GRAND RAPIDS — A group of affordable housing developers plan to construct a three-story, 52-unit apartment building next to the Union Suites on Coit housing project that is currently under construction in Grand Rapids’ Belknap Lookout neighborhood.
The Grand Rapids Planning Commission on Feb. 23 will consider a rezoning request for properties that are part of the project proposed by Tom Ralston and Nick Lovelace, the developers behind Union Suites LLC. Ralston and Lovelace are partnering with nonprofit housing organization Dwelling Place for the development.
The same development team is behind the initial 52-unit Union Suites on Coit housing development just south of the new development.
As planned, Union Suites on Coit II will span 0.58 acres along eight existing parcels on Coit Avenue NE. The development team owns all but two parcels, which they have under a signed purchase agreement with the current owner, Ralston said.
The partners’ decision to add another 52 units next to their initial project in the Belknap Lookout neighborhood came about as more land became available.
“This was not our initial intent to do this, it was just fate,” Ralston said. “For this project, we incorporated a lot of feedback from the neighborhood that makes it different from the (first project on Coit Avenue).”
The feedback led the partners to enlarge the units, with plans now calling for 12 units three- bedroom apartments and one four-bedroom unit.
Developers also incorporated neighborhood comments into the plan by adding front porch access to first-floor units along Coit Avenue and Fairbanks Street, and giving the building its own “unique architectural identity,” Ralston said.
“This is one of the first housing developments in the city to incorporate a large number of three-bedroom units and even a four-bedroom unit,” Ralston said. “We wanted to offer something different, but mostly we wanted to show we were listening. We’re also really excited about the architecture and bringing high quality materials and finishes.”
Neighbors of Belknap Lookout Executive Director Elianna Bootzin wrote a letter to the planning commission on Jan. 20, noting her appreciation for the developers in collecting neighborhood preferences for the project.
Plans for the project also include a library and community room, and 30 parking spaces located on the basement level of the building that are accessible by an alleyway east of the property.
Currently, the site has several occupied housing units operated by Family Promise. The organization plans to use existing resources to transition residents to alternate housing before construction begins, according to planning documents filed with the city.
The first project cost about $12.2 million to construct, while the second project is expected to be more expensive, in the range of $15 million, Ralston said. The partners anticipate groundbreaking to take place in spring of 2024.
While the developers expect the second project to be more expensive, the building will have efficiencies from its location right next to the initial Union Suites on Coit development, Ralston said.
“We already have firsthand experience fresh in our minds as far as the conditions of the site. This is a brownfield-eligible site, similar to Coit I,” Ralston said. “Having just performed that on the first project, we know what to expect.”
Grand Rapids-based Lott3Metz Architecture LLC designed the project, which will be built by Orion Construction, also based in Grand Rapids. Both firms worked on the initial Union Suites project.
The development team plans to file an application for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) for the project, which will feature units at a range of affordable rates, including for families earning 30 percent of the area median income. Developers have committed to 45 years of affordability via a deed restriction as part of the LIHTC package.
A study released this week shows the housing shortage in the greater Grand Rapids area increased during the pandemic as more people moved to West Michigan. The need has widened to 34,699 more housing units by 2027 in Kent County, according to the 2023 Kent County Housing Needs Assessment. The housing gap increased by 59 percent since the last housing needs study was released in 2020.
“We’re really excited to provide more housing to meet the need that the new study called for, which is even more housing than we thought we needed,” Ralston said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a new image showing the latest renderings of the Union Suites on Coit II project from Lott3Metz Architecture.