Traverse City News and Events

TART Extension Update, Vacation Rental Rules on Planning Commission Agenda

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 13, 2024

After a bumpy 2023, a revamped Traverse City planning commission – which could see three new members added next week – will kick off 2024 with a busy meeting agenda Wednesday, including an update on the planned TART Trail extension, consideration of revisiting the city’s short-term rental rules, and the revival of efforts to create a city riparian buffer ordinance.

Three new members could join the planning commission if city commissioners approve their recommended appointments at their Tuesday meeting. After an ad hoc committee of commissioners interviewed nine applicants, the group is recommending appointing Brian McGillivary, Shea O’Brien, and Jess Heller to fill three open seats on the planning commission. Those seats were previously held by Heather Shaw, Christopher Martin, and David Hassing. Those appointments could bring the planning commission back up to its full size of nine members after the board dealt with turnover and vacancies in recent months. The planning commission will kick off its Wednesday meeting electing officers and completing an annual review of its bylaws. The board will also review the 2023 planning report and discuss annual goals, which will help get all planning commissioners on the same page heading into 2024.

Several other major discussion items will dominate Wednesday’s planning commission meeting. The first is a presentation on the downtown TART Trail extension, which will also be given to city commissioners Tuesday. The trail plan – designed by Progressive AE – calls for expanding the segments of the existing trail width to 16 feet, with 10 feet dedicated to bi-directional bicycle use and six feet dedicated to pedestrian use. The plan envisions future trail connections east of the Senior Center along East Front Street and Peninsula Drive and an expanded trail connection on the south side of Grandview Parkway from Hall Street to Division Street.

The entire trail project is intended to be tackled in phases, starting this year with the segment of Murchie Bridge to the Senior Center in conjunction with the reconstruction of Grandview Parkway. The total estimated cost for that trail segment is $1,242,898. Funding sources include a state Revitalization and Placemaking Program grant ($500,000/40 percent), the City of Traverse City ($421,449/34 percent), TC Downtown Development Authority ($200,000/16 percent), and TART Trails ($121,449/10 percent).

Since city leaders approved the design and funding plan for the trail segment in August, one significant aspect of the plan has changed, according to City Planning Director Shawn Winter. Delamar Traverse City has declined to give the city an easement for a trail expansion through its property, which would’ve taken the form of a shared service drive through the south parking area. Winter says the city remains open to collaborating with Delamar if the hotel changes its mind, but in the meantime, the trail will default to the state’s plan to install five-foot-sidewalk along the hotel property as part of the Grandview Parkway reconstruction.

However, since Delamar represented a costly portion of the trail segment, Winter says funds have been freed up that can now be potentially used in other sections of trail. The city is working with the grant coordinator on obtaining approval to replace and widen trail from Murchie Bridge west to Clinch Park during the Parkway reconstruction. The city is also exploring installing the new trail segment this year on the south side of the Parkway from Division Street to Hall Street along Bay Street. Winter says MDOT is also open to installing widened trail between the Senior Center and The Blue Goat/Peninsula Drive if the city can obtain easements from property owners along that stretch. The city is working on those easements, Winter says, but with construction slated to start in two months, it’s unclear whether those will be secured in time for this year’s project.

Either way, the long-term plan is to have a 16-foot-wide trail between West End Beach and Park Street, with the trail necking down to 12 feet as it approaches Murchie Bridge and five feet in front of Delamar, then ideally widening again approaching Peninsula Drive. The city hopes to eventually expand the trail down to Bryant Park and then to Eastern Avenue. “It’s a big vision, so it’s going to be broken up into pieces,” Winter says.

Planning commissioners will also have a discussion Wednesday about the city’s short-term rental rules. “The planning commission and department staff have discussed at length the fact that there are numerous levers affecting our community's housing crisis, both in terms of availability and affordability, and that no single action will serve as a panacea to that crisis,” according to a memo from Winter. “It was also discussed last year that the planning commission's purview is largely limited to land use, which addresses the availability component, and in turn through supply and demand has the potential to help alleviate the affordability component.”

One aspect of land use the board could take up is “instituting a limit or cap on short-term rentals, specifically vacation home rentals, in the districts where there currently aren't any limitations,” Winter says. Planning commissioners previously sent a recommendation to city commissioners to establish those limits, which were approved in the C-1 and C-2 districts – where no more than 25 percent of units in a building can be vacation rentals.

However, in the hotel-resort and industrial districts, there’s no limit on short-term rentals. City commissioners didn’t put a cap there because other lodging facilities are allowed, but Winter notes there’s an “argument to be made that a multiple-family structure with each dwelling owned by a separate condo owner is very different than a lodging facility that is owned and operated by a single entity, typically with staff on-site 24 hours a day.” Planning commissioners will consider Wednesday whether they want to start pursuing a cap on short-term rentals in those unrestricted districts.

Finally, planning commissioners will consider appointing three representatives to a Riparian Buffer Ordinance Committee, which will work on finishing a long-discussed set of rules that would regulate how development can occur along rivers and other waterways. Work to finalize the ordinance was delayed by the pandemic and by other major planning projects – including a new master plan and mobility action plan – but has been identified as a top priority by planning commissioners. As proposed, the Riparian Buffer Ordinance Committee would include three planning commissioners (including one city commission member), five key city staff members, three at-large waterfront residents, and one representative from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay is also recommended to serve in an advisory capacity to the committee “to share best practices and potential regulatory solutions,” according to Winter.

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