Housing projects including Westown (pictured) are part of a wave of more than 400 residential units the city of Walker has approved. Housing projects including Westown (pictured) are part of a wave of more than 400 residential units the city of Walker has approved.

New housing boom comes to Walker

BY Sunday, January 20, 2019 11:54pm

WALKER — With a massive amount of new housing in the works, the city of Walker hopes to further define its identity.

Developers have planned and the city has approved more than 400 housing units for the Grand Rapids suburb, including 206 single-family units and up to 221 multifamily residences.

In Walker, developers currently are building roads or residential units for seven different housing developments. Three additional projects have obtained one or more planning commission approvals but have yet to begin construction.

The mix of projects spells a shift away from just single-family homes in Walker, where the population has grown consistently around 1 percent annually, according to Dan Power, the city’s planner and zoning administrator. He sees residential development as moving at a “quick pace” now compared to the years coming out of the Great Recession. However, the level of activity could be related to some projects that were initiated over the last five years just now being built.

“If there’s any trend, it would be that in 2015, 2016, 2017 (it was) all single family,” Power said. “In 2018, we started reviewing and approving a couple of these multifamily projects in Standale.”

The Standale corridor is poised to be a more “cohesive district,” where living, shopping and working spaces are accessible by foot, car and transit, he said. That comes with the construction of Westown at Wilson Apartment Homes, up to 209 multifamily units at 4378 Lake Michigan Drive NW.

With the demand for market-rate housing in downtown Grand Rapids slowing, some developers have turned their attention to areas outside of the city.

“The demand for multi-family housing is strong in both the Grand Rapids Metro MSA and nationwide,” JAG Development President Todd Grasman said in a statement to MiBiz. “This development will incorporate best practices in design, construction and lifestyle services with the goal of creating a best-in-class community that enhances the surrounding area.”

Westown is a joint venture of Grand Haven-based Cherette Group LLC and JAG Development Inc. of Wyoming. The first buildings are expected this summer.

With Standale specifically, the opportunity to create a higher-density, walkable area could generate more “community identity,” strategically bringing people to live, work and shop all in one area, Power said. Establishing that cultural center would be a marked departure for the region, which typically serves as a bypass between downtown Grand Rapids to the east and Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale to the west.

“I see it continuing to grow into itself as a cultural identity of Walker and a place where you know you’re in Walker if you’re near these stores and these apartments,” Power said.

Meanwhile, JAG Development also is planning a multi-phased platted development on vacant land along the Richmond Street corridor in Walker. Upon completion, Richmond Farms could include up to 416 lots spread over 267 acres. Located at 3487 Richmond Street off of Remembrance Road between Wilson Avenue and Leonard Street, the project is surrounded by residential uses, except to the north, where it is bordered by industrial sites.

The first phase of Richmond Farms calls for the development of 22 lots, according to documents submitted to the planning commission.

Demand for housing

Both nationally and in Michigan, firms are focusing less on multifamily housing in 2019, according to a survey of construction firms from the Associated General Contractors of America and Sage Construction & Real Estate.

The same is true in Grand Rapids, although some industry sources told MiBiz they planned to focus on housing projects in the outskirts of the city, rather than add more market-rate units downtown.

Westown is an amenity-filled development, with attached garages, tall ceilings, walk-in closets, a 24-hour accessible clubhouse, heated pool and hot tub, fitness center, laundry and dry cleaning and a private dog park.

If the goals for Standale come to fruition, those residents also will have access to entertainment, culture, arts and retail, Power said. The area of Walker seems primed for that type of lifestyle development, he added.

“I think geographically it makes sense,” Power said. “You have a lot of traffic coming through that area, and I think it’s planned in a way that you can continue to grow strategically, all the utilities are there (and) the street network is set up for continued expansion.”

Grasman said the location provides for a “work, live and play” community.

“This project will compete with the finest projects in the Grand Rapids metro, and will clearly set the standard in the Walker submarket for quality apartment home living,” he said.

Planning for massive development

With plans for development come new issues with traffic flow and density, which Walker has studied for the larger planned developments.

As a result of a traffic impact study for the Westown project, the developer is making “tangible improvements” proportional to the amount of people that will be added to the area. That includes the extension of the approach lane along the property’s M-11 frontage, the closure of five driveways, the addition of new driveways in three locations and the installation of a four-way signal at the main entrance to Westown, across from the Standale Meijer gas station.

Another study at the Richmond Farms development recommended additional signals, all-way stops and turning lanes.

The Interurban Transit Partnership, which operates the bus service known as The Rapid, expects to have its second bus rapid transit (BRT) route operational by the summer of 2020, as MiBiz previously reported.

Running through Standale, the Laker Line would offer enhanced bus service — similar to light rail, but without fixed tracks — and connect GVSU’s campuses in downtown Grand Rapids and Allendale.

Transit advocates believe more efficient bus service along the corridor could encourage more business investment, particularly in the Standale area, which will have a stop on the Laker Line.

The main goal for the area is “managed growth.”

“I think the mantra can be that all of the easy sites have already been taken,” Power said. “Now we’re looking at sites that have some steeper grades and some more challenging soil and water drainage issues. It takes some creativity and careful review to make sure they get built in a way that’s not going to negatively impact the environment around them.”

Walker also is in the middle of creating a new city master plan, which includes planning for future housing developments. The focus could shift to housing for varying economic groups, including affordable entry-level homes.

“We’re hearing an expectation that these are going to be high-quality sites, but we also know there’s a demand region-wide for a lower price point,” Power said.

He added that some areas are more “set up” for affordable units than others, like Lake Michigan Drive, which is zoned to allow for higher housing density, coinciding with the rapid transit line and accumulation of students in the area.

The city is holding a community visioning session on the Walker 2040 Master Plan at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 30, at the city hall, 4243 Remembrance Road NW.

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