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.

1 comment:

  1. I am in favor of building to the density limits of the City's zoning ordinance and master plan. So I'm certainly in favor of the "building up" part of this piece. However, there isn't necessarily a correlation between that building "up" and not building "out". A lot of what is being built in downtown TC are luxury condo's. I think that for some buyers these are taking the place of lake homes that they might otherwise have bought in the area. But my guess is that for a lot of buyers that's not the case. Particularly because these condo's aren't all that large. To some degree, my guess is that these condo's are simply a new market segment.

    That observation (if it's true) to my mind doesn't apply nearly as strongly to the proposed workforce affordable apartments at 305 W Front. Most people don't rent multiple apartments (like they might own multiple homes) so I think that these apartments were they built "up" would to a great degree supplant some housing that otherwise would have to be built "out".

    In order to really build up not out in the TC region we'd need the City to be building up (which it somewhat has been doing) and the outlying townships to not allow building out (which they largely have not been doing). Peninsula is perhaps somewhat of an exception here in terms of their PDR program of buying development rights, but they are an outlier. Not to mention they just approved an 81(?) unit subdivision almost all the way out in the village of Old Mission.

    To really build up not out we'd need a more regional approach to zoning which would force higher densities than are otherwise currently permitted in the City and the "urbanized" areas of the surrounding townships. And likewise force much lower densities in the areas of those townships that were outside that urbanized area. An urban growth boundary if you will. Yes, I know they do that in Oregon.

    But something like a UGB is not likely to happen because there's too much vested interest in keeping things the way they are. Witness the renewed drumbeat among Korn, et al for the Hartman Hammond bypass, which is predicated on the idea that we need to provide easy motoring to, from, and around TC from all of the outlying areas of the townships, basically in order to permit the continued sprawl development of those outlying areas.

    Hartman Hammond is largely predicated on the idea that South Airport is over-burdened. A different approach to that alleged problem would instead of building another road out beyond the currently urbanized area of TC, would be to build more densely up along South Airport itself. Imagine instead of that mostly empty parking lot at Cherryland Mall a multi-story, mixed-use apartment building, with folks who otherwise would have a long car commute in from outlying areas now having a short car/bus/bike commute. Something along these lines is actually what the Grand Vision (groan) called for doing in response to congestion on South Airport.