City commissioners track the drafting of the master plan and the land recognition policy

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Traverse City commissioners agreed Monday to solicit proposals for an advisor to help rewrite the city’s master plan — the key document that outlines the city’s vision for its future and guides planning and development decisions — and the adoption of a policy of land recognition that would honor indigenous peoples and tribal lands in a statement to be read at city commission meetings.

City Planning Director Shawn Winter reviewed a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) that the city intends to publish with commissioners to find a consulting firm to help redraft the city’s master plan. Every five years, Michigan communities like Traverse City must review their master plan — a document that describes a vision of how the community will look and grow in the decades to come — and determine if it needs updating or replacing. Master plans not only guide local zoning and decision making, they also prioritize how money is spent on areas such as infrastructure and capital improvement projects. The city adopted its current plan in 2009 and has only changed it once since then, in 2017. Last year, Winter suggested the time was right for the city to consider a new vision for the future, with commissioners agreeing $100,000 to budget in 2021 -22 budget to go through a rewrite process.

City manager Marty Colburn reminded commissioners on Monday that the goal is not just to update the city’s master plan, but to completely redesign it, a “significant effort” that realistically will take 18 to 24 months to complete. Colburn said the rewrite is “overdue” and would involve an extensive public input process led by an advisory group working with staffers, city commissioners and planning commissioners. Winter said the master plan is a “crucially important document” that will guide the city’s decisions, actions and policies. Once the RFP is public knowledge, Winter said the city will accept proposals for a month, conduct an internal review of bids, invite a handful of finalists for interviews, and then select a recommended firm and contract to present to commissioners for approval .

According to the RFP, Traverse City hopes to address several key issue areas in its new master plan. These areas include housing and affordability; land use patterns and intensities; economic development, employment growth and economic resilience; cultural and historical resources; recreation and common rooms; community services and facilities; transport and traffic, including mobility/cycling map; sustainability, natural resources, water and energy; diversity, equity and inclusivity; and incorporation of The Village at Grand Traverse Commons – which has its own master plan – into the broader framework of the city.

“The plan should assess the drivers of change and trends that will affect Traverse City over the next 30 years,” the RFP said. “It should assess how environmental, climate, health, demographic and technological changes are affecting the community and what steps we need to take to address and manage those changes. It should identify strategies to improve the human, social, economic and environmental sustainability of the community as it moves towards full expansion.” The selected consultancy is expected to analyze demographic trends, providing local feedback on desired development trends in businesses – and residential areas and presents an implementation plan with short, medium and long-term measures for the city. The new master plan is said to be “concise, written in a non-technical format and highly visual. The document is ideally less than 80 pages long, innovative, attractive, action-oriented and user-friendly. Mayor Richard Lewis said creating a new master plan is “probably one of the more important things” the city commissioners will do during their tenure on the board.

Monday’s commissioners also expressed support for considering changes to the commission’s meeting rules, including cutting public comment times from five to three minutes per speaker and enacting a land recognition policy that would honor indigenous peoples and tribal lands in a statement that to be read out at the meetings of the city commission. Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe noted that most speakers in public comment are already limiting their remarks to under three minutes and recommended adopting this as a formal guideline, a change that will return for official voting at a future meeting. Meanwhile, Commissioner Mi Stanley announced that numerous cities across the US – including recently Sacramento – have adopted land recognition policies that require the reading of a brief statement immediately after pledges of allegiance at commission meetings to honor Native Americans and recognize that meetings are historic tribal reasons.

Given the city’s collaboration with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and the Chippewa Indians on several projects, including the Boardman River dam removal project, Colburn said it was “an opportune time” to consider such a policy, and thanked Stanley for bringing her forward. Commissioner Mark Wilson, who is also vice-chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and the Chippewa Indians Tribal Council, agreed to act as liaison on behalf of the commissioners and to work with the tribe on a possible statement to be presented at commission meetings could be read. Wilson said an ideal explanation, presented to the commissioners for approval at a future meeting, would likely be “short and concise” and would refer to the 1836 Treaty of Washington. Under that treaty, the Anishinaabe indigenous people numbered nearly 14 million Morgen territory — or 40 percent of present-day Michigan — in exchange for reserved land and hunting and fishing rights.

Also at the committee meeting on Monday…
> The commissioners received a presentation from CPA Douglas Vredeveld of auditing firm Vredeveld Haefner LLC on an audit of the city’s fiscal year ending in June 2021. Vredeveld called the company’s results a “good, clean report from cover to cover,” showing steady increases in property tax revenue and a surplus in the city’s general fund balance of $5.7 million. That equates to an unallocated balance of 26.9 percent, with city policy generally dictating that commissioners keep that number in the 15 to 20 percent range. Colburn noted there were additional funds in the account as the city failed to spend on the balance during the pandemic in an emergency. At some point, the commissioners will likely look at how to allocate some of these funds to bring the balance back to the target range of below 20 per cent.

> The commissioners entered a closed session for a performance review with Colburn in relation to a reprimand he received in October after he fired city treasurer Kelli Martin without city commission approval, as required by the city charter. The formal reprimand required Colburn to take several corrective actions with heads of human resources and other city departments. As part of that process, the city manager was required to meet again with the city commissioners at a future meeting to review his job performance and progress on the necessary steps, which he did in a closed session with the board on Monday.

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