Mercantile Banking On City Commission For Branch

April 26, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — For the second time in four months, planning commissioners gave Mercantile Bank of West Michigan the go-ahead to build a branch office at Knapp's Corner. Now the hometown bank, which specializes in commercial lending, heads back to the City Commission seeking that panel's approval — for the second time.

Planning commissioners gave Mercantile what amounts to a zoning change on April 11, which allows the bank to exercise an option it has on a piece of property on the southwest corner of Knapp Street and the East Beltline. Meijer Inc. owns the parcel. The bank got its first green light from planners to build a 3,200-square-foot branch with a three-lane drive-thru there last Dec. 13.

But it's unlikely that Mercantile will get the City Commission's nod to put up the branch without having to fight for it. Some residents in the area told planning commissioners that they oppose the construction for a number of reasons, but mostly because they claim that Meijer promised there would only be three outlying developments on its property.

A gas station and convenience store, an office complex, a Fifth Third branch and a fast-food restaurant already exist south and west of where the bank wants to build, and those neighbors feel that allowing the Mercantile project to be built would violate the good faith agreement they made with the city and the retailer when Meijer got the clearance to put up its Knapp's Corner store a few years ago.

"I hope the neighbors are not losing faith in city government because of this," said Rupert McGinn, of the North East Citizens Action Committee.

A property manager for Meijer told planning commissioners, however, that he was not aware of any promise to limit outlying developments on the property to three. City Planning Director Bill Hoyt added that the Knapp's Corner segment of the East Beltline was primarily designated as the commercial corridor of the heavily traveled street about four years ago in order to concentrate that type of development in one area.

And the Mercantile project wasn't without its supporters at the public hearing. A handful of business people and residents urged planners to recommend to the city that the bank be allowed to proceed with its plans.

The issue was sent back to planners at the request of a city commissioner after that group denied the bank a zoning change on a tie vote. Mercantile then made some changes to its proposal, such as eliminating one drive-thru lane and increasing the building's setback from 58 feet to 63 feet, and planners approved the revised project by a 6-to-2 vote.

"I consider the bank being consistent for the land use in this PUD," said Robert Zylstra, planning commission chairman, of the Planned Unit Development the board amended.

If the bank gets city commission approval, the branch will look similar to the Mercantile office on Alpine Avenue. The landscaping will mirror what exists on the Meijer property and clients will only be able to reach the brick building from internal streets because the site will not have direct access from either Knapp or the East Beltline.

Mercantile was founded in 1997 and has nearly $700 million in assets.

Besides its northwest-side location on Alpine Avenue, the bank has a downtown office on North Division and a southwest side branch in Wyoming. The northeast-side site at Knapp's Corner would give Mercantile a branch in each corner of the county.

"I think the proposal that we have is not going to detract from the area, it's going to add to it," said Mercantile Senior Vice President and COO Robert Kaminski. "We have a good plan and we're trying to work with communities."           

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