Traverse City News and Events

New Downtown Developments Planned

By Beth Milligan | March 15, 2018

After developer Thom Darga's plans fell through for the former Fifth Third Bank property on Union and Garland streets, a new development group will appear before Traverse City planning commissioners Tuesday to present plans for a four-story, mixed-use building featuring 77 apartments and retail and restaurant space on the site. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of downtown on East Front Street, a new nine-home development will soon be constructed between Peninsula Drive and Garfield Avenue.

Innovo Development Group is planning to build a four-story building (pictured) on the former Fifth Third Bank property in the Warehouse District after closing on the parcel in December. Darga originally planned to build a development called Warehouse Flats on the site, but after permitting and zoning obstacles delayed his plans, the property was sold to a different development group.

According to site plan documents submitted to the city, Innovo is planning to build a 45-foot building featuring 77 residential units, a 5,000 square-foot restaurant with both north and south-facing patios, on-site parking, and two 1,500+ square-foot retail spaces. Breakwater, as the project is called, will feature rental housing rather than condos – with units consisting of “various sizes,” according to City Planning Director Russ Soyring. “Quite a few of them will be studio one-bedroom apartments.”

Innovo has also requested to provide private surface parking on the site to accommodate its commercial businesses in addition to the residential parking deck. Such requests must be approved by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), which generally aims to deprioritize surface lots in order to maximize scarce and costly downtown land for either tax-generating developments or multi-level decks. DDA CEO Jean Derenzy tells The Ticker Breakwater likely doesn’t qualify for an exception to that rule, adding she aims to work with developers to instead find a parking solution that can accommodate public parking spaces.

“There are a lot of benefits to having it be part of the public (parking) system, and that approach meets our goals and strategies as part of our master plan and also our transportation demand management study,” Derenzy says.

Other aspects of the project already align with identified needs downtown, Derenzy says, such as providing more residential housing and retail space. The developers are also working with the Traverse City Arts Commission on providing public art on the property and “softening the experience” on the Boardman River-fronting portion of the site to enhance connectivity to the water, Derenzy says.

When Darga previously pursued plans for the property, he went through a conditional rezoning process to be able to build up to 60 feet high instead of the 45 feet allowed by right. The rezoning request was granted by the city, but was tied to specific conditions regarding building plans for the site. In order to keep the taller building allowance, Innovo would have to meet all of the conditions granted to Darga – essentially building Darga’s exact proposed development on the site. Innovo has indicated it’s comfortable reverting to the original 45-foot height limitation on the property in order to shed Darga’s site conditions. Planning commissioners will meet April 3 to vote on reverting back to the original zoning, a motion that will then go to city commissioners for final approval.

Without any special zoning or permit requests, the Breakwater project can be built by right and only requires site plan review by city planning commissioners – a process set to take place at Tuesday’s meeting. While Innovo representatives declined to comment on the project Wednesday, City Planning and Engineering Assistant Missy Luick says its appears developers are “prepared to begin in relatively short order” on breaking ground on the development.

On the other side of downtown, developer Roger Send is planning to build nine new individual single-family homes at 1021 East Front Street on the north side of the road between Peninsula Drive and Garfield Avenue. The two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom homes will average 1,500 square feet and offer either one or two carports. Each of the homes in Urban Nine, as the development is called, will sell for $294,000.

“I think at that price point it opens it up to a lot of people who want to be in town,” says Send. “I grew up in Traverse City, and so did my dad right in town on Tenth Street, and I like providing housing in the downtown Traverse City area.”

Units are listed for sale now online; Send says the first home should be ready for occupancy in five to six months.

Photo credit: Studio [intrigue] Architects

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