Council Proceeds With Housing Study

April 12, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The builders are in. But the focus of the study isn’t likely to change even with their presence.

Members of the Grand Valley Metro Council, the region’s planning agency, agreed to spend $39,000 to determine the local market demand for a type of residential development — sometimes referred to as New Urbanism — and to add three area homebuilders to the group that will help to oversee and review the analysis.

Noted homebuilders David Bos, Todd Bosgraaf and Mick McGraw were the trio named to work with Metro Council Land-Use Director Andy Bowman on the effort. The three are members of the Home and Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids.

“It’s to ensure that all viewpoints are heard,” said Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula of including the builders.

But Stypula also said that private dollars wouldn’t be used to pay for the research project, as only Metro Council funds would be spent on it.

“Our feeling is, doing that gives this study some independence,” he said.

Zimmerman/Volk Associates Inc. of Clinton, N.J. will conduct the analysis that hopes to discover how well neighborhood-based residential developments would sell in Kent and eastern Ottawa counties. The study will focus on how many might move into this type of development, what housing types might be preferred, and how much residents would be willing to pay for a home.

This development type, which has commercial businesses and houses built together in a traditional neighborhood setting, is a key component of the Metro Council’s Blueprint, its official land-use planning document.

“We feel it is vital for us to know what the future is for this type of development,” said Bowman.

McGraw, president of Eastbrook Homes and a Metro Council At-Large Member, said that the analysis should be enlarged to include a baseline comparison. He suggested that the effort include estimates for population growth and how many might be interested in buying any type of home within the study area.

“I think the scope needs to be broadened and, in some instances, narrowed,” said McGraw, who also suggested another firm to conduct the analysis.

But Algoma Township Supervisor Dennis Hoemke said the analysis has a single purpose — to find out whether this particular type of residential development would be supported in the region — and said he didn’t want the study expanded. Bowman agreed with Hoemke.

Whether or not to include builders in the study was debated at great length during the March meeting. A vote to table the matter for a month to include the builders narrowly passed on a weighted ballot, as Kent County and Grand Rapids had enough votes to delay adoption of the study for 30 days.

The county and the city wanted the homebuilders to participate in the project, while many of the townships and some of the cities didn’t. The vote was only the second or third time in nearly a decade that the council went to a weighted ballot to determine an outcome.

Cannon Township Supervisor Bonnie Shupe told council members that her board was planning to do the same type of analysis with the same firm. She said Cannon was set to pay $20,000 for its study, but now the township will likely get the same analysis for less through the Metro Council.

“Possibly we could put some of our funds toward this and save some money,” said Shupe.

The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority has already agreed to link an analysis of the market potential for downtown housing to the Metro Council effort. The DDA committed $12,000 to having Zimmerman/Volk do the study last month.

“They will produce a report that is specific to the downtown area,” said Jay Fowler, executive director of the DDA.

The Metro Council selected Zimmerman/Volk because the firm has a national reputation for market analysis work and is considered by some as an expert on the market feasibility of New Urbanism communities.

Todd Zimmerman and Laurie Volk are the company’s principals.

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