Traverse City News and Events

Resident Feedback Shapes New Plan For Barlow-Garfield Corridor, With Emphasis On Redeveloping Cherryland Center

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 24, 2020

Garfield Township leaders are moving closer to adopting a neighborhood plan for the Barlow-Garfield area – a document that outlines a vision and strategy for improving the neighborhood, upgrading public infrastructure, encouraging more connectivity and mixed-use development, and transforming underperforming sites like the Cherryland Center.

Township planning commissioners got their first look Wednesday at the draft Barlow Garfield Neighborhood Plan, a policy guide staff have been working on since last summer that could be formally adopted by township trustees as soon as April. The plan has been shaped by feedback collected from residents through mailed and online surveys and in-person meetings, with a second public comment and hearing process slated to take place February through April.

The document focuses on recommendations for the zone surrounding the Cherryland Center – including both sides of Barlow Street, South Airport Road, Garfield Avenue, and adjacent properties – which township officials have identified as prime for investment and growth. The area has a number of challenges, however, including a need for more affordable housing and infrastructure improvements, lower household income levels compared to the rest of Grand Traverse County, and a lack of amenities like parks, sidewalks, and centrally located grocery stores.

The biggest challenge – and opportunity – within the neighborhood is the Cherryland Center property, township leaders agree. The Barlow Garfield Neighborhood “was in part identified as a special planning area because of the opportunity to redevelop the Cherryland Center site and positively enhance the surrounding area,” the draft plan states. The document also ‘”acknowledges that a failure to address underperforming properties may lead to liabilities such as lower property tax revenue, enforcement issues, and potential decline of other parts of the surrounding neighborhood.”

Township Planning Director John Sych and Deputy Planning Director Steve Hannon each contributed a “redevelopment scenario” to the plan that envisions a different future life for the Cherryland Center. One scenario imagines retaining some of the existing buildings and site layout of the property, while the other depicts a complete redevelopment of the site. In both designs, mixed-use buildings, a combination of high, moderate, and low-density housing, and public parks and green spaces dot the 37-acre property at the corner of South Airport and Garfield. Redeveloping the property as a vibrant space with a mix of uses and well-designed sidewalk and street connections to surrounding neighborhoods could “help catalyze further investment in the neighborhood and may serve as a community focal point,” the plan states.

“Imagine if this whole site were to be...redeveloped,” Hannon told planning commissioners Wednesday. “What would it look like?” Hannon addressed concerns voiced by some commissioners that three different entities own pieces of the Cherryland Center, making it difficult to pursue a cohesive vision for the site. Hannon said township staff planned to share the Barlow Garfield Neighborhood Plan with property owners and could help them market the Cherryland Center site to potential investors. The parcel sits within an opportunity zone, which allows investors to put dollars into an opportunity fund for development projects and receive capital tax gains relief. “Regardless of (their) ownership interest, we know the effect this site is having on the neighborhood around it,” Hannon said. “We’re planning for a future where this is going to look different. This is going to be something that’s full, something that anchors that neighborhood.”

Planning Commission Chair John Racine acknowledged the site’s private ownership limits the township’s ability to force action there, but noted owners are also likely motivated to see something happen at the Cherryland Center. “We can’t make them do much, but it’d be interesting to find out (what they’re thinking),” he said. “They can’t be making any money off that investment, so you’d think they’d be interested in doing something, too.”

Residents also want to see the property redeveloped, identifying it as one of their top priorities. “They definitely want to see something happen on Cherryland Center, a site that was cited a lot,” Hannon said, summarizing survey feedback. “(There are also) lots of issues with a lack of sidewalks and accessibility. People wanted to see that improved. Traffic congestion and speeding was cited as an issue. There’s obviously two major, major roads that go through there.” Residents also complained about the number of properties with junk in their yards, an issue the township could address with stricter enforcement of its junk ordinance.

Other actionable steps the township could pursue as part of the plan include standardizing setbacks and building placements – residents overwhelmingly favored clean, uniform design aesthetics with green landscaping and park spaces – and developing a mixed-use zoning district to provide for a variety of development options. The plan calls for discouraging further drive-thrus, which create traffic and pedestrian conflict points, and developing a capital improvement plan (CIP) for the neighborhood to prioritize infrastructure and placemaking projects. Multiple funding opportunities could be considered to lure investment to the neighborhood, including marketing the opportunity zone incentives to developers, exploring brownfield funding, and seeking tax capture through a corridor improvement authority (similar to a tax increment finance – or TIF – district).

The Garfield Barlow area also has built-in benefits the township can continue to expand upon, according to the draft plan. “People like the convenient location,” Hannon read from resident feedback. “They’re pretty close to everything in the region. They’re close to retail and commercial that people want to use. People like their quiet neighborhoods, and they like their trees.” Township trustees could work with the Grand Traverse County Road Commission on improvements to South Airport, Garfield, and Barlow to strengthen those thoroughfares as advantages instead of liabilities, and could tighten zoning regulations to create more shared driveways and interconnectivity between parking lots. Those moves would further strengthen the retail corridors as assets by reducing traffic pain points.

Feedback from township officials over the next month will tweak the Barlow Garfield Neighborhood Plan before it’s submitted to residents for a 42-day public comment period, followed by a public hearing and formal adoption vote later this spring.  Hannon said the goal of the final document is to have a “clear, concise, and actionable” vision that will guide township planning going forward. Racine said it was important for officials to “start putting meat on some of these bones” in the plan to make it clear what steps the township will pursue to implement the recommendations. “If nobody does anything, it just goes on a shelf and we haven’t accomplished anything,” he said.

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