Decision on northeast Grand Rapids housing project delayed

September 26, 2010
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City commissioners had hoped to settle a long and ongoing dispute between a housing developer and the city recently, without making a second trip to Kent County Circuit Court.

Although a court appearance may not be necessary to settle the case, a resolution to the issue was delayed another month when commissioners agreed to give G&C Land Co. LLC until Oct. 12 to explain why it should be given at least two more years to complete its project.

“He has been great to work with. He has been more environmentally sensitive,” said Susanne Schulz, city planning director, of G&C Land Co.’s Greg Holwerda. “He needs more time to develop his plans and go to the neighbors. He hasn’t gone to the neighbors yet.”

G&C Land Co. wants to build 44 single-family homes in the Chesapeake Hills Plat on the city’s northeast side between Plymouth and Maryland, a project that was first approved in 2003 and again in 2006, but hasn’t begun. After the city approved the development the second time, a new zoning regulation went into effect that requires a building to be at least 75 feet from a wetland.

The plat has wetlands at one edge, and eight of the proposed lots are within the restricted distance. Holwerda, who asked commissioners in May for a two-year extension to complete the project, said losing eight of the 44 lots would be a financial blow to the project.

“The wetlands were not ignored and were developed around,” Holwerda told commissioners then. “The wetlands were not going to be destroyed or moved to create single-family homes.”

At their May meeting, commissioners decided to delay their decision on whether to give G&C Land Co. two more years to build the development until this month so Holwerda could redesign the project to meet the wetland regulation. Commissioners recently agreed to a second delay after Schulz told them of the advances Holwerda has made. Jim Morgan, a landscape architect with RJM Design, has been working with Holwerda on the project.

“It’s more in line with the master plan,” she said of the redesign. “Mr. Holwerda has made impressive progress and is exerting a concerted effort to respond to the changed residential housing market.” Schulz also said Holwerda is likely to ask for a zoning change.

Mayor George Heartwell tried to get the decision on the two-year extension request pushed back from Oct. 12 to Oct. 26, as he will be out-of-town on the 12th and he wanted to be part of the decision-making process. But City Attorney Catherine Mish said the first extension the development firm got from the city back in 2007 runs out Oct. 17, which rules out Oct. 26 as a date to make a decision.

G&C Land took the city to court after the city ruled in 2004 that the development, which was initially approved in 2003, couldn’t go forward as designed because the street layout did not provide suitable access and the city wanted the developer to build another access point. In 2006, the city approved the project after the access issue was resolved, and the court case was dropped.

In May, City Planner Elizabeth Zeller told commissioners that G&C Land can develop the plat as it was initially agreed upon, and that agreement includes the eight lots near the wetlands. “This is an approved project and they could develop it today,” she said then.

Also in May, the mayor and 2nd Ward Commissioner Rosalyn Bliss said they were ready to take the matter to court if they had to, to protect the wetlands.

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