Voters to decide fate of the Grove in February election

GVL / Eric Coulter
The north-east corner of 48th Avenua and Lake Michigan Drive is a tentative location of a new apartment complex. Zoning issues have caused problems in the construction.

GVL Archives

GVL / Eric Coulter The north-east corner of 48th Avenua and Lake Michigan Drive is a tentative location of a new apartment complex. Zoning issues have caused problems in the construction.

Samantha Butcher

The decision is the final step in a two-year battle over development of The Grove, a $20 million construction project funded by Campus Crest Communities that would add 648 beds in 248 units to the northwest corner of Lake Michigan Drive and 48th Avenue.

Greg DeJong, a real estate agent working with Grove landowner Stuart Becker, estimated that the deal would generate $500,000 in property taxes for Allendale public schools; however, vocal opponents of the deal, including Township Trustee David Morren and owners of other apartment complexes near Grand Valley State University, say the density calculations used to approve The Grove give the complex unfair competitive advantage.

The density calculations used for The Grove were different than those used in the development of Allendale’s most recent housing additions, such as Meadows Crossing and The Village at 48west.

Glen Turek, property owner of Meadows Crossing apartments, said the housing market in Allendale is already “saturated,” with significant vacancies in most complexes.

In June, a survey showed that Campus West occupancy was at 30 percent, and other units have faced similar struggles as the growth of the student body at GVSU has leveled out in recent years.

“The existing housing complexes all have fixed costs that need to be supported,” Turek said. “If the market is too saturated with beds, this will create more vacancy and will make it difficult for the fixed costs to be supported. …Some owners will not be able to pay property taxes. Some landlords could even end up defaulting on loan payments.”

Construction for The Grove won approval from the board of trustees 4-3 in July, but has been held in limbo by a lawsuit challenging the lot’s zoning. The suit, brought forth by Duane Thomas and several housing development owners, seeks to return the land from mixed-used commercial to light industrial, its pre-2010 zoning.

More than 150 Allendale residents signed a petition to rezone the land as part of the lawsuit, but Township Clerk Candy Kraker disqualified the signatures because of issues with petitioners’ voting registrations. Grand Haven Circuit Judge Edward Post revalidated the signatures, ruling that those incongruencies did not mislead voters and the issue should go up for a vote.

If the rezoning efforts are successful, it would effectively kill the deal between Becker and Campus Crest.

Becker was unavailable for comment.

Jerry Alkema, Allendale township supervisor, said he supports the ruling, calling the dispute over the petition a “matter of opinion.” Alkema said that despite Turek and other property owners’ concerns about occupancy, the Allendale housing market has been successful thus far.

“[The lot zoning] matches the master plan,” Alkema said. “It’s the corner of 48th and Lake Michigan, and currently the master plan for University Park includes converting that land to mixed-use.”

Molly Waite, 20, said additional housing would be helpful for students looking to live affordably near campus. Waite, a junior at GVSU, is one of the thousands of students that calls Allendale her temporary home during the academic year. She spends her summers living with her parents in Fenton, Mich.

“There was a significant waiting list to live in on-campus housing this year, and with so many people forced off-campus by sheer numbers, more housing units would really be beneficial,” she said. “People have to really fight to get good, affordable housing, and that shouldn’t be the case.”

In recent years, housing complexes have fought to stay competitive by offering incentives to residents such as no security deposits, free utilities and free months’ rent to draw people into leasing offices. Turek said the addition of the Grove could have negative implications for tenants, as lower occupancy could force property owners to decrease the perks they offer.

“Neighbors and businesses there have written letters supporting it, so clearly it has the popular support,” Alkema said.

[email protected]