Kentwood Eyes Big Development

January 23, 2004
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KENTWOOD — City commissioners will have an opportunity to drastically alter the residential landscape in Kentwood next week.

If they grant The Damone Group a zoning change on Feb. 3, the city of Kentwood will roughly have the same percentage of owner-occupied residences as it has rental units. As it stands now, only about three of 10 Kentwood residents own homes. But letting The Ravine go forward promises to boost the city’s home-ownership ratio to one of every two.

Kentwood planning commissioners recently gave their approval to the project that would develop 1,141 houses, townhouses and condominiums on just under 300 acres at 44th Street and Shaffer Avenue. The land was zoned for single-family homes, which The Ravine does offer, but city planners gave The Damone Group a green light for a denser development.

Instead of the standard four units per acre called for in the city’s planning code, the project will build 4.96 units for each acre. And if commissioners agree with their planning brethren next week, The Ravine could very well become the largest residential development ever done in Kent County. It’s valued at $145 million and worth about $750,000 annually in taxes.

The plan calls for a neo-traditional neighborhood consisting of 304 single-family homes with detached garages to be built by Bosgraaf Homes of Holland on the property’s south end, and the Grand Rapids division of Pulte Homes, which is based in Troy, to put up 513 townhouses, 252 ranch houses and 72 condos to the north of the Bosgraaf homes.

While The Ravine will add all these homes to the city’s property tax roll, the project will also conserve 93 of its 298 acres as open space — meaning the wetlands will remain.

“I was intrigued by the uniqueness of not only the legal aspects of trying to pull this project and its variables together, but also the property itself. It’s just beautiful,” said Michael J. Damone, president of The Damone Group.

“We were given an opportunity to work with a piece of property from scratch and, in the end, create a very nice housing development. Yet we were able to retain about 30 percent of the open space and preserve a lot of the ravines and wetlands on the site,” he added.

It has taken two years to get the project to this point. George Larimore, of the real estate investment group at Grubb & Ellis/Paramount, introduced the property to the Troy-based Damone Group a few years back. The key to making the project fiscally feasible was getting the mining rights to the property from the owner of a former gypsum mine.

Larimore ended up getting the extraction rights for 840 acres, including the 298 acres that make up The Ravine. The Damone Group then bought those rights from a third party; an important transaction because having those rights makes it easier for homeowners to secure a mortgage on the secondary market.

“Once we were able to identify a way to purchase those mineral extraction rights, that was the key to making it work as a viable residential development,” said Damone. “We tracked those mining rights for almost a year.”

If the project gets city approval next week, Damone thought site clearing and preparation would get started in July, certainly by August, and the plan is to have some of the roads built by November.

The Damone Group is buying the site from 14 property owners and then selling parcels to Bosgraaf and Pulte, homebuilders that Damone thought were the most interested in the project and equally qualified to develop it.

The average price for a home in The Ravine will be around $180,000. Prices will start at $90,000 and run up to $250,000 with pricing points in between those figures.

All the housing units will be part of an association, which will maintain the roads and properties. About five acres of the site, near the corner of 44th and Shaffer, have been set aside for commercial development and Larimore told the Business Journal that a potential buyer was very interested in the property.

The Ravine is the first project The Damone Group has undertaken in metro Grand Rapids.

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