City adopts vision for Southtown

The Southtown Business Area Specific Plan now is incorporated into the master plan for Grand Rapids, following city commission approval.

Efforts related to the Southtown BASP have been underway since December 2017 and were initiated by the Southtown Corridor Improvement Authority. The goal of the planning process was to create a roadmap that would lead to improved commercial cores and public spaces that support existing and new businesses, appeal to neighborhood residents, encourage pride in places and attract visitors. 

“We embarked on something that was different because the goal was to create a plan for the business districts within Southtown,” Third Ward Commissioner and Southtown CID member Senita Lenear said. “What we heard consistently is business districts want to be as walkable, as vibrant as downtown in neighborhoods, and so this plan speaks to that.”

The Southtown BASP covers five of Southtown’s six business districts: Alger Heights, Boston Square, Franklin and Eastern, Madison Square and Seymour Square.

“The business districts that are represented by this plan already have some significant assets and opportunities with them,” City Planning Director Kristin Turkelson said. “With (city commission) support, they will have a shared vision that will help guide some intentional thought in future growth and development.”

The sixth district, South Division, is part of a separate, parallel planning process that culminated in the South Division Area Specific Plan. The city commission last month voted to incorporate it into the master plan, as well.

The BASP provides physical, program and policy recommendations to support Southtown business districts.

The BASP is organized around four goals:

  • Be a more stable and thriving business community without displacement

  • Be a highly valued business community that celebrates and promotes cultural and neighborhood assets

  • Be a more vibrant place to work, shop, play, learn, live and do business

  • Be a safer environment for everyone

Each goal has objectives and strategies associated with it. The plan provides strategies that are specific to each business district and overarching recommendations that cover the full district. Additionally, it contains an action plan organized by goal and strategy that identifies steps and partners for implementation.


Adoption of an amendment to a city’s master plan is governed by the Michigan Planning Enabling Act, which sets out the process for review and approval. Per the act, a minimum 42-day comment period is required before an amendment can be considered for approval.

On July 11, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission considered forwarding the plan to the city commission to release for its comment period. The planning commission heard a presentation from the consultant and public testimony and postponed consideration of the plan to Sept. 12 to provide the Southtown BASP Steering Committee the opportunity to further refine the plan’s land use recommendations.

The steering committee met further and provided the planning commission a memorandum intended to clarify the plan direction and identify changes in response to questions raised following the plan’s presentation in July, specifically whether or not Traditional Neighborhood-Traditional City Center zoning was considered in lieu of or alongside maintaining the Special District-Industrial Transportation zone. The steering committee developed and recommended an Industrial Flex land use classification for the area in question that would significantly increase the flexibility of potential uses and encompass the uses permitted by TN-TCC zoning, with the exception of housing.

The planning commission reviewed the revised draft document on Sept. 12 and voted in support of forwarding the plan to the city commission for distribution to surrounding jurisdictions, utilities and other interested parties for review and comment.

During the planning commission public hearing, Homes for All representatives expressed concerns largely related to the city’s Housing NOW! initiative. City staff, the Southtown BASP consultant and some Southtown Steering Committee members met with the representatives after the meeting to hear their concerns and clarify aspects of the BASP.

The city commission approved the release of the BASP for public review on Sept. 24. During the review period, the project team held two public meetings about the draft plan on Oct. 29. Feedback forms and comments received at the public meeting were shared with the planning commission. The comment period closed on Nov. 6.

Since the Sept. 24 city commission meeting, the plan has received minor updates to align it with the city’s recently passed bicycle action plan and correct the designation on the future land use map for a parcel at the corner of Kalamazoo Avenue SE and Cottage Grove Street SE.

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