City Leery Of Lifestyle Center

September 5, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — A lifestyle center proposed for the Grand Rapids side of the East Beltline may be on life support, as city commissioners agreed last week not to hold a second public hearing on the project.

Evergreen Properties wants to build 937,536 square feet of office, residential and retail on 46.7 acres at East Beltline Avenue and Knapp Street NE. Thirty-three of those acres are in the city; the rest, on the east side of the Beltline, are in Grand Rapids Township.

The company has proposed to build 41,600 square feet of residential, and office space and retail totaling 348,982 square feet on the acres in the city, and Evergreen needs a zoning change from the city to go forward with the development.

But the city commission held a public hearing on the project last October and denied the change. The city's planning commission reviewed the project last month at a hearing and also refused Evergreen the change in zoning status.

And because the city commission unanimously decided not to give the project a second public hearing last week, commissioners could vote next week to reject the development. As of last week, the project was headed to next week's agenda.

"Both of the proposals that have been presented are clearly in opposition to the master plan. The master plan exists to say this is what we as a community thinks what should be developed here, and both of the plans that have been proposed are in opposition to that alignment," said 2nd Ward Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss

The project falls in the district Bliss represents, and residents of her ward have spoken out against the lifestyle center, claiming the project also violates the North East Beltline Overlay District, a zoning designation the city, PlainfieldTownship and Grand RapidsTownship agreed to years ago under the direction of the Grand Valley Metro Council.

"In my opinion, I don't think the lifestyle center fits in the North East Beltline Overlay," said City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz.

The overlay district calls for what is termed as "neighborhood" retail, such as stand-alone grocery stores, bank branches and restaurants — businesses that provide services to residents in the area but do not draw shoppers to the area.

"There is a ton of concern over traffic on the Beltline. The commercial development at CelebrationVillage — so many people have called that a disaster and said that we had poor planning on that. So we're really leery of making a greater mistake," said Bliss.

The state Department of Transportation said traffic along the East Beltline has grown dramatically over the last 10 years and has exceeded the forecast that was made a decade ago.

Although Grand RapidsTownship has granted a zoning change that would allow another lifestyle center to go up at the corner of

Three Mile Road
and East Beltline, township voters will soon decide whether that development will get built.

"If that is voted against in November, then they're going to have to go back, and that development will not be able to go forward as it was approved," said Bliss, who also spoke out against that project.

Evergreen wants to develop 140,780 square feet of office and residential and 406,174 square feet of retail on 13.4 acres on the township side of the intersection. Evergreen contends the development fits the city's master plan.

"We really don't want the Beltline to look like

28th Street
," said Bliss. "I think we have to preserve the beauty of this boulevard that is surrounded by a lot of residential communities, and we have to consider that."    

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