A Tale of Two Towns – The TPI Downtown Resort Plan

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Guest Commentary

My family has roots to a small resort town in Northern Michigan. The downtown village was – for as long as I remember- very modest, very underutilized, ripe for new energy and needing a clean-up to better serve the lake and residents. A few years ago, a long-term summer resident, after selling his company, wanted to give something back to the community and essentially bought most of the downtown core. It was not free. His first step was a community meeting and asked the residents what might be good for everyone. The answers were something like “some nice shopping, good access to the lake, maybe a good restaurant, docks, a park and a boutique hotel. “ So that’s what he has done- he did it all and now the town is really a place and almost everyone- old, young, new and long-term- love the new village. It really is a nice story with good outcomes. It was also in scale to the existing neighborhood.

Our community is facing the same process. The TPI proposal has the opportunity to set the tone for a new Fort Myer Beach generation. Economics is always in the mix, but if the property had been purchased for free – then economics would be almost meaningless and we could visualize exactly what might add real value and character to our community. We are not quite that lucky- but we do have a long-time downtown vision in our Land use plan and in our town’s visioning process to give us a blueprint. In fact, the previous CPD for the Seafarer’s parcel was consistent with the plan in term of density and scale of building. What reasonable expectations for land use should a property owner, the neighbors and the community expect from a Land use plan?

I support redevelopment- but I also think scale of buildings and intensity are important. Water parks and adult entertainment complexes/amenities create lots of traffic and parking flow. Building scale with three floors over flood-plain create Canyons along roads that deserve design interest. All needed variances or new code interpretations need to be carefully considered. This location has the potential to be a great gateway to our town, but also has the potential to create chaos. I personally think a cluster of modest size buildings, some with modest height variances (to create architectural interest) would make this new development a great addition to our Downtown village core. However, Density, parking, traffic flow and building scale need to be carefully reviewed. Often, a developer has the tendency to “fit” as much as they can and TPI has done this with the latest plan as well. The development code can be confusing and the words “consistent with the plan” are very much a matter of interpretation or the sales pitch being presented. I have not reviewed the details- but the TPI plan – while better – is still intense and creates lots of questions for the Town and Residents to consider. Some primary questions I have include: Deviations for FAR (Floor Area Ratio) really means increased intensity/density; stacked parking both horizontally and vertically means tight parking and as I understand it, the Development code does not contemplate four story buildings on Crescent and Fifth Street. The Bayside parcel density proposed is about 90 Units per acre (code is maximum of 18/acre) which is 50% more intense than Lighthouse Resort which is a grandfathered property but in a scale contemplated in our Development Codes. The Beach parcel is essentially commercial with no adjacent parking and might be a destination itself similar to the pool venues in Las Vegas.

Finally, as important as our Downtown is, the actual parcels are relatively modest in size while the proposed uses are not. Much of the Downtown degradation has been self-imposed by previous property owners or lack of motivation. There are always many options for change.

Our town and its residents would be well served to review this under the comp plan first and negotiate up rather than from the developer’s proposal and then down.

I should share that I am a beach business (resort/restaurants) owner and have been a developer. I like change and redevelopment. I also have a long-term commitment to the community and I am a part-time resident.

 

Doug Speirn-Smith