This time, with feeling: Group aims to create region-wide plan that sticks

REGION – For the past decades, two opposing forces have fought publicly and privately over a possible bridge connecting Hartman and Hammond Roads in Garfield Township. Now, prompted in part by available federal dollars, those two factions have formed a new coalition to build a plan for the entire region.

The Land Use & Transportation Study Group includes representatives from the Grand Traverse Road Commission, the Michigan Land Use Institute (MLUI), the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, Home Builders Association, and Grand Traverse, Wexford, Leelanau, Benzie, Kalkaska, and Antrim counties, and more.

This comprehensive group has been officially sanctioned by Grand Traverse County and the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments to manage $3.3 million in federal highway funds set aside by Congress to move a regional plan forward.

The Study Group will lead a process that will: hire an outside professional planning consultant this fall; engage a 100-member Stakeholder Group consisting of primarily business and community leaders who will have a voice in the process; work with the consultant to create specific future growth scenarios that will help residents visualize the future; quantify the costs and effects of the different scenarios; rollout the scenarios for public comment and input; and move toward implementation of the chosen plan for the future.

Ultimately, changes based on a regional plan could include changes to zoning in area cities and townships, as well as things like widening of roads, making streets and roads more pedestrian friendly, fixed bus routes and/or dedicated bus lanes, or even a regional light rail transit system in the future.

Hans Voss, executive director of the MLUI and a member of the Group, says regional planning is "taking off like wildfire nationally" because it can spur economic development, preservation of natural resources, and more. He credits regional plans for much of the recent growth in cities like Denver, Salt Lake City and Louisville. Here in Michigan, Voss points to Grand Rapids as a market closer to home where regional planning has begun to take hold.

Try, try again

Several regional planning studies and groups have come and gone in the area over the past 10-12 years, all failing to garner widespread support or take hold at the township zoning level. The most recent example was "Envision TC," spearheaded by the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau last year. Some believe this effort is destined for a similar end.

Voss insists this time it will be different.

"This (group) is it. Everyone who has a voice has been invited to participate, so this has never been done before. In one generation, our area will double in population. Where will we put all these people? Where do they live? How do we move them around on our roads? Unless we figure it out in five years or less, it might be too late."

Builders and developers, a group many would expect to be skeptical of this effort, has signed on via the Home Builders Association of Grand Traverse. The HBA is represented on the Land Use & Transportation Study Group by Sally Bornschein, its past president.

The effort will kick off in earnest at a free, public event on May 18 at The Hagerty Center in Traverse City, where Group participants and national experts will discuss the process and field public input. For details, contact the Chamber or MLUI. BN