Byron Prepares For M-6 Development

April 28, 2008
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As development continues to creep north into Wyoming from the M-6 interchanges at Byron Center and Wilson avenues, Byron Township is now poised to shepherd growth south of the highway.

The Byron Township Board is expected to consider this month a zoning ordinance change that will allow for mixed-use developments at the interchanges, as called for in the master land-use plan OK'd in December, said township planner Larry Nix of Williams & Works. A public hearing was conducted in April.

In addition, the township and the city are putting the finishing touches on a common outlook for handling the extension of utilities.

"It is a good thing for the township, as long as we can have control," Supervisor Audrey Nevins said. "We want it to be nice projects. It will be important for the tax base for Byron Township to develop those commercial areas."

Nevins said developers are hanging around the edges, waiting for the ordinance to gain approval before submitting their proposals. Just one — a Speedway gasoline station at the corner of Byron Center and 64th Street, proposed by an Ohio company — has actually filled out the paperwork, she said.

Nix pointed to Byron Township's four decades of experience in handling growth at interchanges with U.S. 131. That experience is serving both as a model and as a learning laboratory, he said.

"This is not new to Byron Township; 131 has always been there, and had a major influence in growth patterns and developments in the last four decades," Nix said.

For example, he said, interchange development is directly related to the availability of utilities. The U.S. 131/100th Street interchange, for example, is only now seeing glimmers of investment because utilities were extended just recently.

"(A highway interchange) comes with ramifications," Nix added. "For example, at 68th Street and 131, there are a whole series of businesses in a short stretch with lots of curb cuts. That creates traffic problems" with frequent turns in a busy area, he said.

Developers at the M-6 interchanges can probably expect attempts to better control curb cuts and traffic flow with the planned unit development approach.

"The relocation of Metro Health spurred lots of that growth and development, which helped spur Saint Mary's (Health Care) to be located in Byron Township," Nix added. "The planners in the township viewed that as being a good catalyst for other, related types of facilities, similar to the Metro Health facility. There are some very large tracts of land along M-6 and Byron Center and Wilson avenues that are conducive to development."

Meanwhile, Wyoming is watching Metro Health Village progress with the opening of Metro Health Hospital there last fall. Recently approved were the ITT Educational Services and Macatawa Bank buildings and a 113-room hotel under the Hyatt Place flag, said Tim Cochran, principal planner for Wyoming. Metro Health Village is about 30 percent developed, he said.

But commercial development interest is hardly confined within Metro Health Village's 170 acres. Medical and dental offices are going up along the arms of Gezon Parkway/56th Street and north on Byron Center Avenue up to 52nd Street, Cochran said.

The 56th Street/Byron Center intersection's corners are zoned B-1, with one corner B-2, allowing a gasoline station, Cochran said. But B-1 zoning is preventing KFC from building a restaurant with a drive-through window on a 56th Street location, and denial of a variance request has sent the two sides into court. Bayberry Farms and neighbors of the location also objected to the drive-through window during a public hearing.

Zoning in the area doesn't always accommodate developers' visions, Cochran said.

"What we've been dealing with is people who can't quite step up to the threshold that Metro Health and Granger Group have set, so they're trying to find other properties where their use can go that might not be appropriately zoned," he said.

At Wilson Avenue, the group that developed the Spectrum Health building near the interchange has another 72 acres it hopes to turn into medical offices, with some commercial along the Wilson frontage, Cochran said. While the area has not undergone the same master-planning process that Metro Health Village undertook, the developers have treated the land that way, and the infrastructure has already been installed for future construction, he added.

"If it wasn't for M-6, it would not have lured the Metro Health people out here," Cochran added.

"It also would not have led to the RiverTown Crossings mall. The mall would not have gone out there if M-6 was not coming through. Even though that's not in Wyoming, it certainly spurred the retail development we have around the mall, Costco, Best Buy. It (M-6) took what probably would have been a largely single-family rural area and turned it into just dramatic development. In many respects, it has reinvigorated Wyoming."

Gene Vogan, city assessor, attributed the positive direction of Wyoming's tax base in part to commercial growth at the Byron Center Avenue interchange.

"This is still somewhat tentative, but we're up $29 million of taxable value. That's a net gain; even though we lost $46 million of assessed value, we were able to show an increase," Vogan said. "If we hadn't had new development out by the hospital, we would have had a lower tax base this year. That's rather significant: I think there's a big difference between … losing money and making money."

That boost occurred despite the nonprofit, property-tax-exempt status of the $150 million anchor hospital. Just 11,000 square feet inside the structure, leased by West Michigan Heart, the area's largest cardiology physician's practice, is subject to property taxes, Vogan said.

"The doctors' offices around there, pharmacies, all those ancillary businesses that are for-profit, then are taxable — that's a definite plus," Vogan said, adding Delphi's move of equipment to its Wyoming site was another major component of tax base growth. "It just feels better to know you're in the black, not in the red."

Cochran said he thinks development in that area will continue for another decade.

"Our densities are more of a city," he said, with smaller lots and multiple-family housing served by sewers, not septic tanks. "It's not a township-type of development occurring here. I don't believe our growth is related to people moving out of the inner city area. People who are coming here are drawn by jobs and schools." CQX

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