Emergency shelter zoning amendment approved

Zoning changes allowing emergency shelters within Traverse City will go into effect July 17.

Commissioners approved a controversial amendment to the zoning ordinance, allowing emergency shelters in Traverse City, Monday night.

It's been an on-going discussion for the past six months, with people on both sides of the issue being very vocal.

Commissioners heard comment from more than a dozen residents both for and against the proposal.

The people favoring the amendment told the opposition to get in the trenches and meet the people experiencing homelessness. They urged commissioners to enact the change immediately.

Those against the change are largely against a proposed shelter at 517 Wellington Street which is not explicitly tied to the zoning change.

Several business owners expressed their frustration with the city, saying it's going against the Master Plan which calls for the revitalization of 8th Street.

â??I have ten tenants,â?? said one businessman. â??They could easily move on if their business suffers. I'm stuck. I don't understand how you could allow something like this that possibly, quite possibly could destroy my business.â??

â??I sympathize with the business owners who are there, for the one to have greater expectations,â?? said Mayor Michael Estes. â??I wish you the best, and hopefully none of these fears materialize.â??

One concern brought up by Commissioner Barb Budros is that the amendment requires emergency shelters to have the same standards as transitional housing. Budros said under the current language states that emergency shelters need to provide housing assistance.

â??Thatâ??s not emergency shelter. Thatâ??s transitional housing,â?? said Budros.

City staff and Commissioner Tim Werner countered saying that issue could be more broadly interpreted.

â??We probably wonâ??t get it right the first time,â?? said Werner.

Under the proposal, shelters could be placed in ten different zoning areas around the city.

Downtown Traverse City would not be included.

Several residents voiced concerns over that inequality.

â??Are we saying downtown city businesses are better than the rest?â??

Commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of the zoning change.

The new ordinance goes into effect July 17.

Safe Harbor has said they plan to apply for a special permit to lease the building at 517 Wellington. It will go before both planning and city commissions for public hearings before being voted on.

Changes are in store for a portion of Front Street.

Commissioners approved a grant agreement with the Michigan Department of Transportation for the reconstruction of West Front Street from Elmwood Avenue to the city limits just past Madison.

The project involves adding bike lanes and making the stretch of road safer for people crossing the street by adding a pedestrian island.

Commissioners hope the new features will also help slow down traffic.

â??If we have improved sidewalks and gutters and then the bike lanes, I think it will really improve the attractiveness of the corridor,â?? said Commissioner Jeanine Easterday. â??It will cause people to want to stop and enjoy their drive and said of just speeding through the neighborhood.

The total cost is around $700,000. About $400,000 of that will be funded through the grant.

Construction could start after Labor Day.