The final of four open house events to guide the formation of Walker’s 2040 Master Plan is scheduled for this week.
The northwest corner of Walker covers roughly 10 square miles, stretching from Bristol Avenue and Pannell Street on the east end to Kenowa Avenue/Ottawa County on the west end, and from Four Mile Road on the north end to Leonard Street on the south end.
One focus area within northwest Walker extends southeast to northwest along and adjacent to Remembrance Road, following the path of the interurban rail line — the original “Laker Line” — that once connected Grand Rapids to Muskegon and ceased operation in 1928. The points where Remembrance Road intersects with Leonard Street and Wilson Avenue function as gateways into the broader Walker community.
“We’ve been talking about this since 2013,” Walker Mayor Gary Carey said. “What we’re trying to figure out is since the D&W Fresh Market closed there, is this what we want this to look like? How do we keep that family-friendly corridor there?”
Family friendliness has been a pervasive focal point, not just in northwest Walker, but in past neighborhood meetings, Carey said. Walkability and connectability to local businesses are an aspect of community growth important to Walker residents.
Carey referenced Sobie Meats, Walker Roadhouse and Double Dip Depot Ice Cream, all along Remembrance Drive, as businesses that have high levels of foot and bike traffic.
Along Remembrance Road, small shops and manufacturers maintain a presence alongside longstanding neighborhoods. These neighborhoods tie into a broader fabric of Walker’s residential character. Nearly half of Walker’s residential subdivisions and condominium developments — 94 and counting — are in the northwest Walker neighborhood cluster.
These neighborhoods interact increasingly with a different side of northwest Walker, which extends east to west along Interstate 96 and 3 Mile Road. Most of this area is marked by existing manufacturing and planned industrial growth.
The planning process will be a forum for addressing the growth of, and relationship between, these areas. One challenge will be to address the friction between what has historically been viewed as incompatible land uses, such as home sites and manufacturing areas.
Other challenges will be transportation-related: continuing to develop an interconnected street network, removing points of traffic conflict on major roads including M-11/Wilson Avenue, building transportation safety improvements, dispersing traffic effectively throughout the area, connections to The Rapid and fostering usage of the area’s cycling network, including the Fred Meijer Pioneer Trail.
City planners are inviting the Walker community to share their thoughts on these and other opportunities and challenges in the northwest Walker neighborhood at their open house from 5-7 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Walker City Hall Commission Chambers, 4243 Remembrance Road 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 other theme we seem to hear is there’s always fear around, ‘What does growth mean?’” Carey said. “We make a point to emphasize this is controlled growth. We know where we are. We know where want to go, and we want to refine this process.”
Carey also said new developments in Standale are presenting new hurdles for city staff to overcome. Blain’s Farm & Fleet, which previous Business Journal reports noted has taken a heightened interest in West Michigan, plans to open a 106,000-square-foot store south of Meijer in the Standale community.
Southbound on Wilson Avenue leads to a cutout into a cornfield, which will serve as the driveway for Blain’s, but the challenge involves widening Wilson, which is an MDOT highway, to accommodate the increased traffic from business.
“MDOT has been very involved with us as of late in looking at potential solutions and the growth impact of that Standale and south Walker area,” Carey said. “They’re very invested in the long-term sustainability of that area.”
Additionally, Walker hopes to welcome Chick-fil-A to the corner of Wilson and Lake Michigan Drive, which will inevitably increase traffic, as well.
“This is to me a true definition of playing chess not checkers,” Carey said. “We have to be thinking one, three, five, 20 years from now. Once this growth really starts to rapidly move forward, we have to have our plans ready to go.”
The northwest Walker open house will conclude the series of four open houses held as part of a broader public input process for the Walker 2040 Master Plan, which is an update of the city’s 1998 plan.
The 1998 plan, which has been updated with neighborhood-level planning efforts, has guided development for over 20 years.
McKenna Associates is managing the Walker 2040 Master Plan out of its office in downtown Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids-based Prein & Newhof also will be providing consulting services for the master plan, specifically in the areas of infrastructure and engineering.
Previously, the public was invited to open houses for Alpine Avenue, south Walker and Standale. The full 2040 Master Plan likely will be ready for final review and approval by spring 2020.