‘Dead’ permit seance coming

By JORDAN TRAVIS
The Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY — Developers of a building planned for downtown Traverse City no longer want a special land use permit for their original design. But city commissioners are set to conduct a seance of sorts for that permit Tuesday.

City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht recommended in December they conduct a hearing after state Court of Appeals judges upheld a local court’s ruling vacating the permit.

An attorney for developers Erik Falconer and Joseph Sarafa confirmed their disinterest in the original permit in an email to Trible-Laucht. But she believed the appeals court’s ruling required commissioners to correct the record in areas where now-retired 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers found that previous city leaders had come up short.

The hearing will either be a necessary final chapter for the now-abandoned permit, or utterly pointless, depending on which commissioner you ask.

“I think it’s a complete waste of time and a disservice to the voters,” Commissioner Brian McGillivary said. “I don’t know what we’re supposed to accomplish.”

Falconer and Sarafa had originally planned two 96-foot-tall buildings for the corner of Pine and Front streets. A previous city commission approved a permit for those plans in 2015. This touched off a furor culminating in a lawsuit and city voters adopting a requirement that any new construction taller than 60 feet go to a public vote.

Rodgers ruled in 2016 that commissioners had erred in issuing the permit. Falconer and Sarafa had already moved on from their original idea by the time the state Court of Appeals upheld Rodgers’ decision in October — they tendered plans for a completely redesigned, shorter project for the same site several months prior.

Acting city Attorney Karrie Zeits detailed in a letter to commissioners the two areas of the original permit they need to review. They involve whether police, roads and schools could adequately serve the original proposal, and whether tax revenues from the completed development would offset the increased infrastructure and services expenses it would cause.

City Police Chief Jeff O’Brien, other city department heads and a Traverse City Area Public Schools representative submitted their findings for how the project would’ve impacted these areas. Outgoing Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Rob Bacigalupi also sent findings of the project’s various tax revenue impacts.

McGillivary believes these findings are still inadequate. He also wondered why the Downtown Development Authority is providing financial analysis when the authority stands to benefit if the project — or any new development — is completed within its district.

“I’m not taking a shot at individuals, but simply at the process the city follows,” he said.

McGillivary said he also fears another commissioner may try to approve the permit.

Commissioner Richard Lewis shot down the idea, saying city leaders won’t even come close and indeed can’t approve the permit — Zeits in her communication said the purpose of the hearing is not to OK the permit, but to eliminate any argument that the city didn’t comply with the appeals court order.

“All we’re doing is closing the door and doing what we truly believe, or what the city attorney truly believes, is our obligation under the order of the appellate court,” Lewis said.

Zeits’ suggested motion to note the hearing has been held and to take no further action on the abandoned permit makes that clear, Lewis said. He disagreed that the hearing is a waste of time.

“There’s a lot of things that come before the city commission that I could consider a waste of time, but it’s part of what we have to do,” he said.

McGillivary said he still disagrees with Trible-Laucht’s opinion, but conceded Zeits’ suggested motion is “relatively harmless.” He’s hoping city leaders and planners will tackle what he considers the bigger issues: the city’s permitting process, which he and others believe to be flawed, and whether downtown tax revenues cover the cost of services the area consumes.

“My hope is something good will come of it,” he said.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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