Traverse City News and Events

More Housing On The Way For Downtown TC?

By Beth Milligan | Dec. 21, 2020

More housing could be on the way for downtown Traverse City, with a development group planning to build an apartment complex on vacant property on Hall Street and Traverse City commissioners meeting tonight (Monday) to discuss seeking proposals for workforce housing projects on three city-owned parking lots.

According to city staff, a development group is working to bring a new apartment complex to the vacant parcel on the west side of Hall Street located between the BATA transfer station and The Candle Factory (pictured). City Planning Director Russ Soyring says initial plans call for a five-story residential building up to 60 feet tall featuring 100 rental apartments and a rooftop recreation area. Even though parking is not required for the development, about 120 parking spaces are planned for the site, according to Soyring. “For the future residents of the proposed building, bus transit will be extremely convenient being next door to the transit center,” he says.

City staff received preliminary design illustrations a few weeks ago for the project, which are now being revised to fit within zoning limits. Formal site plans have not yet been submitted, though are expected soon. David VanderKlok of Studio Intrigue – the architectural firm for the project and the same design group behind the Breakwater development in the Warehouse District – confirmed the Hall Street project is in the works, though developers declined to elaborate on details. “We are in the early stages of design,” says VanderKlok, adding that more information will be forthcoming “as things are solidified.”

The topic of downtown housing is also on the city commission agenda tonight, with commissioners set to discuss seeking proposals from developers to build workforce housing on three city-owned parking lots. Commissioners Ashlea Walter and Tim Werner requested to have the topic put on the meeting agenda as a follow-up to a May discussion in which commissioners considered a strategy of bringing more housing to the city by partnering with developers to build mixed-use or rental developments on city surface parking lots. City and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) leaders have long identified a goal of consolidating parking – particularly downtown – into parking decks, freeing up surface lots for more productive uses and putting the parcels back on tax rolls.

At the May meeting, Walter and Werner provided a list of seven surface parking lots and another six city-owned parcels that could potentially be used for housing. Based on feedback from the rest of the board and staff, the list has since been narrowed down to three sites to potentially repurpose first: Lot O (northwest corner of State and Cass next to The Omelette Shoppe), Lot X (behind the Hall Street substation), and Lot T (southeast corner of Union and Grandview Parkway).

Walter and Werner are recommending commissioners direct City Manager Marty Colburn to put out a request-for-proposals (RFP) by April that would seek plans from developers to build projects on any of the three parking lots, with a focus on “maximizing the number of residential units, minimizing the carbon footprint, and minimizing parking,” according to a memo from the two commissioners. They added that proposals should “be evaluated for building design and first-floor retail that intentionally create community, a diversity of price points, and favoring long-term rentals over condominiums.”

Walter tells The Ticker that in addition to bringing more “missing middle” housing to downtown – units somewhere between low-income and high-end housing that are affordable to individuals earning a living wage – she is also focused on the environmental benefits of reducing surface parking lots and promoting more efficient land use. “Our goal to do everything we can to address the climate crisis,” she says. “This is one small step toward that goal, and it’s within our power to do that. We can’t rely on other people to do that work. We have the responsibility to do what we can to help, and having the best use of land is really the driver behind this.”

Commissioners could vote tonight to approve the proposal and give Colburn the go-ahead to put out the RFP; the board could also consider modifying the list of parking lots targeted for redevelopment. Walter and Werner recommended including three lots in the RFP to provide developers with a selection of options “in hopes that at least one results in a completed project,” according to their memo. Another city public-private partnership to bring housing downtown is already in the works with the planned Rotary Square on the corner of Union and State streets, a multi-phase deal with TCF Financial Corporation that includes building a new mixed-use development with housing across the street on Lot G next to Modes Bum Steer.

DDA CEO Jean Derenzy is supportive of pursuing similar developments in other lots, reiterating the desire to eliminate surface parking by grouping spaces into decks. A planned new parking deck on West Front could help offset the loss of spaces if surface lots elsewhere are converted to housing, though Derenzy notes each lot will have unique challenges attached related to redevelopment. Lot X, for example, is owned by Traverse City Light & Power and would need to be declared surplus before it could be redeveloped. Lot T is located next to Lot B where the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market is held, which could have ramifications for the market if the lot was converted into housing.

The long-term goal, says Derenzy, is to try and realize the highest and best use of each downtown property while balancing the needs for both housing and parking in the city.

“There would be impact (related to redeveloping parking lots), no question, but you identify what the impact is and find solutions,” says Derenzy. “I always think there are solutions. Trying to keep everything the same because you think there could be a problem is not the solution.”

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