It's encouraging to see that Traverse City planners are concerned about a two-development trend of large parking lots being built to serve big new buildings on opposite ends of Front Street.
The city wants to see any new development along Front east and west of downtown — essentially from Division Street all the way to Northwestern Michigan College — take on the "downtown character" of Front in the main business district, with buildings close to the sidewalk and parking on the street, in the rear or in a nearby site.
Planners weren't happy with the size of the parking lot built for the CVS Pharmacy that last year went up at Front and Division. While the building butts up to the sidewalk on its west and south sides, there is still a large parking lot that faces Front.
They see a similar situation with a proposal by TBA Credit Union to build a three-story headquarters building at Hope and Front streets east of downtown, a blighted former gas station site that has been used as a produce stand in the summer.
City planners like the building (it looks great in a drawing), but have expressed concerns over replacing the former Shooters bar next door with a parking lot for up to 70 cars.
TBA says it needs that much space for employees and customers.
While there's no question the TBA building would be a light-years upgrade for the site, the idea that future development along Front will be a big building with a big parking lot next door is not so exciting.
"It creates a lot of dead space where you want activity," said planning commissioner Gary Howe.
He's right, but the question is what the city can do about it.
The number of parking spaces required for new buildings is based in part on the square footage of the building. New construction outside downtown can't rely on just street parking or the parking deck on State Street, so creating spaces for employees and customers is a must.
Each site is different, of course, but the city must do what it can to ensure that parking is in the rear, shared with other businesses or just nearby when possible. Adjusting the parking space ratio is an approach, and there are no doubt others.
It's not like developers are clamoring for space along Front right now, but the city has to look to the future and precedents set now. Suburban-style design with big low buildings and even bigger parking lots doesn't fit; city planners and the planning commission have to demand alternatives that will stand the test of time.