Imagine the lot where the Farmers Market is located in downtown Traverse City, across from West Grand Traverse Bay. The market is located in a park. In 1986, on this park, a developer wanted to build a shopping center with a seven-story parking lot. For the grand total of $ 1, the Traverse City Commission gave the developer all that park on Grandview Parkway between Union Street and Cass Street.
My clients have filed a complaint to stop the park giveaway. Then-judge Mort Forster looked at the deed and said, yes, it’s a park. He looked at the city charter and said, yes, the charter requires a vote before you sell a park. He stopped the “sale” at $ 1. The townspeople then voted not to sell. It was in 1986.
Since then, in over 35 years of continuous downtown development, you can count the number of land use lawsuits on one side. We shut down a Pine Street project because the city broke its own rules for special land use permits. We shut down a Hall Street project because it violated the city charter height limit. We shut down the FishPass project because it is in a park and a vote is needed to turn Union Street Dam Park into a research station. We stopped a State Street development because under the city charter a vote is required to build above 60 feet.
On the one hand, you can count the number of lawsuits over the past 35 years. Each of them asked the court to make the town hall respect the zoning code and the city charter. None of these lawsuits asked the court to stop the development. âGive people the right to voteâ was the constant demand. And guess what? Each time we have won, and each time the townspeople have voted to keep a park.
The judges who decided these lawsuits – Mort Forster, Philip E. Rodgers Jr. and Thomas G. Power – repeated the same principle: the zoning code and charter are clear, and town hall must follow the rules.
A recent writer for the Record-Eagle Forum protested that the lawsuits have made it “more difficult to maintain our status as the economic engine of northern Michigan.” Oh good? Did she read any of the judges’ decisions? If the town hall follows the zoning code and the city charter, how does that make it âmore difficultâ to run our economy?
The City Hall and its business lobby (the Downtown Development Authority) and the Chamber of Commerce (Traverse Connect) have become increasingly political and pro-development. The DDA is diverting taxpayer dollars to subsidize luxury condos, Traverse Connect is supporting development commission candidates, and the city is breaking the rules to help developers.
Preservation lawsuits have – on a few occasions in over 35 years – saved City Hall from itself. We maintained urban parks, the âPure Michiganâ part of Traverse City. We have maintained the zoning code and the city charter. Nothing is more “difficult” than maintaining the character, scale and natural beauty of this city, and we have worked for free to do so. In a world obsessed with parking lots, luxury condos and mythical âwork housingâ – always promised and never delivered – we conservationists have protected the rights of residents.
About the Author: Grant Parsons, a native of Traverse City and a lawyer, has volunteered for preservation advocates with other attorneys for decades.
About the Author: Grant Parsons, a Traverse City native and lawyer, has volunteered for conservation advocates with other lawyers for decades.