Walker eyes options on south side


The city of Walker hopes to continue the momentum of its 2040 master planning process, which began with the first of four neighborhood open houses in the Alpine Avenue neighborhood at English Hills Country Club in mid-June.

The Business Journal previously reported Alpine Avenue is being affected by changing trends in retail and transportation.

Frank Wash, Walker assistant city manager, told the Business Journal the goal is for the master plan to include an altered land use plan so Alpine can at least be an option for mixed-used, vertical urban development that is connected to public transportation.

He said it also would be important to work with MDOT to create better access points and connection along the roads, addressing the issue of heavy traffic.

The second neighborhood open house will focus on south Walker. Community input will be essential for providing direction in an evolving area with the potential to grow.

The roughly 6-square-mile south Walker planning area is the city’s least densely populated of four “neighborhood clusters.”

City officials hope some opportunities will take shape for deliberately planned growth in south Walker. This includes the guided redevelopment of some of the area’s large sites, strategic extensions of public water service, and improvements to the area’s transportation network that help to disperse concentrated traffic and improve conditions on major roadways.

One key discussion topic will center around a property adjacent to Johnson Park, owned by Grand Rapids developer Dan Hibma, whom the Business Journal reported leads Grand River Waterway, an organization attempting to dredge approximately 23 miles of riverbed between Bass River and Fulton Street Bridge in Grand Rapids, to allow for recreational boat access.

While Hibma has not given concrete plans for the site, Wash said it is in some way tied to the Grand River dredge project, and Walker city officials have invited Hibma to speak and be a part of the master planning process.

Protection and enhancement of south Walker’s existing resources also will be a key component of the conversation about the area. “Rural character,” which is unique in an area that is centered only about 5 miles from downtown Grand Rapids, has been identified in the past as an asset not to lose sight of.

“South Walker is fairly rural, and it's planned to be fairly rural, but once we start to put public utilities into place there has to be a question of what ‘rural’ means,” Wash said.

While growth may not occur in the traditional sense with new subdivisions, businesses, roads or supporting infrastructure, connections to the Grand River, Millennium Park and Johnson Park can be strengthened.

The south Walker open house will be held from 5-7 p.m. July 17 on the second floor of Walker’s Fire Station #2, 4101 Lake Michigan Drive NW.

Community members are invited to participate for as much of the meeting as they would like. The open house will involve several activities that attendees can participate in at their own pace.

The Walker Planning Commission will hold its regularly scheduled meeting immediately following the open house, in the second-floor meeting room of Fire Station #2, rather than the usual meeting location in the city’s commission chambers. The planning commission will discuss public feedback received from the open house. The planning commission also will review progress on planning efforts related to the Alpine Avenue neighborhood cluster.

The South Walker open house will be followed by two more public events through the summer and early fall to discuss other Walker neighborhoods, including Standale and the northwestern part of the city.

After completion of each neighborhood cluster plan, the full 2040 master plan likely will be ready for final review and approval by spring 2020, Wash said.

The Walker 2040 master plan is an update of the city’s 1998 plan. The 1998 plan, which has been updated with neighborhood-level planning efforts, has guided development in Walker for over 20 years.

McKenna Associates is the planning consultancy firm that is assisting the city with its 2040 master plan efforts. McKenna is managing the Walker plan out of its office in downtown Grand Rapids, which opened in September 2018. 

Grand Rapids-based Prein & Newhof also will be providing consulting services for the master plan, specifically in the areas of infrastructure and engineering.

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