City approves more housing recommendations

Three previously contentious Housing Now! recommendations now are in the books.

The Grand Rapids City Commission recently approved Housing NOW! Recommendations 3, 6 and 8, following several months of community engagement, including informal resident feedback sessions and formal public hearings.

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission headed the review of Housing Now! recommendations 3, 6 and 8 to achieve the stated recommendations made by the city’s Housing Advisory Committee. The Housing NOW! package contains the committee’s 11 policy proposals around key housing issues.

Incentives for small-scale development

Recommendation 3 allows for two-family dwellings with planning department staff approval on corner lots. This amendment includes a reduction of lot width and area requirements to match what is required for single-family residential homes on corner lots. Currently, a two-family lot must be 130 percent larger in width than a single-family lot.

The ordinance amendment is expected to increase housing supply, support two-family housing units and possibly provide additional affordable housing in Grand Rapids.

First Ward Commissioner Kurt Reppart said Recommendation 3 was a “downsized” version of the recommendation the city first began discussing. The recommendation originally would have allowed three- and four-unit developments.

“To me, these are the types of projects that cause the least amount of disruption in the neighborhood level and spread out the impact,” Reppart said. “It doesn’t concentrate it all in one area. It promotes a mixture of incomes and a scattered site model.”

Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly presented data from city staff that showed 7,340 of the 56,969 parcels located within the residential zoning district were defined as corner lots where a two-family dwelling unit could be built, per Recommendation 3.

Of those parcels, 5,783 had single-family homes already built on them. Only 463 parcels were vacant.

“For that reason, I’m very concerned about this going through as is because of displacement,” Kelly said. “In order to convert to a two-family, somebody would have to be evicted.”

Kelly said she would prefer corner lots be used for four- and six-plexes, based on community input.

Kelly was joined by Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear in voting to postpone the recommendation, but it passed regardless.

Density bonus for the development of affordable housing

Recommendation 6 awards a density incentive and other bonuses for the development of units priced at or below 30 percent the area median income.

It also awards a density bonus incentive for the development of units priced between 60 to 79 percent AMI. It modifies the use requirements to allow for ground-floor residential in all commercial zone districts where the affordable housing bonus is utilized. It also modifies parking requirements to require one parking space per dwelling unit where the affordable housing bonus is used.

The recommendation passed unanimously.

Approval process for accessory dwelling units

Recommendation 8 creates a hybrid “qualified review” process for accessory dwelling units that allows for planning director review where there are no objections and preserves the right to hold a public hearing.

Through the Housing NOW! community engagement process, several ADU standards were implemented. However, questions lingered around the shift from special land-use approval to administrative approval of ADUs.

Under this revised process, a request of a proposed ADU will trigger a requirement for a notice to be mailed to neighbors within 300 feet of the proposed site. Those receiving notification can request the planning commission hold a public hearing to discuss the project. If the city does not receive a request, the ADU may be approved administratively. If a public hearing request is received, a special land-use public hearing by the planning commission is scheduled.

Lenear voted no on the proposal, arguing it did not include language specific to affordability.

“I’ve been talking about affordability to all of these consistently,” Lenear said. “What would be the pricing on these units?”

Reppart and First Ward Commissioner Jon O’Connor both argued ADUs, by design, typically are smaller and, by extent, more affordable.

Kelly said ADUs are attractive to people who want to “age in place,” as well as their children who may not be comfortable sending their parents to a nursing home.

“I know people who have gone broke trying to put their parents into a nursing home, and very few people have long-term care,” Kelly said. “I’m excited about this sort of trend toward multigenerational living and people wanting to take care of their parents. I think that’s a sign of a healthy community.”

Since 2017, the city commission has approved 10 Housing NOW! recommendations:

  • Low-income housing tax policy

  • Homeownership incentives

  • Some incentives for small-scale development

  • Changes to the Neighborhood Enterprise Zones policy

  • Density bonus recommendation

  • Property partnership policy

  • Accessory dwelling units approval process

  • Non-condo zero lot line units

  • Residential rental application ordinance

  • Affordable housing fund

Recommendation 5, voluntary equitable development agreements, still is on the discussion table, according to information from the city. VEDA would provide opportunities for an investor, a community-based organization and the city to commit to goals and joint interests, like hiring from the community, wage goals, public infrastructure investments and property development standards and conditions.

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