HighRise Towers Can Go Up

November 18, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — By a 5-to-2 margin, city commissioners overturned a Planning Commission decision and a $50 million project to build a pair of twin apartment towers can go forward as designed.

In late September, planning commissioners soundly rejected four variances for the project. But city commissioners reversed that decision this morning.

Union Foundry LLC, an investment partnership led by Moch International, is free to construct two, 220-foot, 22-story high-rise towers with a total of 398 apartments at the corner of Bond and Trowbridge NW in the North Monroe business district.

The buildings would go up on 1.25 acres in the city’s Renaissance Zone, on land once owned by the Grand Rapids Foundry. One tower is to be built on the northwest corner of the intersection, with the other going up on the southeast corner. The project also calls for a stand-alone restaurant on the northeast corner and retail on the ground floors of the towers.

Joseph A. Moch, of Moch International, told the Business Journal this morning that demolition of the last remaining structure on the building sites would likely get underway within 60 days. Two other buildings have been razed and those sites have been cleared.

“This has a whole lot of benefit to the city of Grand Rapids,” said Roy Schmidt, First Ward Commissioner, who supported the project.

The point that commissioners wrestled with was giving the project a height variance of 55 additional feet. Under the new downtown zoning code, the developers were allowed to build towers of 165 feet, which would have left the project with 268 apartments. But allowing the towers to rise another 55 feet adds another 130 units to the development.

“The extra 55 feet is another $15 million in investment and 300 more residents,” said Schmidt, recently re-elected to his fourth term.

Major John Logie and Second Ward Commissioner Lynn Rabaut supported granting the variances on building setback, the north tower’s recess line, and extended canopies for the entrances to both buildings. But they did not favor giving Union Foundry the extra 55 feet of height.

“That is so much larger than anything else around it,” said the mayor.

“I do think it’s going to modify existing and future development in that area,” said Rabaut.

Commissioners rezoned the properties in July.

Opposition to the variances came from condominium owners in Monroe Terrace at 600 Monroe Ave. NW. They were concerned that the north tower would rob them of air and space as the building will go up just 20 feet from their homes. The only option left for them is to file a civil suit in Kent County Circuit Court to stop the project.

The five commissioners who overturned the Planning Commission’s decision did so because they feel the project fit the master plan, provides jobs at a time when those are elusive, encourages further commercial investment in the area, raises the value of nearby properties and offers affordable housing for downtown.

“I thought that is what we wanted,” said Robert Dean, Third Ward Commissioner.           

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