TRAVERSE CITY — Zoning rules along a stretch of Eighth Street in Traverse City could change, and the city planning department’s looking for input ahead of an upcoming public hearing.
The city could rezone three blocks north of Eighth Street between Boardman and Railroad avenues to D-2 Development, city Planner Russ Soyring said. Rules for that development district could change as well, including two-story minimums for new buildings, height limits and setbacks for properties sandwiched between a nearby residential neighborhood and Eighth Street and more.
The public can weigh in on the proposed changes at an input session Friday morning, city Planning Assistant Leslie Bilbey said. It’s the last of three planned as an extra effort to gather public input on the proposals, especially from those whose properties would be impacted.
“That’s what this is for, it’s just another way for us in the planning department to try and outreach to the public in a time when it’s a little bit of a challenge with people staying at home and isolating and socially distancing,” she said.
The planning department sent out more than 200 letters notifying of the meetings, Soyring said.
The idea behind rezoning the parcels along Eighth Street’s north edge, currently C-1 Office Services from Railroad to Franklin avenues and C-2 Neighborhood Center from Franklin to Boardman avenues, is to create consistency, not only along the block but with parcels across the street, he said.
“The idea is that instead of having different zoning districts jumping around as you go down that corridor, we saw that it would make more sense to have some uniformity so the uses, setbacks and heights would not be jumping around as you go from block to block to block, but would be more or less the same,” he said.
The proposal concerned some planning commissioners during a recent discussion, who pointed out D-2 Development District rules would open up the parcels to short-term rentals.
The city recently adopted new rules for C-1 and C-2 zoned properties limiting new short-term rentals to parcels with two or more residences, and to at least one but no more than 25 percent of the parcel’s dwellings.
So Soyring’s proposing adding that same limit to D-2 zoning rules, he said. He also added planning commissioners’ suggestion to limit hotels or motels in the district to 20 units, and exclude them altogether from the north side of Eighth Street from Boardman to Railroad avenues.
New height limits would allow buildings up to 45 feet on the north side, Soyring said.
Draft rules would require any stories above 35 feet to be stepped back at least 30 feet from the rear lot line or alley if they abut residential-zoned properties — the whole building would have to be at least 20 feet from the back property line or alley right-of-way, draft rules show.
Those setbacks and step-down requirements are meant to soften the transition from residential neighborhoods north of the thoroughfare to the commercial stretch along it, Soyring said.
South of Eighth Street, buildings above 60 feet would no longer be allowed, Soyring said — they previously were through a special land use permit or planned unit development, and city voter approval.
That comes from feedback the city heard in 2016 during Envision Eighth, a public input process aimed at redesigning the corridor and the zoning rules surrounding it, Soyring said.
A subcommittee in 2019 recommended against adopting a more extensive form-based code stemming from the process but recommended adding some of the changes to the city’s existing zoning, he wrote in a memo.
Those changes would also include a two-story minimum for new buildings in the D-2 district, Soyring said.
Existing one-story buildings could add either 500 square feet of space or 10 percent of the existing floor area, whichever is greater, draft rules show.
Soyring said that’s meant to accommodate additions to structures where building a second story would be impractical.
Other changes include building frontage requirements — front walls must be at least 90 percent of a lot’s width for parcels 50 feet wide or less, or at least 70 percent on wider lots, draft rules show. The first 30 feet of a building along the street should be designed to be occupied rather than as parking or storage, and new buildings also must have angled or recessed corners on their first stories if they’re on a corner lot or have a driveway on Eighth Street.
Soyring said the former change makes a corridor more inviting for pedestrians and the latter is to improve visibility, both for walkers and drivers trying to see around a building.
He’s hoping for more feedback on the proposed changes, and planning commissioners aren’t hearing the kind of input they typically do after the pandemic forced a switch from in-person to virtual meetings.
“It’s always better to have public input, and that is a concern if people don’t know about it, then they’re surprised by the changes,” he said. “That’s not a good situation, so we’re trying to figure out ways that we can get more notice.”