Traverse City News and Events

Indian Woods Becomes Newest City Neighborhood Association, Prompting Discussions About Name, Boundaries

By Beth Milligan | July 22, 2023

Just months after the Base of Old Mission (BOOM) formed as Traverse City’s newest neighborhood association, city commissioners approved expanding its boundaries this week while also approving the creation of a tenth neighborhood association – Indian Woods. That discussion raised questions about how associations are named and how their boundaries are set.

After voting in February to establish BOOM – a new neighborhood association with boundaries roughly defined by Eastern Avenue, Birchwood Avenue, Peninsula Drive/Center Road, and Huron Hills/Timberlane Drive – city commissioners voted Monday to expand the association’s boundaries southwest down to East Front Street (pictured, blue outline). According to City Clerk Benjamin Marentette, residents of the Peninsula/Milliken Drive area (‘Pen/Mill’ and ‘College Heights’) requested to be included in BOOM. In addition to the expansion, the neighborhood association is making other progress: Marentette noted that BOOM has formalized its leadership structure – using a “leadership group” instead of traditional officer roles like president and treasurer – and had two official meetings to date, in addition to a handful of social events.

Commissioners also voted Monday to approve a request to establish a new neighborhood association directly southeast of BOOM – Indian Woods. That association covers the waterfront area east of East Bay Boulevard North and the triangular area bordered by East Front Street, Munson Avenue, and East Bay Boulevard South (pictured, yellow outline). Since formal neighborhood associations are provided with city staff support – an oft-limited resource – Marentette spoke to Indian Woods organizers Caroline Kennedy and Jackie Anderson about combining with BOOM to have one neighborhood association for the area. However, Indian Woods residents felt that the neighborhoods were distinct enough – with different sets of needs and priorities – to necessitate having two associations.

“We are a little bit different from (BOOM),” Anderson tells The Ticker. “We are in a neighborhood bordered both by waterfront – East Bay – and a very busy commercial district on Munson Avenue. We felt there were likely going to be issues – riparian rights, traffic concerns, road infrastructure – that would be unique to us versus BOOM neighborhood. That’s why we pursued a separate association.”

While all city residents are encouraged to weigh in on city issues, those who “share a common neighborhood identity, goals, and concerns may elect to form a neighborhood association,” according to the city’s website. Neighborhood associations provide a platform “for neighbors to stay connected and feel some unity and have social activities,” Marentette says, while also offering a channel to “collectively voice concerns or feedback to the city.” For example, residents of Slabtown Neighborhood Association recently used their formal platform to support the reconstruction of Madison and Jefferson streets. With two new neighborhood associations forming in six months – plus long-time active associations ranging from Slabtown to Central to Boardman to Traverse Heights – Marentette says he’s seen an uptick in interest in recent years in residents participating in the groups. “One of the things that’s fantastic about Traverse City is there’s so much care and interest and desire to have input,” he says.

In order to be officially recognized, a new neighborhood association must be approved by city commissioners. That process involves establishing the association’s name and boundaries (associations also typically establish their own leadership structure, regular meeting times and/or social events, and communication channels like email threads or social media pages for residents to stay connected). When approving the formation of Indian Woods, Commissioner Mark Wilson – a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians – questioned the use of “Indian” in the association’s name. Wilson noted that streets within the subdivision are named after individual nations that predate the U.S. – such as Chippewa Street, Iroquois Street, and Shawnee Street – adding that he believed residents “probably meant no disrespect” with the name selection.

However, “often I was taught we hang on to the word Indian because so many treaties were written and included that word in it,” Wilson said. “So that if we were to try to deviate too much from that, it could have a negative impact on Native American nations. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t just take a moment and respectfully ask if you would maybe consider a different name to reflect your neighborhood association.”

Kennedy said that residents did discuss the choice of name and several alternative at the association’s first organizational meeting, which drew 80-90 attendees. She noted that the neighborhood is formally platted by the city under the name Indian Woods, which is the subdivision name that also appears on residents’ property tax bills. For that reason, “by a vast majority the residents who were there wanted to honor and keep the Indian Woods name,” Kennedy said. “So that’s the history behind it. It was not an oversight...that was the discussion that took place, and it was the decision that was made by the people who live there.”

City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht told commissioners that while the neighborhood association can call itself any name it likes, the city could also undertake a process to amend the Indian Woods plat name. However, that is “quite an intensive process” that requires notification of everyone in the affected plat and submitting the request to Circuit Court. Trible-Laucht said the city has undertaken such a process when a street has been vacated, but she was not aware of it occurring for a name change.

Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe encouraged residents to keep an open dialogue about the name. “Much like we've seen changes with things like NFL football names, maybe now that a member of our local tribe and our commission and a neighbor – though maybe not directly in your neighborhood – has spoken up, you might pick that conversation up again,” she suggested. “That seems like a good faith discussion you're willing to enter into.” Wilson voted with other commissioners in supporting the creation of Indian Woods, saying he understood resident perspectives about it being the legal name on their plat and tax bill but felt it important to raise the issue. “Just knowing it could be changed at a later date if the community feels that way makes me feel better,” he said.

Anderson says she is appreciative of the conversation raised by Wilson this week, saying it’s one of the educational issues the association could potentially tackle in the coming months. “I think raising awareness of the issue that Mark brought up would be really helpful for our neighbors,” she says. “I’ve thought about a few things, and one is to invite Mark and maybe a spokesperson from the local historic society to come and talk with us about Native American heritage specific to our neighborhood. I’d like to make sure everybody in the neighborhood knows more about our history.”

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