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GRDadof3

Developers and Neighborhood Business Districts

Should developers be required to go before Neighborhood Business Districts for approval of variances?   37 members have voted

  1. 1. Should developers be required to go before NBD's before approval?

    • Yes
      13
    • No
      19
    • Maybe
      4
  2. 2. Should the NBD's be given power to vote to recommend/deny a variance? With the ultimate decision to the City Commission?

    • Yes
      10
    • No
      22
    • Maybe
      4

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22 posts in this topic

The Neighborhood Business Alliance is requesting that the City Commission adopt an ordinance that requires developers go before the applicable Neighborhood Business District before going before the City or Planning Commission for approval on variances. A variance is required when a development does not comply with current zoning. Currently the city recommends that developers speak with the neighborhood leaders where they plan to develop and are seeking a variance, but the Neighborhood Business Alliance says that this is happening less and less, thus not giving them ample time to give feedback to developers, or .

Is this a policy that should be adopted?

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Upon first glance, I think for places with clear identities like Eastown, Heartside, Uptown, etc, this ordnance giving NBD's more say would be a great benefit esp. when maintaining the character of the neighborhood while allowing places like Westside to establish stronger identities. The only downside to the requested ordinance would be an additional layer of bureaucracy for developers to deal with prolonging the process of getting proposed developments approved.

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Upon first glance, I think for places with clear identities like Eastown, Heartside, Uptown, etc, this ordnance giving NBD's more say would be a great benefit esp. when maintaining the character of the neighborhood while allowing places like Westside to establish stronger identities. The only downside to the requested ordinance would be an additional layer of bureaucracy for developers to deal with prolonging the process of getting proposed developments approved.

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Maybe a solution would be to require that, anytime a developer is asking for variances, the affected neighborhood should be provided an advisory seat at the commission meeting where the decision to allow the variance is made. This way, all involved can hear firsthand the feedback and concerns of that neighborhood. It would be good that the chairperson of the neighborhood association be the person in the advisory seat, but I do not think that it should be required that it is that way.

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I'm sorry, adding an additional layer of review and adding more time to the process is not a good idea.

I have not seen a project at the planning commission in the past year that was not questioned as to its contact and response to and from neighbors. Mine included.

And, as to the additional time, how much is enough? It already takes months to move a project through the existing process - oftentimes with multiple opportunities for public comment. Making this process longer is just another barrier to getting projects completed in the City at a time when we need to be making this process shorter and easier.

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I understand why the NBD would want to maintain their unique feel and have some say on what styles future development plans could follow. My concern would have to be that the planning commissions are set up for a purpose and to create an additional layer of red tape that developers must work thru might hamper further development. I would say that most reputable developers seek to have neighborhood input anyway since this should help create an environment that gives the project a better chance for success. Also, there are some instances where any organization (including NBDs) might not be willing to recognize that change from the ways things were done in the past is actually a good thing. Just my 2 cents.

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If I'm not mistaken, the n'hood assns are already apprised of pending projects. At the recent PC and ZBA meetings I attended, the assn comments were extensively highlighted, mentioned, and quoted.

Requiring a developer to talk to the people who actually live there prior to submission could end up saving time and iterations on the approval process.

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Maybe a solution would be to require that, anytime a developer is asking for variances, the affected neighborhood should be provided an advisory seat at the commission meeting where the decision to allow the variance is made. This way, all involved can hear firsthand the feedback and concerns of that neighborhood. It would be good that the chairperson of the neighborhood association be the person in the advisory seat, but I do not think that it should be required that it is that way.

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I'm sorry, adding an additional layer of review and adding more time to the process is not a good idea.

I have not seen a project at the planning commission in the past year that was not questioned as to its contact and response to and from neighbors. Mine included.

And, as to the additional time, how much is enough? It already takes months to move a project through the existing process - oftentimes with multiple opportunities for public comment. Making this process longer is just another barrier to getting projects completed in the City at a time when we need to be making this process shorter and easier.

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The process that a project goes through, in order to garner its entitlements, is currently a very convoluted and long process, sometimes years. I do not think that adding yet another layer to this process is going to do anything to promote the kind of development that we would all like to see. Allowing local NBDs into the mix could open the process to potentially very harmful results. This is essentially one of the reasons why the city has planning commissions and ZBA commissions, and a zoning ordinance...to represent the interests of the citizens (NBD's included).

Besides, many developers have found that engaging the neigborhoods early on in their process, really aids them in expediting the whole thing, so this is already happening, at least from the more responsible developers. Mandating it is not the solution.

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The process that a project goes through, in order to garner its entitlements, is currently a very convoluted and long process, sometimes years. I do not think that adding yet another layer to this process is going to do anything to promote the kind of development that we would all like to see. Allowing local NBDs into the mix could open the process to potentially very harmful results. This is essentially one of the reasons why the city has planning commissions and ZBA commissions, and a zoning ordinance...to represent the interests of the citizens (NBD's included).

Besides, many developers have found that engaging the neigborhoods early on in their process, really aids them in expediting the whole thing, so this is already happening, at least from the more responsible developers. Mandating it is not the solution.

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So if the responsible ones are doing this anyway, the only ones this would hurt are the irresponsible developers (who probably need a little more baby-sitting anyway). All they would have to do then is get a "letter of recommendation" at the end of the meetings with the Neighborhood Associations, which I've seen in many submittals to the commission lately. The ultimate decision would still lie with the City Commission. And of course, none of this would be needed if the use fits the zoning, no?

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I'm sorry, adding an additional layer of review and adding more time to the process is not a good idea.

I have not seen a project at the planning commission in the past year that was not questioned as to its contact and response to and from neighbors. Mine included.

And, as to the additional time, how much is enough? It already takes months to move a project through the existing process - oftentimes with multiple opportunities for public comment. Making this process longer is just another barrier to getting projects completed in the City at a time when we need to be making this process shorter and easier.

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I also think that meeting with the neighborhood business association may also provide better insight and feedback on a project. Maybe what has worked or not worked in the past, their vision for the future of the district, and why the current zoning is the way it is. I can't think of one district in GR that wouldn't like to see further revitalization of their district, and I would imagine a cooperative attitude with the "locals" will go a long way in the success of a project. They're requesting a variance for a reason, because the proposal doesn't fit the current use. Maybe the zoning is obsolete, or maybe it is relevant. Maybe I'm an idealist?

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Did we forget that developers are in business to make money

and not make everyone happy.

I vote NO NO NO!

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So are you saying that the two are mutually exclusive?:

Screw the neighborhoods = make money, good for business

Consult with the neighborhood = lose money, bad for business

I hardly think so. Plus, no one said you had to make everyone happy. Even city commission votes are usually split.

As GRTP said, it sounds like if developers do not involve the community from the beginning, the process gets held up anyway and the current system already has the "checks and balances" in place. BTW: I'm not the author of this proposal, I was just curious of what people thought about as the city will most likely vote on it.

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If there are any developers out there who would like to express your opinions regarding the proposal to the City Commission, or if anyone else wants to voice their opinion directly, the resolution is scheduled for the City Commission meeting Tuesday, Feb. 6th:

City Commission Agenda

Fortunately I think most of the developers in GR do value input from the community, especially the ones who frequent here. :thumbsup:

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POINT ONE:

Associations should function differently than Institutions or Agencies.

Associations are about unpaid citizens coming together to work or play around something that they all care about. They usually share common interests and activities. They are usually organized very flat and usually make decisions by consensus.

Institutions are groups that gather but are paid to produce something. They are not paid to care. They have a hierarchical organizational structure. These can be for-profit, non-profit or government.

My point is that many of the groups we call "associations" in this city do not function that way or we have given them responsibilities that don't fit with their DNA. This may be one of them.

POINT TWO:

I agree with the posts on this board that going to the neighborhood early and frequently saves time and money later. Transparency is key. There are opportunities throughout the city's current development process where neighbors have the opportunity to voice concern or support.

I would like to see a checklist or set of criteria co-developed by neighborhood/business groups, developers and the city that helps an association determine whether a project is "good" or "bad" for that particular neighborhood, and if they should support it. It has to be shared criteria or you get people making wild accusations or strictly making a decision based on one element. The criteria could be weighted as well.

There should also be a formal expectation that after approval, there are frequent meetings with neighborhood groups to update them on the project and discuss changes. There have been several projects in the past few years that went through planning and zoning and then changed their plans by putting up big parking structures around the perimeter or removing landscaping. Personally, I was surprised that on our development we could have changed a lot of stuff and the neighborhood would never know. The changes had to go through the city but it was only out of courtesy that I would inform neighbors. Changes are necessary in any development as you go from paper to building, but a shared problem solving process with neighborhoods could produce a better solution in many cases.

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Neighborhood associations evolved in the late 70's - early 80's to represent their respective areas. Many were created in response to a specific proposed development. The 1st association I worked with was the NE Neighborhood Association in Kentwood. CLOUT in GR Township was another very early association that was created when someone was told that they had no "clout." Today there are few, if any, neighborhoods that are not represented by an association.

The city is free to send notice of proposed projects to the neighborhood associations, and I believe they have done so for a long time. In addition, the good developers engage the neighbors in the process before public hearing and they have done so for a long time.

The "bad" developers, however, choose to avoid any consideration of adjacent interests and will ignore the neighbors. There are also neighborhood groups that are unwilling to consider change and refuse to "work" with developers. Any attempt to force a dialog without a willing attitude on both sides is a waste of time and effort and serves only to create ill will, add cost and delay the process.

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Another point to look at is you would be taking the decision making out of the democratically elected official's hands, and putting it into the hands of NBD's who may or may not have any knowledge of the laws. The example of the old lady and the flowerboxes is an excellent point to this. Plus, because it is human nature, NBD's would end up playing favorites with certain people or developers. All the while not having any oversight committee to watch over them. At least with elected officials, there are laws governing them, and are succeptible to the Open Meetings Act.

If we went the route of NBD's controlling neighborhood development, would most of the Michigan Hill development ever have happened? History shows that it is very unlikely.

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From a neighborhood association perspective I believe that neighborhood opinions are given proper deference in the current process. The Planning Commission and BZA are, after all, GR citizens, who live in neighborhoods.

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