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daniel nudnik

voters let condos rise high in EGR

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By Juanita Westaby

The Grand Rapids Press

EAST GRAND RAPIDS -- After a controversial conception, it's expected to be a quick delivery.

Bulldozers will roll in April and pre-sales of condominiums for Jade Pig Ventures' Gaslight Village development will begin by fall, now that East Grand Rapids voters have approved the project that divided the community.

Tuesday's referendum drew 58 percent of the city's registered voters -- 18 percent in absentee ballots alone. By a 550-vote margin, 2,605 to 2,055, residents upheld the decision their City Commission made in October, granting the project special zoning approval.

The planned-unit development zoning was the linchpin, clearing the way for the multi-story condominium buildings whose heights angered opponents. The zoning approval allows Jade Pig to negotiate buildings taller than the city's two-story, 35-foot limit.

Plans include two seven-story buildings, a six-story building and a five-story building. In addition to the 107 condominiums, the development will house a fitness facility, medical complex and retail/office space.

While the project still faces final site plan review, its backers are taking the voters' nod and moving forward.

"I've been compiling a list of people -- mostly my own clients -- that have expressed an interest in this," said Ken Grashuis, who will market the condominiums. More than 200 people have indicated they would like to buy one, said Scott Wierda, co-owner of Jade Pig.

"We've been losing so many of these customers, mainly to Forest Hills," Grashuis said. "It'll be a coup to keep these people in the community."

The development will go up on the site of the former Jacobson's store and Ramona Medical building.

Tuesday's vote was the third consecutive victory for Mayor Cindy Bartman, who openly supported the developer's plan. Bartman's 2003 mayoral race was divisive. She then oversaw the equally divisive 2004 millage vote to expand the library and parks department. Now, she's ready for the community to come together again.

"This community has a history of passionate issues. Once the people speak, we come back together as one community," she said.

Bartman was mindful of those who voted no and said, "Everyone who voted, voted with the best interests of the community at heart, and that's the common thread that will bring us back together."

Re-Ignite Gaslight, a group that supported the Jade Pig plan, celebrated Tuesday's vote tally. Its members gathered at the Firehouse Grill in Gaslight Village.

"We wanted the change and we're happy to have the change," said owner and manager Karie Koster.

The only precinct that voted down the rezoning was Ward 1, Precinct 1 -- "the people who will live in the shadows of it," said Don Markham, who helped found SaveEastGR. That opposition group garnered more than 1,400 signatures to call the referendum.

"We did everything we could," Markham said. "We were honest and we tried to educate the community. Now, we need to focus on the final site plan reviews."

The first phase, the office-retail portion, has been approved. The first phase of the condominiums is expected to come before the city this summer, Wierda said.

( http://www.mlive.com/news/grpress/index.ss...73669179740.xml )

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