Traverse City News and Events

Year-Round Expansion of Safe Harbor, New Neighborhood Association, More Topics on City Agenda

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 15, 2024

A busy agenda awaits city commissioners at their first meeting of the year, which will be held Tuesday instead of Monday due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Commissioners will consider approving a joint resolution with other local partners to pursue making Safe Harbor a year-round overnight shelter, the creation of a new city neighborhood association, the acceptance of a $1.8 million state grant for a new fire truck, a study on improvements to Clinch Marina, and a resolution to put a petition-initiated proposal on the ballot requiring a public vote on TIF plans.

Safe Harbor Expansion
Commissioners will vote to approve a joint resolution of cooperation and memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Grand Traverse County board of commissioners, Safe Harbor of Grand Traverse, and The Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness to work together on creating a “year-round overnight shelter for the region’s unhoused population,” according to the proposed motion.

According to City Manager Liz Vogel, the groups have already had preliminary discussions about how to better address homelessness in the region. “The consensus is that a year-round overnight shelter is a critical component to addressing this issue,” she says. Safe Harbor, which provides emergency overnight shelter during the cold-weather months, could potentially expand to operate year-round. The resolution and MOU state that the partners will pursue a “three-pronged approach,” including developing a plan to keep Safe Harbor open for year-round overnight shelter effective this year; developing “cost estimates, funding strategies, and an operating plan” for year-round shelter operations; and developing “proposed roles and responsibilities and necessary agreements” for approval by the involved parties.

According to the resolution, the parties “understand that this complex issue requires a unified response” since the community “does not have enough housing units for our neighbors who are chronically homeless.” As The Ticker  previously reported, while the overall number of individuals experiencing homelessness seems to have risen only slightly in recent years, organizations serving that population have reported an exponential increase in the use of their services. The City of Traverse City has aimed to ramp up its response, particularly as a homeless encampment called The Pines – near The Village at Grand Traverse Commons – has grown in size, exposing safety and security issues for unhoused individuals.

Safe Harbor – with the support of community partners – already took its first step toward expanding services in 2022. The center received city commission approval that year to operate a day center, providing a safe place for guests to access laundry, shower, phone-charging, and other services during the day, in addition to operating the overnight shelter. The hope was that the day center could eventually lead to a “year-round safe haven for those experiencing homelessness in our community,” Safe Harbor Board Chair Christopher Ellalasingham said at the time. According to Ellalasingham, the “health and safety of homeless individuals has been compromised by lack of appropriate housing in our community, and Safe Harbor is happy to participate in this private/public partnership to help alleviate this community need.”

If and when Safe Harbor expands its operating season, it will need to come back before city commissioners for approval to amend its special land use permit, which dictates the parameters of shelter operations on the site.

Also at Tuesday’s commission meeting...
> Commissioners will vote to approve the creation of a new neighborhood association. The Triangle Neighborhood Association is located directly east of the Civic Center, with boundaries consisting of Munson Avenue, Eighth Street, Civic Center Drive, Titus Avenue, and Fair Street. In a memo to commissioners, City Clerk Benjamin Marentette noted that multiple new neighborhood associations have formed in recent months, with 11 now operating in the city if the Triangle Neighborhood Association is approved. While city staff “applaud neighborhoods in our community who organize and find ways to connect around issues and connect socially to build community,” Marentette also said the “bandwidth of city staff and ability to be effective in serving multiple neighborhood associations is not infinite.” He recommended approval of Triangle’s formation but said commissioners should also “discuss approaches that would allow us to maintain communication with the neighborhood associations while balancing time availability of city staff.”

> Commissioners will vote to formally receive a $1.8 million grant from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity for a new city fire truck. Commissioners in November approved purchasing a Pierce Ascendant 100-foot ladder apparatus for the Traverse City Fire Department, with costs to be reimbursed by the grant. Representative Betsy Coffia – who was instrumental in helping the city land the grant – will also make a “timely” appearance on the agenda Tuesday to give a legislative update to the board, according to Vogel.

> Commissioners will vote to accept a $28,000 state grant and commit $32,000 in matching funds to “undertake a condition assessment, public outreach, and market analysis for preliminary recommendations in connection with improvements to the Duncan L. Clinch Marina,” according to a memo from Vogel. City Director of Public Services Frank Dituri says there are “ample funds” in the marina budget to provide the city match. “It has been over 20 years since the plan for the marina has been updated,” according to Dituri. “These funds and this study will go a long way to addressing the current needs for this much-valued facility.”

> Commissioners will vote to approve a resolution placing a proposal on the ballot to amend the city charter to require a public vote on any proposals to create, modify, amend, or extend tax increment financing (TIF) plans. The proposal was initiated by petitioners, with Marentette confirming that the 149 petitions submitted contain a sufficient number of signatures to be placed on the ballot. The resolution is on the commission’s consent agenda as a non-controversial item since the commission is “obligated” to adopt it, according to Marentette. The proposal will appear on the November 5 ballot, “which is the next election for which it is eligible under Michigan law,” Marentette says.

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