Candidates debate TC development at forum

Oct 5, 2017

Traverse City commission candidates (left to right) Michele Howard, Gary Howe, Jeff Leonhardt, Brian McGillivary and Tim Werner.
Credit Aaron Selbig

A pair of political newcomers is challenging three incumbents on the Traverse City commission. All five candidates gathered Wednesday night at a forum put on by the League of Women Voters of the Grand Traverse Area.

The forum packed a large community room at the Traverse Area District Library. Voters showed up to hear from five candidates running for three seats on the city commission.

Incumbents Gary Howe, Michele Howard and Tim Werner are running for reelection. They’re challenged by former Traverse City Record-Eagle reporter Brian McGillivary and schoolteacher Jeff Leonhardt.

All the candidates were asked what they think Traverse City’s biggest issues are. Leonhardt said it’s all about development.

“I want to preserve and protect the character of the neighborhoods and the downtown," said Leonhardt. "I want to correctly and factually apply the city plans, codes and ordinances to all development, what I call right type, right size, right place at the right time development.”

McGillivary said in an environment of growth and opportunity, he’d like to see the city commission broaden its development plans beyond just the downtown area.

“It's the attention city government pays to downtown and these mega-projects to expand the downtown compared to the attention they pay to our own neighborhoods," said McGillivary. "And not just neighborhoods with an association, but all the neighborhoods in the city, including those on the borders.”

Constanza Hazelwood says she learned a lot – especially about the newcomers – but she came away from the forum still undecided.

“I think we were able to see some differences in the way they would approach their role … [but] a lot of similarities, too, so at this point, I wouldn’t be ready to say this is who I want," said Hazelwood.

Hazelwood is right that the five candidates agree on a lot of things. They all think short-term rentals need more regulation, and they all said the city Human Rights Commission probably made a mistake when it suggested Traverse City become a “sanctuary city.”

But they differed on Prop 3 – the voter initiative that requires a public vote for buildings over 60 feet tall.

The incumbents – Howe, Werner and Howard – all said they had opposed Prop 3 but would respect the will of the people. Leonhardt said he supported Prop 3, and McGillivary said the vote made it clear that “right now, people don’t want tall buildings.”

The election is November 7th.