Neighborhood associations concerned about proposed housing ordinance

Posted at 8:40 AM, Feb 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-15 08:40:49-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- As the population of Grand Rapids continues to grow, so does the need for housing.

That's why the Grand Rapids Planning Commission is suggesting changes to zoning ordinances that could speed up the building process, but some are concerned it will take away their say in the development process.

"They can come in and build whatever is prescribed in the code, but there's no requirement for a public hearing," says Suzanne Schulz, Grand Rapids city planning director.

The new zoning proposal, called "By Right" development, is upsetting neighborhoods across Grand Rapids. It was presented during the last planning commission meeting as a proposition that the commission says could save developers time and money.

"It's a much simpler and less complicated process," says Schulz. "If they know that have to go work with the community and have that public dialogue, there's less confidence that an approval will be granted, and the development process can be rather expensive."

But neighborhood associations say that without their voice in the permit process, their residents' way of life could be threatened.

"As Grand Rapids as a city grows and changes, we want to make sure that we continue to maintain the legacy, and the culture that can take many different forms," says Ada Mbonu, the West Grand Neighborhood Organization bilingual community engagement specialist. "But we just want to make sure that resident input is involved, so that the changes that happen are the changes that are wanted and changes that are appreciated."

Though some say zoning changes have been advertised as providing not just more housing but affordable housing, that may not be the case.

"I can't guarantee through zoning, that it will provide affordable housing," says Schulz.

"We've seen that a lot of growth and change causes a lot of people to lose their housing and not be able to afford new housing," says Ada Mbonu, the West Grand Neighborhood Organization Bilingual Community Engagement Specialist. "So it's not just about one facet of it, really, it's about us making sure that we all have our voices heard."

Community meetings will be held this Saturday, February 17, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., at the West Grand Neighborhood Organization, and 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Seymour Church. The next city commission meeting will be held February 20.