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Height of condos draws criticism

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Height of condos draws criticism

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

By Juanita Westaby

The Grand Rapids Press

E. GRAND RAPIDS -- Even after Jade Pig developers issued a public apology and offered a condominium project half the height of their original plan, it still was not enough for the development's opponents Tuesday.

Opponent Don Markham, whose wife designed the "no high-rise" signs that have spread throughout East Grand Rapids, said the city shouldn't accept anything in Gaslight Village that does not stick to the city's 35-foot height limit.

Jade Pig officials offered to cut their highest building to 79 feet from its original proposed height of 146 feet. The project that initially proposed a 12-story building now shows a trio of six-story condominium buildings.

"We still have a problem there," Markham said.

"I welcome the changes," said Scott Kautzman, another opponent. "I would welcome more."

One Gaslight Village merchant said he was "aghast" at what some East Grand Rapids residents were requiring.

"We've lost sight of what the developer has done to move and shuffle and bob and weave at what seems to be the whim" of the public, said Lee Parnham, the owner of a soccer store in the village.

Mayor Cindy Bartman and city Commissioners Bob Horn and Donald Lawless spent time in August reviewing the work of the Planning Commission and negotiating with Jade Pig owners Scott Wierda and Brian DeVries.

Wierda said he owed "an apology to the community. Brian and I heard there was an unwillingness on our part to listen. The commitment to listen was always there, but I apologize if that wasn't the perception."

Bartman asked the 50-plus residents attending the City Commission meeting to consider holding their comments until a Sept. 21 hearing.

"Nothing is going to happen on this proposal between tonight and the public hearing," Bartman promised.

Opponents are lining up presentations and asking about their time limits for the forum.

The Planning Commission's suggestion of a 100-foot height limit was unacceptable to the City Commission subcommittee.

"We really saw that as a deal-breaker," Bartman said. "We wanted to see height and design changes."

Jade Pig reduced the height of the buildings, but increased the condominium unit total from 105 to 107.

The buildings have a range of heights. The tallest building, with two penthouse units creating a seventh floor, has six floors. Other buildings range from one to five stories.

This summer, the Planning Commission worked with Jade Pig in a series of meetings, working out details of the planned unit development. The city ordinances covering a planned-unit development are suspended in favor of what city and planning commissioners stipulate for the project, city officials said.

To avoid setting a precedent, the city should stipulate in the development documents that "this is a very unique use at a very unique time," Bartman said. "It would make it very difficult for other developers" to make a similar offer.

The mixed-use, office-retail proposed for Wealthy Street at the base of the condos should be built first, Bartman said.

"Our merchants are absolutely crying for relief and assistance to revitalize our business district," she said.

Meanwhile, Bartman said there is support for the condo project that goes as far as Ada and Cascade townships, where former East Grand Rapids residents relocated to condominiums when they finished raising families.

"They tell me," she said, "they want to come home."

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Here are some good renderings of the East Grand Rapids project. It really would reshape EGR giving it a full downtown. Interestingly, one of the buildings they knocked down to build the new Art Museum in Grand Rapids had its facade removed and would be rebuilt on the main strip in East Grand Rapids. A great reuse of an awesome facade (though I wished it had stayed downtown).

East Grand Rapids - Jade Pig Renderings

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People against the project got enough signature to put this project up for vote in February (the planning commission passed the proposal). I think it is very likely to pass, but it does seem to be a contentious debate. It'll be interesting to see how this comes out.

Joe

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I don't think that this was the year the bank was started, but one of the intersting things about that old bank facade is the year the building was built; 1929. It had that year carved above the door. I don't know if it survived the Depression or not.

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That is interesting. It is a really nice facade. Like I said, I wish they could have found a place for it downtown, but the most important thing is that they saved it at all. I can't wait to see it resurrected in East Grand Rapids. I wonder if they will keep the floor plan the same as the old and have a mezzanine.

Joe

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Gaslight details revealed

Thursday, December 23, 2004

By Juanita Westaby

The Grand Rapids Press

EAST GRAND RAPIDS -- Planning Commission members say the first phase of Jade Pig's plan for Gaslight Village needs some revisions to accommodate fire equipment and traffic, but they are generally pleased.

Jade Pig Venture representatives presented plans for their first two buildings and an open-air plaza on Wealthy Street SE.

While Jade Pig officials appeared excited about a double-winding staircase coming down from the parking deck, and water jets springing up from the center of the plaza, commission members had simpler concerns. They want to ensure people pushing strollers could get to all the shops and emergency personnel could do their jobs.

Next month, the company plans to form a committee of residents to help select the Michigan artists whose work will be in the development, Jade Pig President Scott Wierda said, adding the art will depict some of the city's history.

Jade Pig's architect said the buildings along Wealthy will feature a variety of finishes: brick, glazed brick and prefinished aluminum, with redwood and limestone trim.

Rather than try to hide the flat front of the parking deck's south side, double-winding staircases will be built leading to it, along with ramps for handicapped access, Wierda said. A sculpture will be placed in the center to form one end of the plaza.

Jade Pig officials and next-door landowner Gary Geenen must still work out plans for a walkway between their two properties, which connects Gaslight to Lakeside Drive.

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This is an interesting twist. An old suburban style strip center would add an additional building at the front of the development, putting new retail at the sidewalk. East Grand Rapids would like to bulldoze half of the exist L shaped strip mall to build an additional North-South road into Gaslight Village. If this is all done right, Gaslight Village will become a very appealing place with all of the development going on.

- Joe

Thursday, December 23, 2004

By Juanita Westaby

The Grand Rapids Press

EAST GRAND RAPIDS -- Gaslight Village landowner Gary Geenen figured he should get utilities laid for a new building this spring when the Wealthy Street improvements go through.

But city officials see this as a chance to change the configuration of Gaslight Village, and they do not want to blow it.

And wedged between these two concerns is East Grand Rapids' lifelong curse: parking.

Not only would Geenen's new building gobble up 32 parking spaces --down from 220 to 188 spaces -- but a tear down-rebuild project in Gaslight kicks in an 8-year-old parking requirement that increases the number of spaces needed. City officials estimate Geenen's building would require a 50 percent to 100 percent variance.

"We're parking-spot-limited, and getting a variance is going to be a challenge," said Planning Commission member Connie O'Toole.

Despite the parking problem, city officials are "thrilled" about the proposal, said City Manager Brian Donovan. The building would sit at the edge of Wealthy, rather than be set back behind a field of parking spaces.

Even more, Geenen's move "is our one chance in our lifetime to make something happen" with Gaslight's cramped layout.

Planning Commission members urged Geenen to give up his strip mall and replace it with the new building, not only for the new street but to create parking.

But Geenen said that makes no business sense."We're hesitant to take those buildings out because those are 1,000-foot retail spaces," he said.

The new building would have 1,400-foot spaces. Only about two of the current eight tenants could afford to move to the new space, he said.

Planning Commissioners asked him to consider a second story on the new building, but Geenen declined. "We looked at a second story. We even looked at four or five stories, but it just exacerbated the parking" problem.

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More about the strip mall next door being pushed to the sidewalk...

New building, look proposed for D&W shopping site

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

By LINDSAY ACKERMAN

A second major commercial property owner in East Grand Rapids has stepped forward with a proposal to overhaul the look of Gaslight Village.Gary Geenen came before the Planning Commission last week with preliminary drawings for the D&W Shopping Center property, which he owns with his brothers, Richard and David.The Geenens are working with Grand Rapids-based Via Design on plans for the project, which would place a new 6,500 square-foot, one-story commercial building along Wealthy Street and update building facades for the existing D&W and adjacent businesses. Geenen told the Planning Commission that requests from tenants and the likelihood of other projects along Wealthy Street are behind the timing of his project.Developer Jade Pig Ventures is biding its time until a Feb. 22 referendum on its proposed $50 million development next door to the D&W lot, while the city has taken steps toward a $2.8 million streetscape project along Wealthy."It seemed like a lot of things were going on that needed to be coordinated with if we wanted to do anything with our property," Geenen said. "We didn't want to come in a year later and tear up the street to change a curb cut."The proposed new building would go on the southeast corner of the property, adjacent to the Jade Pig site, and would likely house two to three tenants, he said.The building would cause the elimination of the east driveway entrance to the site, with all future traffic entering and exiting at the driveway currently opposite Croswell Avenue.The proposal also calls for exterior improvements and additions of 530 and 395 square feet on the front of the D&W building, and another 795 square-foot addition on the east of the building to allow extra space for the existing Fifth Third Bank.The 10,000 square-foot strip mall that is attached to the D&W store would also get a face-lift, but no additional retail space.A city planning consultant who reviewed the preliminary plans called the proposal an "attractive addition" to the Gaslight Village area."It will certainly bring the style of this center more in keeping with the master plan and the general character of the area," said planner Steven Van Steenhuyse.One drawback to the plan will be the loss of about 33 parking spaces, which falls far short of the city's parking requirements.The current site is within the city's parking ordinance because of its age, but any new construction triggers more stringent requirements adopted within the last decade to discourage non-retail development in the downtown district, said City Manager Brian Donovan.Donovan said the new parking regulations did not succeed in encouraging retail as hoped, and are far more severe than nationally accepted traffic engineering standards."(The ordinance) was designed for another time that doesn't fit reality," he said.But even based on more the generous engineering standards, the site falls short on parking and would ultimately require a variance from the City Commission, Donovan said.Geenen said he had originally looked at building a two-story building on Wealthy Street, but the additional size would have increased the parking pinch.One suggestion pitched by the city was met with some hesitance on the part of the D&W lot owner.City officials have long talked in theory about the need for a north-south road that would connect Wealthy Street to Lakeside Drive on the north, and traffic studies identified Shopping Center Drive, at the rear of the D&W building, as the most likely candidate for such a road.But a new road would mean Geenen would have to tear down the south retail "leg" of the D&W site, putting several businesses out on the street, he said."I have several 1,000 square-foot tenants in there that wouldn't have anywhere else in the village to relocate to," he said.Geenen also questioned whether there would be enough space to put in a full size street."I just don't see how there's enough property to get a road through," he said.City officials said the north-south road could be a long shot, but it is worth at least discussing."This is basically a once-in-our-lifetime opportunity to get something done that has been a constant suggestion over the years," said Donovan. "There needs to at least be a shot at trying to put it through."Members of the Planning Commission said they don't expect Geenen to feel compelled into what would amount to a public project on private property. "We can't dictate, but we can suggest," said Chair Bill Graham.The Planning Commission will review the plan again at its meeting in January. Because the proposed use falls within the current zoning, any decision of the appointed body will be final, and the City Commission will not review the project.

Advance Newspapers

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