New NEZ Needs OK

April 7, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids Inc. and the East Hills Council of Neighbors want to make improvements to an older residential section of the city known as Wealthy Heights.

But for both groups to be able to accomplish that mission, the City Commission has to designate the 90-or-so properties in Wealthy Heights a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone. To that end, commissioners set May 13 as a public hearing date last week and are likely to vote on the designation June 3.

Dwelling Place CEO Dennis Sturtevant said his organization is planning to demolish four existing houses in the targeted area and build six new homes on those sites, and add four more new houses to vacant properties in the neighborhood that it received from the city.

Sturtevant said Dwelling Place may also rehab four other homes in Wealthy Heights.

“The overall plan is to sell these homes as part of a community land trust,” he wrote in a letter to the city. “This would be a $4.4 million investment in the neighborhood.”

Selling the houses as part of a trust would keep the homes affordable for low-income residents. The NEZ provides new homeowners with a 12-year property-tax cut, and also offers benefits to existing owners who make investments in their homes.

“For any type of NEZ benefits, the homeowner will have to make an investment,” said Haris Alibasic, an administrative analyst with the city. “Just being in an area designated an NEZ doesn’t bring any benefits.”

The area being looked at sits north of Wealthy Street, roughly between Diamond and Fuller avenues, along Donald, Robey, Freyling, Calkins and Visser avenues. Sturtevant pointed out that Bear Manor Properties has already invested $1.5 million into some blocks on Wealthy Street that run from Diamond to Freyling avenues and plans to invest another $600,000 into another building in the same neighborhood this spring.

“This is a real critical opportunity to help this neighborhood,” said Rosalynn Bliss, 2nd Ward Commissioner. “I’m in strong support of granting an NEZ for this.”

The homes in the designated area are modest, as many were built in the 1860s. Home values there haven’t risen in recent years and some houses are vacant. Some of the construction may be difficult because the lots are small. Local architect Brian Winkleman is working on the project.

Should commissioners approve an NEZ for Wealthy Heights in June, the neighborhood would become the fifth such zone in the city.

“It’s an economic tool for the neighbors and the neighborhood,” said Alibasic. “The area really deserves an NEZ designation.”

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