Twin Towers Decision Is Appealed

October 3, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners will set a date tomorrow, Oct. 7, to hear an appeal from Moch International on a recent Planning Commission decision that denied the developer four code variances for a proposed $50 million residential and retail project in the Monroe North business district.

But Moch International will only appeal three of the four variance requests that planning commissioners soundly rejected by an 8-1 vote.

City commissioners are expected to hear the appeal on either Oct. 28 or Nov. 4.

Moch International is part of Union Foundry LLC, a group of private investors that sought variances to build a pair of 21-story towers on two parcels at Trowbridge and Bond NW. Union Foundry proposed retail space for the ground floors, parking spaces for levels two through five, and 398 apartments for floors six through 21 of both towers. A stand-alone, sit-down restaurant is also part of the project.

The tower sites are located in the city's Renaissance Zone, meaning that most city and state taxes are fully exempted through the year 2010 and partial tax payments are due for the following three years.

The developer had asked for code variances on the building's height, relocation of the structures' recess lines, a smaller setback from the curb, and a longer canopy overhang for the front entrances of both towers.

According to legal counsel Robert Scott, of Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey, the developers will not appeal the planners' rejection of an additional 55 feet of height for both buildings. In a letter to the City Commission, Scott wrote that Union Foundry has reduced the height of its proposed towers to 165 feet, the maximum elevation that is allowed under the city's downtown zoning ordinance.

Scott wrote that the project, called the Monroe North Community Development, would essentially remain the same at its lower height, except that the parking ramp would be four floors instead of five. At 165 feet, rather than 220, the towers will be 15 or 16 stories high.

When the appeal is heard, the developer will argue that planning commissioners did not properly apply the ordinance's standards to their requests for changes to the recess lines, the building setbacks and the canopies.

Opposition to the project came from condominium owners in Monroe Terrace, a five-story building on the corner of Monroe and Trowbridge and immediately west of the north tower. Jonathan Rooks, who owns Monroe Terrace, also spoke against the project.

"I just think this building is in the wrong place," Rooks told planning commissioners at the hearing on Sept. 25.

The Monroe North Business Association, however, has backed the plan since spring.

"The success of the project will bring additional residential and retail into the district and, as proposed, will blend well with the revitalization that has already occurred," wrote Jim Zawacki, president of the business group, last May.

Union Foundry wants to build the towers on 1.25 acres of property that once was home to Grand Rapids Foundry. City Business Advocate Susan Shannon recently revealed that an unidentified technology firm has agreed to be a tenant in the north tower.    

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