Traverse City News and Events

Peninsula Place Project Heads To Voters

By Beth Milligan | Oct. 5, 2017

A proposed 100-foot building that divided both planning commissioners and public commenters at a Tuesday night meeting must now go before another constituency for approval: Traverse City voters.

Planning commissioners narrowly voted 5-4 to recommend approval of a special land use permit (SLUP) for developer Tom McIntyre’s Peninsula Place, a proposed 10-story condominium project on State Street just east of the Park Place Hotel. Commissioners Brian Haas, Gary Howe, Linda Koebert, John Serratelli, and Jim Tuller voted in support of the SLUP reqest, while Janet Fleshman, Mike Grant, Brian McGillivary and Camille Weatherholt opposed the recommendation.

Prior to their vote, commissioners held a public hearing to gather public input and heard a lengthy presentation on the project from McIntyre and project architect Bill Brunner of Paradigm Design. According to project representatives, the 140,000 square-foot building is proposed to host 64 condominium units, 69 parking spaces and a rooftop garden. Brunner said the building will feature brick and low-glare glass in a design “intended to reflect nearby buildings,” with a stepped-back approach on the upper levels to make the development “appear to be a four-story building” from State Street.

“We worked really hard to design something that would harmonize and fit in to the character of the city and the character of the other buildings that are already there,” Brunner said. “This building would be a vast improvement over what’s there today.”

Planning commissioners and residents, however, were divided on whether the project met SLUP standards requiring the building to be “harmonious and compatible in appearance with the intended character of the vicinity.” Nearly two dozen public commenters spoke at the meeting about Peninsula Place, with comments almost evenly split between support for and opposition to the project.

“I would say the applicant has a pretty strong case that he satisfies all the (SLUP) requirements,” resident and developer Raymond Minervini told planning commissioners. “To look for reasons to say no is doing more gymnastics than planning.”

Jeff Leonhardt, a candidate running for Traverse City commission, disagreed.  “I don’t think anyone who looks at a picture of this building from the bay could say that it is harmonious and fits in with the character of this city,” he said, adding the building “is going to be visible from great distances.”

Planning commissioners’ discussion echoed that of commenters, with board members going in detail through each of the eight SLUP standards for nearly two hours and arguing over whether the project met permit requirements. “The challenge is that it’s a massive building,” said Grant, citing his belief the project didn’t met the standard for neighborhood compatibility.  “It’s not just the height, but it’s the amount of the actual lot that it occupies, which is out of proportion with the Park Place.” Serratelli, however, countered that the standard requires buildings to be compatible not with the current but the intended character of the neighborhood.  “For almost 20 years, the intended character of this vicinity has been to allow buildings up to 100 feet,” he said. “You can say you like that, that you don’t like that…(but) I think the standard has been met.”

After a nearly four-hour meeting, commissioners ultimately voted to recommend approval of the SLUP. Their recommendation means Peninsula Place must now go to Traverse City voters for approval under city charter amendment Proposal 3 before ultimately going to city commissioners for sign-off. McIntyre tells The Ticker he’s meeting with his team this week “to discuss what our next step will be,” including potentially proceeding with an election.

“The first opportunity for an election is in May,” he says. “So we have quite a bit of time.” The developer is simultaneously pursuing a lawsuit against the city in the Michigan Court of Appeals seeking to have Proposal 3 declared illegal, a move he’s described as “going down parallel paths” by seeking multiple avenues that could allow him to construct his development.

The extensive debate over Peninsula Place Tuesday bumped several agenda items slated to be discussed that night to a special meeting planning commissioners will hold October 17. Among those topics is setting a public hearing on possible changes to the city’s accessory dwelling unit (ADU) policy. Planning commissioners are considering potentially broadening the policy to allow ADUs in not only single-family but two-family dwelling districts, as well as easing some lot requirements. The changes would also add new requirements regarding privacy and design elements of ADUs and formalize the process for handling ADU registration and complaints. The changes are the latest in a series of modifications to the ADU policy considered by planning and city commissioners this year, though none have yet been approved.

Also on October 17, planning commissioners will consider scheduling a public hearing on proposed changes to developer Thom Darga’s Warehouse Flats project in the Warehouse District. While Darga has already obtained conditional rezoning approval to build the mixed-use development, he recently made significant design changes to the project that will require him to go back to planning and city commissioners for approval of the new design.

"Originally, a four-story building was proposed with a traditionally shaped building,” according to City Planning Director Russ Soyring. “Revised drawings now show a five-story building with a curvilinear shaped building for the upper three stories. The lower floor footprint remains the same, as does the overall height. The number of residential units is now proposed to go up from 126 to 154. The number of automotive parking spaces goes down from 407 to 196. The commercial space drops from 26,000 to 12,800 square feet.”

Because the design is a significant departure from what was previously proposed, Darga will need a new conditional rezoning agreement with the city to proceed, Soyring says.

Pictured: Conceptual rendering of the proposed Peninsula Place next to the Park Place Hotel. The project directly east of Peninsula Place is TC Lofts, another planned new development now under construction. Photo credit: J. Scott Smith Visual Designs, Inc.

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