Housing project talks continue

December 23, 2010
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Developers of a large residential project proposed for Grand Rapids’ northeast side will make at least their fourth appearance before the City Commission in a few weeks. Commissioners decided last week not to deny or approve a redesign of the development.

The project proposed by the G&C Land Co. would add 145 housing units to 29.2 acres in the Chesapeake Hills Plat between Maryland and Plymouth avenues. Although the firm has scaled back the project from 160 units, neighbors still oppose the development, called Veridian Place. They have said it would bring too much traffic and remove too much greenspace. They also have said it’s too many units for a neighborhood that largely consists of single-family homes.

“I would encourage another meeting to find some common ground,” said Elias Lumpkins, 3rd Ward city commissioner.

Commissioners decided to table their decision to give the developer another chance to solve the density issue, which revolves around construction of three garden condos that each contains 18 units. G&C Land Co. reduced the number of buildings from four and the number of units from 96 to 54 during its most recent redesign this fall.

Mayor George Heartwell said the redesigned project meets the city’s wetland zoning requirement, which was an issue earlier this year. He said he wasn’t concerned with the traffic situation, but was a bit anxious about the denseness of the project. Heartwell suggested the developer meet again with the neighbors.

City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz said the garden buildings were the only structures in the project that need to go before the city’s Planning Commission. The development also includes 21 single-family homes, 10 ranch-style condos and 60 townhomes.

Third Ward Commissioner James White said denying G&C Land Co. a zoning change wouldn’t stop the firm from building the bulk of the development that already meets city regulations. But he also noted that the burden of proof for a zoning change falls on the developer’s shoulders, and he felt G&C Land Co. had to answer a key question in order to convince him to approve a change: “Will the development improve the quality of life in the neighborhood? As far as I can see, they haven’t improved the quality of that neighborhood.”

The development is in the Second Ward, and neither of that sector’s representatives were in favor of the project going forward in its most recent reincarnation. Commissioners Ruth Kelly and Rosalynn Bliss said they were concerned that the garden condos had too many units. “Traffic concerns are also huge,” said Kelly. “I think this needs a larger traffic impact study.”

But Schulz said the developer’s redesign offers slightly less than five housing units per acre, which meets the guidelines of the city’s Master Plan.

Should commissioners approve the zoning change, it would become a contractual agreement with G&C Land Co., and if the developer didn’t follow the agreement to its letter, the current zoning would be automatically reinstated.

Greg Holwerda, a partner in G&C Land Co., said they had to determine whether to reduce the number of garden units, replace the buildings, or even eliminate the three structures, and then decide whether the project would be financially feasible.

The city and G&C Land Co. have been discussing this project since it was approved in its initial form in 2003. City commissioners are likely to discuss Veridian Place again at their Jan. 25 meeting.

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