GRAND RAPIDS — A 52-unit affordable housing development proposed in Grand Rapids’ Belknap Lookout neighborhood faces opposition from nearby residents and a city planning board about whether the project fits in the surrounding area.
Despite the developer’s efforts to design the project to fit in the neighborhood based on local feedback, as well as nearly a dozen letters in support of the plan, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission on Thursday tabled a rezoning request for the Union Suites on Coit II project.
Developers with Union Suites LLC, led by Tom Ralston and Nick Lovelace, envision the project next to their similar 52-unit Union Suites on Coit project that’s under construction immediately south. Nonprofit housing organization Dwelling Place is also a partner on both projects.
Several neighbors and planning commissioners raised concerns during Thursday’s planning commission meeting about the design of the new project. A few neighbors also voiced parking concerns and claimed the developer rushed through the community engagement process.
“This building is not our neighborhood in any way, shape or form…” said Angel Gonzalez, who has lived in the community for more than 20 years. “I’ve been an advocate for development, but I’m an advocate for good development that people feel connected to when they see it. This is not that. We can get behind affordable housing but this doesn’t honor those ideals. There are a lot of other people that would oppose this project but they didn’t hear about it.”
Neighbors of Belknap Lookout (NOBL) board member Marshall Grate also said the design “is contrary to the nature of the neighborhood.”
While neighborhood group officials previously expressed support for the project, NOBL Executive Director Elianna Bootzin said the organization changed its review process for new developments, and some board members thought the process moved too quickly, even though the developers did follow the process.
Meanwhile, Union Suites on Coit II received 11 letters of support from community members as well as Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Leadriane Roby and Family Promise of Grand Rapids Director of Housing Jim Davis.
“This project is one that brings a deeply needed product to our community,” Ralston said during Thursday’s meeting. “We have a rare opportunity to put housing in this neighborhood right now and the tax credit system is structured in such a way that you don’t get multiple chances.”
Ralson was referring to the state Low Income Housing Tax Credit approval process, which would make the housing units more affordable for future tenants. The plan calls for units to be rented out at rates for families earning 30 percent of the area median income.
The decision to add another 52-unit project next to Union Suites on Coit was made after the first project started and more land became available, Ralston told the planning commission.
Ralston previously told MiBiz that the development team was intentional in listening to community feedback when designing the site, which is why they included a larger number of three-bedroom units as well as front porch access for first-floor units along Coit Avenue.
The site plan for Union Suites on Coit II spans 0.58 acres along eight existing parcels on Coit Avenue NE. The project calls for 39 one- and two-bedroom units, 12 three-bedroom units and one four-bedroom unit, and 32 parking spaces that would be located on the basement level of the building.
The project qualifies for parking reductions based on several design elements such as electric vehicle charging stations and secure bike parking.
Greg Metz, principal with Lott3Metz Architecture LLC who is designing the project, planned a pitched roof for the building because it fits with nearby houses and would bring down the scale of the building. Orion Construction serves as the general contractor.
Planning commissioners expressed support for reducing the parking requirement, but tabled the rezoning so adjustments could be made for aesthetics and to allow more time for developers to collect community feedback.
“The need for something doesn’t mean you should rush it through without more consideration,” Commissioner Susan Shannon said.
Commissioner Laurel Joseph noted that the city needs more housing units, though she raised concerns about a single-family home on the site being surrounded by multifamily housing.
“I do have some concerns about the site plan and design itself,” Joseph said.