Kentwood, Wyoming envision BRT impact

November 3, 2008
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The cities of Kentwood and Wyoming have wrapped up a second series of public design charrettes on the Division Avenue corridor and have come up with a vision for potential development along the bus rapid transit line that is expected to be in place in 2012.  

The charrettes started on Saturday, Oct. 18, and ran through Thursday, Oct. 23, and included representatives of Kentwood, Wyoming, Gaines Township, Grand Valley Metro Council, The Rapid transit system, potential developers and surrounding business and property owners. The group of nearly 50 looked specifically at what would have to be done to accommodate bus rapid transit, right down to what kind of density would be needed to support the line.

Kentwood Mayor Richard Root said the group’s work was directed, focused and intense, and he commended citizens for their “phenomenal” participation.

The BRT line will run along Division from 60th Street north to Wealthy Street, through downtown Grand Rapids to Michigan Street and then to Rapid Central Station. All in all, the route will be just under 10 miles, with 19 station stops and 10-minute service frequency during peak hours. The route will have a dedicated traffic lane and will use hybrid electric busses that have “secondary signal preemption,” which means traffic lights will automatically adjust to longer green lights and shorter red lights.

Many civic leaders, Root included, believe the route will be a catalyst for new jobs and investment in the corridor, and that the 19 station stops will be sweet spots for development. Root said developers are already “sniffing around.” 

“We’re on the cusp of something very special here,” Root said. “They say for every dollar you put into developing a bus rapid transit system, you get back four times that in new development. When we’re looking at the window of the future, this is where we have to start.”

The stretch of Division Avenue that runs through both Kentwood and Wyoming suffers from disinvestment, Golder said. Both Wyoming and Kentwood want to revitalize the corridor and redevelop residential and commercial properties, and they’re working together to develop a coordinated vision.

Their visioning process applies to an area of about 280 acres — probably the largest area available for redevelopment along the BRT route, according to GVMC. The area is lightly developed, with a few healthy businesses, unoccupied land and parking lots, vacant buildings, recreational vehicle sales lots and a few residences. Many of the buildings in the area suffer from a lack of character and lack of architectural excellence, Root said.

The group identified the areas of Division Avenue and 55th Street and Division Avenue and 60th Street as potential locations for station stops.

City Planner Lisa Golder said several visions came out of the charrettes: the development of two mixed-use nodes around each BRT station, each unique in scale and character; making Division Avenue “walkable,” with sections of it made into boulevards; fashioning the avenue into a destination spot; small park-and-ride lots throughout the area; three- to four-story buildings and a mixture of building types.

Jay Hoekstra, senior planner with GVMC, said the desire for more green space came up repeatedly, too. The group used everyone’s input to come up with a master plan for potential development.   

The concept is to create a place where people want to go, not just drive by, said Terry Schweitzer, Kentwood’s community development director and zoning administrator. He said the vision is not something that can be achieved overnight: It could take 20 to 30 years to realize. 

He said next the Kentwood and Wyoming planning commissions have to decide whether or not the plan is the desired future, and if it is, how will they get from here to there?  He told the planning commission that the visioning process will likely mean changes in zoning. If Kentwood and Wyoming can agree on a vision, either in whole or part, that would form the basis for discussions on regulations that might be mutually considered by both cities to help achieve the vision, he told the Business Journal.

“We have talked about such things as planned unit development zoning along the corridor. Another tool is called an overlay zone,” Schweitzer said. “There ultimately needs to be some discussion, because with the way our regulations are set up right now, I’m not so sure some of the things that have been envisioned in the plan could happen.” 

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