A New Version Of OldStyle Living

March 4, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — It's just what the doctor ordered.

Well, not exactly a doctor.

But Laurie Volk, a general practioner of planning with Zimmerman/Volk Associates, would say that the townhouses planned for a southeast side neighborhood in the city are a good prescription to cure a housing dilemma for a select group of patients, er, residents.

The remedy is coming from Second Story Properties and Bazzani Associates, who are teaming up to build 32 new townhouses in a traditional neighborhood style. The homes are going up on four urban acres in the Fairmont Square Historic District along Cherry Street.

First phase construction will start this summer and take about six months. Then two more construction phases will follow. Marketing effort for the new development gets underway any day.

"We've just finalized the site plan, which is outstanding," said Sam Cummings, president of Second Story Properties. Mark Miller of Nederveld Associates did the plan.

"All the units are pretty cool. The primary façade faces the street and each has a small backyard, sort of an urban garden that is private and connected to a two-stall garage," Cummings added.

Two things are unique about this project. It's the first time in a long time, maybe a half-century, that this many new homes will go up on one site in the city.

And the homes will be marketed to those who want to live in an urban setting but don't want to deal with all the maintenance issues that come with buying an older existing house in a neighborhood.

This is a buyer's group that Volk, whose firm recently completed a residential housing study for the area, believes is growing.

Cummings said most of the townhouses will have two bedrooms, but all will be built to be easily expanded if another bedroom, a rec room or a den is needed. The homes will offer about 1,500 square feet of living space and will sell from $125,000 to $195,000.

"We've designed them in such a way that the facades will actually face a street," he said.

The design includes building a new street, aptly named Blodgett because the homes are going up near the former D.A. Blodgett Children's Home that is being renovated into residences for the Inner City Christian Federation.

Blodgett Street will connect Hollister Avenue to Cherry, roads that border the project. Some of the townhouses will face Blodgett. Others will front Hollister and Cherry.

Cornerstone Architects President Tom Nemitz is designing the townhouses along with a 10,000-square-foot, five-bay, mixed-use building. That structure will be like the one Bazzani recently built at an intersection where Lake Drive, Cherry and Diamond Avenue converge, a corner also known locally as the Center of the Universe.

"It will be similar in footprint to that. We're debating right now whether we're going to put an upper story on it," said Cummings of the commercial building.

Another highlight of the project is it will be built according to LEED guidelines.

"A key component of these efforts is to incorporate green building technologies in all of our development projects. We are dedicated to maintain the social fabric of the Uptown neighborhood, while being sensitive to the environment," said Guy Bazzani, president and CEO of Bazzani Associates.

Cummings said the Fairmont sector, a portion of the relatively new Uptown District, is just now getting noticed, attention that it hasn't seen in years.

"It's next in the series of historic districts to realize new investment and new potential. It's already beginning to happen with new business investment and new homeowner investment," he said.

Second Story is marketing the homes and Bazzani is managing the construction.

What drove the partners to go ahead with the largest residential project inside the city limits in many moons is based on what some might call a contradiction.

They believe enough people want to live in an old-style neighborhood with homes on smaller parcels and shops within walking distance. But they feel this group would only do so if the homes were brand new.

"Up until now, if someone wanted to live in a traditional neighborhood, they had to be an old-house person. And you had to be an old-house person that was willing to take on about 2,000 square feet or greater. And, in effect, a lot of these places need repair, at least initially," said Cummings, who personally loves old houses but knows not everyone else does.

"Our hunch was there is a group of individuals who would like to be in a neighborhood such as this but who are not necessarily old-house people.

"Subsequently, that hunch has been corroborated. So here is an opportunity for people to live in this neighborhood, enjoy all of its amenities, and not have to struggle with the maintenance of an older building."    

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