UCB Gives A Financial Boost To Area Planners

    GRAND RAPIDS — Two local planning groups recently won grants from the Urban Cooperation Board (UCB), a coalition of four cities and three townships.

    The Grand Rapids Planning Department received a $20,000 grant for its Edge-City Analysis effort, while the Grand Valley Metro Council was awarded $40,000 for its Blueprint II land-use planning work. The Blueprint award is the first of four coming over the next four years, as the UCB supported that project with a grant totaling $160,000.

    In all, the UCB handed out $281,000 to 21 nonprofit organizations and governmental units, money that comes from dues UCB members pay.

    “This is part of the water-sewer partnership that we formed with the original partners, and the amount of money that was received in dues was $286,000,” said Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong.

    Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Walker are the four cities in the UCB. Ada, Tallmadge and Grand Rapids townships round out the membership list. The UCB began meeting in February 2000. Dues were set at $1 per capita and were billed last fall.

    “The whole intent of the Urban Cooperation Board is to promote a variety of original land-use projects and to promote the ideas, concepts and values of the new water and sewer partnership,” added DeLong.

    Chairman Don Knottnerus said the UCB marked a breakthrough in urban cooperation and provided a way to support regional equity and development initiatives financially.

    “For the first time, the partners will be able to target significant resources to those hopes and dreams we have only been able to talk about until now,” said Knottnerus, mayor of Walker.

    Metro Council Executive Director Jerry Felix said he was very pleased that the UCB thought so highly of the long-term land-use planning project by providing the Blueprint with the largest award. But he wasn’t certain exactly how the initial grant would be used.

    “We have to get a grant agreement from the group, so we’re not yet sure what they will specify. But our application talked about moving along with the principles of Blueprint II, the sub-regional planning process will be part of that,” said Felix.

    That process involves bringing together communities in each of the council’s six sub-regions to create mapping principles, development tools and planning policies.

    “Then we will integrate the sub-regional plans into one regional plan,” said Felix.

    The Edge-City Analysis is a cooperative planning effort going on between the City of Grand Rapids and the half-dozen communities that border it.

    “The idea is to coordinate with those political jurisdictions, as we develop our master plan, to make sure that what we do at our edge that coincides with their edge is consistent and makes some sense,” said City Planning Director Bill Hoyt.

    “And to identify any opportunities we have either just on our borders or just inside their borders, where we need to partner to deal with those issues,” he added.

    A few projects already have been identified. One has the city working with Wyoming on the possible development of a former mobile home park on Buchanan SW. Each city owns a portion of that site. Another project being considered is a potential industrial development near Alpine Avenue and Ann Street. The city is working with Walker and The Right Place Program on it.

    “There are a whole lot of marginal land-uses in that area. There are also some businesses in that area that need to expand. And there may be the potential for creating a new development site or of some of the vacant or under-utilized land,” said Hoyt.

    The award to the Edge-City Analysis requires matching funds of $2,500 each from the six adjacent cities and townships.

    Regional planning is just one of the activities being supported by the UCB grants. Other areas include cultural and recreational activities, brownfield redevelopment, transportation, housing and human services, disaster recovery and emergency services.

    Other significant awards went to the Interurban Transit Partnership, which received $25,000 for its long-range public transportation study, and the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, which was awarded $50,000 of a three-year grant totaling $150,000 for programming, and caring for the Norton Indian Mounds and Herrick Wildflower Preserve.

    Wright and Cascade townships recently joined the UCB, which raises the board’s membership to nine and also means that more grant money will be offered next summer.

    “They weren’t involved in this year’s dues payment,” said DeLong of the two newest members. “But they will be involved next year.”  

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