Tall Building SLUP Back Before Commission

Tall Building SLUP Back Before Commission

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 2, 2018

Traverse City commissioners tonight (Tuesday) will reconsider a special land use permit (SLUP) for a controversial 96-foot development in downtown Traverse City – even though developers are no longer planning to proceed with the project.

Commissioners will review the SLUP for two tall buildings at the corner of Pine and West Front streets in order to fulfill an order from the Michigan Court of Appeals. After Judge Philip Rodgers vacated a SLUP for the project in March 2016 – citing city commissioners’ failure to properly analyze the development’s impact on city services and infrastructure – developers Erik Falconer and Joe Sarafa appealed the ruling. In October, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld Rodgers’ decision, ordering the SLUP application be sent back to city commissioners for further study.

While they were still going through the appeals process, however, Falconer and Sarafa announced publicly they were redesigning the development to come in at just under 60 feet. The original project plans were dramatically overhauled to allow for the construction of a scaled-down mixed-use development (pictured) that can be built by right under city zoning laws. But while the developers are no longer seeking a SLUP for a 96-foot project, city commissioners must still hold a public hearing and address the deficiencies identified by the court, according to Acting City Attorney Karrie Zeits.

“As Pine Street Development, LLC has abandoned the SLUP request, it is not the intention of the public hearing to lead to an approval of the SLUP, but rather to eliminate any argument that the city has not complied with the Court of Appeals’ decision,” Zeits wrote in a memo to commissioners.

The Court of Appeals noted that among the deficiencies in the commission’s original analysis of the SLUP request, “evidence and rationale determining that the development would be adequately served by police protection was lacking, data about how the proposed development would affect traffic patterns was lacking, and evidence that local schools could support the proposed development was lacking,” Zeits says. The Court of Appeals also “found that there was no substantial evidence supporting the conclusion that the proposed development would create additional tax revenue that offset the increased cost of infrastructure and services.”

In order to help commissioners address those deficiencies in their analysis as ordered by the court, city staff prepared documents for tonight’s discussion that include a report by Traverse City Police Department Chief Jeff O’Brien on the project’s impact on police services, a traffic analysis from City Engineer Tim O’Brien, and a letter from Traverse City Area Public Schools Human Resources Executive Director Cindy Berck affirming the school district can accommodate new students potentially brought by the development. Former Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Rob Bacigalupi also submitted an analysis of tax revenue created by the development versus its potential impact on city infrastructure and services.

Collectively, the documents cover the gaps in the commission’s original analysis to satisfy the Court of Appeals’ order that the board reconsider those particular issues. While the developers’ decision “to not pursue the project essentially makes this moot,” according to City Manager Marty Colburn, some commissioners previously expressed skepticism about holding tonight’s public hearing. Commissioner Brian McGillivary questioned whether the hearing could lead to a back-channel approval of the SLUP, freeing developers to pursue the original contentious 96-foot design, though several other commissioners said they would not vote to approve the SLUP under those circumstances.

In order to avoid that or any other unintended outcomes, Zeits is recommending commissioners tonight pass a motion stating that the board has held a public hearing to comply with the Court of Appeals’ order and is taking “no further action because the applicant has abandoned the SLUP application.” Commissioners would not vote on approving the SLUP itself, ensuring the permit would remain voided as originally determined by Rodgers.

Also at tonight’s meeting: City Clerk Benjamin Marentette will present the 2017 City of Traverse City Performance, an annual report compiled by city staff on notable areas of accomplishment and investment each year, and Colburn will present the 2017 Department and Employee of the Year awards. Commissioners will also consider authorizing nearly $26,000 in repairs at the city’s garage, as well as appointing resident Rick Brown to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and forming an ad hoc committee to fill a vacancy on the city’s Brown Bridge Advisory Committee.

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