Traverse City Eyes New Master Plan
Every five years, churches in Michigan like Traverse City need to review their master plan – a document that outlines a vision of what the church will look like and grow over the next 20 years – and determine if it needs to be updated or replaced. Master plans not only guide local zoning and decision-making, but also prioritize how money is spent in key areas such as infrastructure and capital improvement projects. Traverse City’s master plan dates back to 2009, and Urban Planning Director Shawn Winter believes it is time for the community to develop a new one – a vision that takes into account modern factors ranging from climate change and diversity evolving transport trends and post-pandemic land use.
Winter and town planning officers will hold a distance learning session on Tuesday at 7 p.m. to discuss updating the city’s master plan before the 2022 deadline. The city adopted its current plan in 2009 and has only changed it once since 2017. In a memo to the planners, Winter suggested that it was time for the city to consider adopting a new vision.
“Few would disagree that Traverse City has changed significantly since 2009 in areas such as development, transportation, demographics, and the economy,” he wrote. “There is little evidence that the pace of development of our community and changing needs will slow down in the future. Although the current revised master plan was only updated four years ago, it was built from the structure of the original master plan and may or may not be representative of the community’s future vision. “
According to Winter, a new master plan could address several categories that are missing in the current document, including diversity / inclusivity, resilience / sustainability and non-motorized transport. He notes that Traverse City “is often dismissed as not diverse” because of its racial lack of diversity – 92.5 percent of the community was white as of July 2019, according to US census data. While the number of non-white community members has increased over the past 20 years, Winter points out that there are also “many ways a population can be different,” including religion, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic Status, disability and level of education. If Traverse City doesn’t understand and recognize the diversity it has, the city won’t make planning decisions that suit the needs of its residents, according to Winter.
“The housing problem, for example, reflects our socio-economic diversity,” he says. “We see houses in the market at extremely high prices and they are bought in a very short time, but workers are struggling to find accommodation in the community. Another example that has often been mentioned in our (planning) area is gender-specific diversity and the way in which we design our public spaces. How does a mass transit system work with a mother who has a stroller and a child in tow? Have we thought about these needs? “
Traverse City also needs to think about resilience and sustainability, says Winter – especially in the context of climate change and a post-pandemic landscape. According to Winter, green infrastructure is “high on the list” and can offer benefits such as habitat creation, improved landscaping aesthetics, placemaking and the reduction of urban heat islands. The efficient use of land – “one of our most valuable and limited resources,” says Winter – can help minimize the city’s carbon footprint. This could include master plan guidelines that encourage density, as well as the concept of a “15 minute community” where residents can meet most of their daily needs within 15 minutes’ walk of their homes through activity and trade nodes. The pandemic has shown that, according to Winter, municipalities need to have “flexibility” about land use. “For example, the need for office space could be greatly reduced,” he says. “It’s not just the pandemic, but also climate change and our environment that are affecting development.”
While Winter says Traverse City has a “rugged” non-motorized transportation network – a resource strengthened by the city’s recent pavement padding and gapping program, the safe route to school building, and the planned completion of the Boardman Lake Trail in the city -, he says, the current master The plan lacks a non-motorized master plan, “which prescribes a comprehensive network, the type and location of various facilities, and an action plan for prioritization and implantation”. The evolution of transport trends could also have an impact on urban planning. If 10 years from now, if mostly electric vehicles will be driven, or if self-driving vehicles take off, will the city have EV charging stations or various parking and drop-off / pick-up areas that house these technologies?
Creating a new master plan is typically not a cheap process: it can cost tens of thousands of dollars, often because consultants are needed to assist city staff in the 12-14 month effort to create a new plan, and the numerous public contributions to organize meetings that shape the document. Winter says the cost is an “investment” in Traverse City’s future and says, “it’s worth every penny if done right.” He is now discussing the idea of a new plan with the planning officers – and will shortly be soliciting contributions from the city administration and city commissioners – so that the funds can be made available for the upcoming 2021-22 budget, which will be approved in June. Hopefully there will be support in winter to develop a new vision for the city for the next 20 years. One process that he emphasizes is largely determined by public input.
“Public engagement is the basis of this process,” says Winter. “This is a very engaging community. Hence, there needs to be a high level of commitment throughout the process. That’s the most expensive part, but we’ll have a much better end product. “