Traverse City News and Events

Leadership Changes, Housing Project, Commons Trail on Garfield Agenda

By Beth Milligan | March 26, 2024

Garfield Township trustees will vote tonight (Tuesday) to create a new position of township manager and downgrade the supervisor role to a part-time position and salary. Trustees will also hear from a development group seeking to use new brownfield incentives to build a 154-unit workforce housing project on US-31 and consider a proposal for engineering services to build a 1.25-mile universally accessible trail at the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area.

Township Leadership Positions
After several months of discussion, Garfield Township trustees will vote tonight on resolutions to create a full-time staff position of township manager and scale back the elected township supervisor role to a part-time job and salary.

Long-time Township Supervisor Chuck Korn announced in January he will not seek reelection this year. The dramatic growth Garfield Township has experienced since Korn was first elected in 2008 prompted trustees to take a closer look at the position and the township’s leadership needs going forward. With no specific qualifications required to serve as supervisor over the fastest-growing municipality in Grand Traverse County, Korn worried that “at some point, you’re going to get somebody who’s unqualified and possibly has intentions that are not what you want,” he told trustees.

The board agreed, believing that having a full-time manager on staff instead – a person the board would hire who would have professional qualifications to oversee key township affairs and not be subject to a public vote every four years – would ensure stability going forward. Trustees will vote on two resolutions tonight to facilitate the change. The first resolution will create the position of township manager. The resolution language states that trustees are committed to hiring “the most qualified individual to maintain the values of the board and ultimately the citizens of Garfield Charter Township. We will begin the process of finding and hiring a professional manager to assume the executive duties of the township and enforce the policies and ordinances adopted by the township board.”

The second resolution will establish the elected role of township supervisor as a part-time job. While the manager will oversee day-to-day operations of Garfield Township, the supervisor will serve as “chairman of the board,” Korn said – similar to how the role of mayor works in the City of Traverse City. The supervisor will also still have statutory responsibilities, such as serving as the chief assessing officer and the township’s legal agent, and will help develop the budget with the manager and other department heads, among other duties.

The annual compensation for part-time supervisor is estimated at just under $23,000. That reflects a monthly wage rate and meeting attendance rate slightly higher than that of trustees – due to having more responsibilities – as well as per diems for other meetings and trainings throughout the year. Trustees are seeking to make the position changes now ahead of the April 23 filing deadline so that any candidates seeking to run for supervisor this year understand the new job description and salary first. Trustees did not set a salary level for township manager – they intend to work with a consultant on establishing and filling the position – but estimated it could be in the $120,000 to $140,000 range.

Housing/TIF
Development group Keel Capital will appear before trustees tonight to explore funding options for a proposed new apartment complex at 2105 N. US-31 South (the Gauthier property directly north of McRae Hill Road).

According to presentation materials, Keel is “incredibly excited about this project given its direct access to US-31, location with Garfield Township, and the ability to deliver much-needed workforce market-rate housing.” The firm has had “extensive discussions and diligence calls with our project partners to navigate challenging terrain and wetlands to develop four attractive buildings on a great property for a total of 154 housing units.” Two buildings will be two stories and two will be three stories, with a combination of studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units in each building. A fitness center, co-working space, clubhouse, grilling stations, fire pits, and an outdoor covered dining area are among the planned amenities.

However, Keel’s team “faces challenges to fund this project at a reasonable return,” the company wrote. “The primary challenges are the hard costs of construction and higher interest rates.” The project is being “efficiently designed” to minimize the cost per square foot, Keel wrote, but the all-in cost is estimated at $360 per square foot. By comparison, similar downstate projects in development are estimated at about $260 per square foot, according to Keel.

The company is looking to explore options with Garfield Township and the Brownfield Authority to use new funding tools available to municipalities for housing projects under legislative changes signed into law in Michigan last year. Among other changes, the new rules allow brownfield tax increment financing (TIF) to help fund housing projects with approval from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). The program can be used to “fund rental, for-sale, single-family, multi-family, new construction, and rehabilitation opportunities for those up to 120 percent of area median income (AMI),” according to MSHDA Executive Director Amy Hovey.

Under the state guidelines, Keel’s project could be eligible for up to $15.5 million in TIF reimbursement over 20 years. That is based on the difference between targeted market rents (established by looking at comparable units) and “control rents” for the Keel project, set at 100 percent AMI. Keel wants to explore securing about half of the total possible eligible TIF funding for the project, or $8 million over two decades. Garfield Township’s agenda does not list possible action on the project tonight, just introduction and discussion. Keel Capital recently aimed to purchase the TCAPS Administration Building to demolish and build residential units on the site, but that property was ultimately sold to another development group, Boardman Building LLC.

GT Commons Natural Area Trail
Finally, township trustees will consider a $77,500 proposal for engineering services from Gourdie-Fraser for a 1.25-mile universally accessible trail on the northern portion of the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area. The 10-foot-wide trail will include 6,117 feet of crushed gravel and 344 feet of boardwalk, including a foot bridge. The new section of trail will be accessible from the North Long Lake Road trailhead and tie into existing trail that connects to parking on Red Drive, with rehabilitation and enhancement planned for the existing trail.

The new trail is “intended to make the Commons Natural Area more accessible for people of all abilities,” according to Garfield Township. It will also “provide a defined primary trail and discourage social trails, which can contribute to erosion and other issues.” Garfield Township has received a $300,000 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant to construct the accessible trail loop. The township recently went through an extensive public process to create a new design plan for the Commons Natural Area, which details a universally accessible trail and numerous other desired park improvements in the coming years.

Pictured: Left, Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn; right, Garfield Township Hall

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