Traverse City/Garfield Township, Michigan

Traverse City, population 14,674 (2010), and Garfield Township, population 13,840 (2000), want to preserve, rehabilitate and redevelop the Traverse City State Hospital and its grounds. The hospital, which opened in 1885, features medical/institutional buildings and cottages plus a farm and a chapel surrounded by landscaped open space and natural areas. Half of the 484-acre site is located in Traverse City and half is in adjacent Garfield Township in northern Michigan.

In 1994, Traverse City and Garfield Township adopted the District Plan for the Grand Traverse Redevelopment District following the redevelopment laws of the state of Michigan. The Plan encourages the development of medical and other appropriate uses in subareas where such development would be compatible. On the other hand, it limits or prohibits new development in subareas where the City and Township want to preserve important natural or historic resources. The Plan even encourages the removal of incompatible buildings and other impervious surfaces. In order to compensate for the inability to develop in some subareas, and in order to encourage the removal of unwanted impervious surfaces, the Plan uses transfer of development rights.

In 2005, Traverse City was considering removing the transfer mechanism from the Planned Redevelopment District (PRD) code section. But this code section, 1352.06, Development Capacity and Transfers, was still intact in November 2011 with some modifications.


The goals of the Grand Traverse Commons Redevelopment District Plan include the development of a medical campus along with the rehabilitation of historic buildings and the preservation of a farm, natural areas and open space. To achieve these goals, the plan identifies eight subareas. For each subarea, the plan allots maximum development capacity; development capacity consists of building volume capacity and impervious surface capacity.

The plan allocates the entire new building volume capacity to five subareas: Medical Center, Continuing Care Retirement Community, Residential/Activity Center, Recreation/Activity Center and Wetlands Conservation Area. No new building area is allowed in the other three subareas: Community Services Center, Traverse Bay Intermediate School District Area and Woodlands Conservation Area.

The Plan also allocates impervious surface capacity to each subarea noting that impervious surfaces currently exist in subareas where they are inconsistent with the allocations found in the plan. Impervious surfaces can consist of buildings or any improvement made of concrete or asphalt such as driveways and parking lots.

To implement the plan, new building volume capacity and/or impervious surface capacity must be transferred from one subarea to another. However, these transfers cannot cause the maximum capacity of any subarea to be exceeded. These transfers are allowed between the subareas within the District as long as such transfers are in compliance with applicable zoning requirements.

Transfers are also allowed from areas within the District to contiguous areas outside the District which have been designated as eligible to receive added development as long as that development meets three criteria: the proposed development is compatible with uses within the District; the transfer furthers the goals of the District; and the transfers do not affect the underlying zoning except to allow the added density.

Any or all of the development capacity may be transferred from the sending subarea so long as the transfer does not make the existing development within the sending area non-conforming. Supporting capacities, (such as open space, parking and storm-water management capacity), needed to serve transferred development must be allotted to the receiving subareas.

Transfers are approved in conjunction with the approval of subarea development plans. The Planning Commission is required to review each proposed subarea plan for conformance with the Planned Redevelopment District (PRD) District Plan. If the Planning Commission finds that a subarea development plan is not in conformance with the PRD District Plan, the applicant may amend the subarea development plan to bring it into compliance or request a hearing under the procedures established for approval of the District Plan.

As part of the subarea development plan submittal, the applicant must provide a certificate which states the development capacities transferred into and out of the subarea. After approval of a subarea development plan, the applicant is required to record this certificate.

Program Status

In a February 2005 update, Planning Director Soyring reported that the TDR option had not been used and that consideration was being given at that time to eliminating the transfer mechanism from the PRD code section entirely. However, as mentioned above, the transfer option remained in the PRD code section as of November 2011.