TRAVERSE CITY — Bay Area Transportation Authority and Traverse City Housing Commission are exploring a joint project that’s in the early stages but inching closer to reality.

Kelly Dunham, BATA executive director, said the housing commission and transportation authority have a letter of intent to buy a roughly 40-acre slice of a larger lot on LaFranier Road just north of Hammond Road. That’s where the two organizations could build a new headquarters and transit hub for BATA, and about 120 units of housing for TCHC.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our region to work collaboratively and to embrace an innovative project that will meet multiple needs in the community, most notably affordable housing and transportation,” she said.

BATA needs a new home for its operations center and administrative offices, having outgrown its current home at the corner of South Airport and Cass roads, as previously reported. Partnering with the housing commission could create badly needed affordable housing near public transit, and open the project up to more federal funding.

Tony Lentych, TCHC executive director, said plans so far are to build mostly studio and one-bedroom apartments, with the possibility of building them over phases. The housing commission would own and manage the apartments, and rents ideally would start in the mid-$600-per-month range.

Dunham said estimates project a cost of about $35 million, with $12-15 million of that being the transportation authority’s share.

The authority is looking for federal sources of funding and plans on tackling the project without using local money.

TCHC for its part is considering a variety of ways to pay, including bringing in a patient equity investor as the commission did for another project.

He pointed to the difficulty other affordable housing developers have faced in securing Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the state.

“We’re not sure we can go that route, so we’re going to have to find somebody else or some other entity to help,” he said.

Dunham hopes to close on the land in December, but there’s a lot more to do first, she said.

That includes getting site plan approval from Garfield Township, Dunham said.

The township planning commission will see the plans Wednesday, and project partners ultimately will ask the township to approve a planned unit development, according to talking points BATA released.

The Federal Transportation Administration has its own due diligence steps required before the deal’s final, Dunham said.

Plans call for using about half of the 40 acres, Dunham said. The rest is unbuildable wetlands and a creek. She considers that an asset, as it would remain as green space surrounding the buildings.

Finding and securing a parcel was the most urgent step, Dunham said.

There aren’t a lot of large, undeveloped parcels left in BATA’s core service area.

“So that really is the catalyst to securing the property now,” she said.


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