TRAVERSE CITY — Practice in submitting site plans paid off for developers who want to put a four-story building on a vacant lot in Traverse City’s downtown.
Doug Mansfield, civil engineer for a project planned by Pine Street Development One, said about five years of effort went into the development.
“I think we got it right with this one,” he said.
Planning commissioners approved a site plan for their latest design Tuesday with a 7-0 vote — commissioners Heather Shaw and Jim Tuller were absent.
The building’s top two floors would be home to 4Front Credit Union’s data and administrative center offices, while the ground floor would house retail, Mansfield said. He added the credit union likely could move into the building’s second floor as well.
“They have done an extensive search for land and opportunities across this area and we are really proud we were able to place them downtown where they belong,” he said.
City Planner Russ Soyring said he recommended approving the plans, which call for a 58-foot-tall building with 73,523 square feet of total floor area. He requested six conditions, including that the developer plan and pay for connecting to or relocating utilities.
Planning commissioner Janet Fleshman added two more conditions requiring that the building’s windows meet city regulations, including that first-floor windows facing public streets are mostly transparent and not tinted or mirrored.
Erik Falconer, who with Joe Sarafa co-owns Pine Street Development One, said the conditions are not a problem. The architect is aware of those requirements.
Construction could start as soon as July, Falconer said.
“We’re thankful to be able to begin a project that we believe is really going to bring life and vitality to this part of downtown,” he said.
Estimates put the project cost at $15.7 million, and a potential second building on the site could someday follow, as previously reported.
Commissioners reviewed the latest proposal for a site that once stood at the center of an intense debate about tall buildings in Traverse City. Property owners’ original plans for two, 96-foot-tall towers on the site galvanized opponents into organizing and suing.
Then-13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers in 2016 partly voided a special use permit for the towers. Nonprofit group Save Our Downtown that same year asked city voters to amend the city charter to require their approval on any new construction taller than 60 feet — voters agreed, creating a charter amendment that recently survived a court challenge from another developer.
Falconer and Sarafa dropped their project and in 2017 submitted a scaled-down proposal, which eventually morphed into the current plans.
The building would be built shorter in part because of public sentiment, Falconer said.
It would sit on what’s currently a parking lot the city leased until the owners terminated the agreement on June 28. Falconer said Pine Street Development One currently is selling event parking there.
A lot behind the planned building would have 19 parking spaces, Soyring said.
Downtown Development Authority CEO Jean Derenzy submitted a letter that supports allowing the parking lot — the land’s zoning requires the DDA’s approval to build any surface parking. She wrote that public parking lots within 500 feet of the project site have 242 spaces.
City plans call for a parking ramp on land Traverse City owns across Pine Street, said Soyring.
“The only reason I believe it’s held back is we need to have the finances to build it,” he said.
Projects like Pine Street Development One’s would boost an existing tax increment finance district’s revenue stream, Derenzy said — previous plans called for borrowing millions to build the ramp and paying off the bond using TIF capture.
But TIF 97, the current capture plan, expires in 2028 and public infrastructure projects like parking ramps typically require 20-year bonds to finance, she said.
Derenzy agreed that leaves two choices: Either renew TIF 97 or find another way to finance the parking garage. It’s a subject the DDA will discuss with city commissioners at a joint study session July 22, she said.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct wrong information given to the Record-Eagle about the proposed building's 73,523 square feet of floorspace. It has also been updated to correct a reporter's error regarding the height of two 96-foot-tall buildings previously proposed for the same site. July 3, 2019