opportunities to collaborate on development along shared corridors with neighbors like the City of Traverse City and Long Lake and Elmwood townships.
As with most northern Michigan communities, housing is a key focus as Garfield Township updates its master plan, a document that will guide long-term township planning. While the township has a significant number of apartment complexes – including 15 payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) workforce housing projects – it lags behind in single-family homes. An estimated 52.8 percent of township dwellings are single-family homes, while 34.7 percent are multi-family units and 12.5 percent are mobile homes, according to 2021 U.S. Census data. (In comparison, over 60 percent of homes in the city and more than 80 percent of homes in East Bay Township are single-family homes; those communities have only a fraction of Garfield’s mobile home numbers).
“The idea is that there should be a variety of housing choices,” Township Planning Director John Sych told planning commissioners. “One of the big ones is promoting areas for new single-family homes.” Sych said the new master plan could include a policy that encourages more starter homes – typically 750 to 1,250 square feet in size – while ordinance updates could allow those homes to be built on smaller lots, offering greater flexibility. Expanding the township’s water and sewer infrastructure and extending streets could also allow more starter homes to be built. Township trustees expressed a particular interest in improving the east side of Garfield, including offering more housing options around the Barlow-Garfield corridors. Staff identified several township areas for new residential development, including not just infill along Barlow/Garfield but open land west of Sam’s Club/south of South Airport Road, the northwest area along the Zimmerman/Harris corridor, the southwest area along the Emerson/Birmley corridor, and the northwest area of Rennie School Road and US-31.
Changing zoning rules could encourage more residential density and diversity. Sych said relaxing rules to allow more duplexes – and potentially triplexes and quadpluxes – to be built in certain residential districts is “an area where we could definitely give some instant relief.” Garfield Township currently also allows only one version of an accessory dwelling unit (ADU): farm employee houses in agricultural districts. Planning commissioners acknowledged that’s a holdover from an era where farm worker housing was in greater demand than today. While there may not be as many areas that residential ADUs could work in the township as the city – where alley access and parking help support above-garage apartments and similar units – planning commissioners were open to exploring it as an option. Even if, say, 20 ADUs could be built in the township, “that’s 20 places for people to live at a reasonable price,” said Planning Commissioner Molly Agostinelli. “It’s going to be one bite at a time to try and help solve some of those problems.”
Finding the right balance with PILOT projects is another township goal. There is high demand for worker housing in Garfield Township, which has fueled numerous projects in which the township has approved tax breaks for developers in exchange for building low-income or workforce housing. Census data shows approximately 12,000 workers come into Garfield Township on any given day; that figure is around 22,000 workers for the city and 3,000 workers for East Bay Township.
Combined, Garfield Township and Traverse City “are the primary location for jobs in the region,” according to township master plan draft notes. “The desire by workers to live near their place of employment often drives the demand for housing. While the city has a higher number of workers, their ability to provide for housing is limited due to a lack of developable land and higher land costs. Therefore, much of the worker demand focuses on Garfield Township with its available land and supporting infrastructure.”
Approximately 1,278 units – or 14 percent of all housing units in Garfield Township – are within PILOT developments. The township has a proposed policy in its master plan of having PILOT units make up about 15 percent total of the housing pool. Sych said that’s not a “hard and fast” rule, and Agostinelli noted Garfield Township has never turned down a PILOT – primarily because it’s difficult to turn down workforce housing that’s in high demand, she said. While Garfield’s current PILOT percentage could come down as other types of residences are built, township officials agreed they needed to work toward the right housing mix to maintain a healthy tax base and ensure diversity of incomes and units. With recent state law changes offering greater flexibility in how communities can use PILOTs, Garfield Township could either more creatively wield PILOTs to encourage desired types of housing or create PILOT policies that prioritize developments that meet township goals.
Planning commissioners also reviewed opportunities to collaborate with neighboring communities on development, including housing. The West Front and Cedar corridor, shared by the city, could offer opportunities for multi-family housing to support Munson Medical Center in the stretch heading into Garfield Township. Veterans Drive also offers an “ideal opportunity” to add bike lanes and sidewalks to connect the city and township, according to draft notes. Sych noted the city will be improving Veterans Drive this year – including narrowing lanes and making traffic-calming improvements – while the Grand Traverse County Road Commission will resurface the section of Veterans Drive within the township. Another long-term goal is offering a second access point to Hickory Hills and the surrounding parklands, both for emergency purposes and to alleviate traffic stress on Randolph Street, Sych said.
Another unique corridor is M-72 – particularly the Bugai Road/Gray Road intersection – as it impacts three townships: Garfield, Long Lake, and Elmwood. Those townships all have differing approaches to development, Sych noted. On the Long Lake Township side, high density is planned near the intersection, including the multi-family development Edge 72, more upcoming residential neighborhoods, the growing popularity of Jacob’s Farm, and a possible new gas station (Blarney Castle Oil has purchased property at the southwest corner of M-72 and Gray Road). Municipal water service will also soon be available in this area of Long Lake under an agreement with Garfield. In contrast, the north side of the M-72 corridor in Elmwood is designated agricultural/rural land, with residents preferring to preserve that character and use some vacant property as potential parkland instead of development.
Working with neighboring communities and coordinating on development will be important as the township moves forward, according to staff. With Garfield Township experiencing significant growth, the new master plan will help provide a road map to leveraging that investment to make the township a “much more enjoyable place to live,” Sych said.Comment