City commissioners stop Veridian Place

January 28, 2011
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Grand Rapids city commissioners unanimously nixed a large residential development last week that has long been proposed for the city’s northeast side by denying the project a zoning change, largely because they felt it offered too many housing units and would have been too dense for the neighborhood.

G&C Land Co. wanted to add 145 housing units to 29.2 acres in the Chesapeake Hills area near Plymouth and Maryland NE. Although the development firm reduced the number of units from 160 in a redesign, three garden condominium buildings proved to be the project’s downfall in the eyes of commissioners. Each condo had 18 residences.

Second Ward Commissioners Rosalynn Bliss and Ruth Kelly said the neighborhood is a stable residential area that largely consists of single-family homes, and they felt such a large development would create traffic problems for residents.

First Ward Commissioner David Schaffer also said the project’s density was an issue. “I’m going to deny this based on the fact the density doesn’t fit with the neighborhood,” he said.

Third Ward Commissioner James White said the project’s design was fine with him, but with so many homes in a foreclosure state, he wondered where consumer demand for that many housing units would come from.

“I don’t see the demand for this development,” he said, adding he couldn’t see a benefit from the development, either. “The worst disaster would be to build this project, and then it sits empty.”

Greg Holwerda, a principal with G&C Land Co., told City Planning Director Suzanne Schultz that the garden condos were needed to make the development financially feasible. He said he couldn’t remove the buildings or lessen the number of condos from the project.

The project, known as Veridian Place, consisted of 21 single-family homes, 10 ranch-style condos, 60 townhomes and the three controversial garden condos with 54 housing units. Schultz said the layout left half of the acres with green space. She also said the project’s density level was less than five units per acre and met the requirement in the city’s Master Plan.

Schulz said G&C Land Co. can still build single-family homes on the property without further approval, as long as the two wetlands on the site are preserved. The city initially approved the project in 2003 when it contained 44 parcels for single-family homes only. But several years later, the city passed an ordinance that protected wetlands, and eight of those parcels couldn’t be developed because the sites were within 75 feet of the wetlands. Losing those eight homes would have made the project unprofitable, and the ruling prompted G&C Land Co. to redesign the development.

Earlier in 2004, the developer took the city to court when the city ruled that the project couldn’t go forward as designed because the street layout did not provide suitable access. The city wanted another access point built into the project. The court case was dropped after the access issue was resolved, and the city re-approved the project in 2006. But the housing market crashed the following year, and work on the project was postponed.

In another unanimous decision, commissioners gave the 20 Monroe Building Co. LP more time last week to submit its final design plan and to file for the necessary building permits for its expansion of The BOB at 20 Monroe Ave. NW. The Gilmore Collection, which owns the downtown entertainment center and is part of the development firm, now has to submit the design documents by Aug. 1 and file for the building permits by Sept. 1. Each changed date represents an extension of seven months.

The project, which the partners call Bobville, proposes to invest $24 million into a four-story expansion of The BOB on a parking lot next door. The development is expected to create 150 jobs. Commissioners awarded the 20 Monroe Building Co. a brownfield in October, which allows the partnership to apply for a Michigan Business Tax credit of $4.5 million.

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