PUD Battle Coming To Commission

October 1, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners will decide next week whether Gilda’s Club can expand its offices, add a storage building and parking spaces, and double the number of special events it holds each year to a dozen.

“It’s not about growing our program; it’s about right-sizing,” said Leann Arkema, CEO of Gilda’s Club for the past nine years.

But not all of the homeowners near Gilda’s Club, which is located at 1806 Bridge St. NW, agree with her assessment.

“There is no end in sight. They continue to expand their parking,” said Brad Blackport, who lives close to the nonprofit organization that provides counseling services to cancer patients and their families.

Blackport represents the neighbors who want to see the request denied. If commissioners approve it, it would be the third time Gilda’s Club has had its zoning classification amended since the original Planned Unit Development was issued in 1998.

“If we had known in 1998 what we know now, we probably would have opposed it then,” said Blackport.

Gilda’s Club wants to add another 960 square feet of office space to the southwest side of its existing building, along with a new 760-square-foot storage shed and 21 parking spaces. It also wants to remove about 60 blue spruce trees that Arkema said were diseased or dying and plant up to 40 new large evergreen trees on the property, which offers patients and family members a pastoral setting in a residential section of the city’s northwest side.

“Our place is as important as our program, and our site is important to our members,” said Arkema.

The additional spaces would give the organization room for 76 cars.

“No one loves more parking. But the bottom line is, it solves our problem,” she said.

An amended PUD would also let Gilda’s Club hold a dozen special events in its building and invite up to 100 people to each one. Right now, the organization is limited to six events a year that can be attended by 35 people. Arkema said she would like Gilda’s Club to host a monthly lecture series that centers on the latest cancer treatments and advances.

Arkema also said Gilda’s Club does not lease the building for parties and receptions, and holds the majority of its fundraising events at other locations.

“These people are living with cancer. They are not loud and disorderly,” she said of the group’s members.

Blackport, who said he has attended fundraisers for the organization, said the immediate homeowners were concerned about losing more green space to the project and having more traffic and parked cars in the area from the additional events and higher attendance figure. He also said Gilda’s Club has leased its building for parties that had live music.

Blackport said the neighbors might go along with this request if Gilda’s Club promised it would be its final amendment.

“We would stomach this huge expansion if this would be the last one. We’ve put a covenant restriction on their PUD. They’re grown beyond their means,” said Blackport, a real estate agent by trade.

But Arkema said the original PUD allows Gilda’s Club to grow by 35 percent, and the organization would remain below that figure if its current request is approved.

“This expansion would bring us to 25 percent,” she said.

Planning commissioners have amended the PUD by a 5-2 vote, but city commissioners have the final say. The other amendments Gilda’s Club received came in 1999 and 2001.

“In general, for what we see for a PUD amendment,” said City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz, “this one is not significant.”

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