April 7, 2020

Downtown Money and Flashing Red Lights

By Stephen Tuttle | Sept. 16, 2017

Traverse City must be the king, or queen, of corporate welfare. Every developer would like some, please, and there seems to be plenty to go around.

It is only sound business to avail themselves of the taxpayer largess, especially downtown, where land costs are preposterously high. But we're talking about a lot of money. 

Here's one that wants $1.2 million, another looking for $1.4 million and, whoa, this one is looking for a whopping $8.2 million — he'd like the city to pay for or chip in on the parking deck he's planning. 

Some of it is the apparently bottomless cash register that is the brownfield redevelopment fund. The original idea was to create a fund that could be used by developers to mitigate previously created environmental damage on the property they wanted to develop. Then the Michigan legislature broadly expanded the fund’s role to include the amorphous blob that is economic development, including, by the way, parking decks.

That's money that comes directly from taxpayers. 

Then there is the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program and tax increment financing (TIF) district, both of which reduce the tax liabilities of some developers. City taxpayers have to make up the difference to maintain essential services. 

Most of the action is downtown, on which a majority of the City Commission is fixated. They're true believers in new urbanism, and that means more and more density. Since their philosophy calls for affordable housing near where people work and play, and lots of people work and play in downtown Traverse City, they want big buildings there with cheap rents. 

The only way that's possible, since downtown is among the most expensive places to live, is to have the taxpayers subsidize the affordable housing. You will help pay for someone to live in a location you cannot afford yourself.

(And there's no such thing as “workforce housing.” Building low-income housing downtown will only guarantee that some low-income folks will have a place to live. Eligibility for such housing is based on income level; it has absolutely nothing to do with where someone works.)

What we have here is a form of social engineering, an attempt to force the city into becoming something it is not at all sure it wants to be. Being surrounded by very small communities doesn't make Traverse City a big city by any definition. 

The focus on six square blocks downtown ignores the fact that the entire city is only 8.9 square miles. Almost any development is reasonably close to downtown. There is room to increase density outside of the City Commission’s precious TIF zones and still be within easy reach of downtown.

Finally, it's not likely that people looking for an authentic urban lifestyle are going to be flocking here any time soon. What people now dismissively refer to as sprawl is typically people looking to experience the natural beauty we so heartily promote; they'd like a little space, perhaps some trees and maybe even a bird other than a pigeon or seagull. 

They aren't being forced away from downtown because the high-rise unit they so craved for their family wasn't affordable; they're choosing a home with a yard.




It's that time of year again when the big yellow buses are on the roads. It means we drivers have to pay attention.

The rule is pretty simple: If a school bus is stopped with red lights flashing, both oncoming and following traffic must stop. Period. You aren't going to be delayed long, and once the children have been safely loaded or offloaded, the bus driver will turn off the flashing red lights and, if possible, pull over so you can get by. 

School bus drivers and their aides, the unsung heroes of the education system, have a busload of potential problems every day. They don't need inattentive drivers adding more pressure. 

You should be aware school buses now have cameras. They will capture your car zooming past. The police will be in touch. The fine can be as much as $500 dollars, plus court costs. Since the violation means points on your license, there is a good chance you'll receive an unpleasant note from your insurance carrier announcing a rate increase.

Should you actually strike a child, you will likely go to jail or prison.  

Distracted driving is the most common cause of school bus/vehicle collisions, more than 94 percent of which are caused by the civilian vehicle. It's hard not see a stopped school bus if you're actually looking.

That level of distraction already ended tragically this month when a car slammed into the back of a stopped school bus in Isabella County, killing the young man driving the car, and his mother, who was a passenger.  

Pay attention: Red flashing lights mean stop. Please.




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