Grand Rapids Plan Nears Final Phase

June 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The final phase of Plan Grand Rapids begins this summer with a public review of the updated master plan followed by the fifth and final community forum.

On Aug. 12, the city will have a draft summary document as well as a full draft available for public review in the Planning Department at City Hall.

The draft also will be posted on the city’s Web site and be available at all area library branches, said Suzanne Schulz of the Planning Department.

Comments, including written and e-mailed responses, will be welcome anytime after the draft is released, she added.

At the final community forum Sept. 12 at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, residents will have the opportunity to further review and comment on the plan.

A public hearing on the master plan is set for Sept. 22, at which time the Planning Commission will review comments and recommend changes. After incorporating any revisions and approving the plan, the Planning Commission will submit a new master plan to the City Commission for approval.

So far everything is on schedule and on budget, Schulz said.

Plan Grand Rapids began in the spring of 2000 with the selection of a 31-member Master Plan Committee and officially kicked off in January 2001.

The current master plan dates to 1963, though it has been amended some 40 times. The updated master plan will guide city development and investment decisions for the next 20 years.

The master plan process has included four citywide community forums and a series of more than 70 outreach meetings for neighborhood and business associations and groups.

The focus has and continues to be on development issues going forward, such as traffic concerns, business district revitalization, neighborhood preservation, parkland and open space, and job creation and retention issues.

Since the start, the process has involved discussion and prioritizing, followed by more and more of the same as participants hone in on a vision for the city.

A total of about 2,500 people — or 1 percent of the population — have attended meetings thus far, Schulz noted. But she couldn’t estimate the number of man hours Planning Department staff, along with the city’s consultants, SmithGroup JJR of Ann Arbor, have invested in the project so far.

Schulz, for instance, has worked full time on the master plan — and nothing else — in the two and a half years she’s been with the city.

The consulting team has been very committed to the project, she noted, and the fact that Planning Department staff have partnered with consultants on the project is somewhat unusual because when consultants are hired, they typically do all the work.

In the case of the master plan, city staff has taken on a lot of responsibility itself, working and meeting with people in the community and going through the text revision process with consultants, she said.

“It’s more of a dynamic process, and I think, because of that, we’re going to have a better product. The community feels like they’re being heard. We have to live with it once it’s done, so we’re making sure it’s the way it should be.

“What’s so hard about reading the document right now is that there’s so much information. And everything’s interconnected — if you talk about transportation, you talk about land use; if you talk about neighborhoods, you have to talk about 10 different things that will go along with that.”

The difficulty is in trying to boil all the information down to what’s most important, she said. The plan has already undergone numerous rewrites.

The interest of the business associations in general has picked up somewhat as the process moves closer to the final draft stage — and the promise of something tangible people can look at and respond to.

Schulz noted that Planning Department staff and consultants will meet in July and August individually with some of the “key stakeholders,” people who may not have been involved in the process but who will be affected by it, such as the Urban Redevelopment Council, the school board and local hospitals.

Those groups will be informed about what’s in the draft document before it’s adopted and asked for their input, Schulz said.

“The general nature of the plan, the way it’s forming, it’s not going to be super specific partly because you want it to have a life. You want it to have a shelf life of 20 years, not two years. So it’s really much more policy oriented and philosophy oriented regarding how the city should be.”

The updated master plan will establish the principles and standards that will guide the city’s physical development, taking the form of law in the city’s zoning ordinance.

So as finalization of the plan draws closer, so does the possibility of zoning changes.

“That’s where I think we’re going to see people come out of the woodwork and fight for what they want to see,” Schulz said.           

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