Kentwood, Wyoming hope to revitalize Division

September 28, 2008
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The cities of Kentwood and Wyoming are planning a second charrette to take a closer look at the Division Avenue Corridor and the development that might be spurred by the future bus rapid transit line that will serve it. 

The original charrette — the West Michigan Regional Urban Design Charrette — was held in April 2007 and was actually three charrettes in one. Planning and zoning officials, municipal leaders, architects and engineers looked at three projects: the Division Avenue Revitalization Charrette, the Holland Gateway Charrette and the Sustainable North-Central Muskegon County Charrette.

The Division Avenue charrette looked generally at the Division Avenue corridor from 60th to 36th streets, said Lisa Golder, economic development planner for the city of Kentwood. Division Avenue crosses the city limits of Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood. The stretch that runs through Kentwood and Wyoming suffers from disinvestment, Golder said. Both Wyoming and Kentwood want to revitalize the Division corridor and redevelop residential and commercial properties, and they’re working together to develop a “coordinated vision,” Golder noted.

The area encompasses about 280 acres — probably the largest area available for redevelopment along the BRT route, according to GVMC. It is lightly developed, with a few healthy businesses, unoccupied land and parking lots, vacant buildings, recreational vehicle sales lots and a few residences. New housing and commercial redevelopment in the area would have a positive impact on the business community as well as the schools, Golder said, plus the BRT would allow people of all incomes and capabilities the opportunity to live in an urban environment, with access to shopping, employment and cultural amenities. 

According to The Rapid, BRT projects generate significant new investments. Pittsburgh, for instance, enjoyed $300 million in new development around its BRT stations, and Boston saw $650 million in new development.

The second charrette, which will kick off Oct. 18 and run for five days, will take the discussion of the Division Avenue corridor a step further, concentrating on 54th Street and the area within about a mile radius of it, Golder said. Representatives of Kentwood, Wyoming, Grand Valley Metro Council, The Rapid and adjoining townships of Byron and Gaines will participate. Golder said the city has invited developers and property owners.

“This charrette will look specifically at what has to be done to accommodate bus rapid transit,” Golder explained. “It will be more specific this time, down to what kind of density we need to support the BRT and what kind of commercial development will support the BRT. We’ll have people there who can help with ordinance code writing and explain what needs to happen to our ordinances in order for this to occur.”

The charrette will also help identify potential station locations along the BRT route: There are two proposed near 54th Street and Division Avenue. Golder said four to five developers have already expressed interest in possible development projects in the area. Everyone will come together the first day to offer up their ideas; then architects and engineers will draw up some plans based on what has been suggested. They’ll come back for input a couple of times during the week and at the end of the week, Golder said. She said the architects and engineers will have a studio on Division Avenue where the public can s see the progress.

“We know that it takes density and appropriate services to support bus rapid transit,” Golder noted. “Part of this is saying to residents: ‘In order for this to work, and if you want your community to look like this, then we as a community have to support this idea of the density and the different kinds of commercial development that’s not there right now.”

After the conference, the group will put together a plan that will include land use and possibly some recommendations for ordinance amendments, Golder noted. She pointed out that neither Kentwood nor Wyoming presently has a lot of mixed-use provisions.

“Probably what will come out of this is some kind of mixed-use, higher density allowances and maybe even higher heights than what’s allowed now, which would allow for taller buildings. Our master plans would have to be updated to accommodate that.”

The BRT line will run along Division from 60th Street north to Wealthy Street, through downtown to Michigan Street and then to The Rapid Central Station. All in all, the route will be just under 10 miles, with 19 station stops and 10-minute service frequency during peak hours. The route will have a dedicated traffic lane and will use hybrid electric busses that have “secondary signal preemption,” which means traffic lights automatically adjust to longer green lights and shorter red lights.

Many civic leaders believe the route will be a catalyst for new jobs and investment in the corridor and that the 19 station stops will be sweet spots for development. Thus far, Varga said only one station location has been recommended, and it’s on Jefferson Avenue on Saint Mary’s Health Care property.

The total cost of the BRT line is estimated at slightly more than $40 million, of which the state would need to provide a total capital match of 20 percent, or $8.02 million over a four-year period.

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