TRAVERSE CITY — Petitioners’ attempt to place a repeal of Traverse City’s tall buildings vote requirement on the November ballot fell short.
Not only did circulators not gather enough valid signatures to meet the requirement of 658 — 10 percent of the city’s registered voters — but two procedural issues were enough to merit rejection as well, according to a release from city Clerk Benjamin Marentette. Clerks office employees counted 623 of the 697 submitted as valid.
Then, the petitions didn’t identify a “body, organization or person” as the one primarily responsible or interested in circulating the petition, according to the release. City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht advised the clerk’s office this name is legally required.
“I think we jumped a little quicker than we were fully prepared for to try to get this on the November ballot, but I think it was worth a try,” said Raymond Minervini, one of the petition circulators.
What Minervini called a grassroots effort to overturn the vote requirement kicked off after HomeStretch Nonprofit Housing announced its idea for redeveloping a city parking lot into housing, including affordable units, was running up against the vote requirement’s 60-foot cutoff, he said.
The project, once in doubt, is moving forward with an altered design to fall under that height limit, as previously reported.
Jay Zelenock is an attorney who helped defend the charter amendment city voters added in 2016 against past and ongoing court challenges. He said he was hoping voters would vote against repealing their right to vote on tall buildings if the question made it to the ballot. Instead, the fact that petitioners fell short on gathering enough signatures as the people having their say in another way, he argued.
“I think that speaks to there wasn’t much desire to repeal the public vote protections that are in the city charter, and I’m glad to hear it,” he said.
Minervini said he chalked it up instead to petitioners not starting soon enough.
But Minervini still saw the positive in getting hundreds of people to consider the tall buildings vote requirement and how it affects potential housing projects. (A developer himself, he said he disagrees with the “tall buildings” label for 60-foot buildings.)
Zelenock and other advocates for the vote requirement previously argued housing, especially affordable homes, is not the main issue in a requirement that creates another check in certain city planning decisions.
Minervini said he’s not ruling out a future petition drive, but isn’t interested in challenging the city clerk office’s determination in court, adding he trusts Marentette’s decision.
Zelenock said he believed a lack of valid signatures, a missing named interested party and a third missing requirement Marentette flagged — the petitions not being addressed to the city clerk — would make any court challenge unlikely to succeed.
The debate over who gets to shape the future of the city’s skyline came to a head in 2015, when a 13th Circuit Court judge partly reversed a special land use permit for a planned set of 100-foot-tall buildings at State and Pine streets, as previously reported.
State law also kept petitioners from sending zoning decisions to the ballot, so some city residents petitioned to add the vote requirement for any new construction in 2016. Voters adopted it, and it has survived two court challenges.
Now, 326 Land Company is looking to settle its third lawsuit, this one in federal court, after yet another ruling impacted its plans.
Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power found building plans by Innovo TC Hall violate the charter amendment without a public vote, as some features would reach several feet above 60 feet. The company is appealing that ruling.
That company won’t be the first developer to place its project on the ballot, since 326 Land Company did in 2018. Voters rejected it then.
The company’s current suit in federal court prompted a federal judge to ask for more information about a proposed settlement, including details relevant to whether the city and developer is colluding to move the building project forward without a public vote — the city’s outside counsel, Peter Worden, an 326 Land Company Managing Partner Tom McIntyre both previously denied any such cooperation.