Back in September we posted Traverse City vs Tall Buildings , as the battle over the skyline of our town was getting started. We have now seen our first approval for a tall building. The Traverse City planning commissioners voted 7-2 Tuesday to approve a special land use permit for a proposed nine-story development at 305 Pine Street, forwarding the project on to the city commission for final review. The meeting drew an overflow crowd that filled the commission chambers and several makeshift rows in the outside hallway.
Property co-owner Erik Falconer kicked off the hearing by giving a project update on the development – tentatively called River West – which proposes to bring retail and commercial space and 162 residential units to two nine-story buildings downtown. Falconer said the developers had worked to address previous concerns with the site plans, including filtering stormwater runoff on-site and clearly delineating firefighting access at the property. The city’s fire marshal has signed off on the project, while the Grand Traverse Conservation District wrote in a memo to planners that it supported the developers’ “measures to infiltrate their stormwater on-site.”
“This process requires we follow written rules and guidelines to come up with a proposal, and for city staff to assess whether we’ve met those,” said Falconer. “We’ve created this project so it can be positive for our city and for our region.”
Public comment at the meeting extended over 90 minutes, with the 36 speakers who took the podium almost evenly divided between project opponents and supporters. Representatives from the Downtown Development Authority and Traverse Area Chamber of Commerce expressed support for the development, while Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council representatives criticized the plans.
Brenda Quick, who is organizing a ballot referendum to ban tall buildings over 60 feet downtown, told commissioners it was “incumbent upon this commission to appreciate that the character of this community, the physical appearance, is why people come here.” Quick criticized the project for being out of scale with its surroundings, a violation of the city’s master plan. “One of the standards that must be met for this SLUP is the project must be compatible with the existing and intended character of the vicinity,” Quick said.
Several young professionals at the meeting expressed support for the development, stating it would bring much-needed housing downtown and increase density and walk-ability in the city’s core. “I think that if people like me who supported the project had put together a petition, we could easily have gotten 900 signatures,” said Traverse City Film Festival Executive Director Deb Lake, noting that State Theater employees had had difficulties obtaining housing in the city. “I think it would be a really bad thing if the people who can afford to live downtown are the people who can afford not to work.”
Planning commissioners Bill Twietmeyer and Janet Fleshman voted against the project. “I don’t think it’s compatible and harmonious (with the neighborhood)…and it’s not just the height,” Fleshman said. Other board members stated they felt the development met all of the required zoning and planning standards and so should be recommended to the city commission for approval.
“There isn’t any doubt in my mind that this development team has done all that’s required to qualify for a SLUP on this property,” said Planning Commissioner Linda Koebert. “That said, I know that change is difficult…and that lifelong residents are being faced with a paradigm shift.”