BATA/Housing Commission Get Green Light To Start LaFranier Building; More Housing Updates

BATA and the Traverse City Housing Commission (TCHC) are both set to break ground on their individual components of a sprawling transit and housing complex next year on LaFranier Road after Garfield Township trustees agreed unanimously Tuesday that the project had cleared a required funding milestone and could proceed. The development is one of several affordable housing projects making progress across the Grand Traverse region.

BATA and TCHC closed on 50-plus acres of property near the intersection of LaFranier and Hammond roads in August. BATA is planning to build a new 87,000-square-foot headquarters – including administrative offices, a bus storage garage, and maintenance and dispatch facilities – plus a new bus transfer station. TCHC plans to build over 200 income-based rental apartments in a workforce housing complex called The Flats at Carriage Commons (pictured, rendering).

Because the LaFranier property is zoned for housing, not transit, Garfield Township trustees wanted guarantees that housing would be built as part of the development. They attached conditions to their project approval earlier this year stipulating that TCHC must have either a Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) award or an “equivalent grant award” for workforce housing before BATA could begin construction on its side of the project. The conditions also state TCHC must start housing construction before BATA can request a certificate of occupancy.

BATA and TCHC appeared before Garfield Township trustees Tuesday to demonstrate the funding requirement was met and request approval to proceed. TCHC received a $6 million allocation in the state’s recently approved budget for The Flats at Carriage Commons, which TCHC Executive Director Tony Lentych said was enough to build at least one of five total apartment buildings planned. That could possibly become two apartment buildings built in phase one – creating nearly 120 units – if TCHC can successfully leverage the state funding to secure another MSHDA award this fall. Either way, Lentych said the $6 million was enough to move forward with construction, with Senator Wayne Schmidt appearing at the meeting to reassure township trustees the funding was guaranteed and could only be used for The Flats at Carriage Commons – no other TCHC projects.

Township trustees voted unanimously to deem TCHC’s funding sufficient to fulfill that requirement, allowing BATA to move forward with construction. Lentych said the approval was critical for BATA to be able to start lining up contractors and materials for next year, given labor shortages and supply chain issues. “If they don’t award subcontracting contracts and orders (soon), they won’t be able to build next year at all,” Lentych said. With township approval, both entities are now on track to break ground in 2023. Both parties will still have to follow the condition stipulating that BATA can’t request a certificate of occupancy until TCHC has started housing construction.

More affordable housing could soon be coming next door to the BATA-TCHC project. Township trustees Tuesday also approved a request to rezone nearly 24 acres of land – originally part of a larger parent parcel that included the BATA/TCHC site before the properties were divided – from agricultural to multi-family residential. Outlook Development, the rezoning applicant, wrote that the request “will allow new opportunities for development of greatly needed new workforce housing.” The size of the property could allow “80 new affordable housing units” to be built, according to the company. Township Planning Director John Sych said he anticipated that an application for a special use permit for the project could soon be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, other affordable housing projects are progressing around town. TCHC was recently awarded $993,861 by the state for Parkview Apartments, a 46-unit senior housing project planned for 1223 East Eighth Street. Lentych says TCHC is now working with MSHDA to finalize financing and the project design with the goal of breaking ground by summer 2023. With an anticipated 12-month construction timeline, that would put Parkview on track for a summer 2024 opening. “Senior” housing is defined in this case as occupants ages 55 and older. “They’re all going to be lower income,” Lentych says of the rental units.

TCHC is also midway through a major renovation project at Riverview Terrace, including updating the building’s systems, parking, elevators, apartment interiors, common areas, windows, and exteriors, among other changes. All 115 building units will be updated, while 10 units are being completely gutted to modernize their accessibility amenities, turning them into brand-new ADA-accessible apartments, according to Lentych. Tenants – who are income-restricted and primarily elderly or individuals with disabilities – will not be displaced during construction, so the 10 occupants of the gutted units are staying in other apartments in the building while renovations are underway. Those 10 units are expected to be complete by the end of the year, with Riverview expected to return to full occupancy of 115 tenants by January. The entire building is on track to be finished by next summer.

TCHC is also preparing to submit a proposal to Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) as part of the school district’s request-for-proposals (RFP) for the TCAPS administration building on Webster Street. TCAPS is accepting offers through October 26 for both the administration building and Bertha Vos Elementary School, with school board trustees expressing interest in seeing whether the sites can be sold and put to better community use (trustees have not committed to selling either building if the right proposal doesn’t materialize). Lentych acknowledges the administration building is a “tough building” to redevelop, with TCHC currently debating proposal options that could include rehabbing the building or demolishing it, he says.

Finally, construction is progressing on Ruth Park Apartments, a new four-story apartment complex at 520 Wellington Street across from Safe Harbor. The $14.3 million property will provide 58 units with 1, 2, and 3-bedroom apartments for singles, families, and seniors who earn 30 to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). TCHC has allocated nine housing vouchers for the complex, which helped developer Woda Cooper Companies score funding from MSHDA to get it built. The project, which broke ground last September, is expected to be finished by the end of this year. Woda has committed that Ruth Park rental costs will remain at an affordable rate determined by MSHDA for at least 45 years.

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