TC voters could decide on Hall Street project

Feb 18—TRAVERSE CITY — As legal battles continue over Traverse City’s tall buildings vote requirement, voters could get a chance on fall ballots to decide whether to approve one developer’s plans.

John Lynch, an attorney for Innovo TC Hall, asked city commissioners to place a question on the Nov. 8 ballot requesting that voters approve the company’s plans on Hall Street. The development company, owned by the same group behind Breakwater Apartments on Garland Street, wants to build a five-story building with apartments and commercial space on a vacant Hall Street lot.

City commissioners will make the call Tuesday, and Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe said she sees no reason to deny the developer’s request.

“This is the process that was laid out when the charter amendment was passed,” she said. “It’s not up to the commission to determine if we like the project. It’s not up to us if we want to review it through the lens of any kind of process right now.”

Lynch said he couldn’t say much about the decision to ask for the vote because the company still is involved in litigation.

“While I do believe we will be successful in our appeal, my client wanted to give the city of Traverse City every opportunity to have real, meaningful workforce housing available, and we believe that it’s in short supply and in high demand,” he said .

The company is asking the Court of Appeals to reverse a decision by 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power that the building it plans would be taller than 60 feet and, therefore, subject to the vote requirement city voters aded to Traverse City’s charter in 2016.

City zoning measures the height of a flat-roofed building like Innovo TC Hall plans to the top of the roof deck, so other structures like parapet walls, elevator shafts and staircase enclosures aren’t counted.

Save Our Downtown, a local nonprofit that promoted the tall buildings vote requirement, argued in a lawsuit against the city that those structures should count toward the building height, and Power agreed, as previously reported.

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Jay Zelenock, an attorney for the group, previously argued it made no sense to not count parts of Innovo’s plans toward the height — a front entrance atrium would rise up to 76 feet, for example.

He said Friday he believes placing the question on the ballot is the right call.

“If they’re proposing to build over 60 feet, that’s what the charter requires,” he said. “If it seems like the right steps to take, the charter requires a vote, and if they want to move forward then put it to the ballot and have a vote.”

Zelenock said he couldn’t speculate as to whether the move would impact Innovo TC Hall’s arguments before the Court of Appeals. But he acknowledged that’s likely because he believes Power ruled correctly and the developer and city don’t have much hope of success in their appeal in the first place.

Lynch declined to comment on how putting the project to vote could impact the appeals case.

Briefs from the city and developer to the Court of Appeals are due in March, Zelenock said.

Shamroe said Power’s ruling creates issues overall for how the city measures buildings, issues city leaders still want resolved. But a developer’s next moves made in light of Power’s ruling are up to them, she added.

Nov. 8 is a regularly scheduled election, so Innovo TC Hall won’t have to pay to place the question on the city’s ballot, according to a memo from city Clerk Benjamin Marentette.

Should other commissioners agree to placing the question on the ballot, the vote would be the second since city voters approved the charter amendment in 2016.

The first came in 2018, when voters rejected a request from 326 Land Company to build a 100-foot-tall condominium building at 326 State St., the now-former site of a law office, as previously reported. The company lost two challenges against the vote requirement in the 13th Circuit Court, but recently filed another after the city ordered the company to stop construction.

That order came after Power’s ruling on Innovo TC Hall’s project, as 326 Land Company’s plans included a few rooftop structures that would seem to fall afoul of Power’s ruling.

The company argued it has a vested right to continue with its plans, and that Power’s ruling doesn’t apply to its project, both arguments city attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht previously rejected.

Court schedules show the suit, filed in US District Court’s Western Michigan district, is assigned to Judge Paul Maloney, who set a March 8 scheduling conference.

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