GVMC Predicts Population Boom

March 7, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — How will the area best accommodate an additional 200,000 residents by the year 2030? That is the question planners from the Grand Valley Metro Council hope to have answers to soon.

That number of new residents is a higher figure than was originally projected for Kent and a portion of eastern Ottawa counties.

“We are growing faster than the state thought. We could have another 200,000 people here in 20 years,” said Jay Hoekstra, a senior Metro Council planner.

Planning for the unforeseen increase in potential residents is the factor driving the Metro Council’s new Landscape Map, which is part of the planning agency’s Blueprint II effort to handle growth in a unified manner throughout the metro Grand Rapids area. Current land-use maps for the counties date back to 1991 and need to be updated.

“We’re working toward a base map for planning,” said Hoekstra. “It’s not the end-all, but it’s something that can be worked with.”

The council’s land-use division has divided Kent and eastern Ottawa counties into seven sub-regional planning associations for the map. Council planners will hold another round of meetings with representatives from each of the seven to examine their land-use practices and zoning ordinances.

Then the Metro Council hopes to find a consensus among the sub-regional planners as to what direction their future planning efforts will take and see how well those fit with the guidelines that make up Blueprint II, the agency’s regional planning document.

Jerry Felix, Metro Council executive director, remarked that the agency’s strategy for this effort is to work from the bottom up, meaning that the municipalities will have a good chance to lay the groundwork for a final plan.

“We don’t believe in a top-down,” said Felix, who is leaving the council on April 4 after eight years of directing the agency.

Blueprint Director Andy Bowman reported that three meetings with members of the sub-regions were scheduled and the purpose of those get-togethers is to find the best land sites for specific types of developments and green space.

He added the council wants to provide a land-use plan that Kent County could use for the new Purchase of Development Rights Program commissioners passed late last year.

“We think that eventually local jurisdictions will use this in their planning process,” said Bowman of the Landscape Map.

Hoekstra reported that 740,000 people could live in Kent County by 2030 and that the county can accommodate up to 1.3 million residents. The 2000 census credited Kent with 574,335 residents, a population growth of 14.7 percent from the 1990 U.S. Census.

But if the number Hoekstra mentioned turns out to be accurate, the county’s population would grow by 29 percent from 2000 to 2030.

“We are planned and zoned for a lot more people (than we have),” said Hoekstra.

The urban areas, of course, are zoned to house more people and a gaping difference in density exists in the county. In Cascade Township, for example, Hoekstra pointed out that each residential parcel there is about two acres in size. In contrast, nearly 11,000 people live in a single square mile of the Heritage Hill neighborhood — the densest square mile in the county.

Mayor John Logie said that small section of Heritage Hill has as many residents as the city of East Grand Rapids does. Logie resides in the downtown sector.

Hoekstra felt the new residents could be absorbed because a lot of land in the county is zoned for only one, two, or three units per acre and plenty of room for housing exists in the urban areas. But he added that some zoning changes may be necessary.

“We may have too low of zoning, and too much of it,” said Hoekstra.

“We’re actually zoned more than we’re planned. So that means we’re using zoning for planning,” added Bowman.

In another development, Metro Council Chairman Jim Buck said those interested in applying for the agency’s executive director post should have their resumes in by April 4. Buck, who said his outlook may be too optimistic, hopes to have a new director by June 1.

“This is going to be a challenging 90 days,” he said.    

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