Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Affordable Housing in Traverse City: Building Up, Not Out

Greetings, YPs! we have a special blog post from former YP Chairman Warren Call. Affordable housing and multi-story buildings in downtown Traverse City are all over the news in our town right now, and Warren is sharing his opinion about these issues on the blog today. Read on for his support of higher density housing as a counterattack to urban sprawl in our region. 

Photo courtesy of The State Theatre

Taller buildings downtown or strip malls and sprawl – which type of development is the bigger threat to our unique Northern Michigan character? Would eight or nine-story buildings downtown ruin Traverse City? These important questions are being debated as the Grand Traverse Region grows (and development pressures increase). These decisions will greatly impact the city and region the Traverse City Young Professionals call home – and I think it’s time we made our opinions heard. I know where I sit; I like the idea of a dynamic downtown and tall buildings do not bother me. I am afraid of sprawl that engulfs areas where farms, forests and fields used to be.

Taller buildings, higher density, and Affordable Housing Developments are the way forward for Traverse City and the Grand Traverse Region. Traverse City zoning and planning should allow and encourage taller structures that permit developers to “build up” using existing vacant or underused parcels in the city. Downtown zoning should create higher density in-line with land use regulations and include development incentives and public investment. Planning and zoning that allow for downtown development is necessary to prevent sprawl and preserve our existing agricultural, forest and rural land. The benefits are clear:

Downtown development preserves our unique character
Suburban sprawl is the real threat to our beautiful and scenic region. The only way to preserve our unique regional and city character is to concentrate new development in our existing city center. Downtown housing and development reduces and prevents sprawl. Regulation that allows for taller buildings in the city center helps to preserve our scenic agricultural, forest, and rural areas.

Downtown Development is the culmination of decades of thorough and thoughtful planning
Locating new building and development within our existing urban areas is one of the key findings from decades of master planning and zoning improvements. Higher density development is part of the Traverse City and Grand Traverse Master Plan and current city zoning supports higher density building with a diverse mix of housing options and uses. Higher density downtown development is supported by the findings of long-term planning; the New Designs for Growth and the Grand Vision planning processes (75% of Grand Vision respondents said new growth should occur in existing developed areas). Downtown development helps to address a major jobs/housing imbalance in our region's largest employment hub.

Downtown Development is the key economic driver for our region
Higher density housing can help to create a "full-time" downtown: a place with retail, entertainment, and office activity that is self-sustaining. Downtown residents form a built-in market for downtown retailers and entertainment, thus reinforcing investments already made in our public spaces, parks, museums, theaters, and existing infrastructure. Developing downtown housing improves our region’s employment options by attracting a mix of knowledge workers, entrepreneurs and professionals. Downtown housing improves the city's tax base while making the highest and best use of our existing vacant and underused city parcels. A vibrant, dynamic, walkable downtown that offers a mix of housing, retail, office, recreational, and entertainment options appeals to people of all ages; young professionals, baby boomers, young families, the elderly, and students.

The City Commission, Planning Commission and City zoning regulations should allow and encourage taller buildings, higher density, and affordable housing development. These features will preserve our unique local character, address our housing and planning needs, and drive future economic success in our region.