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Sunday, 10 May 2015 22:00

Reporter's Notebook: How 412 feet nearly doomed one mixed-use development in GR

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Shoppers at a typical big-box retailer wouldn’t think twice about walking several hundred feet from a parking spot to the store’s entrance.

But a distance of 412 feet from a parking lot to the front door of a new mixed-use development had the potential to scuttle a significant 616 Development LLC project in Grand Rapids’ Creston neighborhood.

While the Grand Rapids Planning Commission in April unanimously approved moving forward with the development of 159 apartment units on two nearby sites in the Creston neighborhood, the decision was not without controversy.

At issue for local residents and the neighborhood association was the developer’s request to waive the parking space requirement in the city’s zoning ordinance. The company requested to trim its required parking spaces by 76 percent.

Area stakeholders feared that the reduction could mean an overflow of cars into the adjacent neighborhood and public lots used by businesses.

616 Development said it offered plenty of parking spots if the city considered the combined number of spaces at its two Creston sites — the former Break Room building at 1359 Plainfield NE and another project at the southeast corner of Plainfield Avenue and Quimby Street. But it was over the requirement at the Break Room site and under it at the other location.

Under current zoning, an overage of parking could only be applied to the other site if the locations were separated by less than 300 feet. In this case, the distance between the two properties was 412 feet.  

“We feel strongly about the density that we would like to bring to the Creston neighborhood because of its existing fabric and the structures that are already there in place,” Jeff Olsen, project director for 616 Development, said in the hearing to consider the waiver.

Indeed, the Creston neighborhood is located just north of downtown Grand Rapids along a transit line and has a number of restaurants, bars and local businesses along the Plainfield Avenue corridor.

The presence of 616 Development’s project in the neighborhood is already drawing additional investment. At the end of April, a pair of entrepreneurs announced a new brewery project at a long-vacant building at the northeast corner of Plainfield and Quimby.

The commissioners agreed that if ever there were an area where this kind of transit-oriented, dense development could be done right now, the Creston neighborhood was a good place to do it in the city.

But instead of focusing on the availability of transit options, most people seemed captivated by the issue of parking availability, which didn’t go unnoticed at the hearing.

“I came here to talk to about vibrancy, city-building and critical mass, but I think we are here to talk about parking instead,” said Mark Miller, an architect and urban planner at Grand Rapids-based Nederveld Inc. and a consultant for 616 Development.

And so it goes.

The issue of parking has certainly started to become contentious in the city’s central business district, and now it seems to be spreading to the nearby neighborhoods.

With developers and urban advocates calling for increased neighborhood density, it is becoming clear that the city can expect more projects with significantly fewer parking spots than it’s seen in recent years.

Let’s hope stakeholders can begin to see past this battle of inches — or in this case 412 feet — to push for the type of sustainable urban development that will continue to enhance their neighborhoods.

Read 2641 times Last modified on Sunday, 10 May 2015 21:04

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