Brown Bridge expansion hearing set

Mar. 19—TRAVERSE CITY — Expanding the Brown Bridge Quiet Area can't happen without input from Traverse City voters, and they'll soon get their first chance.

City commissioners will hear public input Monday on a proposal to seek a $2,352,200 Natural Resources Trust Fund grant to buy 528 acres near the city-owned park in East Bay Township. Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy is working with the city to buy the property from the Elmer J Mueller Trust and Rotary Camps & Services of Traverse City.

Both properties are north of the Brown Bridge Quiet Area's current boundaries, and one has frontage on Spring Lake. The other is the southern half of the shuttered Greilick Outdoor Recreation and Education Center and consists of 300 acres of woods, trails and several oil well drill pads.

In a letter, Rotary Camps & Services of Traverse City Executive Director Matt McDonough wrote that the organization opted to offer the property to the city after learning it might buy the land on Spring Lake. That would let the city connect any trails around the lake to Brown Bridge Quiet Area's existing paths, as well as nearby Muncie Lake Pathway on state land. He also offered to hold onto the land until the city can secure the funding.

That'll require a match from the city, for which it could use $746,245 in Brown Bridge Trust Funds, which voters must approve. It's $12 million in oil and gas royalties from wells in the quiet area — royalties surpassing that cap are set aside in a separate parks improvement fund voters renewed in 2019.

Commissioners at a special meeting on March 13 voted 5-1 to set the hearing for Monday, with Tim Werner voting against and Mark Wilson absent.

Werner previously questioned the rationale for buying the land to add to the Brown Bridge Quiet Area, and if using Brown Bridge Trust Fund money to leverage a larger grant was a wise use of the funds.

On March 13, he said he hoped to see plenty more information about the proposal at the public hearing, like other landholdings nearby, what the city's trust fund has been used for in the past and what the city charter allows it to be used for. The emails he saw were all from people who support the project but live outside the city, particularly on nearby Spider Lake.

"So yeah, I can see where they'd love to have this protected, but how does it affect people who live in Traverse City proper?" he asked.

Mayor Richard Lewis said he expected to see an in-depth meeting packet for the upcoming public hearing.

Commissioner Linda Koebert said she expected the information Werner wants to see will come out in time for voters to decide on whether to spend the $746,245.

The board has until April 1 to apply for the grant, and an Aug. 15 deadline to place the question on the Nov. 7 ballot.

It wouldn't be the first time city commissioners added to the Brown Bridge Quiet Area, according to a report from the land conservancy. Voters in 1993 approved using $45,000 in Brown Bridge Trust Fund money to snag a NRTF grant to buy the Grasshopper Creek addition on the park's east end.

Fire stations

Both of Traverse City's fire stations need work, and on Monday city commissioners will decide whether to seek architectural services to design new ones. It's the recommendation of a committee examining if and how the city's fire department could take over as primary transporter for medical calls that require taking a patient to the hospital.

New stations would have more room for personnel and equipment, and be gender-neutral so the city can recruit women firefighter paramedics, documents show. Building new stations comes recommended over adding to existing stations considering how costly those additions would be when combined with other needed renovations, according to the committee.