One of the most important goals of good urban zoning and planning must be to help maintain the character of established neighborhoods, which are the backbone of any city.
"Character," however, can be a tricky thing and can vary from street to street and style to style.
Traverse City has a host of neighborhoods and neighborhood types, where styles range from traditional to eclectic. There's the Old Town neighborhood between Cass and Union Streets with medium-sized two-story homes on city-sized lots. There's the Central Neighborhood with generally bigger lots and some of the city's largest homes. Then there's Slabtown on the west side, which features a mix of home and lot sizes that vary as much as the architecture.
Now, residents of one of the city's most tucked-away neighborhoods are working to maintain the character of their homes by seeking to preempt efforts to carve up the bigger lots that give the area its charm.
The Cromwell Terrace neighborhood just off Eighth Street at Munson Avenue includes Terrace Drive and Woodland, Belmont and Cromwell streets. Most homes sit on relatively large lots up to 100 feet wide. Homeowners are worried that because the area is currently zoned for lots as small as 35 feet wide, individuals could split their lots and jam in additional houses. They've requested a zoning change to larger lot widths to protect the character of the neighborhood. A change could also protect home values and the property tax base.
Lot width requirements have narrowed to the present 35 feet, not uncommon in the rest of the city, as planners revised zoning and relaxed parking requirements, in part to encourage infill development and affordable homes. While those are key goals for the city, changing the nature of an established neighborhood is not the way to go. As city and planning commissioner Jody Bergman put it, those changes had unintended consequences that should be corrected.
The planning commission is set to meet tonight to consider the rezoning request. It's a sensible change and deserves to be approved.
Planners won't be done with the "character" issue tonight, however. The commission has sent letters to the city's neighborhood associations to get input on a proposal that would prevent homeowners in two local historic districts from building attached garages on their homes; planners could take up the issue by the end of summer.
The aim, they say, is to maintain the "historical pattern of how development has occurred" in those neighborhoods, where garages and alleys are the norm.