GR Planning Commission approves plans to demolish Seward Ave. houses

GVL/Bo Anderson Housing west of GVSUs Devos Campus stands to be demolished as part of GVSUs ever expanding needs.

Bo Anderson

GVL/Bo Anderson Housing west of GVSU’s Devos Campus stands to be demolished as part of GVSU’s ever expanding needs.

Austin Metz

The housing scene near Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus will be getting a facelift following the approval by the Grand Rapids Planning Commission to demolish seven houses on Seward Ave.

The houses, which were built during the 1800s and are owned by Grand Rapids developer and local business owner Jeff Boorsma, run along the Pew Campus parking lot and parking structure and will start to be torn down beginning in mid-October.

“What I got approval to do is remove the seven housing structures that are on that property but no building plan has been submitted to the city,” Boorsma said. “I’m removing the seven structures and putting green space there and having the property marketed.”

Boorsma said green space means that in order to meet requirements set by the Grand Rapids Planning Committee, he can have no open soil and has to plant grass over the whole area. Once this is done, Boorsma can work to sell the land to possible buyers for development.

The original plan for the property dates back to 2008 when Boorsma first planned to tear down the houses to build new townhouses but the plan was never brought to a vote by the City Commission.

That plan was met with opposition from those in the area and also by the South West Area Neighbors (SWAN). The South West Area Neighbors were unable to be reached for comment.

This time around, Boorsma used the neighborhood area specific planning process to gain the approval he sought.

“The master plan of the city covers the whole city but it doesn’t cover parcel by parcel,” said Acting Planning Supervisor Elizabeth Zeller. “The neighborhood area specific planning process addresses parcels specifically.” Zeller said the plan also allowed area property owners, business owners, and residents to hold meetings to come up with a conclusive plan they could all live with and agree on.

That agreement involved the demolition of all seven of the vacant houses.

“A contract has been awarded to pitch demolition and they have actually started the process and are filing for demolition permits and all the necessary stuff they have to do,” Boorsma said.

“Sometime in mid-October they think they will be able to start the actual demolition and close to the end of October, they should be down.”

Boorsma said there are still concerns from other parties because of the lack of a long-term plan but said they have been worked out for the most part.

In the minutes of the Grand Rapids Planning Commission meeting that was held on August 9, 2012, SWAN shared concerns as to whether there is really a need for demolition, for the lack a redevelopment plan, and about whether the approving of the request would promote or hinder the rehabilitation of older buildings.

“Their concerns with respects to what the city approved in taking the houses down and putting it in a holding stage is that no plan was submitted for development with respect to the higher-density (residential homes),” Boorsma said. “They are on board with the area-specific plan that will go high density. Their immediate concern is demolition without a plan which is now okay within the city.”

While Boorsma wanted to build townhouses, Zeller said that would not be possible under the current agreement and that all he can do is turn it into green space and sell it.

“That is what his approval was for so that is all he can do,” Zeller said. “If someone wanted to build houses that would be okay, but they would need approval to build townhouses.” Though the reaction to the changes have been mixed, Boorsma feels it will help to improve the neighborhood.

“I think it will be good for the neighborhood, the area, for Grand Valley, for perspective students, and the neighborhood as a whole,” Boorsma said. “It will continue in the direction of improving and bringing something good to the area.”

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