Knapps Corner Projects Approved

May 13, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — A revised site plan with fewer parking spaces and different accent colors took a new restaurant and a separate retail center at Knapp’s Corner out of limbo and on to the City Commission for approval. Planning commissioners tabled both projects a few weeks ago, but the design changes got zoning changes for both projects last week.

Both developments want to go in on three acres at the northwest corner of Knapp and the East Beltline, east of and adjacent to land owned by developers of Celebration Village. Each project would take up about 1.5 acres of the property that fronts the Beltline.

At the north end of the parcel, a new International House of Pancakes restaurant has been proposed. The IHOP would be 4,200 square feet in size. At the south end, a 5,400-square-foot building is planned for retail along with a 4,100-square-foot restaurant.

Different firms are doing the projects and each needed a separate zoning change from the city to be able to proceed. But both made their requests to the city as a single Planned Unit Development. The site is zoned residential, the property’s status when it was part of Grand Rapids Township. Since then, the land has been annexed into the city and is situated in what has become the commercial sector of the East Beltline.

IHOP is a publicly owned chain that plans to open four new restaurants in Grand Rapids. Joe Biersbach is developing the retail center. Both have options to buy the respective parcels that make up the three-acre site from separate owners, while Development Advisors Equity Corp. owns Celebration Village.

But because both projects sit in front of Celebration Village, design differences between that mixed-use development, the IHOP and the retail center were raised at a hearing held at the Planning Commission three weeks ago.

Celebration Village is known as a new urbanism style of architecture that incorporates an old-fashioned village atmosphere into its buildings and layout, and is designed to encourage pedestrian traffic within the development. But Planning Commissioner Kim DeStiger, an architect by trade, said that the proposed IHOP and the retail center did not have that style.

“This is not new urbanism,” he said at the hearing.

DeStiger remarked that the IHOP looked exactly like the other 1,000 restaurants the chain has across the country, and he called the retail building a strip mall turned sideways.

The issue before the commission was whether the design incorporated into the master plan for Celebration Village should also be used for the restaurant and retail building, or if the two projects should be treated as separate developments.

Assistant City Planning Director Val Lazdins said that deciding what comprises a village-like design was a judgment call, and one within the commission’s range. He added that the East Beltline overlay zoning plan addressed design style in general, but not in specifics.

“From a land-use standpoint, the IHOP is consistent with the plan,” said Lazdins.

The revised plan offers more green space, additional sidewalks, a brick base around the IHOP building treated with accent colors, two fronts on the retail center, the buildings moved closer together for a village-like effect, and about 15 fewer parking spaces.

“Most of what they have done have been positive changes to the plan,” said DeStiger last week.

Planning commissioners voted 6-2 to recommend the zoning change, which now goes to the City Commission for its approval.           

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