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Petition aims to repeal tall buildings rule in Traverse City

A Traverse City charter amendment puts the approval of buildings over 60 feet tall to a public vote.
marada / Flickr

A Traverse City charter amendment passed in 2016 requires that any structure over 60 feet tall get voter approval before being permitted. But a new petition would give voters a chance to repeal that amendment on this November ballot, and get rid of the requirement.

Raymond Minervini is part of the group that drafted the petition. He says Traverse City needs more affordable housing, but the current policy will deter developers from building it.

“The people who build these housing units and fund these housing units don’t want the added time, expense and uncertainty of taking a project for voter approval because the outcome is not guaranteed,” Minervini said. “There’s no obligation by the voters to consider the merits and facts of a housing proposal.”

Since the charter amendment was approved in 2016, only one development has been put before voters for approval. Voters rejected the proposed hundred foot building in 2018.

Minervini said more units in a building mean lower rent. He said a development planned for the corner of Cass and State street is a good example. It’s been proposed by HomeStretch, a local nonprofit, with the goal of housing low-income residents.

“They’re making their development fit within the confines of the 60-foot limitation,” said Minervini. “I think a greater public good would be served by adding more attainable units on that lot.”

The building height restrictions were passed nearly six years ago by a narrow margin. About 53 percent were in favor of requiring voter approval.

Grant Parsons advocated for the charter amendment. Parsons says it’s important that people have a say in preserving the integrity of their downtown area.

“Our environment is the golden goose,” Parsons said. “Why do people come up here? Why do people drive 300 miles? It’s not because we look like every other damn city in the world. It’s because we look unlike every other damn city in the world. We’ve got to protect that or the golden goose is going to get killed here.”

The group started gathering signatures last week. The petition needs 700 signatures by the end of June to get a spot on the fall ballot.

Patrick Shea was a natural resources reporter at Interlochen Public Radio. Before joining IPR, he worked a variety of jobs in conservation, forestry, prescribed fire and trail work. He earned a degree in natural resources from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, and his interest in reporting grew as he studied environmental journalism at the University of Montana's graduate school.