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New Urbanist Town Proposed for Old Mission Peninsula

April 19, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Visionary leaders in Peninsula Township are looking to the future by reviving some lessons from the past, and hope to build the first traditional village in northwest Michigan in more than 90 years.

Growing numbers of families are seeking out the extraordinary Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City as a place to live. In response, Supervisor Rob Manigold, a cherry farmer, and Planning Director Gordon Hayward, a former dairy farmer, are working with the Township Planning Commission to come up with an attractive alternative to sprawling subdivisions and isolated ridge top homes.

Working with Russell Clark, a local landscape architect and planner, they have designed Mapleton Village, a pedestrian-oriented traditional town that is based on northwest Michigan's small towns and livable communities. Mr. Clark said he actually measured the width of streets in Suttons Bay, and the distance between sidewalk trees in Traverse City's old neighborhoods.

Mapleton Village would have, in addition to 400 homes, a central village green, two churches, a school, a library, two senior centers, parks, hiking and biking paths, a business and retail district, narrow winding streets, tree-lined sidewalks, and service alleys with detached garages.

The master plan also calls for architectural design standards such as pitched roofs, front porches, and two story commercial buildings that come up to the sidewalk, with some apartments on the second floors.

The Township leaders are proposing to build this new-old town on 165 acres at Seven Hills Road and Peninsula Drive, about halfway up the narrow, 16-mile-long peninsula jutting into Grand Traverse Bay. It would be a traditional, compact village, where about 1,000 people could live and work, and where all residences are a comfortable walking distance to the town center.

Mapleton Village is designed to be neighborly, self-sufficient, and safe from cars. "The concept works a couple of ways," said Mr. Manigold. "It takes up less land. And because less land is involved, it will also be a place where a normal working person can afford to live."

In 1988, Mr. Manigold entered office with a mandate from voters to address the sprawl problem. In concert with the Planning Commission and citizens, he developed a growth management program to protect the Township's 9,700 acres of prime agricultural land, with a micro-climate that is one of the world's best for growing cherries.

The foundation of their approach was the Midwest's first Purchase of Development Rights program, implemented in 1994 by a vote of Township residents.

The PDR program provides growers with an economic incentive to continue farming by paying them the difference between the value of their land for agriculture, and the value for housing developments.

In voting for the program, Township residents also responded to their incentive - which is to pay a little more in property taxes now to prevent sprawl, instead of much higher property taxes later to finance spread-out roads, schools, utilities, water and sewer, and fire and police protection.

The Township's PDR program has been highly successful. Nearly $10 million to pay for development rights has been raised from property taxes, state grants, and private initiatives coordinated by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and the American Farmland Trust. In all, 4,500 acres of the peninsula's agricultural land already are set to remain in production.

With the PDR program in place, Township leaders investigated approaches for preserving the remaining farmland and open space. The Mapleton Village plan is inspired by the national New Urbanist movement, which is proving that when offered appealing, livable communities, people will chose them time and again over a conventional, auto-dependent subdivision.

Most of the neo-traditional towns being built across the country have been proposed by their developers. What makes Mapleton Village unusual is that the project has been spurred on by local government leaders. And by deftly incorporating the purchase of development rights program, this one village could protect another 2,000 acres of the Township's farmland.

The Peninsula Township Planning Commission endorsed the idea for Mapleton Village in 1993. The Township then received a grant from the state Coastal Zone Management program to pay for the master plan and engineering study.

The Planning Commission assembled a committee of local residents to participate in the design of their new town. As Mapleton Village started to take shape, sketches and plans were presented to the community at public meetings, and the ideas gathered there were incorporated into succeeding drafts.

The Township and the citizens' advisory committee have invited three development companies to discuss the practical considerations of building Mapleton Village. Township leaders are planning to hold more public meetings this year, to continue the process toward making Mapleton Village a reality.G

Gordon Hayward, Peninsula Township Planning Director, 13235 Center Road, Traverse City, MI 49686, Tel. 231-223-7323; Russell Clark, 2706 Hartman Road, Traverse City, MI 49684, Tel. 231-941-8505.

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