City Planning Commission 3/25/2021 Meeting Minutes

These minutes are abridged to only the pieces relevant to the 1542 Michigan St Development. Full minutes can be found at:


City Planning Commission
Regular Meeting
3/25/2021 12:30 PM
Digital Meeting


c.              1542 Michigan Street NE–Multifamily

Address: 1542 Michigan Street NE
Applicant: Michigan Street Apartment Homes, LLC
(Gary Hensch)
Requesting: Approval to construct a 30-unit multiple-family development consisting of three two-story buildings behind an existing twelve-unit apartment building in a TN-LDR (Traditional Neighborhood–Low Density Residential) Zone District.
Zoning: TN-LDR (Traditional Neighborhood – Low-Density Residential)
Requirements: Article 5               Residential Zone Districts
  5.9.20.               Multiple-Family Dwellings
5.12.08.E.              Standards for Site Plan Review
5.12.09.              Special Land Use
Case Number: PC-SLU-2021-0016
Staff Assigned: Elizabeth Zeller
Type of Case: Special Land Use
Effective Date: April 10, 2021

Ms. Zeller introduced the request for approval to construct a 30-unit multiple-family development consisting of three two-story buildings behind an existing twelve-unit apartment building in a TN-LDR (Traditional Neighborhood-Low Density Residential) Zone District.


Ms. Zeller displayed an aerial view of the site relating that the site is slightly less than 2 acres and is currently improved with a 12-unit apartment building.  Ms. Zeller recalled that in February, 2019, the Planning Commission considered a similar request for a single 30-unit apartment building in the same general location as is being considered today.  That request was denied.  Because the one-year requisite period has elapsed and because the plan has been modified, the Planning Commission may consider the application.


Ms. Zeller explained that, as a Special Land Use, the Ordinance provides procedures and standards for uses of land or structures that, because of their unique characteristics, require additional consideration in relation to the welfare of adjacent properties, the neighborhood, and the community.  The regulations and standards are designed to allow practical latitude for the applicant but maintain adequate provision for the protection of the health, safety, convenience, and general welfare of the community.  Therefore, a public hearing is being held and notification has been sent to all property owners and residents within 300 ft. of the subject property.  Ms. Zeller indicated that there has been a high level of neighborhood interest in this property and the proposed development.


Ms. Zeller noted that the subject property is somewhat unique as compared to surrounding properties.  It is a Traditional Neighborhood – Low Density Residential district and the rest of the neighborhood has been platted into single-family lots and is predominantly improved with single-family homes.  For some reason, the subject site was never platted into a single-family lot(s).  The result is a nearly 2-acre parcel surrounded by single-family homes.  In 1961 a variance was granted to allow the construction of the existing apartment building on the property.  The building was constructed in 1962.


Ms. Zeller explained that the property was included in the Michigan Street Corridor Plan of 2015.  Although it was included in the Plan, there are no specific recommendations made for this property.  In general, it is designated as low density residential but the Plan does encourage higher-density projects along Michigan Street to capitalize on transit, provide additional housing units, and add vitality to business districts.


Ms. Zeller displayed photos of existing conditions on site.  The portion of the property intended for development is currently wooded with second growth trees.  There is a grade change on the property.  In general, the property on Alten is higher than the property on Baynton with a fall of approximately 15 ft. across the site.  There is what would be considered a steep slope on the property as well.  While there is a natural grade change across the property, the steep slope is likely the result of development.  The area that includes the steep slope is less than 7,000 sq. ft. and the Planning Commission may grant a waiver for construction on steep slopes given the relatively small area.  Ms. Zeller displayed additional photos of the site, describing the contents thereof.  A survey of the property was displayed, which also shows the grades on the site.  The existing building is shown toward the front of the site, carports are located on the east and west lot lines, and there is a circle drive.  All of the improvements on site currently are intended to remain.


Ms. Zeller displayed a slide of the proposed development, which is to consist of three buildings of similar size, located approximately 14 ft. from the easterly lot line.  Located to the west is the associated parking.  All of the parking necessary for the new buildings would be provided in the new parking lot while the parking for the existing building would remain in the car ports.  As part of this proposal, the applicant intends to replace the existing car ports.  An issue is that the car ports don’t have back sides and headlights shine onto neighboring properties.


As stated, 30 new dwelling units are proposed consisting of 18 studio apartments, 4 one-bedroom apartments, and 8 two-bedroom apartments.  Building entrances will face the parking lot and windows are proposed on all four sides of the buildings.  Multi-family residential is a use that may be allowed in the TN-LDR Zone District, if found to be appropriate.  With respect to density, the maximum density allowed in the TN-LDR is 21 dwelling units per acre.  Based on the size of the site, 45 dwelling units would be the maximum density permitted; a total of 42 units are proposed on the property.  The Low-Density Residential designation within the Master Plan corresponds to a residential density of about 5 units per acre.  The 42 units proposed would be an increase in density in the neighborhood.


Ms. Zeller provided site layout information.  The new buildings are proposed to be about 14 ft. from the lot line.  A retaining wall of approximately 285 ft. is proposed along the east lot line for the length of the development area.  The retaining wall will be located roughly 7 ft. from the lot line and 7 ft. from the buildings.  The wall will be 5-6 ft. tall and from the wall to the lot line the elevation increases an additional 3-6 ft. depending on the location.  A 6 ft. vinyl fence is proposed at the lot line around the perimeter of the site.  The proposal would meet all of the greenspace and tree canopy requirements and would also meet all of the parking lot buffer and landscaping requirements.  Ms. Zeller displayed the proposed landscape plan.  Three pole-mounted light fixtures are proposed on the west side of the parking lot.  Pole mounted lights may be up to 22 ½ ft. in residential zone districts.  If the project is approved, a photometric plan will be required at the time of permitting to ensure it complies with the height of the lights and that both the pole lights and any building lights are sharp cut off fixtures.  Staff would also confirm that light levels not exceed the maximum permitted lighting levels at the lot line.


With respect to stormwater, due to the slope of the property, stormwater will continue to flow from east to west.  The parking lot will be finished with concrete curb and gutter to direct stormwater displaced by the proposed improvements to catch basins.  Stormwater will then be detained on-site in oversized underground pipes located along the western edge of the parking lot.  Final engineering of the stormwater management plan would be reviewed at the time of permitting if the project is approved.


Ms. Zeller displayed a cross section of the existing topography outside of the site as well as the proposed changes to the site showing the relationship of the existing homes in the vicinity to the proposed buildings.  There is a variety of home styles on Baynton and Alten but generally they are approximately 20 ft. in height and the proposed building is 23.5 ft. at the midpoint of the roof.  As previously mentioned, the slopes on the site are proposed to be removed.  However, given the relatively small area of slopes, the Planning Commission can grant a waiver if found to be appropriate.


Proposed building elevations were displayed.  The maximum building height in this zone district is 2 ½ stories and 35 ft.  The two-story buildings are 23.5 ft. in height to the midpoint of the roof and they would not exceed the maximum height permitted.  The buildings are clad in brick on the ground floor and vinyl siding above with asphalt shingle roofs.  It appears that the transparency requirements of 20% on the front façade and 10% on the sides is being met, which would be confirmed at permitting.  Ms. Zeller noted that several of the units have porches on the first floor and several on the second floor have decks.  The required parking for the development is 45 spaces and 50 spaces are being provided.


Ms. Zeller related that the applicant held a neighborhood meeting, facilitated by the Fulton Heights Neighborhood Association.  Details of the neighborhood engagement have been provided by both the applicant and the Neighborhood Association, which provided a transcript of their meeting.  The Neighborhood Association submitted a letter identifying comments received from neighborhood residents.  In general, comments were overwhelmingly in opposition to the project.  Comments included the grading that will result in the retaining wall up to 5 ft. in height along the length of the development.  They also expressed concerns about how many trees on their own properties would be affected due to construction or damage associated with the construction.  Neighbors are also concerned about the effect of lighting on both the east and west, as well as activity, noise and the lack of privacy.  Over 50 letters of opposition were submitted as well as one letter of support that identified the need for additional rental housing at all income levels in proximity to jobs.


Ms. Zeller provided a summary of the request and identified key considerations: consistency of the project with the recommendations of the Master Plan; the purpose and intent of the TN-LDR Zone District relative to density and neighborhood character; the appropriateness of the proposed density relative to the surrounding neighborhood; relationship of the buildings’ form, massing, design, and setback relative to the abutting properties; appropriateness of the expansion of the multi-family use and potential impacts on the surrounding neighborhood; physical impacts of the proposed construction on neighboring properties; and adequacy of transitional features, in the form of landscape buffer, setback from the adjacent residential properties, and building design.   Ms. Zeller identified the pattern of development in the area as a concern mentioned in a number of the letters.  As platted, lots back up to each other with houses setback 60’from their rear lot line.  Because of the configuration of this property, the new buildings will be at the side lot line

and a lot closer than a typical rear to rear neighborhood configuration.


Ms. Behler asked that Ms. Zeller clarify what appears to be an inconsistent density allowance in the Zoning District and the Master Plan; they seem to be different.


Ms. Zeller agreed that they are different.  In general, the density recommendation in the Master Plan reflects the single-family density of the neighborhood.  The density allowed with Special Land Use in the Zoning Ordinance allows a density that is much higher.  The key is to consider whether the density is appropriate for that site in that particular situation.


Ms. Behler asked that Ms. Zeller elaborate on the concern for trees being impacted on adjacent parcels.


Ms Zeller explained that there will be grading that occurs near the east lot line.  When the grading occurs, it can affect the root system of trees growing on neighboring properties.  The concern is that the construction will impact the off-site trees.


Mr. Treur asked the density of the previously proposed development the Planning Commission considered for the site.


Ms. Zeller replied that it was the same as is proposed.  She also replied that she didn’t recall the height of the previously proposed building.


Ms. Turkelson suggested the most significant change in the plan is going from one to three structures.


Steve Witte, Nederveld, was present on behalf of Michigan Street Apartment Homes, LLC.  He indicated that others present for the meeting are David Stebbins and Miria Rabideau from Michigan Street Apartment Homes, General Contractor Dean Rosendall from CopperRock, as well Architect Mark McDowell, MEM Designs.  Mr. Witte felt Ms. Zeller’s staff report and presentation were very thorough and covered everything quite well.  Mr. Witte elaborated on several points.  Mr. Witte acknowledged that the site was reviewed by the Commission a couple of years ago.  In their opinion they have made significant changes since that last request.  The biggest change is that the previous request had a single building, 16,643 sq. ft. in size, basically covering the entire footprint of where all three buildings are shown now.  The large building has been broken up into three smaller buildings, which increased the green space on the property and also provides a better fit and scaling for the area and setting. They reduced the number of bedrooms to only 38 new bedrooms.  A 6 ft. tall solid fence has been added around the entire property to enclose the property to, in essence, keep their users in and neighbors out.  That will obviously help to confine the use to the site in terms of people walking around and trash; the site will be contained.  The architecture was modified in appearance.  The owner also had neighborhood engagement discussions and attempted to address the neighbors’ concerns, where possible.  Mr. Witte noted that their submittal included a narrative, stating how each of the five Special Land Use Standards have been met.  He summarized the main points of the narrative.  The property is already being used as an apartment.  The proposed use is an expansion of the existing use as opposed to a new use altogether.  The existing apartment use has been there for many years.  The use and density are consistent with the Michigan Street Corridor Plan.  The density is actually less than the Ordinance allows with Special Land Use.  Technically they could request up to 45 units on the property and they are requesting 42, which equates to a density of 2,100 sq. ft. of land per unit.  Mr. Witte suggested that another key consideration is that even though they are adding 30 new units, there is actually only an additional 38 bedrooms.  The Ordinance looks at density based on the number of units.  The reality is that if you look at the number of bedrooms there are far fewer people on the property than what you would normally expect from 30 new/42 total units.  There is one bedroom for every 1,422 sq. ft. of land.  The number of people on the property will actually be relatively low in comparison to the number of units.  Mr. Witte also pointed out that the property directly abuts Michigan Street; a major, five-lane roadway.  Any concerns on traffic or density of the site and ability of surrounding streets to accommodate traffic is somewhat mitigated.  Finally, Mr. Witte stated that this project meets or exceeds all of the Zoning Ordinance requirements for Site Plan Review approval.  They aren’t seeking any variances.  There are greater building and parking setbacks than normally required to the west, east and south of the property.  They are providing 38.7% greenspace, which is in excess of the 30% requirement.  The tree canopy exceeds the 37% requirement.  Buildings are 24’ tall; 35 ft. is allowed.  All lighting will be fully screened and no new curb cuts are being requested for the project.  Mr. Witte stated that the proposed grading follows the natural fall of the property from the east down to the west.  They are providing extensive landscaping around the perimeter of the site.  All stormwater from the site is collected and detained, per City standards, with underground storm chambers.  The outlet for the storm sewer is a storm sewer in Michigan Street.  Mr. Witte suggested this project will actually help the drainage problems in the area because everything currently sheet flows off the property to the west.  The development will result in their water being collected on site.  Sufficient parking has been provided and the site will be serviced by public utilities.  Mr. Witte related that they received all of the letters submitted by neighbors.  He recognized there were a number of comments regarding the existing trees or wooded area being removed.  He fully understands that a majority of people would likely prefer having property overlooking a wooded area than a residential setting.  The reality is that this is private property and the property owner has some rights.  The property is zoned for residential, which is what is proposed.  While they understand that concern, they also feel the residential use is a needed use in the city and does fit in with the area.  The existing trees on the site are second growth vegetation and they are proposing new trees and landscaping around the perimeter of the site.  Mr. Witte acknowledged the concern about the retaining wall along the east end potentially impacting trees on neighboring properties.  They sent their survey crew out to the property to accurately survey all of the trees near the east property line.  East of building two there are trees that are right on the property line.  Mr. Witte isn’t sure if those trees would survive when the retaining wall is installed.  Their landscape architect advised that typically you can use the drip line of the tree as a rule of thumb for how close you can get with grading.  The trees behind building one will likely be fine because no grading is proposed there.  The trees northeast of building two are far enough off the property line that he doesn’t believe they will be impacted. In the area of the retaining wall the land falls off from the east to the west.  There is a 13-14 ft. grade difference across the site.  Looking from a neighboring property from the east toward the west, the retaining wall won’t be visible.  The only ones that will see the retaining wall are those on the subject site or people from the west looking past the proposed buildings to the retaining wall.  Additionally, the proposed buildings are actually now sunken below grade as it relates to the property to the east.  Looking from the property to the east they won’t see a full two-stories.


Dean Rosendall repeated that they have substantially lowered the bedroom count.  Workforce housing is obviously needed in the area and he feels this meets that need. There are already apartments on the site.  Mr. Rosendall feels the three smaller buildings with green space between them are much more fitting than the previously proposed long building and provides the neighborhood feel.  Mr. Rosendall related that he has never had trees on an adjacent property impacted by grading.  He agreed that those on the property line could be.  Mr. Rosendall felt the property owner would be comfortable committing to helping to replace any trees on adjacent property that don’t make it.  They’ve tried to address concerns they heard previously.  The city is in need of housing and the overall density isn’t excessive in the project.


Mr. Van Strien opened the public hearing.


Cynthia Savara, 345 Baynton, related that she is a 29-year resident and is opposed to the project.  The only by-right use in this district is a single-family home.  Apparently, the applicant didn’t complete due diligence regarding the potential use of the property.  Ms. Savara provided a summary of the input from the 2019 opposition to this proposal. There was a petition with 141 signatures, 30+ letters of opposition, and 12 people spoke in opposition at the hearing.  One person spoke in support, which was Mr. McDowell, the architect on the project.  Mr. McDowell has since sold his home on Alten.  Ms. Savara related that in response to this request a petition of opposition with 229 signatures, 50 letters of opposition, and a letter from the Neighborhood Association were submitted.  The petition includes a number of comments and relates length of residency, which ranges from a few months to 80 years.  Fulton Heights is a well-established neighborhood where people live for decades.  Many of the neighbors are aging place, which is one of the goals of the City.  Ms. Savara also referred to the staff report noting that the Michigan Street Corridor Plan encourages capitalizing on transit investments.  Due to COVID-19, Spectrum Health hasn’t used their commuter lot at 1503 Michigan for roughly a year.  Per The Rapid, Route 19 has been suspended since late March 2020, meaning there is no current bus service and no expectation for that to happen anytime soon.  The nearest bus stop is approximately a half mile away.  Ms. Savara is concerned that the additional 30 units on this 1.9 acre property will increase the maximum occupancy to 130 people, which is not consistent with the 2002 Master Plan for the neighborhood.  This is a unique parcel of land and she hoped the Commission had an opportunity to review photos attached to several letters.  There are single-family homes on three sides, the only access is Michigan and there is no street parking on Michigan.  The use will have adverse effects on adjacent properties, the Fulton Heights neighborhood, and result in an increase in traffic.


Aaron Schaut noted that a number of people have given reasons why this development shouldn’t be approved. Some speak to the technicality and practically and others on a more personal level.  Mr. Schaut stated that he agrees with the technical and practical reasons without reiterating them.  On a personal level, he related that he suffered greatly from the housing market crash in 2007.  He worked hard to pay his mortgage on time in the Alger Heights neighborhood.  Due to circumstances beyond his control, he was forced to let the house go.  It took many years to obtain a credit score worthy of purchasing another home.  Since childhood he has always looked at the Fulton Heights neighborhood as an ideal place to live.  He purchased his home with the impression that its resale value should not be affected to the extent that his prior homes resale value was. He is right next to the property in question.  The idea of this apartment complex going up on this small parcel of land is heartbreaking and makes him incredibly weary.  Like many, he has and continues to invest in his home making improvements.  He has had to be compliant with the look and feel of this area and doesn’t see how the proposed development fits into the character of the neighborhood.  There are a lot of opportunities to build in the right areas in Grand Rapids.  There are multiple apartment buildings to the north of Michigan Street.  Mr. Schaut asked that the Planning Commission look to build a better Grand Rapids in those areas rather than collapse the character of this neighborhood.


Kayla Domeyer, 323 Alten, related that she had her own tree service consider the plans and she has been advised there is a more than 50% chance that her trees will be lost due to the grading approximately 7 ft. from the base of the trees.  Chasing an absentee owner for a promised replacement tree isn’t a good basis for a relationship.  Ms. Domeyer hasn’t heard expressed concern about seeing the retaining wall but there has been concern expressed about the risk it poses to the integrity of their structures if not properly maintained.  Ms. Domeyer recalled that the original variance for development of the site was granted in 1961.  At that time television was still black and white and we were eight years away from landing on the moon.  However, every one of the abutting properties to this development were already in place.  Most were there for over a decade, some since 1920’s.  In 1961 Fulton Heights was already an established neighborhood built with WWII small parcel lots and single-family homes.  The 1961 decision placed a strange outlier into the established neighborhood but for the past 60 years that outlier has remained the only building of its type.  Ms. Domeyer suggested it is the duty of the Planning Commission to think of the next 60 years.  Just as the planners in 1961 could not have imagined that these small homes would become a pocket of neighborhood living against the towering glass of medical mile, no one can properly predict what Grand Rapids, the property, or ownership will be like in 60 years. For that reason, the guidelines about congruence, character, and neighborhood density exist; to layout and protect now what is planned for the future.  If this land use is approved, these deeply established homes will be overshadowed by modern and incongruent set of three massive footprint buildings in comparison, allowing an occupancy of nearly all the homes surrounding put together, with a development that will dwarf even the existing 12-unit building.  In one land use decision, the traditional neighborhood style, history and desirability of the adjacent properties will be diminished.  Ms. Domeyer imagined the next 60 years allowing outlier after outlier until what was established long before 1961 isn’t even visible among the outliers.  Ms. Domeyer asked that the Commission think of the next 60 years and deny this land use for the number of ways it doesn’t fit into the Master Plan or guidelines and for the same reasons it was denied when previously considered.


Fred Stella, resident of 234 Baynton for 24 years, expressed his opposition relating that his reasons for opposition are grounded in the decision that was handed down by the Planning Commission previously.  After listening to residents concerns about the proposal they have come back with a supposedly new and improved plan that resembles the old plan too much, with little improvement.  The development would be out of character with the low-density classification this area has, which is affirmed by the City’s Master Plan.  Mr. Stella related that he recently served on a committee to review the Plan.  He asked what is the point of involving citizens to create the Plans if they are ignored.  The proposed project is not consistent with the character of the neighborhood, architecturally or otherwise.  The increase of traffic and parking overflow will have an adverse effect on Baynton and Alten.  They are already used as a short cut by people coming off of Michigan.  The development will adversely affect the homes that surround the property in question.  The neighborhood acknowledges that they don’t own the green space that exists there now but would hope the subject property owner would take into consideration the significant, drastic, negative changes that residents would incur; excessive traffic, noise, and visual clutter.  The subject of walkability was brought up in the 2019 consideration.  This proposal would hinder the right of way of pedestrians as walkways to Michigan are not provided.  The denial of the 2019 request holds true today; the proposal would be detrimental to the financial stability and economic welfare of the City because the project would have a destabilizing effect on a desirable neighborhood.


Mr. Van Strien left for the remainder of the meeting and Mr. Rozeboom again took over as Vice-chair.


John Rietveld, 345 Alten, related that his home is directly east of the existing apartment building.  He is opposed to the proposed Special Land Use due to the negative impact it will have on the low-density neighborhood.  He related that one reason he doesn’t consider his home his potential forever home is because of the existing apartment building.  Using the existence of that apartment building as a reason to expand the use doesn’t make sense. It has a direct line of vision into his back yard, as well as his west facing windows.  Overall, it makes his home feel like it isn’t part of a neighborhood.  He feels a huge lack of privacy in his own back yard.


John Hamp, 348 Baynton, expressed his strong opposition.  He currently gets trash thrown over the fence from the existing apartment building and anticipates that problem worsening. The existing car ports are an eyesore.  Mr. Hamp would expect the residents on Alten to be livid about the building proposed 14 ft. from the property line.


Mamie Grazianno, 245 Baynton, is concerned that once an exception is made to low density that they will see other properties redeveloped, similar to what has happened in Belknap.  The green space they propose installing, most of which is lawn, doesn’t help much in terms of air quality.  Chances are they will use chemical fertilizers and pesticides that will run off into yards on Baynton Street.  The proposed trees and bushes are lower canopy plantings that won’t ever really grow high enough to provide shade, provide wildlife habitat, or screen the view of the apartment complex.  Ms. Grazianno also noted that the neighborhood is just south of the highway, resulting in an incredible amount of air and noise pollution.  The loss of the trees will increase that problem.


Matthew Channing, 147 Lowell NE, expressed support for the project.  He related that he doesn’t live within a 300 ft. radius of the development but believes it will impact everyone in the area for the better.  It is an opportunity to show that we can be a more inclusive neighborhood with a diverse range of dwellings meeting a diverse range of social and economic needs.  The proposed is ideally located close to green space and shopping, being less than a ½ mile to Family Fare and ¼ of a mile to Hillcrest Park and the community garden.  These are rich neighborhood amenities that should be shared by as many as possible.  The Michigan Street Corridor Plan showed that this could be a medium density residential area.  100 years ago this area was just blossoming into a residential area.  He is glad they had the foresight then to realize what it could be; providing more housing to more people.  It is important to continue to change and grow and respond to the current and future needs of Grand Rapids.  Approving this project would show that this can be a neighborhood of change and inclusivity.  Mr. Channing understands that the bus line isn’t currently running.  However, if there was demand for it, it would return.  Additionally, it is less than a ¼ mile to Route 14 on Fulton.  The proposed units can add vitality to the businesses in the area.  Mr. Channing sees this as a benefit both socially and economically for the neighborhood.


Stephanie Johnson, 324 Baynton, related that she is a resident and small business owner in the East Fulton Business District.  Ms. Johnson has been involved in the neighborhood and business associations, supporting growth in the area.  She understands the city’s unique challenges. Not only does she support the growth of the city but understands the need for housing at all income levels and the approval of efficient and palatable mixed use.  Ms. Johnson suggested challenges and urgent needs are reasonably temporary and trendy.  In her opinion, drastic and permanent alterations to existing neighborhoods will not help the city reach its long-term goals of being a desirable place to live, work and play.  Disproportionate and out of scale quick fixes will reduce the desirability in an otherwise long-standing, stable, unique neighborhood. Having watched the East Fulton and Uptown neighborhood grow over the last 12 years she has been part of decisions on proposed development and programs where they have weighed proportion, compatibility, desirability, and cohesiveness as key variables with the decisions resulting in sustainable growth.  They have evaluated each proposed project’s unique benefits, or lack thereof, to the fullest.  Ms. Johnson asked that the same consideration be given to this proposed development.  The necessity of growth in the city shouldn’t supersede the integrity of the unique neighborhoods.  How will the unique identities of the neighborhoods be protected if this invasive and disproportionate project is approved? Ms. Johnson summarized that her opposition is about disproportionate scale, proximity to existing homes, and depth of the proposed structure in an otherwise stable and unique neighborhood.  Ms. Johnson asked that the Planning Commission deny the request.


Pat DeKryger, 1573 Innes NE, related that she lives on the south side of the development and will look down on the three car ports that come within feet of her property line.  She has asked about fencing and doesn’t believe vinyl fencing will screen views at all.  She has asked for mature pine trees and been told no.  Ms. DeKryger can see lights from Michigan Street already and will now look down on car lights coming into three different car ports.  She anticipates property values plummeting.  Ms. DeKryger expressed her strong opposition to the development.


Kathleen Ryan, 1527 Lyon NE, expressed opposition to this type of structure going up in the neighborhood as it will likely impact the property value and appeal of the homes, specifically on Alten, Baynton and Innes.  Ms. Ryan asked that the traffic patterns of Michigan Street be considered.  The intersection of Michigan and Fuller is significantly busy now and she is concerned what the traffic resulting from the development would amount to.  The south side of Michigan in the Fulton Heights neighborhood area is primarily single-family dwellings, which is what drew her to the neighborhood and one of the aspects she would like to maintain in the neighborhood.  The homes have great character and it is a high-quality environment.  She would hate to see that lost.


Robin Connell, resident on Baynton, expressed opposition.  The potential of increased traffic is concerning.  She agreed that the intersection of Michigan and Fuller is already congested.  Ms. Connell stated that she thinks about what has happened in the Belknap neighborhood.  She doesn’t know the history, and perhaps there isn’t/wasn’t as much owner-occupied housing, but residents of this area are concerned that if the Special Land Use is granted that houses could be bought up and redeveloped.


Mr. Rozeboom closed the public hearing.


Mr. Witte responded to comments.  He expressed appreciation for the expressed concerns and realizes that, in general, people prefer to have the view of woods and open space to that of structures.  He also understands the character of the area and how the proposed is a higher residential use than the low-density single-family homes.  However, the site is within the Michigan Street corridor, which calls for a higher density.  Muti-family is permitted in the LDR as a Special Land Use.  The proposed density is less than what is permitted and only 38 new bedrooms are proposed, equating to an overall project of one bedroom for every 1,422 sq. ft. of land.  All site plan and zoning requirements are fully addressed with the project. No variances or waivers are being requested.  With respect to neighboring trees, they have done an accurate survey of all trees along the east property line and he has consulted with their landscape architect who relates that grading outside of the drip line of the trees should not result in damage to them.  Mr. Witte acknowledged again that there are two trees east of proposed building #2 that are right on the property line and in his opinion, those are the questionable trees.  Based on the existing grade east of building #1, there isn’t a significant cut so he doesn’t believe any of the trees in that area are an issue.  The neighbor concerned about the loss of her trees also asked about the structural integrity of existing garages.  In similar situations, structural and geotechnical engineers relate that the rule of thumb is not to disturb a one-on-one slope going down from the existing structure.  From the east property line, they are proposing a one on two slope, which is flatter than a one-on-one slope.  Therefore, he doesn’t anticipate the retaining wall having any impact on any accessory structures along the east property line.  Pending approval, they can have a geotechnical engineer review that in great detail.  Mr. Witte understands the expressed concern about privacy from the back yards.  The three buildings are lower than the property to the east so the second floor of the proposed buildings would basically be level with the property to the east.  They are also proposing a 6 ft. tall solid fence along the property line, as well as landscaping.  The landscape architect specifically designed the landscaping for screening, which includes evergreen plantings.  The landscape directive given was to screen headlights and the site from neighboring properties and the landscape architect specifically had that in mind when designing the plantings.  Mr. Witte recalled mention of the concern for trash infiltrating adjacent property, which should be mitigated by the proposed solid fence. The existing carports are to be repaired and modified so that headlights don’t shine through them.  Mr. Witte clarified for the resident to the south that no new carports are proposed as part of this project; it would be surface parking.  He pointed out that the existing grade of the property to the south is at an elevation of approximately 738 and the floors of the proposed buildings are at 730 and the solid fencing and landscape screening will be provided there for further screening.  With respect to traffic, they aren’t proposing any new curb cuts.  Michigan Street is a five-lane roadway, sized for a significant amount of traffic, which is likely part of the reason it is part of the Corridor Plan; it is suited for pedestrian traffic and the additional use for this sort of project.


Dr. Wallace asked for some information as to their property management, based on the comment related to the existing development resulting in trash on adjacent property.


Heather Brand, operations manager, expressed appreciation for the comments and concerns shared by neighbors.  She explained that the management team is in Grand Rapids and is a team of nearly 12 people now.  They are on site at nearly every property in the downtown area every day.  Maintenance does a great job of visiting the property and picking up trash at least every other day.  Residents are also good about it and are very good about communicating to management what is happening on site.  Any issues of loitering or dumping will likely be addressed with the development of what is now unoccupied area on the site.  Ms. Brand related that they have a lot of long-term residents in the existing building and all potential residents are subject to a criminal background and credit check.  Ms. Brand responded to Mr. Rozeboom regarding Redstone’s property management experience.  Redstone has been a property management company for six years.  The parent company is Redstone Homes, a home builder in Grand Rapids for 25 years.  They own 41 units in Heritage Hill, the existing 12 units on Michigan Street, 18 units in Comstock Park, 36 in Caledonia, a 104-unit property in Hudsonville, 14 units in Jenison, approximately 60 units in Holland, and a 44-unit property in Wayland.  They have a lot of experience, with over 100 years of combined property management background in the office.


Ms. Behler began the deliberation.  She recalled that she was present for the last consideration of this property.  She appreciates the change in structures as well as the continued green space.  The density aspect can be confusing in a typically single-family neighborhood but, in this case, it does meet the standard.  Ms. Behler expressed some concern regarding the steep slopes and appreciates the applicant explaining that.  It appears that the storm water management will be an improvement to existing conditions.  Ms. Behler related that she is inclined to support the project despite the significant public input in opposition, given the consistent approach to trying to add housing in the community.


Mr. Treur related that he continues to struggle with the project.  He also appreciates the need for more housing, as well as the work that was done with the Michigan Street Corridor Plan and the desire to add more multi-family housing.  However, as previously discussed, he believes the Plan anticipated that closer to the downtown area vs. on the edges.  He remains concerned with multi-family buildings being plopped in the middle of a low-density residential neighborhood.  Mr. Treur appreciates the changes that have been made.  The fencing helps and the three separate buildings are an improvement but he continues to struggle with the proposal.


Dr. Brame related that he is addressing some personal concerns at the present time and is participating in the meeting from a hospital parking lot.  However, he has heard the presentation and public comment and wished to go on record that he is in support of this project should his connection to the meeting be lost.


Mr. Rozeboom asked Mr. Treur to elaborate on what he anticipates to be adverse effects with placing higher density in the middle of the lower density neighborhood, besides the obvious loss of the visibility of a nice wooded lot.


Mr. Treur agreed that the visible change is part of it, as well as traffic concerns that were expressed.  He feels a bit better knowing that the land slopes down and that the buildings are lower but typically these developments are located on the edge of a neighborhood and don’t affect neighbors on three different sides.


Ms. Shannon doesn’t feel the size or configuration of the property is suited to the proposal.  There is a lot of site work that has to be done.  The potential for traffic impacts and harm to existing trees is a deterrent to this kind of proposal.


Mr. Greenwald stated that he has had the benefit of living in northeast Grand Rapids for nearly 70 years and is familiar with the area.  The neighbors’ concerns about the single-family low-density neighborhood have some validity because it has been that way for as long as he can recall.  That being said, this property is oriented to Michigan Street, which is a very busy corridor.  Traffic in and out of this development would be solely on Michigan Street.  The developer is basically isolating the development with a wall around it. Even though the back half of the property hasn’t been developed, the property has been a multi-family rental property for at least 50 years.  The biggest thing will be the loss of the trees on the site.  Mr. Greenwald feels the developer has done a great deal in an effort to mitigate that, as well as other problems such as drainage.  Mr. Greenwald indicated that he would tend to support the project at this point.


Dr. Wallace agreed and empathized with the neighbors but also respects the rights of the property owner.  It is always a struggle to see things change.  Dr. Wallace commended the outreach efforts of the applicant team to take requests of the neighborhood into consideration.  Dr. Wallace indicated that while she understands the concerns of the neighbors, she would support the project.


Mr. Rozeboom indicated that that’s where he is as well.  He was on the fence with the previous proposal.  This proposal is better and, for the reasons stated, he would support it.


Ms. Behler MOVED, NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Planning Commission approves the Special Land Use and Site Plan Review request of Michigan Street Apartment Homes, LLC (Gary Hensch) for approval to construct a 30-unit multiple-family development consisting of three two-story buildings behind an existing twelve-unit apartment building at 1542 Michigan Street NE, for the following reasons:


1.              The proposed use will be consistent with the purpose and intent of the Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance, including the Zone District, because the proposed use will increase the number and variety of housing units in the city; meet the underlying intent of the MCN-LDR (Mid-20th Century Neighborhood – Low Density Residential) Zone District to create, maintain and promote a variety of housing opportunities for individual households.  The proposed use will support the goals outlined in the Master Plan “Great Neighborhoods” chapter that are supportive of the provision of housing types other than single-family detached residential including: GN3 – Provide a broad range of high-quality housing choices; GN3a – Maintain and increase the number and variety of housing units; GN3b – Allow for new housing products; and GN3c – Allow for a range of housing types within all neighborhoods.  The proposed use is also consistent with the Michigan Street Corridor Plan.

2.              The proposed use will meet the Site Plan Review Standards of Section 5.12.08.E. because the residential use is at an appropriate density for the size and nature of the site; every building, structure or dwelling unit is provided with adequate means of ingress and egress by public and private streets and walkways; elements of the site design are harmoniously and efficiently organized in relation to the size and character of the site and the type, size and proportions of buildings; and natural features including elevation changes are incorporated into the proposed site design to the maximum extent practicable and will improve drainage issues for the site and surrounding areas.

3.              The proposed use will be compatible, harmonious and appropriate with the character and uses of the neighborhood, adjacent properties, and the natural environment because the proposed buildings will be scaled, oriented, and sited in a manner consistent with the existing apartment building on the site and the proposed high-density residential development will be located along a major street and transit route, as recommended for such developments in the TN-LDR Zone District.

4.              The proposed use will not have adverse effects on the neighborhood because the building and entrances will be appropriately oriented; adequate parking is being provided; the parking area will be screened from view of the public right-of-way and neighboring properties; and it allows for the reasonable use of a parcel that is unusually configured relative to the surrounding neighborhood.

5.              The proposed use will not be detrimental, hazardous, or disturbing to existing or future uses or to the public welfare by reason of excessive traffic, noise, glare, or visual clutter because adequate setbacks will be provided to abutting residential uses; the proposed buildings will meet the transparency and façade variation requirements of the Traditional Neighborhood; and sound and light will be buffered by extensive landscaping.

6.              The proposed use would not adversely affect the walkability of the neighborhood, impair pedestrian circulation patterns, disrupt the continuity of the urban street wall or otherwise hinder the creation of a pedestrian-oriented environment because the proposed building does not change the pedestrian experience along Michigan Street and adequate pedestrian walkways and connections to the sidewalk on Michigan Street will be provided.

7.              The proposed development will retain as many natural features of the landscape as practicable because trees and shrubs will be planted on-site to meet the landscape buffer and tree canopy requirements and the site grading proposed meets the criteria for an administrative departure, contiguous steep slopes on the site being less than 10,000 sq. ft.

8.              Adequate public or private infrastructure and services do already exist or would be provided at no additional cost, and will safeguard the health, safety, and general welfare of the public because the site is already improved and will require a limited amount of new infrastructure and additional stormwater infrastructure will improve existing issues in the neighborhood.

9.              The proposed use would not be detrimental to the financial stability and economic welfare of the City because the additional units contribute to the tax base.


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the following conditions of approval shall apply to this project:


1.              Standard Condition Set A. Approvals:

i.              That the application and plans submitted by the applicant and signed, dated and stamped by the Planning Director, shall constitute the approved plans, except if plan elements do not meet ordinance requirements and/or as amended in this resolution.

ii.              That the use shall operate according to the application and per testimony as recorded in the Planning Commission minutes.

iii.              That this approval does not include any proposed signs, and any future signs shall be subject to the requirements of Article 15 of the ordinance and permits received prior to installation.

iv.              That a Land Use Development Services (LUDS) permit, building permit, and all other required permits be obtained from the City of Grand Rapids prior to construction, demolition, or operation.

v.              That any expansion of the approved Special Land Use requires an additional Special Land Use review and approval by the Planning Commission.

vi.              That the proposed use will comply with all other applicable City ordinances and policies and all State laws.

vii.              That this approval shall take effect 16 calendar days after the date of the Planning Commission’s decision.


SUPPORTED by Dr. Brame.


Ms. Behler accepted Mr. Rozeboom’s suggestion of also citing the Michigan Street Corridor Plan under the first standard.


The question was called.  YEAS: 5  (Behler, Brame, Greenwald, Wallace, Rozeboom).  NAYS:  2 (Shannon & Treur).  MOTION CARRIED BY ROLL CALL VOTE.


Dr. Brame left the meeting.



MOVER:              Stacie Behler, Board Member

SECONDER:              Walter M Brame, Board Member

YEAS:              Rozeboom, Brame, Greenwald, Behler, Wallace

NAYS:              Rick Treur, Susan Shannon

ABSENT:              Laurel Joseph

AWAY:              Kyle Van Strien