GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Amid big demand for new housing, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission on Thursday supported a zoning code amendment that would permit construction of new buildings as high as 20 stories just outside the core of downtown.
The amendment, which now goes to the city commission for final approval, would eliminate the current rule limiting the height of buildings just outside the core of downtown to 10 stories. It would also eliminate an incentive that permits buildings, in that same area, up to 16 stories if developers incorporate mixed-income housing, green elements and public art.
Kristin Turkelson, the city’s planning director, said permitting the larger buildings will help increase the downtown population and add more housing.
“It makes sense to eliminate obstacles to be able to invest and build downtown,” she said.
Currently, there is no height limit on buildings in the core of downtown around Rosa Parks Circle.
The change was supported by the Grand Rapids Chamber and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., a nonprofit that coordinates development and placemaking in the city’s urban core. No one spoke against the proposed change at a public hearing during Thursday’s planning commission meeting.
The change would affect a stretch of downtown from as far south as Wealthy Street to as far north as just south of Leonard Street. The area extends just west of the river to Mt. Vernon Avenue and east of Division Avenue.
The amendment is happening now because a development firm from Chicago, Cornerstone Investment Group, told the city it wanted to construct a 20-story mixed-use building in the 800 block of Monroe Avenue in the Monroe North Neighborhood, Turkelson said.
The city had “talked” about making the change prior to now, but it hadn’t done so because it lacked the “bandwidth.” Turkelson said. Cornerstone Investment Group offered to help by hiring local architectural and design firm Progressive AE to craft the zoning change.
Suzanne Schulz, the urban planning practice leader at the firm and the city’s former planning director, worked on the zoning change.
“There are a number of projects that I know of that this amendment would facilitate,” Turkelson said. “I think it’s important that we think less about individual projects and more about what’s best for downtown and what our needs are. That was really my focus. It’s less about facilitating a specific project and more about achieving the vision and needs of the city.”
Jay Johnson, president of Cornerstone Investment Group, was not available for an interview Thursday.
A study released earlier this year by the group Housing Next shows an estimated demand for 34,699 new housing units in Grand Rapids and Kent County by 2027 to meet projected population growth.
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