Shawn Winter, Traverse City Planner

The Traverse City of Tomorrow Is on the Drawing Board

September 8, 2022 |

We asked city planner Shawn Winter to share some backstory and tips for engaging.

Traverse City’s City Planner, Shawn Winter, is undertaking two major planning pieces not even two years into the job. This fall, the city is rewriting the Master Plan and creating the first Mobility Action Plan. The first is a document to guide zoning, policies, and budgets to align with the community’s vision for the future. The latter is a comprehensive roadmap to improve walking, rolling, and transit options. Both plans produce recommendations for policy changes, the engagement process, and the design of the built environment. Both plans also need broad community input.

The effort is a monumental task that will impact the next decade of development and influence the design of the community far into the future. Recently Groundwork Center’s Carolyn Ulstad and Norte’s Gary Howe sat down with Winter to discuss the process and aspirations for the master plan and plan for non-motorized transportation.

Carolyn: What excites you most about the city creating a new master plan?
Shawn: I’m excited to have an updated vision. The master planning process is when you start really focusing on the connections. Like how does land use affect transportation, how does that affect economic development, and what’s the impact on housing? So, you start having that broader interconnected conversation. 
 
Another thing that excites me is that planning is an optimistic process. You’re thinking about how things are better in the future and how we can address needs and solve problems. 
 
The other thing is the opportunity to talk about change. Change can be a trigger word and means different things to different people. Still, the reality is we need to have those uncomfortable conversations because change will happen. No community ever gets frozen in time. Change doesn’t have to mean a complete transformation where we lose our community’s identity. It can also focus on preservation; what don’t we want to change? 

Gary: When comparing to past master plans, what do you see as a significant shift in vision?
Shawn: I think our role in the region has amplified over at least the last ten years. With that, there’s a change in scale of the development happening here and just the overall community in general, it’s a favorable market, and things are happening fast. I think the pace of change is something that the community is probably going to talk a lot about. 
 
I hear a lot about identity—the identity of this once small town in northern Michigan where there were no expressways and people mainly came to recreate outdoors. This place is now serving as a center of finance for the region, real estate is expanding, we’re starting to see some tech move in. These different industry sectors, as they’re evolving, they’re changing the dynamic of who’s here, what they can afford, their interests, and their needs. 
 
There are diverse needs, and we need to talk about that a little more than we have in the past because if we can’t identify how we are diverse, how can we address the needs of everyone?

Carolyn: Will the Mobility Action Plan’s community involvement happen in tandem with the Master Plan, or will they be separate from each other?
Shawn: Overall, they will parallel each other. Before we even started the master plan process, we were aware of the fact that mobility is a specific area that needs more attention and a deeper dive so that it will be incorporated into the master plan as a subtopic.

When it comes to public outreach both consultant teams are working together because we’re trying to avoid engagement fatigue. We don’t want to have two surveys asking the same question twice. So, in September, we will release one survey incorporating both topics. In October, there will be a joint open house event. There will, however, be points where the plans separate because they’re diving into things that are a little different.

Gary: Could you introduce us to the consultants working on both plans? Why is it necessary to bring in outside help? And why did you choose them?
Shawn: Broadly, we hire consultants because of their expertise and capacity. We are very busy in the department, and they can move the process along faster and coordinate it with their staff. Also, there are just tools out there right now, resources, software, and analytics, that we don’t have in-house because it doesn’t economically make sense to buy them to use once every ten years. So, we hire consultants to bring their resources to create a better product than what we’d be able to do by ourselves. 

For the master plan, we hired Beckett & Raeder, based out of Ann Arbor. However, they have offices here in Traverse City and Petoskey—full disclosure, I did work for them once. That’s a benefit because I have a trusted relationship with that staff, and there is a high level of accountability since I know how the “sausage is made.” What we liked about them is that most of their staff working on this have local ties. 

State Craft is the consultant working on community engagement, and their planner also lives in town. There’s that local knowledge which is very helpful, they understand the nuances of our community already. 

We’ve hired Progressive AE and their sub-consultant, Toole Design Group, for the Mobility Action Plan. We’ve done a lot of work with them. Their transportation engineer thinks like a planner, so there is a nice tie there that we don’t often see. Engineering and planning can be