Office Project Awaits City Decision

June 2, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Planning commissioners had lots of praise for the site plan of a new office development proposed for the city’s far southeast side.

“I think they’ve done a great job with their design for everyone involved,” said Peter Carlberg.

“They have addressed so many issues that we would have had,” said Janet Saunders.

“If they hadn’t done such a good job, this would have been easy to deny,” said Kim DeStiger.

“I wish every project brought before us was this well done,” said Shaula Johnston.

“It’s a greatly designed project,” added Planning Commission Chairman Robert Zylstra.

But despite their glowing reviews, commissioners tabled their decision on the developer’s request for a zoning change. Commissioners weren’t certain whether the project met all the requirements to rezone the property. Nor were they sure that a commercial use was right for the land, which is in a residential area.

Nicola Construction, a Grand Rapids Township builder well known for its reconstruction work, first proposed the project to commissioners on March 13. And planners may have an answer for the firm on June 12.

A change would rezone slightly more than four acres at Lake Drive and the East Beltline from single-family residential to planned unit development and allow the project to go forward.

The project features a pair of two-story buildings being planned for medical and general office use on property owned by the Immanuel Reformed Church at 1300 East Beltline Ave., just within the city’s limits.

The buildings would be constructed of natural materials, such as brick, wood siding, and cement-board siding. Much of the wooded site, and all of its natural wetlands, would be preserved.

“We are maintaining as much of the natural setting as possible and are keeping the treelines to the north. We have positioned the buildings not to disturb the treelines,” said Nick Nicola, owner of Nicola Construction.

“We’re maintaining much of the natural vegetation.”

Nicola downsized both buildings by 20 percent, moved a quarter of the parking spaces underground, and dropped an entrance from the plan to avoid over-grading the property.

But neighbors, who also complimented the design of the project, told planners they were worried that the office development would raise traffic volume along Lake Drive and lower the value of their properties. They also said that the land should remain zoned residential, keeping it in line with the rest of the neighborhood.

Nicola, however, gave commissioners a letter from a real estate development company that claimed the price of the land was too high for a residential project and that there was already too much traffic on the Beltline to make the property attractive for a home.

Planning commissioners will meet again next week Thursday.

The proposed office development is expected to make the agenda as unfinished business and will likely come up before board members after they hold eight public hearings that are also scheduled that day.

“Sorry to keep everybody in limbo,” said Zylstra. “But this is an important decision.”           

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