In a new zone

September 23, 2008
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City commissioners wiped the zoning slate clean when they voted out the old and adopted the new.

An effort undertaken by the city’s Planning Department called Zone Grand Rapids will replace what is known as the citywide Chapter 61 zoning ordinance, which went into effect last November. Commissioners gave the updated version the green light recently.

But City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz recently assured commissioners that the new ordinance doesn’t present any drastic changes that could cause developers and property owners to panic. Rather, she said the revised plan contains a “lot of little tweaks.”

“Nothing is a show stopper. There isn’t anything that anyone should be concerned about,” she said.

“It’s a very big document,” she added of the printed ordinance that is 333 pages long and available on the Planning Department’s Web page. “A lot of it is minor stuff.”

Although the stuff may be minor, Schulz said the new ordinance is based on the smart growth philosophy the city employed when it adopted its master plan six years ago. Mixed-use projects — normally commercial on the ground floor and residential on the upper levels — still have a priority in the new zoning policy, as does making the city easier to get around in on foot. LEED standards also are included.

One tweak lowers the amount of greenspace urban developers are required to include in a project. Schulz said the previous requirement was too “onerous” in that it forced developers to buy additional property in order to meet that obligation.

Schulz said another tweak makes demolition approvals and application review standards clearer, while still another modifies height requirements for multi-family structures and wireless communication towers.

Additions include a phasing requirement for new projects, which creates an order for how these are to be built based on where in the city construction is taking place. Another establishes a design requirement when more than one building is going up on a single lot. New prerequisites for satellite dish antennas are included, as well.

Schulz said the new ordinance can be amended, and amendments regarding some current projects would be coming to the commission soon. She also said that all zoning regulations eventually need to be tweaked because an ordinance can’t predict changes in society. She said the 1969 ordinance, for instance, didn’t include cell-phone towers or drive-thru pharmacies, as neither existed then.

The Planning Commission approved the ordinance, which had input from developers, builders, property owners, sign vendors, business districts and neighborhood associations. Planning commissioners held three public hearings before they adopted the policy.

The Michigan Association of Planning will present the city’s Planning Department with an Outstanding Planning Award for the zoning ordinance at the group’s annual conference Oct. 1. The Grand Valley Metro Council also honored the city’s new zoning ordinance in June with its 2008 Metropolitan Blueprint Award.

“It has created a bunch of new opportunities for developers that doesn’t make them jump through hoops,” said Andy Bowman, GVMC director of land-use planning.

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