City To Put Innovo Project On Fall Ballot

Traverse City voters will have a chance to decide this fall whether a new mixed-use apartment complex can be built on Hall Street after city commissioners agreed Monday to put the project on the November 8 ballot. Development group Innovo is seeking approval to proceed with the project as designed, with a judge recently determining that because certain building features are planned to be taller than 60 feet, the project would trigger a city charter amendment requiring a public vote. Commissioners discussed several other city projects Monday, including new bathrooms at West End Beach and the volleyball courts, bridge and street reconstructions, and improvements to the Wayne Street booster station, which supplies water to the northwest side of the city and Garfield Township.

Voters will have a chance to weigh in on whether Innovo – the development group behind the Breakwater apartment complex on Garland Street – can build a new mixed-use, 88-unit apartment complex on two vacant Hall Street parcels between The Candle Factory and BATA transfer station (pictured, rendering). City planning commissioners approved the project last year, and Innovo began site work on the property in September. However, local group Save Our Downtown filed a lawsuit arguing that the project violated the city’s charter, which requires a public vote on buildings over 60 feet. Some mechanical and architectural features of Innovo’s project are planned to exceed 60 feet, but those features have historically not counted toward building height in the city, which has instead measured height from the grade to the roof deck. However, Judge Thomas Power agreed with Save Our Downtown’s argument that all building features must be under 60 feet or else trigger a public vote.

Innovo and the city are both appealing Power’s decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the city is complying with Power’s order and has directed developers like Innovo to either submit new building designs showing all parts of the building coming in under 60 feet or submit their projects to voters for approval before they can proceed with construction. Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe noted Monday that Innovo is following the required process by requesting its project be put on the ballot. Regardless of action unfolding in the higher courts, city commissioners are obligated to honor Innovo’s request and give voters a say under the city charter, Shamroe said.

“I appreciate that we are dealing with other aspects of this,” she said, referring to the pending lawsuits. “This is what the charter amendment that was voted on requires, and it’s not for us to decide whether we like (the project) or not. It’s up to the voters.” City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht concurred and told commissioners the city “should just move forward with (Innovo’s) request.” Commissioners agreed unanimously to put the proposal on the ballot. If Innovo wins voter approval this fall, it can proceed with construction on Hall Street. If the proposal fails, Innovo could put the project on the ballot again – there’s no limit to how many times it could do so, though applicants can be charged fees if the city has to hold a special election – or else hope for a favorable ruling in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Also at Monday’s city commission meeting…
> Commissioners agreed to set a March 21 public hearing to vote on applying for state funding to cover half of a roughly $400,000 project to replace the bathrooms at West End Beach (the existing bathhouse is outdated and does not meet ADA standards) and to add new bathrooms near the volleyball courts parking lot. City Parks and Recreation Superintendent Michelle Hunt said the restrooms would be gender-neutral and include family changing stations. If commissioners vote to support the grant application on March 21, the city would be committing to cover half the project costs and would learn by the end of this year if the state will cover the other half. “It’s not the splashiest of park projects, but it’s well needed and very important I think for the quality and just overall usability of the parks,” said City Planning Director Shawn Winter.

> Commissioners approved executing a $35,000 contract with firm Hubbell, Roth & Clark for engineering services for an estimated $544,000 project to upgrade the Wayne Street booster station, which supplies water to the northwest side of the city and Garfield Township. City Director of Municipal Utilities Art Krueger said the project will address pressure and capacity issues at the booster station, improve fire flow, and enhance energy efficiencies at the station. “The goal is to increase the reliability of this service area,” Krueger said. The project is being funded through a low-interest loan from the state, with approximately $163,200 to be covered through a grant in the form of state loan forgiveness.

> Commissioners extensively discussed the planned reconstruction of Madison and Jefferson streets, which are both set to be rebuilt from the base up in 2022-23 at a cost of $1.44 million and $939,000, respectively. Commissioners had been asked to affirm the planning commission’s recent determination that the street reconstruction plans were consistent with the city’s master plan. The board instead voted merely to receive and file the planning commission’s determination, with some commissioners wanting to see more design details and have a stronger say in shaping the reconstruction plans before giving the project their stamp of approval. Commissioners did affirm a separate planning commission determination that two planned bridge projects this year – the repair of the North Cass Street and South Union Street bridges – are consistent with the city’s master plan. Commissioners Monday also voted to approve a resident-initiated special assessment district to pave the L-shaped alley west of Rose Street and north of East Eighth Street, with the $60,000 cost to be split between the city and seven property owners adjoining the alley.

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