Whose property is this?

From all that I gather, opponents of Federated Properties development at 145 West Front Street do not like all or some of the following: the size of the project (10 stories including residential, office, retail, and parking garage), the design, the developer, or use of any public dollars. Fair enough, we're all entitled to opinions, but that doesn't mean we always get what we want. (But if you try sometimes…)

It's a little late to make a case that the project is too large. The 10-story structure fits into zoning parameters approved by elected City officials, based on a 1997 Master Plan designed with public input. It will include residential, retail, office, and parking-public and private.

Based on the architect's renderings, I'm not wild about the design of the building (but then again I don't like those homes that look like a large garage with an attached house). Some say it doesn't fit in, but on a block that includes a 19th century bank building next to the 1960s era Record-Eagle headquarters the only word to describe the architectural theme is "eclectic." Unless we have some established Design and Appearance Code, I don't think "because it's ugly" is a legal justification to shut down a construction project.

I've heard and read references to Michael Uzelac, Federated's point man through much of the public process, as a downstate developer. Although he rented a home in TC, he did not own residential property here. If that is bothersome to some opponents perhaps the City should consider a new ordinance requiring developers to be natives of Traverse City, or at least long-time residents. Or at least nice guys whom everyone likes.

Residents didn't want Traverse City tax dollars used for any part of the public parking component of the garage, and last August they voted down a $16 million dollar bond that would have been insured by the City's good credit. Now residents don't have a say in the project: it passes local zoning, it's on private property owned by the developer, and he isn't asking Traverse City for any money or credit. Amazingly, opponents press on, looking for new ammo to stop a project they simply don't like.

A stink is being made about the involvement of the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA). The BRA is sanctioned by the state as the body that approves or denies use of Brownfield grants and loans as an incentive to spark commercial development on polluted or blighted sites. Grand Traverse County's use of the Brownfield program has been hailed by the Michigan Land Use Institute for partnering with the state to clean up and promote mixed-use developments such as River's Edge, which rises up over a former foundry; and the Village at Grand Traverse Commons which is transforming the 120-year old former State Hospital into a dynamic community of offices, condos, restaurants, bakeries, and other businesses. In the past ten years nearly $60 million dollars has been added to the local tax base through developments benefiting from Brownfield incentives.

Under the latest plan the developer will be reimbursed $5.5 million over 16 years from new tax revenue generated by his improvements to the property. He would lease 216 parking spaces to the BRA, and after 16 years the BRA would own the parking deck. It is unprecedented and innovative, but certainly not illegal, for the BRA to lease-to-own the parking deck. The $5.5 million in question does not currently exist. It is not in a vault in Lansing or at the county building. It will be generated as new tax revenue once the project is completed and gains value. It will not cost Traverse City taxpayers any money. Local property taxes will continue to be paid by the developer.

Opponents are running out of ammo to stop this project. They're circulating a petition against the project and one lawyer has threatened to sue if Traverse City residents aren't given a chance to vote. Meanwhile, Mike Uzelac is out and his former partner is now in charge. Maybe there's a rope-a-dope strategy in play here to simply wear down the developer to the point they give up and leave.

What opponents should do is ask Mr. Developer to sell the property to the City. Then residents would have every right to opinionate, vote and sue. They could hold a charrette (look it up) and build a consensus on the best use for the property. They could invite students to enter a design contest. They could declare it a war-free zone. But until they own the property, or pay for the development, I don't see where they have any more say than they already do through the myriad of local government rules and regulations.

Update on the 101st State House seat: Up to three Republican candidates are considering a run for this open seat that runs from Leelanau south to Mason County: Mike McManus, father of State Senator Michelle; Ray Franz, president of the Village of Onekama in Manistee County and Janice McCraemer, also of Manistee County. The Democrat will likely be Northport attorney, Dan Scripps, who almost beat the GOP incumbent in 2006. BN