What city planners and consultants heard over and over again during the master planning process was that people — from the central city to its fringe — overwhelmingly liked “the look, feel and style of their neighborhoods,” and wanted some way to preserve it, said Planning Director Bill Hoyt.
The zoning code basically regulates land use by designating residential, commercial and industrial areas. Another section of the code regulates setbacks, side yards, garage placement and so forth, but those things are not really enough to define the character of a neighborhood, Hoyt explained.
“In no way does our existing code capture their character,” he pointed out. “That, I think, got everybody thinking about the pattern of development. One of the first steps in the process is to try to identify those patterns in different parts of the city and begin to codify them into some categories and codify their design characteristics and standards.”
That will lead to the creation of a “community pattern book.” The Planning Department will then write new zoning ordinances based on the community pattern book.
Hoyt said the idea is to call on residents once again, this time for help in identifying the character of their neighborhoods.
The city plans to solicit input from businesses, developers, property owners and residents beginning with neighborhood and business association meetings during the second half of September and the first half of October.
Those will be followed by a series of three community forums to be held Nov. 18 this year and on Feb. 17 and May 19 next year, with focus groups and sub-area meetings sandwiched in between.
The Master Plan identified five major neighborhood character types, along with descriptions and examples of each type’s visual characteristics. The different character types were categorized as:
- Turn-of-the century neighborhood
- Streetcar suburb
- Garden city suburb
- Post-World War II neighborhood
- Late 20th century neighborhood
The job will be to identify the key characteristics of buildings in a neighborhood and codify them to assure new buildings coming in are compatible with the old ones.
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, Hoyt said.
The important elements, as identified by planners, consultants and residents, will be captured in the zoning code and implemented through zoning ordinances.
“We are looking for something that keeps the height and volume of building, the style and spacing of windows, perhaps, and the amount of window space on the front sort of consistent with what’s in the neighborhood.”
Zoning will become more restrictive in terms of signage, amount of window space, and building height and volume, Hoyt acknowledged.
However, he said the zoning ordinance rewrites will offer developers a set of rules that is consistent, which will lead to a more streamlined planning review process.
“We’re going to offer you the opportunity that if you can build the building within the code, you don’t have to go through any review process with the Planning Commission or the Board of Zoning Appeals or anything else,” he said.
“Any development that lives up to the design standards of an area wouldn’t have to go back through all that review. Everything can be approved by city staff.”
That will save developers both time and money in planning a project, added Suzanne Schulz, a city planner. She said the hope is that with neighborhoods involved in the creation of the pattern book, they’ll have a say in what future development in their area will look like.
“So that helps them build in predictability,” she remarked. “If the building fits the neighborhood, in theory, there shouldn’t be any objection from the neighborhood because they’re getting what they wanted. The development process should be more fluid for the development community because they’ve met all the requirements that the neighborhood was looking for so we can streamline it and do it a little faster.”
Many business districts already have the flavor and characteristics that identify them as either urban or suburban business district, Schulz noted.
“But there are areas of the city —
is a good example — where we’re not sure what they’re supposed to be. What will
be in the future?”
Hoyt said that even though the neighborhoods are the most vocal about change in their residential settings, real change is not going to occur in residential areas as much as it’s going to occur in business areas.
“All of the redevelopment activity, I think, is going to be focused in business areas,” he said. “Hopefully, there will be some positive redevelopments even in industrial areas.”
Residents can hear more about the zoning rewrite process at the kickoff event Wednesday at the Wealthy Street Theater,
, from 12:30-1 p.m.
For additional information, contact the Grand Rapids Planning Department at (616) 456-3031.