Traverse City News and Events

TC Planning Commissioners Consider Allowing Two-Home Properties, Making Eighth Street Changes

By Beth Milligan | Nov. 6, 2020

Traverse City planning commissioners are considering more proposals to continue working toward a goal of increasing housing and creative development in the city, including allowing two homes to be built on a single lot in some areas and altering development and zoning guidelines for parts of Eighth Street – a move that could impact short-term rentals in the corridor.

Two-Home Properties
Planning commissioners gave feedback this week on a staff proposal to increase housing opportunities in the city by allowing two homes to be built on some properties instead of one. Under existing city rules, only one principal dwelling – the main home on a property – can be built in R-1 single family dwelling districts. City Planning Director Russ Soyring noted, however, that there are numerous larger properties in those areas that could accommodate two homes, as already occurs in some other districts.

Soyring is recommending changing the rules to allow two principal residences in R-1 districts, provided they meet certain setback and building requirements. The rules would allow two homes on R-1a lots that have a minimum size of 14,000 square feet and on R-1b lots that have a minimum size of 8,000 square feet. Each home could potentially have an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), for a maximum of four dwellings per parcel. Soyring said it would be important to outline some “reasonable standards” for homeowners that would guide the height and size of new buildings and to address things like driveway layouts to protect the neighborhood character of properties.

Because many residential properties are located within historic neighborhoods, the city’s Historic Districts Commission – which approves new buildings in those areas – was asked to weigh in on the proposal. Soyring said commission members seemed “very supportive” of the amendment, stressing only “a great deal of interest in maintaining the neighborhood character” and making sure residents understood what they could or couldn’t do before coming to the commission with proposed building projects. City Director of Municipal Utilities Art Krueger also provided a memo saying he thought the city’s sewer and water systems could handle an overall 10 percent density increase in older neighborhoods, though he noted there could be “some exceptions for sewer capacity in some areas.”

Planning commissioners also said they wanted to make sure the ordinance change wouldn’t incentivize homeowners to start tearing down historic homes to make way for two buildings on a parcel. “Preventing unnecessary teardowns is key to not disrupting the fabric and the look and feel of the neighborhood,” said Planning Commissioner Janet Fleshman.

Soyring said the ordinance amendment could be written to address those concerns and that he believed the changes “may in fact help save a few historic buildings,” because it would give homeowners flexibility to utilize their properties more effectively. Planning Commissioner Heather Shaw said she thought the proposal was an “innovative and even entrepreneurial way for current residents to stay in their homes and perhaps add value, or at the very least some new neighbors.” Soyring said he would continue to hone the proposed rules for future discussion and possible action by the planning commission; the board also expressed a desire to reach out to more neighborhood associations and get feedback on the concept before a final vote.

Eighth Street Changes
Planning commissioners this week scheduled a December 1 public hearing on a series of changes proposed for the Eighth Street corridor. Those includes changing the zoning rules in the city’s Development (D) Districts, which include the Ironworks/Midtown area along Eight Street, Lake Avenue, and Cass Street (D-1); the “Depot” section of Eighth Street on the road’s south side between Boardman Avenue and Railroad Avenue (D-2); and the so-called “Red Mill” area along Hall Street bordered by Front Street, Gillis Street, and Grandview Parkway (D-3).

Proposed changes to the D districts include lowering building heights in some parts of north Eighth Street that are near public alleys, adjusting some building frontage and window transparency requirements, and adjusting corner building requirements to provide clearer vision zones for drivers/pedestrians. The proposal also requires property owners to keep the front 30 feet of their buildings reserved for occupied use only (not allowing interior parking or storage in those areas).

Planning commissioners are also considering rezoning the north side of Eighth Street in the 400, 500, and 600 blocks from C-1/C-2 to D-2. That change would make Eighth Street largely one consistent zoning district and open up retail and other uses for property owners in the corridor. However, planning commissioners expressed concern that while C-1 and C-2 districts currently have limits on the number of vacation rentals that can operate, D districts allow unlimited vacation rentals. Some vacation rentals or lodging options – like a small boutique hotel – could fit the Eighth Street corridor, planning commissioners agreed, but they didn’t want to see unlimited rentals. Commissioners said they would prefer instead to encourage businesses that could serve the surrounding neighborhood and build on the momentum and energy created by the reconstruction of Eighth Street.

Accordingly, as part of the discussion to change D district rules and rezone parts of Eighth Street on December 1, planning commissioners agreed they also want to consider changing D rules to limit vacation rentals to mirror the C-1 and C-2 rules at the public hearing. Soyring said he will host multiple Zoom meetings with property owners in the D district in the coming weeks to get their input before the hearing.

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