Grassroots Effort Grows Into Plan

July 13, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Brikyaat is in.

City commissioners made the Brikyaat Plan the first "grassroots" effort to be admitted into the city's Master Plan last week. They also agreed to a required review process for the five-year-old planning document.

Brikyaat is in the Midtown neighborhood, and residents there took it upon themselves to develop a plan to advance residential and business activity in the area. They devoted three years to the process, raised over $70,000 in grants from a handful of foundations to fund it, hired a professional planner to guide them through it, and got their plan officially recognized by the city in March. The Planning Commission recently gave the residents its approval for their plan to be included in the Master Plan.

"The Planning Commission reviewed and approved the plan by a 7-0 unanimous vote," said City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz last week.

Planning commissioners took their action in June, and city commissioners followed their lead last week, also unanimously.

"It's been a long, long road to this point and we appreciate your support," said Kelly Otto of the Midtown Neighborhood Association, a group that was heavily involved in the planning process.

Brikyaat is in the city's 2nd Ward, has about 250 households, and a dozen or so small businesses that serve residents. The area is bordered by

Fountain Street
to the north,
Fuller Avenue
to the east,
Fulton Street
to the south, and
Eastern Avenue
to the west.

A key component to the area's future growth is the further development of the Farmers Market at the northwest corner of Fulton and Fuller. The idea is to add covered spaces to allow year-round sales.

"We really hope this will be an economic driver in this neighborhood," said Otto. "We're hoping to incorporate a seasonal market and restaurant."

That hope is based on research that CalvinCollege conducted for the residents. The findings revealed the Farmers Market regularly attracts shoppers from neighboring counties. So if the market can be expanded and draw even more shoppers, the thought is that the businesses on East Fulton and on Diamond Avenue will see more customers, too, and the economic activity in the area will grow.

The residents also hope to create a variety of housing options that would include all income levels, raise the density level and increase home ownership. Smart Growth guidelines would be followed for the residential and business portions of the plan, and the historic aspects of the area would be upheld.

Otto said the residents don't have money to invest in the plan and haven't set a timeline for the development. But she added that they have had meetings with local developers about the plan.

Second Ward Commissioners Rosalyn Bliss and Rick Tormala said the residents' plan was a thorough grassroots effort. Tormala said the plan tied Brikyaat's past and future together.

"We could have never produced something as good as this," said Tormala.

The Grand Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Grand Valley Metro Council both honored the Brikyaat Plan with awards earlier this year.

A review of the city's Master Plan and the corresponding Parks and Recreation Master Plan will get started in October and, hopefully, finish in May 2009. Mayor George Heartwell said last week the review would focus on where the green spaces are located in the city and how these are distributed throughout the neighborhoods.

The review process is being called "Green Grand Rapids."

State law requires municipalities to review master plans every five years, and the city's plan was adopted in 2002. The parks plan is on the same time cycle.    

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