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Gracewil Country Club in Alpine Township. Gracewil Country Club in Alpine Township. Credit: Gracewil Country Club

Developers retool housing plan for Gracewil Country Club to address residents’ objections

BY Rachel Watson, Crain’s Detroit Business Tuesday, March 28, 2023 05:45am

Developers next month will seek final rezoning approval for a revised plan to convert a nearly 100-year-old golf course north of Grand Rapids into more than 500 units of housing after neighbors expressed near-unanimous opposition to the prior site plan.

The Alpine Township Planning Commission on March 20 voted to tentatively approve developers Dale Kraker’s and Howie Hehrer’s revised site plan and rezoning request for the Wilder Crossings housing project that’s been in the works for several years at Gracewil Country Club at 2567 Four Mile Road NW.

The Wilder Crossings project is part of a wave of housing plans in various stages of development at current and former Grand Rapids-area golf courses.

That includes two projects in Walker at Lincoln Country Club and English Hills Country Club totaling over 800 units, as well as a conversion of The Pines golf course in Wyoming into more than 600 condos, apartments and townhomes.

Hehrer is land development manager for JTB Homes and Interra Homes, both based in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming, and Kraker is lead developer on the project and a partner in JTB and Interra.

The developers are requesting to rezone the 206-acre, 36-hole golf course from low-density residential to an “open space neighborhood” planned unit development.

The planning commission is scheduled to meet April 17 to officially vote on whether to rezone after reviewing an amended site plan submitted to the township in January, according to Planning Director Sue Becker.

Property history

The golf course has been owned by the Wilson family since it opened in 1929. The country club has banquet and catering facilities and serves as the home course to the Kenowa Hills High School golf team.

Current owner John Wilson sold one of the two parcels it spans to the developers last June for an undisclosed sum. He is under contract to sell them the second parcel “in the next year or two,” according to Hehrer.

Hehrer said the contract stipulates that the golf course will remain open for all of 2023 and on a year-by-year basis after that as the multiphase housing project progresses.

The developers expect the project will take at least 20 years to complete, with a target end date of 2045.

Previous plan

Kraker and Hehrer first presented their plan to rezone the golf course for the Wilder Crossings housing development to the township planning commission in late 2021. The proposal, which then included 592 dwelling units, drew criticism from residents over the large number of units.

By November, the developers had reduced the number of housing units to 567, including 315 single-family lots, 104 detached single-family condos, 84 two-unit attached single-family condos, and 64 four-unit attached single-family townhomes.

Hehrer and Kraker sought rezoning approval for the retooled plan that month, but the planning commission voted to table the request until December to allow for further discussion.

This came after a public comment period that generated 42 responses from residents, 41 of whom opposed the plan. They cited density and traffic concerns and that it would change the character of the neighborhood. Many also feared it would exacerbate existing stormwater drainage issues in the area.

“Alpine Township is an agricultural and rural area, and this isn’t the way we want to go,” township resident Matt Ginsberg said at the meeting, according to township minutes from November.

The development’s only supporter was the nonprofit Housing Next, which advocates for housing at all price points across Kent and Ottawa counties.

At their December meeting, the planning commission moved to deny the rezoning request and site plan as presented.

Revised plan

Hehrer and Kraker submitted a new plan to the township Jan. 30.

The revised plan subtracts the four-unit attached townhomes to address residents’ concerns about the project’s density and adds senior housing, because retirees typically have smaller households with fewer car trips per day.

The new plan comprises 538 units of housing, including:

  • 317 single-family lots
  • 70 villas for the general market with garage entrances off a back alley. This would move the “less-attractive architectural elements” to the rear of the building, addressing the neighborhood character issue, Hehrer said.
  • 151 units of senior housing, including 29 zero-step entry front-garage villas without basements, 38 villas with basements and 84 two-unit condos. A villa typically houses a single family, whereas a condo is multifamily.

“The main piece of feedback that we heard when we were in front of the planning commission and the board (before) spoke to a desire for us to remove the four-unit condominiums, and that was the primary change,” Hehrer said. “All other changes were more minor, just to more finely adapt to all of the sections of the PUD ordinance. A few changes were to help allow the natural flow of water through the site, which was something that was requested at the planning commission level. … Otherwise, it was largely about the same plan that we submitted back in November to the planning commission.”

Pending approvals, Hehrer said the project team could likely start site work as soon as early next year, but construction probably wouldn’t begin in earnest until 2025.

Read 2179 times Last modified on Tuesday, 28 March 2023 07:41
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