GRAND RAPIDS — This Thursday marks the first of three Zone Grand Rapids community forums that will call on the public to help identify key features and characteristics of Grand Rapids neighborhoods and business districts.
The forum will run from 8:30-10 a.m. at the Dominican Center at Marywood, 2025 E. Fulton St., and will be repeated from 6:30-8 p.m. that evening.
The zoning code basically regulates land use by designating residential, commercial and industrial areas. Another section of the code covers development regulations but doesn’t really define the character of a neighborhood, according to City Planner Bill Hoyt.
The purpose is identify neighborhood and business district “patterns” and codify their building design characteristics and standards to assure new buildings coming into the area are architecturally compatible with existing ones and consistent with present standards.
The city has 21 business associations and 30 urban neighborhoods, but that doesn’t include the suburban neighborhoods and districts, said Assistant Planning Director Suzanne Schulz.
The two-year master planning process, which involved nearly 3,000 citizens and more than 250 meetings, identified four major neighborhood “patterns” or character types, along with descriptions and examples of each type’s visual characteristics:
•Turn-of-the-century neighborhood (built between 1850 and 1900)
•Early 20th century neighborhood (1900-1945)
•Post-World War II neighborhood (1945-1970)
•Late 20th century neighborhood (1970-present)
Schulz said planners don’t know for sure whether these are the only patterns or necessarily the “right” patterns.
“They may change depending on what we hear back from citizens,” she said. “We’re open to that. This is something that has to work for Grand Rapids so we want to make sure that every step of the way people are concurring with what we’re doing.”
The important elements of the different patterns, as identified by planners, consultants and residents, will be captured in the zoning code and implemented through zoning ordinances.
Redevelopment or new development projects would have to be “sensitive to the buildings around them” and conform to the essential elements of architecture of a particular neighborhood, City Planner Bill Hoyt has said.
The zoning ordinance re-writes, Hoyt has said, will offer developers a set of rules that is consistent, thus leading to a more streamlined planning review process.
In the first community forum and those to follow, residents will have the opportunity to vote on the importance of development regulations — setbacks, entryways, building height and volume, parking, side yards and garage placement and the like — using keypad technology, and the votes will be tallied instantly into a prioritized list. They’ll also get a take-home workbook that covers topics discussed at the forum.
The city sought input from businesses, developers, property owners and residents through neighborhood and business association meetings in September and October, which Schulz said drew about 400 citizens.
“People generally felt that we were on track and that the patterns did seem to fit their neighborhoods,” she said. “People had a lot of questions about how the city was going to regulate this and some people were concerned about ‘turning the whole city into an historic district,’” which Schulz said is “absolutely not” something the city wants to do.
Community forums also will be held Feb. 17 and May 19 next year, with focus groups and sub-area meetings sandwiched in between. The Planning Department anticipates completing all zoning ordinance revisions in December 2005.