TRAVERSE CITY — Summertime events at Hickory Hills’ new lodge got the green light from Garfield Township’s Planning Commission.
Township planners on Wednesday approved a special use permit for the Traverse City-owned ski hill inside Garfield Township and west of the city’s Slabtown neighborhood. Included are limits on how many events park users can hold in a summer, how many people some of those events can have and requirements to submit parking plans for them.
The issue arose after the city completed its $4.1-million upgrade of Hickory Hills, including building a lodge planned to serve as a venue for a variety of events in the off-season. City Parks and Recreation Superintendent Derek Melville said the city applied for a special use permit from the township a year ago, one city officials thought covered the new non-winter uses.
“It wasn’t really clearly spelled out specifically in the minutes from the meeting, then also their documents on their end, it was heavily referencing the ski season but not so much the off-season use,” he said.
So the city held off on rentals or other summertime events at Hickory Hills during 2019’s warmer months, then went through the special use permitting process again, Melville said. Township planners had a public hearing in September following an initial meeting, then another to clarify some of the issues raised.
The city scaled back its ask in response to some concerns brought by the public, limiting banquet events — think weddings or family reunions — to 26 outside of the skiing season, Melville said. Their hours will be limited from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., a concession to concerns over noise.
Township Planning Director John Sych said the permit won’t allow “amphitheater-type” activities involving outdoor music for long periods of time.
Hickory Hills can host some “signature events,” Melville said. Those would be larger events related to the park, like skiing or disc golf tournaments, running races or a mountain biking event once biking trails are more developed, he said.
Township planners were concerned about parking demand, and how that could spill over onto Randolph Street. They conceded spectators for winter ski races have and will continue to park on the street, but commission Chairman John Racine wanted to bar any overflow parking there except for during those races.
Commissioner Chris DeGood said he didn’t think the city was requesting overflow parking during the summer. Township Planning Director John Sych said banquet events are limited to 325 guests and ticketed events need to plan for overflow parking in other locations and shuttle services if needed.
Melville told planning commissioners that Hickory Meadows users and disc golfers could park on Randolph Street, too.
Planning commissioners ultimately settled on requiring parking plans for all uses listed in the special use permit application — other proposed uses include summer camps, yoga retreats and an ice rink, documents show.
Sych said he believed the township and city made headway and that cooperation with the city has been good.
“It’s not a perfect resolution, I think we may have some bumpy times at moments where we may have an event that might not work out exactly well, but I think we’re at a point where special use can be granted,” he said, adding planners can revisit the permit in the future if need be.
Melville said he’s glad the permit was approved, and it opens up Hickory Hills for summer events come 2020.
“It gives Hickory Hills the ability to be successful and sustainable and still be good neighbors to the residents on Randolph and in Slabtown,” he said.