City puts West Fulton in the big plan


City commissioners added much of the West Fulton Business District and a residential neighborhood to the city’s Master Plan last week under an area-specific arrangement known as the “U to the Zoo” plan.

The district’s inclusion into the Master Plan sets some land use, building and zoning regulations for the West Fulton blocks that stretch westward from Seward Avenue, where Grand Valley State University has developed, to Valley Avenue, the home street of the John Ball Zoo — a section that created the plan’s name, U to the Zoo.

It’s also a district that has experienced, and is experiencing, business growth. A new Family Dollar Store and a Rylee’s Ace Hardware are going in. A new Subway shop recently opened there and a few other existing businesses are undergoing, or have undergone, renovations.

“They’re getting some investment in the district. We’re starting to see some things get unstuck,” said City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz.

“It’s great to see the potential that is there,” said Commissioner Dave Schaffer.

Schulz said the area-specific plan encourages commercial and residential uses as a mix for new developments throughout most of the sector, except for a small section that has been targeted for housing, but doesn’t support any non-residential projects in neighborhoods that flank the blocks.

The plan limits building height to two stories in most of the sector to stop a “further erosion of adjacent residential neighborhoods.” Three- and-four-story buildings, though, can go up near the intersection of Seward and Fulton and on the east side of Seward.

“We’re anticipating that site as a gateway into the business district,” said Schulz.

The nearby blocks just west of Seward feature GVSU developments and larger parcels than are found in most of the business district, so bigger buildings are permitted on that portion of the street. In addition, structures up to 2.5 stories can be built on the west side of Seward near Lake Michigan Drive.

Schulz pointed out the plan is intended to support viable and healthy clustered shops at key intersections in the business district and build the residential cores along Seward and Fulton.

“They’re opening up new opportunities for investment in that neighborhood,” said Schulz.

The plan has gone through the selective planning process, which included public input and a steering committee. The city Planning Commission approved the new U to the Zoo Plan, after a consultant team helped iron out most of the wrinkles. That team consisted of LSL Planning, Progressive AE, Design Plus, Project Innovations and neighborhood developer Guy Bazzani. The work was done before Progressive AE and Design Plus merged. Elizabeth Zeller represented the planning department in the process.

The catalysts for the plan were the West Fulton Business Association and the South West Neighbors Association. “Clearly, it’s been a great process,” said Commissioner Walt Gutowski.

“Not everyone got what they wanted, but we came to a consensus,” added Schaffer.

The Grand Rapids Master Plan turned 10 years old this year; commissioners adopted it in 2002.

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