2016 Get Local Party

Groundwork Opposes Traverse City’s Proposal 3

October 31, 2016 | |

This Op-Ed originally appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle on Oct. 28.

We all care about how Traverse City grows. Along with our passion for this place, comes a widespread agreement that development should be done thoughtfully.

Fortunately, Traverse City’s planning process invites broad participation. People of all ages and walks of life, city-dwellers or not, attend public meetings and shape our town’s future.

The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities opposes Proposal 3 because it threatens the very system we rely on for fair and predictable development oversight that makes our community special.

If building height changes are needed, then they should be done through the existing planning process, not popular vote.

What Traverse City’s zoning ordinance says about building heights is a result of considerable citizen input, engaged discussion and compromise.

In 1999, in an effort to preserve Traverse City’s character and after months of debate, planners limited building heights from 125 feet to 60 feet and, on a few downtown blocks, to no more than 100 feet if the property owner met a list of requirements and obtained city approval.

If a majority of residents believe that buildings over 60 feet are out of character with the city, then lets again revise the zoning ordinance.

It’s not just faulty process that gives us pause about Proposal 3; It’s the consequences. This threatens future downtown development. Property owners and developers rely on consistent planning and zoning regulations so they can plan for future development. Proposal 3 would require developers to guess what the voters want, and then endure a lengthy election process before knowing what is allowed.

More and more people want to live where they can walk, bike and bus to meet their needs. It saves money and reduces carbon emissions. The city should advance a multi-faceted strategy to expand housing downtown, not add more barriers.

At Groundwork, we understand that our friends and neighbors who support Proposal 3 are frustrated. They question the need for so much density, dislike the possibility of additional nine-story buildings, and express reservations about the subsidies available to developers. They want a “check” on the local government review process. We get that.

But Proposal 3 is a knee-jerk reaction. And the ballot initiative will have no effect on the subsidies developers are able to receive.

If it passes, many questions remain: How will it be enforced? Who pays for the special elections? And, is it legal?

The state Attorney General has already outlined how this ballot initiative conflicts with Michigan planning law, which says building heights, even through charter amendment, should not be decided by a popular vote and a property owner’s rights cannot be subject to a public ballot campaign.

Such decisions should be made through the local zoning and permitting process where everyone has a say. That process has helped Traverse City become one of the great small cities in America today.

Changing course now because of a debate about one proposed nine-story building is shortsighted and puts our community’s future at risk.

Vote for good government and inclusive process. Vote no on Proposal 3.

Jim Bruckbauer is deputy director of the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities

About The Author

James Bruckbauer is Groundwork's deputy director. Follow him on Twitter at @jimbruckb. Reach him at [email protected].

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