Another elementary school may be developed

February 27, 2012
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Another out-of-town housing developer is interested in reviving another vacant public school building in Grand Rapids. The city’s agreement with the first development firm, though, may have to be changed or possibly even scrapped.

The latest developer, G.A. Haan Development of Harbor Springs, wants to turn the former Riverside Elementary School at 2420 Coit Ave. NE into an assisted living center for seniors. But for Haan Development to accomplish that, city commissioners have to approve a zoning change for the development and grant the project a “special land use” designation.

City commissioners, who waived holding a public hearing on the project at the request of the planning department last week, are tentatively set to vote on the zoning change March 13.

“The parcel needs to be rezoned,” said City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz of the low-density residential designation the project must have to go forward. “This vote sets the date for approval.”

The city’s planning commission has held its hearing and ratified the zoning change, but it tabled the special land use request until March 8 to give Haan Development time to talk with homeowners in the neighborhood.

“We will have a neighborhood meeting before this comes back to you,” said Schulz to commissioners. “The neighbors love the neighborhood. They’re passionate about it.”

Haan Development plans to build an approximately 8,000-square-foot addition to the 36,000-square-foot, one-story school building that sits on a 7.5 acre site. The structure will have 45 to 50 rooms, a dining hall, offices and a recreation area. The site reportedly has 29 parking spaces, but the traffic flow to and from the building is expected to be far less than when it was an elementary school.

Haan Development told planners it was in the process of negotiating a sale with Grand Rapids Public Schools. But a purchase agreement will only be completed if the developer receives the approvals it has requested. The Harbor Springs firm is not buying the adjacent 14-acre property that is home to Riverside Middle School.

Haan Development has built multi-family housing units and senior-living facilities in northern Michigan. The company has also completed similar developments in Wyoming and North Dakota. Haan Project Coordinator Kathy Schorfhaar told planners that the local facility will be licensed as a home for the aged, not a nursing home, and will offer five levels of care.

GR School Lofts LLC of Berkley, Mich., planned to renovate four former elementary schools into apartment complexes, and city commissioners approved brownfield designations for the four projects a few weeks ago. Schulz told commissioners they would work through a brownfield request for the Haan project.

But GR School Lofts has sold Oakdale Elementary to the National Heritage Academies, a charter school group, meaning it won’t be redeveloped into apartments according to the term sheet the city has for parks with the firm. But it’s expected the park property will still be developed at Oakdale.

Oakdale was included in the brownfield package, so now the city has to decide whether to go forward as planned with the three other schools — Stocking, Eastern and Lexington — or go in another direction. GR School Lofts, also known as Ojibway Development and Affiliated Developers, indicated it wants to convert the three remaining schools into apartments.

City Economic Development Director Kara Wood told the Business Journal that the developer has terminated its brownfield plan for Oakdale with the city. But the National Heritage Academies request for the Oakdale brownfield is on the agenda for the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority meeting on Thursday, when the board will consider it. The Oakdale property can’t qualify for state incentives, though, because the academy doesn’t pay state and local education millages.

As of late Thursday afternoon, however, GR School Lofts hadn’t closed on the sale of Stocking school with GRPS, and the school system was meeting with its attorneys then. In addition, the NHA application for the charter school at Oakdale was reportedly submitted last summer, well before the GR School Lofts approached the city with its four-school redevelopment offer.

Commissioners granted Surinder Singh a zoning change last week for a neighborhood retail center with office space that he plans to build on three adjacent and vacant Grandville Avenue SW parcels. The change was needed because one of the parcels, 1010 Grandville Ave. SW, was zoned for residential. The other two, at 1000 and 1006 Grandville, were zoned for business use.

“We want to expand that same zone district,” said Schulz.

“It makes good business sense,” said Commissioner James White.

Singh plans to construct a single-story, 5,900-square-foot building on the site, which is at the corner of Grandville and Beacon SW. A laundromat is expected to occupy 3,000 square feet, while three other tenant spaces will take up 2,560 square feet. The site will have off-street parking and will be landscaped.

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