City bans downtown first-floor vacation rentals, approves smart meter expansion

Traverse City commissioners on Tuesday approved an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance to ban short-term rentals on the first floor of downtown buildings and approved the expansion of the city’s smart parking meter program, with approximately 351 street meters throughout the city center to be replaced with smart meters.

Commissioners voted 5-1 – with Commissioner Mitch Treadwell opposed and Commissioner Mark Wilson absent – ​​to approve changes to city zoning rules for the first floors of buildings in District C-4, which encompasses the major part of the downtown commercial core. The new rules prohibit short-term vacation rentals on the first floor and state that the first 30 feet of interior space on the first floor of a building cannot be used for parking, storage or utilities. Commissioners also approved the elimination of a current exception that residential-only buildings need not meet the minimum 50% window transparency requirement on the first floor, as well as an exception that buildings only residential do not need to meet the minimum. Required height of 14 feet on the first floor.

Planning Director Shawn Winter said these latest two changes will ensure that downtown residential buildings are designed to accommodate commercial uses as well, preserving a range of first-floor options. All of the rule changes, which were recommended for approval by the planning commission after extensive review last fall and winter, are designed to create an “engaging street-level experience” in the city centre, a Winter said. City leaders are concerned about the emergence of “dead spaces” downtown where the building spaces closest to the sidewalk have been converted from restaurants and retail businesses to offices, parking lots or vacation rentals that are missing interactivity and public engagement. Winter previously cited as examples of the trend of converting two popular former downtown restaurants – Georgina’s on Front Street and Bistro Foufou on Cass Street – into offices and short-term vacation rentals, respectively.

An early draft of the proposal called for the first floors to be restricted to a limited number of uses, with uses such as offices eliminated. However, the planning commissioners removed these restrictions after strong resistance from landlords, who demanded more flexibility in the current economy to avoid being left with empty first floors in the city centre. Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) CEO Jean Derenzy said her organization was “very supportive” of the final proposal, which still bans short-term rentals on the first floor and includes other provisions to encourage a combination of commercial uses. Treadwell voted “no” on the proposal because he preferred the original plan and believed that more restrictions on first-floor uses would encourage owners to build or expand on their property, leading to more infill development at the downtown.

City commissioners also on Tuesday approved the continuation of “phase two” of a program to convert on-street parking meters to smart meters. The first phase began in 2021 and consisted of replacing 297 meters in high-end parking areas such as Front, Union, Cass, Park and State streets. New smart meters use sensors to gauge real-time space usage, reset meters after cars leave spaces, better manage overtime parking and allow drivers to use credit cards and rechargeable smart cards to pay for parking time. The move to phase two “would replace most of the remaining on-street meters in the city centre,” according to DDA’s director of transport mobility, Nicole VanNess, including on the far east and west sections of Front Street. , Lake Avenue, South Union and Cass Streets. , Pine and State streets, and the Warehouse District neighborhood, including Hall and Garland streets.

Commissioners approved a purchase order with vendor CivicSmart not to exceed $100,000 to replace approximately 351 meters for phase two, as well as a $48,000 annual contract for software and communications costs. The smart meters allow drivers to pay with coins and credit cards in parking spaces and will also integrate with the city’s current parking app, Parkmobile, to display time paid on meters. The smart meters are intended to help the DDA with one of its key parking objectives that emerges from its 2017 Transportation Demand Management (TDM) study, which provided recommendations for parking objectives and solutions. downtown parking: data collection. The sensors collect real-time occupancy data, according to VanNess, as well as real-time usage in the Parkmobile app. This data could potentially be used to set parking rates and maximum times based on demand, as well as inform decision-making on things like extending metered hours.