Builder buying unbuildable lot from city


The city of Grand Rapids has decided to sell a vacant, tax-foreclosed property on the near northwest side to Rockford Construction, and that parcel is unbuildable for either a commercial or residential use.

But that’s just fine with the builder because it owns the adjacent parcel.

The property in question is a 25-foot-wide residential parcel at 518 Alabama Ave. NW, a block east of Seward Avenue and a block north of Bridge Street.

“They can’t build on that site at all,” said Kara Wood, city economic development director. “The property on its own is not able to support new construction activity without being combined with adjacent parcels.”

According to the city’s zoning ordinance, a 10-foot setback is required on all sides of a property to build a commercial project on a site with residences nearby. But meeting that setback mandate would leave only five feet of buildable commercial space at 518 Alabama.

A five-foot setback from the side lot is necessary to put a home on the parcel, and the minimum legal width for a driveway is 10 feet with a one-foot setback. Meeting both those requirements would create a building footprint of nine feet for a residence when 18 feet is the required minimum.

After making this analysis, Wood said city staff concluded that nothing can be built on the property.

However, Rockford Construction owns the parcel at 516 Alabama next door. The site has a two-unit residence and a taxable value of $22,900. The property is classified as a non-conforming lot because it doesn’t have on-site parking and doesn’t meet the district’s required setback. Still, the city’s zoning ordinance allows it to exist.

City staff reported that if Rockford builds a driveway on the new parcel and creates parking behind the residence next door, then the combined property would be defined as a conforming lot and would be in compliance with the city’s Master Plan.

The city took possession of 518 Alabama in 1976 and is selling the property to Rockford Construction for $1,050.

Although the property is near Seward Avenue and First Street — the site where Rockford is building its new headquarters — the Alabama Avenue property is reportedly not part of that project.

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