Traverse City News and Events

Gas Station Development, Parking Changes Get Green Light

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 2, 2020

Traverse City planning commissioners Tuesday approved a gas station expansion/reconstruction project on Munson Avenue and voted to eliminate required parking spaces for residential properties – a move that would still allow developers to include parking when constructing residential buildings in the city, but no longer require it. The parking proposal now heads to city commissioners for final approval.

True North Energy plans to build a new truenorth-brand convenience store, car wash, and gas station on the site of an existing gas station at 708 Munson Avenue next to the former Schelde’s building. The development will replace the current gas station and expand into the Schelde’s space, offering a 4,290-square-foot convenience store with a stone and brick exterior, a six-pump gas station, and a 1,500-square-foot car wash with a single-lane entrance and exit. True North Energy purchased 25 gas stations/convenience stores in the Traverse City market from Schmuckal Oil Company last year, including the Munson Avenue location.

Developers first came to planning commissioners for site plan approval at the board’s August 4 meeting. At that meeting, planning commissioners outlined several areas of concern they wanted to see addressed before green lighting the project, including stormwater management, ADA-compliant access to the gas station, lighting, snow removal plans, utility connection plans for water and sewer, and bike rack compliance. Project representative Rick Turner presented updated plans to planning commissioners Tuesday addressing each of those components, including having only downward-facing lighting on the building exterior and extending a public 12-inch water main 250 feet north to the right-of-way on Munson. The revised plans meet city stormwater requirements and include a minimum seven-foot-wide sidewalk in front of the gas station; developers also adjusted the site plan to protect a 36-inch mature white pine on the property.

“We did go back and take a look…we really listened to the things the planning commission had to say and think we addressed all of your concerns,” Turner said. “We really felt that Traverse City and Munson Avenue in particular is a place we’d like to be.”

In response to a question about where dirty water from the car wash would go, City Planning Director Russ Soyring noted the water would be disposed of and treated through the city’s sanitary sewer system. Project representatives estimated a basic car wash would use an average of 30-42 gallons of water. While Planning Commissioner Brian McGillivary opposed the site plan – citing a waived condition that buildings primarily face Front Street, a city ordinance requirement he said was ignored on too many projects – the planning commission voted 8-1 to approve the development. Planning Commissioner Tyler Bevier said it was helpful to remind “the public that this isn’t a new gas station in our area adding to the inventory, it’s the reconstruction of an existing one that might be a little dated,” adding it would also repurpose an abandoned restaurant building.

Traverse City planning commissioners also voted 6-3 Wednesday to eliminate minimum parking requirements for residential properties, with McGillivary, Janet Fleshman, and Jim Tuller opposed. The policy change requires final approval from city commissioners before it takes effect. The city currently requires residential properties to include at least one parking space per dwelling unit – a stipulation Soyring said adds extra cost to projects and spurs overdevelopment of parking. “It invites driving and it deters walking,” he said.

Planning commissioners have been looking for ways to encourage more housing density in the city, with Soyring suggesting that eliminating parking minimums – particularly in bikable and walkable areas located near commercial corridors – could allow developers to better maximize land and build more units instead of having to save wide swaths of space for parking. After receiving numerous emails about the proposal in recent weeks, both for and against the recommended change, planning commissioners addressed public misconceptions about the proposal Tuesday. They emphasized that if parking minimums were eliminated, developers could still build as much as parking as they want for residential properties (within city regulations) – but would no longer be forced to provide parking spaces, instead determining for themselves what’s the best fit for a particular project.

“It’s not forbidding people from having parking, but more a matter of having the market decide and not having government intervene with one more requirement,” explained Planning Commission Chair Linda Koebert. Several planning commissioners said they believed developers would still provide parking because of demand from potential tenants, but that in some parts of the city, they could offer fewer or even no spaces if it made logistical sense. Koebert noted that several other areas have already eliminated parking minimums. “Two of the most dynamic and attractive parts of our city are the Commons and our downtown, and neither one of them has minimum parking for residences,” she said.

Some residents in downtown neighborhoods wrote to planning commissioners and expressed frustration with downtown employees parking on their streets, citing concerns that eliminating parking minimums would exacerbate the issue. Koebert pointed out that neighborhood streets in the city aren’t the private property of homeowners. “There’s a feeling somehow you own the street in front of your house,” she said. “You don’t. It’s public property.” Other planning commissioners said they want to revisit more aspects of the city’s parking ordinance, including addressing employee overspill parking from downtown, but felt that was a separate issue and that eliminating residential minimums made sense to meet city housing and transportation goals.

“I think it’s relatively low-hanging fruit for us,” said Planning Commissioner Christie Minervini. “We may not see a big bump in housing from this, but it does seem like something that can make a difference. And if we can tackle these issues one at a time, the cumulative effect will be more housing, and of course hopefully more affordable housing.”

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