Economic Development, Government, and Real Estate

City adopts GR Forward amendment

The plan emphasizes the city’s relationship with the Grand River.

December 18, 2015
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After nearly two years of preparation and public review, city commissioners last week adopted the GR Forward plan as an amendment to the city’s master plan last updated in 2002.

The 10-year community plan and investment strategy, which was facilitated by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the city of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Public Schools, previously received approval from the DGRI advisory board, Downtown Development Authority, Monroe North Tax Increment Finance Authority and the city’s planning commission.

Kris Larson, president and CEO of DGRI, said creating the “incredible vision for downtown and the river corridor” has been quite a journey the last two years.

“When we last saw you, we were beginning the process of public review and we set out to do 42 days as required by state law and ended up expanding to do 73, and within those 73 days, we held 55 events,” Larson told commissioners last Tuesday.

“Some of those events were with neighborhood associations, some with private sector job providers and some with public agencies.”

During the public review period, DGRI collected more than 750 comments from members of the community on topics such as formatting and editing, diversity and inclusion, rowing, parking, housing, zoning, development, implementation, transportation, retail and economic development.

Approximately 75 public comments specifically addressed diversity and inclusion concerns, 57 were focused on rowing, 40 were directed toward housing and affordability concerns, and another 40 centered on parking and mobility.

Some of the concerns regarding mobility were about removing existing minimums for parking and the number of available parking spaces available for cultural events downtown.

A Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce memo submitted during the review period suggested a section regarding movement of freight in the downtown business district should not be written into the master plan until the city’s Vital Streets Plan was completed.

Josh Lunger, director of government affairs at the chamber, said the GR Forward document is a fairly lengthy update to the city’s master plan, but having read through it all, there is a lot to be excited about.

“There is a lot in here that will benefit the businesses and employees and residents downtown,” said Lunger. “When you are trying to cover so much, we obviously had a lot of questions and some concerns.”

Larson indicated specific focuses on topics such as rowing and diversity and inclusion reflected the “high-level of direct outreach we did on those topics in particular to make sure social justice was very strongly reflected in the document”; based on community feedback, the revised GR Forward plan has a new preamble related to diversity, inclusion and equity.

“It talks about the need as it relates to this moment in time and why we need to be more aggressive in pursuing social justice and equity,” said Larson. “We have refined the housing sections and then we included six additional specific targets and goals associated with diversity, inclusion and equity.”

Third Ward Commissioner Elias Lumpkins said inclusion and diversification of the workforce and opportunities in Grand Rapids are very important goals and outcomes for the city.

“The inclusion and transparency are crucial,” said Lumpkins.

Tim Kelly, planning manager at DGRI, said the river was a primary focus of GR Forward and addressed how to rethink the relationship the city has with the river going forward, and creating a true recreation system with a multi-use trail connecting to a number of opportunity sites.

“We know not everyone wants to kayak, not everyone wants to run or walk, but if we can provide different opportunities for people to engage with the water’s edge, we know they will take advantage of it,” said Kelly.

Lunger also indicated at least one member of GRACC participated throughout the planning process, and the chamber expressed concerns with Kelly and spoke to various commissioners, and “there were some changes.”

“We tried to stress in our feedback, when we look at Grand Rapids and where we are and how we got here, there were partnerships led by the private sector,” said Lunger. “We fully expect as this plan advances, as these projects and the different aspects are pushed forward, the private sector is going to be a leader in that.”

During the city commission presentation, Kelly said the GR Forward’s third goal of mobility is “all about how we get around.”

“As we grow we want to make sure there are options for people to move and we want to provide that freedom of choice,” said Kelly. “It means building a system where we have harmonious interaction between different modes that is going to require us to look at enhancing some of our existing systems. We also, within this conversation, within this hierarchy of movement, prioritize pedestrians.”

Kelly also indicated, due to the responses from the community and work from the Great Housing Strategies, the GR Forward plan now has a revised goal of maintaining 30 percent of affordable housing stock downtown, instead of its original goal of about 25 percent.

“Embedded in all of this discussion is recognition of the importance that, in order to be successful, we need to continue to preserve and create different housing types at different price points downtown,” said Kelly. “If we are going to have a diverse neighborhood, we are going to have to have diverse housing options.”

Of the more than 750 comments generated by the public, DGRI identified roughly 194 as actionable and resulted in edits to the draft plan, according to a Dec. 8 city memo.

Rosalynn Bliss, Second Ward Commissioner and mayor-elect, indicated after the Dec. 15 meeting the revised GR Forward becomes the community’s vision and sets priorities.

“It is really incumbent upon us as a body to work in partnership with all of the other community members to make this a reality, and I’m really excited about this opportunity,” said Bliss. “It was really a thorough, robust, community engagement process, and it took a lot of work and a lot of people were involved,” said Bliss.

Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear thanked the organization for “taking heat” when asked to slow down the process and also asked for a continued open dialogue as the plan moves toward implementation.

“I would also like to ask, as we move from this stage to the next, that we continue to have open dialogue, working just as hard as when we are implementing that the voices of the people continue to be heard,” said Lenear.

Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer at DGRI, indicated in a written statement: “Finalizing GR Forward is the first step toward achieving the community’s renewed vision for downtown and the Grand River Corridor.

“The next steps generally include translating the people’s vision into actionable initiatives, mobilizing the partnerships so important to implementation, and identifying and aligning the resources necessary to make the community’s ideas a reality.” 

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