Commission To Hear
About West Side Project

August 25, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners will get their first look at a new residential and retail development planned for the West Side when they hold a public hearing on the project on Sept. 12.

James Peterson and Ben Yore, both of Commerce Realty, have asked the city for a zoning change that would allow them to build 69 apartments and 4,100 square feet of retail space in a three-story building on Lake Michigan Drive between Seward and Lexington streets. The development would have on-site parking, and the partners would also lease spaces from the city in the DASH lot across Seward from the building site.

“It’s market housing. I think there is a dearth of market rental downtown. It’s not subsidized in any way so it will generate a very healthy revenue stream for the city of Grand Rapids, which the city sorely needs,” said Peterson.

The apartments will have one, two and three bedrooms. Rents are expected to start at $750 a month for a one-bedroom and possibly reach $1,300 for the larger units.

The partners believe the apartments will attract professionals who work downtown and students who attend classes downtown and aren’t particularly fond of driving. The property is only a few blocks southwest of the downtown GVSU campus.

“One of the reasons we chose that site is it has excellent transit service. The public transportation is abundant there. We all want people to drive less, and that is one of the goals of [the city’s] master plan, as a matter of fact,” said Peterson.

Peterson and Yore are buying seven parcels for the development; three are on Lake Michigan Drive and four are on Lexington Avenue. Part of the overall property is vacant.

The city’s master plan designates the blocks for mixed-use that should act as a transition between downtown and the residential neighborhoods just west of downtown.

City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz said the master plan considers residential an essential component of the mixed-use designation. She said the plan also encourages retail to be included in a development to serve the residents.

“Most of the residential in the area has been converted from single-family to multi-family. This is a high rental area,” said Schulz, while noting that 60 percent of the existing houses in the area are rental units.

The partners are asking the city to change the zoning from single-family to a PRD, Planned Redevelopment District, which allows for a mixed-use development like they hope to build there. And Schulz told the city’s development committee that the project was in step with the master plan.

“It is going to set a precedent on the West Side,” she said.

The West Fulton Business Association supports the development. But the South West Area Neighbors, John Ball Park Neighborhood Association and the Stockbridge Business Association oppose it. They’re concerned that traffic tie-ups would result from having so many residents in one building and that a house would be razed for parking spaces.

Planning commissioners nixed the zoning change at first because they felt the project was too large for the parcel. But after the partners scaled back the development, they deadlocked on making the change. So the partners asked the planning department to bring their request to the city commission.

“The applicant is entitled to come to the city commission,” said Assistant City Attorney Stan Bakita.

Rockford Construction would manage the project if the city gives the go-ahead. Rockford hired BETA Design Group as the project’s architect.

Should the city grant the zoning change, Peterson said, construction would likely start during the first quarter of next year. Yore said the building process should take about a year, meaning tenants could begin moving in by the spring of 2008.

“It’s not just student housing. We specifically designed this with a brownstone element to the first floor, so you can go down and up just as you would in a real brownstone,” said Yore.

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