WALKER — Developers will work to redesign portions of a large mixed-use project in Walker’s Standale neighborhood to bring the proposal closer in line with the city’s master plan.
During a joint planning and city commission meeting on Wednesday, city officials heavily criticized the 217-unit Vista 45 project, claiming the proposed commercial uses along Lake Michigan Drive are out of sync with transit- and retail-oriented businesses.
“I’m having nightmares right now about what this is going to look like,” Walker Mayor Gary Carey said during the meeting.
The planning commission approved a rezoning request but tabled the Vista 45 preliminary area site plan during its July 20 meeting. Grand Haven-based development and property management firm The Cherette Group proposed nine apartment buildings with a mix of one- and two-bedroom units, as well as commercial outlots on a 60-acre parcel of vacant land.
The site is located along Lake Michigan Drive/M-45, immediately west of a Meijer Inc. store and Blain’s Farm & Fleet. The property once included homes that were demolished in 2015.
JAG Development Inc. — affiliated with The Atonne Group LLC — is working with The Cherette Group to develop and co-own the multifamily portion of the Vista 45 project.
JAG Development President Todd Grasman told city officials this week that the development team would bring a revised proposal to the planning commission.
“It was good feedback that probably would have been more efficient to get this a lot earlier, which is partly our fault,” Grasman said. “We’ve already started brainstorming some ideas of how to make (the street grid) softer and getting different uses up front. … It is an open, white slate up front — we’re trying to get an idea of what those users are.”
City officials say the Vista 45 project as proposed is out of compliance with the Walker 2020 master plan. Specifically, city officials were unhappy about developers considering uses like a drive-thru gas station and car wash on the site, and how that would interact with the multifamily housing component.
“Of course, the master plan is aspirational … but I don’t think we’re even close to aspiring to what the plan is calling for,” City Commissioner Thom Burke said.
The master plan specifically states that developments in the Standale Neighborhood “should not be developed as conventional multifamily with commercial outlots,” Burke pointed out.
The master plan’s vision for the West Standale District — where Vista 45 is planned — calls for mixed-use, transit-oriented development that is walkable and integrates housing and preserving existing wetlands. It further states that commercial development fronting Lake Michigan Drive/M-45 should include smaller-footprint, retail establishments.
“I think this works fine with the multifamily portion and mostly for the public road network, but the big sticking point is what will happen along M-45 because the master plan says mixed-use, it doesn’t say commercial,” Walker City Manager Frank Wash said.
While developers claimed this week that mixed-use would be unsuccessful, Walsh disagreed. He cited an opportunity to put mixed-use, transit-oriented uses around the Laker Line bus stops along M-45 at the development site.
“I would argue that first-floor commercial — if it’s going to work anywhere — is going to work here,” Walsh said during the meeting. “This is along M-45 and it’s really the best area for commercial use. I think it’s going to come down to a discussion of what are your two anchors going to be along M-45.”
Meanwhile, Carey also drew attention to a separate, controversial Cherette Group project in Walker that experienced a fire in March and displaced several residents. While the cause of the fire at the nearby Westown at Wilson is still under investigation, residents have reportedly raised concerns about failures in the complex’s alarm system.
The property is managed by an Illinois-based company, according to the Westown at Wilson website.
“We are catching ridiculous heat about how ridiculous that looks,” Carey said. “There are things that took place that should not have taken place.”