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GR to tackle revamping of zoning codes

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GR to tackle revamping of zoning codes

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

By Jim Harger

The Grand Rapids Press

From the Wealthy Street Theater, the good and the ugly sides of city planning are easy to see.

So, Grand Rapids city officials reasoned, what better place to kick off a citywide effort allowing residents to help shape the city of the future?

City officials will take the first step toward rewriting the zoning code in a meeting at the rejuvenated Wealthy Street Theater.

On the good side, they will see how zoning codes allowed for the redevelopment of old storefronts that preserve the Wealthy Street business district's historic character. For the ugly side, they will look across the street, where the former zoning code allowed construction of a suburban-style Family Dollar store that sits in back of the lot with an asphalt parking lot in front.

"That's one of the reasons we picked the theater," said Suzanne Schulz, the city's interim assistant planning director.

Wednesday's meeting will be attended by about 100 neighborhood leaders and elected and appointed officials who are expected to participate in the 18-month rewriting project, Schulz said.

More than 30 meetings have been scheduled throughout the city between now and Oct. 16. Information collected from those sessions will be used to create "pattern books" that will guide those who ultimately will rewrite the ordinance.

That much public involvement is a radical departure from the existing code, which was written by city administrators in 1969 with little evidence of public involvement, Schulz said.

The 1969 code presumed the city's older neighborhoods would be replaced by new suburban-style homes, apartment complexes and shopping centers. "People had the idea that all uses should be separate -- like things should be with like things," she said.

Although the new code still will have "zones" for land use, it will allow for more flexibility and stress what is already in a neighborhood. Instead of focusing on "zones," the new code will focus on "patterns" that contribute to the character of a neighborhood.

While city planners do not intend to bore the public with arcane legalisms that make up zoning ordinances, they hope to use pictures and images to develop "pattern books" that set the standard for different neighborhoods.

The zoning ordinance will be based on a new master plan the city adopted two years ago, Schulz said. While the master plan set the vision for the city's future, the new ordinance will implement the vision, she said. "The pattern book will be the intermediate step," she said.

"The pattern books are where we're going to get the public's involvement," she said.

For example, a new residential zoning code might not allow new houses to put their garage doors in front of a house when the older homes have their garages located behind the house, Schulz said.

The new code also will focus on development in neighborhood "edges" where business districts and residential neighborhood blend, Schulz said. The new code also will promote mixed-use neighborhood centers, or "nodes," that will be pedestrian friendly and promote public transit.

Although the new code also will focus on the edges of downtown, planners do not expect to make any major changes to the downtown zoning code, Schulz said. That document was updated and rewritten in 1998 and allowed for more housing and mixed uses in the downtown area.

The new code also will address the changing face of 28th Street and Division Avenue. As traffic on 44th Street and the soon-to-be-opened M-6 increase, 28th Street will become less intensely traveled, Schulz said. That could open the door for new residential developments instead of shopping centers, she said.

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