Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My April, 2007 Letter To The Traverse City Commission In Support of Accessory Dwelling Units

[though I would not write exactly the same letter today, I still hope for legal ADU's. Here is the previously unpublished e-mail in support of allowing ADU's I sent to the City Commissioners who had e-mail access in 2007. ]

I support allowing people to do with their property what they see fit as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. Therefore I support allowing Accessory Dwelling Units in Traverse City.
It seems opposition to ADU's falls into a few different camps: privacy, parking, people, and protectionism. I'd like to address these concerns.

many opponents of ADU's worry that a two-story garage in their neighbor's backyard will result in gawkers looking directly into their backyard. This is a legitimate concern. Although houses in Traverse City neighborhoods are very close together and I can easily see into all of my neighbors windows. I had no expectation of privacy when I moved into town. But many people consider their backyard as an oasis and a retreat therefore when building ADU's design considerations must be made to limit how windows face backyards. This is a matter for the language in the ADU code.

Adding more people to the city may increase the need for vehicle parking. But on the flip side more people living in town will reduce traffic congestion because people will be able to walk and bike to their downtown location rather than driving into town from an outlying suburb. The parking issue is a matter for the language in the code. Keep the ban on overnight on-street parking and require anyone with an ADU to provide a parking spot for each bedroom rented.

Although no one comes out and says it city residents don't like renters. Especially college age renters. And with good reason. Renters can be unruly, rude, offensive, and annoying - especially at 2 AM and they are playing Johnny Cash's 'Ring Of Fire' at 11 on their home stereo. From my experience of living in town it is the houses used as rentals that are the biggest headache. But I've also lived next to rentals where the house owner lived on one floor and rented the other. Without exception, instances where the owner has been on-site have been problem free whereas houses used as a rental have their share of problems. This is a matter for the language in the code by requiring anyone with an ADU to live on-site.

Plus, by having ADU's with only one or two renters it keeps young people from living together in a big house which is what seems to be so problematic.

I've read in the Record-Eagle comments from an apartment owner who is against allowing ADU's because of the extra competition they would give the apartment. I was not aware that the role of government was to protect someone's business plan. Should TC prevent new B&B's until all the hotel rooms are occupied? Prevent new restaurants from opening until all the other eateries have their tables filled? Or is the right to private property more important? But just as hotels pay a tax I wouldn't mind adding a service fee or tax to ADU's when they are rented.

The argument regarding enforcement is a red herring. Who enforces current laws regarding in-home businesses such as childcare, or trash burning, etc. It is easy - if something happens at an ADU and law enforcement arrives and the investigation shows the owner does not live on site then there will be a fine.

The Good of ADU:

I want a town where young families walk their children to child to Central Grade School. I want a town where I may have a neighbor letting a player from the Beach Bums living above their garage. Or an owner of a local business who hires an intern who can live in town too because they found someone to rent them an ADU at an affordable price. ADU's and local schools go together.

Everyone knows living in town is expensive. If I or my wife lost our job we would have to move out of town. Taking a potential Central Grade School student with us. However, if we could have an ADU then because of that extra income it becomes a possibility that we can get by as a one-earner family.

The Bigger Issue

Ever since English Common Law it has been understood the people can decide what to do with their property. Although you may not like it that includes renting all or a portion of their property to others.
'Privacy' is not in the U.S. Constitution, but property is protected by four amendments (Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth). This is because it was well understood in the 18th Century that the right to property gives birth to a right to privacy. Those who would dictate to others what they can do with their own private property stand on a slippery slope of erosion of their own 'right to privacy'.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Bohemian Like You

For real this time - Hotel Indigo is breaking ground.

Years ago, when the idea of a boutique hotel was proposed my initial reaction was one of "don't do it! - let's not lose the warehouse district". Like what Chirstopher Hutchins felt about the West Village in Vanity Fair,
Every successful society needs its Bohemia, a haven for the artists, exiles, and misfits who regenerate the culture. With the heart of New York’s West Village threatened by developers, London, Paris, and San Francisco have a message for Manhattan: Don’t do it!
(See: Last Call, Bohemia)

Cities need an incubator. A sanctuary. Marine sanctuaries are a place of refuge to replenish fish populations. A city needs an area where ideas and businesses can be replenished. A place to grow. A space where failure is an option and success is a chance. Often this means low-rent areas. Often this means empty warehouses. Historicaly these were the bohemian areas. The sections of the city that may have looked downtrodden but flourished with the people who worked with their hands. What we now euphemistically call the creative class. And as those creatives aged they became productive entrepreneurs. And this is why every city needs a place for its misfits. Those who want to go in an unlikely direction.

Traverse City had a literal little bohemia 100 years ago. This spawned the institutions of Sleder's and Lil Bo's as well as the entire Slabtown neighborhood. Though "bohemian" is not much used today - a better term might be "little Detroit".

For all the sadness and desperation surrounding that once great American city there are creatives in the core who are using the low rent area to grow their ideas. They can take these chances due to the existing low cost infrastructure. And manufacturing is coming back there. Bicycles, watches, leather goods, and so much more. Yeah, it might lead to gentrification someday but is that better than the alternative?

Traverse City had a warehouse district. Hotel Indigo will change the warehouse district in a big way. Like a suburban street named after a forest that was cut down for cul-de-sacs. But that is not the end of a lamentable story. And this is why I changed my mind.

I think Traverse City has a next little-Detroit area. An area of the City for risk takers to make their experiments.

Woodmere Avenue and the area east of Boardman Lake. Maybe beyond.

The Woodemere Ave corridor has had its redesign. The Boardman Lake trail is in place on the east side of the lake. And there is warehouse space available such as "The Glacier Dome" (The Ticker has a story of 70's bands playing there.)

And now Traverse City is about to get its Hotel Indigo. I hope the Hotel Indigo is successful and the people it will draw to downtown and the bayfront support all of our local businesses. Plus, Ballantine restaurant sounds interesting ("an American Gastropub and Belgian Bier Bar"). My initial fears of losing some sort of "authenticity" were misplaced.  Traverse City still has room for bohemians, a little Detroit, and if some new development gentrifies that area then perhaps a new area will become the incubator.

I just hope we, as a town, never lose areas to serve as our sanctuaries and incubators.

The Dandy Warhols inspired the title for this post:

Additional reading:

Record-Eagle: Chain hotel in works for Grandview Parkway
TCBusinessNews: Major chain hotel proposed in Traverse City's Warehouse District
TV 7&4: Four-story hotel coming to Traverse City?
TV 7&4: Local businesses speak out about proposed hotel
Fox33: Upscale hotel planned for Traverse City's warehouse district
Record-Eagle: Letters to the Record-Eagle editor in opposition
Record-Eagle: Proposed Hyatt hotel divides opinions
Record-Eagle: Downtown hotel plans hit roadblock
Record-Eagle: New hotel planned for Warehouse District
MyNorth: Hotel Indigo – Warehouse District
ICH: About Hotel Indigo
IPR: Warehouse District Ready To Boom
UpNorthLive: Hotel plans move forward at GT Commons
Downtown TC: Garland St input
Ticker: New Shops, New Brewery for Warehouse District
IPR: Woodmere Renaissance

Detroit links:
Freep: Ad agency Campbell Ewald headed downtown, with 600 jobs
FasctCoCreate Remaking Detroit: Can Creative Companies Save an American City on the Brink? and Meet The Makers: Rebuilding Detroit by Hand