Traverse City News and Events

Garfield Township, Traverse City Ready to Finalize New Master Plans

By Beth Milligan | April 1, 2024

Garfield Township and the City of Traverse City are both entering the final phase of approving new master plans – key documents that serve as a “vision” for communities and guide how decisions are made about land use, transportation, infrastructure, and more. Garfield Township kicked off a required 63-day public comment period last week before it formally adopts its new plan, while Traverse City planning commissioners will review the city’s draft master plan starting Tuesday for several weeks before sending it to city commissioners to begin the same 63-day public comment period.

Garfield Township trustees and planning commissioners met in a joint session Wednesday to review the draft master plan before voting unanimously to send it out to neighboring communities, county commissioners, utility and transportation agencies, groups like Networks Northwest, and the public for two months of required feedback. That review period will expire at the end of May, with planning commissioners expected to vote to approve the new master plan on June 12 and the township board to do the same on June 25.

Township Planning Director John Sych said that creating the plan has been “a journey over the last two years.” Public input – particularly a community-wide survey of township residents – was key in shaping the document, he said. “It’s more than an update,” Sych said. “It’s in essence a rewrite...there’s a lot of new components to it.”

Garfield’s new plan, for instance, has new zoning districts for mixed-use neighborhoods and mixed-use centers. Those are in primarily commercial areas that could now benefit from a mix of uses, Sych said – reflecting some of the realities of the world today. For example, big box stores are increasingly shutting down and not returning. Those spaces can be reinvented for other uses, Sych said, like has occurred at the Cherryland Center with a new curling center, a new home for the Traverse City Philharmonic, and a planned indoor go-kart racing center. Sych said demand is increasingly shifting to entertainment uses like those, along with smaller-scale retail and drive-thru businesses.

“It’s important for us to be flexible in how those areas are developed,” he said. The same thing applies to the Grand Traverse Mall, he said, with township leaders seeking to offer more flexibility to develop housing, entertainment, and other uses on that site. New office construction has also declined significantly, Sych said – particularly in the wake of the pandemic – offering an opportunity to allow more uses in areas that were once primarily designated for office.

Garfield Township’s new master plan also outlines areas where more connections are desired in the community. Those include a mix of private and public roads, such as extending Zimmerman Road up to Harris Road and building a connecting drive behind Lowe’s to the Grand Traverse Mall. Garfield Township can’t mandate that those connections happen, Sych noted – other agencies are involved in road decision-making and funding – but can work collaboratively with groups like the Grand Traverse County Road Commission and Michigan Department of Transportation on projects. Sych cited as one example Garfield Township’s desire to close more driveways on South Airport Road. When the True North gas station was recently renovated at the corner of South Airport and LaFranier roads, the township was able to work with developers to close some of the driveways at that site, he said.

The township’s master plan is important for setting clear expectations for developers and outlining the community’s desired growth patterns in the coming years, according to Sych. It gives both property owners and the public “some predictability and assurances,” he said. Planning Commission Chair Joe McManus pointed out that a master plan – even a newly rewritten one – is a “living, breathing document.” He added: “We’ll probably be visiting this again in the next few years and looking at it. But it’s important to keep it updated and keep it changing with the times.”

Traverse City leaders are on a similar path toward approving their own new master plan. Planning commissioners will review the city’s draft plan for the first time in its entirety Tuesday at their 6pm meeting. Key “chapters” in the plan to be discussed this week include housing and neighborhoods, transportation, infrastructure, and energy. Next week (April 9), planning commissioners will continue the discussion by looking at existing land uses, sustainability, health and safety, arts and culture, and economic development. That will be followed by two weeks of planning commission review on April 16 and 23 of the city’s new mobility action plan – a related document and the “first-ever comprehensive plan towards building a non-motorized network throughout the community,” according to the city.

The proposed new master plan also contains a supplemental report – which serves as the bulk of the nearly 500-page document, providing an “overall informational repository on our community,” according to City Planning Director Shawn Winter – as well as a “magazine,” which will be reviewed on April 30. That is the prescriptive part of the plan and includes previously established guiding principles, the city’s future land use map, and an action plan, among other elements.

The action plan outlines specific goals the city hopes to tackle in the coming years, the desired timeframe, and the responsible departments for implementing them. For example, one to three-year goals for the zoning department range from establishing an “appropriate cap” for vacation home rentals in all commercial districts to considering electric vehicle infrastructure as part of the approval process for private site plans. Projects in other departments in that timeframe include creating a development dashboard to publicly track new development progress, exploring funding mechanisms for stormwater infrastructure, prioritizing tree planting in areas that reduce urban heat islands, and creating a proactive city plan for tax incentives and other tools to support more single and multi-family housing.

Longer-range goals – in the next three to five years – including rezoning parts of Union, Front, and Fourteenth streets to encourage better development patterns, developing a climate progress dashboard, increasing financial support for the arts commission, and exploring creating a land trust model in Traverse City. An even longer range goal – in the next five to ten years – is to explore amending the city charter to create a “proactive rental safety inspection program to ensure one and two-family residential rental properties are safe and well-maintained for the welfare of occupants,” according to the plan. Other Michigan cities that have such programs include Bay City, Ludington, and Midland.

Once planning commissioners complete their multi-week review of the new master plan and mobility action plan, they could move them on to the city commission in early May. City commissioners can then vote to begin the 63-day public comment period, which will extend into the summer. Planning commissioners could vote to approve the new master plan in August, followed by a city commission vote in September.

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