GVMC Sets Aside Density Document

July 17, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Valley Metro Council Chairman and Grandville Mayor Jim Buck called it a delicate topic and it proved to be one, as members of the planning agency decided to postpone their vote for a month on a request made by the Home and Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids.

The association asked the council to support a set of guidelines on residential density that the environment and development committee of the HBA created for builders and developers.

“You’re not being asked to adopt these principles,” said Andy Bowman, Metro Council Blueprint director, who followed the development of the 10 guidelines closely.

“My part in this was to have government reflected in it,” he added.

Bowman told members the HBA wanted the Metro Council’s endorsement of its density statement so the group could show to others that its guidelines were widely accepted. The HBA has asked other organizations to back the document, and the group believes that much of it is in tandem with the council’s land-use policy.

“I’m not sure that this document goes any further than the state document,” said Mick McGraw, president and CEO of Eastbrook Homes, an at-large member of the council and an HBA member, of the state’s land-use policy.

“After a long period of time, people said this is about as good as it gets,” he said, adding the council’s endorsement would show that the HBA document wasn’t created in a vacuum.

Grand Rapids City Manager Kurt Kimball said he was willing to support it because it was similar to other residential density policies he has seen. But a few other public officials didn’t share that opinion. Algoma Township Supervisor Dennis Hoemke said it was too soon for the council to make a decision to support it and Ottawa County Administrator Alan Vanderberg agreed.

“In another two or three weeks, we will be able to discuss it better,” he said.

Gaines Township Supervisor Don Hilton said two of the HBA guidelines were in direct conflict with each other. One read that “density has very little to do with the end value of a home,” while the other said “affordability is clearly impacted by density; there is a direct relationship between lot size and lot cost.” Hilton said his board and planning commission has already told him not to support the guidelines.

“They didn’t listen to me then, they won’t listen to me now,” said Hilton of the HBA.

Bowman said he could support parts of the document, but there were others that he couldn’t.

At-large council member Tom Fehnsenfeld, also president of Crystal Flash, said GVMC needed more time to “pick it apart.” He added some of the guidelines related to the public domain, while some related solely to the HBA. So the council plans to take the matter up again next month.

But the board did agree to endorse the Community Sustainability Partnership, which was launched last year by the city, Grand RapidsPublic Schools, GrandValleyStateUniversity and AquinasCollege. The partnership aims to preserve the region’s natural resources, enhance the area’s economic vitality, and foster social justice principles throughout the metro area.

“Many of the things they are doing are reflective of the Metro Council since we opened the doors on October 1, 1990,” said GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula.

More than 80 other organizations have endorsed the partnership, and Stypula said doing that could lead the council to new funding sources in the future.    

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