Traverse City News and Events

TC Housing Commission & BATA Close On LaFranier Property, Prepare To Move Forward With Housing/Transit Center

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 12, 2022

The Traverse City Housing Commission (TCHC) and Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) have closed on 50-plus acres of property near the intersection of LaFranier and Hammond roads – a crucial step toward building a planned transit and housing center on the site. TCHC also received $6 million in the state’s recently approved budget for workforce housing on the property, potentially clearing the way for construction to begin on the first apartments next spring.

TCHC and BATA finalized the LaFranier Road property purchase on August 1, according to TCHC Executive Director Tony Lentych. The two entities received Garfield Township approval earlier this year for a planned unit development (PUD) for the site, or a zoning plan tailored to a specific property. BATA is planning to build a new 87,000-square-foot headquarters – including administrative offices, a bus storage garage, and maintenance and dispatch facilities – plus a new bus transfer station. BATA’s portion of the project is estimated to cost $28 million, with the organization already landing $13.3 million in federal funding and working to secure additional federal and state support to close the funding gap.

TCHC is planning to build a workforce housing complex called The Flats at Carriage Commons (pictured, rendering) with over 200 rental apartments, which will be income-based and estimated to cost $680 to $820 per month at today's rates, including all utilities. Fifteen single-family Habitat for Humanity homes, a childcare facility, and a food/beverage café are also planned, bringing the residential side of the project to an estimated $65 million. The development also includes the permanent preservation of 20 acres of wooded wetland to protect the headwaters of Mitchell Creek. Building apartments next to amenities like childcare, cafés, and transit – plus providing green spaces and multi-modal pathways throughout the grounds – is intended to create a neighborhood feel and make it easier for people to live and work in the same community, according to the project partners.

Because the LaFranier property is zoned for housing, not a transit development like BATA’s, Garfield Township trustees wanted guarantees that housing would be built as part of the project. They attached conditions to their PUD approval stipulating that TCHC must have either a Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) award or an “equivalent grant award” for workforce housing before BATA could begin construction on its side of the project. The conditions also state TCHC must commence housing construction before BATA can request a certificate of occupancy. Lentych says he believes the $6 million allocation in the state’s recently approved budget for The Flats at Carriage Commons will fulfill the first requirement. BATA Executive Director Kelly Dunham concurs.

“We are hopeful, and it's our belief, that the $6 million state allocation will provide adequate funding for (TCHC) to get started with the project, and that it will suffice for the township's requirements in order to give BATA the go-ahead,” she says. TCHC is also submitting two applications to MSHDA this summer and fall to line up additional funding, with the goal of breaking ground next spring on Phase 1 of apartment construction, estimated to cost $20-$22 million.

That project could see TCHC construct its first two apartment buildings, containing an estimated 110-120 apartments. “We would break ground in the spring if we get one or both of the (MSHDA) awards,” Lentych says. “Lumber prices are coming down, and we’re trying to get economies of scale going on with construction.” Up to three more multi-family buildings could be built over the next several years, bringing the total number of rental apartments to over 200. TCHC and BATA estimate that fifty new full-time positions will be created because of the housing and transit development within the areas of public transit, childcare, retail, and housing, with more than 75 primary construction workers employed during the various construction phases and over $15 million generated in short-term local spending.

The project could be followed by even more residential construction directly east of the property near the intersection of Hammond and Garfield. Garfield Township planning commissioners recommended approval Wednesday of a request to rezone nearly 24 acres of land – originally part of a larger parent parcel that included the BATA/TCHC site before the properties were divided – from agricultural to multi-family residential. The property was historically used for agricultural purposes, but has not recently been actively farmed. Extensive wetlands populate the north and west sides of the parcel. The township’s future land use map envisions the property being used for high-density residential, which is compatible with the rezoning request, according to staff.

Outlook Development, the rezoning applicant, wrote that the request “will allow new opportunities for development of greatly needed new workforce housing.” The size of the property could allow “80 new affordable housing units” to be built, according to the company. Township staff determined that rezoning to multi-family residential “provides an acceptable transitional land use from the commercial uses at the intersection of Hammond and Garfield Roads and the industrial uses south of Hammond Road to the single-family residential in the Carriage Hill subdivision to the north.” With the unanimous support of planning commissioners, the rezoning request now heads to township trustees for final approval.

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