Three local entrepreneurs with long-time ties to Old Mission Peninsula are planning to redevelop the Seven Hills commercial complex on the peninsula’s north end – with a coffee shop, distillery tasting room, retail, health and fitness studios, farmers market, and boutique lodging proposed for the site.
Jay Milliken, Troy Daily, and Jordan Valdmanis have a two-acre commercial property under contract at 13795 Seven Hills Road just north of Devil’s Dive Road, with plans to redevelop the site in 2021. Formerly used for manufacturing, industrial, and commercial/office purposes – a handful of commercial tenants are still on-site – Seven Hills is planned to receive a makeover and infrastructure upgrades and transitioned to “a more community-oriented use,” according to the partners.
Included in the plans is a new coffee shop, with Milliken pointing out the absence of coffee options on Old Mission outside of the Peninsula Market gas station. “Right now, you potentially have to drive 18 miles to get a cup of coffee in Traverse City,” he says. “With all the people working from home, you could have a meeting here in a local communal area. As of now, if you want to meet with someone on the peninsula, you have to go to a bar, which isn’t ideal.”
Other planned uses for the property include a potential distillery tasting room and the addition of a recessed covered outdoor patio for customer use. The partners are in talks to bring a yoga studio to the property, and intend to keep existing tenants Old Mission Massage and Tinker Studio on-site. Highlighting local farmers – either through a dedicated indoor space for daily sales or a weekly summer outdoor market – is also part of the proposal, with additional space available for retail or mixed-use businesses. Milliken says the development will stay within the existing Seven Hills footprint, with some buildings remodeled and others razed to open up more green space.
Project plans also call for 10 lodging rooms on the property, which Milliken says would be marketed to Old Mission residents who have visitors needing a place nearby to stay. While Peninsula Township’s ordinance defines that use as a hotel/motel – the rooms would not be considered a bed-and-breakfast or Airbnb rental – Milliken shies away from the term, calling it a “boutique lodging experience” instead.
“People think of a Motel 6 or Hampton Inn, and that’s so far away from our intention,” he says. “When you just see on paper that someone wants to build a hotel on a residential peninsula, I would question it as well, but we are not trying to build a big hotel. We are using an existing commercially zoned property so residents have rooms for their friends and family. We are not trying to add tourism; the tourism is already there. Our intention with the development is to serve old Mission Peninsula.”
Milliken, who grew up with Valdmanis on the peninsula – where Daily is also a long-time resident – says the development project was born out of a desire of all three partners to create a destination for Old Mission residents. He says the local focus will extend to the types of vendors selected for the complex. “All of our offerings will be well-curated and thought through,” says Milliken. “We’ve made a promise in our mission statement to support local businesses. You won’t see a Starbucks out here. We want to either bring existing local businesses to the peninsula, or new businesses from local entrepreneurs.”
The Seven Hills project still requires township approval for a special use permit (SUP). Milliken says the partners worked with township staff for several months on plans before a public hearing at the planning commission Monday. At the meeting, the partners were caught off guard when they were told their parcel was not big enough for lodging; the township ordinance requires a minimum five-acre parcel. Milliken says the partners had already cleared that with staff and were told a SUP would allow them to move ahead with a smaller parcel. The group was instead told Monday they need to go before the board of zoning appeals, a separate process that could take weeks or months to resolve.
“From day one, township planning and zoning knew our plans, so that was very frustrating,” says Milliken. “But we are absolutely pushing forward. We have every intention of adding something positive and responsible for the Old Mission Peninsula community.” In an email, Peninsula Township Director of Planning Randy Mielnik wrote that “there are certain acreage and other requirements that do not seem to be met on their site for the hotel,” but that township staff “will continue to work with (the partners) on development of their plans as they wish.”
Milliken says the group hopes to open the Seven Hills redevelopment next year, even if that means taking a phased approach or delaying or reconfiguring lodging plans to allow the rest of the center to move forward. “In a perfect scenario we would be open in 2021, or at least getting the improvements done,” says Milliken. “I’ve seen a lot of things change on the peninsula, and some frustration over the way things are done here for projects. But we are the locals. We are the ones who grew up here, and we are the next generation who is going to live and retire here. We know the value of this commercially zoned property and what could be done. We want to make sure some other developer doesn’t come in here with millions of dollars and push something through.”
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