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x99 last won the day on July 21 2012

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  1. The "Affordable Housing" Discussion in GR

    I took a few minutes and actually went through the Planning Commission minutes and a few of the neighborhood association websites, including East Hills, Eastown, West Grand, Midtown, and Heritage Hill. Midtown says nothing about it. East Hills links back to Eastown. West Grand is very informative and almost neutral. Eastown has some good information, a little powerpoint, and a set of "talking points" against it (some focused on the "this does nothing for affordable housing" angle and is "supply side" nonsense). Heritage Hill has some information and a big letter from them opposing it, repeating many of the same points. Heritage Hill also has an infographic claiming "all blue areas will allow 2 to 4 units by right with a lot size that mirrors block pattern and one car per unit." I won't rehash all of what I've posted before, but that is highly misleading. 3-4 units still requires a 90' wide lot. 2 units still need to add the required off-street parking. It's no wonder the neighborhood associations are up in arms if they think vast numbers of houses can simply be flipped over into 4 units, or duplexes with no added parking. It seems to me that something went wrong in the communication process by the city. That, or the neighborhoods ignored the information they were given and decided to hit the panic button.
  2. The "Affordable Housing" Discussion in GR

    Revisiting this multifamily/duplex stuff, which is interesting to me since it's the first real attempt by the city to address a problem that has been festering for ages. The latest update is that the city commission pushed the proposals back to the end of next month. Does anyone know if they have to adopt them as they came out the planning commission, or if they can take only what they like and amend on the fly? Some added analysis after I had some time to go back and look at this stuff: If it is a package, the 500' and "every corner lot" pieces could be fatal. West Grand has a website up with all of the areas outlined: http://westgrand.org/maps-by-neighborhood. 500' gets pretty deep into some of these neighborhoods. Left out of the hysteria of some neighborhood associations is this: The draft text (https://www.grandrapidsmi.gov/files/assets/public/initatives/housing-now/recommendations/housing-advisory-committee-recommendation-3.pdf) has a HUGE limitation on where MULTIFAMILY housing can actually be located: The draft changes say repeatedly that multifamily development is subject to a section 5.9.20 of the zoning code. That restricts multifamily to a certain set of high traffic streets, or within 200 feet of them; it also requires lots at least 90 feet wide. In practice, I suspect that is a tiny number of eligible lots. What this really does, in practice, is significantly expand the options for non-owner occupied DUPLEXES. Nearly all of the blue highlighted lots on West Grand's website would qualify, as long as the lot was an "average" lot. I assume the off-street parking requirements for 2 off street spaces per unit also remain. If so, that again probably reduces the number of interior lots where this could be pulled off. Greenspace requirements can make the parking difficult. What the planning commission needs to do is withdraw this, and redraft it to make it clear that multi-families are allowed ONLY on the busy streets. I would think that would wipe out most of the opposition on that front. Then they need to come up with some rule other than "500 feet" for duplexes. I'm going to go with a permit application fee of $150, notice to adjacent neighbors, and if they object, you get a planning commission hearing, no additional charge. That wipes out the "neighborhood input" griping. See: https://mibiz.com/news/real-estate/item/25575-density-at-what-cost-zoning-proposals-spark-tensions-between-grand-rapids-policymakers,-neighborhoods. Then there is this: “I get what they’re trying to do, but don’t get the way they’re trying to do it,” said Lynn Rabaut, a former Grand Rapids City Commissioner and current member of the Board of Zoning Appeals. “Lots of cities are increasing their housing stock and it’s not bringing down prices. If they’re increasing stock just to bring affordability, it’s not going to work.” How do you deal with that? Basic education regarding the laws of supply and demand? Perhaps a set of real estate listing showing that 900 square feet rents cheaper than 1800?
  3. The "Affordable Housing" Discussion in GR

    Don't get me off track on the city-funded "neighborhood associations"... Some of them do decent work. I suspect most of them just take city money to hire a "neighborhood activist" dressed up as a "nonprofit director" and flush the money right down the toilet. So far as ADUs, 500sf is is really small. If they want people to build these things, they need to offer a reasonable return. For a proper two bedroom unit with separate bath, kitchen, bedroom, and living room, you need more space. What they are trying to do, to an extent, is to find a way to roll back the zoning code to about 1946 to 1950, when we had a huge housing crunch. Over the last 80 years, most American cities forgot how to be cities as they tried to look more like the suburbs that stole their mojo. In the process, they robbed from themselves their own ability to adapt to changing conditions (with significant thanks to a cronyism-infested building code). Hopefully, the tables are turning and they will rediscover how a city is supposed to function. And that ain't with 2000 square foot houses with 2 people in them on every lot. In higher demand areas, you do, in fact, knock over the crappy old house on the corner and put up a quadplex with no yard (or split the thing into a triplex or quadplex). You do take 3000 square foot houses and cut them up in appropriate locations. You do recognize that you cannot and should not gut the places, but still try to provide some reasonable levels of fire safety (i.e. wirelessly interconnected hardwired smokes vs other more onerous methods). The challenge is not in deciding whether these things ought to be done, but where and how. If you don't, well, you get no new housing units when you desperately need them. [One small note: I'm harping on this fire separation stuff because it is a huge obstacle. ADUs have been very successful in many Washington and Oregon cities, where they often locally amended to code to allow the interconnected smoke detector alternative. I don't believe Michigan allows local amendments. Grand Rapids would need to push for a statewide amendment, unless the fire chief could sign off under the fire code, with the position that the IRC is subsidiary to the IBC, where my recollection is that the local fire chief has the authority to approve stuff. I waded through this once years ago but not recently. All I remember is that the codes are a mess on figuring out which one controls. Technical details, but crucial to making ADUs viable. (probably why cities where there are a lot of them have done this).. ]
  4. The "Affordable Housing" Discussion in GR

    Right. Even with the new percentages, you still needed a HUGE house to get the full 850 square feet since it was keyed to I think 40% of the area of the PRIMARY dwelling. So you're still talking at least a 2000+ square foot primary residence to hit 800 square feet. It was stupid. Then, don't forget you also have to pay nearly $2000 just as an "application fee" for an ADU, and it may or may not be approved. The most sane proposal would have been to life off the size cap on the ADU entirely and boost it to 50% of the total floor area. Basically this allows an up/down split two unit with an owner occupant requirement. The 500 foot thing was truly stupid. I have no idea why they did that. It would basically trash huge parts of traditional single family areas. By bundling it with that, I think it's going to be a poison pill that kills the whole thing. But I'm not sure it would have made a difference regarding opposition, the neighborhood associations would have screamed NIMBY about anything. They want a seat at the table, but I'm not sure what any of them have done to show the city they deserve one. They claim to be concerned about rising rents and affordability, but what they really mean is that they want a bunch of LIHTC housing for poor people stuffed into someone else's neighborhood. Heaven forbid anyone put up a traditional four-unit or even a duplex in their neighborhood. The real problem is that the building code and zoning code have basically conspired to make existing housing stock far less useful than it ought to be. Want a real fix? Here's one: Allow conversion to a 3 to 4 unit of ANY house in excess of 3000 square feet, and 2 unit for anything over 2000 square feet, provided that not less than 900 square feet is owner occupied, and that adequate off-street parking is provided for additional units. Easy to judge owner occupant compliance by the principal residence exemption filing. Then modify the building code to provide certain limited fire and building code waivers to make the conversions actually possible/affordable without gutting the house. Allow wirelessly interconnected but hardwired smoke detectors and blown cellulose or fiberglass in the walls or between floors to act as a permitted substitute for other fire measures that normally would be required. What you need to be able to do is to use existing housing stock more intelligently with shrinking family sizes. That would do it.
  5. The "Affordable Housing" Discussion in GR

    Another encouraging recent development I've been following: The city is finally trying to do something about increasing density and addressing the "missing middle" in the near-downtown neighborhoods. A few zoning changes are proposed: Make it easier to "build" an accessory dwelling unit. Also known as a "granny flat". CityLab has a good article. https://www.citylab.com/design/2018/01/the-granny-flats-are-coming/550388/. The second change is allowing duplexes by right on corner lots. The third change is allowing multifamily by right within 500' of commercially zoned areas. The discouraging development? Blowback from the neighborhood associations (all city funded, ironically), who seem to be complaining about ALL of this. It will be interesting to see how this plays itself out. Sure, item #3 is probably a bridge too far (originally it was 100 feet, but then the PC cranked it up to 500 feet ... probably as a reaction to the intense griping...), but making granny flats easier seems reasonable, and some limited two unit permitting seems reasonable too. No, the regs they drafted are not perfect and in some cases are just stupid. It's too bad there hasn't been any constructive feedback from the neighborhoods associations other than NIMBY NIMBY NIMBY. Disappointing. This being UrbanPlanet, maybe we have some actual good idea about how to get this right. Any good ideas out there?
  6. Venting schmenting! Really quick and rough back-of-napkin math puts about a $100,000 value on each parking space, before expenses (which should be nominal due to the attachment to the existing lot with gate, security, maintenance, and upkeep in place). That's guesstimating $17 a day for night parkers 20 days a week on top of $150ish monthly parker income per space, and a somewhat high 6% return. I might be high my income guess, but I bet not too much... Even if it costs $60k per space, it's peanuts. However you figure it, the dirt is probably worth more as a parking lot than a building, particularly given the wonderful location facing a highway abutment. All things considered, this the rare instance where I don't consider surface parking a particularly bad use. The existing lot is waitlisted to infinity and beyond--years, last I heard. You've got to put parking somewhere, and this is a pretty good place. Incidentally, I do think it ridiculous that anyone would pay nearly a million dollars for a small building and knock it over for a parking lot. Don't like it? Talk to the City of Grand Rapids about it. Their policies encourage this. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Limiting the parking supply and running up the prices while subsidizing buses people don't/won't/can't use creates a perverse set of incentives and is a really stupid way to operate an urban core. It is actually anti-density. If you consider parking a public good (like transit), and build ramps and subsidize them or run them for no profit, it suddenly makes land more valuable as space for buildings and facilitates bringing in more buildings to use the buildings. But I digress.)
  7. It is expensive, but if all they have to do is dig a hole and use spancrete, versus a whole ramp, it probably is not that bad compared to the ROI Ellis would get on the parking. The monthly passes in this location are just gravy on top of the Arena goldmine.
  8. Wealthy Street Needed Renovations

    So they did. That is also a nice building. And they have gotten better at it since then. 180 Monroe still suffers a little from the "peel off brick facade" look. The building posted above makes much better use of brick as a building material, and carries out the look of a load-bearing facade very nicely. I hope they get hired for more work like this for historic district infill.
  9. Wealthy Street Needed Renovations

    New construction? Sounds like it.... Some (I think) good advice on this: Since you already have buildings on the street, you know what sort of buildings exist there. Pay attention when designing to get something approvable. You've dealt with Wealthy enough that I'm sure you've figured out the real non-starters, though... My second piece of advice would be to look at Dixon Architecture in Ada. Their low-rise work on their Ada headquarters project is beyond exemplary, along with much of their other design work there. Rarely do I say someone completely nailed it, but on their new building, they did. It exemplifies what the lost art of a load-bearing facade should look like.
  10. Keeler Building - 56 North Division

    Wow. Didn't see that one coming.
  11. Amazon looking for a city to put HQ2

    Great. Don't let the door hit you. If you really think the grass is greener elsewhere, go find out.
  12. New projects on the West Side

    Oh, come on. That's a new style called scrap yard chic.
  13. This is Grand Rapids, so don't worry. If everything stays the usual course, they'll find a way to make it look far worse for the final product. It's rather shameful that they found a way to make 12 stories look squat and plump. Do we have no architects with halfway decent urban design skills? It's sickening how poor the architectural quality of most of this junk truly is. For a project of this size, scale, and cost it would have made sense to have a design contest. Too bad.
  14. Diamond Place at the Proos Site

    Well, the whole building sort of looks like they ran out of money 3/4 of the way up... but they designed it that way, so....
  15. To roughly quote a Colliers rep (I believe) from earlier this year in what may have been a GRBJ article... "I can't even tell you how many leases that didn't happen because of the parking situation." My point is this: Slapping up a ramp out by the library does nothing to rectify that situation unless the ramp somehow frees up a large swathe of passes in the actual downtown. Whether it makes sense or not, telling potential tenants you can get them space half a mile away isn't going to cause one more lease to be inked, or one more store to open its doors. They would have to lease a ramp with a $40,000+ per space construction cost for $100 a space to get people to use in a way that was meaningful to the downtown crunch. That vastly underutilized County parcel could make a real difference, and probably for a more realistic cost profile. Why are there no "serious" discussions? I think it is because of the "message" it would send: That the city actually WILL add spaces downtown and deal with this issue in a fashion other than "take a bike, sucker". A significant number of commissioners are opposed to new ramps downtown. They want to be "sold out". I don't buy for a minute the lame excuse that they voted against telling parking services to explore parking because it would send a message that they were not doing enough.