As a development boom swept through the Grand Rapids area, municipalities have increasingly sought to engage in urban planning initiatives that help guide the investments. That’s translated into steady business for Lynee Wells through 2017 and into the next year. A principal and urban planner with Williams & Works Inc. in Grand Rapids, Wells works closely with municipalities like Caledonia Township and on large-scale redevelopments such as Plaza Roosevelt, a public-private project that will bring a host of new housing and services to the Roosevelt Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids. Wells thinks city and state policies could help fuel more and better development.
Given the amount of work your firm has done with various cities and townships around the region, what does that say about municipalities’ ability to invest in large planning projects at the moment?
I think it’s a really exciting time for municipal planning. After the economic standstill in 2009 and kind of leading into 2010, there was very little municipal planning happening even though that was the time to plan because we know that everything comes in cycles. But now, with the momentum and the speed of development … I think the municipal leadership are seeing the opportunities that come with development.
What do you mean by that?
They’re seeing the investments that they have made in improved infrastructure, or transit, or even streetscape enhancements, like through tax increment financing districts. When you do those investments, we had always said, the private (sector) will follow. Well, the private investments have followed. And, they’re seeing that now we need to plan more.
What will next year hold for the Plaza Roosevelt project?
Next year, I think we’ll see Dwelling Place apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) funding. I think we’ll start to see the architectural plans for the school. We’ll probably have a more finalized vision for the plaza space as well as the addition to Mercy Health with the drive-through pharmacy. And, now I think we’ll probably start seeing some foundations being poured for the school and probably some of Habitat’s buildings. It’ll be an interesting staging challenge with so much work happening in a confined space.
Will there be some larger infrastructure work as part of that redevelopment project?
The city is going to be investing in and improving the roadways — Rumsey and Century. And we’ll also see the work happening on Grandville Avenue from Franklin to Grant. They’re going to be reconstructing and also repaving some of that. It will include some infrastructure upgrades as well.
What are some potential policies you’re watching, whether at the local, state or federal levels?
The qualifications that the Michigan Economic Development Corp. uses and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority used for funding projects. I know that there’s heavy emphasis placed on walk score. I think that’s been the challenge for some (potential housing) projects like, say, Eastern Elementary school because it’s not within a quarter-mile of Michigan Street.
What’s the issue there?
It doesn’t meet all the (funding) criteria. So, I think that there is some interest in having the development community continue working with MSHDA and MEDC on their criteria and kind of modifying, massaging the criteria a little bit. That’s similar to some of the incentives that our city offers. (We’re) wanting to tie those incentives back to the community goals and objectives we have for affordable housing and mobility and green space.
What else are you following?
The idea of having more of a transportation department … where we would have more involvement with The Rapid, with MobileGR, traffic safety, all working together around the table to make some of these decisions about public realm improvements.
Why is that important?
Because if you’re digging up the road, or if you’re rebuilding the road, then we have an opportunity to really look at, ‘oh, does the bus stop make sense here? Do we have space? Could we add seating? Could we add a shelter? Do we have a connected sidewalk system to access that bus stop?’ Simple things that can really improve efficiency. It can improve passenger experience. We often say that you don’t get a second chance at a lot of this. The opportunities come every generation, and we have to really take advantage of aligning those.