Traverse City Planning Commissioners will discuss a proposal at their 7pm meeting tonight (Tuesday) to limit the types of uses allowed on the first floor of downtown buildings. A public hearing could follow on March 1 on the ordinance change, which aims to protect the vibrant nature of downtown by encouraging a mix of ground-floor retail and dining and avoiding “dead spaces.” which occur when the first floors are occupied by car parks, private offices. and short-term rentals, according to Planning Director Shawn Winter.
Planning commissioners first discussed the proposal at the end of 2021 and will consider the concept in more detail at tonight’s meeting, where they could agree to schedule a public hearing on March 1 and then vote to send the modifications to the municipal commissioners for final approval. The draft proposal includes new rules for the various downtown zoning districts. In C-4b, which consists primarily of properties along Front Street, the plan calls for limiting the entire first floor of buildings to a short list of uses which includes retail stores, restaurants, drinking places , art galleries, theatres/performance halls, cultural facilities, convenience stores, amusement/recreation and essential services. Winter says the entire first floor is included in the rule to ensure the rear of Front Street buildings remain engaged along the Boardman River, especially as the city works to improve connectivity with the lanes and the riverfront as part of the Lower Boardman Unified River Plan.
“We try to focus on uses that create an engaging, inviting atmosphere that allows you to move along hallways and explore,” says Winter. “What we’re trying to avoid are uses that create dead spaces in activity at street level: things like offices, indoor parking, short-term and residential rentals, where people don’t don’t really interact with business or development. We have seen this happen before. Winter cites the example of the conversion of two former popular downtown restaurants — Georgina’s on Front Street and Bistro Foufou on Cass Street — into offices and short-term vacation rentals, respectively. “The space looks good, but it’s still empty and dead when you walk by,” Winter says. “If we let this continue, the activity that makes the city center vibrant can quickly erode.”
Changes are also proposed for zoning areas C-4a and C-4c – which are more on the outskirts of the city center – but are less restrictive since they are not right in the heart of the city’s shopping and dining center. . All uses would generally be permitted on these properties, but residential dwellings, short-term rentals and indoor parking would be prohibited within the front 50% of a building lot. The rule would help avoid certain uses of ‘dead space’ at street level facing the public while accommodating retail on the ground floor, ‘a recognition that office space is still an important part of the center city, so in some neighborhoods on the outskirts, it might make sense on the first floor,” says Winter.
As is often the case with zoning changes, uses that would be prohibited on the first floor under the new proposal but that currently exist in downtown Traverse City “would be protected as lawful uses not compliant and would be allowed to continue operating,” according to Winter. It also notes that upper and lower floors of downtown buildings “would continue to be permitted to be occupied by any use in the neighborhood.” So far, staff have held two public engagement sessions on the proposal, including a hybrid in-person/virtual event at the City Opera House that drew 55 attendees and another virtual event that drew 15 attendees. Winter says comments from business owners were mostly “logistical,” including participants wanting to know how long the prescription rewriting process takes. Winter says a commercial realtor voiced opposition to “limiting the highest and best use of properties” by banning short-term rentals on the first floor, while another retail owner expressed “strong and enthusiastic support” for the proposal. Tonight’s meeting and proposed public hearing on March 1 will allow for greater public participation before the Planning Commissioners vote on whether to recommend the proposal to the City Commissioners for approval.
Also at tonight’s planning commission meeting…
> Planning commissioners will consider approving a formal list of 2022 goals for council after discussing priorities at a meeting in January. The list consists of three main goals for this year: expanding housing options, creating a waterfront buffer ordinance, and beginning the new process to rewrite the city’s master plan, as well as a separate process to create a city master plan. action for mobility and cycling. This final plan “will include the assessment of the entire city street and non-motorized network, the identification of community values and goals, a review of current policies and ordinances, a balanced summary and applicability of ‘complete streets’ and other best convenient means of mobility/cycling in the city, and an implementation plan that addresses micro-mobility opportunities and identifies a preferred mobility and cycling network plan,” according to the draft goals.
> Planning Commissioners will hear from TART Trails staff and leadership on a proposal to widen and extend the segment of TART Trail that runs through downtown Traverse City in conjunction with the Grandview Parkway reconstruction project the next year. The proposal is being sent to the planning commission and parks and recreation commission this week before heading to DDA board members and city commissioners for comment, with the aim of advance engineering and fundraising work for the trail expansion if city leaders support the project.