GR Expects Slower Growth Over Next Decade

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The population gain that Grand Rapids had over the past decade marked the second consecutive 10-year period the city increased in residents. Since the 1980 census, the city's population has grown by 8.8 percent, registering a 4-percent gain from 1980 to 1990 and a 4.6-percent increase from 1990 to 2000.

But don't expect a similar gain for the next decade.

If the city does grow over the next 10 years, it's more likely that growth will be in the 2 percent to 2.5 percent range. Another 4-percent gain would come awfully close to filling the city to its land-locked residential brim.

Since city officials can't just tack on a west wing to accommodate new residents, how can Grand Rapids grow over the next decade?

Well, there still are some vacant lots available in residential zones, meaning there is room for new housing starts. Also, some empty nesters will turn over their homes to younger couples who have, or will have, children — which will increase the size of those households and raise the population without using more property.

"Our population could fluctuate in various parts of the city just based on that kind of turnover in terms of who is attracted to the area and who is not," said City Planning Director Bill Hoyt, who has been with the city for the last two census findings.

Hoyt told the Business Journal that there still are lots available for single-family homes on the West Side, along with parcels for houses and apartment complexes on the east side. And there are about a dozen existing sites that can be further developed.

"We've got a couple of properties in the 44th and Breton area where there is still quite a bit of land yet to develop, and a couple of properties on the East Beltline that have not been developed, yet. We've seen plans, but these actually aren't under construction," he said.

Hoyt explained that the city doesn't expect a large increase in the number of new dwelling units over the next decade. He said the city averages between 400 and 500 new ones a year. But he did think that there would be a constant filling-in of the remaining lots over the next 10 years. Not enough, however, for the city to grow by another 4.6 percent.

"That would be kind of optimistic. I guess I would look for about half that amount of growth," he said of the 2010 census.

Although Hoyt is waiting for more detailed census data that shows the growth patterns, his early analysis leads him to believe that the latest round of population growth, which added 8,675 residents to the city, was spread fairly evenly throughout the city.

"We've seen strong markets on all sides of the city — northwest, northeast and south — where developers and builders have picked up a lot of the land that was bypassed when it was first developed. And these are pieces of land that have problems, mostly with soils, topography or wetlands," said Hoyt.

"So these developers are working with these more difficult sites now because there is a market in the city, and because that's really all the land that we have left."

As for the city gaining 15,950 residents over the past two decades, Hoyt felt the increase was a gratifying sign — one that means more people are coming than going.

"I think the census counts are not only positive, but very welcome," he said. "They signal that the city still is an attractive place for people to live."

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