Heartside GR housing development stalls after Historic Preservation Commission deadlocks COURTESY RENDERING

Heartside GR housing development stalls after Historic Preservation Commission deadlocks

BY Thursday, August 20, 2020 01:43pm

GRAND RAPIDS — A developer’s plan to add a six-story affordable housing building to a historic structure in Grand Rapids’ Heartside neighborhood has stalled after failing to gain enough support from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

The commissioners voted 2-2 Wednesday on the conceptual approval of the proposed development at 78 S. Division Ave., submitted by Midland-based Brookstone Capital LLC developer Karl Chew. Commissioners Matthew Dixon and Chris Reader were not present at the virtual meeting.

The motion failed for lack of a majority vote on the six-member board, but the commissioners then approved a new motion to table the application until the next Historical Preservation Commission meeting on Sept. 2. 

Commissioners’ concerns included the proposed building’s height compared to surrounding structures, and that the six-story addition would dwarf the existing three-story historic building on the property. The new construction is planned to be nearly 73 feet tall on the street side facade of the building.

“I have concerns about the height and massing of the building,” said Commissioner Jennifer Gavin. “While I appreciate the pains that have been taken to ensure it’s not the tallest building in the district, (the addition) is nearly twice as tall as the historic building.”

Commissioner Peter Bruinsma had concerns about the scale of the development, but said the plan is more palatable because the city is “in dire need of affordable housing.”

The city of Grand Rapids will need to add nearly 9,000 housing units in the next five years to satisfy market demand, according to a recent housing needs assessment.

Chew plans to seek Low Income Tax Credits as well as Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credits to restore the historic building, as MiBiz previously reported. Chew was not required to submit a detailed site plan with price points or the number of units to the commission because it was a conceptual review.

The six-story addition is planned on a vacant surface parking lot adjacent to the north wall of the existing historic building. Five floors of the new building are planned for residential use and the ground floor would be a parking garage. 

The historic building on the site was built in the late 1800s and was formerly Tini Bikinis Bar & Grill. Heartside Ministry purchased the building in 2014 and later sold it to Brookstone Capital affiliate 78 South Division Avenue LLC in 2017, according to property records.

Chew is also seeking approval for general repairs that include a complete renovation and new windows for the three-story historic structure. The new construction will affect the north wall of the historic building, which is made from brick and void of detailing. The buildings are proposed to be connected.

The floors’ height would be matched to form a common corridor, Chew explained during the meeting. An elevator would be installed in the new construction while residents would enter from the existing building.

The commission’s delayed vote also gives Chew an opportunity to revise his site plan, but it’s unclear if that will happen. Chew did not respond to requests for further comment.

The addition would have a frontage of about 43 feet on Division Avenue and is planned to be nearly 73 feet tall with a garage and a penthouse in the northeast corner. Dark gray masonry is planned for the new structure, and most of the existing exterior materials of the historic building on the site are proposed to remain the same.

The proposed development would need formal approval from both the Historic Preservation Commission as well as the city’s Planning Commission.

The Historic Preservation Commission’s actions are binding and can not be superseded by the planning commission, said Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Specialist Rhonda Baker. If the commissioners deny the project, Chew could appeal to the State Historic Preservation Review Board to move forward with the development.

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