Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 16, 2013

Traverse City planners frustrated with large lots


TRAVERSE CITY — City planners continue to voice frustration over large surface parking lots tied to new developments that bookend the downtown along Front Street.

The latest example: a proposed TBA Credit Union on the corner of Hope and East Front streets, a former gas station site that most recently housed a produce stand. City planners like the proposed three-story building, but expressed concerns over replacing the former Shooters bar with a parking lot for up to 70 cars.

"It creates a lot of dead space where you want activity," said Gary Howe, city planning commissioner.

In effect, the development would foil the city's vision of extending downtown character along Front Street from Division Street all the way to the Northwestern Michigan College.

To city planning commissioners, the TBA project is reminiscent of the CVS Pharmacy on the corner of West Front and Division streets. The credit union also will reuse a derelict site and significantly reduce soil and ground water contamination left by a gas station.

But planners didn't like and still don't care for the size of the CVS parking lot.

"I've been by CVS numerous times and they don't need the parking lot they built," said John Serratelli, chairman of the Traverse City Planning Commission.

TBA wants its site rezoned from Hotel Resort to Community Center/Commercial. The city master plan calls for projects more akin to downtown-style buildings and limited surface parking.

The Plante Moran building to the immediate west of the proposed credit union better reflect's the city's vision for the corridor, said Russ Soyring, the city's planning director.

Jeanine Easterday, a city and planning commissioner, said she can't remember the last time she saw a bank with a full parking lot.

TBA will keep eight spots in reserve as green space but won't budge on reducing the parking lot's size.

"We will be housing many staff that will be there all day and we also need to be able to service our members that are coming and going," said Karen Browne, TBA president and CEO. "We feel that's very, very important."

The proposed building will become TBA's headquarters and house about 50 employees, Browne said.

Soyring expects the positives from the project to outweigh the parking concerns.

"It's a vast improvement over what's there now," Soyring said.

The proposal includes an eight-foot wide sidewalk and almost 10-foot-wide tree lawn between the sidewalk and the road. The building meets the city's plan for the corridor, and TBA will add significant screening of the one negative, its parking lot.

"It's moving us in the direction of our plan, it just doesn't get us there all the way," Soyring said.

The planning commission will hold a public hearing on the rezoning request Feb. 5. It will then make a recommendation to the city commission.