Traverse City News and Events

TC Planning Commissioners To Consider Gas Station/Market Project, Proposal To Eliminate Residential Parking Requirements

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 4, 2020

The former Schelde’s restaurant building on Munson Avenue could soon be demolished to make way for a new truenorth convenience store, car wash, and gas station. Traverse City planning commissioners will review the site plans for the project at their 7pm virtual meeting tonight (Tuesday) – an agenda that also includes discussions about potentially eliminating residential parking requirements in Traverse City and loosening certain zoning requirements to encourage more housing development citywide.

True North Energy LLC purchased 25 gas stations/convenience stores in the Traverse City market from Schmuckal Oil Company last year, including a location at 708 Munson Avenue (next to the former Schelde’s building). The Ohio-based company – a joint venture between the Lyden family and Shell Oil Co. – said at the time of the acquisition it planned to rebrand the convenience stores to its “truenorth” retail brand and also look for opportunities to expand in the Traverse City market.

True North Energy is seeking site plan approval tonight to demolish the existing gas station on Munson as well as the adjoining Schelde’s building and construct a new gas station, car wash, and truenorth convenience store on the two parcels (pictured, rendering). The 4,290-square foot convenience store will have a stone and brick exterior, with the gas station offering six pumps. The car wash will come in at 1,500 square feet, with renderings showing a single-lane entrance and exit.

Planning staff are recommending approval of the project with several conditions. Those include requiring the developer to combine the two parcels into one parcel so that setback and impervious surface requirements are met, requiring that all glass facing the street be clear or lightly tinted, widening sidewalk on the south side of the property, granting the city easements for new public sidewalk along Munson Avenue (developers plan to build almost 400 lineal feet of sidewalk connecting the site to East Bay Plaza to the east), screening rooftop equipment, and making sure that True North meets the city’s stormwater runoff ordinance as well as Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) requirements for a “contaminated site” (common on gas station properties).

Planning commissioners will also discuss several potential significant changes to city parking and zoning requirements tonight aimed at adding more housing stock to the city by reducing barriers to development. The first proposal is to eliminate minimum parking requirements for residential properties. The city currently requires residential properties to include at least one parking space per dwelling unit. According to City Planning Director Russ Soyring, “having government-mandated parking space minimum requirements in residential areas results in a high percentage of the parcel occupied by parking. Typically the parking area consumes more space than the space occupied by buildings.” Soyring adds that spreading out development because of parking requirements “also results in making all trips longer and walking less convenient.”

The Victoria Transportation Institute, an independent research organization that studies transportation solutions, estimates that parking adds an average of 10 percent to overall development costs, with a surface space ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 – costs that can go higher on more prime real estate or when parking is located within a structure. “By eliminating parking requirements, we can help to make residential development a bit more affordable in Traverse City,” Soyring says.

The planning director acknowledges that eliminating required parking spaces for residential properties “may seem to be a radical idea,” but says communities across the country are increasingly lowering or eliminating parking requirements, particularly in areas that are walkable/bikable and have public transportation available. Soyring also says many developers will still likely choose to offer parking to attract tenants, but that it would no longer be required if the ordinance change was approved. Soyring notes that in commerical areas of downtown where parking isn’t required, multiple developments – such as Breakwater in the Warehouse District – have still focused heavily during planning on providing enough on-site parking.

“If this proposed development gets enacted, developers can still put parking in, but it will need to meet our location requirements, impervious surface limits, setbacks, landscaping, lighting, and drainage requirements,” Soyring says. Planning commissioners tonight will discuss the proposal and consider scheduling a September 1 public hearing on changing the ordinance.

The board will also discuss several possible changes to the city’s zoning code aimed at increasing the local housing supply. Those include reducing the minimum lot width and area in some residential areas and increasing impervious surface limits. Another proposal calls for eliminating density limits in some residential areas, as well as near the hospital and college, potentially allowing more units to be built.

“The number one goal of the planning commission this year is to implement regulations that would open up new housing opportunities within the city,” Soyring wrote in a memo to planning commissioners. “Although the amendments discussed below do not directly address the affordability of housing, it is plausible that if the housing supply increases in Traverse City, the escalating costs for housing will at least be tempered to a degree.” The potential changes are all being presented for discussion only tonight; if planning commissioners wish to take action on any of them, they will need to go through a process to rewrite the zoning ordinance that includes scheduling future public hearings.

Photo Credit: Rendering by F.A. Ross Architects

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