City Adopts GR Master Plan

December 13, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners Tuesday accepted the new Grand Rapids master plan, the first comprehensive update of the city’s land-use plan in 40 years.

The master plan establishes the principles and standards that will be codified in the city’s zoning ordinance to guide the city’s physical development over the next 20 years.

The city Planning Department has already begun implementation of the master plan with its review of the city’s existing zoning code, said Bill Hoyt, Planning Department director.

“We’ve been meeting for about six months now to go over that line by line and paragraph by paragraph to see where it works and where it doesn’t work, and where we are actually going to need to make some changes,” Hoyt told commissioners.

In addition to the review, the department is considering creation of some “new tools” in the zoning code to carry out certain aspects of the plan, he said.

Hoyt expects it will take 18 months to two years to write all the new zoning text and make all the necessary changes in city maps.

“We would anticipate coming back and rezoning large portions of the city. As you know we’ve had neighborhood associations approach us with the idea of down-zoning their areas,” Hoyt said. “I think one of the steps we would like to take as part of the master plan is to present you with a rezoning plan that accomplishes a lot of those down zonings in one major step.”

The Planning Commission held a public hearing in September and voted to adopt the plan on Nov. 14.

The land use plan plots general development patterns but doesn’t define land use lot by lot. It incorporates Smart Growth principles and heavy emphasis on the quality and character of future development.

Feedback gathered through a series of neighborhood and business district outreach meetings, focus groups and community forums was translated into a series of maps illustrating future land use, open space frameworks and transportation frameworks.

The plan designates the type and density of development participants deemed appropriate for different areas of the city and pinpoints areas where new development might occur and where revitalization efforts could be directed.

The plan maps residential areas by density, illustrates mixed-use areas, existing business areas and compact “mixed-use centers” that combine commercial, public and residential uses and create a focal point for a neighborhood or commercial district.

More detailed, area-specific decisions for land use, development, transportation and open space will be made as the city’s zoning ordinance is revised to be consistent with the master plan.

According to the master plan, objectives for strengthening business and the economy include:

  • Reinforcing downtown’s role as a multi-purpose urban center for the metro area.
  • Reinvesting in business districts to create compact, mixed-use retail centers linked by residential mixed-use development.
  • Encouraging development of compact, walkable, mixed-use commercial centers along transit routes.
  • Encouraging commercial redevelopment of portions of 28th Street.
  • Improving the visual appeal and walkability of all business districts.
  • Encouraging a change in land use along the riverfront from industry to open space and mixed use.
  • Improving riverfront visibility through mixed-use development in downtown industrial areas east of U.S. 131 and west of Monroe Avenue.
  • Retaining industrial districts along rail lines.
  • Encouraging major institutions to remain in a mixed-use context downtown.
  • Improving public transit access to workplaces.
  • Balancing economic growth with neighborhood and environmental priorities.
  • Increasing the available range of jobs and pay scales.
  • Encouraging partnerships that promote youth development and job skills.

Mayor John Logie praised both the process and the product of the two-year-long effort, which has involved more than 250 community meetings and engaged some 3,000 residents, business and community leaders.

Hoyt said neighborhood organizers were instrumental in generating citizen participation in the plan.

Consultant Connie Dimond of SmithGroup JJR said citizen participation in the Grand Rapids master plan was “the most outstanding example of public involvement” she has witnessed in her 25 years in urban planning.

Second Ward Commissioner Rick Tormala lauded the “bottom up” process that created the new master plan, saying it was “an appropriate way to try to give ownership” to citizens in such an important city document.

“I think we need to get a message out to some of the developers who, I would hope, would address the spirit of this plan; there’s some areas where there’s cutting of lots and along those lines that I know are concerning citizens right now,” he added.

“I think that citizens have a right to expect when they participate in this process that there will be attention paid to some of their chief concerns.”

The Right Place Program and the Frey Foundation contributed $200,000 toward the $500,000 master plan project, and the city contributed $200,000 in general fund money, Hoyt said.

He said additional expenses were covered by Community Development Block Grant program funds.

“Plan Grand Rapids” project partners included the Interurban Transit Partnership, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Valley Metro Council, Grand Valley Chapter AIA, Neighborhood Business Specialist Program and the city’s neighborhood associations.

“What I particularly like about this plan is what I call its back-to-the-future element,” Logie said. “I think one of the long-term, healthy benefits for our community is going to be embracing in this plan the concept of mixed-use development.

“It obviously needs to be done carefully, particularly integrating industrial use and residential use. I think the compactness and density and anti-sprawl type thinking permeates at least my view, and I suspect others’, as to why this is good policy as we move forward.”

The master plan is posted on the city’s Web site at www.ci.grand-rapids.mi.us. Copies of the plan also are available through the Planning Department, city libraries and neighborhood associations.           

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