Traverse City News and Events

Infrastructure, Medical Marijuana, Housing Identified As City Priorities

By Beth Milligan | April 7, 2018

Traverse City commissioners this week narrowed a wide range of city projects and plans into a top list of priorities for the coming year – including focusing on parking and other city infrastructure, setting a medical marijuana policy, expanding housing options, planning for the city’s long-term financial health, and working on transportation planning and corridor development.

Commissioners met for a lengthy study session Wednesday with city staff and facilitator Mary Grover to hammer out a priority list for the 2018-19 budget. City Manager Marty Colburn noted the city has an extensive list of projects and possible policy issues needing to be tackled at any given time – ranging from short-term rental debates to daycare regulations to economic development programs to building height rules – and sought input from commissioners on their top five priorities for the coming year.

“We’re not taking (anything) off the list,” Colburn explained. “It’s a matter of prioritization. We have a limited amount of staff time and amount of hours and human resources. That comes back down to money that we invest into all of the different discussions.” Colburn continued that as he prepared next year’s budget – which commissioners will approve later this spring – he would “place resources” into addressing their top priorities and making sure appropriate staffing was in place to tackle those issues. “If all five of (priorities) are in the planning department, that’s going to influence me with my recommendation to you,” Colburn offered as one example.

Commissioners used a numbered ranking system to each list their top priorities from among approximately 20 compiled by staff and commission recommendations. The votes were then tallied and combined together to determine the board’s overall list of goals.

Topping the list as the number-one priority was “stewardship of resources,” a general category that included parking, stormwater, energy efficiency, water conservation, and inflow and infiltration (city sanitary sewer system). Commissioners talked through what they hoped to see in each of those categories. For parking, Commissioner Richard Lewis said he wanted to focus on the development of a planned parking deck on West Front Street, while Commissioner Tim Werner said he hoped for more discussion on “how best to use” city parking, whether in decks or surface lots or residential streets. Commissioner Brian McGillivary stressed commissioners should have more “upfront involvement in some of the parking decisions” made in the city, since discussions often originate at the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) – which manages the parking system – and later come to the city commission.

Other “stewardship of resources” goals included studying the possibility of creating a city stormwater utility and/or fund, working on steps to meet the city’s goal of using 100 percent renewable energy for its facilities by 2020, and educating utility customers on efficiencies offered by new smart meters coming online in the city.

Commissioners ranked as their second priority establishing a medical marijuana policy for the city. The board affirmed its support in February for allowing medical marijuana facilities to operate in Traverse City under new state laws regulating such businesses. While recreational marijuana could be legalized in Michigan this fall under a November ballot proposal, commissioners emphasized that was a separate initiative and that they didn’t want to wait to provide medical marijuana patients with solutions in the city.

The board’s third priority was to ensure the financial stability and sustainability of the city, including creating a five-year projection of the city’s budget and 10-year history of its obligations. With other municipalities around the state – including Grand Traverse County – struggling particularly with pension liabilities, a financial planning process will help ensure the city is prepared to meet its future expenses, commissioners hoped.

Filling out the rest of the list was pursuing programs and incentives to close “identified gaps in housing, inclusive of affordable housing,” in the city – which ranked fourth in priorities – and a tie for two fifth-place options. Those included transportation planning – such as establishing guidelines for transportation citywide and undertaking traffic calming and complete streets initiatives – and corridor development. Though lower on the list, commissioners spent considerable time fleshing out what corridor development would look like and stressed to Colburn they wanted to see Eighth Street top the list of corridors focused on. Projects include the reconstruction of the road, potentially adopting a new zoning plan for the area, and pursuing an economic development district and/or neighborhood “brand” for the Eighth Street corridor.

“Eighth Street is clearly floating on top, I think that’s an obvious statement,” said Commissioner Brian Haas. Lewis agreed: “It’s primary and it’s going to be high on our focus…right now our success for other corridors kind of depends on what happens on Eighth Street.”

Colburn told commissioners at the end of the planning session he felt “good in terms of understanding some more of the detail that you’re looking for…(and) how we utilize our staff time in terms of prioritization.”

“We do work on a lot of these at any one given time, as I mentioned at the very beginning, so even something that might be twentieth (on the list) we may be paying a little attention to, depending on what pops up at the time,” Colburn said, adding that the top priorities would nonetheless receive the most staff attention and budget focus. “It takes a lot of parts to build the car.”

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