TRAVERSE CITY — The organization behind Traverse City’s vote requirement for tall buildings is challenging the city again in court over approving buildings it argues should have gone to a public vote.
Save Our Downtown and one of its members, city resident Albert Quick, argue in a 13th Circuit Court filing that Innovo Development Group’s plans for a building on Hall Street are just the latest to be incorrectly approved by the city.
While City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht advised city planning commissioners that the building could be approved without a public vote, Quick and the nonprofit argued that several rooftop features like staircase enclosures, elevator shafts and a parapet wall mean the building would be taller than the 60-foot cutoff, and thus require a citywide vote.
So too was the building built at the corner of Pine and Front streets, now the home of 4Front Credit Union’s administrative center and a few other businesses, Quick and Save Our Downtown argued. There, a 10-foot screening wall built on the roof pushed the building past the limit.
Brenda Quick is an attorney for Save Our Downtown and Albert Quick, and said the charter amendment voters adopted in 2016 is clear: no new buildings taller than 60 feet in the city without voter say-so. And there are no exceptions, not for parapets, screening walls or any other structure.
“What we’re simply saying is that people should have a right to vote, and the city and its actions is ... denying that right, and so we’re fighting for our right to have a voice,” she said.
Plaintiffs want a court to order the city to enforce its charter amendment, and overturn any approvals that violate it. Quick said that would include the city’s approval for Innovo Development Group’s plans on Hall Street.
City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht denied the city is trying to skirt the charter amendment. She said the city zoning code clearly defines how buildings are measured, and it’s a standard widely used. That’s because it deals with a seemingly simple matter complicated by factors like uneven ground, for starters.
That standard starts at grade and ends at the roof deck for a flat-roofed building, she added. It’s the same citywide, and she argued it’s what voters would have understood building height to be when they approved the charter amendment in 2016.
Plus, city commissioners were clear that they would continue to measure building heights the same way when they adopted an implementation policy for the charter amendment in 2017, Trible-Laucht said. No one objected at the time, not even Save Our Downtown members through input they offered for the policy.
Brenda Quick rejected such an assertion, as she didn’t believe building measurements to be an issue at hand at the time. She also argued the charter amendment made that height measurement standard obsolete.
The suit could revive an argument over the future of the city’s skyline that erupted in 2015 when the city approved plans for two, 96-foot-tall buildings at the corner of Front and Pine streets, as previously reported. That galvanized the Quicks and others to challenge the city’s zoning for tall buildings.
Then-13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers vacated part of the building’s special use permit after another nonprofit, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council and Priscilla Townsend, then the site’s neighbor, challenged it in court.
But Rodgers also rebuffed a petition aiming to change city zoning allowing buildings up to 100 feet tall, as state law doesn’t permit zoning by petition in cities.
City voters in November 2016 adopted Proposal 3 adding the vote requirement to the city charter. A legal challenge from 326 Land Company over how the charter amendment impacted its plans for a 100-foot-tall building at 326 State Street twice fell flat, including after voters rejected the plans in 2018. Save Our Downtown intervened to defend the charter amendment.
The company subsequently scaled back plans, and a groundbreaking for Peninsula Place is set for Thursday, according to company managing partner Tom McIntyre.