Council Looking To Assist Planners And Developers

September 5, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Commercial and residential developers and realtors may have a nice perk coming their way in the not-to-distant future courtesy of the Grand Valley Metro Council.

A key component of the planning agency’s strategic business plan the council is currently putting together revolves around its Land Use Department. GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula said that department will survey area planning directors and planning professionals to determine what their needs are and to see if the council can provide some services to them as a consultant at a time when municipalities are being forced to cut operating budgets.

“Given the state of our region’s economy and the impact that it is having on traditional methods for measuring planning and zoning activity, such as the number of building permits being issued and the number of development projects moving forward, municipal planning departments’ needs across our region are evolving,” said Stypula.

“That evolution of municipal planning activities at the local level provides GVMC an opportunity to introduce and train municipal planners on emerging techniques in the planning field that can augment traditional planning activities at local planning departments throughout our region,” he added.

Stypula said the final touches were being put on the survey and these would be sent to area planners in early September.

GVMC at-large member and Eastbrook Homes CEO Mick McGraw said developers and realtors could use a single listing that has all the area’s properties that have been approved for development but where work hasn’t started. He also said what a municipality would like to see built on those properties would be of interest to the local industry.

“I think the marketplace needs to have that information,” said McGraw. “I think they have that data, but we just can’t get our arms around it.”

Plainfield Township Supervisor George Meek said they recently did that inventory for their master plan and was surprised at how many parcels were vacant and available. Gaines Township Supervisor Don Hilton said he also has a list of lots that could be developed.

“It isn’t that difficult of a thing to do,” added Michael DeVries, supervisor of Grand Rapids Township, of getting the information together and making it available.

Cannon Township Supervisor Bonnie Blackledge said such a one-stop property listing shouldn’t be limited only to residential parcels.

“As long as we’re doing residential, we should include commercial. I have a town square that I’d like to see get filled,” she said.

In addition to learning what local planners need, Stypula said another major goal for the council’s business plan is to find funding for sustainable land-use activities.

“We have made significant progress and we are close to finalizing (the) funding (of) a work plan and a staffing model with the Michigan Municipal League to develop a Community Design Center,” he said.

Stypula said the center will give planners the latest tools to help them draw attractive developments to their municipalities.

“Lessons learned at our design center will then be shared with other regions throughout Michigan and the MML,” he said.

The council’s Land Use Department is staffed by Planning Director Andy Bowman and Senior Land Use Planner Jay Hoekstra. The department is expected to have a budget of $291,000 in the coming fiscal year.

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