TC Planning Commission To Talk First-Floor Downtown Makes use of, Jefferson/Madison Reconstruction, Old Town Rezoning
Traverse City’s planners will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday on regulating first floor usage in downtown buildings, plans for full rebuilding of Jefferson Avenue and Madison Streets in 2022, and possible zoning changes in Old Town to enable more growth in this district.
At several past meetings there have been discussions about what types of use should be allowed on the first floors of buildings in the city center, particularly along Front Street. When planners approved downtown schools this fall, they included banning schools on the first floors of 100, 200, and 300 blocks of Front Street in order to preserve that space for retail.
Urban Planning Director Shawn Winter notes that “brick-and-mortar retail and the food and beverage industries have been weighed down in recent years by the pressures of online shopping and the impact of the pandemic,” and that the City and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is evaluating ways to “To maintain the trade and retail mix in the city center”. Rather than taking a piecemeal approach where planners decide on a case-by-case basis which uses are appropriate for the first floor, as proposed, Winter urges the planning committee to “consider a more holistic approach” by refining the zoning rules .
Winter wants the success of the main Front Street blocks – defined by “narrow storefronts, accessible shops, large windows and other design elements that allow people to interact with the business premises” – to be replicated throughout downtown if new fillings and renovations will take place. “However, the current standards of the zoning regulation do not offer the protection to ensure that this is the desired result,” he wrote to the planning officers. Winter says the city’s zoning ordinance generally doesn’t restrict first-floor usage, except for private indoor parking. But the city could update its rules so that the first floors must be used commercially and define what these are – regulating either the use of the entire floor or at least the street-side part of the building – and could partially ban residential units or the entire first floor .
Winter admits that the limitation of living space on the first floor may “seem counter-intuitive” given the planning committee’s discussions last year about creating more living space in the city. But “while housing is still a top priority, it needs to be balanced by maintaining a strong, resilient downtown core,” he says. “Ground floor residential units along the street scene do not contribute to a lively business district. Since short-term rents are allowed for 100 percent of the units in a building, these would probably not contribute to long-term living, but rather serve an accommodation purpose. “Winter says that the city has already received requests to convert commercial space on the first floor into short-term rents, and that if the trend continues, it “could undermine downtown health at street level”.
Planners will also discuss Tuesday’s planned rebuilding of Jefferson Avenue in 2022 – from Elmwood Avenue to the western city limits on Fulton Street – and Madison Street between Wayne and Front Streets. “A reconstruction is when the entire street, including the curbs, is removed and replaced,” says Winter. “This offers the opportunity to replace utility lines under the road and reassemble the road with a more desirable design.”
The active traffic advisory board of the city has already carried out walking audits of the two streets and suggested possible design elements. Records from these and city staff meetings indicate that the project has a budget of approximately $ 2 million and will include the installation of 20-inch water pipes under both streets. There is the option to isolate Jefferson and use roundabouts at key intersections to slow down speeding, as well as use green infrastructure to solve drainage problems. The city will also conduct a tree assessment and, as part of the reconstruction, work to protect large-diameter tree canopies. The planners will share some of their own initial suggestions with those of the committee and city workers tonight, then do a site visit of the two streets and come to their December 7th meeting to narrow down preferred design elements. The city will begin preliminary planning and involve the public for feedback on design options.
Finally, on Tuesday, the planners will discuss a possible rezoning of old towns in the 300 and 400 blocks of South Union Street to allow for more growth and make the old town look like a more natural extension of the inner city. “Today this business district feels like an island,” says Winter, “but there are ways to better connect it to the downtown area with the upcoming Rotary Square and possible FishPass projects.” The zoning of the district from C-2 on C-4a could also help with that connectivity, according to Winter, a change that would allow more uses in buildings, increase impermeable surface boundaries, and maintain a height limit of 45 feet with no residential component.
The employees presented the rezoning concept to the business owners in the affected blocks at a meeting in September, who supported the concept. Two different owners said at that meeting that they “want to see growth and expand upwards in their current location, but the C-2 height limit prevents them from doing so unless they add a residential floor, which is not what they want”. Winter says. “The C-4a zoning would allow these companies to grow in place and possibly not settle outside the city limits.” of the city’s zoning regulations, 18 of the 25 companies on these blocks are already exceeding their sealing limits and have no rainwater management practices. The remediation would trigger the required compliance with the ordinance, which means that the zone change “could actually lead to better rainwater management,” says Winter.
The planning commission’s meeting on Tuesday is a study session, which means that the board will not act on any of the above. Instead, the planners will hold discussions and provide feedback to staff on each point, with staff returning in the future with formal proposals for planning and approval from the city commission. Public engagement will also be part of the approval process for any project or zone definition.