Northern Kent braces for building boom


The village of Sparta is expecting more residential and commercial construction. Photo via

The partnership the Kent County Land Bank Authority has with the Village of Sparta may not end with the impending sale of a key industrial site, one that is expected to close on Friday.

The two are also planning to work together to generate interest among area home builders in a housing development that was once planned for the village, but fell apart when the financial markets took a deep tumble and lending for such multi-unit developments dried up.

The property went into tax foreclosure this year and the village plans to sell the 32 vacant housing lots in what is a traditional neighborhood development to the land bank for $632 each — the back taxes, interest and fees owed on each lot. Each parcel is valued from $10,000 to $15,000.

“It’s an interesting concept that’s never been tried before. But we’re going to try it,” said KCLBA Executive Director Dave Allen.

Bedford Falls is a partially developed 40-acre site that is centrally located in the village, just off 12 Mile Road between Union and Edward streets. Quite a bit of the project’s infrastructure is already in place, including the main drive and the curb cuts.

“I believe it’s a low-risk venture for the land bank in regard to getting houses built,” said Allen.

The land bank and village officials want to sell the empty lots to as many local builders as they can possibly interest, and they plan to get that process rolling by inviting them to sort of an open house on July 16 to give them a chance to see the property and visualize what they can build there.

Allen said he hopes that a number of builders will take two or three lots each and they would finance the construction. “We’re not building anything,” said Allen.

Emily Siebert, executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids, said the organization is meeting Thursday to discuss the potential opportunity the proposal presents for its members and how they might get involved with it.

Grand Rapids Association of Realtors CEO Julie Rietberg is providing the land bank with an analysis of the housing situation in the village.

The Bedford Falls site is within walking distance of the village’s schools and its downtown. Data shows that roughly 95 percent of the people who work in the village live elsewhere. So making new homes available there could provide builders with a unique and unexpected sales opportunity and township officials with more tax revenue. The village has a population of about 4,100.

Construction on Bedford Falls began in 2005 and was to be done in five phases over a dozen years. The first phase included sidewalks, public and private road improvements, lot layouts and utilities for 17 town homes and 25 single-family units. The completed project proposed to have 47 town homes, 36 apartments and 78 single-family homes.

As for the industrial site, Blueforest Ventures Inc. of Waterloo, Ontario, is set to close on the former Sparta Foundry property at 252 Gardner St. in the village on June 28. Blueforest Ventures has a reputation for redeveloping industrial areas like the one in Sparta, and the firm plans to lease and sell space on the remediated site to local businesses.

“We’re seeing expansions pretty much from our whole entire industrial base. They either have undergone an expansion, have submitted expansion plans to us, or have contacted us with expansion concerns and expectations,” said Martin Super, manager of the village.

“So it’s a great problem to have and we’re very lucky with the land bank and Blueforest stepping in as they have to have this large piece open and available.”

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